By Mike Epifani
Joe led me out of his house, into his back yard, and took a turn for The Worst.
He was wearing his grey zipper-down sweatshirt, hood over head, spray cans in both hands he had tucked into his pockets. Through the fabric, behind the bulges of his knuckles, I could see the curve of the metal cans.
He had texted me to come over as soon as possible.
We hadn’t been down to The Worst since the night we found Stevie’s body hanging like a flag in the aftermath of war. He graffitied the word Peace on the ground before he pushed off the ledge of the old elevated tracks. The word was still there as a sort of shrine.
The local paper spun it as a cry for world peace and labeling Stevie as some kind of dramatic protester. Like a Buddhist monk lighting himself on fire. Joe and I knew better. Stevie always said Peace before we split up at Cornelia Road. That was just how he said goodbye.
Dad said that the train used to rush over The Worst and would throw off your heartbeat. He also said that it would scare a hesitant fish back under a rock before the stream said Peace and dried up.
The stream left graffiti too. Flowing strands in a subtle indent that turned back and forth like the images on a heartbeat monitor.
“Listen, man,” Joe said without turning around, leading the way through the uncut grass and brambles of field that went from Joe’s backyard to The Worst. “Stevie always came off as the type that really appreciated life, you know? Almost as if he knew something we didn’t.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“I was thinking,” he continued. “Fuck that article. Screw the Peace tees, the vigils and the flowers and the stupid fucking memorial video with him throwing up the peace sign in slow motion at the end. He was just saying goodbye.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“I’m looking out my back window today, watching this hummingbird drink out of the feeder, and past this thing’s wings I can see the tracks, you know, through a couple of the trees, off in the distance. And I swear to you I can see this yellow glow and I just know it’s that fucking word. Like it’s signaling to me or something. I don’t know.”
We reached the dried stream bed and the tracks as he finished talking. He started up the left side of the hill, closest to the side of the tracks where Stevie had been.
He stopped at the Peace and waited for me to catch up the few paces behind.
I stood next to him and looked down at the word. I blinked a few times to be sure, but it really was glowing. It was dim, not nearly bright enough to be spotted from Joe’s back window 300 yards away in broad daylight, but it was glowing, penetrating the dusk with a bright and fluttering reverberation.
“Holy shit,” I said. Peripherally, I could see Joe whip out a spray can and start shaking it. “What are you doing?”
“It’s so obvious, dude. It’s so fucking obvious what needs to happen here.”
“Dude, what...” I started but Joe squatted down and started covering up the glowing tombstone with black paint. I lunged to stop him but he tossed me over his back and continued. I wrestled with him, struggling to grab the paint, even attempting to block it with my hands, but he covered Stevie’s Peace up so that just a few sparkles remained.
“What the fuck, man!” I screamed at him. My voice echoed into the emptiness. He pushed me away and covered the last few specks of light before standing back up, throwing the can off the other side of the bridge, and retracing his steps back down the slope.
I followed but seethed with anger and confusion.
He approached the bank of the stream, knelt again, and got the second paint can out and shook it. He sprayed into the dirt carefully, approaching each letter like a second grader.
When he finished the word, he stood up. Peace glowed in yellow like it had at the peak of The Worst.
He stepped slightly to his right, knelt again, and wrote peace a second time, it glowing too.
He continued his path down the bank, writing peace in that same careful way, and I watched him and the line of peace beacons in their winding path across The Worst. Then he started a second line away from the stream bed and headed back to where I stood and waited.
When he reached a foot in front of the first Peace he had put down, he stood and tossed me the can. I caught it and stood without moving for a moment, staring into his unreadable eyes.
I knelt down and started the third line, each peace written glowing in that neon shade of yellow. I made my way down the path he had started and then back again. The fifty or so feet of the bank was outlined on one side by four rows of the word peace and the shine would have made us squint if our eyes hadn’t already adjusted.
We continued the rows all night, lining both sides of the dried bed, covering the four hills and the entirety of the bridge that they led up to. The only spot beside the stream we didn’t touch with lit words was the blacked out Peace Stevie had scrawled to say goodbye.
When we finished, we stood where Stevie must have crouched, right in front of the blacked out spot, and stared out over the massive glow that made the curves of the stream stand out with new prominence.
“He just knew something we didn’t, you know?” Joe said and threw the empty spray can into the newly dawned field.
“Yeah,” I said.
And I did.
- - -
Mike Epifani is a starving writer and comic in Chicago. He is a Syracuse native and graduate of Columbia College's Creative Writing program. He loves living vicariously through his imagination and the imagination of others.
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