AMERICAN STORIES - Light and Gentle Things
Now, the VOA Special English program AMERICAN STORIES.
Today's story is called "Light and Gentle Things." It was written by William Sayers. Here is Shep O'Neal with this story.
The snow kept coming down, quietly, ghost-like, covering the land deeper and deeper. It seemed as if it would go on forever. It was the first snowfall of the year. Billy looked through the kitchen window, he felt like diving into the snow and burying himself in its softness.
"Billy!" His mother shouted. She was standing at his side but had to raise her voice because he was not listening.
"Do you have to call me Billy?"
"I meant Bill." His mother answered quickly, "I forgot how close you are to being a man. Go help Pa with the fence."
Billy started out toward the fence. That was the story of his life - fixing this fixing that. He walked slowly. The falling snow had a strange power, a power that did not seem real. It was like magic.
Billy wanted to keep going, wishing there was no fence to reach or to fix. And then suddenly, out across the fields he went, he did not know what he was doing. He liked to help his father, but he kept thinking that at home he would never be more than a boy with small jobs to do.
He crossed the frozen creek and then walked up into the hills. When he came down into the flat lands, he began to run, racing against the whole world. Then he saw his friend Joey standing near his father's barn with a pail in his hand.
"What's got into you?" Joey asked.
"I just feel good, that's all."
"You look a kind of funny," Joey said.
Billy wiped his hot face with snow. "I don't think I ever felt so good."
Joey said he was going to the Town Hall for music and dancing. Billy went with him. The Town Hall was on a hill between two long valleys. As they drove up, they heard music coming out of the hall. Inside the hall the air was sweet and warm. Some of the girls smiled at Billy in a funny way. He could not tell if the smiles were friendly or not. He turned back to the door and decided to stand there for a moment and then go. There was too much noise inside.
"You're standing right in the cold," someone said to him. It was one of Joey's cousins, Sheilla. Sheilla something or other, she lived in the next town. Billy didn't even know her last name. "Oh," he said, his face getting red. He moved a little.
"You are still in it." She said.
Bill looked at her. She was sort of pretty with long black hair and blue green eyes. But Billy wished she would go away. "It's only fresh air." He said,” Go pick on somebody else."
"I am not picking on you. I am trying to help you. That's what."
"Too many thing they are helping when they are not." Billy said.
She studied him. "Well", she said, "That's true." Then she smiled. "You don't like it in here, do you?"
"I feel better outside." He answered. Without thinking, Billy said, "Look, would you like to go out just for a few minutes?"
She turned her head away, then said, ''I will get my coat."
Outside, they stood in the snow looking at the lighted windows of the hall. She walked quietly beside him--a stranger in white coat, shoes and gloves. He could still hear the music from the hall but it was part of the snowfall. It seemed to be made not for dancers but for walkers. It seemed strange and wonderful that there should be someone so near him.
Suddenly he asked, "did you say something?"
"No,'' she said, ''Did you?"
He shook his head.
"What do you think about when you walk like this?" she said.
"Oh, different things. What I like to do and never can. It's daydreaming, I guess."
"Yes," she said, "I do that, too."
The snow seemed to be falling faster now and the music from the hall was gone. From far below came the sound of bells followed by a few coughs from an old car. Then there was just silence as if the snow had cut off all the sounds of the world. Billy looked at her, white coat and hat beside him. They belonged to that world of wonder, that world of magic, that was born with the first snowfall. He touched her head.
"What are you doing?"
"I don't know.'' he said. ''I just…" He stopped. There was nothing real but the snow,
even the whiteness of her coat and hat seemed to come from the snow. He turned around. All signs of the road were gone. "We are the only two in the world left." He said.
"Is that why you touch my head?"
He said nothing. But then in a rush of words, bravely, he said, "Maybe I wanted to kiss you."
She laughed. "I wouldn't let you," she said, "I don't like kissing."
"I don't either," he said, "Oh, well, that's a good thing, because you wouldn't really be able to."
"Why not? I'm too strong for you," she said.
"So that's what you think. You're wrong. If I really wanted to, I guess I could do it, all right."
"Dreamer," she gave him a push, and ran back toward the hall. Before he knew it he was after her -- he had caught her. Laughing, she pushed him and down they went into the snow. He expected her to let him kiss her now. That's what often happened in the stories he read. Why would she laugh if her struggle against him were real? But she did not let him. She fought him as if she wanted to hurt him, wanted to make him feel small.
"You are a child," she said, pulling away from him.
I should let go, he thought. But he held on to her until he felt that he could hold
on forever. He wanted to hold on forever. It was really a simple thing to hug a girl, he thought. Her head had been pushed off and the snow shining on her dark hair. He now felt a strange gentleness for her. As she looked angrily at him, her face red and full of fight, he told himself that it was not the right moment to kiss her. However, he tried to kiss her anyway, more in pride than anything else. But he missed her mouth. He still held on.
As the snow, light and cool as a fresh white sheet, began to cover them. She was getting tired. She was looking at him differently now with less anger. And he tried to kiss her again. This time he did not miss her mouth and met hers fully. Had she moved to meet him? He did not know. In his daydreams, success had always lifted him up. People cheered him. But being able to kiss her was a different kind of success. He did not feel lifted up. There were no cheers. And there was no fire in his blood as some of his dreams made him believe there would be. Instead, he felt something else. He looked at the small hat in the snow, and at the small wet face of one who was not strong enough. He felt sorry for her. This feeling was new to him. He wondered how such a feeling could be part of another feeling that seemed so good. Very gently, Billy kissed her a third time. Then, he let her go and they stood up. He picked up her hat and put it on her head. They began to walk back toward the hall. The music came to them again, as light as the snow that had covered them. As they walked, her hand touched his. She didn't mean to do it. Her touch was just another part of what now seemed to be a world of light and gentle things.
"Do you want to go back in the hall?" she asked. Her voice was slow. She no longer looked so strong.
"I guess not," he answered. "Are you going in?"
"I'd better," she answered, "I came with friends. I'll see you again, won't I?"
Her question surprised him. He had not thought about seeing her again, he was still lost in a dream, thinking of the day's happenings, feeling the wonder and excitement of new born things, like the first snowfall, the first spring flowers, the first feelings of growing up, becoming a man.
Billy heard her ask again, "I'll see you again, won't I?" He shook his head.
"You mean I won't?" she said.
"I mean you will," he answered.
She smiled and went inside.
He began walking along the road toward valley.
The snowfall seemed to be stopping, but he believed that it was last until he got home.
You have just heard the American Story "Light and Gentle things." It was written by William Sayers for the New England magazine called "Yankee".