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The International Writers Magazine
: First Chapters
(beginning of a novella)

Summer On Cadillac
Mike Blake

The 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 that’s what his letter implied. He did mention that he didn’t 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 didn’t seem too keen on ever going home, except perhaps for a visit to his mother who lived in the small town he’d grown up in.
            “You blink your eyes and you’re through W---,” he told me. “It’s just a little dot in that big ol’ state.” He snickered, derisively.
            I told him I’d been through Texas, but not that town in particular.
            “Well, it’s not like it’s a tourist attraction or anything,” Kevin said.
            Not 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 Harbor’s population tripled “in season”; or the town was “overrun” if you asked one of the year round residents, who weren’t that easy to find. Even many of the Maine residents didn’t 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.
            I knew that there was some commercial fishing done off the island, but I’d 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.
            It didn’t 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 hadn’t 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 didn’t want her hanging around the coffee shop, making small talk with the regulars and laughing in that silly, high-pitched way of hers. He didn’t need that aggravation while he pulled his shift.
            It wasn’t 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t want at his place of employment. 
            “I wouldn’t mind except Danny’s so unpredictable,” Kevin said to me. “One minute he’s as happy as a kid with candy, and the next he’s having one of his fits. And I’m the breadwinner here. Without this job there is no apartment, and without the apartment, she’s back with her mother. I can always sleep in my car. I’ve done that enough times.” He smiled.
            Gloria 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 wasn’t as dumb as she played at sometimes.
            Yet 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 didn’t 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 I’d 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.
            There 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.
            Apparently, Gloria and Danny’s 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.
            “I had to hold her off physically,” Kevin said, laughing one night over a beer. “I can see where Gloria got that powerful drive from.”
            We both laughed.
            “Where’s the father?” I asked.
            “He lives on the other side of Barton with his new woman. Gloria doesn’t get along with him at all. Their mother always had problems getting money from him. One of those deadbeat dads, I guess. I didn’t care. I didn’t want to hear about the guy, or their money problems. But I felt like I was getting pulled into it, you know what I’m saying?”
            I think I did, and it sounded like something I never wanted to involve myself in.
            “I mean Gloria’s got a good heart,” he continued. “You’ve seen the way she watches out for Danny. And that’s not easy at his age (eighteen). But she isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, which you also know.” He smiled at me and shook his head.
            No, she wasn’t 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 Danny’s mood swings.
            “Fortunately, 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 didn’t leave her any money. But I knew she wasn’t going to leave.” He laughed and drank some more beer. “I learned my lesson when it came to giving her money. That woman just can’t hold onto it. She’s got to spend it on something, even if she doesn’t need it. And that’s when I get mad at her. And I’m 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 she’s 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 I’m living on sandwiches at the store.”
            The 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.
            “I put a stop to it, fast,” Hemming said. “Frankie was the one who told me about seeing her around town, throwing the cash around.”
            Frank Doyle was a twenty-one year old regular at the store, and he didn’t 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.      
            “Now she complains I never give her any money,” Hemming said. “But does it look like she’s going hungry?”
            No, 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 didn’t 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.
            “I don’t hit her, like her last boyfriend did,” Kevin said. “I yell at her sometimes, but that’s the only way to get her to do anything. She’s lazy. And she admits it too.”
            Yes, 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 didn’t 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.”
            But, 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 wasn’t 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 hadn’t 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 wasn’t 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.
            Kevin 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.
            “I’m almost tempted to move out here with you,” he said.
            “There’s plenty of room.”
            He laughed and shook his head. I told him about the pool.
            “Some night we’ll smoke a joint in it,” I said.
            After 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 I’d ever get a woman out to my camp unless she was loaded with drink.
            But 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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