t was noon when Max and Harmony walked by the house on Barton Street and saw something that would change their lives forever, even though, at seventeen, they didn’t yet have a lot of life to change. Forever, of course, was something they could both feel proprietary about. Their age gave them that.
It was noon on a summer day and neither of them had to be at work until three. They both worked at McDonald’s and they both worked the same shift, which was nice since they could get together and make love anytime before three and, of course, anytime after work.
Max and Harmony made love a lot, especially after the first time they’d made love and had thought it was really great. For several days they’d waited to start feeling bad or guilty or smutty, but when that didn’t happen they made love again, and then enough times after that to where they realized it wasn’t necessary to count the lovemaking times anymore. Their lovemaking moved out of the realm of being special, and into the realm of being very, very good, if not, perhaps, very, very necessary as well. Max said one time that was how you were supposed to feel when you got your first real job, your career job where you didn’t know much and had to be nursed along a lot, but where the prospect was that everything would eventually be wonderful.
“Do you suppose we might be doing it too much?” Harmony asked Max one time.
“It’s not as though we’ll wear out,” Max said.
“I meant it in a bigger way, honey,” Harmony said. “Like where the whole world has certain ways of doing things.”
“Oh,” Max said. “Actually, I don’t think the whole world is very clear about any of it.”
“You’d think it would be,” Harmony said.
“I believe you’re right,” Max said. Max and Harmony usually ended up agreeing with each other on most major issues.
Not long after that first lovemaking they went to the internet to do some research to see if they were doing things the right way. They were, but then they discovered all the things that lovers could say to each other – some of them pretty sparky – and all of the things lovers could do: positions, techniques, and handy kitchen tools. Some of the things seemed more expressive of nastiness than true affection, but they both knew that was true of most things in life anyway.
Nevertheless, they were young enough and supple enough to try nearly everything, and rarely pulled any muscles beyond those that were supposed to be pulled.
Harmony said one time she felt like a finely-conditioned athlete who suddenly discovers that excellence in one sport is quite transferable to other sports. This was no idle metaphor. Harmony was a runner – a short person with short black hair who could run very fast. She was on the track team at school and was the very first female athlete to earn a letter. School letters had long been reserved for the mail domain until girls like Harmony persuaded school officials that they, too, were bringing great glory and tons of favorable publicity to the school, and that their bodies were not only favorably configured but were also inscribing records in the record books – the school name always right there, too.
Max was a cyclist. There was no cycling team at the school, but he belonged to a regional cycling club that regularly qualified a member or two for the Olympic trials. “Glitterthighs,” Harmony called Max once, following up her endearment with a sprinkling of the real stuff. Max was only slightly taller than Harmony, but sinuous, tough. Already, at sixteen, he had to shave twice a day, though he usually didn’t.
Max and Harmony often worked out together, which was one reason, they agreed, that they felt so comfortable making love. Sweat, exertion, aerobic gasping, muscular turgidity – it all seemed the same whether the context was five sets of free weights or a sensuous series of power squats on a down-filled comforter. Above all, though, and in a contrast they were well aware of as they looked around at various of the relationships of their friends and classmates, they were happy with each other. They didn’t fight and the other side of the fence never revealed a greener grass, only weeds.
Harmony was taking birth control pills and Max always used a condom. They’d learned in school about unwanted pregnancies and all the STD’s from gonorrhea to chlamydia to herpes to HIV, so they knew that making love could be dangerous, that you could create life or end life or just generally mess up life if you weren’t careful. More than that, they also knew you had to work a careful balance between being scared to death of carnal activity and finding it so seductive your every thought was virtually orgasmic, your every action precoital. Max and Harmony had talked of these things a great deal. They fantasized a double life that became a joke between them, one life where they’d smear their bodies with sensuous oils and greases and “thoughtfully copulate for days at a time,” until the other life, the one where Max headed up a famous brokerage house and Harmony captained a lobster boat, would require a washing off of the oils and greases and a sensible turning toward what they called “the quotidian smooth.” In truth, Harmony knew she’d probably never make it to a lobster coast anywhere because it was expected that Max would one day take over his father’s law practice.
As conclusions go – always a process, they knew, and never an end point – their handling of sex, they agreed, was mature and respectful, something that would stand them well in all the vagaries of life to come. They’d both been in Honors Sex Ed, too, and had earned their predictable A’s. Neither of them had ever received a grade in high school less than that.
On this day when they were out walking and they passed the house on Barton Street where their lives were about to change forever, they knew something was happening.
“A moving truck?” Harmony said. “They’re moving?”
They both knew the house very well, since it was the house of their English teacher, Mr. Boundas, and his wife, Sophia. The house was a two-story cape with white clapboard siding sitting on nearly an acre of land. It was all well-tended with a stone wall bordering two sides of the property, and a tidy mixture of conifers and hardwoods bordering the south side and part of the front yard. During the growing season Sophia nurtured everything from marigolds to stock, from lupine to vinca. Someone said once that the Boundas’s had the prettiest yard in town. True or not, no one ever felt a need to argue the point.
Mr. Boundas was a big man with a great belly and a voice that seemed to rumble through every inch of that belly before booming out in a virtual salute to language. His words were like both hammers and scalpels as he gave his students what he called the gift of grammar and the miracle of insight; as he gave them – more than anything – permission to speak, as though speaking were one of the many wonders of the world.
“Without speech,” he said, “we are all just mushrooms sautéing in a pan, iron shoes on the hooves of a Clydesdale. Sound with a purpose, as it were, devoured into nothingness.”
Mr. Boundas told Harmony one time that he had yet to proffer his image of the Clydesdale without someone in the class muttering “Budweiser.” He said it pleased him to see the kids keeping up on their parent’s cultural icons.
Once a year he had a party for anyone who’d ever been his student and the parties were always well-attended. A lamb would be roasted in a pit in the back yard, and there would be bowls of punch, coolers full of beer and wine and soda pop, along with salads and breads and cheeses, hot and cold soups, puddings, cakes, and a dozen different ice creams. The same group of bearded old-timers were always there serenading with violins, mandolins, and a concertina. Mr. Boundas and Sophia would not only display some of the classical dances from the old country, but they would teach them in simple stages until everyone was flying around and laughing and singing. In later years there was even a small fireworks display after dark.
The event was almost a town festival since many people would attend who had never been a student of Mr. Boundas. He didn’t mind, and would give a hearty welcome to all who came. Eventually nearly everyone in town would claim they had been one of his students, even if they hadn’t. There was a certain distinction in the claim, much in the way that someone might say their first cousin had a friend whose uncle had gone to school with Harrison Ford, say, or Liv Tyler.
Mr. Boundas was even encouraged one time to run for mayor, but he said that wouldn’t be a good thing for him to do. He wasn’t a citizen, he said, only a most loyal – and most legal – visitor. “Besides,” he said, that huge and familiar smile on his face, “why would I want to regulate your parking meters and your zoning laws when, as it stands, I currently regulate your soul?”
This, of course, was at a time when public school teachers could still speak of such ethereal things as souls or even morality, though it was not actually all that long ago. When Mr. Boundas would say such things at his parties people would nod their heads and even applaud, though it was not lost on him that many of those people were the same ones who’d go to the board to complain that someone was teaching the sex life of the aphid, or that mankind evolved from something besides an apple and a fig leaf. Still, he was a charitable man who knew that the weapons of his own revolution were the words he buried in the nubile minds of the young, words with preset detonators that would go off in the middle of a death or divorce or job loss or infidelity or betrayal and provide solace, sometimes revenge.
“That’s not a moving truck,” Max said. Indeed, it wasn’t. It looked more like one of those personnel carriers used by the military and was even painted in the variegated splotches of green often found on military vehicles.
“It looks like an army truck,” Harmony said.
“Is Mr. Boundas in the army?” Max asked.
“He’s too old.”
“I don’t know. Maybe he’s like a general or something or in the National Guard. They can be kind of old.”
“Look again, precious,” Harmony said.
They both looked toward the house then. A canvas curtain had been pulled open at the rear of the truck, and Max and Harmony could see people sitting inside. There was a woman Harmony thought she recognized but she wasn’t sure – some once-met mother of a friend who hadn’t remained a friend (double-double chocolate cake came to mind, with a butter fudge frosting). Max thought one of the women and the man next to her ran the convenience store out at the edge of town, but you never actually looked at those people when you were there. Beyond that, only faces. It didn’t seem like a joyful group.
“Not exactly the bus for a church outing,” Max said.
Mr. Boundas came out of the house then, or they thought it was Mr. Boundas because the man had a hood over his head and his hands were handcuffed. Behind him was Sophia, unhooded, her hands cuffed behind her. She was struggling with their dog, a golden lab named Ronald (McDonald), trying to hold him from behind as he tangled himself around her. Near Mr. Boundas and Sophia were several soldiers, their weapons drawn, their mood one of annoyance as they moved the Boundas’s toward the truck while trying not to get caught up in the dog’s leash.
“They’re being taken away,” Harmony whispered. “By the army.”
“I’m not sure it’s the army,” Max said. “Not the real army. It might be that new army that looks for terrorists and stuff. Boy, that dog sure doesn’t want to go.”
“We have terrorists?” Harmony said. “A whole truckful of terrorists?”
“Maybe it’s like a test or something, a drill. They always do that.”
“That’s true,” Harmony said. “They do.”
Harmony gasped then, and at the same time squeaked out a hoarse “Oh, God,” as one of the soldiers went up to Sophia Boundas and started screaming at her, his words and gestures reminding Max and Harmony of drill sergeants from movies.
“Or coaches,” Max said. “Lots of coaches.”
“Sometimes I feel like I’m in service to the insane,” Harmony said, “though I don’t mind winning. Truly.”
They could hear Mr. Boundas say something, but he was in the truck by then, still hooded, and not sure what was going on.
As the one soldier continued to berate Mrs. Boundas, another drew his knife and severed the collar around Ronald’s neck. The dog, terrified, ran across the front yard and into the street near Max and Harmony.
“Shit,” Max said.
“Ronald?” Harmony said as she knelt down and put her arm around the dog’s neck and began petting it. The dog was shaking and wetting all over the street.
Sophia Boundas was screaming herself by then, a litany, Max and Harmony could hear, of all the rights of man as guaranteed by the Constitution and over two-hundred years of jurisprudence and newspaper editorials and city council meetings. She struggled; she screamed; she screamed again; she cursed. Her long red hair was in front of her face, the robe she was wearing torn open to reveal a nakedness it didn’t seem important to hide just then.
Duct tape – both Max and Harmony saw it, a strip of it placed not at all gently on Mrs. Boundas’s mouth. She fell to her knees then, perhaps pushed, and Max and Harmony could hear a booming “Sophia!” from inside the truck, a basso modulation familiar, almost comforting, to them – sounds from an approachable Greek who wore cardigan sweaters and who occasionally smoked right in the classroom (the students loved it and knew their teacher had been warned repeatedly) as he spelled out all the tensions in The Grapes of Wrath and clarified the multiple tragedies in Silas Marner. The Merchant of Venice was received with shudders by all of the kids, but Mr. Boundas loved it so much, and taught it with such humor and deep affection, that by the time they were done with it the students were all saying it was, like, their favorite play of all time, even the ones who hadn’t bothered to read it.
Max had told Harmony one time that she walked “in beauty like the night,” and she’d thrilled him by using the word cock in a few lines she remembered from Berryman. Mr. Boundas promised all his students he’d give them “ar-ti-cu-la-tion” which, he’d said, was a mighty shovel and so very necessary in confronting the nonsense that was always around.
Max and Harmony were confused. At one point, Max leaned down to where Harmony was petting Ronald and said, “It’s the war.”
“What war?” Harmony asked.
“The world’s changing,” Max said, “so there have to be wars. That’s what my dad says. We’re giving goodness to a lot of sad places.”
“Not here,” Harmony said. “Goodness seems not to be a theme of this dance we’re watching.”
A soldier was standing on the hem of Sophia’s robe as she tried to crawl away. Harmony had never seen anyone so angry, the woman’s face flushed to a blood red, her words exploding in her mouth behind the tape.
Harmony said to Max, “What should we do?”
“Do?” Max said. They both heard yet another bellowed “Sophia!” coming from inside the truck.
They both knew it was a terrible question, something (they were pretty sure) that had yet to be addressed in their schooling, and something that didn’t even pop up on the television or in the magazines all that much.
“What should we do?” Harmony repeated.
Both Max and Harmony had yet to vote, had yet to pay taxes through the writing of a real check, had yet to complain to anyone that a certain ordering in life or a certain arrangement of people as they lived and worked beneath a plethora of ordinances, laws, and regulations – might be other than what it was. Max thought Harmony’s question might be meaningful someday, but he didn’t think this was that day.
Max could only say, “It’s the war.”
Harmony, perhaps a bit more rebellious, could only say, “Some things cannot be excused.”
They were very young and still trying to work through the mysteries both gallant and unsavory that young love reveals to itself. Everything, they knew, had been done to make them safe from each other, but it began to look as though they weren’t altogether safe from the world.
They watched as two of the soldiers lifted Mrs. Boundas into the truck, and felt good as they saw her work her way into a position between her husband’s knees. Mr. Boundas couldn’t see his wife, and she couldn’t speak to him, but they knew they were together.
In later years Max and Harmony would tell each other there were things about that day they were too young to know, particularly the idea that there was something they should have done, something that none of the neighbors and none of the many friends of the Boundas’s had done. Exactly what that was, and exactly how that might come to them someday, Max and Harmony knew they’d want to talk about it in a pretty quiet way.
Harmony said to Max then, “It’s the funniest thing, Max, and maybe even a little disrespectful, but I’d like to make love right now. I really, really would. Do you think we have time before work? Is there someplace we can go?”
“I don’t think they’d mind,” Max said. “the Boundas’s. I honestly don’t. They know so much about people, so many good things.”
“What about Ronald, though?” Harmony said. “Shouldn’t we do something about Ronald?”