by Thomas M. McDade
I hitchhiked to Salt Lake City in 1986. I’d just read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. My adventures were no match for his, no ride in a rig hauling dynamite or truck like he boarded in Iowa City, driver “crazy and yelling,” and definitely not the flatbed loaded with other pilgrims of the highway in North Platte; a couple of wild farmers sharing the cab. My best ride was in a semi that stopped for me in Davenport Iowa. The driver had been at the ’69 Woodstock Music Festival where he fell for Joan Baez. He sang along with his Joanie tapes. He had a decent voice. His favorites were “Joe Hill” and “We Shall Overcome.” When she sang “The Last Thing on My Mind” I joined in. I’d heard Tom Paxton sing it on a college radio station. The trucker whose name was Stan said, “Well, I’ll be damned, not bad kid, got some passion, just break up with a gal?”
“Well, yeah, but no regrets,” I said.
“I hear better that that.”
“Whatever you’re hearing is fading some per Route 80 mile.”
“What’s your name, kid?”
“Damned again, Virgil Caine in ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’; let’s drink to that, friend,” he bellowed “and biblical too.” He instructed me to reach behind his seat for a pint of peach brandy. I imagined next up in the music queue a tape full of jazz featuring some of Jack’s favorites: Slim Galliard and Dexter Gordon, Charlie Parker.
I needed a shower and sleep when a plumbing salesman dropped me off at Coachman’s Pancake house in the Utah Capitol, best grub this side of the Mississippi he swore. He gave me a Novita Bidet pamphlet. I ate buckwheat pancakes, eggs, and corn beef hash. The waitress’s name tag read “Merry.” I wrote on the back of my check that her smile was like Christmas. I would have walked to the Y to get a shower and shuteye but I was too beat. I caught a cab. The shower was like a tropical waterfall. The bed by God even a billionaire would savor for slumber or sex. Kerouac remarked that Salt Lake City was a “city of sprinklers.” Critics believe he was referring to impeccable lawn upkeep.
Next morning, I took another long heavenly shower and changed into my last set of clean clothes. I stopped at a Laundromat to wash and dry the rest. Not much to it, all fit in my backpack. I returned to the Coachman’s for a huge cheese omelet and home fries, tall glass of tomato juice. An older woman waited on me. Merry walked by a couple of times, winked once. My waitress, Dee, gave me directions to the Family History Library via State Street. “Hop, skip and jump,” she said. “Hope you find ‘em.”
A sweet young clerk named Evelyn, maybe an intern, helped me with the microfilm machine after she advised what reels to look through to try to find my birth father. A couple of times her long auburn hair brushed against my ear as she looked over my shoulder. She was no more than 5 foot 2 and petite the way to describe her figure. Her lively eyes were green and appropriately framed in wire gold rims. She wore no makeup, no need. She smelled faintly of a flower in my past. Her outfit was plain, black skirt, white blouse. A slim silver chain holding a small pearl was her only jewelry. What a sincere and caring manner about her. The way she focused on my search, I fantasized we were both seeking the same parent. Once she touched my hand. Jack Kerouac said the most beautiful women in America were in Des Moines. I had to disagree courtesy of Merry and Evelyn. She asked me to stand. She sat and whipped through those reels. How many people had she reunited using her magic? She labored for an hour, I sat on the floor. Soon she looked down at me to announce we were close. Fifteen minutes later, she printed out yet another page and stood and said, “Praise be!” She placed my paternal info in a manila envelope. She gave me an abridged Book of Mormon then I gently shook her helpful hand. I put both gifts in my backpack. I could see a man choosing the Mormon faith to win her. Sadly, she smiled at me as a sister would a brother not a lover. Albert Granger is my father’s name, last known address, Dover-Foxcroft Maine. I have my mom’s surname. My given name is her father’s, no locations. Outside, I spotted Evelyn leaning against a wall smoking a cigarette as brilliantly as she researched. I inhaled deeply trying to capture her smoke.
I was walking on air and that easy gait took be to Billie’s Lounge where the motto was “Nearly Charming.” I ordered a mug of Bud and thought about my old man and all the fathers I’d had. I could have the Rhode Island record for foster homes. I wasn’t rowdy just kept my mouth shut at home and at school and tended to daydream and doze off. I intended to find my birth mother also but I was hesitant. What’s worse, getting a woman pregnant and running away or putting a baby up for adoption? If I were a woman, I might have searched for my mother first. I finished high school when I was nineteen, always struggling, usually found low–level employment, day work; casual labor. One super said I’d be a drifter all my days. I lasted six months and nine days as a trucker’s helper. Marty Ward let me drive occasionally even though I had no license. We delivered insulation to homebuilders. He was a hippie. I wasn’t interested in his weed but he gave me Kerouac’s On the Road, only book I ever owned. It turned me into a hitchhiker but sitting at Billie’s Lounge I didn’t relish the thought of sticking out my thumb again to get to New England. I wished I had a driver’s license so I could deliver a car for someone who didn’t care to drive a long distance, pick up hitchhikers to help with the gas like Jack and Neal did in the novel. A guy with a long beard wearing a Dodgers baseball cap sat next to me.
“Hi Ed, how are things going at Martian’s Gardens?” asked the bartender.
“Like double bust my ass,” he said. “Good one by the way, Merle. The day I quit I’ll tell Martin to take his red-assed planet and shove it. Can’t keep the help, young people I’m talking. I’m fifty-two and I can hack it, shot of ginger brandy, please. I’m working with casual laborers from Manpower. I appreciate their situation but stand up and take notice, comrades!” Hearing talk about my kind put a smile on my face.
My feet were getting colder and colder about heading to Maine right away for the possible dad reunion. Reality is the pin that’s often bursts my dreamy balloons. Man, I asked myself, “Would you like to try your hands at Martin’s? You could get cash enough to travel by bus or maybe settle here for a while. Hell, current finances wouldn’t last even at Y room prices.” I was behind a couple of eight balls.
Ed’s hands were large and calloused. One finger held a ring with a blue stone, USN on it in gold. I bought him a shot. “Who am I drinking to,” he asked.
“Tom Caine.” I said and added, “I wouldn’t mind giving Martin’s a go but a place to live is a problem, just enough left for a couple of nights at the Y.”
“No worry, ‘Have No Fear House,’ south of us, a kind of commune, is the answer. A woman named Clementine is the boss. You could room there for a song.” I pictured myself singing “The Last Thing on My Mind” for the residents.
“I’ll pick you up at 6:30 outside the Y. By the way, that name or yours, is it the biblical variety?”
“No, think of the Mutiny movie.”
Ed was true to his word and was on time, had a cup of coffee for me. He put my backpack in the trunk. Martin’s was a going business, the buildings: retail, wholesale, work barns and hothouses looked new or recently refurbished. Ed introduced me to Larry Martin, a cigar smoker who looked like he pumped iron. He wore his hair as Elvis Presley had. My first job was filling bins with peat moss. I was happy I’d invested in combat boots for the trip. A few times, Larry summoned me to help a customer with a purchase. A woman whose hair was the same red as the mulch she bought gave me a two-buck tip. I used it to buy lunch at the taco truck that came by at noon. I assisted Ed with evergreen trees he’d dug up, wrapped the root balls in burlap. We wrestled them into a pickup bed while a Manpower worker who looked to be in his sixties tried to catch breath that the shoveling took away. I helped the poor gent into the pickup.
I was dragging my ass when Ed let me off at the commune. A woman wearing a long green skirt and bulky tan blouse answered the door. She pulled away a light brown scarf that covered her head and half her face. “I heard I might find a room here,” I said.
“That is true sir,” said Clementine.” One front tooth was silver framed. She led me to a small table. “Please sign the guestbook.” The page was bordered with butterflies.
“How much do you charge for a night?” I asked. As Ed said, it was whatever I could afford. I gave up a five-dollar bill folded at the ready in my pocket. She acted as if it were a C-note.
“I’ll take your backpack for you,” she offered.
“My pleasure,” I said. She didn’t look like she could manage the stairs with it. At the top, she pointed out two bathrooms, one with an “M” and the other with an “F.” I faced a wide stepped ladder. I counted as I climbed: fourteen slats that led to a space where a high-watt bare bulb glared. A gentle but eerie dim blue light at the top edge of a painting had me mesmerized for a moment. A figure sat in a lotus position, his face frozen in a smile that looked like it hurt. One man and a woman occupied mats. Another was empty. They ignored me. The male was closest to me. He had a beard so long he could have used it for a pillow. He entertained himself with some kind of card game. He did some low chanting in the night, not “Om” but “Rome.” The heavily breasted naked female stared then bowed before the painting. She walked over to inspect me after all lights but the blue were out. She was tall; her black hair had white highlights. Her smile was toothy. She touched my left big toe but didn’t crawl in with me. “Wanda is my name,” She said.
The only hazard was a descent to the bathroom in the middle of the night, nearly toppled. I got up earliest so no problem with the showering. Ed awaited me with coffee and muffins from Backer’s Bakery. He usually told a story or two about his time on the USS Mullinnix, DD-944. Clementine’s meals were fine. I didn’t mind the missing meat. The tofu and seaweed creations were tasty. I loved the carob chip cookies. The salads were works of art. She tonged them onto plates like a celebrity chef. All vegetables were organically grown out back. Clementine could make a seed sprout by looking at it.
Three weeks into my new life, the man missing Italy departed. The naked wanderer covered all of her with a floral spread when my aching bones creaked in after stumbling up the ladder. I’d been the only one at the supper table, soy meatloaf, baked sweet potatoes and string beans. I’d spent the afternoon unloading a truck full of 40 pound bags of potting soil and fertilizer. Someone had taken the chanting card player’s mat, sheet over face like a corpse on a gurney. Tired as I was, I couldn’t find sleep. I kept wondering what it was going to like meeting my father. The new guest visited in her birthday suit. She crawled to me on all fours. “Your dad is dead but we are alive,” she whispered. I don’t know why I wasn’t shocked to pissing myself that the visitor was Evelyn. She roughly relieved me of my t-shirt and shorts and pushed me to the end of my mat. She got me up and it felt like she screwed the condom on. “Sit up,” she ordered. Backing off, sitting in a yoga position, she spread her legs, grabbed her toes then murmured, “visit,” and then fell flat. She was tight, groaned softly then pushed me away after some quick trembling. “By all that is sacred, this is all wrong,” she said then carefully took the rubber off and tied it shut, kissed it and rolled it along the floor almost a foot. “Lie down,” she instructed. She mounted after oral prep, “Raisin’ Caine,” she giggled, cruise control after that. After I came, she locked around me. I felt as though sadism had kicked in. “Abel’s our son,” she said upon release.” (I didn’t quibble about my “e” ending.) Bet many lives and treasures that I will keep him.” She went down on me in tender soothing way. Moving to her mat, she picked up a corner, grabbed an 8X11 slim plastic packet. “Promise you won’t open this until you reach here,” she said sternly. She circled a spot on a map that we inspected by her Zippo lighter, a Looney Tunes mouse and bird decorated its side. “You will find a man in Washington State named Jim Tyrone at a U.S. Forest Service Office, Mount Baker National Forest. Use this bus ticket and guard this journal with our lives. It was leather bound. Her lips turned aqua. She gently plucked away an image of a key from them with index finger and thumb, and twisted it against the snap that held the volume closed. “This will unlock halfway through the third day, read the preface then write down all you think and feel until you are empty,” she said. “Your man Mr. Kerouac was a fire lookout nearby, write wildly like he did.” She knew everything! Evelyn gradually turned into the vaporous blue and disappeared into the guru’s portrait. I couldn’t sleep on my stomach for a couple of days but I was flattered that she wanted my kid. Yeah, like her weird mat moves could guarantee conception of a male child, sure. I did breathe a sigh of relief that Abel was my “son” and not my brother. If this wasn’t some kind of surreal joke, I’d change my name legally to “Granger” but keep the “Tom” as a souvenir. Man, a father, what kind would I be? Would she regret my child in her womb? Would another foster kid face the world?
It was over 800 miles and a 13 hours Greyhound ride to Mount Baker, just ten or eleven passengers. No one next to me, so there was plenty of shuteye room. I slept much of the way and regretted missing so much of unspoiled America. Once, the bus driver’s shout awoke me. “No pipes or cigars!” A sailor two seats behind him had just finished filling a bowl and was about to fire up.
“Aye, aye, sir,”
“We’ll be stopping at the Blacks Creek Rest, soon. Darken your lungs there.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Don’t have to call me sir, I was once a white hat myself; a Boatswain’s Mate!”
I’d seen the sailor in the bus station. There was a ship’s wheel over the two red stripes on his uniform sleeve.
“Want a Marlboro?” a woman across the aisle asked him.
“Sure,” he answered. She got up, squeezed by him sat next to his window. Her heels were as high as long neck beer bottles and her skirt wasn’t much longer.
“I can see by your arm wheel that you drive a hunk of sea going steel, Popeye” she said. The driver belted out a laugh. I bet he slapped his knee.
“Sometimes it drives me – nuts,” he said to more driver laughter. That was the last of the conversation. Sailor and new friend held hands and raised their arms in the air. Guess it’s true what they say about women and uniforms.
After using the restroom, I bought a vending machine egg salad sandwich, a Coke and a Ring Ding. It was great to stretch my legs. Outside, I put down my meal on the pavement. I ran in place for about five minutes. “Hey,” asked the Marlboro gal, “Something in that grub to energize me like that?”
“Not with those heels, lover,” answered Popeye.
Back on the bus and prompted by the Navy romance, I threw my arm over the seat next to me to test if Evelyn would be there then it suddenly struck me that the bus pilot looked like the man in the loft portrait: the Boatswain mate Guru. An old lady with flour white hair hummed “Oh My Darling, Clementine,” haunted commune, haunted bus. About a mile away from Blacks Creek, the bus driver turned on his microphone. He talked about The Oregon Trail, Sawtooth National Park, its mountains and lakes, Snake River; Basques and Shoshones. I went to sleep with Lewis and Clark. I didn’t dream of Sacagawea.
The outpost was like something out of National Geographic. Jim Tyrone greeted me outside a trailer as if a long lost first cousin except his handshake was soft. “Hello Tom, you must be something else to be deserving of the gift you got.”
“Something else all right,” I responded, pinning a puzzled look on his brow.
He was a tall man with a buzz cut, slight twitch on the left side of his face. I didn’t get much of a chance to ask Tyrone any questions about my gift. He pulled a clipboard with a release form attached. “Just gotta sign on the dotted line,” he said. No request for cash or credit card. I was a guest at an abandoned fire lookout tower for five days. I signed. He whistled shrilly. A burley, middle-aged, heavyweight wrestler looking chap lumbered through the door, tilting the trailer. “He’s all yours, “George.” His handshake indicated his parents were part python. “Follow me, Hoss,” he said and led me to his jeep. He explained it had served in Korea. Sure looked it, dings and dents galore, cracked windshield. All the supplies I’d need were in two boxes. “I wish I could get five days off to chat with nature, kid.”
“Looks like there’s plenty of it,” I said.
He grunted. I thought of books one of my foster mothers named Julia read to me before going to bed, Tom Quest adventure stories. His scientist / explorer dad had a large and versatile right-hand man named Gulliver who drove a clunky jeep and many times came to the Tom’s rescue. Would George save me if need be or would Evelyn show up in this Garden of Eden setting? And don’t you know when I looked back to catch another look at a fox with a big bushy tail, the exhaust sent out a blast that was the blue of the Have No Fear House loft I’d never forget. George chewed Beech-Nut Tobacco; empty packets covered the floor. “Have a chaw?”
“Nope, I failed my only test of it.”
“Shame on you boy,” he said.
A scary hairpin curve nearly ejected me. I figured he might have taken it slower if I’d filled my cheek with Beech-Nut. The jolt made something happened in my head. All my life I’d thought of it as a big warehouse, thoughts and ideas sometimes here and other times there. Now there were rooms, my existence neatly spread out in them. I think I was developing focus. A school shrink spoke of tidying up my head would help me pay attention, compartments easier to handle than open spaces. I felt smart. I could go to Yale or Princeton, Columbia like Kerouac. Or were all those rooms in an asylum?
A well-worn path led up to the small cabin that was on ten-foot stilts. George insisted on carrying the boxes of supplies up the stairs. The deck at the door was large enough for a chair. One was folded against a rail, no lock on the door. A narrow bunk was at the ready, a triangle of blanket and sheet pulled aside. George flicked a reading light on and off. He stocked the large cupboard with canned goods and K-Rations, bottle water, peanut butter and evaporated milk. He set up a Sterno stove on a four by four table, along with a can opener, plate, silverware and a white plastic first aid kit. “There’s a snakebite gizmo,” he said, bit of a grin. Two stools at the table and a deep green Adirondack chair completed the furniture. A clock on the wall reminded me of the classroom kind but the print under it wasn’t an unfinished Cherry Tree G. Washington. It looked like a mug shot, a man with burning eyes and five-o’clock shadow, handsome. The button on his lapel read “IWW.”
“That’s Joe Hill,” said George.
“I know him from the song,” I said.
“That song keeps him breathing.”
“Amen,” I said. George patted me on the shoulder. I wondered what other ghosts had followed me here. Two lights that looked like flying saucers hung from the ceiling. George pointed out the switch then showed me a closet where there were three extra blankets. “You’ll need these, kid,” he said. No mention of the space heater with the long coiled extension cord on the floor. “If those Hudson Bays don’t work, try these.” He reached under the back of his jacket and pulled out two Playboy Magazines that were tucked in his belt. “You’re on your own kid.” George’s smile was as bright as a tracer round in a Korea Conflict night sky. He left the door open. A pigeon and a mouse took advantage.
It was as if I’d lived there all my life. All of the foster homes, YMCAs, and grimy motels were erased like a problem on a school blackboard that I was the only pupil bright enough to solve. I unpacked, placed the journal under the bunk pillow and resisted the temptation to test to see if Evelyn’s blue key truly locked it. I put my Swiss Army Knife next to it for some reason I couldn’t figure, had never left my backpack before. No worry, I had the Evelyn faith. I sat on the deck in the folded chair, a director’s model, blue. I felt like I was watching a movie, had a part on the out-of-this-world screen. I involuntarily stood reached out to touch the half set sun. My finger jumped away as if I’d stuck it in a campfire. The lake froze for a minute or so. A disc of ice the size of a manhole cover lifted as if a fisherman had willed it. Steamy bodies drifted from it and swarmed to a group of evergreens that moved up and down like pistons in a well-tuned car. The mountain tops spurted volcanic blue that wafted from navy to Clementine’s blue before all went dark. I backed up to the door, reached for the knob that felt like foam rubber. I jerked back my hand, the door swung open like a sprung trap. The lights were on, buzzing like electric monks. I took the heater from the closet, found what seemed to be the only socket, blue and yellow sparks flew when I had the plug half in. I yanked my fingers away, the prongs were sucked home. I was afraid to turn the heater on or pull the plug. I killed the eerie lights, went to bed wearing my clothes, feeling slightly apprehensive yet content. The reading light burned bright. I opened a Playboy. A Mount Baker Trip Guide fell out of the centerfold page. Evelyn was ogling me. For a split second there was a cigarette between her fingers. My hands tingled recalling cupping her breasts. Merry was the college beauty feature, BYU, pom-poms that became spinning dessert plates with Yule designs. The pigeon perched on a corner eave cooed and flapped a few times. The mouse raced around, paw falls like soft sticks on an ancient drum, my lullaby. I awoke in the night and saw the bird and rodent in the middle of the room, a spotlight on them, but the cooer was a falcon, the drummer had turned as white as one of his lab test cousins. My pillow was aromatic. One smell I identified as a hyacinth. I gave one at Easter to the mother who read Tom Quest books to me. Wait a minute! That was the flowery scent of Evelyn at the microfilm machine!
When I awoke I found I’d pushed the blankets aside. The heater was working but shut off as soon as I sat up. I put my boots on, fixed my first breakfast. No Coachman’s delight I’ll tell you that much. I poured two oatmeal packets, one apple-cinnamon using evaporated milk and gulped it raw, not bad. I boiled some bottled water on the Sterno stove for Maxwell House instant. I spread peanut butter on bagel chips, set two on the floor for the mouse and pigeon. I kept waiting for more weirdness but the auto heater was the last of it. I retrieved my Swiss Army Knife, grabbed a bar of Ivory hotel type soap, towel, face cloth, and headed to the lake. I brought the guide book with me, stopped frequently along the path to read. Any creature, flower or tree I eyed on a page appeared in twos before or aside me when I looked up: cougar, mountain goats, marmots. I wished the pika were in the cabin instead of the mouse but not the eagle in place of the pigeon. I looked at a tree to my left and heard its name, Douglas fir, whispered by the wind using Evelyn’s voice then a song, a melody of trees, Doug, noble, silver and subalpine firs, hemlock and red cedar. “Look out, lookout” was the chorus. I walked through smokeless fire but physically unharmed to the lake. I was blazing mind and soul. I was a genuine fire lookout in another era or eon. Where was Jack’s gig? I spotted a number of dollhouses adrift and I remembered Mr. Townsend, a foster father who was a maintenance man at a public library reading Huckleberry Finn to me and 7 other temporary children, Huck’s father dead in a house floating by. I stripped and bathed, swam and tread the frigid water but never numbed. The sky flashed rainbow colored numbers like a countdown at the beginning of a home movie. Two circling salmon leaped like dolphins. Evelyn changed her tune, marigolds, buttercups, lilies, phlox, lupines and delphiniums. The rock and roll beat lured me into a sexual rhythms and spasms. When I came I could hear her laughing. I was too weak to dress. I had the taste of Ivory Soap in my mouth.
Wobbly returning to the cabin I stepped on blue flickering vegetation that tilted and heaved and sucked at my feet like quicksand. I was a silver screen horror victim and I fought like one; no help from Evelyn. Maybe I had to prove myself, my courage, to her. I had to work my way up the stairs sitting, gathering enough strength to rise to the next one. When I reached the deck I pulled myself erect by the rail. Halfway to the door a rush of wind tried to knock me over. It regrouped and blew the door open. The lights were on. I was the thirstiest man on earth. I took two bottles of water and a Three Musketeers candy bar with me to the Adirondack chair at the table. I washed around each swig as if it were mouthwash before swallowing. I ate most of the bar and tossed what remained on the floor for the pigeon and mouse. It was about time I named them I thought. Brando for the bird because the character he played in On the Waterfront kept a pigeon coop and Al for the mouse after Algernon in the movie Charley. I envied Charley, wished I could get a shot to make me smart even for just a little while too. I remembered my new rooms. Maybe that was it. How long would mine last? My clothes and the towel landed beside me, folded themselves, bar of soap and Swiss Army Knife on top of them.
I limped to my bunk. All night the lake events recurred with added features. A football field size copy of On the Road hovered. A giant finger fanned it. The letters were gnats that covered the water like an oil tanker spill. Evelyn was taller than the volcano. She squatted over it and pissed its fire out. At midnight, Clementine joined the salmon. She was a mermaid. Her eyes were the blue of Ed’s USN ring stone. She fed me pine nuts and in a bubbly voice said “Heart Healthy.” No return on a treacherous path as before. I floated on a velvet carpet vaguely reminiscent of the mat in her commune loft. The silver band on Brando’s leg spun like a runaway Greek Temple before shrinking to wedding band size on a blue pillow that landed on my chest. Words I couldn’t make out flashed in neon on the ring as it flipped around like a toy before it expanded enough for Algernon to leap through. Brando shrunk and was a copycat.
I paced and paced as the first hour of the third day approached, journal resurrection time. The Brando and Algernon marched with me. I stood still when I saw the clock hands spinning backwards, had to be a half hour. Anticipation hung in the air like webs as thick as a bark spider’s and tensed like a front line soldier. I plopped at the table and dozed on my crossed arms. I dreamed of Evelyn, a child at her breast. She sang an aria of almond trees and Brigham Young including a litany of the many uses for that nut. Her idle nipple was an acorn. I felt her tongue in my ear. She winked slowly three times. An alarm sounded. The UFO lights blinked. I jerked up my head and the journal opened. On the first page was a map of Dover-Foxcroft, Maine. Gray Cemetery on N/E Main Street highlighted. Then next page was typed and centered.
Crafty Dover Press an Under
Overland Outlaw Publication
Presents a Tale by Albert Granger
I must admit I was impressed at my father’s accomplishment whatever its importance in that hyphenated city in a state that always made me think “maniac.” The Brando and Algernon took a place left and right of the journal. The title page turned on its own the opening of the story was magnified. The saucer lights went out and the pages were a lamp unto themselves.
View from the Shagbark Hickory
I walked by Penelope’s Flower shop that November day. Gayle Ann from homeroom waved from the window. Crazy many would say, but I cherished a memory of her at an all-star high school football game, her leg rubbed up against my knee when she was making her way out of the same aisle where I was siting. I was happy I’d just scrunched up and didn’t just flip back the seat and stand. Due to Teacher’s Institute, there’d been just a half day of school. After a strawberry milkshake at Sonia’s Snack Bar, I headed for Mulberry Pond. It was just the third time I’d used the platform in a shagbark hickory tree. I’d built it out of scrap lumber I found near railroad tracks behind the Gingerly Cookie Company. I sawed off some limbs so the only way up was by climbing a convenient pine tree and swaying as I’d seen acrobats do on poles at the Shrine Circus. I rigged a rope to pull the fir to me for exiting. I’d camouflaged artistically I thought, with branches that formed an eagle nest from a particular angle. Once when I was on my perch, recovering from a humiliation at the hands of a Jean Hardy who said her dad would never let her date someone who lived in Federal Housing, I witnessed, Hank Henning, a quarterback from St. John’s High making love to a cheerleader from my school, Patsy Parks. Anyone surveying the Pond from the ground would have missed the lovers. I got a good show thorough a small telescope I bought at an Army / Navy Store in Riverside. I felt like a pervert after handling myself. The signal caller littered the Pond with the condom; other than that one sideshow, my panorama consisted of herons; red-winged blackbirds; flickers, sparrow hawks; swimming and sunning snapping turtles and occasionally a grey fox stopping for a drink. I considered visiting at night to look at moon and stars but figured climbing in the dark would be tricky and dangerous but in time, I’d take the challenge. I recovered from Jean’s putdown after a couple of weeks and replaced it with a revved up crush on Gayle Ann. What would I say to her if she ever agreed to a date? Hell, the only interesting thing about me was my platform. I don’t think sharing a description of Patsy Parks’ pre-intercourse, half-naked jump, legs splayed, fingers touching toes on the shore of Mulberry Pond would endear me to Gayle Ann. Oh, my dreams of her day or night wishing she’d do the same trying to seduce me.
Late afternoon another November day that was unseasonably cold and cloudy, I had a small foldup Sterno stove burning on my platform to half-ass keep me warm. I thought about hoboes I’d read about who would squeeze that canned fuel through a rag for the alcohol of it, “Squeezing the Heat.” “Norwegian Wood” played on my transistor radio after a warning about skating on local ponds. I imagined Gayle Ann showing up to skate, falling through the ice and me to the rescue. Just as I pulled on my exit rope, she came into distant view, wearing a gown and walking slowly, carrying a candle. A bird sat on her shoulder. I aimed my telescope. She took six steps onto the ice, waved a hand in a circle that melted a perfectly round hole. Images began rising through the opening, wispy men, women and children, each one engulfed in a blue flame. The women were short-skirted leggy cheerleaders. The men were football players. Gayle Ann lifted her arm. The pigeon moved into the position a falcon might take before the blindfold was removed then headed up toward me, landed at my side. Brief sparks leaped from its beak. I was burning up. I took off my jean jacket. I felt myself sedated and shrinking. The bird locked its claws on my belt, took off and dropped me off on Gayle Ann’s palm. She petted me as if I were a white mouse or a hamster and tried to lick my face but got more of my clothes than skin. She spat, held me up to her lips, told me to kiss her. I did. She said there was a treat awaiting me at Penelope’s Shop. I asked her who the water people were. My voice wasn’t loud. She held me against her ear like a seashell and I repeated myself. They are your friends and foes she said. She placed me in her cleavage. The pigeon cooed. I peek out to see it grow to three or four times the size of an eagle. I crawled into Gayle Ann’s left cup and hugged her nipple. The magic bird carried us, claw gripping Gayle Ann’s belt to the flower shop and gently lowered us to the ground. Gale Ann moved me back up into her cleavage. I heard the door’s warning chimes. The aroma of roses was delicious. I detected her walking down stairs. She gently removed me from my niche, held me in the palm of her hand. I sat, gripped my knees. Before me was a medieval castle the size of a rich kid’s toy, easily four feet high. The drawbridge dropped across the moat. Gale Ann told me to strip naked. I did. She licked me as a mother cat would her kitten before setting me down and ordering me to walk into the castle. First step inside, I was instantly clothed in football gear without any identifying player or team name or number. A white mouse squeaked “follow” at me. I climbed stairs that led to a football stadium. The stands were full. I ran onto the field to cheering and ovations. I’d never played football other than touch in my life but I was the quarterback passing, scrambling, and rushing. It wasn’t like an NFL contest where five minutes seems like an hour. Halftime felt like ten seconds. I glanced at the miniature cheerleaders. Shrunken Gayle Ann was one of them. She did one of those Patsy Parks jumps. In no time I threw a forty-yard pass to make the score forty-nine to zip. The crowd, players and cheerleaders disappeared. The castle turned into a dollhouse. The mouse squeaked “Welcome Home.” I followed it to a large bedroom. Fat candles ringed a four-poster bed. Against the window an amazing display of flowers, probably one of each that Penelope had ever offered for sale. It was night and day, both the moon and sun danced. They sat in a gold tub that the flickering candles transformed into water trickling down mountain rocks. Gayle Ann walked in nude, snapped her fingers and I was sheathed with protection. We dove into the bed’s flashing pink comforter with a splash as if it were Mulberry Pond and Gayle Ann gave me the grand tour of us. It was sea and sky. I was underwater. I was spinning in a cloud. I was one of those phantoms rising from the hole in the ice. Such was the vigor of our sex that we fell into deep sleep. The mouse screeched us awake. Gayle Ann clapped her hands. The condom pulsed neon flew off and hovered like a hummingbird. “Abracadabra” and we were fully dressed but we remained small. A wall opened like French doors. The Pigeon flew us back to my platform. I missed Gayle Ann informed me that Amelia Earhart’s sister was nicknamed “Pidge.” I imagined us on a postage stamp celebrating the Audubon Society. We made love once more in the sleeve of the jacket I’d left behind after Gayle Ann pronounced “Penelope” backwards to strip us. Invisible fingers rolled a condom on. What tricks Gayle Ann had up our sleeve! We crawled out by way of the sleeve cuff and I wondered what love would have been like in the inside pocket. Gayle Ann spelled out Penelope and we were out normal size again. I screamed as if someone attacked me. The condom didn’t join in the growing and the band was a jaw. Gayle Ann pumped both fists. The jaw released and the condom took off like a moonbeam headed home, dripping me on my jacket. Gayle Ann was apologetic, gently licked me. Oh hell, she said and rode me deep. After she regained her breath, she softly sang the names of flowers, had to be a hundred, in my ear. She spelled Penelope forward coughing between each letter and we were dressed. She soared away in a blaze of every color of blue any artist could imagine. I was platform shy for a while. Would there ever be an encore? Two months later, I returned without fanfare. I pause at Penelope’s window regularly, Gayle Ann always holds up a flower, always blue, smiles and waves. Her belly grows and grows.
How could I not have been more proud? My true Dad a published writer! Could that talent be hiding, somewhere in me? I swear, Brando cooed: “The almond doesn’t fall too far from the tree.” Al made a clickety-click noise in agreement. Were Gayle Ann and the florist shop true? How many more pieces to complete this puzzle? I faced a blank page. I picked away the pen holstered to the side of the journal’s back cover and started “Here I am . . .” It felt as if an invisible hand was guiding mine, Jack, Evelyn or my long-distance Albert Granger himself. I recorded every moment, thought and motion that occurred since George jeeped me up here. I expanded and embellished. I ripped the flaps off the provision boxes in case I ran out of pages. I had instant recall. I was night and day, four seasons. I remember a foster sister of mine named Gail singing that dark and light tune trying to imitate Sinatra. She had a ragged fedora she’d found in a trash can. Could she sing! I hope she found a true home and her songs made her millions. I never left the cabin again the last two days. I wrote and ate, cat naps. My mind was a carousel slide projector and an IMAX. I described every thought’s sound and color in perfect penmanship which I could not do in school, any grade. Did reading my dad’s story set off a gene shakeup? I was rewired. Two hours before George was scheduled to pick me up, the journal slammed shut. There were a dozen pages left. Did I hit the adventure limit? I ran to the lake and washed. There were no special effects although I felt a peacefulness I’d never known before, all was possible.
George didn’t come up to the door, just beeped the horn. My roommates followed me out the door. Brando took off, did a couple of goodbye loops. Algernon sorrowfully followed me, a low squeak each step. On the ground, he shot off into the brush. George didn’t exit the jeep. Before jumping in, I placed my backpack on the floor. “Make sure you have those Playboy stimuli in your luggage, just on loan,” was his greeting. “Sure do and thanks much,” I said. He’d be back to clean up the cabin. He offered me a swig from a pint of peach brandy as Stan the trucker had. A tape player had been installed in the jeep. What a coincidence! George slipped in Joan Baez’s Greatest Hits. A line from one I’d never heard before “Diamonds and Rust” travelled around my mind like a news ticker: “I’ll be damned here comes your voice again,” First three words I recalled Stan using and yes the voice, make that plural, fit too. George was quiet. I wondered if any of the songs reminded him of Korea, maybe a woman he’d met in a bar. I fanaticized about my return to Salt Lake City, Evelyn with another manila envelope full of info about Gayle Ann for future reference. I thought about the trip to Dove-Foxcroft, stopping at my dad’s grave, planting seeds Brando and Al liked to leave in my boots. Hell, the way things were going, Evelyn and I might get there in a jet propelled pumpkin, my hand often on Evelyn’s belly, feeling for signs of Abel. We’d compare my dad’s story with all I’d written. I couldn’t handle it alone could I? No smoking, she’d chew kelp gum Clementine concocted instead. Back at the outpost, George surprised me with a well-read copy of Kerouac’s Dharma Bums. A couple was waiting for their ride with George. One was a sailor. There were bolts of lightning on his arm patch. His tall girlfriend’s skirt nearly reached the ground. She was touch-of-my-toe Wanda. “Save yourself a world of trouble, kid, join the Navy and roam as you must,” she advised.