By Jay Bechtol
This Story Was an Honorable Mention in Our Contest
Tommy Mickelson was six years old the first time his mother let him ride in the front seat. He punched the buttons on the AM radio, moving the tuner from station to station. Pick one, his mother said. He chunked the thick button, and Buddy Holly’s voice came out of the dashboard. Tommy looked at his mother. Why don’t songs end like books? he asked. Why do they get quieter and quieter until they are all gone? Shouldn’t he say, ‘The End’ when he’s done? She laughed and patted his leg. Well, Tommy, some things end and some just fade away. She never took her eyes from the road.
In third grade, Tommy’s teacher gave him a blue ribbon. For being good at math. He stood in front of the class and she said wonderful things about him. In fact, she announced, we are going to let Tommy do math with the fourth graders. She beamed as if this was the greatest news ever. No, thank you, Tommy said and returned to his desk leaving his teacher holding the ribbon.
One day during gym class, Mr. Robineaux, the basketball coach, pulled Tommy aside. You’ve got a sharp eye, Tommy. Shoot better than most kids I’ve seen. You should join the Freshman Team. With a little practice, you could make varsity as Junior. He clapped Tommy on the shoulder and grinned a wide grin. Tommy looked to the other side of the gym where the older kids dribbled basketballs. They’re all taller than me, he said, and I prefer Tom.
Tom pulled his car into an empty spot at the far end of Ruby’s Drive-in. The other kids’ cars were all crammed together. Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” thumped in the night. Tom reached down and turned the radio knob until he found the same station. He bobbed his head in time with the music and watched Paula Driscoll dancing with her friends. He wondered if he asked her to Senior Prom, what she would say. He ordered a root beer float instead.
You like the Stones, Private Mickelson? “Gimme Shelter?” It’s just a shot away? Sarge tapped his thick finger on Tommy’s helmet. You wanna get home, private, you keep your head down. Charlie’d love to shoot it off and hang it from a tree. Can you keep your head down? Tom nodded. Yes, Sargent, I’m pretty good at that.
Tom tacked a small picture to the wall of his cubicle at Xerox. An island in the South Pacific. It looked a bit like the jungles of VietNam, but with fewer people trying to take his head off. Jackie, in the next cubicle, popped over. Wanna get lunch? Tom shrugged. I’m not terribly hungry. Jackie laughed. You’re never hungry. She pointed at the photo. You thinking of going on vacation? Tom stared at the island. Someday.
Tom’s rocking chair creaked on the front porch. He set his book down, pulled the blanket a little tighter across his lap, and ran his hand through what remained of his thin white hair. A vintage Cadillac zoomed past, music blared, and the kids inside screamed along with some song he didn’t recognize. The car faded into the distance like the memories of his life and…
…the music echoed in his ears.
…the music echoed in his ears.