© Copyright 2002 by Dan Berkey
There was this one family from St Paul whose mother wrote a Christmas story that was featured in some big magazine like McCall’s or Ladies Home Journal, and it made her sort of famous for awhile, except with her family who resented it and made no bones about saying so by snide innuendo and sneering within earshot which made her very sad. Everyone else expected her to write another story. Whenever anyone queried she told them she had a lot of ideas, but she was too busy at the moment. She was working class. Of course she was too busy and too tired from everything and the heckling to boot. Nothing ever came of it. Anyway she had a daughter and a son who were all right I guess, but for some reason I didn’t like them. They came visiting once in the Fall of ’67.
We lived on a lake in the small town of Excelsior, Minnesota. It was a cool, bright day full of the sweet smell of incipient winter with the brisk heady musk of burning leaves to come and apple s’mores. The sun was going down. John and Sally and I had been rowing around on the lake all day. I rowed a bit. John even less. Sally rowed a lot. She rowed very well and fast, and that made me kind of angry though I didn’t let on.
When we quit rowing john went off somewhere. Sally and I walked around our four-acre lot, which was mostly a sprawling untended field of high grasses, thistle-weed, wild asparagus and dandelions. She made of huge bouquet of dandelions. I showed her my dad’s vegetable garden, which I was particularly proud of because I helped him with it, weeding, howing, keeping the bugs away. We picked some ripe tomatoes and ate them right there in silence. We walked about, joking, laughing. It was a good time. I was really surprised how at ease I was with her. I still didn’t like her, but since I wasn’t tense it was all right. Then I showed her the bell-house atop which stood an old Great Northern Railroad Bell. I loved that bell. It was the real thing. We clambered up the woodpile in back of the shed to get to the top and took turns ringing the bell, which drove my dog Rigaletto crazy. He was tied up to the old barn turned garage on a long tether. He dashed about yelping jumping high into the air. Sally was amazed he could jump that high. I said he could jump even higher, but I didn’t tell her how I made him do that. I felt it was a private thing and indeed it was; for years I kept quiet about it. When I became a man I used what I’d learned from my time with Rig to great advantage. Anyway, Sally and I stayed on top of that shed till it was about dark. We talked and laughed, ate a tomato and had a good time.
Then we climbed down and went inside the shed. I showed her the water pump that pulled water from the lake to irrigate the vegetable garden. She thought that was cool. There was also a drinking font that was fed by an old style artesian well that was almost one hundred years old. She thought that was super cool. To get a drink you had to pump like hell for about five minutes. It took a strong back. I wasn’t so strong, and I was afraid to have a go in case I couldn’t do it. She asked if she could try. I said yes, feeling sheepish, and she pumped like hell, long and hard, and she did it. She pulled up enough water for three big glasses. It made me real angry, but I didn’t let on. She slammed the first glass and savored the second. I sipped mine. She said it tasted sweet. Then I shoved her, jumped out of the shed, slammed the door, locked it and walked away. I heard her banging on the door and screaming all the way to the house.
It made me feel sort of good, sort of not. I ignored the not and walked away. I went to the bathroom, locked the door, took off my pants, and got down on the floor on my belly and masturbated into the Ladies underwear section of an old Sears n’ Roebuck Catalogue while the pickled grownups hunkered in the living room talking, joking, yawling raucously, carrying on as usual. It was too early for the lampshades, but I could tell that was right around the corner.
After I finished masturbating I cleaned up a bit and went into the TV room and flipped through the TV guide. There was an article about William Shatner. I loved him. He was the greatest actor I knew at the time, which is a good way of showing you just where I was at the time in terms of the arts. Anyway, John came in. he was very agitated. He couldn’t find Sally. "Where’s Sally?" he asked breathlessly, to which I replied, "I don’t know for sure. I think she might be in the garden." He went outside, and I knew it was just a matter of time. I poured myself a ginger ale and slowly sauntered out. John was very upset. It was neat, I thought. He couldn’t find her. I said, "It’s not too late. Maybe she took a walk. It’s real nice out now with the leaves turning and everything. Out back of the garage in the big field adjoining our property to our closest neighbors that hill turns bright orange and red like fire. Maybe she’s there." he retorted, "she wouldn’t just go off like that, and certainly not in a place she doesn’t know real well." I nodded, "why don’t you have a look anyway," I said, to which he replied, "ok," and quickly moved away to look. I kept an ear out for crying or banging but I didn’t hear anything. It made me a little worried but I put it away. It was all very exciting.
While John was looking for his sister
I climbed a butternut tree in our front lawn. There was a wide stand of
six butternuts that formed a wonderful enclosed round almost like a natural
stage. I climbed the largest one. I knew John would be finding Sally any
minute. I had to take my ground just in case. You never knew. Sure enough
after about forty five minutes in the deep murky blue of the deepening
dusk squatting a good twenty-five feet in the tree a little to the side
of being directly above the large string hammock strung between three of
the trees, John had found her. She was sobbing quietly in that hysterical
way just holding on. The crying made me smile but something else made me
sad from deep inside. I resented that and resolved to tamp it down. It
didn’t make any sense. I ignored it for gas pains and watched John lead
Sally slowly to the hammock. She was sobbing so hard she had to be led
along. At the hammock before getting in she looked up and saw me; must’ve
been like seeing a treed raccoon, eyes gleaming off spines of yard-light.
She wept as she stared at me. Her eyes said, "confusion." John’s face was
twisted. His eyes flared rage, but his expression said, "What the hell
was that all about." I didn’t dare answer. It was my secret. They lay together
in the hammock. Sally cried a long while. John held her gently. He stared
up at me. There was nothing to be seen of me anymore but the headlight
eyes gleaming down. I felt ecstatic. There was a wonderful feeling of success
going on in me, a feeling of advanced apprenticeship, of climbing a formidable
ladder in a terrible typhoon, of climbing in rank, to what? John’s face
eventually succumbed to his eyes, and I decided to stay in the tree. After
a bit I barely made out Sally reaching down from the hammock to pick up
something. She hurled it at me with such violence it shattered on the trunk
inches above my head. I was impressed how hard she could throw it. It felt
good. It felt right. Then it made me angry. The time was after nine, and
the crickets held sway for the evening song. I hummed along. I resolved
to stay in the tree till the company left. I saw the drunken clot of them
bubbling on the dimly lit front porch, hugging, kissing, laughing those
weird drunken laughs. My mom called, "Dan!" but I didn’t answer. John and
Sally knew where I was, and for a fleeting moment I was scared they might
tell. A moment passed. Nothing happened. They hadn’t told. I heard my father
appease my mom’s anxiety. "You know Dan, Ginny, how he likes to roam around
the field at night. He’ll be ok. Wait and see, he’ll be back in a jiff."
She fell silent, and I was impressed how my dad could do that, and I wondered
why he didn’t do that all the time; then I became angry. After a flurry
of blathering goodbyes the company left, and I slunk down, looking about
carefully, just in case, because you never knew. My stomach ached and my
chest felt tight. It made me angry. But something said, "yes," and that
made me high, though something else said, "no," that made me hurt. I ignored
the ‘no’ and went inside, got a coke and watched Johnny Carson with my
mom who was talking to the TV. When it was over I went to bed.
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