Previously on The Driftwood Man, check out: “Part I,” “Part II,” and “Part III.”
Martin backs away from Mr. Chandler with a crooked smile and swollen knuckles. Blood streams down the developer’s knuckles as they cuff tightly about a broken nose. The flow has a new meaning as the usually cohesive corps scatters to avoid impending vengeance. Wheezing snarls grizzled through thick clumps of crimson mucus echo about the clearing. The entire purpose of replanting forestland seems defiled in one impetuous strike. Yet not even the birds perched at treetop seem bothered by human conflict on the forest floor.
Sensing a fracture in the timid flow of the land, Simon preaches concern, “Dad, why did you hit him? He wants to protect the forest, just in a different way.”
“Listen Simon,” Martin tempers frustration as his son disserves an explanation, “Rangers work on public land, not lumberjacks. This man is here to take everyone’s job.”
“Not everyone’s job,” a wicked grin rises from the bend of Mr. Chandler’s pinkies, “just yours.”
Martin tosses Simon’s bicycle into the bed of the family’s truck as takes his son by the shoulder.
“Good day to you Mr. Chandler,” they pile atop torn padded interior and roll down the adjacent trail in neutral.
Once he feels the axles revolve without friction, Martin slams the truck into gear and twists the ignition, “Say hello to Gail for me.”
He ignores the developer’s shot at his wife’s fidelity and drives the dirt road towards Highway 1.
Simon realizes that the balance of nature is linked to civility and never completely severed from human squabbles. His father’s blank expression reminds the boy that man is but one beast in a world of countless confounded creatures. Remaining within them is the flow where integral human bonds are interwoven. Waterway is losing its sense of community just as Foreman George had claimed. Once that is severed, the bond to nature must be next. Simon, a beast yearning to rediscover such bonds with nature, can only feel that his integration has been muddled.
Avoiding the collapsed bridge adjacent to their home, Martin drives what used to be referred to as “the long way home.” It takes them well into replanted forestland before the second story of Waterway’s new big box store comes into view. Treetops through the filtered crack of the family truck’s front window is the view that Simon likes second only to that atop his bicycle seat. Once traffic cutting on and off of Highway 1 recedes, the truck makes quick work of winding unpaved side streets to their neighborhood.
Gail is waiting inside the garage with a finger bent towards the hood.
Simon and Martin can feel the imposing objection well before it passes through her lips, “Why are you home so soon and what is Simon doing with you?”
Rusty squeaks rumble about the garage as the Gills guys pile out of their family truck.
“I will explain later,” he counters Gail with a point of his own towards the hallway, “Simon and I need to have a talk.”
She shakes her head in what would be perceived as rigid disapproval, yet her son and husband understand it is just her natural way, “There will be some explaining to do, that is for sure.”
The hallway door is shut with a slam and the garage is illuminated with a click. Metal chain beads dangle about Martin’s hand as he releases his grasp just below an exposed halogen light bulb. Simon takes a seat atop his metal stool and watches the chain dance within speckles of dust. Martin slides his stool to the base of a splintered workbench and takes in a gasp of the bitter air. Trail maps and aluminum gas station signs surround his head as a gentle grin sucks in the room’s attention.
“Look, you father got upset and did something foolish,” he places a hand on Simon’s shoulder, “you should never hit another person unless it is to defend your family.”
“But, you were defending us,” deep logic digs the boy out from the simple, “and all that dirt you turned into a forest.”
“What I mean to say is that I gave into reaction and forgot myself,” Martin builds a complex argument for his maturing son, “it is wrong to react without thinking and it usually turns to violence.”
Simon unloads his bicycled and digs his hands into its satchel. Removing his grandfather’s coffee siphon and exposing it to the filtered light of the family’s garage receives but a simple nod from his father. Martin seems indifferent to the object, instead fixating his attention onto a wrinkled trail map hung about the far wall by bent nails. A thin crack running across the bamboo base of the siphon draws Simon’s alarm.
“Oh no,” he licks his finger and tries to rub the crack away, “I wanted to keep it safe.”
Martin attempts the same with an extended finger along a trail highlighted with red marker across the map. Simon looks it over and compares it to the bamboo crack, finding them to be oddly identical.
“What is that trail,” Martin listens while shifting his focus to the truck’s shattered taillight.
Plastic shards are carefully removed and a new cover is slid over the light with gentle hands, worn soft through decades of manual labor.
Martin explains as he repairs, “That is a trail your grandfather and I used to take to go fishing. It leads up the coast to those destroyed docks northeast of town. You know, before the storm of ’68 we had a nice fishing boat. The old fool claimed he had built it himself from driftwood, but there is no way. Well thanks to the floods we have around here, all of that is just wood in the water now.”
“Fishing off a boat, that sounds fun,” Simon discovers a right of manhood within his desire for nature.
His skepticism over the bond between human nature and natural elements is challenged, “Is that why there is fishing gear in the bed of the truck?”
“Oh, I had forgotten that stuff was still back there,” Martin remembers that he owes his wife an uncomfortable explanation, “just go ride your bike and let me deal with your mother.”
Simon gladly leaves the confrontation to his parents and peddles off towards Concrete Canal. Blocks pass with a blur and the scent of pine tickles his lungs. Just as he begins to forget the tribulations of family, a loud artificial ring sobers the elements. Afternoon summer school instruction at Waterway High School has completed. Young teens pile atop their skateboards and bicycles in a caged area where the athletic fields meet Concrete Canal.
Three boys mount watertight mountain bikes and cut through a broken section of the field’s perimeter fence. They do the same beside Concrete Canal until their tires hit smooth bike path pavement. Simon cannot help but admire their new rides, glittering under the afternoon sun like the windows the new fast food joint off the highway. Just as he jars his attention back to the path, frantic yells begin.
“Is that him? Yeah I think, no that is defiantly the kid,” Simon shifts into first gear in anticipation of acceleration, “let’s catch up to him.”
Just as throbbing legs jolt forward to escape, a group of giggling students pile onto the path from a side street. They admire the pedaling masculinity with flips of their hair and flirtatious grins. The only way to avoid striking them without plummeting down the canal’s edge is a full stop. Simon closes his eyes and slams on the breaks, stopping just before the gander that refuses to move. He shouts for them to get off the path but it is too late.
“Hold up,” he can feel the pressure of tight grips against his handlebars, “is your last name Gills?”
Simon opens his eyes and shifts his body sideways to avoid eye contact, “Maybe, who are you.”
“Whatever idiot,” the oldest teen gloats, “I hear they call you Simple Simon.”
“I’m not simple,” the ride has Simon sharp, “Summer school is for kids who fail their classes. So, that makes you guys the idiots.”
Their grasps tighten and the girls scatter, “Oh yeah, well my dad says that dead beats like your family always end up on the street.”
“What is a dead beat,” Simon is too scared to be offended, “and let go of my bike.”
The boys feed off his fear and enjoy a laugh, “your bike is a piece of crap. Look at the gears, they are all rusted.”
“It is faster than those department store knockoffs painted nice to fool idiots,” the wrath is precise.
“You are a liar,” the oldest teen bellows his words from the far end of puberty.
He must be at least seventeen and nearly twice Simon’s weight, “Ok, then. Let’s race on the canal.”
“This path is all flat and no fun,” the confrontation becomes nearly overwhelming, “we race on trails like the pros. Mountain biking is way better than road biking like those stupid Europeans.”
“So what,” Simon slams his feet forward but the younger Chandler brothers hold his bike in stasis.
“We will race tomorrow on the north trails,” laughter subsides.
Simon continues his refusal to look them in the eye, “no, I want to race now.”
Two thick arms shove him off the seat, “no, right now you need to get your bike out of the water.”
Simon braces his fall with his hands, sending the meaty base of his palms across the asphalt. He flips over to find the young men stomping the frame of his bike with their brand name athletic sneakers. The eldest teen lifts the bike off the path like a caveman claiming his kill and chucks it towards the canal. Simon lunges to the edge and watches his bike tumble thirty feet down into a trickle of mossy water. By the time he can muster the courage to turn and rise, he is alone atop the path.
A thickening offshore layer rolls over the sun, announcing one final rain before the dry back end of summer emerges. Instead of risking his life to retrieve his bicycle from the canal, Simon’s mind begins to formulate a plan. He figures without pride that newcomers to Waterway will not know the canal and the surrounding forest like him. And if the elements behave, the Gills family will have their due. What that is exactly is not completely clear. Yet Simon walks the path and silently formulates a complex scheme where he will return to nature victorious. Once his family’s house appears in the distance, his contemplation is complete.
To him, the plan is simple.