dontravis.com blog post #333
|Courtesy of Pixels|
Thanks to Don Morgan for his guest blog last week, featuring his novel Sourwater Slough. I almost felt I was back home in Oklahoma.
This week, let’s have a short story that comes in two parts. I hope you enjoy it.
WALLY AND ME
Wally Hamner was the proverbial “boy next door,” the guy who was always there. We grew up together like that… next door. "Two peas in a pod," my dad used to say. We played together in diapers and in shorts and in big boy long pants. We were buds even though he had me by a year. It hurt a little when he got interested in sports and developed other friendships. But I adjusted and came to grips with it.
What I had that the others didn’t was proximity. Proximity and history. It was easy to hop the fence and join me in the back yard and pick up a conversation from yesterday or the day before after he returned from this excursion or that. We talked with an ease that neither of us had with anyone else. I knew his ambitions—to be a fighter pilot—as well as his aspirations—to marry Mary Sue Klonheim and build her the biggest house in town. I knew his fears—snakes—and his joys—double chocolate milk shakes in addition to Mary Sue.
The summer between our junior and senior years, respectively, I came to comprehend how I served him. I was his conscience, the brake to his recklessness. I was his anchor. Strange, because he was older than me. Maybe it was because I wasn’t willing to jump out of a moving car on a dare or let someone shoot a pencil out of my mouth. I wasn’t as audacious as he was. I was the one to back off when things went too far. One of the best things about Wally was that even if he didn’t follow my example, he respected it and never talked down to me because of my natural passivity, as he called it. He’d always say something like “Oh, come on, Bobby, what’s it gonna hurt?” But when I balked, he never held it against me. Still, I suspected that was why he turned to others as we grew older.
By that summer, Wally had the reputation of being wild, at least among the adults. Ours was a small town where neighbors knew everything there was to know about neighbors. The fact that I couldn’t go too far overboard without my folks learning about it made me feel safe, but it chafed Wally. The budding fighter pilot in him wanted to break the bonds of small-town boundaries and soar. So it goes without saying he was usually in trouble to some degree.
Because of his venturesome nature, it was strange that my folks never tried to put the kibosh on our friendship. And his mom positively glowed whenever I came over. I didn’t get it then, but she probably figured my level-headedness to be a blessing. Funny how folks look at the same thing and see it differently. Wally considered it as timidity.
As we approached that last school year before he’d go off to college, the age difference between us didn’t seem so big as it had awhile back. More often than not, Wally invited me to hang with him and his jock buddies, and I did. But it wasn’t a comfortable fit because I was the naysayer, the wet blanket, the raincloud hanging over the group whenever they wanted to drag race or take a plunge off the cliff on the south side of Webber’s Lake. Or worse yet, when they boozed before racing or jumping off the cliff.
The Fourth of July of my sixteenth year is imprinted on my mind—on my psyche—as if applied by a red-hot branding iron. My aunt and uncle and their daughter from the next town over went with us to the lake for the holiday. Virtually the whole town was there, including the Hamners. We no sooner arrived than Wally stopped by to get me to go join his gang atop the bluff across the lake. But out of a sense of duty—probably misplaced—I stayed behind with my cousin Helen, a fifteen-year-old pain in the butt, as Wally hopped into his old ’49 Ford convertible and headed off for fun and games while I played nursemaid
As we ate fried chicken and “fixin’s” and listened to Helen whine about this or that, my eyes continually strayed to where tiny figures cavorted atop the cliff. Occasionally, someone dove into the water, exciting “oohs” and “ahhs” from those of us who happened to see. There was talk of how dangerous that was and whether we should send a deputy sheriff—who was eating with his family a couple of tables away from us—to put a stop to it, but nothing came of such talk.
I happened to be watching when someone fell from the cliff. It was different from the others. The figure wasn’t diving knife-like into the water, it was dropping sideways and would likely land in the shallows. My heart fell into my stomach as tiny stick figures collected at the top of the bluff, gesticulating and yelling, their voices echoing off the water and faintly tickling our ears like the irritating buzz of swarming mosquitoes or the sizzle of fat in a hot skillet. Three or four of the boys dived off the cliff
Others on this side of the lake had seen the fall as well, and the deputy was finally dispatched to check out the situation. By now, most of the boys on the cliff-top had joined others in the water and clustered in a group at the bottom of the bluff.
My heart fell into my stomach as a heavy sense of foreboding pressed on my heart and rendered me dizzy. My blood seemed to have pooled in my shoes, rendering me incapable of doing anything besides sag against the concrete picnic table and gasp for breath. My dad and Mr. Hamner raced for the shore and jumped in one of the boats taking off across the lake. As I tried to stand, Mrs. Hamner restrained me. The haunted look in her eyes sent chill bumps sweeping over me.
“Stay here, Bobby,” she mumbled. “Stay with your mother and me.”
“Was it him? It-it was Wally, wasn’t it?” I stuttered.
“Hush up. We’ll know soon enough. God help us, we’ll know soon enough.”
Well, was it Wally who fell? Or was it one of his friends, which might hopefully knock some sense in Wally’s head. Tune in next week and see.
Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!
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See you next week.
New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.