At Aaron’s age, anything amazes. Ants and airplanes astonish.
Baby Aaron and Aunt Betty buy apples and bananas, beans and asparagus. A bagboy brings Aaron an apricot. Aunt Betty beams.
“Cats are beastly.” Aunt Betty can’t abide animals. Aaron asks about birds. “Buzzards carry away babies.” Aaron cries.
Daydreaming about Africa, Aaron clutches a deep blue crayon and draws a baboon. “Definitely a bright and creative boy.” Doctor Crenshaw consults a book. “Does Aaron ask about David and Catherine?” Aunt Betty chuckles. “Don’t be absurd. Aaron can’t comprehend death.” Aaron draws crashing cars.
Every day Aaron dreads class. “A common anxiety,” Doctor Crenshaw claims. Aunt Betty agrees. “Don’t be afraid. Badly educated children become criminals. And eat every crumb, darling.” Aunt Betty cares about Aaron’s appetite. Aaron eats a cold boiled egg.
“Four and four are eight.” Aunt Betty’s friends are excited about Aaron’s fondness for arithmetic. Aaron also cares dearly for books. A dictionary can fascinate Aaron for days. Aaron finds definitions for “bereavement” and “funereal”.
Girls are Aaron’s friends. First grade boys are dangerous, but girls are clever and gentle. Aaron’s best friend, Gail Fletcher, gets a bicycle for Christmas. Aunt Betty gives Aaron a BB gun.
His hands filthy and bleeding, Aaron digs a hole behind Aunt Betty’s house. He hates her gift, and has bad dreams about dead animals. He digs a grave for his gun, his hated enemy.
In April, for Gail’s eighth birthday, Aaron gives her a game called “Careers”. He found it at Goodwill in a battered cardboard box. “I’m an Ecologist,” Gail insists. Aaron is an Interior Decorator. Gail almost always beats Aaron at “Careers”.
Just before he begins junior high, Aaron has a crippling headache. For a full day he is in bed. Aunt Betty brings him hot dogs and ice cream, but Aaron can’t eat anything but apple juice.
“Keep a headache diary,” Doctor Crenshaw advises. “Describe each episode in full detail. Intensity, duration, everything. An ergotamine derivative could help.”
Latin is Aaron’s favorite class. From a comedy called “Asinaria” he learns an important lesson. Lupus est homo homini.
Months go by before Aaron has another migraine attack. It feels like hot metal claws inside his eyes, crawling into his brain. Methylergonovine is moderately effective in easing his agony. Aaron misses class for five days. Gail brings his homework.
Nothing in Aaron’s life is as important as his newly discovered love for his friend. He knows he could never love anyone else. He does not let Gail know anything. Not now; maybe later; maybe never.
Once, long ago, Aaron dressed for Halloween as a hobo in dungarees and a dirty coat Aunt Betty dragged out of a chest of drawers. Later he finds out it is his father’s Army jacket. Now each October he just looks at old monster movies, comforted by blacks and grays.
People assume Aaron is Gail’s boyfriend. At a party, one of Gail’s many cousins proposes a game of Post Office. Aaron goes outside, avoiding any possibility of kissing Gail in front of anyone else. A little later, Gail finds him in a copse of pines behind her house. His first experience in making love is frightening, hilarious, confusing. He drowns in her dark eyes, her flaming hair, her ivory body.
Quietly murmuring breezes caress Aaron’s bare flesh. Hidden from all others, lying on fragrant pine needles near his beloved, he has only one question. “Ask me again after I’ve graduated from college,” Gail answers. Her fingers draw a heart on Aaron’s chest.
Roane Community College is located near Aaron’s home. He registers as a chemistry major. He enjoys mixing reagents and measuring results. One experiment involves dissolving alkali metals in ammonia, a dangerous procedure requiring great care. Electric blue liquids result, like angels’ eyes.
Sometimes Aaron’s headaches are so excruciating he stays in a dark room for an hour or more, in complete silence. “He’s like something out of a story by Poe,” Gail says. Aunt Betty doesn’t read Poe. “He’s just sensitive,” she says. “He’s lucky he has me looking after him.” She smiles.
The third time Aaron asks Gail to marry him, she agrees. They decide to delay the ceremony for some time. Aaron has a decent job as a laboratory technician, but Gail still has two semesters to go before she has her degree in environmental science. They love the idea of being scientists living together, sharing the beauty of everything real.
Until the day of his twenty-first birthday, Aaron has never tasted alcohol. He decides to celebrate his upcoming nuptials by buying a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino, an expensive Tuscan red. He doesn’t like it.
Very severe headaches continue to plague Aaron at variable intervals. On a vacation in Arcadia National Park, he has to stop in the middle of a seashore hike and rest for several minutes. The ocean splashes softly on the rocky coastline, like a soothing voice.
When the wedding of Gail Fletcher and Aaron Weissman takes place, on a fiercely bright winter morning, there are not very many guests. Aunt Betty is there, of course, weeping quietly into a lace handkerchief. Most of the other witnesses are Gail’s relatives. There are also a few women who are Aaron’s close friends. Aaron wears a white suit, but no tie. Gail wears a dove gray silk gown. The woman who officiates at the ceremony was briefly Gail’s lover in college.
X-rays confirm Doctor Crenshaw’s diagnosis. Aaron has a brain tumor.
“You must find someone else when I am gone,” Aaron says. “Yes,” Gail says, because she loves him.
Zinnias and geraniums grow on Aaron’s grave. Aunt Betty planted them with great care, and visits frequently to water and trim them. Gail lives alone in San Diego. She did not attend Aaron’s funeral, because she thinks such ceremonies are barbaric. Aaron was twenty-six years old when he died.
Michael Peralta lives on a wooded hillside in the southeastern corner of Tennessee with fellow writer Rose Secrest, to whom he has had the honor to be married for more than a quarter of a century. They are childfree by choice, but live with more than a dozen cats. He has had science fiction and fantasy published in small circulation magazines since the 1980’s.