A Backward GlanceChapter 8
We slept in the car. Frank got out just long enough to blow out the other lantern, grab the container of water, and the sleeping bags. I shoulda been able to sleep---I've slept in worse places than that---but I laid awake for a long time. Frank snored, by the way, which I already knew from walking down the hall past his room in the middle of the night, but it's pretty annoying, when you can't sleep, to hear somebody else doin' it so loud.
I think the sun woke me up the next morning, shining on my face through the side window. Frank was sitting up, leaning on the back of the front seat, looking at me.
"What're you looking at?"
"You look different when you're asleep."
He nodded. "Not so tough."
"Yeah?" I didn't know for sure what he was getting at. "I could still take you. Even asleep."
He shook his head. "I didn't mean that. I just meant…..you look more like a kid when you're asleep."
"Well, I ain't."
"Cranky first thing in the morning, aren't you?" He grinned for a minute, then got serious again. "You're supposed to be a kid, Wendell. At 15, you're not supposed to be tough."
"Right." I opened the door and walked away from the car for a minute.
When I came back, Frank was hunkered down by the edge of the lake pulling up the bottles of soda we put in there on a stringer yesterday.
"Not much of a breakfast," he said. "But better than nothing, I guess. We can get something to eat after we get packed up here." He looked out over the water. "I was planning on doing some more fishing today, but without food……." He shrugged.
I wasn't ready to go back home. "We could drive back to that little town and get something. And then come back."
He blinked. "You want to?"
"Sure. What else we got to do?"
He grinned and jumped behind the wheel of the car.
"Aren't you gonna pick up your stuff?" I asked. There was all that fishing stuff, most of which I didn't know what it was for, laying all over the dirt, and a hatchet, and a shovel, and the lantern that didn't explode. Stuff to cook with. All just laying there.
"Why? There's nobody around. And anyway, we're coming right back."
OK. His stuff.
The little town was farther down the road than I remembered. And the little grocery was closed. It was Sunday. We had to bang on the back door and beg them to open up. Frank did the begging, not me. I handled the banging part. It all took longer than we thought it would.
You probably already have it figured out. When we finally pulled back into the campsite, Frank's stuff was all gone, except for two bottles of soda.
He was truly bewildered. "I don't understand it," he kept saying. "We're in the middle of nowhere. Nobody for miles."
I carved a hunk off the cheese Frank bought, grabbed one of the sodas, and headed for the lake. After a minute Frank followed me with the loaf of bread, sat down next to me beside the water.
We watched a duck swimming along the edge, sticking its head under the water and its tail into the air. Frank said he didn't know why it did that. It was funny-looking.
"What did you think about fishing?" Frank asked.
"You mean outside of the fact that we didn't catch any fish?"
Frank smiled. "We caught one."
"Yeah, we caught one." I tossed a little piece of the bread toward the duck. "It was OK. Interesting."
He laughed. "I guess it was that."
"You don't seem real upset about losing all that special fishing stuff you bought."
"I'll just buy some more if I want it. I think maybe I had more than I needed, anyway."
"Specially if you're not really trying to catch fish."
He laughed again, and nodded his head. "I expect that's right."
"You act like you got cash to burn. I never woulda thought being a chiropractor would pay that good."
"It doesn't. I've been paid with oranges and chickens, watermelons, and a handsome red wool muffler. I wore it once when we went to the mountains." He took a drink. "No, the money I'm burning came from my father and my grandfather. Our house was my grandfather's, too. I wouldn't have to work at all if I didn't want to, I suspect, although I haven't asked."
"You're shitting me."
He laughed again. "No."
Thought about that for a minute. "I'd stay home and take it easy if I was you. Wouldn't even bother with working."
"I like to work."
We finished our sodas, and the cheese, and watched the duck. Ducks actually do say quack, it's not just a baby sound. They really do. I liked hearing it.
"My father sent me to medical school," Frank said. "But I couldn't stand the blood. I couldn't cut into anybody. I think I can't be aloof enough to do what a doctor has to do. It was disappointing, for both of us." He scratched his bald spot, and then smoothed it with his fingers just like he probably used to do when he had hair there. "It sounds cornball, but I really like to help people. You know? I just can't hurt them to do it. A chiropractor can help people without having to sew up knife wounds, or amputate legs, or set broken bones. My father wasn't very happy about my choice, but I like it."
Yeah, it was cornball, but that was Frank for you.
A couple more ducks swam up close to us and the first duck, and they all quacked at each other like crazy for a few minutes.
"I couldn't figure out why you wanted a kid. And why you didn't send me back. But that's all it is, just that thing about helping people, isn't it?"
He nodded. "At first. I like you now that I know you a little." He shrugged his shoulders. "And since I'm not going to have any children of my own……." He looked at his empty soda bottle and stood up.
That musta startled the ducks, 'cause they made a racket, splashing dirty water all around with their wings, and then they all flew away.
Frank got the water jug from the car and sat down again.
"I want to apologize if I've said anything about your parents that made you feel bad. I swear it was just out of ignorance."
"I can't imagine what it was like for you. At all." He looked sad. "I really can't."
Yeah. I picked up a dirt clod and threw it at the water. It didn't skip, it just sorta skimmed and sank. I threw the next one higher, and the plunk when it hit the water was satisfying. There were some ripples there and then a fish's tail flipped out of the water for a minute.
"You see that? That was a fish."
He shook his head. He didn't even look. He was just looking at me.
"So there are bigger fish in here," I said.
"Yep. We just have to get smart enough to catch them."
We pulled into the driveway just after dark. Took a little longer coming back 'cause Frank decided to give me a driving lesson. I drove slow and didn't tell him I already knew how to drive. He probably woulda asked me where I learned and I mighta told him. For some reason it was hard for me to lie to Frank. Not that I couldn't, but I didn't want to.
I could smell supper when I walked in the door. "Better stand back," Frank said to Ruby. "Don't want to get in between Wendell and food." I think it was supposed to be a joke, but nobody laughed except Frank.
She clucked over the bruise on Frank's cheek-bone. He told her he tripped over something in the dark and fell.
She left me alone. Nothing funny, no looks, no remarks about underwear or anything else. She just let me eat.
She's one helluva good cook--some kind of a big meat pie with vegetables and stuff was keeping warm in the oven; and she heated up some rolls for us. I bet I ate half the pie all by myself.
Last night, when I couldn't sleep, I thought about her. Thought maybe I could just ignore her, you know? Since I knew she was gonna do that stuff, I could just stay out of her way, and not let it bother me. That's what I thought about. It made sense then. But there was no way I was gonna be able to do it. I was trying, but……..
She was as glamorous, as beautiful, at least in my eyes then, as any movie star. Even Marly, a fine-looking woman that I thought maybe I was still in love with, didn't have anything on Ruby in the looks department. Besides that, she smelled good, she could cook, and when she talked, her voice was smooth and low and warm. She didn't have to talk about underwear. It didn't matter what she said. Listening to her voice at the supper table, while she was talking to her husband, was just like her running her hand over me, right where it'd do the most good.
I made some excuse and went up to my room early. Laying in my bed, I couldn't forget she was gonna be just down the hall. In her nightgown, maybe. Maybe not.
When she came up later, I heard her footsteps stop outside my room. Somehow, I had this stupid thought that she might come in, to say good night or something, and part of me wished I'd left the lock on the door so I could lock her out.
Part of me was aching for her to come in.
"Good-night, Wendell," she said through the door. "I'll see you in the morning. And we can plan our day.". . . .
A whole day……just me and Ruby…….. . .