Old Barnaby’s Pupil

It had rained.  The ground along the path to Jasper was particularly sopping.  Luis pulled his boots and mud-coated trousers from the earth as he turned onto the thoroughfare that crossed through town.  Slick mud and puddles would be a common sight for another month, possibly two, but today’s puddles were from the night before.  The storm was departing and as he crossed the floorboards in front of the post office, Luis developed a lithe spring in his step.  There were no clouds.  There was no work.  It was a Sunday, and he was a man with a purpose.

In the alleyway between the post office and the arms shop, he was accosted by a broad-shouldered figure.  Luis quickly recognized the shadow whose beard draped over the rough fabric of a well-worn cotton shirt.  Gray hairs shown through the gaps that ivory shirt buttons once adorned.

“Hold up now.  Where ya off to in such a huff?”  Luis backed against the wall to get some distance between himself and the old man, who was close enough for Luis to see the dried soup clinging to the corners of his grin and beard.

“Just walkin’, Old Barnaby.  Nothin’ special.”

The grizzled beard brushed at the younger man’s dusty sleeve and turned his head down to the end of the thoroughfare.  The general store was opening.  A click and slurp emerged from his mouth as Old Barnaby turned back to Luis and placed his long arm around his shoulder.  “Come on, son.  I’m goin’ that way.”

Luis immediately shook him off, his face indignant.  “I don’t need no geezer walkin’—”

“Ya shut yer mouth and show respect, boy!”

Luis recoiled at the outburst.  The old man’s face was as decrepit as before, and there was no sign of anger.  The comment was then swept away as quickly as it had been released.  Luis allowed Old Barnaby to lope ahead of him a few steps so that he could regain his composure.

“Ya need to grow up,” said Old Barnaby.  “Kind of man are ya?”

Luis scratched his head and turned to look at him.  “Law says I am and I grown up enough already, so I’m a man.”  He squinted as he turned away from Old Barnaby to the corner where the grocer was sweeping the floorboards in earnest.

“Just can’t say what kind.”

Old Barnaby shook his head and let out a deep groan from passing gas, or possibly disgust.  “See,” he began, “that’s what I mean.  If another man questions the kind of man ya are, ya don’t start talkin’ about it.  Ya look that man in the eye and tell him yer the kind of man who’ll clear out a couple of his front teeth if he don’t shut his trap.”

“So ya want me to hit you?” asked Luis.

Old Barnaby raised his brow and continued his steady pace toward the end of the path.  “Ya do and ya’ll find y’self in the pile of horse shit we’re passin’.  Now tell me, kid.  Where do ya find yerself going with s’much intent?”

“General store,” said Luis.  “Going to meet a gal there.”

“Of course, of course.  A bit of the hokey pokey, ey?”  Old Barnaby chuckled as he croaked out the word “pokey.”

“No sir, none of that.  She don’t know I’m sweet on her yet.”

Old Barnaby paused for a moment and squinted as if trying to see into Luis’ head.  “She don’t know?  That ain’t no good.  Ya have to show her.  Talkin’ won’t do much when yer too scaredy to get close.  Have to show a woman ya have confidence.  Let her know yer interested, and more importantly,” he added at the waggle of a finger, “let her know that ya know she’s likin’ ya.  Don’t matter if she knows it yet or not.  She’ll come to see it.”

“But ain’t that like forcin’ myself?”

“No, kid, no.  What’d I tell ya about bein’ a man?  A man knows when he’s bein’ persuasive and when he’s been a poor Christian.  A difference, y’see?”

Luis shook his head.  “Not Emma, no sir.  She’s real smart.  She’ll know I’m bein’ fresh.”

Old Barnaby shook his head as they passed the general store, where he managed to take a couple of plums from a wooden fruit stand.  Luis paused to look at the stand when Old Barnaby grabbed his sleeve and pulled him along.

“Here, kid.  One of these a day’ll keep the teeth white as a bone.”  Luis took the plum into his hand and glanced at the windows of the store anxiously.

“Ain’t that apples?”

“What’s apples?” said Old Barnaby.

“For teeth.  Apples’re for white teeth.”

The old man suckled a piece of plum into his mouth.  He slurped the juice that seeped from the wound as he muttered, “I don’t like apples.  I like plums.”

Plums in hand, they made their way to the side of the general store where a young woman of seventeen or so emerged from around the corner onto the thoroughfare.  She held the hems of her blue dress in her hands as she stepped across the muddy avenue, her eyes fixed on the storefront.  The shadow from the bonnet she wore partially concealed her face, which became clearer and clearer until Luis could make out the dimples of her cheeks and smattering of light freckles.

“That’s yer gal, is it?” said Old Barnaby.

Luis nodded and deftly bit into his plum, watching as she moved closer to the men while crossing the street toward the general store.  He forced down the plum in his mouth before discarding the remainder into the mud.

“Wastin’ a plum, y’fool.”

“Yea,” muttered Luis.  Old Barnaby watched as Luis straightened his shirt and swept the dirt off his trousers, ready to advance.

“All right, son.  Just mind what I told ya.”

“I will.”  Luis stepped forward to meet her as she approached the storefront floor.  He bunched his fists and grimaced slightly – sweaty palms were inevitable.

“Um, mornin’,” said Luis.

“Good morning,” said Emma.  Luis gazed at her in silence.

Old Barnaby shook his head and bit into the plum.  “Goddamn kids,” he sputtered, and stepped out onto the fresh mud.

I Hate Townies

God,
I hate townies! I didn’t really used to care, but last week something happened that changed my mind. It happened on a hot and boring
Thursday. I thought I was going to have to spend the day at my house
with my dumb parents, but Sara’s mom and dad were throwing a beach
party for their friends, and Sara called me and Maggie to keep her
company.

“And
make sure to bring a swim suit because we might go hang out at the beach,” she added,
so I grabbed the plaid two piece that I bought last week and waited
for Sara outside.

After,
like, ten minutes, she showed up with Maggie in the Benz.

“God,
why did you take forever,” I asked her as I got in. All she did
was give me that annoyed
look she gets whenever anyone talks down to her.

“Well,
I figured you probably wanted to grab a few cookies or something
before we left, so
I went to pick up Maggie first,” she said. Maggie being the
follower she is, she let out a little chuckle.

“Shut
up, at least I’m not a bulimic skeleton,” I retorted. It was all
I could think of.

She
just kept looking straight ahead as we turned the corner on to her
street. “Ouch, please,
no more. I can’t take such a verbal beating,” she replied
sarcastically.

“Please,
Melissa, I don’t want to hear this stuff all day,” added Maggie,
so I didn’t try and give
a come-back. Maggie’s always taking Sara’s side, ever since we were
kids. I don’t think I can remember
an argument or whatever where Maggie agreed with me. She’s nice most
of the time, but
sometimes she’s just annoying.  With a smug smile on her stupid face,
Sara pulled into the driveway.
We went in the empty house and changed, then Sara went to get her
canvas bag for our clothes,
in case we wanted to change for that evening. As I made my way back
outside to the car I
walked through the main family room. All you could see was huge
portraits of all these different old
people from, like, the fifties or something. Sara never likes to stay
at her house, so we hardly ever
hang out there. I always guessed that those were her old relatives or
something, but I never really
cared enough to ask. I met Maggie at the front door and we went
outside to wait for Sara, then
the phone in the Benz started ringing. Sara was still inside the
house, so I went to answer.

“Hello,”
I asked.

“Hello,
who is this?” It was Sara’s mom.

“Hi
Mrs. Roberts, this is Melissa,” I told her.

“Oh,
hello dear. Is Sara there?” Obviously not, if I answered.

“Not
right here. She’s inside the house getting something. Want me to get
her?” I asked.

“No
dear, just tell her that I want her to go into town and pick up some
fancy herring snacks,” she answered. Uh, God, I swear Sara’s mom
is a lazy…

“Oh,
and tell her to use her money. I’ll pay her back when she gets here.
Bye bye hon,” and she clicked off. Great, just great. Now we had
to go into town.

“Sara,
your mom called and said to go into town and pick up some fancy
herring snacks,” I yelled out. “And she said to use your
money.” Sara said something but I couldn’t make out what. She
came out a minute later with the bag, wearing a new salmon-colored
bathing suit. She stopped at the top of the steps and flashed a
smile.

“Well,
what do you think,” she said. I just rolled my eyes and headed
to the car, but Maggie had an opinion.

“Oh
my god! That is such a cute swim suit. Where did you buy it,”
she asked out loud.

“Got
it yesterday at Bloomfields,” she answered.

“Sara,
let’s go huh? We need to go into town and still stop by your mom’s
party,” I said kind of annoyed.

“Fine,
fine,” as she and Maggie got in.

We
made our way down Baker Street to the A & P at the center of
town. The whole way there  we got the usual looks from the old people
that like to sit around like lazy bums. They just follow us from the
moment they see us on the left to the moment we are too far on the
right. I hate this town. We finally got to the A & P and parked
out in front.

“Who
wants to go in,” asked Sara.

“What?
Why do me or Maggie have to go? It’s your mom’s stupid herrings,”
I told her.

“Fine,
we’ll all go,” she answered.

“Great
idea Sara.” Maggie chimed in with the praise.

“Ok,
whatever, we’ll all go.” I got out and waited for them. Sara got
out and Maggie followed, and she made her way to the door. As she
pushed the door open, the chilly air of a grocery store hit us. It
always sort of takes my breath away, especially going from the hot
outside to the cool inside. Sara didn’t even notice, or didn’t show
it, and made her way in. Me and Maggie followed. As we made our way
in I noticed the clerk boy. He looked all tired and stuff, like a
townie does, but he was kind of cute. I didn’t look at him long,
there was no way I would give him a reason to talk to me. Sara made
her way next
to the bread and looked around,

“Hey
guys, where would the herring snacks be,” she asked us.

“How
should we know,” I told her.

“Geez,
why are you so bitchy today? Here, let’s look up this aisle,”
she answered as she started walking up the aisle. As she scanned the
shelves I noticed her look over to the clerk counters, then quickly
look away. “I think those clerk guys are staring at us,”
she whispered. Me and Maggie glanced that way and I realized she
meant the clerk boy I had noticed earlier, and some other guy. But
instead of being outraged, like I would have been, Sara smiled and
pulled her bathing suit straps around her shoulders.

I
gasped and quietly asked, “Sara, what are you doing?”

“Having
fun,” she replied.

She
continued to walk up the aisle, and I looked over at Maggie. She just
shrugged and smiled too, and continued walking up the aisle. I
thought “Whatever,” and followed. I saw some cookies and
thought of asking Sara to buy some, for the car, you know, but I put
them back when I remembered what Sara said in the car.

As
we made our way up a bit further, I noticed the ladies in the aisles
were looking at us. No doubt Sara noticed too, but she didn’t really
care. I pretended not to either, but it did kind of bother me. When
we got to the end without spotting any herring snacks, Sara looked
over at Maggie.

“Go
ask that guy over at the meat counter where the herring snacks are,”
she told her. Maggie happily got to the meat counter and asked the
man where the herring snacks were while me and Sara waited next to
her. I looked at the old guy just as his eyes made his way over to
Sara. I was really getting tired of all these people looking at us,
well, Sara. And she was asking for it by acting the way she did.
Well, he answered Maggie’s question and pointed to a shelf at the
back of the store.

“There,”
we all asked in unison as we pointed at the shelf. He nodded and we
left the meat counter.
As we passed some diet peach stuff, Sara looked at me. I glared and
she looked over at Maggie. I knew they were smiling, but I didn’t
want to bring it up. I had actually been kind of mean that day.

Sara
grabbed a gray jar labeled Kingfish Fancy Herring Snacks in Pure Sour
Cream. I never did like the stuff, but her parents loved to buy it
for their little parties. I’m not sure if even Sara liked it. I’ve
never seen her eat it, so I assumed that she didn’t. Eh, I never
bothered to care.

We
made our way down the last aisle, passing by light bulbs, candy, and
old records. Wow, this was a really weird store, considering they
stick candy and records in the same aisle, but I guess they use up
whatever space they have. We came out and started to walk over to the
clerk at the second counter, but these old people got there first
holding cans of juice. Uh, who buys juice in a can? That can’t be
good for you… I guess these people buy what they can afford.

So
we ended up going over to the guy at the first counter, the cute one.
I still didn’t want him to talk to us, so I let Sara go ahead and
handle it. Boy, did I make a mistake. She walked up to him so
smoothly and put the jar down on the counter, the whole time this guy
staring at her. Ok, so now I thought he was a jerk. He picked it up
and read the label, then looked back up at her. I thought for a
second that Sara had forgotten to bring her money, but she showed me
she hadn’t. As slowly as she could, she reached under her bathing
suit, in her cleavage, and pulled out a folded dollar bill. I almost
gasped, Maggie did, as she handed the dollar to the clerk guy.

Right
then some old dude, like the manager or something, walked in and
looked over at us. Not the kind of looks we had been getting by the
other guys in the store, but the kind we were getting by the old
people. The “young lady, what are you wearing,” look. I
think I read his mind because he walked over to us.

“Girls,
this isn’t the beach,” he said.

Sara
seemed to have lost her composure, because she blushed. That was a
rare thing when it comes to her. She was always so cool and relaxed,
but this time she sort of got embarrassed.

“My
mother asked me to pick up a jar of herring snacks,” she
answered shyly.

“That’s
all right-” the guy answered. “But this isn’t the beach.”
He stared at us sternly, sort of like a dad does to his daughter.
Except this guy wasn’t our dad. I started to get angry, I mean, how
dare he talk to us like that?

“We
weren’t doing any shopping. We just came in for the one thing.”
I didn’t care who this guy was, he wasn’t going to tell us off like
that without protest.

“That
makes no difference,” he said. “We want you decently
dressed when you come in here.”

“We
are
decent,”
Sara said suddenly. It was about time she said something, after all
she was the one who was dressed al provocative or whatever. She still
pulled up her straps, but now she seemed as annoyed as I was.

“Girls,
I don’t want to argue with you. After this come in here with your
shoulders covered. It’s our policy.” He turned his back to
leave, but turned and said, “Sammy, have you rung up their
purchase?”

What?
I realized all of a sudden that the clerk guy was still there,
looking at us as we received our little lecture.

“No,”
he replied. He took the dollar and unfolded quickly, and put it in
the register. Then he pulled out a fifty cent piece and a penny, and
put it in Sara’s hand. Without waiting for Sara, me and Maggie headed
for the door. Sara took the bag with the jar and quickly hurried
after us. Right when I was near the door, I heard that clerk guy say,
“I quit.” I was going to turn to see, but Sara came up
behind us and guided us out the door.

We
all silently made our way to the car. Once inside Sara angrily turned
the ignition key and uttered, “Damn this stupid town. I hate
townies!”

After
what happened, I couldn’t agree with her more.