Title: Moon Puddles
Author: Robert Gamble
A sniper kills his uncle in Vietnam. Journeying in the car to the funeral, a boy begins to reveal his secret inner life, the richness and wonder of his childhood, and his growing awareness of the sacred. Set in the early 1960s amidst the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and Rust Belt decay the boy grapples with injustice, ignorance, fear of death, longing for God, and the joy of experiencing the world.
Darla came over to me and smiled, “How’d you like to take a walk down to the creek?
“How far is it?” I asked.
“It’s right down by Grandma’s house, not far at all.”
“Would that be all right, Mom?” Danny asked. I could tell he was eager to get outside away from the pups under our feet. We had petted them for a while, but they were getting too excited and started to leak a little pee when they got rubbed. Danny had new P.F. Flyers like me, and he probably didn’t want them peed on. I was real careful myself, shuffling about, avoiding puppies rubbing and sniffing at my shoes.
“All right, that’s fine, isn’t it, Hon?” Mom said.
“Sure, sure.” Dad was sitting on a hard wooden chair listening to Leonard, and I could tell he was getting a bit irritated.
“Come on then,” Darla said as she led us out of the house. She took us past the dog house, where the beagle pups’ mother was sleeping in the bare dirt; her chain must have rubbed away all the grass in front of her flat-roofed dog house. Flies were buzzing around some chunks of dog food left on a tin plate; I could see the can lines on one crusty chunk. Darla took us into the woods on the edge of their yard.
Darla is pretty and kind of quiet, but when she does talk, she’s worth listening to, and her voice is clear and strong, not so soft like some girls who you can hardly hear sometimes. She has light brown hair down past her shoulders, bright blue eyes, and a sweet shy smile that I enjoy looking at. Darla is a tomboy, too, and can climb over rocks and stuff real smooth-like. She can also pick out a good path that is comfortable and sensible to follow—not just anyone can do that.
Lenny has a crew-cut, blue eyes, and a white scar line above his left eye that makes his eyebrow look odd—whatever happened, he’s lucky he didn’t get his eye poked out. He doesn’t talk much either, but he and Danny seem to get along good together.
After about five minutes of following Darla through trees, broken-down fences, and a flat field full of purple thistles, we came to a big blackberry bush. Darla turned around and smiled at us, “Let’s take a blackberry break.”
As we gathered around the bush, she picked a big ripe blackberry, “Open wide now,” she said as she popped it in my mouth. God, it burst apart with one gentle bite. They were perfect, big black sweet, and oozing juice as soon as we picked them. It didn’t take long before we had purple stains on our hands; everybody had purple tongues, too. Lenny even had purple around his lips. I got a few scratches on my arms from the thorns on the bush, but it was worth getting scratched for such delicious juicy treasure.
Once we picked off all the easy ones to reach, we licked our fingers and trailed after Darla. I was right behind her because I liked to watch the graceful way she moved. She has strong, smooth pretty legs that look like they are used to climbing and running. Every couple minutes, she would push her hair back behind her right ear.
It wasn’t long before I could see the back of Grandma’s house through a clearing in the woods. Darla led us down the bank to the creek and showed us a pool that was full of darting minnows.
Danny and Lenny wandered down the creek hopping from rock to rock, while Darla and I stayed put on the big flat stone and watched minnows flashing like living light over the pebbled bottom of the pool. It felt good to sit next to her; I didn’t feel like going anywhere right then.
I guess Darla was allowed to wear comfortable clothes until she got older because she was wearing purple shorts and a matching purple halter top with white trim. Her clothes showed how pretty her brown legs and her round, smooth shoulders were. She had a few cute freckles on her nose. I thought about reaching over and holding her hand, then before I knew it, somehow I was.
Her hand felt warm and soft pulsing together with mine. She gave me her sweet smile. I scooted over closer to her, and we leaned against each other with the rock warm under us. A mockingbird was singing a happy song in a bush across the creek. The water was gurgling and tinkling as it flowed over the rocks. Warm sunlight soaking and tingling into my arms and legs almost felt alive, and my heart was twisting pleasantly. The Mystery seemed to slow time to a stop as I felt her tender hand and her smooth leg up against mine.
Under the sounds of the creek and the mockingbird, I could hear Darla’s soft breath as her head rested against me. The scent of blackberries lingered around her, and I felt a bit dizzy from wanting something to happen, but I didn’t know what that something was.
Too soon, Danny and Lenny started to head back, so I slowly slid away and stood up. Darla gave me a look like we shared a secret now, as if we belonged to each other in a different way than before, and I guess we did. Danny and Lenny came back watching their feet on the wet rocks, so they didn’t notice anything when they joined us.
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Beauty, love, truth, justice, are cherished everywhere by decent people. Immersion in these qualities is essential to our well-being. Moon Puddles is a space, an opening, a pool, where people can take a dip or a plunge into the refreshment our souls require, where we can be led by a child’s wonder into our own wonder of life. As one reader said, “It’s a really good read pulling you into a sublime mood full of hope and expansiveness.”
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Robert Gamble graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and a Master of Arts in Teaching. Among other things, he was a soldier, factory worker, custodian, groundskeeper, pizza shop manager, worked in printing, sales, delivered the mail, and was an elementary school teacher. He retired from teaching and is currently enjoying the enchantment of New Mexico with his wife and two boys.