Fried Eggs

We are all born ready to believe. Believe in God, believe in magic, believe that everything always has been and always will be the way it is – believe anything. Everything we are told is immediately accepted, and therefore completely, unquestionably true. The good things, that is, because those are the first things anybody tells us. And, well, if all the good things are true then the bad things can't possibly be (except for that sneaking, irrational conviction that there is a monster living under your bed). That amazement with the world, that ignorance of everything bad – and then the knowledge of bad but belief that it will never happen to you – doesn't last forever. We retain some of it, sure, a little tiny bit, but most of it … most of it drains away, and after awhile we're left as jaded husks. Skeptical. All of a sudden things start changing and then magic isn't real anymore. It just happens. I guess it has to happen. But every now and then a funny thing happens, and one of us escapes it.

Do remember when IT happened to you? That last fragile golden time when you were a child, right before the cold hard facts of near adulthood hit you in the face, a brick of disillusionment, shattering it all? The good ol' days, way back when things were better? Of course you do. I remember too, and of all the memories I have, this one fades the least with time. It was when we all changed. All of us but one.

The sun was out every day. The sky was blue and clear, the air was sultry and the clouds were the barest of wisps. It was summer. Sizzling, stifling, scorch-the-ground-until-you-could-fry-an-egg-on-it summer.

Or so everyone always said, though we lacked concrete proof that you could really cook your breakfast on the sidewalk. Did we try? Of course we did – numerous times. Me and Charlie and Mike and Sammy would sneak the eggs out of our mother's refrigerators and crack them over the asphalt, letting the gooey whites and yolks ooze and slip over our fingers. It didn't matter much if bits of shell got stuck in it, but then again it was a mark of skill if you were left holding only two or three perfectly cracked pieces of smooth, enamel-white eggshell. Every time an egg landed –splat - on the sidewalk, one of us would say, "Did you hear it? I know it sizzled that time!" or "Look, its steaming. Maybe if it just got a little bit hotter."

Time and again we tried. Our mothers were always so sure that they had bought a full carton of eggs just the day before. Mrs. Kaligaris form across the street often wondered why, whenever she let it out, her little terrier would run out and lick so intently at the sidewalk. Al McKinley, a big kid who lived a couple of streets down, caught us at it one day while he was riding his bike. "I used to do that," he proclaimed sagely, giving off an aura of all the wisdom of age (along with a mischievous twinkle in his eye). "Y'know what? One time, at noon on the longest day of summer, it worked."

Soon as we heard that we had the calendar out, trying to find the longest day of summer. "That's the solstice," Charlie's mom told us, like we knew big fancy words like solstice. "It's also called Midsummer, and in the old days people believed that the day was magical."

As if we needed more encouragement. Eagerly we checked off the days before we went to bed each night. There were important tasks to be done which we divided up amongst ourselves. Mike surveyed the sidewalks when he took his sister Ruth to the play park, looking for all best places. The unfortunate shade of a tree or a gritty patch of sidewalk was not going to sabotage our eggs! I was put in charge of the eggs – that was a lot of pressure, because if my mother couldn't be persuaded to go to the grocery store all of the blame would fall on me. I pestered her constantly, just to be sure. Charlie procured some spatulas, picnic plates, and forks. Sammy, being the littlest, of course wanted the most important job, but he really couldn't do much. In the end we got him a pair of binoculars and appointed him to be our lookout. That was official enough for him and unnecessary enough to keep us from worrying that he would ruin all of our carefully laid plans.

The day before it was all going to be put into action, everything was going exactly as it should have been. Everything except for one small, almost unrelated detail: Sammy's dog Max had gone missing. It had happened before, and wasn't a matter of much concern, but we were a little bit afraid that our lookout would spend too much time looking out for dogs instead of grumpy old men who would make us hose our eggs off the sidewalk. We tried to reassure him. "Max always comes back," I said, "He's probably just gone on a weekend squirrel-hunting trip." It seemed to work, at least a little bit. Sammy stopped his worrying, safe in our assurances that even dogs need to take vacations sometimes.

But when morning came, all was not well. It wasn't Sammy – he was fine. It was Mike. He came walking down the road, not with his usual skipping pace, but with the worried stride of a grown man. "Bad news, guys," he said awkwardly, looking down at his feet, "Mr. Morrison is mowing his lawn and there's grass all over our sidewalk. We're gonna have to go somewhere else. I'll scope it out and we can meet back in Sammy's yard later, okay?" Our heads nodded, but we were curious as to why this was such a solemn announcement – there was plenty of good sidewalk in the neighborhood.
"Sammy, you go load up the supplies in your wagon," he continued, "I need to the rest of you to come with me."

"Why?" Charlie asked, obviously a bit confused.

"Just hurry up, all right?" Mike snapped back. "We don't have all day."

Mike was never like this. Mike was the laid-back kid who never wanted to work or have any responsibility at all. Serious was the last adjective anybody would ever use to describe him. This new Mike was so shocking that we couldn't do anything but go along with what he said. Sammy ran back to his house, and Charlie and I followed Mike, who had begun trudging back up the street.

"What's going on?" I asked him. "Where are we going?"

He looked back at me, his eyes grim and his tone low and sorrowful. "It's Max," he said, "He's dead. I don't want Sammy to see it. He must've got hit by a car, because he's still lying in the road."

"No!" yelled Charlie, who loved Max almost as dearly as Sam did, "He can't be! How could somebody do that to Max? What are we going to do? What are we going to tell Sammy? What …"

He looked like he was about to cry, but kept talking to keep himself composed. I stayed silent, not knowing what to do or say or think. Then we rounded the corner, and finally I reacted, letting out a gasp of horror. There, in the middle of the road, lay the mangled, bloody body of a dog. The dog we had spent days at the park with. He wasn't even old! Only old things died. It was gruesome, and harshly real – the air even smelled like death. The only death I'd ever encountered was of a great-aunt who I never met. Mom had cried, but I hadn't understood it. Now I did. And looking at Charlie and Mike, I saw the same terrible understanding on their faces. Max was gone. This thing lying in the road, it wasn't Max. It was just a cruel reminder of what he had once been.

"Okay, guys," Mike said after a long, pregnant pause, "We have to do something. We have to bury him. Sammy can't see him like this, its too sad."

"But what are we going to tell him?" Charlie asked, "When we go back to his house? What if he keeps looking for Max?"

"Listen, Charlie, we're not going to tell Sammy anything about this. He wouldn't be able to handle it," said Mike.

I thought about this for a minute, pondering Mike's newfound sense of wisdom. He had a point. We were all older than Sammy, and we had to take care of him. Mike had obviously steeled himself against the brutality of the scene before us, but I still felt like I was going to be sick, and Charlie didn't look like he felt much better. Still, something didn't seem quite right. "Sammy has to find out some day. Max is never …" I paused, and, breathing deeply, continued, "Never coming home. It won't stay a secret forever."

"Sure it will. We're going to bury Max over in the woods right now, and then go back to Sammy's house and tell him we saw dog tracks leading away through the park. We'll help him search, and when we never find Max, we'll tell Sammy that he had to go away on a lifetime of squirrel hunts."

"I don't like it," I protested, "That's a lie."

"Well," said Charlie, suddenly looking less like a scared little boy and more like a determined adult, "I don't think Mike likes it either. I don't like it. But the lie is better than the truth. Sammy will be sad, but not as sad as if he knew that Max is dead. We have to do it."

What else could we do, really? None of us had the heart to make Sammy feel what we had just felt. Sure, he annoyed us sometimes, but he was like a little brother, and right now we had the power in our hands to keep him safe. Using an old tarp from Charlie's garage, we dragged Max's broken body into the woods and dug a grave. Nobody spoke a word as the shovels scooped up piles of thick, moist earth. I helped Mike lower the carcass into the hole, and Charlie shoveled the dirt back in. When that was done we rolled a large rock over the site, as a secret monument. And then we returned to Sammy.

Mike did the talking, since it was his plan. While we were walking up the street, he told Sammy, we came upon some tracks that looked like they had been made by a dog about Max's size. "I thought we should come get you and we could follow the tracks to see if we could find him," he said.

Sammy, of course, was very excited, because although he had ceased worrying about his beloved dog, going on an adventure to search for him would certainly be a lot of fun. Then he took us all by surprise. "What about the eggs?" he asked, "Aren't we going to go and fry the eggs?" He looked just as eager to do that as he did to go looking for Max.

I looked at Charlie, who looked back and then glanced quickly over at Mike. I knew they had forgotten about the eggs too. Together we came to the same silent conclusion: We weren't going to be able to fry eggs on the sidewalk. It was impossible. But what's more, we were going to have to protect Sammy from this awful truth as well. An almost imperceptible nod from Mike decided it.

"No way, Sammy! We've gotta go follow these tracks today – they might disappear if we wait too long! The eggs can wait till another time. Maybe next Midsummer." Luckily for us, Sammy accepted everything we said without question. The eggs were, for the moment, forgotten, and we embarked on a fruitless search for Max.

Everything fell into place. Sammy was terribly disappointed when we never found Max, but was satisfied with our "squirrel hunting" explanation. He liked to imagine that Max was out having wonderful adventures while he was stuck cleaning up his room in the summer heat. And he forgot about the eggs entirely, mostly due to the fact that we provided constant other distractions. Each year as summer rolled around, we kept up a constant schedule of baseball games, fishing and swimming, especially around Midsummer. And after a few years passed this way, Sammy's dad got transferred to work in the city, and the family moved away. Sad goodbyes were said, but Mike, Charlie and I also breathed a collective sigh of relief as we watched their station wagon trundle off down the road. It seemed like we were home-free, having saved Sammy from facing the unpleasant truths of the world.

Life went on. I continued to grow older, constantly getting hit in the face with more harsh realities. Honestly, I didn't give Sammy much thought – he was just an accessory to my childhood memories. Every now and then I'd take a shortcut through the woods and pass the rock that marked Max's grave. It was all covered with moss, blending in perfectly with the surrounding forest. I figured that Sammy had probably realized that Max had died by now, and grown up just like the rest of us, but I also figured that I'd never see him again.

A few months ago, Sammy strolled his was back into my life unexpectedly. The family was back in town on summer vacation, and unbeknownst to me my mom had invited them over for a barbecue. As I walked up the driveway, hair still wet from diving in after a drowning kid at the pool where I was life guarding, a familiar-looking kid came around the corner of the house.

"Hey, Rob, it's me, Sammy!" said the gangly figure, "Long time no see! How's it been?"

"Wow, Sammy, what are you doing here?" I replied, trying to process this teenaged version of my friend, "It's great to see you!"

"Hey, we should get the guys together tomorrow," Sammy continued, "It's Midsummer. I could never fry the eggs in the city, but I really want to do it now! Have you tried it yet? Has it worked?"

I didn't know what to say. I searched Sammy's face carefully, looking for the joke I felt sure had to be hiding there somewhere. Nothing. There was nothing in his freckled expression but pure, innocent glee and childlike excitement.

I shook my head, slowly. "No," I said, "The summers have been so busy. We still haven't fried eggs on the sidewalk."

Was this the result of our decision on that Midsummer Day, years ago? Had we truly "saved" Sammy? It couldn't be, yet it was. And all of my doubts about Mike's plan, long ago dismissed, came flooding back. Maybe if we had told him the truth, maybe if we had taken him to see Max's mangled carcass lying in the road, he would be just as disillusioned as I had become. Maybe if we had shared the terrible realizations of the day with him, he would have changed too. But here he was, protected from what we couldn't bear to put him through, a teenager still waiting eagerly to crack an egg over the hot asphalt and hear it sizzle as it cooked.

We are all born ready to believe. Most of us stop. Sammy just kept on believing.