Watching

By Skyler Smith

 

I remember waiting in the old fifteen-seater van, years ago. The morning was chill, and the sun was only just rising. Logan was playing with the buttons and knobs on the dash in front of me, his curly hair, the color of chestnuts, bouncing as he jumped from one control to the next. I remember he turned to me, wielding a bright red cylinder about the length of my thumb. I asked him what it was, and he explained that it was a cigarette lighter, but that it wasn’t hot right then. He told me to touch it. I looked at him, then at the lighter. It was glowing. I asked him if he was sure it wouldn’t hurt. He said that of course he was sure. He repeated that it wasn’t hot. I glanced at his eyes, then reached towards the lighter, my pointer finger trembling.

*

The morning boy scout hike had begun well, and I enjoyed the warm air under the shade of the pines. It was almost like I had climbed this mountain before, so I raced ahead of the rest of the boys, following the trail. The path rose steeply, tracing the bank of a stony riverbed; no water was flowing there. I marched along like a victorious flag bearer, following the rise of the mountain. The trail narrowed. Then the tall trees creeped closer around me like guerrilla soldiers for an ambush, and the path darkened under their shadows. I tried to keep going, but was confused by the many ways through the trees and rock. Coldness seized me as the danger signs at the start of the trail flashed in my memory: ‘Cougars!’ they warned, ‘Do not hike alone.’

I turned around, trying to calm the fear clutching at my stomach, and scanned the trail behind me. I couldn’t see or hear any hint of the rest of the group. Again, I examined the paths leading forward. The pale stone and the fir trees offered me no direction. In desperation I threw my view up the mountain – and I caught something. There was a person there, distant but clear, standing and watching me. I could tell from his textured hair and dark blue jeans that it was my older brother. He met my eyes for a single second, then moved, disappearing behind the mountain’s many obscurities. I determined how to get to where he had been standing, then followed the path upward. Reaching the place, I realized again that I was lost. Fear took me. Shaking, my eyes scoured the mountain’s faces. There, Logan was standing on a distant ledge like a sentinel. He saw me, then took a few steps along the path, becoming invisible behind the rises of the rock.

*

Logan was gripping me by the feet and spinning, my body whirling so fast I couldn’t pull my arms in. The cream walls of our downstairs hallway rotated past in streaks of white and brown. I would have been laughing by the thrill of it if my larynx wasn’t being compressed against the back of my mouth. Suddenly a wall was flying towards me, but neither of us could react fast enough to keep the back of my head from the impact of the oncoming corner.

*

“My dad drove me to the hospital. I got four stitches in the back of my head, a double-sized popsicle, and a day off school!” I exclaimed into the microphone like a kid boasting to his playmates. Portions of the crowd chuckled, and I glanced at Logan waiting behind one of the scarlet stage curtains, his taupe suit giving him the look of a mole. He grinned, but his features sunk a little. I thought it was compassion. I continued, “So we are pleased to welcome tonight the perpetrator himself. Ladies and gentlemen, our hometown comedian, Logan T. Smith!” His florescent blue sneakers squeaked as he jogged up to claim the microphone. The crowd had already begun roaring by the time I took my seat.

 *

 Logan was looking up at me, his back to the ground, in a relaxed fetal position. I was sitting on his legs like he was my pretend getaway motorcycle, straddling his curled-in shins. He launched me up with his legs, replicating the effect of a steep jump, and I screeched in laughter, imagining that I was clearing an impossibly deep canyon. I clung to his wrists to keep from falling, and tried to right myself on his shins to prepare for the landing that I had failed the last five times I had tried it. A second sooner than I expected, his arms and legs imitated the effect of the impact, expanding and shaking like an unruly buck. I struggled to bring the bike back together, but managed only to stabilize my legs. For the sixth time, my motorcycle wobbled too far to the right, and I was launched off, rolling on the soft carpet floor.

 *

 I couldn’t remember if the night was cold. I was sitting on the highway divider behind the bent and smashed wreckage of our fifteen-seater van. I could see my brothers and sisters being examined by firemen and ambulance workers. I could hear sirens. It was strange to wonder if they were for us. My sister was crying and blathering nonsensically.

Logan asked me how I was. I thought I was okay. I asked what was wrong with Cassandra. “She’s in shock.” His voice was casual, like he was telling me it was four-thirty in the afternoon.

“Do you think we’ll still have vacation?” I wondered.

Logan let the air pass through his lips evenly, with control, “Ah, maybe.” I was infected by his calmness. I didn’t learn until later that night that he had whiplash.

*

I turned a pale blue envelope in my hands and read the sender’s name: Logan T. Smith. I had flown away from home almost a year ago, and hadn’t seen him since I left. It had been hard for me to say ‘goodbye’ in that airport lobby. I tore a slit in the top of his letter, then slid my index finger along it, ripping the paper jaggedly. I pulled at its contents, and three glossy photos fell out. I picked up the first one. It was of a young man wearing a dark suit, walking along a tarmac. Confused, I turned it over, and read the sharply written caption:

Skyler Smith boarding plane at Victoria International Airport

8:41:46 AM, 17 Apr 12

            Just remember Skyler,

                                    someone is always watching.

Taken from the observation tower and through the terminal.

I laughed, recalling those words that he had spoken to me just before I left. I supposed that my brother had thought these photos would be funny. I lifted the next one, which was almost identical.

Skyler Smith boarding plane at Victoria International Airport

8:41:50 AM, 17 Apr 12

            Always watching

I was still smiling, but noticed a small tear forming in the corner of my eye. The last photo was of a distant propeller plane flying away into a bright blue backdrop. He had waited to watch my plane fly away.

Skyler Smiths plane taking off from Victoria International Airport

9:01:51 AM, 17 Apr 12.

            Still watching.