Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Jackie hated working at Rickís on Sunday mornings.
Sundays brought the church crowd, and in Spearfish Lake, the church crowd was full of lousy tippers and complainers. The Saturday bunch was much more friendly, and the weekday crowds were, too. But, put ties on many of the same people and having their wives with them, the atmosphere changed completely.
It didnít help that Jackie had experienced two short nights of sleep in a row. She could barely drag herself out of bed the few short hours after Mark had brought her home the night before. The alarm had to ring for several minutes before she could pull herself together enough to sit up and shut it off. Fortunately, sheíd had the presence of mind the night before to move the clock so she couldnít reach it from the bed, or she would have slept all morning.
All morning long, as her feet began to ache from running back and forth with pots of coffee, she thought of Mark and his plans she had heard the night before. That would be quite a trip; it was quite a dream to have held for so long. It would be a fun trip to take.
Except for some late lunch business, the crowd died out about one, and Rickís normally closed at two. It had been a terribly long day, and she was glad to have it over with.
Outside, she saw Mark had been right; some weather had moved in. It was still cold, more from the wind blowing than pure bitter cold, but it was overcast, and it looked like there might be some snow in the air. Most of the snow around Spearfish Lake had disappeared early, for once, except for some patches back in the shade of buildings, or deep in the woods, but the sky looked like it could dump some more on them. For Spearfish Lake, spring was still a month or more off; winter usually hung on until everyone was thoroughly sick of it. By this time of year people were pretty tired of seeing bare trees and the winter grays and browns; the snow being gone just made everything seem so drab and dingy.
It was easy to understand why Mark wanted to be on his way to someplace else.
Jackie got into the car and started it up. As tired as she was, she thought she would just go home and see if she could take a nap. Naps in the afternoon were hard, though; Johnnie made a lot of noise and hadnít yet learned there were times that people wanted to be left alone to sleep. Plus, the TV would be on, and besides a nap would put her schedule out of sorts.
As Jackie drove towards home she came up on the intersection with the state road. Going down the state road a short ways would take her out to the airport; she wondered if Mark was out there, working on the rib stitching of the wing. On a whim, she slowed and turned down the state road to check.
At the airport, she could see Markís old Ford sitting in front of the hangar; apparently he was still there. For a moment she thought it would be rather forward of her to barge in on him without warning, but decided to do it anyway.
Inside, she could see he was intent on what he was doing. "Looks like youíve made quite a bit of progress since last night," she told him.
"Dad was out this morning, and he helped me for a couple of hours before his hands got too painful," he said. "Every little bit helps."
"I just thought Iíd see how you were coming. I canít really help you out this afternoon. Sarah needs to get her car back, and Iím not dressed for it."
"I could pick you up," he suggested. "You were a big help last night."
Jackie thought for a moment. She was tired, and she knew Sarah planned to go to Lynchburg right after she got home. If Jackie stayed home, then Johnnie would probably be left with her, and she was too tired for him right now. On the other hand, it would be pleasant to spend more time with Mark.
No contest. "Can you follow me right home?" she asked. "That way, Iím less likely to get roped into babysitting my stepbrother."
He stood up. "I can do that," he said. "I was getting about ready to get my hands into some gloves for a while, anyway."
Sarah acted a little disappointed that Jackie had something planned other than babysitting, but she wasnít about to say anything with Mark standing there, waiting while Jackie changed out of her white dress into something warmer and pulled on the snowmobile suit once again. "She wanted me to," Jackie told Mark in the car as they headed back to the airport, "Sheís got the idea I should automatically be willing to be a free babysitter whenever she wants."
"Sounds like a real pain in the butt," Mark commented.
Jackie shook her head. "Most of the time, itís not, really. I donít mind Johnny most of the time, but I just hate being taken for granted. Working at Rickís has helped. At least Iím not automatically free whenever she wants."
"You sound like youíre not too crazy about her," he observed, swerving the car around one of Spearfish Lakeís numerous potholes.
"Sheís OK," Jackie said. "We get along OK, most of the time, but I guess Iíve always felt she took Dad away from me a lot."
"You mean, compared with back when you were littler."
"Yeah," Jackie agreed. "I shouldnít really feel that way. I mean, Dad has to have his life, too. But, it seems like Iím on the outside a lot, kind of like a fifth wheel."
Perhaps it was the irritation with Sarah, or perhaps it was just being tired, or perhaps it was because talking over the wing, out of sight of each other, was sort of like being in a confessional. As they worked on the wing in the waning hours of the afternoon Jackie found herself telling Mark a lot about herself Ė things she had not been willing to talk about with even a friend like Kirsten. It was good to have someone to talk to, who could listen, and perhaps understand.
For example, she had always felt awkward and freakish about her height. Always tall, she now stood an even six feet, taller by far than most of her friends, taller than most guys. She stuck out in a crowd, and she had always been self-conscious about it. But, in Mark, who was even taller than she was, although not by much, she found someone who could understand.
"It was tough for me, too," Mark told her. "That idiot Meredith, when he was the football and basketball coach, was always on my ass to go out for basketball. I could never make it clear to him I canít play basketball, donít like basketball, and could care less about basketball."
"Itís tougher for a girl, I think," she told him. "Six feet for a guy is just on the tall side. For a girl, itís awful tall. People were always making jokes about it, and it hurts. You know, ĎHi, howís the weather up there?í Ė that sort of thing. It hurts. You canít do anything about it, but it hurts just the same. I felt like such a freak."
"The hell with the little people," he laughed. "You know and I know one of the good things about being tall is we can look down on them. When people laugh at us for being tall, itís because they envy us, not because they hate us. Be proud youíre so tall, not ashamed of it."
"Thatís easy to for you say," she said. "When youíre a girl and thereís no one whoís anywhere near as tall as you, itís awful hard to do. Then, on top of all the tall jokes, there were always the stories about my mother. You know, my real mother, not Sarah."
"I know," Mark said. "At least, I know about the stories."
Jackie had been probing with the needle for the proper place on the far side of the wing, but now she stopped. "I havenít seen her for, six or seven years," she said quietly. "I just canít bear to look at her. Thereís nothing to see. She just lays there, staring at the ceiling, eyes open, humming the same note all day, and they tell me all night. Theyíre not sure if sheís awake or asleep, and they donít think sheíll ever get any better." She had never shared even this much with anyone, except for her father, not even Sarah, and she wondered even as she spoke why she was telling Mark now. "Iím not sure I care any longer, at least about her. I barely remember her when she was what you call normal, although I donít think she was well even then, but I didnít realize until later just how strange she was acting."
She probed with the needle again; Mark saw it was in the right place, and pulled it on through without saying anything. Somehow, he couldnít think of anything to say.
As he tied the seine knot, she started to speak again. "You know, itís not the stories people tell that bother me, itís the fact sheís my mother. Sheís tall, like me, and Iíve worried for years that maybe what she has is genetic." She was silent again, so silent that Mark stopped fiddling with the seine knot and stood up to look over the wing and see if she was all right. Sitting on the stool, she looked up at him and said, "God, I hope somebody has the good sense to kill me if I ever get like that. Frankly, Mark, it scares the hell out of me."
Mark found himself at a loss for words. Just what the hell do you say to something like that? "Well, Iím no expert," he said. "But, I would have to think itís probably not genetic. Environment has to play a part, too." It wasnít the best thing he could have said, he realized, but he couldnít think of anything better. It would have to do.
"I hope youíre right," she said finally. "Iíve had people who know more about it than you do say they donít know for sure, either."
"Like I said," Mark replied. "Iím no expert, but Iím pretty sure of one thing: worrying about it wonít make it any better."
They were silent for a moment before Jackie nodded. "Youíre probably right. I guess I know that, but I canít help worrying about it. Letís get back to work."
Mark finished the seine knot, then started probing with the needle again. She had helped him work the needle to the right place and was pulling it through when he snickered a little; he couldnít help himself. "Whatís so funny?" she asked.
"Oh, the thought crossed my mind that the whole thing is something you could use to your advantage, not let it just get you down."
"What do you mean?" she said, a little suspiciously.
"Well, take this trip. I havenít really told many people besides my family, and now you, what Iím up to. I mean, most people would think the whole thing is a little screwy, you know?"
"I can see that," she agreed, "Whatís your point?"
"Simple," he smiled. "Me: people will say when they hear about it, ĎWhatís got into that kid?í Now, if it was you who was doing something thatís a little off the wall, people wouldnít think much of it. Theyíd just say, ĎAw, hell, it runs in the family.í"
She laughed along with him. "I never thought of it like that. Itís probably something a guy could use, but it doesnít work the same for girls."
"Maybe weíre not on the same wave length," he said, "But I think it works more for girls than it does for guys. I mean, guys have a little room to do things that are a little off the wall, anyway. Girls have to be pretty straight. You know, the double standard thing. But for you, it supposedly running in the family gives you an excuse to do something you want to do."
"I guess I see what you mean," she said. "When you stop and think about it, sitting out in a freezing hangar in a snowmobile suit sewing on a wing is kind of a screwy thing to do, but I enjoy doing it."
"Right," he laughed. "The best thing of all is most people you know, anyway, are going to be pretty nice about it. I mean, theyíre not going to say to your face, ĎYouíre crazy to be doing that.í Letís take a break."
The space heater in the office felt good, and the warm cups of coffee tasted good, too, even though it was just instant coffee. They plopped down on the battered and broken old couch to let the warmth wash through them. Mark glanced at the clock on the wall. "Itíll be getting dark soon," he said. "How long do you want to stay out here?"
"Iím in no rush to go home," she said. "I kind of like staying out here with you. Itís so nice to be able to talk with someone, relax, and feel Iím doing something constructive, too. I know it may not seem like it to you, but Iíve really enjoyed last night and this afternoon."
"Well, Iím glad youíre enjoying it," he said. "The thing is, Iím getting about ready to go get something to eat. Would you like to go out for a sandwich, or something? Maybe go out and get a beer?"
"No beer today," she said. "Itís Sunday, and all the bars are closed."
He stopped for a moment, thinking. "Yeah, it is Sunday, isnít it? Well, we could just do what I normally do when I get hungry when Iím out here."
"Whatís that? Go without? Not on my account."
"Naw, I just heat up a can of stew on the space heater. You like a nice plate of canned stew to go with your coffee?"
"Would you think I was crazy if I said that having a plate of canned stew and a cup of instant coffee out here with you is better than having the best steak in town by myself?"
He nodded his head, and said, "Itís nice you think that way," but his mind was on something long ago and far away Ė in Bangkok, to be precise. It had been years since he had been so comfortable and relaxed with a woman. The last time he had done something even comparable had been walking through the city years ago with Mei-Ling. He savored the memory while he opened a can and poured its contents into a pan. He hadnít told Jackie, but he had probably enjoyed being with her over the past twenty-four hours as much as she had enjoyed being with him. Maybe more.
He thought back to how often he had hoped and prayed for a girlfriend, someone just to talk with, to joke with, to enjoy being with, and those dreams went back even further than the trip Ė much further. As much as he had enjoyed the sex he had with Mei-Ling, it had seemed a touch artificial, which he knew it was Ė but the companionship and the shared fun he had enjoyed with her had only proved to him what he had missed by not having a girlfriend. He could tell he was well on the way to acquiring a girlfriend now, perhaps not the stacked-up blonde or the sweet Chinese-Thai girl of his dreams, but perfectly adequate. In many respects, much better than adequate. Jackie might not have been Miss America, but she wasnít ugly, either; the worst you could call her would be "plain." And, she seemed interested in a lot of things he was interested in, and that, he knew, was even harder to find.
Why now? In a month, maybe less if things went well, heíd be gone. It was damn inconvenient timing, to say the least. But then, it was one thing he had learned from Mei-Ling: enjoy it now. It may not be there tomorrow.
All these thoughts blasted through his mind in a matter of seconds, and he was a little surprised at how briefly the image of Mei-Ling lingered. "To tell you the truth," he said, "I canít think of anything Iíd rather do than share a plate of stew out here with you, under these circumstances."
Hours later, they were putting the last stitch in the wing. It was nearing midnight again, and both of them were tired, but they had been able to see how little was left, and it drove both of them on. As he tied it off and clipped the end of the string he said, "Thatís one down, and one to go. I really appreciate the help youíve been, Jackie. It would have taken me all week to do this by myself."
"Iím just glad I could help," she said. "Are you planning on starting on the other wing tomorrow? Iím off, and I could help you then, if you like."
"Look, I donít want you to think you have to do it," he said as he picked up tools and turned out lights, "But if you can help out again, Iíd really appreciate it. Itís not just getting this wing done, either, because Iíve really enjoyed having you here."
"Iíve enjoyed it too," she said. "More than you might think. What time do you want to pick me up?"
* * *
Jackie was a little surprised to find herself awake before the alarm went off the next morning. It had been set for nine, but at eight-thirty she was so awake that she knew she might as well get up. She pulled on a robe and headed downstairs to pour herself a cup of coffee. She didnít like it real hot; by the time she finished her shower it would be just about right.
Her father was sitting at the kitchen table nursing a cup of coffee; he must have made it home after she went to bed. Since she was running a little early, the shower could wait a few minutes. "So how was the trip, Dad?" she asked as she poured a cup of coffee, then ran a little cold water into it to make it cool enough to drink.
"Not bad," he said. "About the same, except that coming back from Syracuse I had three units, and all of them kept running. First time thatís happened in a while. Then I just missed crunching a car, right outside Putnam yard."
"Close?" she asked. A railroaderís daughter, she knew just how dangerous it was to run a crossing ahead of a train that took a mile or two to stop.
Walt Archer shook his head. "Missed them by inches, horn going all the time. Iíve never killed anyone yet, but sometimes you wonder if someone that dumb or that careless doesnít deserve to die."
"You have to wonder about people like that," she agreed, sipping her coffee.
"I donít want to think about it," he said. "God, I close my eyes and see the guyís taillights right under my feet. But anyway, Sarah tells me youíve been out late on dates every night."
"Not really dates, Dad," she explained. "Well, Friday night was a date." She blinked. Was it only Friday night that she had been out with Hjalmer? It seemed like months. "The last couple of nights, Iíve been helping Mark Gravengood work on his airplane. You remember Mark, donít you?"
"Sure," Walt said. "He just got out of the Army a few months ago, didnít he? What have you been doing with him on his airplane, anyway?"
Jackie explained the rib-stitching process she had been helping Mark with. "I can see it goes really slowly when itís only him doing it, but it really works well with the two of us. Heís picking me up in an hour or so, so we can start on the other wing."
"Well, I guess it doesnít sound like a date," he said.
"Itís really kind of far from it," Jackie told him. "You ever hear of bundling boards? Back in the old days, when houses werenít heated, people used to court by climbing into bed with this board fixed between them so theyíd keep their hands off of each other. Itís kind of like that. Weíve got this fifteen foot bundling board, about four feet wide, between us. We talk a lot, but we only see each other when we take a break to warm up in the little office."
"You like Mark? I hadnít seen him since before he joined the Army, but he always seemed like a pretty level-headed kid."
"Heís a nice guy, Dad. I enjoy being with him. When I was out with Hjalmer, it seemed kind of like boy-girl. With Mark it seems kind of like brother and sister."
"Well, have a good time," he said. "Just donít let it get out of hand and find yourself doing something you really donít want to do."
"I donít intend to let it happen, Dad," she said. "I kind of thought it might have been heading that way with Hjalmer Friday night, and I knew Iíd walk home if I had to. I just donít get that kind of feeling with Mark."
Walt sipped his coffee. "Well, Iíve always been able to depend on you to do the right thing," he said finally. "Itís going to have to be up to you to do it." He sighed, and looked at the ceiling. "Iíve realized the last two or three years," he said, "That sooner or later youíre going to go off to college, or go off with some young man, and whether you do right or do wrong is something Sarah and I really canít influence. Weíll just have to depend on you to know whatís right, and hope weíve raised you to know to do what youíre supposed to."
"Youíre saying, be a good girl and donít go to bed with everybody I meet, right?"
"Yeah," Walt said. "I just canít bring myself to say it like that, to you anyway. I have to make myself realize youíre not my little girl any longer, and itís going to happen sooner or later. Itís just that youíre going to have to be sure itís right, that youíre not making a bad decision. If youíre not sure itís right, itís probably not."
"Well, I donít think thereís any danger of that with Mark," Jackie said. "Not now, anyway, and it might take a long time." Especially with him leaving on his trip, she thought, though it might not happen at all. "For right now, Iím just enjoying being with him and helping him out. It might develop into something, and it might not. But, itís fun, and heís a nice guy."
"I remember him as a good kid," her father said. "It always kind of struck me that he had his own list of things to do, but then, I guess we all do. What time is he picking you up?"
"Ten," she said, looking at the clock. "And, if Iím going to get a shower before he comes, I think Iíd better get moving."
She took a cup of coffee with her and stopped by her bedroom to pick up clean clothes for the day. As soon as the water in the shower was warm, she got in, soaped herself down good, rinsed off, and washed her hair. She had missed her shower the day before; her schedule had been just too tight. Her hair had gone several days, now Ė too long Ė but it was such a hassle to get it dry that she usually tried to put it off as long as she could.
Feeling suitably clean a few minutes later, she shut off the shower. The bathroom, which had seemed uncomfortably cool a few minutes earlier, now was cozy with the heat and the moisture of the hot shower. She dried herself off and turned to brushing out her wet hair. She was tempted to put on her robe, but it didnít seem necessary.
In the mirror, she looked strange without glasses; better perhaps Ė who could say. Looking at the reflection of her naked body, she tried to imagine what longer hair than her current shoulder length would look like; it would certainly look different. Maybe sheíd put off getting it cut for a while, to see.
She continued to brush out her hair, but her mind went to what her father had said. Sheíd often wondered what it would be like to be with a man Ė what it would feel like, how it would be. She knew what the mechanics of the situation were, of course, but what would it feel like? She wondered if she had a body that would appeal to a man. She was tall, of course, and thin, perhaps too thin. While she wasnít flat-chested by any means, she didnít have a chest like her friend, Kirsten Langenderfer, either. Boys had always sniffed around Kirsten because of her chest, she recalled, and she wondered if things would have been different if sheíd had Kirstenís size, Kirstenís build. Would Mark like her body the way it was? What would it be like to be with Mark, anyway?
She put the hair dryer cap over her head and set the hair dryer to running. It would take a while to get her hair dry, and she didnít dare go out in the cold with it damp. With the hair dryer roaring away, she sipped at her coffee and began to get dressed. As she pulled on her bra, she thought of the touch of Hjalmerís hand on her breast Friday evening, how exciting it had seemed. The little necking she had done with Hjalmer had been a lot of fun, too. It was strange, now that she thought about it, but Mark had never made the first move toward a hug, a kiss, or anything else. He had been the perfect gentleman, but perhaps he wasnít a touchy-feely type person.
She realized Mark would be leaving soon. It might be a long time before he got back, and perhaps he didnít want to start anything. Continuing to get dressed in jeans and a work shirt, she thought about that. It was going to be a heck of a trip; she envied him. Taking off in an airplane to bum around the country by yourself was something a girl couldnít do. A guy could get away with it, but a girl would be over her head in no time; maybe not safe, either. Strange things happened to girls who traveled by themselves.
It wasnít fair, she thought. Sheíd love to do something like Markís trip. He could do it, but she couldnít. About all she would be able to do would be to wait for his return, and hope they could get something going then.
If he returned
Jackie was ready to go when she heard the rumble of the Fordís muffler, right at ten. As she went outside, she saw that a light snow had fallen overnight, an inch or two, perhaps; little enough it hardly counted in a Spearfish Lake winter. Today seemed a lot warmer; it was clear this snow wouldnít be around long; some of it was sloppily melting already.
The Ford left fresh tracks through the thin snow as Mark drove up the airport driveway. While the heater was warming the office up, he and Jackie unfastened the wing from the cradles holding it and put the other one in its place. The wings were not heavy; the two of them could handle one easily.
"This is one of the fun parts," Mark said, "Getting the fabric on the wing in the first place."
The fabric was sewn in a long sleeve that barely fit around the wing, and it took them a fair amount of shuffling the cradles around and working at the fabric to get it in place. "It looks kind of sloppy," Jackie protested. "How do we get it as tight as the other one?"
"We have to shrink it in place," Mark said. "You want to run out to the car? Thereís an iron in the back seat."
"Sure. You iron shirts, donít you? Weíve got a wing to iron."
Working slowly and carefully, with the iron not very hot, Mark did just that. The heat from the iron shrunk the Dacron fabric, but it had to be done evenly, and getting all the wrinkles out and the fabric acceptably tight was a slow process. "Iíve got an engine pre-heater here that could keep us a little warmer," Mark explained. "I mean, it would be possible to build kind of a plastic enclosure so we could get a little warmer. But, the pre-heater would stink us out and maybe gas us, and it might create a hot spot on the wing that would shrink more than we want it to. I put up with being cold."
In spite of the fact it was warmer today, they were cold by the time they had the wing ready for rib stitching. They retreated to the office where they had lunch, some meatloaf sandwiches Jackie had made from the dinner she had missed the day before.
After they ate they turned back to the rib stitching. After the practice they had, and with it being a little warmer, things went well. They passed the needle back and forth through the wing and sat talking Ė not about anything in particular. Mark caught up on Spearfish Lake gossip he had missed for four years Ė whoíd gotten married, whoíd gotten divorced, whoíd gotten pregnant without benefit of marriage. He heard about the riot at the school board meeting when the school board tried to extend the contract of the football coach after the Spearfish Lake Marlins had gone three years without a win. The end result of the riot was the coach was all but run out of town, and now the Marlins had a new coach who seemed to be doing some good.
The afternoon passed quickly, and they made good progress on the wing. With the day a little warmer, fewer retreats to the office were needed. It was after dark before they realized the time, and also realized they were hungry. Mark offered to take Jackie out to dinner but it seemed like too much trouble to both of them, so they made their dinner out of canned stew, heated on the space heater, and went back to work. It was late in the evening before they decided to call a halt, but they were more than halfway done with the wing. One more good day would have it under control.
"Iím not sure weíve got enough cord to finish the job," Mark said as he drove her home. "Weíll hit it for a couple of hours, and see."
"Why donít we just get some before we start?" she asked.
"I donít think thereís any in Spearfish Lake," he said. "Iíll make a couple of phone calls in the morning, but we may have to go get some down in Camden or somewhere. Shall I pick you up around ten, again?
"You can make it earlier," she told him. "Iím not as dog-tired as I was last night. Say, nine?"
"Naw, letís make it ten. Thatíll give me time to make some phone calls. A couple of the places I need to call donít open until nine."