|Literary Masters, Inc.
Publicists for Short Stories, Books, Poems and Songs
Long Island, New York 11971
| JUST HOLDING ON
“Nineteen bottles of beer on the wall,
Nineteen bottles of beer,
If one of those bottles of beer was to fall,
Eighteen bottles of beer on the wall . . .”
The kids had almost finished a second round of the time-passing rhyme as the heavy, old, apple truck driven by
Sam Robertson wound its way up the mountain. They were shouting the verses now, making their voices vibrate
off the mountain walls and echo through the valley. They yelled louder when they heard the echoes. Some were
standing, with a hand cuffed around an ear, listening to a previous verse as it trailed in a weird symphony behind
the count of the rhyme. Others laughed and mocked each other about their abilities to sing as the intensity of the
rhyme increased and the truck ground up the mountain closer to Robertson’s farm.
The trip was taking longer than expected because some of the kids had arrived late at Woolworth’s; others had
wanted to finish the food they had ordered; and Sam and Hillary Robertson had taken extra time to check off
every name on the passengers' list before leaving. It was after 7:30 a.m. when Sam’s old truck pulled away from
Trent Duncan did not sit next to Tamara Pound. He stood most of the ride near the rear of the truck bed. He
watched the hills slip by and sulked. He was too absorbed in a very personal ache to join in the fun. He did not
see the beauty of the Blue Ridge. The small, white clouds that dotted the sky high above the mountain floated
by, unnoticed. The two-lane road wound upon itself, unobserved. He did not smell the honeysuckle or hear the
honeybees. He did not marvel at the wildflowers. His eyes were closed to the mountain.
What he did see and hear was ugly. Something kept falling from the back of the truck. Again and again it landed
with a dull thump on the asphalt, splattering blood in the middle of the road from broken, twisted appendages.
The image was mesmerizing because of its repetitiveness. Only the pain in his hands interrupted it. The pain
came from his grip on one of the red cedar rails that formed a protective latticework around the sides of the
truck bed. With each interruption, he experienced an overwhelming compulsion to climb to the top of the
latticework like some wild animal and jump to freedom.
“Why did you come?” The voice in his head kept repeating: “Why did you come?”
When she had moved her neckerchief you knew what she was hiding, he thought. It was something not good. It
was something that would spoil this day and every other day of your life. It was something that every schoolgirl
would die for. Something you could not give her. Something only someone older and stronger could give her.
“Someone who is not a baby like you,” the voice punished him.
You could see it in Tamara’s eyes, he thought. You could see it in the eyes of Jean Morgan and Nancy Olson. You
could hear it in how quiet everything got when you walked through the doors of Woolworth’s. You could feel it in
your stomach. You should have turned around, walked out, and gone home certain of your convictions, he
thought. Then they would have had some respect for you because of how sharp you were. But, no. You kept
saying, no; it can’t be that bad. You’re just jumping to conclusions. You’re having false, impure thoughts about
Tamara again. She’s not like that. She’s smarter than that.
“Well, guess what, ol’ buddy, WRONG AGAIN!” and “JUMP! JUMP!” the voice tormented him as he pressed his
forehead against one of the restraining rails, tightening his hand grips and trying his best to answer the voice.
Why had he come? He tried to repeat precisely what he had promised himself at 5:40 AM this morning
Woolworth’s had been designated as the meeting place for those kids who were going to Julie’s Robertson’s
birthday party. He had been riding his bicycle smoothly downhill, along the white line in the middle of the road,
when he had quietly opened his heart to his most compelling fantasy of Tamara Pound: (To spend one perfect
day with Tamara at Julie’s birthday party. He knew; he was convinced that if he had Tamara to himself for just
one day; she would be his forever. They would sit together in the back of the old truck on the way to Robertson’s
farm. They would swim together. Have lunch together. Play on the same softball team together. Walk hand in
hand along a mountain path together. At some point, they would sit down to rest and he would kiss her. Maybe
he would kiss her while they were dancing on the patio after dinner. If not then, there was always the hayride
back to Hillsborough. “That’s why! That’s why!” He had shouted into the wind. “I am going to kiss her!”. . .
It did not matter that he had never kissed a girl. He had rehearsed kissing Tamara Pound a hundred times.
Again and again, he had felt the warmth of her mouth against his. Every time, the taste of her lipstick
had been intoxicating. It had been thrilling to the point of nausea, as his bike had sailed along the quiet streets
of Hillsborough, to think that today was to be the day.
“That’s why I came!” the boy groaned aloud, as he began to pound his forehead against the lattice rail. It hurt
enough to break his reverie . . . just holding on now.
“Hi,” Tamara whispered beside him, taking his right arm in her hands. She moved her hands down to cover his
and attempted to pull his right hand free from the cedar rail. “You are going to break that, and we will all fall
out,” she teased, hoping he would loosen up a little.
The boy did not answer. He could not turn loose. “I’ll take it off if you want me to,” Tamara said. She rested her
head on his arm. “Only if you want to,” the boy said, avoiding her face. “Oh, come on, Trent, stop being so
remorse,” Tamara admonished, patting him on the back. She moved closer pressing her head against his.
“Everybody is worried about you. Nancy Olson is scared you are going to jump off the truck.”
Then Tamara added what he really wanted to hear. She said the words that rescued him from the abyss of this
day. “I’ll take it off when we get to Julie’s house and never wear it again if you don’t want me to. This is
supposed to be a fun day, Trent. Let’s have fun.”
When the old, apple truck groaned to a halt in the pink-pebble driveway in front of Robertson’s farmhouse, some
of the kids immediately began to climb the safety rails to get out. Sam and Hillary were on them in the blink of
“Stay in the truck!” Hillary yelled, waving her hands to get them off the railings. Sam went around to the back of
the truck and removed three iron pegs that held a gate-like portion of the rear end railing in place. He swung the
section outward and began to help each teen down from the truck. “Girls change upstairs; boys, downstairs,”
Hillary shouted at their backs. The kids scrambling toward the farmhouse ready to change into their swimsuits.
“Please, don’t run,” Hillary added as an afterthought.
It was almost 9:00 AM. Including stops at several overlooks so the kids could enjoy the views, and Sam could let
the engine cool, the trip up the mountain had taken nearly an hour and a half in Sam’s old truck.
“There is no holding them back now,” Hillary said with a twinkle in her eyes. “They behaved very well,” Sam
winked. “Earned the right to let off a little steam, just like ol’ Betsy here,” Sam said, patting the side rail of the
truck. “Ol’ Betsy made it without a hitch,” he continued, with a chuckle. “She’s still a great ol’ truck, huh, Hill
Upstairs, Tamara changed into her swimsuit along with the other girls. The Robertson’s master bedroom had
been designated as a changing room. The room had been made ready for them through the additions of a stack
of pool towels, several pairs of cheap, plastic sunglasses and four, plastic bottles of suntan oil—all placed
on a side table earlier in the day by Hillary and Julie. The girls’ natural modesties made them all giggle and rush
their transformations from casual clothes to more revealing swim wear.
Tamara was the last to leave. The final change she made was to remove from around her neck the gold chain and
football that Bobby Fletcher had given her after they had gone to the Blue View drive-in movie on Friday night.
She carefully placed the chain in the bottom of her carry bag; zipped the bag; picked up one of the thick, soft
towels along with a pair of sunglasses; and went outside to the swimming pool.
Downstairs, it was taking Trent longer to change. Tommy Morrissey, Jack Smith, Larry Kendal and Trent had
decided to change together. They chose one of the small bedrooms off the hallway along the back of the house.
When they were inside, Jack, Tommy and Larry began to tie together some of the pool towels into a crude, cloth
chain. Then they wrapped a regulation-size football that they had brought with them, inside one
of the towels so that the chain sagged at its mid point.
“Oh, thank you, thank you, Trentie,” Jack teased. He paraded around the room with the cloth chain and football
hanging from his neck. “It’s so-o-o beautiful. I’ll always wear it right between my boobies,” Jack continued,
making the football bounce against his chest. “Let’s take it outside and give it to Tamara,” Tommy giggled. “We
can say it is a special present from Trentie,” he continued with a knowing smile. “Yeah, special because Tamara
has to make love to Trent and his three best friends before she gets to wear it,” Larry Kendal chimed in, winking
at Trent. Larry thought Trent would like this idea.
Suddenly Trent dived at Jack Smith, grabbing for the cloth chain and football. The two boys fell with a crash
against the twin bed that was next to a window that opened onto poolside. Trent struggled with Jack, trying to
break the chain. He was able to grab the football and pull it free.
Trent smacking the football with the palm of his hand now. The football bouncing on the windowsill and out,
bouncing onto the grass under the window. Trent swinging a fist wildly at Jack’s face. Hitting Jack on top
of the head. Pressing his attack. Using both fists now. Jack warding off Trent just long enough for Tommy and
Larry to pull Trent away. Tommy and Larry dragging Trent into a chair across the room from Jack.
“Dumb-ass!” Jack shouted. “It was just a joke, stupid, just a joke!”
Jack stood in the middle of the room, his hands on his hips. “Tamara’s clown can’t even take a joke,” he said,
glaring at Trent. He moved menacingly toward Trent. “I ought a bust your dumb face open just to knock some
sense into your head.”
Jack Smith stood six-feet, four-inches tall. He had matured faster than Trent and the other boys. It was evident
to everyone that Jack could do exactly what he threatened. “Let’s go, Jack,” Tommy said to the much larger
boy. Tommy scared that Jack would beat Trent badly if the fight continued. “Leave him alone, Jack,” Larry
Kendal pleaded. “Just let him stay here and sulk like the baby he is,” Larry added, as he and Tommy and Jack
walked out of the bedroom.
To Jack Smith’s great delight, Tommy and Larry broke wind almost simultaneously in the hallway to the
swimming pool. “Take that, Trentie” Tommy and Larry rolled with laughter along the narrow corridor, almost
knocking each other down.
Trent sat trying to comprehend what had happened. I am dumb, he thought. Dumb to go on this dumb trip.
Dumb to go without my parents’ permission. Dumb to care about Tamara Pound the way I care. Wanting to be
with her so much that my wanting her made me go. Really dumb to start a fight with Jack Smith just because
Jack was making fun about Tamara’s football. To anyone else, Jack’s improvisation would have been funny.
(“This is supposed to be a fun day, Trent. Let’s have fun.”)—Tamara’s words coming back to him. He gathered
himself slowly and changed into his swimsuit. Then he went outside to join in the rest of the day’s fun.
JIMMY LEARNS TO SWIM
Suffering the sting of their poor showings in the swim races and miffed at the taunting they had received from
Jimmy Jones and the other boys, Dick Green, Larry Kendal and Freddy Atkins began to plot a revenge
embarrassment for Jimmy .Between drinks of apple cider and bites of fried chicken, they conspired to dump
Jimmy unceremoniously in the pool. They had not heard when Jimmy had confessed to Julie Robertson that he
could not swim. They had not listened and even if they had listened, it would have changed very little what was
about to happen.
“He popped me on the shoulder with an apple,” Larry Kendal chuckled. “He could have hit me in the head and I
would have gone under for good. I wasn’t at the peak of my strength then you know. My race was almost over
“Got me with a wet towel,” Dick Green laughed, joining in the fun. “Right in the face. Then I couldn’t get my
breath and had to pull up lame.”
“Same with me,” Freddy Atkins giggled, “but it wrapped around my feet and then I couldn’t kick any more. So, I
lost too. He’s got to take a dip, big time! Right?”
Dick Green finished the large chicken leg he had been eating and tossed the bone into one of the big red-cedar
barrels that the Robertsons had placed near the large, outdoors, heavy, oak food table for collection of paper and
other disposals. Tommy Morrissey walked over to the three boys and eagerly joined in the conspiracy. “The four
of us can do it,” he nodded affirmatively, wiping away a blotch of deviled egg that was oozing from the side of his
mouth. “Just the four of us. We don’t need any help at all.”
“You and Dick get him high, Larry,” Freddy Atkins plotted. “Tommy and me will carry him by his legs.”
Then Freddy paused to glance over at Jimmy Jones. “Look at that fat pig stuffing his face. He will never know
what hit him.”
“Let’s go!” They all clapped their hands simultaneously as if they were leaving the huddle in a game of football
Dick Green approached Jimmy from the front. He began to tease him about his weight, holding Jimmy’s
attention long enough for Tommy and Freddy to circle around from behind. Then without warning Dick pushed
Jimmy backwards. Jimmy stumbled over Freddy who was on hands and knees behind him. Tommy and Freddy
grabbed for Jimmy’s legs. Dick and Larry jumped on top of Jimmy grabbing his arms. Then the four boys
hoisted Jimmy in the air and began a stumbling run to the pool. Jimmy kicking and squirming as the boys
carried him away.
“Knock it off!” Jimmy shouted over the cheers from the other kids, but his struggle against the four boys proved
futile. "Hey, I can’t swim,” he pleaded. “Come on, let go!”
“Time for you to learn,” Dick Green grinned down at him. Jimmy squirmed like a large worm against the strong
grips of his friends, but he was unable to free himself. Standing on the gray sidewalk beside the pool now. The
four boys stretching Jimmy his full length and beginning to swing his body out and back over the water. Their
action cumbersome and tiring. Freddy almost losing his grip.
Fear building in Jimmy. Mustering one last effort to free himself. Pulling his right leg hard up against his chest.
Then shoving it out. Forcing Freddy Atkins to let go long enough for Jimmy to steady himself.
At the edge of the pool now. Jimmy Jones truly scared. “Screw you assholes!” Jimmy yelled, grabbing at Dick
Green’s hair. Dick releasing Jimmy’s arm and moving quickly behind him. Hitting Jimmy in the middle of his
back now. Using an ugly forearms’ shiver he had learned at football practice. Jimmy gasping forward, his head
snapping back. Drool spilling from his mouth. Then Jimmy falling. A large splash accompanying his fall.
“Swim, dick head, swim,” Dick Green scoffed.
Jimmy Jones hissing his way to the surface. Terror in his eyes. “Help!” Jimmy thrashing at the water. He tried
to kick toward the side of the pool, but his crazed movement pulled him under. He was facing the opposite side
now. Everybody had been watching the fun. Trent had been laughing with Tamara and pointing out the
awkwardness of the four boys. How it was taking four of them to handle Jimmy Jones. How it was certain that if
Jimmy went in he was going to take at least three of them with him. But he had not. Jimmy is out there now,
Suddenly, Trent burst from the food table. He ran toward the pool and dived across the gray sidewalk into the
deep end. He reached for Jimmy below the water, but was unable to locate him. Then he went under and found
him. Jimmy’s strong hands grasping at Trent’s face. His thick fingers gouging at Trent’s eyes. Jimmy upon him
now, heavy and frantic. Both of them sinking deeper.
Trent could hear a shrill hiss from the drainpipe cap as they sank toward the bottom of the pool. His head felt as
if it was going to explode. A zillion, tiny, black specks appeared before his eyes. Jimmy tightening his grip around
Trent’s neck in a final frantic attempt to lock onto something that might save himself. His panic placing them
both in peril. Above them, pandemonium spreading around the pool as a few of the kids began to point at the
water and make unintelligible garbled sounds.
“Help!” Nancy Olson screamed, “they’re drowning! "Hurry! Someone get help. Someone get Mr. Robertson,” she
babbled hysterically. But most of the kids just remained paralyzed. They could stand and watch only, as the
struggle beneath the water intensified. Then Nancy ran for Mr. and Mrs. Robertson yelling, "Help!"
Realizing that his resistance to Jimmy’s panic was making matters worse Trent relaxed his body a little, allowing
Jimmy to do the same. Then he slipped his head out of Jimmy’s grasp.
High in a cerulean sky above the water, Trent could see a tiny black speck. The speck began to circle. Then came
others. And yet others that joined them. Thousands more, he thought, amazed that such a thing could actually
be happening. Then each speck grew larger, assuming the shape of a small black bird. Each bird then coming
together in a single carbon bond as what now looked like one, giant blackbird closed with amazing speed over the
surface of the water. Better hurry, Trent thought, reaching for Jimmy who having disengaged was now sinking
slowly below him. Get him! Get him! Trent heard himself yelling as he reached for the drowning Jimmy Jones
Flapping its huge wings above the water, the size of the image grew exponentially. The motion of its huge wings
spawning a powerful downspout of air above the pool’s surface forcing water rapidly into the drains along the
four walls of the pool. In seconds the drains were filled to capacity with no relief possible except an
uncontrollable backwash. Then a micro burst followed the backwash, generating a mighty underwater explosion
that erupted from the drainpipe at the bottom of the pool. The force of the explosion made Jimmy begin to
Slowly the pressure from below began to lift Jimmy and Trent in a sparkling fountain of red, orange, yellow,
green, blue, violet, and indigo waters to the surface. Before Trent lost consciousness he reached out and wrapped
his left arm across Jimmy’s chest and his right arm around Jimmy’s stomach. He was holding Jimmy from
behind now, close against his body, in a life-preserving embrace. The two boys floated gracefully upward. Their
bodies highlighted amidst all the colors of a rainbow, like two talented performers in an underwater ballet.
He dreamed. In his dream he held hands with Tamara Pound. They walked along a frail, dirt path that wound up
the side of the mountain. His heart was pounding because she was so close. He was counting every step until
they could stop and he could take her into his arms. They climbed to the crest of a ridge in the side of the
“Are we going all the way to the top?” Tamara asked, tightening her hand in his as a signal to stop.
She was standing slightly below him. Rays of the late afternoon sun brightened her face and deepened her tan.
She was wearing a white, men’s shirt and Wranglers with a wide, chestnut-color, elastic belt. There was a yellow
neckerchief in the collar of her shirt. She wore white sneakers with white cotton socks with the tops folded down
below her calves.
Her hair, still wet from swimming, had dripped a few, small stains onto the button-down collar of her shirt. She
had brushed her hair straight back on both sides, leaving a deep part down the middle. It glistened brown in the
sun. Her mouth was pink from the light lipstick that she had added before they left the farmhouse. When she
applied the lipstick, she had smiled at him and asked if it was on straight. (For now, he had promised himself.)
“Looks good to me,” he answered nonchalantly, hiding the weakness he was experiencing in his knees.
Now, as they stood resting on the side of a mountain, high above the Robertson’s farm, and below a setting sun,
she was the most beautiful person he had ever seen. Only he, only at that moment, could fully understand how
truly beautiful she was.
He reached for her. Softly, he enfolded her in his arms. Her hair was wet against his cheek. They stood without
movement, just holding each other. He could feel her heart beating beneath her shirt. She pulled her head back
and looked into his eyes. He smiled and gently lowered his lips to hers.
Kissing her was the sweetest, easiest, most natural thing he had ever done. She did not know that he
had never kissed a girl. As they continued to embrace, Tamara removed her arms from around his waist and
entwined them around his neck bringing them closer together. A soft murmur came from somewhere deep
inside her. Although he had no prior experience to help him identify the flavor of her mouth, she tasted delicious.
MY, HOW TIME FLIES
He awakened. The room was dark save for a shaft of light that streamed through a large window that somehow
had been cut into the ceiling above the bed where he lay. He knew instinctively that he was in Mr. and Mrs.
Robertson’s bedroom. He rolled onto his side, issuing a barely audible complaint. The quiet moan came from his
disappointment at not being on the mountain with Tamara. He was not experiencing any pain.
“How are we feeling?” Mrs. Robertson asked, cheerfully entering the room.
“Fine. I’m fine,” the boy answered. He swung his legs over the side of the bed. “What time is it, anyway?” he
asked, with haste.
“After four o’clock,” Mrs. Robertson answered. “Most of the kids are returning now from the afternoon games.”
She opened the large Venetian blinds in the bay window across from the bed where he sat. More light poured
into the room. The boy could tell from its softness that it was late afternoon. Then Mrs. Robertson
began to explain how the kids had spent the afternoon. Some of the kids were coming back from the softball
game. Some from hiking. Some had stayed at the pool. A few had gone off exploring the mountain by themselv
“I hope they get back soon,” Mrs. Robertson said. “I always worry most about the explorers.” She emphasized
the word, brushing her hand through her wavy, auburn hair. This close, Mrs. Robertson looked older than
earlier in the day. “More important, what about you, Trent? Are you rested enough now, after the midday
excitement you created, to join the others for dinner?”
“Yes, I feel fine, thank you,” the boy replied politely. Then he remembered Jimmy Jones. “What about Jimmy?
Is Jimmy OK?”
“Jimmy is just fine,” Mrs. Robertson smiled. “Jimmy came out of the pool sputtering,” she chuckled, “but he
didn’t need much resuscitation at all. He was back at the food table in minutes. Then he went off with Julie and
Jean Morgan and some of the others to play softball.”
“It took longer for you,” Mrs. Robertson said, haltingly. “I thought we were going to lose you for a moment, but
we got you pumped out eventually and helped you up here.“I wanted to call an ambulance to take you to
Roanoke Hospital for a checkup, but Mr. Robertson said you were fine once you spit up the water. So, we
brought you here to rest for a while. It looks like he was right. Mr. Robertson usually is,” she smiled knowing
“Thank you,” the boy said again. He stood up. “I’m going to the other room to take a shower if it’s OK with you,
Mrs. Robertson. Then I’ll come down for dinner.”
Mrs. Robertson stepped aside. “Of course,” she replied. “Don’t forget to wear long pants. The mosquitoes will be
biting soon,” she added, following behind him.
Downstairs, the shower felt good. The water was hot and strong. It spewed from a large, overhead nozzle. He
wanted to linger but he finished quickly. He dried in a flash and went into the bedroom where he, Tommy
Morrissey, Jack Smith and Larry Kendal had left their carry bags. He put on the white, long-sleeves shirt his
mother had bought him for back to school, stuffed it into his jeans, stepped barefoot into his sneakers, tied them,
looked into the mirror, ran his fingers through his wet hair, and went outside.
Brightly colored, paper lanterns hung decoratively from white ropes. The ropes had been strung out and
attached to several eight foot high stanchions that had been placed around the pool and patio. It was going to be
beautiful when Mrs. Robertson turned on the lanterns, along with the floodlights inside the pool, for dancing on
the patio after dinner. He paused in the grass next to the pool, looking for Tamara.
“He lives!” Jimmy Jones shouted, as Trent approached the food table. Then Jimmy grabbed Trent in a bear hug
dancing him up and down and around on the grass. “I love this boy! I love this boy!” Jimmy exclaimed.
“Take it easy, Jimmy, you are going to break him,” Nancy Olson giggled, running up to Trent. She hugged him
too. “You’re beautiful, you beautiful, beautiful boy,” Nancy laughed, kissing Trent on the cheek. “TRENT!
TRENT! TRENT!” all the kids chanted.
“Is Tamara here?” Trent asked Nancy. “Have you seen her recently?”
Nancy pulled away from him. She had seen Tamara leave with Jack Smith earlier. Jack and Tamara had been
heading toward the mountain when Nancy and her group had left to play softball.
“I don’t know,” Nancy answered, with a frail smile, masking the truth.
“Tamara went up the mountain with Jack Smith,” Dick Green smirked, pointing toward the hills above
Robertson’s farm. “They haven’t come back yet,” he winked, broadening his derisive grin.
Sizing up Trent now. Wanting to get even because Trent had become everybody’s hero after Dick’s foolish
prank. (Frigging Trent had jumped into the pool and rescued Jimmy, making Dick look bad.) Discerning an
opening where he could inflict a little pain. Deciding to stick it to Trent. “It could be you with Tamara up there,
but you slept too long,” Dick sneered.
Dick’s words stung. Trent wanted to strike back. He wanted to smash Dick Green right in his smart-ass mouth.
Dick Green and Jack Smith were two of a kind, he thought. Instead, Trent absorbed the blow in the hollow of his
stomach. Then he exhaled his disappointment so obviously that Dick knew he had hit a verbal home run. Dick’s
face brightened at Trent’s discomfort. Trent turned and walked away.
In the driveway to the farmhouse, Trent looked back at the group around the food table. He was hoping to catch
a glimpse of Tamara. Maybe Tamara had come back, but he did not see her. He looked toward the mountain.
The sun was touching the slender tops of the tall, pine trees. Dusk was settling on Robertson’s farm. Soon it
would be dark. Then he got an attack of “the scaredy-cats.” He wondered what it would be like on the mountain
in the dark. He was scared that Tamara might fall and hurt herself. He was scared that Jack Smith might . . . He
sent out a silent plea, asking God to bring her back soon, and safe.
“Hey, Trent, Where are you going?” It was Mr. Robertson coming from the farmhouse. “It looks like you
survived your lifeguard demonstration,” Mr. Robertson continued, with a chuckle. “Just for a walk,” Trent
answered, returning Mr. Robertson’s smile.
Mr. Robertson stood on the porch to the farmhouse, his big hands on his hips. He looked fit for his age. He waved
Trent forward. “Come with me,” Mr. Robertson said, in an inviting tone. “I need someone to help load my truck
for the hayride back to town. You can make a buck or two for helping.” Mr. Robertson added, nodding his head
“Sure, why not,” Trent said agreeably. He walked with Mr. Robertson to the old, apple truck. “Can I drive?”
Trent asked, before Mr. Robertson got inside.
“Boy, you are an adventurer, aren’t you,” Mr. Robertson chuckled, appraising Trent with an obvious boost in
opinion. He handed the keys to Trent and walked around to the opposite side of the truck. “Just don’t take off
without me,” Mr. Robertson smiled.
Trent stepped into the truck. He inserted the key into the ignition switch and pushed the gear rod, which
extruded up in a forty-five degree bend from the floor toward his right leg, forward into first gear. He turned
the key and released the clutch with his left foot. The truck bucked forward and stopped.
“Sorry about that,” Trent apologized. He looked at Mr. Robertson with a foolish, beginner’s smile.
“She has a sensitive clutch,” Mr. Robertson grinned. Then he pulled the choke knob out slightly. “Try her again.
A little slower on the clutch this time,” he chuckled. The truck roared forward on Trent’s second try and they
began to bounce along a two-rut path down the hill behind the farmhouse toward the south meadow. It took
about twenty minutes to get to the hayfield.
“Pull up over there by those haycocks,” Mr. Robertson said. He was indicating an area where hay had been
stacked into small, conical heaps to dry in the summer’s sun. They stepped out of the truck and Mr. Robertson
took the two, large pitchforks he had stored in the truck bed earlier in the afternoon. He handed one to Trent
and they walked over to the first haycock. Then Mr. Robertson shoved his pitchfork into the hay and began to
toss it onto the floor of the truck bed. Trent watched Mr. Robertson closely, observing how to handle a pitchfork.
Then he began to pitch in.
It was tiring work. The hay was wet and heavy underneath from rainstorms, so they moved the truck from pile
to pile pitching only the outside portions. They worked around the large horseshoe of haycocks until they had
topped each of some of its harvest.
Mr. Robertson developed a musical rhythm as he worked, accentuating each pitch with a melodic grunt. Trent
picked up the rhythm, sans the grunt. They continued to work until sundown. When Mr. Robertson called a halt,
Trent had developed small blisters along the index fingers and thumbs of both hands. His new shirt was soiled
with perspiration and loose dirt and his sneakers were dirty and stained. He had hay in his hair and down the
back of his shirt. He looked and smelled like a farmhand after a good day’s work.
Mr. Robertson surveyed the truck bed along its three sides. He seemed pleased by their work. The truck bed
was half full. The hay smelled sweet. “Let’s go get cleaned up,” Mr. Robertson said finally, clapping Trent on the
back. Then he extended his hand for the keys.
“I’ll drive,” Mr. Robertson offered, taking the keys from Trent. He tossed his pitchfork onto the hay in the truck
bed. Trent did the same. “These mountain roads are hard to see at night,” Mr. Robertson explained.
When they returned to the farmhouse, the dancing part of a perfect day had already begun. The flood lights
inside the pool and the paper lanterns around the patio made a resplendent scene. Music was blasting
from a large, fat-bellied jukebox. Its colorful, neon lights glowed magically from one corner of the patio where
it had been rolled into place earlier by Mrs. Robertson and Julie.
On Wednesday, Julie and Mrs. Robertson had driven to Roanoke, to rent the biggest, fattest, hottest jukebox
they could find. It had been delivered to the Robertson’s farm on Friday morning. Julie had loaded it with 45-
rpm recordings by Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Buddy Knox, The Coasters, Danny and The Juniors, and other
rock-and-roll artists of the mid ‘50s. It cost only a nickel to play one song. The kids understood that the
proceeds from the jukebox would pay for some of the expenses of Julie’s party, so they anted-up with ease. The
Crickets recording of “Oh, Boy!” boomed from the jukebox.
“All a my love, all a my kisses,
You don’t know what you been a missing. . .”
“Sounds like the party is in full swing,” Mr. Robertson chuckled.
Mr. Robertson watched the party for a moment. Then he studied Trent. “What’s the matter, lad?” Mr.
Robertson asked. “Girl trouble?” He could tell by the look on Trent’s face that he was on target. “Come on inside
and get something to eat,” Mr. Robertson smiled knowingly. “It will make you feel better.”
“No, thank you, there’s plenty out here.”
“You need to get cleaned up if you’re going down there.”
“It’s OK, Mr. Robertson. I’d rather stay.”
“Here,” Mr. Robertson said, handing Trent a five-dollar bill. “Buy her flowers.” Then he turned and went inside.
Trent remained beside the truck, watching the scene below. A few kids were standing on the patio, talking and
joking in small groups. Others were at the food table, eating and drinking. Five or six couples were on the dance
area, fast dancing. Tamara was dancing with Jack Smith. She looked like she was having fun. Soon, someone
would play “In The Still of The Night.” Trent knew what that would mean.
“. . . All a my life, I been awaiting,
Tonight, there’ll be no hesitating. . .”
Pushing the tips of his fingers into his ears now. Blocking out the music. Unconsciously gripping the waistband to
his jeans. Fighting a return of “the scaredy-cats.” (Not during a walk up the mountain. Not while dancing. Not on
the hayride either.)— Whispers from the boy’s mind. Mocking him. Confirming that his most compelling wish for
this day would not be fulfilled. Trent continued to watch the dancing. Tamara was having fun. (“It could be you
with her. . .”) Dick Green’s words mocking him too. He willed himself free of the scene and climbed into the rear
of the truck. He was safe from the music. Safe from the pretty lanterns. Safe from Jack Smith dancing with
IN THE HAY
He heard his name called from afar. It came to him amidst the general excitement in the truck bed as
the kids began to climb aboard for the hayride back to Hillsborough.
“Trent Duncan!” Mrs. Robertson called again, from her checklist of names.
“Cloud Nine, try Cloud Nine,” someone yelled, from the back of the truck bed. “Yeah, he’s out there
somewhere,” another voice added, joining in the mockery of Trent’s place among
“I’m here,” Trent mumbled, his answer barely loud enough to be heard above the fun everyone was having at
his expense. “I’m hight reer.”
More laughter bounced around the truck bed now as the kids responded to a dyslectic slip from the boy.
Mrs. Robertson called the next name on her list without pausing until she had completed it with a check mark
beside each name. Then she went around to the truck’s cab and climbed in beside her husband. Mr. Robertson
coaxed the old, apple truck into low gear. The truck groaned a familiar protest and began to move slowly across
the pink-pebble driveway through the exit to Robertson’s farm.
“What time is it?” Sam asked, as he steered the truck onto Route 52 South. “A little after nine o’clock,” Mrs.
Robertson answered, checking her watch in the dim, green glow of the dashboard’s lights. “Good,” Sam said. He
knew it would not take that long to get the kids back to Hillsborough. Traffic would be light and his truck always
rolled better down hill than up. “They seemed to have a good time,” Sam continued. “Even had the excitement of
a real-life, water rescue added to their fun. And that rainbow that appeared above the pool after the rescue was
something, wasn’t it?” Sam’s thoughts trailed off. He shifted the truck into neutral letting it roll under its own
momentum. “You did a real good job with all the preparations, Hill,” he smiled, taking his wife’s hand in his.
“Julie seemed pleased,” Mrs. Robertson replied, thoughtfully. She was thinking that was all that really mattered.
Julie had a nice friends. A little rambunctious at times, like all kids, but overall a nice group of friends. It had
been a nice day too. Not perfect as she had wished but very nice. She folded her husband’s hand into hers and
slid closer to him. Resting her head against Sam’s shoulder, Hillary was soon asleep.
Some of the girls passed time on the way down the mountain by remembering the best parts of the day. That
Julie’s party had been the greatest was the unanimous opinion. Julie had the best parents in the world. Her
mother had prepared everything just right. Her father was so friendly and good-looking too. Julie had a fantastic
house. Her pool, the best around. The food, unbelievable. Everyone had enjoyed swimming, playing softball and
hiking. They even had the excitement of Jimmy almost drowning. Now, they were on this fabulous hayride back
to town. What more could anyone ask?
Some of the boys began to sing the ninety-nine verses of “Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer” again, interrupted now
and then by a spontaneous hay fight. And if some of the hay happened to fall, in fistfuls, on the windshield of a
passing car or pickup truck, it was done in fun. Just one of the pieces in the tapestry of a hayride.
Others watched a star-spangled sky. Some of them able to name a familiar constellation or cluster of stars that
twinkled against the infinite black of space. The constellation, Ursa Major, with its The Big Dipper; Ursa Minor
and the Little Dipper; the star clusters that formed the Chair and Chimney; and The Southern star — all were
identified and named.
A few of the girls and boys moved away from the main group. They found private spots in the hay and began to
“make out,” savoring the sweet caresses of adolescence. Here was the excitement of holding hands. The tingle of
a hug. The thrill of a long embrace.
“Jean, Jean, control yourself!” Jimmy Jones shouted, throwing hay into the air and making a big commotion as if
he was being attacked by Jean Morgan. Everyone near them giggled with glee. Jean kicked Jimmy in the shin
and pounded him on the chest with her fists. “You’re such a big clown,” Jean said, loud enough to let everyone
know that she had been doing nothing wrong.
By the time the old truck reached the straightway at the bottom of the mountain, most of the kids had fallen
asleep. Some in each other’s arms.
A REAL “HARD-ASS” TRUCK DRIVER
Carl Ray Zutt was impatient to get to “Frank’s!” truck stop at the junction of Route 52 and Interstate 70. He had
been drinking with some “good ol’ boys” up in the Blue Ridge, and now it seemed like he had been behind that
old farm truck ahead of him all night. When his cornfields had withered from a lack of rain, corn borers and
repeated plantings of the same crop, Carl Ray had sold the land to a bunch of wildcat developers. The next day
he had walked into the Ford dealership out on Route 1 and bought himself a new, eight-cylinders, twin-
carburetors, red-and-black, Chevy pickup. Carl Ray was a real “hard-ass” truck driver now who was always
welcome at “Frank’s!” He was a self-appointed king of the road, and if something like a kid on a bike, or a dumb
bird feeding on road kill, or a slowpoke driver happened to get in the way of his hot pickup, he knew from
experience that he could just blow them away.
Another half a mile, and Route 52 would widen to four lanes for a few miles until it joined Interstate 70, but Carl
Ray decided he had enough of the hayseed driving that old “bucket of bolts” in front of him. Besides, hadn’t some
of the farmer man’s hay load bounced off Carl Ray’s windshield when Carl Ray had tried to pass a few miles
back? Them smart-ass kids in the back just didn’t know whom they were dealing with.
Carl Ray taking a long drag from his Lucky Strike. Then throwing it out the window. The cigarette sending
sparks up from the road behind the pickup. Bouncing now to his favorite song, “Maybellene,” blaring from the
pickup’s radio. Exhaling smoke into the truck’s cab. Then shoving the pickup into third gear. Pulling into the
It looked clear up ahead, so Carl Ray stomped the gas pedal to the floor and the red-and-black pickup roared
forward. Then, as the flash of lights at the top of the hill came too fast for Carl Ray to pull back, he stomped
harder on the gas pedal, urging the pickup onward straight at the lights. When, at the last second, he realized he
was not going to pass cleanly, Carl Ray cut between the oncoming car and Sam’s old, apple truck, forcing both
vehicles onto the road’s soft shoulders.
“Ya-a-a Who-o-o!” Carl Ray yelled, straightening the curve and flattening the hill as the two vehicles swerved to
miss him. He snarled as the pickup roared safely between the two. “Run, you fuckin’ queers, run!” Carl Ray belly
The driver of the passenger car righted his automobile quickly, deftly regaining the road’s hard surface. He
continued north along Route 52 without stopping, thanking his lucky stars that he had not become another
When Sam Robertson tried to cut back onto the road, the old, apple truck rolled over onto its right side and
burst into flames. Upon impact, Hillary Robertson was thrown through the truck’s windshield; her neck
snapping like a twig. Sam Robertson was crushed between the truck’s steering wheel and the front seat. The
children, suffering cracked and broken limbs, were scattered like rag dolls along the dirt and gravel and grass of
the roadside. Screams of panic and pain filling the night air. Flames and smoke from the gasoline-drenched hay
roaring in a ghastly torch from the truck bed.
“Help! Help! Help!”
“I’m on fire!”
“Please, God, don’t let me die.”
And “Momma, Momma.” the children pleaded, in a pathetic chorus of battered bodies and shattered
Red, white, pink and blue lights circling against a distant horizon. Pulsing acknowledgment of someone’s trouble,
someone’s pain. Sirens wailing in accord with the lights. Deep, resonant blasts from powerful horns. Warnings of
the urgent movements of individuals and heavy machinery down sad, narrow, city streets. Forceful, baleful
proclamations of help. Help rushing in red hats and yellow, rubber coats. Help rolling on mighty wheels. Help
racing to the fray. On the way. From a distance.
Somehow, the boy knew she was still in the truck bed. She would be one of the survivors if the hay had
cushioned her, but now she might die from the smoke and the flames. He had to get to her. He could not; he
would not let her die. She was the single, most-important treasure of his life.
He could not stand. It felt like something was broken in his back. He was having difficulty breathing. His head
was throbbing. The stench of burning flesh and the screams of his friends made him feel sick to his stomach, but
he was not scared. He was not scared! Crawling slowly, painfully toward the fire, he could see her in its deadly
glow. She lay unconscious against the rear of the truck bed. She looked peaceful, asleep upon a bed of soft hay
that had not yet ignited. A wall of fire separating them.
Burrowing under the hay, below the flames now. Swimming upon his stomach toward her. Holding his breath
until he surfaced unharmed on her side of the fire. Beside her now. Wrapping his body around hers. Rolling with
her through the fire onto the grassy knoll next to the truck. Placing one hand under her neck. Tilting her head
back. Removing his hand. Placing it over her nose. Pinching her nostrils together. Using his other hand to pry
open her mouth. Clearing it of anything that might choke her. He gently lowered his lips to hers, breathing his
remaining life force into her.
©2016 John Apple Bowman III [All Rights Reserved]
|NEW REVIEWS: "First Kiss" left me breathless. I am of the same generation as the author. I remember the
music, the icons, Woolworth's, the often crude but funny antics of teenage boys (I had two older brothers), the
sometimes subtle disparagement of otherwise life-long friends, and the ultimate expression of the male ego of
the period---the roar from the twin exhausts of a Ford pick up . . . but most of all, I remember my first kiss.
Three cheers for "First Kiss"! And more, more.*****__Jean Ann Morgan
What an amazingly vivid and comprehensive recreation of a past era and psyche (almost unknown to me
personally except through old movies and songs). I was totally involved from start to finish. My mind had
merged with the author's and that was a treat.*****__Richard L. Sassoon
OMG, what a beautiful story. How old are the kids in this story? Fourteen, fifteen years old? I am twice that age,
and I have to say that I have never been kissed. Not like that. Whew, I'm just sitting here overheated. A
marvelous read. Hope the Captain has more for us soon.****__Su Chang
Captain Apple Jack paints his characters with strength and compassion. They are like my friends were when we
were that age. His scenes are so real I could smell the ginger rising from the haycocks; I could hear the music
from the jukebox; I could see the EMS lights flashing from a distance; and I could feel that kiss. That was some
kiss, Captain. WOW!*****__Barbara A. Sabo
The innocence and troubles of youth are echoed softly in this beautiful piece of writing, where you thought one
boy would have or hope to come close to his first kiss, but the ending is something unexpected. In the wake of
disaster, a boy becomes a hero, and his sacrifice is to save the one he loves more than life itself.****__Melissa
What a wonderful story. He had me hooked from the very first paragraph. I love the line "battered bodies and
shattered dreams". Heck, I love the entire story and the ending is nothing short of superb. I see the makings of a
novel here. Well done author. Well done indeed. *****__Marcia Miller-Twiford
Truly in our dreams it was simpler. Captain you are a master of dialogue! Also, your descriptions are real. But in
the end his dreams became true. Nice Piece.****__Chika Victor Onyenezi.
Hello, Captain. As I study your photo, I see the face of a true romantic and adventurer. The solid, strong face of
an equally strong man and gifted writer. Would that I might have been the recipient of your "First Kiss" for it is
certain that she was out there somewhere. But how long ago? Would that I could have known such a pure and
simple time, captured so eloquently by you in this beautiful and poignant story! In any event, I am most happy
to be your Wu-II. *****__Sonya Cast-Sun
By John Apple Bowman, III
Monday, July 18, 2016
Rated "G" by the Author.
Beware what you wish for, for you may get it.