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Spearfish Lake Tales
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Joe/Joan book cover

by Wes Boyd
©2015, ©2016

Chapter 8

Naturally, within a couple of days of washing Mom’s car, it rained. I don’t mean it rained a little; we had several sopping days interspersed with some real downpours, to the point where some of the local streams got out of their banks. It didn’t affect Dad’s work, since there was inside work he could do on both his day and evening jobs, but Joey was off for a few days.

Dad had continued to be very busy, and other than finding and bringing home the Karmann Ghia and the Corvair engine, he hadn’t been able to do much with the car. I realized that first things had to come first, but it was still a little frustrating, especially when the mailman showed up with a heavy package that had to be the adapter he needed for the engine swap. Out of sheer boredom, Joey and I opened it up, and sure enough, that was what it was, along with a typewritten sheet with a few vague instructions, and a photocopy of a hot rod magazine article about making the swap. Needless to say, we both looked it over. “You know,” Joey said after reading it over carefully, “To look at it, it doesn’t seem to be that darn complicated.”

I took the article and looked it over myself. Now, of course I couldn’t tell him that I, as Joe, had been a pretty good mechanic as a kid. I had not been the car nut that Dad was, and cars were a lot harder to work on in my later years as Joe, but I knew what to do with a wrench in my hand. That was shown by the fact that Tom and I had saved thousands upon thousands of dollars by doing a lot of the routine maintenance on the Kenworth. There was even a heated barn at Tom’s place where we did it. When we first started making the runs to LA every week, we used to do an oil change after each trip, but as trucks, oil, and oil analysis improved we started stretching it out, to the point where we were only doing one a month. That saved us some money, since the diesel engine in the truck needed a lot of oil when we changed it. So, even though I hadn’t used a wrench very much in recent years, I was no stranger to one.

Besides, I knew the old Joanie had helped Dad out in the shop from time to time, just to be able to hang out with him a little, so she hadn’t been a total novice either.

“You’re right. It doesn’t seem to be too bad,” I replied after I’d read the article. “You know, I’ll bet we could do it, or at least get started on it and only have to have Dad work on the tough spots.”

“It beats sitting here watching it rain,” he agreed. “Let’s do it.”

It took some work and a little help from the Chevy, but in half an hour we had the Karmann Ghia in the garage with the rear deck lid removed. Sure enough, there was a lot of room around the seized-up VW engine, much more than would be common in a car even twenty years later, and it looked like even less of a problem. I had to let Joey do most of the work – working on cars wasn’t for girls, or at least so he thought, but I helped out more than he expected and got adequately greasy in the process.

Sure enough, by the middle of the afternoon we had the VW engine sitting on the middle of the shop floor. We’d done about what we could do, as some new motor mounts would have to be welded up. I was capable of it; I knew a little bit about welding, not as much as Dad, but I couldn’t make them since Dad and Joey would wonder how I’d learned. We spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning the car out and cleaning it up.

Even when he was working two jobs Dad usually made it home for supper so he could at least have a little time with the family, and he was pleased to see what we had done. “I didn’t feel like working that much tonight anyway,” he announced. “Let’s go out and see what we can do with those motor mounts.”

One thing led to another, and it was after midnight when we had the Corvair engine sitting in its new home. It wasn’t ready to go yet, and Joey and I spent much of the next day on some of the nasty little details that always seem to crop up on jobs like that. It’s stuff that nobody thinks of when they write articles about such projects, like how to adapt the heater ducts to each other. We finally worked that one out, but as Joey said, “That article was written in southern California where they don’t use heaters anyway, so why should they even mention it?”

By the time the sky cleared off and Joey could go back to work, the job was done. We’d even given it a few test drives around the block and a little farther, and also fixed most of the faults we’d found. It was no deuce coupe with a Chrysler mill, but it was a lot peppier than the bug I’d remembered from Timeline One.

I didn’t drive it very far at first, since my legs were still improving and I needed to be able to use the clutch since it still had the normal four-speed VW transmission. Besides, I wasn’t sure how far away from home I could trust the car until I’d gained a little confidence with it. But after a few days I didn’t worry about it very much.

It wasn’t very long before I was driving it around with the top down on nice days. Several times I took Patty, Barb, and Diana with me when we went to the beach over at Round Lake and flashed our tiny (for that day and age) swimsuits at what boys might happen to be around. On a few evenings we went to the dance pavilion near the beach on the same lake. That was the kind of thing I had rarely done when I’d been a kid as Joe on Timeline One.

It was just Patty with me on one of those afternoons at the beach, and we got talking with some guy who had a pretty new MGB, which, while it was no Pontiac GTO, wasn’t a bad little economy sports car at the time. However, the kid was one of those big-ego types like Jerry Sawyer who thought his MG was really hot stuff. Well, we were kids (at least I looked like one) and I hadn’t quite gotten around to mentioning that the mill under the back deck wasn’t exactly stock, so the next thing you know we were out in the country having a drag race. I won’t say I ran away from him, considering that the long, rubbery shift linkage in the thing meant that there was no speed shifting going on, but I certainly walked away from him, with Patty riding with me, no less. The guy, whose name I never got – or at least never remembered – was not exactly happy to have his hot-stuff MGB thrashed by two girls in a Karmann Ghia. It was one of the few times I actually drag raced anyone in what could have been called a Corvair-Ghia, mostly because I was leery of all that power being run through a VW transaxle.

I had a lot of fun with that car over the years – it may, in fact, have been the most fun car I ever owned, although I have owned some with a lot better performance. It never gave me much trouble over the years, and I never asked too much of it. I will admit that there were occasionally times I considered asking Dad to look for one of the later 180 horsepower Corvair engines with a turbocharger, and then hopping it up a little.

At least in that way I was really my father’s daughter. Or son. Or something.

*   *   *

In the couple of months before I had to head off to Venable I spent a lot of time hanging around with Patty, and I usually tried to drag Joey along with us when he wasn’t working. I still thought it would be better for both Patty and Joey if I could set them up, but it just wasn’t working. Although it made sense to me I guess neither of them could see my logic, and I didn’t really want to push them that hard since I thought it would be counterproductive.

As I said earlier, if as Joe I had gotten together with Patty at about that time in our lives, things would most likely have turned out differently for both of us. Patty was happy and outgoing, rather than the rather glum and self-centered person that Cindy had been, so it seemed logical to assume that as Joe I would have been a little brighter and happier than I had actually been. Patty would have avoided that abusive idiot she had been married to. But it had never happened, and it was a while before I began to wonder if maybe it wasn’t supposed to happen in this timeline, either.

Maybe Joey was fated to live pretty much the same life as I had as Joe. There might be a few changes in details, like his having a sister, but the general pattern of his life might not change much. Joey might find himself driving a transcontinental truck for forty years, much as I had done.

It was a big guess to make, but he was in a position where his life could turn out that way much as Joe’s had.

That set up a lot of ruminations leading me to places I didn’t expect. If Joey was fated to live the same life I had, marry the same wife, drive the same truck, was there anything I could do to change it? Or was he doomed to follow the same track I had?

Good question.

When I stopped to think about it, I began to realize that if Joey was predestined to follow the same track I had, maybe it wasn’t so bad. Looking back, I can’t say my life as Joe had been exciting, but I had generally been satisfied with it. When you got right down to it, I’d led a lot better life than a lot of people I knew. I’d had a good, solid job, and was comfortable. I’d had a nice, snug house, a loyal if not terribly loving wife, and I’d had a child who, while I never thought she’d reached her potential, I thought well of anyway. In the overall view of things, it had been placid, and there hadn’t been much to complain about. If that was to be Joey’s fate, well, he could do much worse, just as I could have done much worse.

Could I change things to make things better for him? Possibly. Should I? Good question! Trying to change things for the better might well just make things worse.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was likely that I couldn’t change things for Joey or anyone else. First off, all my experiences as Joe were on Timeline One, so what happened on Timeline Two might not be the same thing. As far as that went, if I changed something on Timeline Two, like getting Joey and Patty together, would that affect what had happened to Joe on Timeline One? It didn’t seem very likely, especially since it had already happened, at least in Joe’s memory.

So there was obviously at least some kind of predetermination going on. Who was in charge, or why, were interesting questions that I didn’t have any answers to. But if things were destined to happen anyway, could I actually change something? It seemed like I might be able to, but the more I thought about that the less likely it seemed. What was more likely, if I did something to attempt to change things, the change might not take.

Although I could find other examples by then, thinking back to the Indianapolis 500, somebody won the race. Jimmy Clark or Parnelli Jones didn’t matter; they were both driving rear-engine Lotuses with Ford engines. The trend was the same, even though the people were different.

Carrying that logic further, on the face of things I could change Joey’s life by shooting Cindy right then. It would be no trick; she was young enough to be going into the seventh grade this fall and lived across town. But would that actually change things for Joey? Maybe not, perhaps most likely not – he’d probably wind up marrying someone more or less like her, and spend much of his life in a truck cab on interstate highways. There was no proof of that of course, but if some form of predetermination were in charge, trends would change little if at all, while people could be different.

In a broader view of the question, could I prevent the destruction of the World Trade Center by shooting Osama Bin Laden right now? Or in the next twenty years? Most likely not. It might not have been him who organized the attack on Timeline Two as he had on Timeline One in the first place. Even if I did shoot him on Timeline Two, it probably would not prevent it since someone else would most likely arise to fill the same function he had served, since trends didn’t change very much. The social, political, and religious factors and conditions that allowed him to develop his terrorist network would not change, and if he didn’t form his terrorist group someone else would arise to fill his shoes. Again, trends would change little if at all, while the people would be different.

So that line of thinking led to Rule Four: You probably can’t change things, so don’t try. To attempt it would most likely be more trouble that it would be worth.

That led directly to the question of who was running things to cause the predetermination in the first place, and to why I was here. I had no answer. I didn’t even have a hint of an answer. The best I could manage was that I was supposed to have an effect on things that Joe’s memory couldn’t even hint at, but I was totally clueless as to what they might be if I was correct at all. There I was again approaching that previously mentioned impenetrable jungle of improbabilities, implausibilities, and incomprehensibilities. There were few solid answers, only questions.

It was the long way around to that conclusion based on the fact that I couldn’t set my best friend up with my brother, but the logic seemed pretty solid most of the way. The only sensible thing I could think of to do was to live my life as Joan, and try to enjoy it the best I could.

*   *   *

By the time August rolled around my attention had more or less turned toward going to college – it wasn’t that far off, now. The casts had been off my legs for six weeks, and as far as I could tell they were getting back to normal; I could walk normally, without pain, although they tired easily if I tried to walk too far. To try to build them up I walked wherever I could and even ran a little, and I could tell that I was making progress with my rehabilitation.

About that time Mom started going into a tizzy about my getting clothes for college. I hadn’t worried about it very much, since I had a collection of what I considered to be perfectly good clothes. Mom’s position was different: what woman would turn down the chance to buy new clothes, especially if someone else was paying for them? After I thought about it a little, I realized she had a point – I was still learning to be a woman and that was a nuance that I hadn’t picked up on in quite that way.

We were a little uncertain about what to buy; the catalogue and guidance we got from Venable didn’t help a lot. We knew the place was pretty conservative, at least in terms of dress. Girls were expected to wear skirts or dresses. Slacks were not permitted; shorts and jeans were especially not allowed, except in the gym. This was the period when the miniskirt was starting to become popular and common, and neither Mom nor I thought the college would be happy about very short hemlines. So we mostly bought things with knee-length hemlines, although I took along a couple of short dresses in case I might want them for a date or a party or something.

Even though Mom seemed ready to buy out J.C. Penney’s, I tried to hold her back. I didn’t want to take a lot to college, and I thought I could make do with a limited number of outfits. After all, as Joe I spent thirty years living five days a week out of a small duffel bag that contained three or four shirts, a spare pair of pants, and changes of socks and underwear as appropriate, and that was more than Tom usually had. We wound up buying more than I had hoped, but not exceptionally so.

One of the things that was different from when I sent Anita off to college either fifteen years in the past or thirty-five in the future was that even with all the clothes Mom wanted me to buy I was taking less than Anita – much less. I didn’t have to take a refrigerator, microwave, boom box, computer, printer, and who knows what all else that packed Cindy’s minivan to the roofline. I did take a dictionary and a small Hermes portable typewriter; those took up much less space.

I was glad to be taking the typewriter. At least Joe had known how to type, although not very well, but it had been enough to get me going in my new body. I’d had some problems because Joanie’s hands were smaller than Joe’s, but her reflexes were better so it didn’t take long before I was a better typist than I had been in my former life. That was a good thing, since my handwriting was still pretty sloppy. Even though I tried to improve it, it didn’t look anything like the old Joanie’s, and I figured that sooner or later someone was going to say something about it. My only defense was to say that my brain must still have been a little scrambled from the concussion and to type things as much as I could.

It wasn’t the same for Joey going to WCC. It was more of a tech school, and he was a guy anyway, so guys showing up straight from their job in jeans and work shirts were to be expected. At Venable guys were also not permitted to wear jeans, and had to have shirts with collars at a minimum. The rules didn’t say it, but I got the idea that ties, while not required, were encouraged. When I saw that I thought I was just as happy to be going to Venable as a girl; as Joe I had worn a tie on the average of once a decade, mostly for funerals. I hadn’t even worn one at my wedding.

I could tell that Joey wasn’t exactly excited to be heading off to WCC, although he didn’t say much of anything about it to me. I knew from my own memory that Joe hadn’t exactly been enthused about it either, mostly because I hadn’t had much of any idea of what I really wanted to do, and it was hard to see what good WCC was going to do for me. Even knowing what I knew now, I didn’t see why anything I could tell him would lead him to any different conclusions. Besides, predetermination reared its ugly head again, and there was nothing I could or do to affect the situation, anyway. It was all very frustrating, but I suspected that I would have little contact with him in the future.

August was cooling off and Labor Day was drawing near when several of us got together for a final beach party at Round Lake. Barb and Diana and Patty were there along with me and some others; the four of us had spent a lot of time together over the summer. I twisted Joey’s arm to come along, mostly because I want to take one last try against the odds to put him together with Patty, although there wasn’t much hope of it being a success. There wouldn’t be much chance for future contacts between the two, because Joey was headed to WCC to be bored to tears, and Patty was headed to nursing school. Assuming Timeline Two paralleled Timeline One they would be doing different things by next summer, and their paths wouldn’t cross again for several years, by which time Patty would be married.

I still felt awkward with the whole group, mostly because I still wasn’t the old Joanie they remembered, although I tried hard to act like I was. I honestly think every one of the group knew that I was considerably different than Joanie had been before the tornado, and at one time or another every one of them had commented that I had changed a lot. Once again, I told them that I realized that things weren’t like they had been before, and that the concussion must have changed things a lot for me.

The point came up again when we were at the beach that last time, and not surprisingly, Patty was the one that showed quite a bit of wisdom. “We’ve all changed in the past few years,” she told everyone. “And we’re likely to change even more in the next few. I suspect that five years from now we’re all going to be pretty different from what we are today, and there’s no telling what we’ll turn out to be like.”

Under normal circumstances that would be true, but these weren’t normal circumstances. These were all kids Joe had known in Timeline One, although in a couple of cases not real well. However, all of them had been at the class reunion Joe remembered from a few years in his past and fifty years in Joanie’s future, so I knew at least a little about how each of them had turned out. I knew, of course, that Joey would be a truck driver, that Patty would be divorced with a young daughter in a few years. She would indeed become a nurse, but would eventually tire of it and quit the field to run a gift shop. Diana would be a teacher, and later an elementary school principal, and would go through two husbands in that time. After being away for a while, Barb would come back home to marry her high school boyfriend, who I considered to be an arrogant asshole athlete, but who turned out pretty well in the long run for just being a factory worker, while she was mostly a stay-at-home mom. I didn’t know about many of the others since Joe didn’t know how things had worked out, and even Patty lost contact with them in the long run.

For the most part, each would be more or less satisfied with their lives, although none of them would set the world on fire. However, I knew I couldn’t say anything about it and wouldn’t be believed if I did.

On the other hand, I had no idea of what the future would bring for me. It would be something new, something unexplainable, at least from the viewpoint around the campfire on the beach that evening, and I wouldn’t have Joe’s memories to help me out along the way.

My months trying to be the old Joanie there in Simsville had at least got me going in the new direction, but it was time to leave. Somehow, I doubted that I would be back very much in the future. New things awaited me, and I was looking forward to seeing what would happen.

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To be continued . . .

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