A Midsummer Tale ~ Third Place
Richard C. Harrison
R.A. drives up in his new 1954 red Olds convertible, his left arm hanging over the driver’s side door. His right hand grips the chrome neckers’ knob attached to the steering wheel. It’s dusk, as he pulls up to where I’m standing with my sister and two of her friends in the beach parking lot. He has a brush cut but with the sides left long in a DA.
He is a college sophomore. He looks terrific.
“Hi girls,” he says to my sister and her friends, ignoring me.
“Hi, R.A.,” the girls say in unison like the chorus in a 45 single.
The girls talk with R.A. while I look over the car. The top is tucked into the well with a white cover. What would I do with a car like this? I would never dare drive it. I would be afraid of cracking it up or something. I can see my mother’s face after I had the accident.
I told you not to buy that expensive car, but you went ahead and did it, and now where are you? Out the car, out the money and out of luck.
Yup, that’s Mom. But I just like thinking about owning a car like R.A.’s. Like the song says, you can’t go to jail for what you’re thinking.
I have a car, a 1937 Ford wagon. The wood in my car is so rotten that it’s falling apart. I paid $35 dollars for the car: more than it’s worth, the piece of crap. But it runs. And at thirty-three cents a gallon I can buy nine gallons with three dollars I budget each week for gas. Unless we go down to Alton to the drive-in I can make it through the week on the three dollars. One night on the way to Alton I hit the high beam button on the floor. The lights go out. There we are, driving along in the pitch black. I hit the button again and the lights came back. They are awful dim, but they sure look good coming out of the black.
R.A. works the girls. “Hey girls, want to go for a ride?” he asks them.
“OK, R.A..” That chorus again.
“Hey, what about my brother?” my sister asks, halfway into the front seat.
R.A. doesn’t even look at me. “Yah, sure, shoehorn him in back,” he says.
I sit in the middle between my sister’s friends. Not a bad spot.
So R.A. drives us around the lake. It feels like we’re going fast because of the wind. There’s a nice moon so I can see the trees and as we go by the lake the moon makes that long light on the water. I close my eyes and let the air flow over me, lift my head, feeling the pressure of the girls’ thighs against mine. Boy, this is living.
The girls are all chattering about high school and stuff. They ignore me like always. They think I’m a kid because I’m a sophomore and they’re seniors. Plus, I don’t drink or smoke and, worst of all, I’m in Explorer Scouts, and don’t play sports. The tough guys usually ignore me.
There are exceptions. One day I go to school, and Kenny asks me, “Who roughed up Peter?” I tell him, “Danny Compari.” At recess Danny Compari comes out to the playground, walks over and hits me in the balls. I bend over crying, and he punches me in the face. I just lie on the ground crying.
“Don’t talk about me, kid,” he tells me quietly.
I never again mention Danny Compari’s name to a living soul. I also never learn to fight, so I become invisible. When in doubt, I fade.
So, I don’t exactly provide a striking figure for the girls to admire. I never do. I even hate the Y dances. I go but I really sweat under the arms. I like dancing with the girls but I hate asking them.
So, we pull up to a spot overlooking the lake and R.A. says, “Hey, you want to run the bridges?”
None of us know what that means, so we all say, “Sure.”
R.A. leads us down a long gangplank to a dock on the lake. That moon is still up there steady and shining. The boat is a lapstrake Lyman runabout with a 35 horsepower Johnson outboard and a deck with running lights, red and green. We all pile in and sit on cushions damp with night dew. R.A. starts the engine and leaves it idling as he gets out of the boat to release the lines.
“When I say duck you keep your head down under the level of the deck.”
“OK,” the chorus answers, plus me. My heart pounds.
“The water is high this year. When we get to the bridges I will steer the boat dead center, we all duck, and then we clear the bridge. I’ll get the bow down by getting her going as fast as I can. She’ll plane out and flatten, and we’ll make it under the bridges.”
R.A. jams up the throttle and the boat takes off. Dark sits heavy on the shore, but the moon makes a rippled sheen on the water. R.A. gets the boat planing flat. We are moving right along. I feel the wind again. Then the bridge is ahead. It makes a dark low arch with the water. R.A. speeds the boat at the middle of the bridge.
“OK, duck!” We all flatten out under the level of the deck. R.A. catches the bridge dead in the middle. I look back under my armpit. He ducks at the last minute to get under. The red and green running lights reflect off the flecked stucco underneath the bridge. The water gushes and the motor sound echoes. The bow is about six inches below the underneath of the bridge as we pass out the other side.
“OK,” R.A. calls.
We put our heads up.
He shouts, “Down!”
We all duck again. R.A. catches the second bridge dead center. Same reflection, same roar of the engine. None of us breathe.
Out on the other side. R.A. shouts, “Last.”
We duck again and are now into the lake proper. The moon is bright. We have cleared the bridges. One of the girls leans over and gives me a hug. I can feel her boobs underneath her sweater press against me.
“Wow, that was great!” she says.
“Yeah, it was,” I answer.
We had to run the bridges to get back, but it wasn’t quite as thrilling the second time. Back at the dock everyone is talking at once about how terrific it was, and how good R.A. is at piloting. Then R.A. turns to me.
“So, what did you think, kid?” R.A. asks.
I look at him out of the corner of my eye. “It was great R.A., thanks for taking us.” He gives me a quick punch to the left shoulder and smiles. “No sweat, I’ll run you home.”
“R.A., my car is back at the beach. Could you drop me and my sister there?”
He nods. “Hop in.” We make our way back through the moonlit trees and the yellow line on the black road, and I feel like I’ve been to a place where I want to go again.
Richard Harrison has published several short stories and numerous poems in The Seasons, a quarterly devotional journal. His stories, “The Jumper” and “The Cat Murder,” were accepted by the 2004 Marblehead Arts Festival, and in 2002 he won Best of Show for his story, “The Lake Shore Limited.” He continues to concentrate on writing short fiction in Marblehead, Massachusetts where he lives with his wife Sarah. E-mail: pic[at]marbleharbor.com.