At the park there is a bit of a hill, one side quite steep. This is where they sit, just over the lip, legs hanging down the hill in the long grass. They can’t mow there, on account of the steepness. There’s four of them, two guys, two girls. They’re high school, maybe college age, but dressed different. The two guys are in suits, a bit ratty, cheap. Girls wearing bright dresses in an old style, quite short. Maybe it’s a fashion I’m not away of; maybe they’re in a band.
They’ve got a bottle and are passing it around. They’re paired up. It’s very clear. Body language is everything for kids that age. Girl in the red is with the guy in the light, and the girl in the yellow with the guy in blue. Girls are sitting next to each other, shoes off on the hillside. The guys are flanking them, like bookends. The bottle keeps going around.
Guy in the light suit keeps getting to his feet, pacing back and forth on the steepness, performing a bit for his friends—for the girls, mostly. His friend keeps trying to jump in on the lines, but not succeeding. Light suit’s red tie matches his girl’s red dress, and its waving in the breeze, as he gestures with his arms. His friend’s blue tie matches his girl’s blue dress. Maybe it is a fashion of some kind.
“But to have one’s voice given a certain respect! How does one attain this respect? To begin with, there are the things one can do, to further the process. Practice a certain craft of speech, of course—to ensure the dignity of the words are not compromised by error or awkwardness of phrase. And to keep a definitive form to one’s speech as well, not only free from error, but maintaining a style, a hallmark, and a trait that is not necessarily aping the tendencies of the most eloquent, revered, and respected talkers, but distinct in and of itself so when one opens the mouth, there is no possibility of rhetorical trademark infringement.”
He seems to have given this a bit of thought. It’s not the first time he have given the speech, even if only to himself. He pauses to take the bottle from the girl in red. He stands in front of her now, looking at her, maybe at the dress. The girls giggle, a nervous, bouncing intensity. The kid reacts in the way one would expect, tightening, and accelerating down on his course.
“It is easy to mock those who speak with such deep inhales, as if to gain further gravity from an inflated weight of the lungs. The Shakespearean actor’s overplay into paradigmatic seriousness is now a trope, and just as it is always expected that couplets are delivered with a heavy iambic stomp, it is contrarily a sign of overbearing pretension to add the same to any common, or off the cuff address.
“But I believe the times are changing! We are young, no doubt, and have plenty of time on our hands. We can pursue of frivolous things because we have time to waste. Capriciousness is not only our adjective, but our motto, which we accept with the same vigor as everything else we do. But why need it be simply so? Why should we not take advantage of the loose stance others take when confronting us, and step forward immediately, to knock them off balance? Are we necessarily as clumsy as we are light and fleet of foot? We have time on our side, and therefore have no time to waste! Our voices are bold, and this is an important feature. We have the ability to gain weight…”
He takes a swig as he says it, providing the girls another opportunity for laughter. His buddy makes a comment about the inopportune pause as well. He widens his hands, palm down and gesturing with the bottle.
“Tell me honestly, fine fellow and fellowesses: do you enjoy being treated as minor characters in the narratives of the day?”
His eyebrows raised, he waits for response. The girls pay rapt attention, shaking heads, and his friend does as well.
“Then why not claim the terrain of respect, which should rightfully be ours? Are our elders less erroneous than we? Is their experience ever utilized efficaciously? Or is it merely excuse for a preponderance of pontification? A pithy opportunity for pretense! A pestilence of petulance! They are given all the respect, and what do they do with it but waste it, cashing it in, via their oligarchical opportunism. They care little for the power behind the respect given to the spoken word, and more for what it can get them. Well, friends, I submit to you that it is time for a change. I say it is time we speak up, by talking down to our elders and so-called betters, to put them in their linguistic place by partaking in the craft of speech, of which we are quite capable.”
And now with a flourish of the bottle, and a little bow.
“For it is only when we have stood upon our own two feet to speak our minds that we can be said to have made up our minds for ourselves.”
They applaud him madly, and gesture for the bottle. He gives it gladly, and sits next to his girl. There’s more talk. It’s more of the same. His friend, the girls each take a turn, gesturing and repeating, echoing and clapping. Other conversation as well, carried out with heads bobbing close together. Hands on hands, on shoulders, on thighs. The boy in the light suit leans in, and whispers into his girl’s ear. I see her smile from where I sit. She tugs a bit on the edge of her dress. He kisses her, on the ear. They lie back and look at the sky. They are still talking, all of them all at once. The sky is brilliantly blue, lit incandescent by the sun. Three lines of contrails curve, crossing across the azure dome, seemingly just out of reach. Boy in the blue suit kisses yellow dress on the lips, and light suit has his hand on red dress’ leg, underneath it maybe.
I hear the sound of a cell phone ringing, across the hillside. Boy in the light suit pops to his feet, putting the hand in his pocket. Putting it to his ear, his other hand covers the other ear, blocking out the loud speech of his fellows. He walks quickly a few paces away, to cause a distance, and then slows, walking in aimless direction as he speaks. He says nothing for some time, staring into the grass, phone to his ear. His face grows darker. Much darker. His mouth closes.
His friend in the blue suit is paying attention to the girl in the yellow, but looking at the girl in the red. Red ignores them, looking at the back of the light suit. The suit is a bit small for his frame, though he is not a large person.
He has taken the phone away from his ear. It rests in his hand, on his thigh, by his waist. He is still looking at the grass. I cannot tell, but his head might be shaking back and forth, just slightly. The phone falls from his hand, and he bend at the waist, slowly, over. Both hands are on his knees. His head is definitely shaking now, his eyes wide and gray. His elbows bend, saplings in the wind.
With a roll to his spine he lifts his head and lurches it forward. Out of his mouth comes a stream of vomit, pale brown, solids and liquids. He leans past his shoes instinctively, into the roll of his stomach. He stops, and saliva drips from his lips, wide and quivering. His eyes are closed, watering. Another lurch, and again.
His friends have stopped talking and look, but do not get up.
He bends lower and lower, to let it all out. There isn’t any more. Still, one more time he lurches. Nothing comes out but sound—low, guttural. A bit more saliva. His eyes open, red, weary. His breath is ragged, in fits and starts.
The cell phone lies, uncaring, on the long grass, propped up by chance upon his motionless, brown leather shoe.