The Headache by Rory Graxham
July in New England existed outside of Time and Space for The Boy. The mindless tedium of school was already forgotten, and September still seemed distant enough to not really exist. It was a progression of powerful intensities, from the loud bangs of Independence Day to the wonderfully sweet tastes of fresh corn on the cob and smells of barbecue everywhere.
It was also the month of true freedom for The Boy. For two years now, The Boy was released from his captivity to spend three weeks with His Friend who lived in a rural part of Northeastern Connecticut. Three weeks without Mother, whose loving but oppressive presence drowned his personality and self-confidence in the honey of devotion endemic in single mothers left to raise two children by themselves.
It was an altogether too common casualty of the Free Love spirit of the 1960s: as the product of this free love bound them to suffer the same fates they rebelled against in their own parents. Unlike their parents, however, they felt empowered to pretend these responsibilities simply didn't exist.
The Boy was shy and soft-spoken and never comfortable with too many people. It was easy for him to let other people hold court in conversations or social situations, since that was second nature to him at home; for Mother was King, Queen, Judge, Jury, and Executioner. What she couldn't shout down, she punished with a wooden paddle quaintly referred to as the Board of Education. Little did Mother know how little it really hurt The Boy, but even then he realised it was better to let people have their illusions than confront them with the truth. In the end, they will have their way regardless of proffered justifications.
It was for this reason The Boy hid his intellect and imagination behind a mask of cheerful smiles and an eternally agreeable disposition. Few knew the truth. It took a minor outburst of destroying books in the fourth grade for him to come to anyone's attention at the small public school he attended. Fortunately, this was during an era when public schools actually cared to attempt to understand such things. The school's principal was an earnest man, and recommended The Boy to be tested by the school district's psychiatrist.
He determined The Boy was simply a very bright and gifted child but woefully under-stimulated and completely and utterly stone-cold bored. What could be expected from a fourth grade child who understood Einstein's Theory of Relativity and could demonstrate how short or heavy things would get as you neared the speed of light via the Lorentz equations. Later that year, the shy bookworm won a city-wide contest with a paper on this very subject, earning him a terrifying five minutes reading it over the local radio station.
His Friend knew The Boy's gifts from the moment they met. His Friend saw him in ways he'd long abandoned hope of ever experiencing from another person. He was not a child to be proud of, or protective of, or to be told where to go, or what to do, or congratulated, or praised. He was for the first time in his youthful memory, a real person who existed in his own right and not in relation to someone else, or how smart he was, or how much like his father, mother, grandparents, aunts, or uncles he looked.
The Boy was to understand this miraculous feeling much later in life as the fundamental recognition of ones intellectual peers. It was in His Friend, The Boy found another like himself, and even though he was much older than he was; it was as if he found an island in a great grey ocean of dullness and stupidity. That such a person could see his true self was a gift exceeded only by His Friend's invitation for The Boy to visit him during the summer holidays.
Nature in its way shields the young from too sharp a perception of time, whether past or future. Things proceed as if they had always been and always shall be. And so it was this July, nearly two years after that fateful day they first met. The Boy had forgotten what it was like to not have His Friend in his life, just as he took it for granted that he would always be there.
It had been the first weekend after his arrival, and the sharp ragged emotions and excitement of actually being with His Friend had softened to the warm glow of contentment and happiness. The Boy would have been happy to have mowed his vast lawn or spend some time camping in the woods behind the house, but His Friend had a better idea. They were going to spend their weekend together motorcycling their way around the forests of Northwestern Connecticut and Southwestern Massachusetts. It was absolutely brilliant. His Friend had a big Gold Wing motorcycle with saddlebags fore and aft, and a big white bucket for Herbie to sit inside comfortably in the back.
What made these things so purely enjoyable was how easily such plans took shape. His Friend told him that they'd be going for two overnights, and to make sure he had everything he needed packed into one saddlebag. And that was it. He wasn't nagged endlessly about toothbrushes, toothpaste, clean socks, or any of the rest of the repetitive trivia Mother would spend hours belabouring. The Boy had room for some books from His Friend's library, which again did not need special permission.
His Friend had told him once that all of his books were open to The Boy, but that he should regard them with the same respect and care as if they were his own property, and that they should be returned in the same condition they were taken.
Early Friday afternoon with everything packed and ready to go, as if on cue, Herbie did his one, two, three step and hop from peg to saddlebag to bucket, and the trio finally set off into deep green woods of New England.
The senses are curious things. Much of philosophy and even science itself is built upon a premise that perceptions reflect varying aspects of reality. And yet, there are moments when we perceive that reality in its stark and unaltered form only momentarily. Such momentary glimpses occur when The Boy is riding behind His Friend on the powerful Gold Wing, when he realises just how large His Friend is compared to himself. He's a vast human being, easily weighing at least 350 pounds. Even though The Boy is big for his age, he can barely get his arms completely around the person in front of him.
Curiously, while The Boy has seen enough people to realise just how overweight he is, there isn't a trace of a single unkindly thought or perception of his older friend. Even words like "fat" or "chubby" aren't in his framework when he regards His Friend. Much art has been devoted to how expressing how blind Love can be, but its expression during the scattered moments in which we are blessed to exist within its glow always overlays our perceptions as surely as if we were blindfolded.
Most of New England is rural and consists of small towns which generally follow the course of rivers or other bodies of water. The Boy delights in the relatively cool air and all of the different smells from the pleasant perfumes of lavender and the cedar and pine trees, to the not-so-welcome scents of manure from nearby dairy farms.
Seeing any new landscape is at its most immersive on a motorcycle. You are not shielded from the heat of the air, its various flavours, or even the sounds of the environment around you. It is not tedious in the way a bicycle is, when trying to cover a range of hilly terrain. It is not the shielded "television screen" which traveling in car presents. You hear the insects, feel every little crack in the road, and the very act of turning requires your active participation.
But one unpleasant aspect of motorcycling is the limited range of occupants' motion. After about an hour or so of continuous riding, the body begins to beg for some stretching and movement, and when it's really hot, something to drink. In the small town of Stafford Springs, The Boy, His Friend, and his dog made their first stop.
True to form, Herbie waited until the motorcycle was switched off before leaping from his perch in a single bound. The Boy was greatly relieved to get off the bike and stretch while His Friend disappeared into a package store for a few minutes. Emerging with a pair of Moxie colas and a cut-up milk carton, he filled the carton with water and left it for Herbie by the front tire of the Gold Wing.
The Boy loved Moxie cola, which is a slightly bitter cola made with gentian root; he was much later in life to discover it was modeled after an Italian bitter cola called Chinotto of some renown.
That was another thing about His Friend. He remembered things. More importantly, he remembered what The Boy liked and disliked. To be sure, Mother possessed that same trait, but with her it was inconsistent. Sometimes it was the trial of Job to get her to acknowledge what he wanted, and other times she would give him what he hadn't realised he even wanted yet. Invariably it was a battle of wills, and he always lost.
They were within a few miles of the Massachusetts border, but out there the towns were small and most of one's vision was filled with trees. It was just prior to setting out from their first stop, when the onset of a headache began to afflict The Boy. Sometimes it just happens on such hot sunny days, particularly since you're always exposed to the elements. One uncomfortable aspect to this kind of riding is that as you move around groups of trees, the alternating shade and fully bright sunshine filtering through branches and trunks can throb with uncomfortable frequency. The helmet's face-shield reflects much of the glare from sight, but the inescapable fact is that you are fully within the outdoor environment, for good or for bad.
It started off as the usual throb behind the eyes. "Maybe I'm just thirsty," he wondered. He finished off the entire 16 ounce Moxie before they set out in hopes of staving it off. His Friend saved half of his, and perched the bottle in his customised holder that was a hollow tube offset from the kingpin of the motorcycle’s front fork. Chattering with His Friend and the old man at the petrol station had taken his mind off the then-dull ache, but after about ten minutes into their trip it had regained its place within his awareness.
The Boy knew they were heading for a lake in western Massachusetts, because His Friend had mentioned it last year towards the end of The Boy's stay. There wasn't time to go then, but he must have remembered talking about it because His Friend had intended to take The Boy there over his first weekend. The Boy had forgotten all about it, of course, but was reminded only now on the way there. In any event, The Boy resolved to bear out the headache until they made it to the lake. He knew it'd be a special place and that it'd be perfect.
With great relief, they pulled into their second rest stop in a small village dating back to the early 18th Century. They must have been close to the Connecticut River, since all of the oldest Southern New England towns were never far from it. His Friend must have noticed The Boy's great relief when he announced it was less than 15 minutes away now, and that they'd stopped primarily to pick provisions as much as to top up on fuel.
His Friend was the most resourceful person he knew, his house littered with gadgets he'd fashion to do the most extraordinary things. He never seemed to compromise on anything he valued, even if getting what he wanted seemed impossible. It didn't surprise The Boy to see a few gadgets for various cooking implements in one of the saddle bags as His Friend packed some steaks and husks of fresh corn into one of the four-packs. The headache was bearable now that he could see a nice dinner awaited him and it was going to be SOON.
The air was getting much cooler, as the sun was setting and they were deep in the woods that kept much of the ground under a merciful canopy of leaves. After passing a small wooden sign that looked hand-painted, they turned off the road onto what quickly became a dirt path. Riding in one of the tracks, they topped a small rise, which quickly led down to the surprisingly large lake below.
It was surrounded by cedar and maple trees, and there was a strong scent of pine and cedar which struck you in the face. There were small cabins scattered around the lake, but it seemed they were cleverly placed so that you couldn't see them from another cabin. It's as if you had the entire place to yourself, though some other cars were visible so there had to be other people nearby.
His Friend took them down a narrow trail and made one last turn, which placed them just behind a small wooden cabin fronting the water. It was a classic bungalow with large windows on all water-facing sides, with a generous porch. There was an envelope in the mailbox with both of their names on it, which contained the keys.
Boys and water seem inseparable in summers the world over. While His Friend took the various supplies and saddlebags inside, The Boy sprinted for the lake, kicking off His shoes as he went. He couldn't wait to just jump in, but after touching the water tentatively with his toes, it seemed a bit cold. The sun was nearly completely set now, and the air was getting chillier even off the motorcycle.
Besides, he had a stiffy from needing to use the toilet so badly. He'd skipped going to the bathroom on both stops and was getting sore from needing to relieve himself. It was strange how it would get hard when he had to use the bathroom really badly because there was nothing particularly pleasurable about the sensation.
He knew the plumbing for both products of his penis were connected, but it seemed that there must be a valve which regulated which liquid came out depending on its function. He couldn't pee when it was hard, and he couldn't cum when it wasn't. The body is so strange that way. He always meant to ask His Friend, but then again, he would just answer the same way he usually did when asked a silly question he felt the Boy could answer on his own: "LOOK IT UP!"
Fortunately, the sanitation of the campground wasn't primitive like they sometimes are. It was outside the cabin, but clean and modern with a wooden floor made of latticed slats. It wasn't uncomfortable to walk on barefoot. And most importantly, it had a REAL TOILET. So far, it was looking to be a great place.
To be continued -