The race was on! Or so it seemed? Two contestants, Franny and Pete, who had incidentally been two lovers. Part of that old crew of neighborhood brats who used to hang out behind ‘ole’ deaf eared Patsy’s, the washed up regional welterweight ex-champion who took over the family bakery. They used to scheme and plot back of the fence in the small ‘cul de sac’ behind the rusty fifty gallon cans facing the alley. As kids they had a lot of great times there tossing rocks and stones at the back screen door. Then waiting to watch the poor ‘ole’ punch drunk sot burst out onto the porch swinging those brawny arms at the phantom force he could never quite catch.
Now it seems that the two little indigent whirlwinds were no longer so small before the eyes of the law. One kicked out from grammar school to roam the streets. The other naught but a year behind being interred in Mrs. Parker’s school for wayward girls. The fate of each seemingly cleft to separate paths from that point on.
“A good Christian education!”, would quip Mrs’ Parker as she draped the skinny pigtailed hellion over her own set of boney knees and drub the poor girl’s bottom the the melodies of Franz Liszt. All the while her little charge was busy between sobs plotting an escape route through the big bay window. The view was no better behind ten foot cyclone fences sequestered by the state court way out in the cornfields fifty miles from the city limits. ‘Plunkin the guards in the back of their heads with chewing gum when they wasn’t looking had its risks as well. Too many previous forebears had ensured that these otherwise bitter farm boys from Podunk were way to skilled to take a lob in the noggin without a pretty fair clue from whence it came. Beatin’s came hard, silent, and swift at the end of the flappy tongue of a black leather sap. After a year and a half, our little hero had the bruises on his back to prove it.
Still the years that wore on and saw the two of them, ‘let loose’ as they say, upon the tender mercies of an indifferent land beset by its own form of incessant financial drubbing. Times was ‘tough’, and the pickin’s so lean as to make a poor soul wonder how the body and soul of Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public would ever get stitched back together? It was almost just as impossible to figure how the two of them would ever meet up again given the vagaries of fate in this ever darkening world? Yet, Fate had another wrinkle to iron out that would cast their two destinies mutually together once again in the next state over. A lackluster roadside diner worn out far past any remedy of paint barely providing a hot meal a day and a drafty bed at night. The poor girl wasting all her had won education sloppin’ blue plate specials and coffee from dawn to dusk and barely a smoke or two in-between. Out back on Sunday’s, she pitched marbles in league with the Indian cook to see who might garner an extra pack of cigarettes from some unwary passer by. Though her brow hung low, her aim remained deadly.
It was uncanny how in mid-flight down the aisles her attention seemed to naturally focus back towards the front door of the place as if she was unconsciously waiting for someone to unexpectedly appear? For his own part, Pete, became a restless sort. Coal dust ever on the cuffs of his threadbare dungarees, a well-worn parting gift from the ‘juvee’ hand-me-down’s locker, he became a captain of riding the rails. Back and forth from corn covered plains to the barren shanks of the Rockies, he was batted too and from from these same hard times of too little available for ever too many. His own aim with a pebble hadn’t suffered in those quiet times in-between, sitting down feet swingin’ over the side of an open wooden boxcars clacking’ down the rails. His own thoughts turned off recalling that bygone dirty alley. The look of that punch drunk’s face held up by two cauliflower handles, a Jack-o-Lantern to light the cold dark nights in the straw. This life in its way might tend to bring ay’ down to naught.
It hadn’t taken more than the remainder of that worrisome decade to find each of their lives changed and seemingly no longer the same. A brawny rough cut trucker type had eventually snatched her up from the futility of that roadside rest stop. The life of dishing three meals a day seemingly a relief from lugging plate after plate for complete strangers. Her husband seemed squarely forgettable enough, his long hauls back and forth leaving her to her own devices for three weeks out of four. The small frame shack was easy to keep straight and occasional marital duties infrequent to the point of forgettability. Towards the evening one might hear a periodic ‘clank clank clang’ of stones tossed lackluster at the old iron boiler by the filed. The mournful melody a hollow carillon of time and youth rapidly flying by without any apparent outward hope of change.
It was only after they had both been tossed about for several decades, ‘polished by the lapidary’, as one might say that their paths crossed once more again. The old world of clapboard fences and frame houses had given way to brand new ranch homes and shanty bright automobiles on every block. Pete, now travelin’ the roads in a shiny late model Pontiac sedan that the home office had seen fit to bestow on account of his exemplary sales of the last two years. The dust and gravel pounding hard against his windshiled from all the local construction taking place in that faceless Iowa town. His own route now well established he descended from the lonely radio strung mile posts of the open road into the suburban sprawl of row after row of new domiciles. Everyone in need of a new set of encylopedia’s for the education of the new generation of spoiled brats who would hopefully no doubt never know the privations of their mommies and daddies. For a solid two weeks, Pete canvassed these peaked roof gingerbread boxes with their freshly wrought Lannon stone and fired brick facades. The faces within all completely forgettable within a few steps to the car. The boredom of an endless tedium lurking between endless recitation of emphatically delivered well-worded pitches barely erased by bottle of Scotch and broken well-worn decks of cards.
The last pitch of the day was at the edge of town at a less auspicies house whose laundry line pennants had yet to become enraptured by the modern miracle of a ‘no money down for sixty days’ washer and drier. The walkway up to the front door past the fence was laden with the usual landmines bespeaking the presence of several children. The general appearance suggesting its inhabitants had somehow missed the loser rung of the typhoon of prosperity that had left off its mark a block or so back. A dirty faced little bandit led the chase from around the corner, hurling stones and screaming in absolute unbounded delite two steps ahead of an equally mud laden companion. The two of them brother and sister, probalby twins when bereft of their present patina of muddy dirt. The little girl lobbing her missle so wildly that it bounced off the top of the galvanized fence hitting the front window of the shiny sedan with a mightly snap. A look of helpless chagrin spread across the salesman’s face as he spun around to face a crack that had suddenly flowered in the midst of the vehicle’s shiny new windscreen.
“Can I help you?”, a female voice sang out uneasily from behind him. He wheeled about to a face and its tone that somehow sparked a resonance that had been left to deep memory long ago. Her’s was older almost unrecognizeable save for an uncanny similarity to the postage stamp other two small ones who on second viewing looked remarkably similar in a fashion to the one that he had once recalled of himself.