THE LONG ROAD
“Hey Abby!” Phoebe turned to catch a glimpse of Abby’s face in the faint light. “You never mentioned all this fascinating stuff. I had no idea.”
“Yeah, but remember, I haven’t seen him in ten years.”
“Isaiah and Ishmael know him too,” added Lluvia. “In fact, the whole band might be staying with Alex.”
They were walking along a wandering pathway bordered by thin metal posts holding chains, apparently set up to keep people off the lawn. Sculpted columns held lights throwing shadows across their path. Large stone buildings with arches and gothic decorations appeared across the lawn. Tall oak and maple trees obscured the view ahead. A thin curved moon like a boat sailed slowly across the sky. The campus was quiet, with murmuring voices and music in the background.
A wide arch appeared ahead of them, and then a short tunnel led off the campus to a narrow street lined with a row of very old brick houses. Lluvia stopped at one of these small one family dwellings, about five yards wide and two stories high. After a tiny front yard, three windows glowed in the night, one near the door and two above.
“Well, there are people here at least,” Abby said.
“Of course,” Lluvia replied. “It’s a big deal that we’re visiting. They’re waiting for us.”
“How do you know?” Abby sensed that Lluvia knew a lot more about this situation than she had let on.
Lluvia laughed. “We’re better organized than you think. We obey the phone rules, but Sharon brings messages back and forth. And I’m here often these days.”
She knocked on the door, and knocked again. An acoustic guitar and voice suddenly stopped.
“Yes?” came a voice. “Who is it?”
“It’s me, Isaiah! Lluvia!”
The door opened. Isaiah and Lluvia embraced. Abby glanced around at the mess in the small multi-purpose room. There were pizza boxes on the floor, two open duffel bags with loose clothing, a sleeping bag, books, two guitars and a drum set, and prints all over the walls. Isaiah pushed some books on the couch onto the floor, and moved a couple of folding chairs.
“Please, have a seat,” he said. “Lluvia, Abby, Phoebe, sorry for the chaos here, and sorry to be the only one to welcome you. The others should be back… well, it’s hard to say. There’s a lot going on.” Isaiah raised a hand as if to dismiss the whole subject. “What about Alex?” asked Lluvia.
“I thought he was at the gallery.”
“Mmm… we were just there. In fact, we were supposed to meet him there.”
“Welcome to Evansville College,” said Isaiah sarcastically.
There’s something sad in his eyes, thought Abby. “You don’t look too happy. Anything we can do?” Isaiah shrugged.
Abby looked at Lluvia, who was speechless and seemed shocked. Clearly she had not expected this reception. Abby decided to pursue Isaiah, get him to open up. “I heard that song through the door,” she said. “I still hear it in my head. What song is that?”
“Oh, just something I’ve been working on. I think I finished it.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“I’m a bad guitar player. I won’t do it justice.”
“Through the door it sounded… well, powerful. I’m really interested.” Abby handed him a guitar. He’s depressed, she thought. Lonely, but more than that.
Isaiah played a few chords and hummed a melody, not a fast rhythm but not slow either. A very solemn tune. He began to sing:
Take me up on the long road
Where the heavens open wide
I want to tell you just how much we care
Won’t you listen to our cry
Do you ever show your hand
Can anyone ever know
It’s all that we can do to crawl
And it’s a long long way to go
Climbing up the distant ladder
Sometimes the heart’s the only guide
I want you to know about the love we share
I want you to see how hard we try
Take one step at a time
When you’re feeling so empty
You’ve got to lose just to live
I don’t see nothing here for free
Can I do something for you
Can you do something for me
Cause it’s way after midnight
And I can barely see
Take me for a ride on your railroad
Take me for a ride up to the sun
I want to know the place where we go
Where our lives are lost and won
The song was over. There was a moment of silence. “Oooo…” murmured Lluvia.
“Definitely… powerful,” repeated Abby.
There was silence again. Finally, Lluvia said, “It’s about you, right? We’re your friends. Come on, let us in, what’s up?”
“I don’t want to talk about it. But… I know I have to… Okay, the big news is I’m catching Sharon’s boat early tomorrow. I’ll miss the big concert in the courtyard tomorrow night. I told Cali, but haven’t spoken to anyone else. Maybe Cali will find them.”
“Something important must have happened.” Lluvia put her hand on his knee. “Come on, let us in.”
“My mother’s sick. She’ll have some kind of procedure done on her eye tomorrow morning, and be in the hospital for a few days. I’m frightened for her.” They waited.
“She got Sharon to find me and say I should act as pastor on
Sunday in the church, unless Sonny wants to do it. In which case I should support Sonny and run Sunday school. Junior’s in River City for a meeting. He’s away more often than he’s home. And I am too!”
Isaiah opened his arms as if pleading with them. “We’re deserting our responsibilities. I don’t like it here. Everyone is a kid, a mob of twenty-year olds looking for girlfriends or boyfriends, socializing like mad. There’s no one here like me. I’m not interested in assistant professors and college events. I’m thirty-four years old, and not making any money – though we are supposed to get paid for our radio concert – but I don’t care, they’ll give me my share later. And then they’ll go to River City for a show, but I won’t go. And… any moment they’ll walk in and I’ll spoil their evening, but I don’t care. I can’t do this any longer.” Lluvia hugged him.
“They won’t even have time to practice the band without me!” Isaiah was almost yelling with frustration. “It’s such a mean thing I’m doing. You got to lose just to live.” He had tears in his eyes.
“I think you’re doing the right thing,” Abby said.
“Yeah,” Lluvia said softly. “It’s important to be pastor if they need you. These kids in Sunday school are important. How about Wednesday night at the Open Gate? Hundreds of people come every week. With Junior and Cali gone, who can run it? You have jobs to do.”
“I do. I do. And I like my jobs. I like the band too, but I end up sitting around here, feeling out of place. My band and their friends are over ten years younger than me. These students are even younger. You should hear the stuff they talk about. Debating the end of the world. Dystopia, everything’s about dystopia. I hate these discussions. Let’s do something about it! They talk about Alex’s fire breathing dragon as if the end is near. And that dragon pouring out the flood…” – he motioned to a nearby print of The Ark on the wall – “you see it everywhere.”
Lluvia backed up and gave Isaiah a stare. “Now don’t go overboard on me, that’s not fair. The Students Against Fossil Fuels are trying. You see STAFF shirts all over. We’ve just come from a meeting where we were all trying to do something. Alex isn’t predicting the end of the world. His Ark is about getting through the flood with all life. The dragon is just nature striking back against our mistakes. You must have heard Alex’s idea. He wants to give Students Against Fossil Fuels a new name: SAD, for Students Against Distopia.”
“Mmm… I like that,” Isaiah replied. “But I’m not a student, and I’m not going to be one. How old are you, Lluvia?”
“Why ask that? I’m twenty-two.”
“See? That’s my point. You like Alex. You’re in a different stage of life. And you’re right, I know I’m being unfair, venting all this to you. I’ll get over it. At least now I know what I should be doing. The band will survive. They’ll figure it out.”
Abby broke into the conversation. “You’re right. Don’t feel guilty. They’ll understand. And who can argue with your mother, your church, your community? Lluvia and I grew up there, went to Sunday school there. We would never be where we are without adults who cared.”
Phoebe suddenly had a few words to say. “The band will survive. I know them. We’re on your side. Do what you need to do. Now, I’m going to clean up this place. How did it become such a mess? We’re staying here too.”
Abby and Lluvia and Isaiah joined in.
Cali and Alex arrived, and received a warm welcome from all. Abby and Alex embraced and stared at each other. Everyone felt a burst of energy and sat around the coffee table with several conversations going on at once. Cali did her best to relieve Isaiah’s anxieties. She had spoken to George, Eddy, and Ishmael. They were already making plans on the phone. Rain was predicted for the following evening, and Sara had received permission to move the concert indoors. In fact, explained Cali, they might be able to play in the beautiful old auditorium in Alexander Hall. That circular stone building was the most prestigious place for music on campus.
Plus, Sara wanted Ishmael, Eddy, and George to show up early the following morning at the trustee event. “Sara’s afraid the trustees will delay presenting their position on disinvestment,” Cali explained. “People could get restless and annoyed. Sara wants the band to hold the crowd if that happens.”
Nobody was mad at Isaiah; Cali was sure of that. The band would set up in Alexander Hall early in the afternoon, and could practice for hours. The concert would begin at 7pm.
Alex offered beer, wine, coffee, or tea. Phoebe, Lluvia, and Abby were exhausted, and wanted peppermint tea and a place to sleep. Isaiah was packing his things in a duffel bag.
“So where is everybody?” asked Isaiah.
“Well, George and Ishmael are in Sara’s dorm,” Cali answered. “Eddie is somewhere with Stephanie, and I’m invited to a party and only stopped by to bring you the news.”
I’ve got to say something, thought Abby. I need to know something! “Cali, wait a second. I haven’t seen George since that disaster in the churchyard. He hasn’t returned to Middletown since then.
I need to know how he’s doing… It was so painful for him.”
“Yeah, it was,” Cali replied softly, almost in a whisper. “But he likes it here. It’s kind of… well, liberating for him to be away from all that tension. He’s writing songs, gets along with Sara and her friends. He can’t stay in Sara’s dormitory forever, but so far it’s okay.”
Abby breathed a sigh of relief. “Thanks, that really helps.”
“It’s all okay,” Cali said. She headed out the door and said she’d be back in a couple of hours. There was a long silence.
Then Lluvia looked at Alex. “Where were you? We saw your gallery, but you didn’t show up.”
“I’m sorry… I was at the big staff meeting. We’re organizing tomorrow’s…” He hesitated. “Event…gathering… demonstration? Who knows what it is, or how it will come off. Sara and Amy are desperate to give it some respectability and prestige. They asked everyone to act as security, speak to the campus police about any problems, intervene on people trying to disrupt. The meeting went on and on, but at least we have a plan. Staff will show at 8am and drink coffee, and greet people as they arrive. I’m not used to this sort of thing, but I’m doing my best. No banners, no signs allowed. We’re all supposed to wear STAFF t-shirts. Here, I’ve got a few to give you.” He reached into his backpack and handed out the shirts.
“How exciting,” exclaimed Lluvia. “That’s wonderful… I’m so… proud of you. I can’t wait.”
Alex smiled at her. “See, I’m not such an irresponsible, no-good, undisciplined…”
“Now that’s unfair!” Lluvia retorted. “I never said those things.”
Alex was surprised and immediately apologized. “Of course you didn’t. I was just thinking of what my sister used to call me, maybe even still calls me. I shouldn’t pin it on you. Please forgive me.”
They hugged. Phoebe and Abby looked at each other and smiled, nodding at each other. They had guessed correctly.
They drank their tea in silence. Alex looked around anxiously. “I know I haven’t been much of a host, but we do have a bed and two cots in the front room upstairs. Cali sleeps right here on the couch. George stays with Sara, Eddy stays with Stephanie, and Ishmael stays with friends I haven’t met yet. Isaiah and I have the back room. I hope that’s okay.”
He looked from one to another. No one replied. “Please, we can change the arrangement if there’s a problem…”
“No, of course not,” Abby said. “It’s all fine, please don’t worry, just wake us early. We’ll wear our new shirts and follow everything you do in the morning.”
“I’m thrilled to be here!” exclaimed Phoebe. “Thank you, Alex!”
Abby reached out and touched his hand. “Yes, and please don’t apologize. We’ll have a chance to catch up on the years gone by… maybe tomorrow afternoon?”
“Oh, I’d love that, I’m so curious about all you’ve done. And by the way, I’ve got a print to give you tomorrow before you leave. I’d love to hear your reaction to it. I was thinking of you when I drew it. I don’t know what it means. It came out of a dream.”
“I’d love to see it. And I loved your show. I even bought a print!”
“You shouldn’t have done that! I’ll give you any print you like.”
“That’s okay, I’m glad I bought it, and I’m eager to see whatever you want to give me.”
“I’ve got to tell you,” Alex went on, “you’re famous here in Evansville. Everyone follows the news. You should know that people will try to interview you tomorrow.”
“No, please! If anyone asks, just say I’m only here to listen. Tell the other staff.” Abby was very firm, and obviously worried.
“Ah, I’m glad you mentioned it,” Alex replied. “I’ll bring it up early tomorrow. That’s the kind of thing Sara and Amy need to know. They’ll probably assign campus security to watch over you.”
Please! thought Abby. I need to be invisible.
Phoebe and Lluvia were looking at her. “We’ll stick with you,” Phoebe said.