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The City Changes Everything

BY BEN DALES

We had all heard the warnings about the bears. There were warning signs up all over the forest and everyday someone new claimed they had seen one.

‘It’s funny we haven’t seen one yet,’ said Adam.

‘Yeah, I reckon it’s bull, all the Americans are just scared,’ I replied.

‘Ok guys, we’ve all gotta be aware of the bears out there in those woods. We don’t want anyone coming home with arms and legs missing,’ he mocked in a bad American accent.

‘I’ll be pissed if we don’t see one before we leave.’

We were walking several kilometres down the hill in the darkness to the highway to collect our delivered pizza. The forest rose abruptly from the side of the road, I had never seen pine trees so tall. The pine needles coated the ground several inches deep. I had lived near an artificial plantation at home, but the trees got cut down after twenty years of growth, so it was nothing like this.

During the day, the forest was alive with activity from the local animals that inhabited it. There were chipmunks that foraged for food, squirrels that leaped up and down the tree trunks, and the occasional skunk that scurried out of our way. Near the lake at dusk the bats flew so low it was almost as if they clipped our ears as they flew past.

I had come to the Pocono’s Mountains near the Pennsylvania and New Jersey border, to escape myself. I did not know what I was doing, or what I was going to do, and the next three months was meant to buy me some time. I figured that things would just fall into place at some stage.

‘So what do you think of Anna?’ Adam asked.

I hesitated, ‘She’s alright.’

‘Yeah I know, you like her.’

There was no need for me to reply. He knew me well enough, even though we had only known each other for about a month. Spending all day everyday together had helped us get to know each other quickly.

‘Well what about Rachael?’ I said.

‘What about her?’

‘She likes you.’

‘She’s too nice. I like a girl with attitude,’ he said.

‘You’re not exactly P. Diddy,’ I laughed.

‘No but I don’t like it when they just go along with anything, they need a personality of their own. I like a bit of a bad girl, but not too bitchy.’

‘Ok, so are you going to tell her this before, or after we stay at her place in the city?’

‘What do you think?’ he scoffs. ‘It’s like she’s nice, but too nice.’

‘Yeah, she needs a bit of a personality injection.’

‘An intravenous personality.’

Adam and I were about the same height, short. About the same build, stocky, with the same crew cut hair we had shaved short last week. Unfortunately, I did not share his confidence or his ability to successfully talk nonsense.

As we reached the camp close to the road, we heard playful yelling and arguing from behind the trees. The light from the log cabin shone out onto the road. We reached the highway and noticed several other men from the camp leaning and sitting upon the fence. It was hard to see their faces, but the voices and the British accents were very familiar to us.

We collected our pizza from the delivery driver who was waiting near the entrance to the camp, and then ate it sitting on the damp grass of the oval.

After we consumed the pizza in silence, we began the steep trek back up the hill. We passed Anna along the way. In the darkness, it was difficult to make out her face and although I attempt to say hello, she did not seem to notice us. She just quietly walked past us down the hill.

‘It’s dark mate, she probably couldn’t see us,’ Adam assured me.

‘She’s Russian, maybe it’s a language barrier,’ I said.

‘A body language barrier.’

Later we were waiting at the side of the road for Rachael to pick us up.

‘You know she’s going to try and set you up with Cheryl don’t you?’ said Adam.

‘You reckon?’

‘She told me so,’ he said.

‘Oh man, so just because we are staying with them I have to give myself up. I’m not ready to lose my virginity.’

‘You don’t have to worry about that, unless she has a time machine.’

Rachael and Cheryl arrive in a grey BMW sedan.

‘It’s my dad’s car,’ said Rachael without being asked.

They both had long brown hair that was still wet from a shower and they smelled clean, of shampoo and soap. It was noticeable because I could not remember the last time I felt as clean as they smelled. I hoped they had not gone to any trouble for us.

‘So are we going to get some beers for the trip?’ I ask.

‘It’s illegal to have an open beer in the car in America,’ the girls replied almost in unison.

‘And?’

‘Well maybe it’s different in England,’ added Cheryl.

‘I’m not from England, so I wouldn’t know.’

Adam cuts me a sly glance showing their uptight response.

‘This is going to be an interesting trip,’ he says, referring to our visit to the city, although I suspected there was a deeper meaning.

‘I feel like a Labbatts blue, what about you?’ I ask.

‘Canadian malt, sounds good,’ he replied.

After an hour and a half, we arrived at the bright lights of the suburbs. Adam and I had not had a toilet break on top of several beers, and the situation had become desperate.

‘We just have to drop this off at one of the kid’s houses.’ Rachael says, holding an item I paid no attention to.

‘This is total bull, I really need to get out,’ I whisper to Adam.

‘It’s ok, we will,’ he whispers back.

Rachael and Cheryl then began discussing the man. Apparently, he was a violent drunk with a foul temper and they were nervous about even talking to him.

‘I’m still getting out,’ I said to Adam.

‘Me too.’

The car pulled into the driveway and we were both outside before it had completely stopped. Rachael took the item to the door, while Cheryl waited in the car.

As I stood in the bushes I wonder how a ‘violent drunk’ can afford such a nice house, with such a well kept green garden. I wondered if Rachael and Cheryl are exaggerating slightly as usual.

Then I noticed a deer peering silently at me from the opposite side of the bushes. It had large antlers like the ones I had seen on TV, where the males smash them into each other when they are fighting over females, or territory, or whatever animals fight over. I wondered what those antlers could do to me, an Australian in New Jersey in an alcoholic’s front garden. I wondered where Adam was, in another bush maybe, hopefully not too far away.

I hoped that the deer would not be startled by anything, at least until I had gotten out of the immediate area. The porch light of the house came on and an obviously intoxicated man began to speak loudly with Rachael. The deer fled onto the road and in front of an oncoming car on the otherwise quite street. It appeared to become blinded by the headlights. The driver managed to steer the vehicle around the animal without braking, and the incident appeared to go unnoticed by everyone but myself.

Then the man decided he wanted to come out to the car to meet ‘these Englishmen.’ He stumbled down the path towards the car and mumbled something about there being ‘only one of them’ in the car. I realised I had been beaten back to base and tried to quickly, but discreetly emerge from the bushes. My heart was pumping blood hyperactively.

‘Where is he?’ he said, in a tone that could have been either aggressive or just drunk.

‘Just admiring your garden,’ I said, as I quickly emerged from the bushes.

‘Oh there is two after all,’ he remarked.

Once we were back in the car Rachael told us all about how scared she was talking to the man. I was the one who was almost caught in his front garden I thought.

We left Cheryl at her house within the endless sprawl of suburbs and continued onto our bed for the night. Rachael explained to us that it was not actually her house: rather some guy’s who was in love with her, but she was not interested, and he was out of town, so we were staying with his mum, but it was late and she was in bed, so we had to get the key from someone else, but they had cable.

The house we arrived at was a standard size mansion consistent with the rest of the properties in the street. The roof inside was as high as some two-story buildings I had seen, with expensive polished wooden furniture and antiques in every corner.

We crept in quietly on the floorboards, careful not to wake up the stranger’s mother. Rachael told us we were not able to put any lights on as it might wake her. Apparently, the poor woman was sensitive to light through the thick floor from the level below her.

Rachael descended into the basement, while Adam got hold of a large antique double bass that was leaning in the corner.

‘Play us a tune, you’re a musician,’ he whispered.

‘Not that kind,’ I said.

‘Oh come on.’

He handed me the instrument that was almost as tall as our five foot nothing. I was about to check if it was in tune when Rachael’s head reappeared from the basement. We quickly returned the instrument to its corner and all conveniently pretended that she did not see what we were doing in the darkness.

The basement was actually a big games room with a pool table, fridge, and a wide screen TV. There was also something I had never heard of called a DVD player. Here we were allowed to make as much noise as we like, as opposed to worrying about the sound of our toenails on the floor just above.

They had cable though, all 300 or so channels. I tried unsuccessfully to find the Cricket channel several times, until it became obvious that flicking through all the channels was starting to become annoying. There must be a game on somewhere in the world right now, I thought.

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