Aaron Burch

Our first idea was the water tower. Sneak out, meet up and all drive together, park somewhere inconspicuous, get over or under or through the boundary fence, climb the attached metal ladder, and leave our mark. We might have to use paint cans and rollers? someone wondered. We didn't know. Not just spray-paint? We went back and forth. Class of 'XX, we'd tag. And maybe our initials, our initials in hearts or next to addition signs, and the initials of our girlfriends. Or, not our girlfriends, but the girls we wished were our girlfriends. Or, not our initials, and not hearts or math symbols, but the initials of classmates we didn't like, because we didn't want to get in trouble and thought it funny to blame and incriminate others, but then again we didn't want to not get credit, didn't want to go through all that trouble and then give the glory to our enemies. It was a dilemma.

Our second idea was the parking lot. Pour out big lines and globs of celebration, splatter the tarmac, empty while everyone was home, asleep. That was what they'd done the year before, so it wasn't really our idea, per se. But the water tower was a tradition going back as far as we knew, so that wasn't really ours either. We were helping continue something new or reestablishing the old, one way or the other. These ideas, these traditions, had been passed down to us and so now were ours, was how we felt. We owned them. Some say that isn't how ideas work, there isn't any such thing as idea ownership, though that argument can cut either way. Semantics. But that isn't really what's important.

We got together, drank. We could climb onto the roof and paint all the skylights black? We could bring screwdrivers and socket wrenches, hammers; remove all the signs on the premises—parking and various prohibitions (drugs, firearms, skateboarding, etc.)? We argued semantics, upsides, downsides, whether or not we'd be able to follow through with idea one or two, or four or nine, when it finally came to it.

Another idea wasn't really an idea. We snuck out, met up and drove to the school, parked in the empty parking lot, and climbed onto the roof, but without paint (cans or spray). We brought beer. We brought a one-hitter, though not really enough pot to go around. We brought handfuls of rocks, pocketfuls, to throw at empties we'd left on the ground. To throw at the imaginary car windows of the classmates we didn't like. Our enemies. I can't wait until this year is over and we can get out of here, someone said. We all said. We drank some more.

Tom wasn't there because Mary's mom found a condom in her bathroom that hadn't flushed and now they were both on lockdown. Jim wasn't there because Tom was always his ride; he didn't drive and lived too out of the way for any of us to ever pick him up. We turned our bottles upside down, poured beer out over the skylights like pouring paint, but the beer rolled off clear, didn't blackout the windows like paint. Or maybe Tom was there. Or maybe he wasn't, but only because he didn't want to be. The found condom is the one detail I remember about him, regardless. We threw our empties into the empty lot, watched them arc through the sky before crashing into the ground, shattering like fireworks. Who was supposed to bring the paint? someone asked. We all asked. We all knew that hadn't been the plan, the idea. We brainstormed, had more ideas, ideas for ideas. Barry shrugged, said he was going to miss it here. Tom agreed. We threw more empties, emptied everything we had.  

Aaron Burch's debut collection of stories is HOW TO PREDICT THE WEATHER. He edits Hobart.

Read more of his work in the archive.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of T. Magnum.

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