Please welcome author Ed Levesko to Britbear’s Book Reviews with an excerpt from his novel, Long Time Passing.
In Long Time Passing:
Long Time Passing is set in the 60s, a time of turmoil in America. Jonathan, the main character, was drafted into an army he did not believe in, and thrust into a part of the country he did not understand. Despite all of this, he finds unwavering friendship among his fellow soldiers, and tries to deal with being exposed to bigotry and prejudice so prevalent in the south. And although an immense personal tragedy shatters his idea of who is—throwing him into years of desolation–in the end, he comes to terms with his life, and discovers love and his own humanity in a way he least expected it.
Excerpt from Long Time Passing
I stood outside the auditorium. For an instant, I felt like maybe I should just turn around, get in my car, and hit the road. It really was tempting to do that. I started to laugh to myself and decided that, what the hell, I was here, and I might as well go in. It would not hurt me to say hello. Slowly, I walked in. The place was a pretty good size. The stage was brightly lit, but where I sat in the back, it was dark and I saw Julie in the middle of the group of girls while she was showing them how to do some dance movements.
I must say that seeing her on the stage gave me a bit of a jolt. I was not sure what I was expecting to find. Julie had turned into a very attractive and lovely young woman. Slender, with very long, light, brown hair now in a ponytail. She moved with the elegance of a dancer and her svelte figure was also a surprising element. Her movements, as she was showing her students what she wanted from them, were graceful and precise. I had a tough time seeing her now mixing the images and memories of a sixteen-year old that I remembered. No doubt about it. The change was a wonderful surprise.
But I felt apprehension, too. I must admit that I thought maybe I should get out of there and just keep on going and not meet her. Her presence on that stage made me think of Leggs, again. I watched Julie conduct her class. I was impressed by the command she had of what she was doing. I have always admired the beauty and elegance of women dancers. I sat in the darkness, quietly enjoying what I saw. The class ended and her students all said good-bye to her and left the stage. She was the last one and as she started gathering her belongings, I got up and said to myself: it is now or never. So I walked down toward the stage.
As I approached, she saw me but did not recognize me and started to walk toward the back. Then, she stopped! I knew she knew it was me. At that moment, everything came to a halt. She stood still and did not turn around immediately. I could sense she was trying to get over the shock, so I did not say anything or move toward her.
Slowly, she turned around and I could see her dark eyes were glistening and she gave me one of the loveliest smiles. She was shy and seemed unable to move. I finally took the steps up and walked toward her. She kept looking at me and I could clearly see not the young girl of my past. I was now in front of a very attractive young woman who no longer seemed afraid of her own shortcomings.
I was seeing someone who had instantly changed in front of my very own eyes. It was like some kind of time machine that in one fleeting moment had transformed Julie from the shy girl that I remembered into this strange beauty. That transformation in front of me was unique, mysterious, and magical. It was how nature works. Julie had filled in the right places. I could also sense that, as she was looking at me, she was challenging me in the way that only females know how to challenge men. She had become a lovely and beautiful butterfly!
“Remember me—?” I foolishly did not know what else to say.
Time stopped. I felt a bit lost, which surprised me. I did not know why. She did not answer. She just walked toward me and embraced me. She held me close to her for what seemed a very long time. I could smell her perspiration along with her perfume and for some reason this added a very attractive and almost animallike effect to the situation. She then pulled herself away from me, looked at me, and was shaking her head.
You almost gave me a heart attack. It felt like I had to pick my heart up off the floor—how could you ever ask that question,” she said, and broke up in big smile that lit up her face with more wattage than the stage lights could ever have.
“You’re right. It is a stupid question. But how are you? You’ve changed?”
“Not that much.”
“Oh, yes. Much, so much. I’m floored by what I see. All I remember is this young, shy, girl who once acted in a play that I directed and who wrote me a poem and—”
“Do you still have it?”
“Yes! One of my few possessions that I have always treasured.”
“Ten years!” she said, softly. She shook her head and hugged me once again. It felt funny, for it occurred to me that there might be people who saw us and I started to laugh at my own idiocy.
“Why are you laughing?”
“I was just remembering that once you and I sat on an empty stage much like this one, and we talked about many things. Remember?”
“Of course I do. It was also when I first told you that I was writing a poem for you.”
“Yes, I remember that.”
“But you, how are you?” She kept looking at me not completely sure of what was happening.
“Well, I’m OK.”
“Well, once I’m over the shock of seeing you again I will be—I don’t know, better, happier, less fearful.”
“Fearful? Of what?” She seemed surprised.
“Of your reaction about seeing me, again. I thought that perhaps you might have forgotten me, or something—I mean it’s been so long.”
“Fear not. I will always remember you. But, what are you doing here?”
Yes, what was I doing here? It was the simplest of questions. And I found myself tongue tied with no clear answer. None of the answers would make sense. None. I was there, that was all. She was looking at me and seeing I was having a tough time clarifying within myself the reasons why I was now standing in front of her, she gave me a reassuring smile as if to say: now, that is a silly question of me to be asking you. So the truth would have to do even if it was insufficient and banal.
“I drove into town so I decided to visit the old theater. When I saw the poster of Anne Frank, I asked the GI there if he knew anything about you. He called his boss, and that led to finding out you were a teacher here. It was a wonderful surprise! I really was not looking for you. I was just curious. And, here you are. It is fantastic to see you again!”
“Jonathan, oh, Jonathan. If you only knew how many times I thought about you and—”
She stopped. I detected a doubt in her eyes. And tears came to them. She did not try to hide them and I pulled out my handkerchief and gave it to her. She took it and dabbed her eyes a bit. And she laughed.
“I’m messing up your handkerchief with my mascara and I’m also making a fool of myself. I had promised that if I ever ran into you again—a totally unattainable and insane hope just a few moments ago—that I would not act this foolishly.”
“Come on. You’re not acting foolishly.” I took the handkerchief from her and softly touched her eyes.
“There, as good as before.”
She laughed. And took the handkerchief back from me.
“I will wash it.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Are you going to stay for a while? I mean . . .”
“Actually, I haven’t thought much about that. I really have no plans of any kind.”
“We have much to talk about.”
“Yes, I think we do. Are you still singing, playing your guitar?”
“Less now. I’m so busy with other things. I think that in many ways, I prefer dancing to singing or playing the guitar.”
“I didn’t know you were into dancing.”
“I was doing it back then, but for some reason the subject never came up when I talked to you. So I never said anything. Can I tell you a secret?”
“When I tried out for Anne Frank, I was afraid to tell you I was also interested in dancing. I was afraid you wouldn’t cast me because I wasn’t sure if for the part of Anne Frank, you’d prefer not to have a dancer. And I wanted the part in the worst possible way.”
“Really? You know, thinking about it now, I’d probably not have cast you. Dancers can be, well, how can I put it?”
She made a face. I started to laugh. And she understood that I was joking.
“I’m just kidding. I would have cast you whether you were a dancer or a chimney sweeper. You were perfect for the part.”
She started to laugh. I could well imagine then, the sixteen-year old fearful of making a big mistake for something that she wanted to do very badly.
“Anyway, from what I saw a while ago, I’d say that I loved seeing you doing it. It gave me another view of you. I discovered something I didn’t know before. I was impressed.”
“Thank you. I love dancing. It sort of allows me to express myself in a different way than through singing or playing the guitar or even acting. It also allows me to help others. I have also been back in the old theater at Fort Bragg. Some kids at school did a dance recital there once, and—”
And her voice suddenly got very soft, it sort of faded into a whisper.
“Listen, I don’t know how busy you are but if we can get together tonight, that is if you are free, maybe have some dinner before I hit the road . . . that would be fantastic.”
“Is this a date?”
She was now making fun of me. We both laughed. But there was a slight hesitation on her part. Perhaps I should have been more careful about asking her to join me for dinner. After all, I had no idea what she was doing, how she was living. Did she have a boyfriend, a husband, somewhere? Her left hand had no ring of any kind. She could have taken it off for the class.
“Well, yeah, it is a date. I mean—”
I was suddenly tongue-tied. I realized that I might be imposing on her and I did not want to do that. She waited a few moments, as if thinking, and finally coming to a decision.
“It would be great. I have other things to do but they can wait. This is such a special occasion that everything else now seems less important.”
“And your parents, your sister?”
“Only my mother—my father was killed in Vietnam.”
She stopped and looked at me in a way that seemed distant, and painful. I knew her father had been a military man all of his adult life.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
She shrugged her shoulders in that unmistakable way we all have of not wanting to deal with unpleasant things, without wanting to wallow in our painful memories.
“My sister is fine. She turned out to be a nice person, after all.”
“Come on she wasn’t that bad, was she?”
“I love my sister. Well, only when she‘s not borrowing my clothes and I have to go after her to get them back.” She smiled at the vagaries of sisterhood.
“Yeah, I hear that can be a problem.”
“OK, I have to go home and get out of these clothes.”
“Do you want me to wait for you somewhere?”
“No, you can come with me. I have my own place.”
“Boy, you are a grown up.”
“What did you expect to find after all of these years, still that silly young girl filled with crazy dreams?”
“To tell you the truth I didn’t expect to find you. I wasn’t looking for you. I saw the Anne Frank poster with your name at the theater in Fort Bragg. It was an amazing surprise to discover you still lived here. I’m so happy that it has turned out this way.”
“Are you, really?”
“What kind of question is that? Of course I am. It’s fantastic.”
“Just checking,” she said, and she laughed. “Anyway, I went away to school, but after I graduated I decided to come back and live near my mother and sister. I thought it would be good to be near them. I thought my mother would need me. It turns out that she is very independent and is quite busy with all kinds of activities and projects that she doesn’t have time for me. Which is a good thing, really.”
She laughed a great uninhibited laugh, which made her look fresh and so young. She seemed to be free with no hang ups. I had forgotten that people can still enjoy life.
“Come, just follow me and I’ll show you where I live.”
She took my hand and I followed her. I thought, boy this is turning into something that I had never expected. When I started reflecting on things, my life was always turning, twisting, up and down. Never in a nice and straight road. We walked out of the auditorium to the parking lot where I had left my car.
“You still have your convertible.”
“You never let me ride in it.”
“Come on it’s not true. We just never had the occasion, that’s all.”
“Will you let me drive it one day?”
We both laughed. She stood watching the car for a moment in silence.
“OK, follow me.”
About the author:
Ed Levesko Served in far-east while in the army during the Vietnam War. Went to the Sorbonne, in Paris. Was a freelance journalist while living in Europe. Has traveled around the world. Speaks several languages. He’s working on another book. Lives in Los Angeles.
Learn more about Ed and his books at http://edlevesko.com/.