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LAce Posted Monday, March 5th, 2007
Branigan Grace

Tonight when the sun is a red memory, I’ll wait down by the railroad tracks. I will sit safely back, as though a train could whistle down those weedy slats, broken and littered with disuse. Dandelions will crush and stain yellow between my fingers as the boatyard’s noise and distant callings fade to another day’s end. I will breathe in the evening brine from the clam flats and reclaim the years.

You’ll show up too, perhaps, if you remember the date, the one you, Carleen, and I made more than two decades ago over a lunch of Italian sandwiches and the beer you brazenly bought with the cockiness of someone newly adult. We sat under the bridge that day with our picnic from Jameson’s Market, skipping class and eating our sandwiches — the foot-long ones with ham, sweet pickles, and hot peppers, followed by the grown-up taste of dark, bitter beer.

It was Carleen’s idea. She laughed at us through her purple Elton John glasses and said, “I bet in twenty-five years you guys will be married with three kids. Michael, you’ll be a famous artist, and Karen will be a singer, playing in all the pubs and coffeehouses in Maine.”

I smiled and shook my head, too shy then to ever imagine singing in public. “And what about you?” I said.

Carleen shook out her lanky hair and gave us a goofy grin. “Me? I’ll be the funniest woman on Saturday Night Live. Wanna bet? Hey, I’ll bet you a beer. Twenty-five years from today, let’s meet here at seven o’clock and see if I’m right.”

We clicked our bottles in agreement.

Life led us apart then, through our separate adulthoods, so different than what we had imagined. I spoke with Carleen occasionally over the years, heard her stories of broken marriages and troubled times. We made plans to get together, someday. I spoke about her to my husband (not you, after all), of her free-spiritedness that had taken her to dark places.

“These times are not kind to free spirits,” he said.

Three months ago she called me again, reminding me of our date. Her voice was still warm, though her words were slurred through medications and hard living. “I guess I owe you a beer,” she said. “I’ll call Michael too. I bet he looks like an old hippie. We laughed, and I tried to imagine you with long graying hair.

Tonight I’ll bring the food.

I wonder if you’ll wear the denim jacket tonight — you know the one, with the faint smell of turpentine and Port Clyde salt air, the one I would lean my cheek on. Would it still fit you?

I gather my bag of sandwiches and start down to the tracks.

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