The International Writers Magazine: First
of a novella)
last I heard of him (his second letter), he was over in Germany
and had a new woman in his life. He was busy with her and in drinking
dark German brew, apparently, or thats what his letter implied.
He did mention that he didnt miss Jordan Harbor, the small,
island town we worked in one summer. Although he did miss our
rock climbing and hikes all over Cadillac Island, our beer and
pot inspired talks. He said he would stay in touch, and I said
the same thing in my return letter, but that was it.
Still, when I was
up that way along the coast this summer, I thought of Kevin Hemming
and his being overseas, and wondered if he was still in Germany, or
had he returned to the States and, possibly, his native Texas. Although,
in the short time I knew him, he didnt seem too keen on ever going
home, except perhaps for a visit to his mother who lived in the small
town hed grown up in.
blink your eyes and youre through W---, he told me. Its
just a little dot in that big ol state. He snickered, derisively.
told him Id been through Texas, but not that town in particular.
its not like its a tourist attraction or anything,
like Cadillac Island and the town of Jordan Harbor, which was exactly
that in the summer months. Tourism was the mainstay of the economy that
time of year, and the money generated from it helped a good percentage
of the native population get through the hard winters. Jordan Harbors
population tripled in season; or the town was overrun
if you asked one of the year round residents, who werent that
easy to find. Even many of the Maine residents didnt spend the
whole year on the island, for just about everything in the way of business
closed up. I always figured that most of the year round residents lived
off unemployment during the lean months, which was probably the case.
knew that there was some commercial fishing done off the island, but
Id also heard that it was difficult making a living at it these
days (apparently the local waters had been over-fished). Most of the
money made on boats was in the chartering business during the season.
Anyway, I had no intention of spending more than a summer on the
island; it was a place I could do plenty of hiking in, and still
keep a part time job for spending money. The island had its share
of scenic spots, and there were some views from rock cliffs so impressive
as to be humbling.
Kevin had spent
the winter in Barton on the mainland, in an apartment with Gloria, his
girlfriend. She was a native Mainer, with most of her family in the
Barton area, and she and Kevin had met a year or so before.
didnt take me long to realize that sex was the key factor in the
relationship (Kevin, a stranger in these parts, had needed
someone to keep him warm through the long winter). By the time I met
the couple early that summer, Hemming was already talking about moving
on, something that I think Gloria suspected; so much so that she liked
to keep an eye on him at all times of the day, as if to make sure he
hadnt left town yet. Kevin, of course, knew what was on her mind
(he liked to say that Gloria was as see-through as a window), and he
sometimes showed his annoyance when Gloria showed up at the store while
he was working. He had told her he didnt want her hanging around
the coffee shop, making small talk with the regulars and laughing in
that silly, high-pitched way of hers. He didnt need that aggravation
while he pulled his shift.
wasnt just the fact that Gloria showed up on these visits, but
she usually had her emotionally disturbed, or retarded, brother (I never
knew exactly what it was) in tow, a tall, gangly, pimply-faced youth
with crooked teeth, who followed his sister around like a good natured
puppy. When he felt good-natured. Which wasnt always the case.
The kid had his bad moments when he growled in displeasure or threw
a little tantrum, or glowered at other customers, and this is what Hemming
didnt want at his place of employment.
wouldnt mind except Dannys so unpredictable, Kevin
said to me. One minute hes as happy as a kid with candy,
and the next hes having one of his fits. And Im the breadwinner
here. Without this job there is no apartment, and without the apartment,
shes back with her mother. I can always sleep in my car. Ive
done that enough times. He smiled.
would try to soothe Kevin with her cooing baby talk, but
this would annoy him too (it embarrassed him in front of the customers).
She liked to tease him like this, though, and she would grin at me and
laugh when she did. Gloria wasnt as dumb as she played at sometimes.
she was no beauty either, not anywhere close to being the kind of looker
who could have kept Kevin around another year at least. And Gloria knew
this; the frustration showed sometimes, particularly when she was alone
with me. She didnt know what to do, apparently having used all
her wiles in keeping her lover around through the winter. I did my best
to avoid any serious talk with her because, if Id had a few beers
in me and felt frustrated, I may have told her the truth: that it was
just about over with her and Kevin.
were times, when we were alone together, that I thought she had her
eye on me as a potential honey for that winter season, but I in no way
encouraged that. Hemming had told me enough stories about the previous
year, and the family difficulties he had become embroiled in.
Gloria and Dannys mom was a lush with plenty of emotional problems
of her own, divorced, lonely and aging fast, and looking for boyfriends
almost as often as her daughter. More than once, according to Kevin,
the mother had tried to pull him into the sack while Gloria was out
shopping or doing errands.
had to hold her off physically, Kevin said, laughing one night
over a beer. I can see where Gloria got that powerful drive from.
the father? I asked.
lives on the other side of Barton with his new woman. Gloria doesnt
get along with him at all. Their mother always had problems getting
money from him. One of those deadbeat dads, I guess. I didnt care.
I didnt want to hear about the guy, or their money problems. But
I felt like I was getting pulled into it, you know what Im saying?
think I did, and it sounded like something I never wanted to involve
mean Glorias got a good heart, he continued. Youve
seen the way she watches out for Danny. And thats not easy at
his age (eighteen). But she isnt the sharpest knife in the drawer,
which you also know. He smiled at me and shook his head.
she wasnt going to enthrall you with her conversational skills.
I could imagine those long winter nights in an apartment with her (and
sometimes Danny), a TV blaring (for Gloria definitely liked her daily
dose of that) with some stupid comedy or soap opera, and Kevin, who
liked to read, trying his best to concentrate on a book while she yapped
away aimlessly or attempted to decipher one of Dannys mood swings.
I could just hop in the car and go when I had to get out of there,
Kevin related. It pissed her off when I did that, especially if
I didnt leave her any money. But I knew she wasnt going
to leave. He laughed and drank some more beer. I learned
my lesson when it came to giving her money. That woman just cant
hold onto it. Shes got to spend it on something, even if she doesnt
need it. And thats when I get mad at her. And Im not the
kind of guy who gets upset easily. The army taught me how to keep my
cool. He laughed. But here I am busting my hump in that
place six days a week and shes out throwing money away on clothes,
which she has enough of. Or buying Danny things. And he gets money from
the state. And then I found out she was going out to lunch every day
with her girlfriends. Eating in restaurants while Im living on
sandwiches at the store.
store we worked at was also a coffee shop-lunch counter-grill during
the day, run by a middle-aged woman named Betty. The manager of the
store Rita Banks allowed us to eat one sandwich per shift,
whether it was a BLT, burger, chicken patty or cold cuts, which, after
a couple weeks, was all you could stomach anyway. Most of the regulars
just drank coffee and scratched lottery tickets, leaving the sandwiches
to the tourists.
put a stop to it, fast, Hemming said. Frankie was the one
who told me about seeing her around town, throwing the cash around.
Doyle was a twenty-one year old regular at the store, and he didnt
come in for the coffee. He was just of legal age to buy beer, and he
bought plenty of it for the many parties at his apartment. Frank considered
himself one of the hip party boys around Jordan Harbor, a guy who knew
where the action was and always had dope on him. I was on to him as
something of a phony about the second time I talked to him, but he provided
some amusement during the lulls in business. He and Kevin had gotten
together a couple times for drinks, and Frank got weed for Hemming.
she complains I never give her any money, Hemming said. But
does it look like shes going hungry?
Gloria had a few extra pounds on her big boned frame, and it was rare
not see her munching on something whenever I visited. There were always
pizza boxes or take-out containers lying around the apartment, and more
than once I heard Kevin tell her to do something about the mess in the
place. Yet it didnt seem as if Gloria did much of anything, physically
at least out of the bedroom. She even complained if she had to
walk a few short blocks to the store, insisting that Kevin take her
in the car.
dont hit her, like her last boyfriend did, Kevin said. I
yell at her sometimes, but thats the only way to get her to do
anything. Shes lazy. And she admits it too.
she had admitted that to me, with a smile and a wink.
Kevin had offered
to let me sleep on the floor of his apartment, after he got to know
me at work and learned that I slept in the woods on the outside of town.
He had just assumed that I had a room somewhere. Yet then one night
he noticed that I used the shower upstairs at work. The store was in
the lower half of the old town house, with bathrooms on both floors,
and a shower stall in the one. I had arranged with Rita to use this
(no one else did), which was all right with her, as she didnt
want me driving the customers out with a bad case of b.o. Actually,
there was fresh water on the island, but it was quite cold even at this
time of year.
You should have said something, man, Hemming
said when he saw me come out of the bathroom with a towel in my hand.
We have room enough to put you up.
after thanking him, I turned the offer down. I had already gotten to
know Gloria and Danny, and, taking a quick guess as to the size of the
apartment, I barely hesitated with my answer. Besides, I enjoyed where
I was. The nights were warm (I slept on top of my sleeping bag) and
the woods were peaceful, though my campsite wasnt that far out
of town. I had a plastic tarp set up with bungee cords for when it rained,
and my few possessions wrapped in a plastic garbage bag. I hadnt
once been bothered by anybody, and just a short walk through the woods
was the backyard of a motel, where I could take nightly dips in the
pool if I was so inclined. I was close enough to town where I wasnt
bothered by any wild animals, and after a week or so, I could arrive
at my camp without the aid of a flashlight. Why pay rent for some little
old box of an apartment in town, I asked myself.
offered to let me stay on his couch if I kicked in a few bucks a week
for rent, but I just laughed at this. I took him to my camp one afternoon
(though I usually stayed away from there during the day) and held my
hands up, as if to say: what more do I want? I made my bed on soft pine
needles. I woke up to the birds, green pine boughs and, usually, blue
sky overhead. There was, occasionally, the sound of a car or truck motor
that reached me, or some playful shouts from the motel pool, but these
few distractions I could put up with.
almost tempted to move out here with you, he said.
plenty of room.
laughed and shook his head. I told him about the pool.
night well smoke a joint in it, I said.
that morning, Kevin never asked me to move in again. I have no doubt
that he would have joined me except that he would have missed having
his nightly romp in bed; and, I have to admit, that there were some
nights, particularly the damp and rainy ones, that I envied him a little.
I doubted if Id ever get a woman out to my camp unless she was
loaded with drink.
as it turned out, I would have my fun that way elsewhere in town before
the summer was out. Working at one of the busiest gas station-markets
in town saw to that.
© Mike Blake March 2005
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