In Roman mythology, Janus (or Ianus) was the god of gates, doors, doorways, beginnings and endings.
Sunset, 9:15 pm
The soft yellow sun touched the black horizon. A solitary bluff of poplars broke the wavering line marking land and sky. Seaborg's Trees marked the traditional party spot. Michael took a sip of coffee and checked reflexively for the telltale twinkle of a bonfire. His classmates had likely moved down to the lake some five kilometres farther west. Michael ran his fingers through damp bangs and took another contented sip. He studied the flaming sky. The thin curtain of western cloud reflecting the mellow light complemented the deep violet-blue of approaching night. Altostratus, the term popped into Michael's head, no rain there to spoil his solitary evening. There would be a full moon later.
Michael stepped lightly off the deck and onto the freshly watered grass. It was cool against his bare feet. The dry evening breeze tickled the hair on his legs and sucked the last of the moisture from his skin. The camp lantern was lit and after a final sip of coffee Michael turned to the task of building a fire in the pit. A soft smile played across his lips as he went about the familiar routine. First, a mound of shredded paper, then twigs from deadfall making a perfect tepee to catch the first flames; one match placed in the heart of a well-built fire could start an unstoppable inferno. He made a few minor adjustments to his creation and retreated to the small wood pile to select more kindling and wood. In the growing darkness, Michael laid a crib around the central cone. When he judged it ready, he paused to admire his creation and take a long pull from the quickly cooling coffee.
Michael left the coffee mug in the kitchen while he scouted out his book. Mingled voices from the family room competed with the muted sound of his father's baseball game. The book was where he had left it in the living room, Scarrow's Centurion, freshly delivered by Amazon; something of a reward to himself for finishing his first week of manual labour. He brought it back to the kitchen and listened to the voices as he refreshed his coffee. Ashley had breezed back from St. George for some week end party. His sister's cheerful voice contrasted with Acton's polite responses delivered in his West Indian accent. Michael recognized the measured tones of his mother and father's counterpoint. His experienced ear picked up the polite caution in his parent's voices. They thought themselves accepting, but Acton was something to be adjusted to, an unexpected diversion from their eldest child's usually tranquil progress through life. Nothing would be said about the young man of course.
Michael wondered briefly what Ashley had said to disrupt the Wa of the Novak household. He suppressed a whisper of dissatisfaction before it could find voice. The Novak's had used the same cautious tone with Michael when he suggested tentatively that he would prefer to take an Arts degree at the University of Assiniboia in the fall. Literature was his passion. He had been overwhelmed quickly by practicalities. What could he do with an Arts degree, they asked reasonably. The four-year education degree at the University of St. George would leave him with a marketable skill. There was the family condo in St. George and of course Medicine Hat with its larger campus would be overwhelming to him. They thought the matter closed. Michael picked at a small blister on his palm. When he heard his name mentioned he retreated to the back yard.
Three matches; one would be optimistic but that was what you wanted. Michael drew the first wooden match from a pocket and ran his thumb over its tip. He examined its spent end by the light the camp lantern and frowned. The second match was good so he squatted down. Michael tested the air waiting for a moment when the slight breeze might die away. With a practiced motion, he struck the match against a block and touched off the waiting timber. Paper curled instantly and the small flame expanded up the side of the cone licking at the bark on the small twigs. The flames illuminated Michael's face briefly but as he watched the small conflagration subsided unexpectedly. It had travelled the surface of his structure and failed to burrow in. It happens from time to time with the best prepared fires. Michael stood and reached for his third match.
"Mikey!" Michael paused when he heard Ashley sing out his name. She had stopped on the deck. When he turned to smile at her she bounced down onto the lawn and ran over. "What are you doing Mikey?" He gestured at the kindling with a smile and turned back to light the third match. Ashley hugged him from behind. Michael endured her squeeze. "Oh my look at all these new muscles popping out!" She ran her palms across his flat stomach and patted his shoulders.
"Hardly Ash," He knew he was the same slender person he had always been. Ashley was fashionably slender too. They were much alike. They shared the same broad mouth, straight nose and narrow face. Ashley's eyes were browner but she would have shared the same auburn hair if she had not been changing hers since she was fifteen. Michael thought his sister was beautiful.
Ashley noticed the book on the lone chair by the fire. "Oh my God Michael, you cannot be serious!" She gave him a playful punch. "Why aren't you out?"
"It's been a long week, I'm tired."
"As if," but it was very much her brother to go his quiet way. He had almost skipped his graduation party two weeks before. "Come with Acton and me."
"I don't know about that," Michael protested. He was ready to argue the point when Ashley stopped him with a cool hand to his chest.
She opened her mouth, then paused squinting at his bare chest. "Wait a minute; is this manliness I feel on my baby brother's chest?" She picked at the shallow valley bisecting his chest, "Nope, just my imagination." They matched smiles. "Come with us Michael, it will be cool. You are in university now; you have to meet new people. We'll have a riot together."
Ashley would have a riot, she always did. Michael was sure he would be what he always was, a quiet bystander watching the fun. "Not so sure of that Ash," he murmured.
"I need a DD," Ashley added.
"That I can believe," Michael replied with a grin, "You have Acton."
"You don't have to be designated driver," though she knew he would be. Michael rarely drank. It was the reason he seemed to avoid the bush parties, "but come. You should meet some new people."
"These are your friends Ashley."
"They like you Michael, besides; there will be all sorts of people there. You remember Mark Reisner?" Michael shook his head. "Maybe not, he was two years older than me. He just graduated from the University of Saskatchewan. They have a place out by the lake. Just come Michael, this isn't some bush party with puking kids. You need to get to know people like this before September. What do you say?" Michael looked helplessly at his carefully prepared fire pit and then gave in.
Nine thirty and it was still light enough to see a small herd of antelope in the field as they jolted along the grid. Michael bounced off the seat as Ashley lifted through another intersection. He wished he was driving. His cell phone vibrated so he dug it out. "Mike do you have the Dodge?" It was his dad.
"Are you driving?"
"No Ashley's driving," Michael waited out the long pause. They had to take the truck. Ashley would have torn the bottom off Acton's Mazda two kilometres out of Vimy. The Reisner farm was half a kilometre short of the lake at the end of old highway nine; seven sections out of town. The antelope were long gone when Michael's father spoke again.
"You will be driving on the way back." It was not a question. The sun might rise and fall on Ashley, but Michael was the steady one. He agreed and snapped the phone shut. Ashley swung the truck over toward the side of the road and they all felt the back end slip on the loose stone.
"Eh eh," Acton remarked absently from where he sat beside Ashley. He had a hand braced against the dashboard. Michael grinned at the man and stretched his leg across the cramped back bench. His sister was not trying to kill them. The world just needed to ramp up to her speed for its own safety. Acton turned around. His eyes seemed to appraise Michael's lanky frame from his Reef sandals up to his thick Bay Store hoddie. "Mookie, its good you're going to lime with us tonight. We're all going to have a fine time." Michael's smile faded slightly. He nodded his head to acknowledge the remark. The Trinidadian left Michael lost for words sometimes. He was not comfortable with the man yet. Not for his parent's reasons though, Acton Heighes had poise and the body to match it. With little effort he commanded attention. The family had met Acton at Michael's graduation. Michael had been off with Kara and the other Vimy grads primping themselves when Ashley swept into the gym with Acton's arm possessively on her hip. Michael imagined that had derailed more than a few small town conversations. It was Michael's grad, but Ashley and Acton effortlessly danced their way into the centre just as Ashley always had.
"Acton's moving into the condo Mikey," she glanced in the mirror as it to catch Michael's eye.
.... There is more of this story ...