dontravis.com blog post #627
I guess we left Larry Lovestock not yet sure where his love stick belongs. Happens to a lot of us.
By Donald T. Morgan
Derek made a long-distance call from the pay phone at the drug store. Getting through to Dr. Ericksen’s office ate up a healthy portion of his emergency fund—money hoarded from last season’s corn crop—but a secretary eventually provided the information he needed. That done, Derek headed straight for the library at the north end of downtown. Mrs. Lillian Greavy greeted him enthusiastically, as always. She was fond of him, but then she liked anybody who read books.
The neat, blue-haired librarian—who’d helped him earn his GED—nodded toward the stacks and chirped, “They’re back there, Derek. Help yourself.”
“Maybe later, ma’am. First, I need to borrow a pen and some paper and buy an envelope and stamp.”
“We can manage that.”
Derek sat at one of the reading tables to write a letter to this Dr. Ericksen who was coming to dig up his mounds. When Mrs. Greavy found out what he was doing, she wrote a note, folded it, and told him to put it in the envelope with his application, saying it never hurt to have a local recommendation. She added the stamped envelope to the library’s outgoing mail, sparing him a trip to the post office.
His chore accomplished, Derek walked to the shelf holding the library’s archaeology section to overdose on a load of delightful dreams. O’Connor’s Lost Cities of the Ancient Southeast and Fagan’s From Black Land to Fifth Sun stole minutes from the day so smoothly he hardly noticed them slip by. He could have lived in those books. For the hundredth time, he studied the color plates and absorbed the familiar lines of text. Only when the librarian’s discreet noises intruded on his consciousness did he realize it was closing time. As usual, he’d overdone it. Cassie would give him a good scorching. So what else was new?
Derek breezed through the front door to trip down three shallow steps to the sidewalk. Dismayed at how low the sun lay in the sky, he didn’t notice the girl until they collided.
“Whoops!” he exclaimed, trying to stem his momentum.
“Derek Monsum, you’re as clumsy as ever.”
“Sorry. Did I hurt you?”
Darla Morse’s brown eyes snapped as she shook her brunette shag. She was tall for a girl, a smidgen shorter than his five-ten. Still looked like a cheerleader, although she’d never been one, disdaining such “airheaded” pursuits, probably because she had worked after school for as long as he could remember.
“No, no thanks to you. Where you going in such a hurry?”
“Late getting home.” He snatched a quick glance at her pretty face before fixing his eyes resolutely on a crack in the sidewalk and backing away a neutral distance. He swiped the itchy mole on his upper lip, hoping she wouldn’t think his nose was running.
“You’re always late. Late to every class we ever took together.”
The recollection, delivered with a laugh, drew an answering chuckle from him. “Practically, I guess. Where you headed?”
“Home from work. That’s all I ever do. Go to work. Go home.”
“You still at the insurance place?” he asked.
“Still the glue holding the Ribbens Insurance Agency together.”
He noticed his dirty boots but didn’t know how to hide them and ended up in a slow shuffle backward. “I’ll bet you are too. You know, the glue.”
“You better believe it. One of these days I’ll surprise everyone and make a change.” She grabbed his arm. “Buy me a Coke and tell me how you’re doing. Been ages since we talked.”
Ages? He couldn’t remember it ever happening unless yelling at him from the bleachers when he fumbled a line drive at third base counted as conversation.
“Got chores to do at home,” he protested, his stomach knotting. He’d already spent thirty-three cents on a stamp and a couple of bucks on the telephone call. Nonetheless, he allowed himself to be dragged along when she reversed direction and headed back downtown. He still had at least one dollar in his pocket, enough for a couple of colas.
“I’ll take mercy on you,” Darla declared. “We’ll go dutch treat.”
Conscious they made a spectacle with her pulling him along, he matched his long farmer’s stride to her nice legs. “Okay, I guess.”
Nina’s Café was busy, but Nina Gillette took time to greet them by name and wave them to a booth. Ignoring their call for a couple of Cokes, the sturdy proprietress bustled over and flashed a blinding smile. She was pretty. For a middle-aged woman, that is.
“Derek,” she roared in a voice accustomed to calling orders to the kitchen. “Got a deal for you. I got four cracked panes on the windows out back. They gotta be replaced and the wire mesh on the outside cleaned. You do that, and I’ll treat you to a couple of burgers, a large order of fries, two sodas, and throw in ten bucks to boot. How about it?”
“Sure, but I can’t do it tonight.”
“Sunday after church?”
He brightened. “That’ll work.”
Darla reminisced about their school days while they waited for their order. Derek leaned back in the blue, padded booth and listened, alternately worrying the mole on his lip and drumming his fingers on a gray-speckled Formica tabletop worn thin by a thousand arms and elbows. He and Darla had been in the same class from the first grade until Derek dropped out of school in the twelfth, which gave her a lot to chatter about while he called up images of a spindly girl filling out into something nice.
“Wish you hadn’t quit school,” she said. “Missed you at graduation.”
“Me? You missed me?”
“Course, we did. All the teachers said you could amount to something. You’re smart, Derek. You even wanted to be something smart. What was it? Had to do with those hills you were always talking about.”
“Mounds,” he corrected. “They’re mounds. You know, old Indian burial places.”
“Oh, I remember now. You wanted to be an archaeologist.”
He flushed at the pretentiousness of his dream spoken aloud. “Yeah.”
“What’s so fascinating about a bunch of old clay pots and dried-up bones?”
“Just interesting, that’s all.”
As Nina delivered their order, Darla shook her head, allowing a trace of impatience to show. “Don’t do that. I’m trying to understand, so don’t cut me off. You wouldn’t go dig up a cemetery and call it interesting, would you?”
Savoring the aroma of freshly cooked beef and pungent onions, he smeared mustard on his hamburger. “No, but we know all there is to know about those folks.”
“And we don’t about the people in the mounds?”
She sounded sincere, so he leaned forward to answer her that way. “There’s lots we don’t know about them. For instance, who were they? They were Indians, but which Indians?” He warmed to his subject, shedding his usual phobia about coming across as a weirdo. “Some say they weren’t Indians at all. Claim they were Canaanites or the Lost Tribes of Israel.”
“Like in the Bible?”
“Uh-huh. Or some race of super beings.”
She picked up her burger, took a small nibble, and dabbed her lips with a paper napkin. “You don’t really believe that, do you?”
Derek shook his head over a mouthful of Nina’s delicious food. He didn’t know what the cook did to them, but her burgers were the best in the county. A bunch of other patrons happily chowing down confirmed his assessment. He swallowed before answering. “Those are just some of the wild theories going around. They were Indians, all right.”
They worked on their meal in silence for a few moments. He liked the graceful way her small hand gripped the soda glass. When she caught him looking at her, he glanced away.
“Weren’t they Choctaws… like we have now?” She put down the drink and took another bite of her hamburger.
“No, these people were a mounds culture. Around here, I’d say Caddo. Lots of natives buried their dead in mounds back then. There are mounds all the way from New York to Florida.”
“Are they out west too?”
“Mostly the eastern woodlands. We’re on the western perimeter of the mounds civilizations. There’s a big Mississippian culture complex up at Spiro in Leflore County near the Arkansas border. I hear the earthworks are really something to see.”
“You’ve never seen them?”
He gave a bitter laugh. “I’ve never seen anything.”
She reached out and patted his hand. He flinched at the unexpected touch. “You will, Derek. You hang in there.”
A sudden commotion at the door drew his attention. Dale Ray Hawkins entered and headed straight for their booth, surprising him. He and Dale Ray weren’t particularly friendly. The attraction soon became clear.
“Hello, Darla.” Dale Ray, a contemporary of Bowie’s, verged on being good looking but was snatched back by a perpetual scowl and a weak chin. The heavy thighs and wide hips that once made him a decent lineman for the Hilton High Hornets now threatened to render him lumpy. Derek noticed the man’s gaze rested on Darla’s hand atop his.
“Dale Ray,” she responded.
Hawkins ignored Derek. “Been looking for you. Got two tickets to the Demolition Derby over in Clovertown Friday night. Play your cards right, you can go with me.”
Darla’s answer gave Derek a start.
“Sorry, but Derek’s already asked me to go to the movie Friday.”
Dale Ray’s dull, dun eyes flicked to him. “You can go to a movie anytime. The Demo Derby don’t come around every day.”
Darla leaned back in the booth with arms folded over her breasts. “What makes you think I’m interested in watching people smash up cars?”
Dale Ray’s mouth dropped. He sucked in breath before coming up with an answer. “Everybody likes the derby.”
“Not me. I’m going to the movie with Derek.” Her voice held a finality even Dale Ray understood.
“Whatever. Your loss.” He turned his back and slouched off, his hips working about as hard as Cassie’s when she was in a snit.
As soon as Dale Ray was out of earshot, Darla sighed. “Can’t stand that man, but he keeps hitting on me. Sorry about the movie thing. I just needed an excuse.”
“Why don’t you like him?”
“He’s creepy. Dale Ray thinks he’s God’s gift to women. Some girls might find his caveman attitude sexy. Not me. But I guess his dad’s money makes him attractive to some.”
Darwin Hawkins owned the local auto parts store where his son had worked all through school. That was how Dale Ray could afford to drive a snappy blue ’98 Chrysler LeBaron convertible. What made the family a standout to Derek were the hundreds—maybe thousands—of arrowheads and lance points and stone hatchets old man Hawkins had scavenged over the years. Derek hadn’t seen the collection, never even been invited to the Hawkins home, but they claimed the governor was carping at the Hawkins family to donate the treasure trove to the state museum up in Oklahoma City.
Darla’s voice snatched his attention back. “And Dale Ray thinks he has to maul every girl he goes out with. Never did understand what Bowie saw in him. They used to hang out a lot.”
He met her gaze for a brief instant. He liked her big elk’s eyes. Pretty eyes turned him on. He nodded and sipped his soda, his cheeks burning when the straw made a slurping sound. He set the glass down hard. “They bummed around in high school. Double dated some. Anyway, Dale Ray’s too old for you.”
Darla gave him a pitying look. “He’s too wild for me, but he and Bowie are only six years older than we are. Bet you didn’t know I went out with Bowie once before he left.”
“Bowie left two years ago. You couldn’t have been more than seventeen.”
“Just turned eighteen.” She frowned. “He was sorta hard to handle too. Did you know Dale Ray and Cassie used to go out some? Bowie and Cassie dated too… before your dad was in the picture,” she hastened to add.
Aware it was dark outside, Derek glanced at the illuminated wall clock advertising Coca-Cola in undulating shades of crimson and was surprised to discover it was after eight. He had enjoyed himself and lost track of time. Usually, he was so uncomfortable around a girl every minute was an hour. Even when he about halfway went steady with Betsy Bates his sophomore year, he’d never been completely at ease. What made Darla different? Ah… because she hadn’t gone cross-eyed when he talked about mounds.
Inch by reluctant inch, he worked his way out of the booth. “Didn’t realize it was so late. Gotta get home and finish up my chores.”
Darla collected her purse and got to her feet. “That’s what happens when you’re having fun. Thanks for the burger.”
A little tingle played up his back. She had fun? “Glad to do it. Uh, and if you’d like to, we can take in the movie Friday night. You know, so you won’t be fibbing to Dale Ray.” He frowned. Where could he come up with ten bucks for two tickets to the picture show until he could pay it back out of Nina’s ten dollars? Darn! Should he have left a tip? Or was it included in Nina’s chore?
Once outside, Darla clasped his arm as they strolled back to the library. “Glad I ran into you. Enjoyed our talk. See you Friday night. About seven?”
He tripped over his own feet but managed to remain upright. “Uh, yeah. I probably bored you with all that mounds stuff.”
“Not at all. Maybe you can tell me more about it sometime.”
“Can… can I give you a lift home?”
“Wouldn’t want you to miss your chores.”
“They’ll be waiting when I get there.”
She permitted him to drive her, even though the Morse place was only another three blocks up the street. Fighting Red Rover’s grabby brakes, he hid his embarrassment at the jerky halt in front of the Morse’s house by scrambling out and yanking open the squeaky passenger’s door. Her hand, when he helped her from the cab, was softer than anything he’d ever touched.
The motor stuttered as he herded the old truck down the highway toward the farm. Daddy hadn’t got the carburetor working right yet. Nonetheless, Derek caught himself humming an Elvis tune. Surprised, he pursed his lips. Why in blue blazes did he feel so good?
Hope you saw enough of Derek to figure out he’s a pretty good guy. Shy and socially awkward, but a sound human being.
Stay safe and stay strong.
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