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      A Matter of Certain Gravity
A Short Story - Page 1

  • A Matter of Certain Gravity
  • Dalipalooza
  • Internal Uprising
  • Slow Suicide
  •   No one quite remembers when exactly Arthur Lethe decided to go naked. I don't mean sleeping naked, or the occasional cooking and cleaning naked, but totally and completely and continuously naked. The only thing I know for certain is that he's been naked for longer than I've been around. And that he decided to exist in totally nudity sometime following the closure of his factory. The people of the town initially thought that his eccentric tendency would peter out after the first cold winter, but obviously it didn't, and besides the weather doesn't really get too cold around here in the winter anyway, except for maybe one or two cold spells in January or February. But whatever Arthur Lethe's intentions were, they must have been rooted in some deeply felt ideological manifestations, because, to this day, as far as I know, he is still stark naked.

    Now nudity isn't as rare as most people might think, and in some communities it might even be widespread, but for the town of Bramble it was quite a shocker; not only because of the town's size or location, nor because of its predominantly Protestant population, but mainly because Mr. Arthur Lethe had been, (if not respected,) the most powerful and infamous and feared citizen in the whole county. By founding Lethe Chemical Industries in the late 1940s he had taken a ragged logging town of six hundred, and turned it into a semi-respectable factory town of five thousand. Arthur Lethe's factory employed, directly or indirectly, about ninety-eight percent of the town of Bramble during the height of his company's production. Consequently, he became the most despised and criticized citizen in town. Particularly the year that he campaigned to change the town's name to Lethburg. But that was all before he piled all of his clothes into the back of his Mercedes and drove them into downtown Bramble. He then threw the lot of them, including the ones he was wearing, into the middle of Highway 11, (which functions as Main Street,) and with the assistance of a five-gallon can of gasoline, promptly lit them on fire. To the small crowd that had wandered out of the cafes and taverns and shops he said only: "You're welcome."

    My first experience with Arthur Lethe was at the age of nine, which seemed to be the mean age of everyone in the town when they initially became acquainted with "Ol’ Loose Johnson Lethe", as the boys used to call him. Mr. Lethe lived about five miles out of town in a sprawling estate that was surrounded by an eight-foot high concrete fence. It had been quite a place at one time, and although Arthur Lethe had plenty of money to maintain the place, he had a difficult time keeping help, for obvious reasons. So he ended up doing most of the yard work his self, and in the fall he was always burning the leaves that he had raked up at the far end of his land. If there was smoke billowing up into the air, then you could be sure to catch a peek of Arthur Lethe tending the fire, wearing only an old straw hat.

    One stark, almost impossibly clear October Saturday, my best friend and I were out scouting for leaves along the gravel road that ran in front of my house, picking up the largest and brightest that we could find, keeping them to press into a book, or whatever else you do with leaves when you're nine years old. I was bending over a large red leaf, and noticing how rotting leaves smell a lot like dog poo, when she tugged on my dress sleeve, and said 'Look' very softly. Over towards Mr. Lethe's house, a large plume of white smoke was billowing in the air. We looked at each other seriously, then instantly started giggling.

    "Should we?" I whispered.

    "Lets." She whispered back. I don't know why we were whispering, since there wasn't anyone within a mile of us, although in retrospect the idea seemed like something shameful, possibly even sacred.

    We giggled again, and I took one last look down the road towards my house as she yanked my arm, scattering our leaves, and starting us skipping down the road. The closer that we got to Mr. Lethe's estate, the more solemn we became, and the more I kept looking over my shoulder. We slinked up to the iron gate that separated his driveway from the road, and peered through in sneaky anticipation. We could see Mr. Lethe standing next to his burning accomplishment, plain as the day he was born, leaning on a rake and watching the flames snake up into the sky. He was about a hundred yards away, which was way too far for us to see any details, so naturally we decided to sneak along the outside of the cement fence, to try to get a better view.

    We skulked hand in hand along the fence, careful not to snap any branches or twigs, or make any noise whatsoever, until we gauged that we must’ve been close enough, and found a maple tree suitable for climbing. We slowly crawled up it, my friend in front of me, and we were just high enough to peer over the top of the wall. Mr. Lethe still didn't hear us, as he seemed to be mesmerized by some kind of power that the fire held over him. We were only about fifty feet away from him now, and we had a distinct profile of his right side. I looked over to Missy, whose mouth and eyes were just as wide as mine, and she looked back at me. The three of us were mesmerized, Mr. Lethe staring into the huge pile of burning leaves, and us staring at our first naked man. After a few minutes of gaping, we were getting tired of sitting on the thin, hard branches, so we stealthily slid down the maple, and left Mr. Lethe there with his blaze.

    We ran all of the way back down the road, and I remember looking up into the canopy of sparse trees, and gasping in the biting air. We slowed down as we neared my house, eventually stopping where we had left our pile of leaves, and hunched over, sucking air. After we had caught our breath, we looked at each other, and started to giggle again, walking back to the house. When we strolled into the kitchen, my mother asked us where we had been for so long, and I came up with some half-hearted excuse, feigned innocence, and we went up to my room. I could feel my mother grinning after me as I walked out of the kitchen, and she must have known the inevitable had happened, as I never heard mention from her of the incident then, and I still haven't.

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