Now I live in the house in the town that I grew up in. November is quite nice here. It is December now, and on some nights I take a long walk to the nearest store and buy a little beer or even some gin, and on the walk back, I always look off to my right from what is now a very dark street corner and there two houses down is Daniel Florence’s small, brown house that is much larger on the inside than it appears from here.
Daniel Florence had a twin brother named Nathaniel Florence. We were whatever age it is when one is in the fourth grade and I can remember Daniel Florence telling me and another boy about his twin brother. No, Nathaniel isn’t in Mrs. Sherwood’s class, Daniel Florence told me and the other boy. He’s in the fifth grade, Daniel Florence said and I remember the painting he had painted that he held meekly in his hand as he told us this. The painting was vivid. It was a horizontal landscape broken up into three equal partitions. The top third was blue and white. They were plush acrylic paints. Like cartoons. The middle third was green and brown. The lower third was red and orange with a little black. I was held back a year in kindergarten, Daniel Florence told me and the other boy. I was amazed that he had painted something so rich. He was scolded rather harshly by Mrs. Sherwood when he told the class how he had painted heaven, the earth, and hell. He said the word hell. I didn’t understand it.
Daniel Florence was tall. His eyes were deep-set and the skin around them already a charcoal purple. He wore brown church pants and very large black shoes every day. He was gravely shy. I don’t remember having another conversation at school with Daniel Florence except for that one about Nathaniel. I remember thinking that I wanted to cry about or maybe try to help Daniel Florence. Which is why I was very surprised to find myself going to Daniel Florence’s little, brown house on what must have been a Saturday in November for Nathaniel and Daniel Florence’s birthday party.
I wondered as I walked to Daniel Florence’s house that day as to how a boy in my grade could live so close to me and I not have seen him or known him outside of school. From the front, Daniel Florence’s house was a door and a window on each side. But, inside the house split immediately into a basement and an upstairs. In the kitchen, I saw that Nathaniel and Daniel Florence were identical twins. Laughing. Through the basement, the backyard opened up and Nathaniel and Daniel Florence had a dream of a tree house and a play field of a bamboo forest.
I think about that day now as I look over to Daniel Florence’s dark house with a pint of gin in my back pocket. I think of nothing at all but how happy I was at that ordinary birthday party. To see Daniel Florence at home. How pity turned to happiness in my young mind. How I wonder if I ever saw Daniel Florence after the fourth grade. I think not. How I wonder if he is sitting in that dark house just now, drinking gin, writing something about heaven and hell. Perhaps so.