“So are we really doing this?”
A savage gust of November wind claws through the fibers of my wool peacoat, and I brace reflexively against it. I turn toward Rodney, whose resolute gaze is trained on the dilapidated plantation-style house looming like a vampire waiting to feed. He exudes a peculiar calmness as he puffs at his cigarette. Meanwhile, I can barely keep myself from doubling over with anxiety. How is he so calm right now?
“Of course we are,” he responds, finally. Not even a modicum of nervousness in his voice.
“Okay, but can I ask why?”
“We’ve already been over this. Because it’s necessary.”
“Yeah, you mentioned, but… I’m not sure I understand your grounds for making that assertion. ‘Because it’s necessary’ is hardly what I’d consider a self-evident truth. Not in this instance.”
Rodney takes a slow and gradual breath, as if intending to draw the cold into his body. I tremblingly fish around my pockets for a cigarette.
“Donny, you’re welcome to wait in the car. Relax in warmth and security, listen to music. Hell, smoke another joint for all I care. But this is inevitable. With or without you, this is ending the same way.”
A shiver storms my bones. I take another look at the house. To a certain extent, I can see his point. As I’ve said, it’s a rotten, crumbling place. The house sits in an isolated acre of dry meadow, if it’s still even a meadow at this point, surrounded by dense hemlock forest, and vastly removed from the rest of civilization, or even any main roads. I don’t know the exact history of the structure, but I think it was built sometime a little over a century ago, and has only ever had one family call it home. I forget what happened. I can surmise that it must have been bad, because its original occupants left or disappeared, and it hasn’t had any new ones since. It’s just been sitting here, leisurely degrading.
“No, I said I would help, and I stand by that. Just… I can’t help but feel slightly apprehensive, man. This is serious shit we’re about to get into, you understand that. Right?”
Rodney nods and continues puffing his cigarette. “I wouldn’t be so committed if it weren’t ‘serious shit.”
“God damn it, Rod…” By this point, I’ve managed to light my cigarette, taking drag after fretful drag. Come to think of it, Rodney always has been the more decisive of the two of us. Ever since we were kids. He was never one to back down from anything, no matter how utterly nerve-wracking. It was him, after all, who’d convinced me to cross the rickety wooden bridge that spanned the Big Creek to the lookout point with a breathtaking view of the entire valley in which our hometown is nestled.
“You won’t regret this, dude,” he’d kept telling me, while I stood transfixed on that dubious length of planks. I thought surely it couldn’t support the force of two nine-year-old boys as they traipsed across. Despite my best efforts, I was assailed by visions of myself breaking through the wood and plunging twenty feet onto the rough, dark rocks protruding to the surface of the water. But Rodney kept goading, and eventually, I yielded. He was right, it turns out. To this day, I have not had a single regret about crossing that bridge, nor our harrowing trek up steep inclines, through brambles and thorns.
But he’d been wild and enthusiastic in that moment. Now, he’s grave, determined. I honestly intimidated. But, fuck it , I’d made a promise to my friend that we would see this through together, and I was going to keep it. Sensitive nerves be damned.
“Okay,” I pant, “Let’s just do this.” I glimpse a satisfied smile flash across Rodney’s face. He picks up the aluminum canister which had been resting near his feet, and together, we march to our destiny.
Twenty minutes later, and the sun is just beginning its ascent over the shadowy hemlocks. Rodney and I are leaning against the hood of his 2008 Ford, admiring our handiwork over a celebratory joint. It’s breathtaking, really. The exuberant flames feasting upon the old wood, the billows of lush smoke steadily smothering the dawn sky. I’d like to put it all on a postcard.
“And this was absolutely necessary?” I ask, passing the roach over to Rodney. He accepts it, brings it to his lips, and inhales deeply.
“Of course it was. But… Does it really matter?” Something like pride courses through his voice, “Just look at that view.”
“Fair enough,” I nod. He’s right. The view was worth it.