Sunday, September 28, 1969
And it’s run for the rosesDan Fogelberg
As fast as you can
You fate is delivered
Your moment’s at hand
It’s the chance of a lifetime
In a lifetime of chance
And it’s high time you joined
In the dance
Grandpa sighed, set his newspaper down, and got up slowly. It cost him some effort, and he grunted and pushed himself up using the arm of his regal chair for support. “I’m getting up,” he moaned. Having made it to his feet, he sighed deeply, looked at Horace, and gave him a warning look. “I’ll be back presently. Do not leave this room.”
“What will I do?”
“Reflect in Solitude,” muttered Grandpa, as he shuffled off to the kitchen.
“Damp it!” mumbled Horace, and then slapped his hand over his mouth. He looked around guiltily to ensure no one had heard his horrible language. Satisfied he was secure, he went to the couch where he found his old black and white, one-eyed, tattered Teddy Bear laying. He picked him up. “You know what, Teddy?”
“What?” asked Teddy. His nonexistent lips didn’t move. Horace’s did.
“Grownups are poops. They make you stay in the room. They never let you throw your Batterang. And they never even let you watch…” Horace’s eyes went to the TV. “Maybe there’s a baseball game,” he said carrying Teddy to the television.
“Or Batman,” squeaked Teddy.
“Nah,” said Horace, turning on the TV, “he’s only on Wednesdays and Thursdays.”
The black and white TV glowed just a little, and in a moment, the sound of Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass’s “Whipped Cream” came from it. In another moment, the picture faded in. A voice off screen said, “And now here’s the host of The Dating Game… Jim Lange!” There was applause, and then a man walked on stage. “Thank you, Johnny O,” said the man, “and welcome, ladies and gentlemen to The Dating Game. Tonight, sit back and watch while we bring you what we hope… will be the beginnings of a lifelong love affair.” He winked at Horace and Teddy. “And let’s meet the contestants now.”
It was then that Grandpa returned carrying two plates with coffee cake.
“Terminate that tripe instantly,” said Grandpa.
Horace looked up. “Huh?”
Friday, October 19, 1979
“That Smut, Piss, and Corruption, or whatever they’re called,” said Hal.
“You mean Earth, Wind, and Fire?” Horace asked, turning the music down.
“Right… whatever you call it; it’s awful.” Hal Singleman, Horace’s father, was a tall man, but not terribly heavy. He was known for his nearly Vulcan calm and intellect. And he had no tolerance for things he thought were less than great Art.
“We’re playing it tonight at the football game. I really have to know what I’m doing.”
“There’s nothing of value to do with that.”
“Well, the fans may disagree.”
“They’re there to watch over-sized boys knock each other over. Whom do you feel the need to impress?”
Jimmy, Horace’s brown haired, bespectacled best friend laughed. “Women,” he told Hal.
“Women who are impressed by trash are not worth impressing.”
“There’s a case to be made, Professor Singleman,” said Jimmy, “that Earth, Wind, and Fire are not trash. They are, if nothing else, three of the Four Elements.”
“Right. The Four Elements turned out also to be trash. Don’t they teach about atoms in high school Science Classes anymore?”
“Yes,” Jimmy said as he pushed his glasses up his nose. “They also teach the beginnings of Science. It was a reasonable guess in the absence of any data.”
Hal was about to reply, when Horace said, “I just think September is a cool song. It was Sheldon who talked Mr. Spicer into doing it.”
“Your brother is an expert in music, but his taste in it still leaves much to be desired. And he’s your teacher, so be… you know… respectful.”
“Student teacher,” Horace corrected him. “We’ll keep it down.”
“That’s an excellent idea.”
Hal left the room, closing the door behind him.
“I know it’s ridiculous,” Horace told Jimmy, “but I really do wonder whether she’s happy. I mean, she looks that way from all I can see, but how do you know what’s really inside of someone… you know?”
“You don’t. You can only guess based on the outside. And she looks great from the outside.”
Sunday, September 28, 1969
“Turn that horrible stuff off, Horace. Your Grandfather is a Man of God.”
“Oh, it’s not horrible Mrs. Fiddle Bottom. It’s Ed’s Vacational.”
Owen handed Horace a plate, and asked, “What’s Ed’s Vacational?”
“You know,” said Horace. Mrs. Fertlebom handed him the glass of milk. “Like Sesame Street. Thank you, Mrs. Fiddle Bottom.”
“What’s Sesame Street?” asked the rapidly aging, nearly round woman.
“It’s a show with this big yellow bird, and a big hairy green monster who lives in a garbage can, and there’s this frog-”
“Right,” said Grandpa. “Garbage. Turn it off.”
“But it’s good for me. Mom says it teaches stuff.”
“Your mother never learned anything from this show,” said Owen as he eased himself slowly into his chair. Again, there was a grunting sound. “Thank you, Mrs. Fertlebom,” Grandpa said, hoping Horace would catch on.
Horace didn’t. “No, not this one. Sesame Street. Sesame Street is an Ed’s Vacational show because it teaches stuff.”
“What do you learn from frogs and birds?”
“I hope it’s not birds and bees,” said Mrs. Fertlebom. When Owen glared at her, she fell silent. She descended upon the couch.
“I can sound out hard words. There’s this man in a cartoon who sounds out words, and then something funny happens to him. One time he sat in some wet paint.”
“I can barely control my laughter at the man’s misfortune. And what do you learn from monsters? Do they teach you how to terrorize civilian populations for fun and profit?”
“No,” said Horace, shaking his head. “We haven’t learned that yet. But, Kermit the Frog and Grover, who is this funny blue monster, taught us about Near and Far the other day. Can I show you?”
Grandpa sipped his milk and then looked down at Horace. He and Horace were both afflicted with milk mustaches. “Do I have a choice?”
Horace put his weight on his hand, got up slowly, grunted, and moaned, “I’m getting up.” He then leapt instantly to his feet. Grandpa rolled his eyes. “Okay. Right now I’m near.” He suddenly ran out of the room and down the hall. “Now I’m far!”
Grandpa wondered where Horace was after a moment, and he leaned back in his chair to look down the hall. “Horace!”
In another moment, he heard Horace’s voice, singing, “Na na na na na na na na na na na na na….” and when Horace reappeared he had a blue towel tied around his neck. “Batman!” He wore a mask and a San Francisco Giants cap. He plopped in front of the TV again. “Now I’m near again.”
“You’re also weird again. Now turn that off.”
“But it’s -”
“Ed’s Vacational. I know. What do you think you’re going to learn from that show?”
“I’m going to watch two people falling in love.”
“Not unless that show goes on for 40 years, you’re not.” Grandpa finished his coffee cake.
Friday, October 19, 1979
“You really have to stop staring, Horace. You’ve been looking at her for like 40 years.”
Horace looked to his left. Gary Marx, a better drummer who was a year Horace’s junior, was glaring at him. Gary was not as tall as Horace, but he was built much more sturdily.
“What do you mean?”
“Rhiannon. You gotta quit staring at her.”
“Well, she’s sort of the conductor. I have to watch to make sure I’m playing along properly with the cheerleaders.”
“Yeah. You never look at Norm Spicer that way.” Gary stuffed some popcorn in his mouth.
Horace smiled. “Yeah. Okay.” He drank his soda.
Gary poked him. “Play!”
Evidently, there had been a touchdown. He couldn’t possibly have cared less. But there was Rhiannon, jumping up and down, and suddenly his attention was absorbed. He played in perfect rhythm with the rest of the drum section. Perhaps she would look up. Perhaps she would see him. Of course, she would have to turn around and face the stands instead of the football field. That would be years from now. He just stared in his adolescent hormone haze.
Sunday, September 28, 1969
“They’ll show you something on that show, Horace. But it won’t be love. That’s something different from what you’ll see on this show. On this show, they’ll show you lust, and you don’t want to watch that.”
“It’s when a man and a woman want to commit the sin of adultery together because they like the way each other look.”
“You sure ask a lot of questions. I think you must be that question mark man.”
“No, you are! You’re the Riddler! Where’s my Batterang?”
“Turn off the TV.”
“But I wanted to see about this Love stuff.”
“Turn off the TV, and I’ll tell you about it.”
“Deal!” yelled Horace leaping to his feet. He went to Grandpa, grabbed his left hand, and shook it.
“Other hand,” said Grandpa, correcting the situation.
Horace turned off the TV. “Well…”
Owen picked up his newspaper. “Well, what?”
“How do you know when you’re in love?”
“How old are you?”
“Seven years old. Almost.”
“Then you’re not.”
“But how will I know when I am if you won’t tell me how I’ll know when I am?”
Grandpa Owen Leal set his newspaper in his lap, sighed, and then adopted his Pastor Leal voice. “Being in love means that you want to spend the rest of your life with someone doing God’s work. Sometimes it even means you want to bring children into the world with them. That’s good if you’re married. Like your mom and dad. They’re in love.”
“So, when you get married, then you fall in love?”
“Oh, I should say not. Never, ever, Horace, get married thinking you’ll fall in love after you get married. You need to be in love a long time before that.”
“Okay… so… if I want to spend my whole life with someone then I’m in love?”
Grandpa rubbed his mustache. “Well, yes, but you have to think about what that really means for a little while. It means every morning, forever and ever and ever, when you get up you’re going to be with that person, and it means they’ll be there every night when you go to bed, and for all the other times too.”
Horace rubbed his milk mustache. “Well, I want to see Mom and Dad every day for the rest of my life. Does that mean I’m in love with them?”
“Heavens no! You love them. That’s different from being in love. Being in love is, well…” He had to think a moment. “Well, if you’re lucky, God might give you one chance really to be in love. Everything else is just something that happens on the way there.”
“Yeah, but what happens?”
“Hmmm…. I guess you might begin to suspect there’s something going on when you can’t stop thinking about some girl. Although, more often than not, that’s just a case of overactive hormones. But, it is a part of it. If you think a girl is really pretty, and you think about her all the time, and if you wonder if she has enough to eat, and if she’s safe, and when nothing makes you happier than making her happy, and all of that sort of thing… well, maybe, just possibly you’re in love. But, I wouldn’t count on it.”
“Are you in love with Grandma, Grandpa?”
Owen frowned. “Do you know what a personal question is?”
“Something Mom says is rude to ask. But I didn’t ask how old you are.”
The smallest beginnings of a smile crossed Owen’s face. “Yes, I’m in love with your Grandmother.”
“Do you think she’s pretty?”
“Of course I do.”
“As pretty as the girls on the TV?”
“Did you ever see your Uncle Melvin’s cornfields?”
“They’re pretty aren’t they?”
“I like it when the wind rolls over the corns like it was this big invisible ball in this invisible pinball machine. But that’s not pretty like a girl.”
“Do you like to look at it?”
“If you like to look at it, it’s pretty. I like to look at your Grandmother the same way I like to look at cornfields or an Austrian mountainside or even…” He trailed off and his eyes became slightly moist. “Have you ever been to Blue Stem Lake?”
Horace shook his head.
“When I was one and twenty….” Grandpa laughed. “Okay, two and twenty, ’tis true, ’tis true!”
“It’s from a poem. When I was twenty two, I had a cabin out by Blue Stem Lake. I built it with my own two hands.”
“Is this one of those stories where you had to walk twelve miles to school, ‘cuz -”
“No!” snapped Grandpa. “I built if for your Grandmother and me. ‘Course, she never knew she’d be livin’ in it.” He smiled now. It was a genuine, sentimental smile. It seemed to fill his entire being.
“You weren’t married yet?”
“No, no. But, sometimes, she would come out in her daddy’s milk wagon. I remember how I’d hear those bells around the horse’s neck jingling and jangling in the distance, and I would jump up and tidy up the cabin.”
“You could jump up then? You didn’t have to grunt or anything?”
Owen ignored him. “Then she’d stop the wagon out in front of the cabin, and she’d take a bottle of milk out, and she’d come to my door for my weekly delivery. We’d be terribly business like, and I’d thank her for coming so far out of the way, and I’d invite her to stay a while and have some tea and rest up before her long journey home. At first, she would just blush and decline; she had to get home to her Daddy. But, after a while, she took to staying a few minutes. And then she’d stay longer, and sometimes, I even got her to take a long walk by the lake with me, and we’d just listen.”
“What would you listen to?”
“Nothing. Just all the things you can’t really hear, you know? I mean the things no one pays attention to. We’d hear the songs of the birds… the childish gurgling of the water… or maybe just our own voices, saying nothing that mattered, but fitting in very nicely with Nature’s Symphony… Your Grandmother was so beautiful…” He sighed almost rapturously. “And when she’d leave, I’d cut her a rose from the bush I grew outside my door. And she’d say, ‘thank you’ ever so politely… so sweetly… so… so sincerely.”
“Sounds like the story you told us in Sunday School last week.”
Grandpa frowned. “Which one?”
“The one about Adam and Eve.”
“I didn’t tell the story of The Garden of Eden last week.”
“No. That story about the ding-dong voice of Eve and the bird songs.”
He smiled again. “That’s ‘daylong voice of Eve,’ and it’s not a story. It’s a poem. By Robert Frost.”
“Tell it again.”
“Do you really understand that poem?”
“It’s pretty and it has neat words like that Greentree Whitileaf guy has. Dad reads him to me a lot of times.”
“All right….” And Grandpa recited.
He would declare and could himself believe
That the birds there in all the garden round
From having heard the daylong voice of Eve
Had added to their own an oversound,
Her tone of meaning but without the words.
Admittedly an eloquence so soft
Could only have had an influence on birds
When call or laughter carried it aloft.
Be that as may be, she was in their song.
Moreover her voice upon their voices crossed
Had now persisted in the woods so long
That probably it never would be lost.
Never again would birds' song be the same.
And to do that to birds was why she came.
There was silence for a few blissful moments. And then…
“I’m in love with…”
Friday, October 19, 1979
“… Rhiannon Stark.”
“Shut up and march,” shouted Gary as the band took the field. “2, 3, 4!”
And the drums began playing Peg Leg Cadence. The band marched, and Horace looked to the sidelines. Rhiannon wasn’t there.
“Focus!” Gary Marx would grow up to be a Marine, and a good one. He was already practicing his authoritarian tendencies and displaying his love of precision. Horace had neither of those traits. It was all he could do to keep in step with the band.
Suddenly the trumpets blared. Horace flipped the cowbell attached to his snare drum up, and his drumstick upside down. He had practiced the hell out of that. He didn’t want to screw it up.
He pivoted and began giving serious attention to the cowbell performance, playing in his head the song he had been listening to for the last week. He could distinctly hear Maurice White singing, and he could feel the music. He was one with it. He never had talent, but when the moments came, as this one just had, he could play a bit. (Play the original track again. There’s some tricky stuff going on with that cowbell!)
“Trip-el-let!” he could hear his brother yelling at him when he had walked by Horace’s room last night. And he played the triplets correctly. No one in the world knew, but Horace was beaming with pride.
When he turned again, he saw the cheerleaders returning to the field. Rhiannon was holding a fresh soda. She was looking back at the rest of her squad as she trotted to the sidelines. She set her soda down on a folding table, and Horace was forced to turn again and lost sight of her.
He marched. For the first and only time in his life, he marched perfectly. He knew she was there. He had practiced. She had been nice to him in March. She had smiled as she passed him in the hall on Wednesday. This was all he could want.
When the band finished the show, the entire stadium erupted in applause. It was, Horace was certain, because of the cowbell. In another couple of decades, Bruce Dickinson would be proud.
Horace looked over and saw Rhiannon’s eyes glowing with pride, and inside he felt a cold joy. When they started their exit cadence, he saw the football players running onto the field behind the band. Bob, the quarterback, smiled across the field at Rhiannon. Horace’s stomach dropped into his feet. He tripped over it, and Gary grabbed and steadied him.
Sunday, September 28, 1969
“I was afraid you’d say something dumb like that.”
“Well, I am!”
“Fine. Tell her. Not me.”
“Do you think I should kiss her?”
“I think you should ask her.”
“What if she says no?”
“Then you don’t kiss her.”
“But what if I want to anyway?”
“That doesn’t matter. Not in the least. And, to be honest, she should probably say no, and you probably shouldn’t ask her.”
“Because you’re too little for that.”
“Why do you think that? I’m old enough to be Batman. Sometimes I’m Captain Kirk, and he kisses girls, and he never asks.”
“Do you know what I think?”
“I think I’m an old man, and I think being awake anymore is not in my best interests.”
“Why do old men get tired so soon?”
“Their bodies are probably practicing for The Big Sleep they’ve got coming up. It’s usually unexpected, but if you get to be old enough, you can be ready for departure.”
“What’s The Big Sleep?”
“Huh? Oh! It’s a movie with Humphrey Bogart. I’m going to sleep. You need to mind Mrs. Fertlebom.”
Friday, October 19, 1979
The band was off the field, and the football players were streaming onto it. Horace looked up when he heard a scream from among the cheerleaders. He saw Bob Amity grabbing Rhiannon, turning her around, throwing his helmet to the ground, and kissing her full on the mouth. Horace stood frozen, infuriated, for just a moment, and then unsnapped his drum and let it fall to the ground.
His insides were suddenly, it felt, physically burning. His skin turned red. His vision glazed over for a bit, and Rhiannon’s image was nothing more than a glow. Horace had never felt anything like this before. It was anger. It was jealousy. It was horror. He would spend decades afterward wondering whether it had been love. He never decided. At that moment, there was only one decision he could make. Bob had to be stopped. Rhiannon had to be saved. And that’s when Gary grabbed his arm.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“He can’t do that! He didn’t ask. She didn’t want it.”
“And what did you think you were going to do?”
Horace tried to wrest his arm from Gary’s firm grip. “Stop him!”
Gary smiled. “He’s twice your size. He’s in better physical condition. He’ll kick your pansy ass.”
“I don’t care! Let go!”
Rhiannon was backing away, trying to escape Bob’s grasp, and the football players were whooping and hollering. “Get some, Bobby, boy!” yelled the place kicker.
“Even if you could take him, the rest of the football team would kick your ass. Then I would have to go back you up, and I can’t take out more than maybe 3 of them, and then I’m getting my ass kicked, too.”
The cheerleaders rushed off their benches toward the incident, and suddenly there was a crack that shocked the entire field into silence. Rhiannon’s slap was the shot heard round the World of Wells, Maine.
Bobby stood frozen in disbelief. His left cheek was even redder than Horace’s forehead. There was a noticeable glint of a tear in his eye.
Horace’s heart grew three sizes at that moment, and he found himself hovering a solid 3 inches off the ground as a hush fell across the stadium. He felt pride. He felt ecstasy. He felt respect. He felt the Joy of 10 Horaces… plus two! He felt a Poet born in his heart. “She doth teach the torches to burn bright,” he whispered to himself.
Rhiannon maintained her fighting stance slightly sideways to Bobby, with her eyes locked on his. Her right arm was extended toward Bobby, palm up and fingers extended. After a brief awkward moment, Rhiannon slowly flexed her index and middle fingers, twice. taunting Bobby to try her again. The frank menace in her unblinking glare left little doubt of the meaning of her gesture. The air was thick with tension. For a seemingly endless moment, no one spoke or moved.
Then Bobby’s posture suddenly deflated. This was no win for him. Whatever he did or said, he knew he had already lost. Best to beat a retreat. As he broke the grip of her stare, Rhiannon made not a sound, but her eyes spoke clearly to anyone who could see them: “You will remember this if you ever think about assaulting a woman again.” She looked around the stadium at everyone watching. The edges of her lips climbed imperceptibly before she looked back at Bobby, as though to say, “No amount of popularity will ever give you the right to take dignity from a woman. Try that again and a slapped cheek will be the least of your worries.”
Rhiannon took a breath, turned, and walked silently off the field, being sure to keep her head held high. The silence was unabated. First one, then another, and in moment, all the cheerleaders followed her off the field. They were all done for tonight. The team could play without them.
“So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows, as yonder lady o’er her fellow shows,” Horace whispered.
Gary put his drum back on, motioning for the rest of the section to do the same. He shouted out, “Children of Sanchez… 1…2… 1,2,3….” And the entire section erupted with the cadence, and marched with the cheerleaders off the field.
The crowd cheered, and leapt to their feet. The band director’s son, Michael, played the Chuck Mangione melody on his trumpet. He was playing with the pride and polish of Gabriel playing his horn. He led rest of the band, following the cheerleaders off the field.
In a few moments, The Poe High School Panthers football team was standing alone between the goal and the 20 yard line. First, Rhiannon, then the cheerleaders, then, finally, the marching band crossed the opposition’s goal line and went through the metal doors that led out of the stadium. The music stopped. The football players began wandering off the field, and fans began leaving. As the last supporter left the field, the metal rang like a bell as the door fell shut.
Sunday, September 28, 1969
“All right,” said Jim Lange’s voice coming from the TV, “that’s the signal Farrah, and now you must make up your mind… will it be Bachelor Number One, Bachelor Number Two, or Bachelor Number Three?”
“It doesn’t matter who she picks,” Horace whispered to Teddy. “She always finds out later it was the wrong one.”
“Which one gets the date?” asked the TV.
“Number Two,” Farrah’s voice replied.
“Number Two, all right! Can I ask what it was that made you choose him?”
“It was the flower.”
And then a fight broke out between the three bachelors.
“That’s only ‘possed to be on Batman,” said Teddy, while Horace’s lips moved.
Owen groaned, “I’m up, I’m up, I’m up,” as he woke from his doze, got out of the chair, and walked to the TV. He turned it off, while Horace groaned in disappointment. Grandpa lumbered to the couch, laid down on it, and pulled the blanket off the back of it and covered himself.
Teddy looked up at Horace. “Your Grandpa’s wise, huh?”
Horace nodded. “He’s God’s best friend.” He looked down at his bear. “But we have to be quiet. Grandpa’s going to sleep now.”
Horace watched Owen a while, and then he took Teddy, climbed on top of Grandpa, and fell asleep.
“Heavens to Betsy!” exclaimed Mrs. Fertlebom as she came back in the living room. “The Pastor sleeps.”
Friday, October 19, 1979
“How about a bougainvillea?” Jimmy was walking around the flower bushes near the parking lot of the stadium. “It’s close.”
“No!” snapped Horace. “It has to be a rose. She chose him because of a single rose bud.”
“Some girl named Farrah, on The Dating Game, the day my Grandfather died. I give her the rosebud, and I’m Bachelor Number Two.”
“Wait. Seriously?” Jimmy grabbed Horace by the arm and stopped his search. “Are you laboring under the delusion that if you give Rhiannon Stark a rosebud, she’s going to let you take her out?”
“Why not? Since that night in March, she’s smiled at me 5 times in the hall, and she said hey to me twice.”
“She called you Howard.”
“So she made a mistake. She still might like me.”
“She’s dating Bobby Amity.”
“Not after that debacle tonight, she’s not.”
Students were congregating in the parking lot, now, many of them heading toward buses. Horace spotted a cheerleader holding a bouquet of roses her boyfriend had just given her. He moved without thinking, Jimmy on his heels.
Horace suddenly stopped and turned to Jimmy. “I only have three bucks. How much have you got?”
Jimmy looked in his wallet. “I have… 6… no, 7.”
“Give it to me, quick. I’ll pay you back, I swear it!”
Jimmy frowned and handed Horace his cash. Horace continued his dash. “Hey!” The girl and her boyfriend looked over at Horace as he rushed up. “So, those are beautiful flowers. He obviously loves you. But… I really need just one of them. I have ten bucks I can give you.”
“But, then I won’t have a dozen anymore.”
The football player took the money and pulled a rose from the arrangement. “I’ll buy you another one tomorrow,” he said to the girl. He handed Horace the rose.
“What in God’s name do you think you’re going to do?” Jimmy asked as Horace started toward the cheerleaders’ buses.
“I’m giving it to Rhiannon, of course.”
Jimmy stopped him. “Okay, Horace, I really need you to listen to me. I’m not Gary. I’m not some macho wannabe Marine giving you advice. I’m your best friend for the last 5 years. That’s like a third of our lives. So, you really, really need to listen to me. Can you do that?”
Horace looked again at the bus. Rhiannon was nowhere near it yet. He sighed. “If you can make it quick.”
“Okay. What you want is to give her the rose… like on The Dating Game… Like your Grandpa gave your Grandma at Blue Stem Lake. And then, you think it’s going to work out for you. I have that right, don’t I?”
“I’m not looking to hurt you here, pal, but that is never… NEVER going to happen. You’re not in her league. You would be better off writing more letters to Valerie Bertinelli. It won’t work out for you. You’re not a hot guy like Bobby Amity. You’re not rich. You drive your father’s 1970 Dodge Dart when you drive at all. You spend most of your Saturday nights with me on the roof of the Mormon Church across the street from my house drinking Mickey’s Big Mouth. You’re not cool. You’re not good looking. You play Dungeons and Goddamn Dragons, dude. Your only distinction is being a Greatest Nothing of The Poe High School Nothings. The sooner you listen to Socrates, and know thyself, the sooner life gets easier for you. Can you see that?”
“Yeah. I know. A ship in a harbor is safe…”
Voices approached from behind them. Rhiannon walked past quickly, moving toward the buses, and Bobby Amity’s voice rose in the distance. Horace saw her, and he couldn’t hear him.
“But that is not what ships are made for,” Horace told Jimmy, and started walking toward Rhiannon.
“Ree!” shouted Bobby, and in another moment, he shot by Horace, dodging him as though Horace was an opposing player between the quarterback and the goal line.
Bobby stopped a couple of feet behind Rhiannon, who whirled on him contemptuously. He threw his hands in the air. “It’s cool. I’m cool. I’m here to apologize.”
Horace stopped where he was. A few football players gathered. The rest of the band was already on the bus. They would certainly be looking for Horace any time now.
“Go ahead,” said Rhiannon.
“Oh…” Bobby looked around. He was at a loss for words. “Um… yeah. So, look, I’m sorry, okay?”
“He’s an eloquent bastard, I’ll give him that,” whispered Jimmy.
“She’s never going to buy that,” Horace whispered back.
Jimmy looked over to Horace. “Seriously? You need to read a little research. Come down to the library and go through the microforms with me. Abused women often forgive their attackers.”
“Where the hell did you get that?”
“It was in an English paper called The Daily Mirror.”
Across the parking lot, Bobby was smiling in what he hoped was a charming way. “Huh?” He threw his arms open. Rhiannon glared.
Horace grinned. “Well, you’re full of it. We’ll settle it at The Chelsea Drugstore, Mr. Jimmy. Loser buys.”
Jimmy laughed. “My favorite flavor, Cherry Red. You know Jagger’s Chelsea Drugstore used to actually exist on King’s Road in England?”
“Where the hell did you get that?”
“At the Library. The Daily –”
“Mirror… yeah, okay.” Horace looked back to the bus.
“Come on. I said I’m sorry, right? What else do I gotta do?” Bobby grinned.
Rhiannon sighed. She looked at him a while longer, and then turned around to board the bus. “The fact that you even have to ask…” She went up the stairs, and the door shut behind her.
“There it is,” said Horace. “You’re buying.”
Jimmy shrugged. “Hmm. You may be right.” He turned around to walk away.
“I’m giving her the rose,” Horace announced, heading toward the bus.
And that was when it happened: Bobby began to sing.
“Rhiannon,” was all he sang. But it was clearly the melody of the Fleetwood Mac song. And Bobby had a surprisingly good voice for a football player.
“He’s got to be kidding, right?” Horace asked, freezing in place.
Bobby sang it again. And again. Football players gathered around him. They began singing, too.
One of the cheerleaders walking toward them from the other side of the parking lot, made a sympathetic, “Aww…” sound. Horace looked incredulously at the girls.
First Julie, the short blonde sympathy uttering girl, then Jenny, and two other girls started singing, “Rhiaaaaanon…” as they traveled like a wave toward the bus.
The parking lot was filled with the name, sung over and over, and the sound was seductive. Before he knew it, even Horace was singing along. Jimmy glared at him incredulously. He smacked Horace in the arm, and Horace looked over and stopped singing.
The singing continued. The sound was surreal, echoing almost supernaturally through the parking lot. Cars that had been on their way out, stopped, their lights shining on the bus.
And it went on. 30 seconds… 45… more than a minute. The moment was covered in unreality. It became a Siren’s Song. And it finally had its effect. The bus door burst open, and Rhiannon exploded from within it. She fell into Bobby’s arms and a flashbulb went off.
Horace swallowed hard. While the assembled crowd sighed as one, a tear formed in his left eye.
He went home that night, and pressed the rose between the pages of his father’s copy of The Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier. At the bottom of the page on the left, it read:
“God pity them both! and pity us all, Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;”
At the top of the next page:
“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: “It might have been!”
July 9, 2019
The writer shut down the computer, and the library was lit now only dimly by the flickering candlelight. He stood slowly. “I’m getting up,” he groaned as he used his left arm to steady himself against the arm of his secondhand office chair. He picked up his 1980 yearbook from his desk, closed it on the page with a black and white picture of Rhiannon in Bobby’s arms standing at a bus, and he took it to the bookcase. He pulled down “The Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier,” and opened it. The faded, scentless rose was still there. And in the silence, he heard her voice.
“… to do that to the roses was why she came…”
Thanks to my many collaborators: Janet Simpson Shipley, Andrea Whiffin Grinstead, Mark Rozema, Ross Ross, Kim Woolbright, Warren Brown, Denise Schroeder Hayes, Theresa Marie Londono, Chuck Curry, James P. Kemp, John G. Willis, Jamie Sasse, Robin Bartley, Deanna Pine, and Mark Shipley.
Because I’ve always wondered why people say, so…
Special Thanks to people whose words I stole: Ross Ross, Jamie Sasse, Theresa Marie Londono
“Good writers borrow from other writers; great writers steal from them outright.” — Aaron Sorkin