‘Young Once’ by Mike Lee

sc june 18

I am with my wife Penny. We were young once. We are on vacation. Sunlight bathes us in its golden glow. Our world seems like a dream, now slipping toward a chasm.

We are in a small boat caught in a tremendous current. As we passed the low hanging wooden plank bridge, the river widened and our chances of going against the waves dropped to zero. We haven’t the strength. The cataracts are ahead. She and I missed the warning signs posted on the bridge.

Penny and I are on vacation here, at the river. This is our adventure: camping, and this boat.


As we paddle furiously, Penny cuts her hand on a splinter. Blood curls around her fingers.

No. It is not only her blood because, after all, it is my blood too. Our lives are intertwined, wrapped in glassine binds, through fate and regenerating faith. It is this Celtic coil, which is what is best described that defines our existence together.


As we struggle, I remember: forms of refusal in the context of the hardened artifact, that which remains after the memory of the photograph of a smile on a front porch in the Brykerwoods neighborhood in Austin, Texas during the summer of 1977. Those old square Kodak Instamatic prints turn orange and yellow with decline of decades.

Penny held in her hands is a copy of A Season of Hell. She knows what it is about. Sometimes she fools herself with how much she knows.

I remember the chocolate brown coffee table stacked with Anais Nin and George Oppen. Mom read them. Mom was studying for her English masters’. The air conditioner ran too long and loudly, and I recall the hardwood floors of the duplex I lived then with my mother. We were kids. We met the day Elvis died.


As our boat rushes toward the cataract Penny kisses me, telling me. “I look forward in the future to the end of time.”

Penny paused, pointing with bloodstained fingers toward the chasm. “And this is soon.”


When you are young, life is languid. You cannot wait to be an adult. We rushed to grow, chafing against weight of the clock.

Now, time rushes as fast as the current. What was before a push forward, we desperately pull backward.

As then, we are failing. You always end up fooling yourself with your naïve approach to mortality. There are no exceptions.


I began to tell her this but my response is drowned out in the deafening roar emanating from the looming chasm ahead. After a few words, I stop and pull her tight.

Yet Penny understands what I mean as the boat heaves upward in the churning water.

Mike Lee is a writer, editor, labor journalist and photographer living in New York City. His fiction is published in Soft Cartel, Ghost Parachute, Reservoir, Alexandria Quarterly, The Airgonaut and others. He also writes for the photography website Focus on the Story. Website is www.mleephotoart.com.

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