A Paragraph in the Style of Dr. Seuss

Worth 1000 Contest.

50 words or less.

My winning entry:

“By gorra ko ree, can this even be? Mom and Dad are out shopping but the sitter’s not hopping. Instead the girl’s dozin while the front door is closin. Behind us. We’re free you’ll agree to go where we please. To the swamp or the circus or whatever we sees.”

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Going Out

I was hired fresh out of school by Omaha’s top polling organization because I had worked on the last national census and I had a lot of experience going door-to-door. It was an entry-level job. Once I was trained, I found myself out on the street, iPad in hand.

On the afternoon that I met Myrtle and Patrick, I was canvassing the Millard East neighborhood, working the blocks off N Street, collecting opinions on several local propositions due for a vote in the next special election. It was a warm summer afternoon but the streets were lined with trees that provided shade.

A lot of folks were at work. I rang a couple of bells with no luck and then tried one more house before my break. I rang and waited, and an elderly woman answered the door. I explained who I was, displayed my credentials, and asked her if I could record her opinion on a number of subjects. I had to reassure her more than once that I wasn’t selling anything. This was Myrtle.

Myrtle invited me to take off my work shoes and come in. We sat down in the living room. I asked my first question and she told me that I’d better talk to her son. She struggled to her feet and limped off to find him.

“Can you ask him your questions in his bedroom?” she said when she returned.

“No,” I said.

“I mean, he’ll be in his bedroom and you can talk to him from the hall, through the door.”

“I don’t think so,” I said. I wasn’t getting paid enough to do something stupid. “Perhaps it would be best if I leave.”

“Please don’t. Let me speak to him. It will be good for him to get out of his room.”

She left me sitting on the sofa and disappeared into the back of the house. Presently she returned with a handsome young man about my age, twenty-three, dressed in white. Clean white shirt, pressed white trousers, white socks, and white shoes. His hair was trimmed, his face a bit pale but clean-shaven.

“This is my son Patrick,” the woman said. “Patrick, this is Frieda. She has some poll questions to ask. Perhaps you can help her with them.”

Patrick and I shook hands and said hello. I sat down on the edge of the sofa, doing my perky-little-bird thing. Patrick sat facing me in an antique Morris chair that was polished and clean but well-worn.

I don’t know what I expected from Patrick, but we had a pleasant chat. I asked my questions. He saw me to the door. Apart from a couple of glances back toward his bedroom during the interview, he seemed normal. As I left, he handed me a card with his name and several blog addresses on it.

That night before bed, I remembered the card. I found it in my pants pocket and checked out the blogs. They were all Patrick’s.

The first focused on philosophy. I read a well-written, well-thought-out entry on quantum uncertainty and free will, which he had written. Perhaps it was profound or perhaps it was utter nonsense, but either way I was impressed. A discussion followed on the page, in the comments section, between Patrick and a variety of readers from around the world. Evidently he had been a philosophy student at Creighton University and was now part of a community of thinkers of deep thoughts.

The second URL led to his sports blog. Mostly about Nebraska football. Patrick seemed to have hundreds of online friends in that one.

His third blog dealt with video and role-playing games. I read his rave review of the novel “Ready Player One.” I’m not much for video or arcade games, but I made a mental note to check out the book. It sounded like a fun read.

Then I surprised myself by leaving a comment. Nice to meet you today. Something like that. Patrick responded immediately and we began an easy online conversation. We switched to IM and in the end he invited me back to his home for dinner the following night. I accepted.

Wow. Didn’t see that coming. Me? I hadn’t been out on a date in more than a year. Maybe two. He must have spotted my inner beauty. Ha. Dinner in Millard East with Myrtle and Patrick. Dinner with a young man who didn’t like to leave his room. A smart, handsome young man.

The next day when my shift ended, I was back on their porch, ringing the bell. Patrick answered. Again he was dressed in white, neat and clean.

We sat in the living room drinking Wimbledon coolers while Myrtle made dinner. I thought about offering to help her but that seemed weird for a first visit.

“Just to state the obvious,” Patrick said, “I’m severely agoraphobic.”

“For how long?”

“A year and a half. I was with my father when he died. I think that triggered my condition somehow. I had already been having panic attacks.”

“Are you anxious now, being out of your room like this?”

“Yes, but not so much that it shows. I mean, do I seem anxious?”

“No.”

“But if I stepped out through the front door and stood on the porch, you’d be able to see it,” he said.

“Therapy?” I said.

“Online and by phone.”

“Medication?”

“Antidepressants and antianxiety drugs, but I haven’t found a sustainable combination. I’ll keep working with my shrink on it. I also need desensitization. Cognitive therapy and exposure. I can’t do that alone, though.”

He obviously had plenty of friends, at least online. Omaha friends as well as those worldwide. Perhaps some of the locals had already tried to help him. Perhaps the time commitment was too great, or the interpersonal chemistry wasn’t right, or his companions’ reactions weren’t what he needed when the panic hit. Whatever, Patrick was extending an invitation.

“I would be delighted,” I said. I guess he was desperate for help from somebody, even me.

We sat there smiling at each other until we were saved by the dinner bell.

The first step was simply to hang out in the living room together, which we did that night. We cleaned up for Myrtle after dinner. She went to her room to watch television. When we had finished, Patrick and I sat on the sofa and shared a joint and chatted. There were silences but they weren’t uncomfortable. We each had a drink or two and two hours passed in a blink. By the time I left, I was buzzed sufficiently to leave my car at the curb and take a cab back to my apartment.

I came over every night that week. I helped Myrtle make dinner. Afterwards, Patrick and I played bezique or piquet or honeymoon bridge or Scrabble, or we just sat and talked. Patrick knew the card games because his mom was an old-fashioned Hoyle aficionado. Myrtle sometimes joined us for a three-handed game like gleek or red frog black frog, or invited the next-door neighbor over for an hour or two of four-handed whist. Myrtle was also not shy about taking a drink or a toke or two with her son and me.

Saturday, Patrick and I ate lunch on the front porch together. The air beneath the trees had a green jungle cast. We left the porch and sat on the front lawn. Patrick handled it well. The seventeen-year cicadas were appearing early in Nebraska that year and their buzzing had a hypnotic quality.

“I haven’t asked you about this,” Patrick said, “and stop me if I’m being nosy, but are you in a relationship? Seems like you must be.”

“Why would you say that?”

“You just seem sort of special.”

He floored me with that. This guy was way, way out of my league. In brains, in looks, you name it.

“I’ve been helping you,” I said, after an awkward pause. “I think you’re just feeling a little grateful. But thanks for the compliment.”

He was probably so glad to be outdoors that it was making him loopy.

He looked at me and I studied the tree next to us. He didn’t say anything, just sat there, quiet. Of course this had to be a bad skin day for me. My cheeks felt hot.

“No, I’m not in a relationship,” I said, finally.

After that, I gave him a quick course in Pranayama breathing as a relaxation technique. We practiced a bit and traded notes on meditation.

The point of desensitization, according to Patrick, was to stay within a situation until the anxiety passed. Otherwise, nothing was accomplished.

We did the breathing until he announced that he was feeling quite calm, and we went back inside.

A week later, I asked Patrick about the all-white clothing, and whether he’d be willing to try something different. He said that he would, but that he wasn’t ready to go out and buy anything for himself. He gave me a credit card and I drove over to the Oak View Mall and picked out some pants, shirts, and socks at The Gap and Eddie Bauer.

We invited an internet friend named Jack and his wife over for dinner. Myrtle and I made pot roast with vegetables and gravy. Patrick wore a new pair of khaki pants and a blue Oxford shirt and looked even more handsome and together than usual.

After that, he and I graduated to walks down to the corner. I cut back on my hours at work. When I wasn’t helping Patrick, I was taking Myrtle to the market or beauty shop.

Patrick and I ventured beyond the block together for the first time on a trip to Riverside Park. I drove. We got on I80 and crossed the Missouri and parked in a lot by a trail down to the river.

“You OK?” I said.

He nodded.

We put on red Cornhusker caps and dark glasses and got out and walked toward the water. Birds were singing and the river looked quite muscular flowing past. There were a few folks here and there but we were alone on our part of the path.

“Anxious?” I said.

“Excited,” he said.

I was too. It felt great. Scary, but great.

The success of that trip led to visits to Doorly Zoo and Durham Museum and the Lauritzen gardens. Patrick had some tricky moments in public but he’d look at me and we’d talk quietly until he felt better. I got used to being looked at. Sort of.

In time, we agreed to visit a spot where Patrick had experienced several of his worst panic attacks, on campus at Creighton. We drove into Omaha and parked in the visitor’s lot across from the Harper Center. We strolled down the Mall, across 24th to Dowling Hall. Halfway there, Patrick took my hand for the first time. The summer campus was quiet. I felt the sun on my shoulders and hair. For a moment I thought I was floating.

Dowling Hall was built in 1889. Patrick had had two major attacks inside it during philosophy lectures. There were black wrought-iron benches along the Mall. We sat down on one facing the building’s facade of gray sandstone. A student came out, swinging an old green Harvard Co-op book bag. Inherited from his mom or dad, no doubt.

“Let’s do some breathing,” I said.

We sat without speaking, slowing our breath, attending, calming ourselves. Or, in my case, trying to. Eventually, Patrick stirred.

“Frieda, if I make it… If I can stay out of the house and get my life back…”

He turned to me. The focus had changed, away from his illness and onto our future. I never felt so ugly. Or so vulnerable.

Then, sudden tears and a strong rush in my chest. At first I thought it was fear but then I realized it was love.

50 Shades…

Book titles beginning with “Fifty Shades…”

Busman’s Holiday

I’m one of those women with terrible taste in men. Every time I escape from a disastrous relationship, I swear that I’ve learned my lesson and I’ll never make the same stupid mistake again.

I lick my wounds and fall for some other dope.

Is that what happened when I met Joshua Smith, or did I finally get it right?

I was volunteering for his campaign and we came face to face at a fundraiser. This handsome, powerful-looking man. And bright. But not too bright.

After a brief chat, he asked me out to dinner the following evening. To discuss the campaign. The next think I knew, we were dining at Carbone’s in Hartford, me in my new Anthropologie cocktail dress, which I bought that afternoon for the occasion.

This guy. Perfect. I mean it. The most positive, optimistic, unambitious person I’ve ever known. Not a whiff of phony.

I kept waiting for the bad news. It never came. That week, anyway, or the next. Josh had lost two elections in the past ten years, but this time he was in the lead. Ten years ago, he was an amnesia victim who decided to run for local office. Quixotic. No one knew who he was or what he had done. He was slaughtered in the election. Then he involved himself completely in community affairs and the second time he ran, he did much better, although he still lost. This third time, the voters had ten solid years of his political and community history to go on, and they liked what they saw.

Josh moved me onto his personal staff. I was a total amateur but none of the others seemed to mind. It felt like family.

We got seriously serious, Josh and I. The temperature was rising. That’s when he popped my balloon.

We were eating barbecue at Black-Eyed Sally’s before heading back to his place.

“Eloise,” he said, “there’s something I must tell you.”

Oops. Here it comes. Wife? Impotence? Gambling addiction? The mob?

“Yes?” I said. Kept eating. Didn’t want this to spoil a great dinner.

“This is going to sound strange. Unbelievable. You’re going to think I’m crazy.”

“You’re probably right,” I said, “based on my previous experience.”

“Only a few people know this. I’ll never be elected if it gets out. I’m telling you because I know that I can trust you. I’m falling in love with you, Eloise, and I know that you have feelings for me too.”

“I have a feeling those feelings might be heading in the other direction soon.”

“Maybe so. That’s why I’m telling you this now, before we get in any deeper. To be fair to you.”

I studied my plate with its remaining rib. Could this be a good excuse to order a few more? A silver lining? A consolation prize? I’d be a fool to miss the chance if it were.

“I’m an alien,” Josh said.

“You’re not documented? I don’t believe it. You’re running for office and you’re not even a citizen? I must be dreaming. I thought you weren’t a dope. I was convinced you weren’t a dope. You know what? You’re a dope.”

“It’s worse than that,” Josh said. “Or better, depending upon your point of view.”

Uh oh. What happened to my appetite? I put down my fork. Suddenly I didn’t even want dessert, never mind more ribs. Now the rib on my plate looked lonely. Unappreciated.

Another drink might be good, though.

“Well, go on,” I said.

“There’s no easy way to say this… When I tell you that I’m an alien, I do mean alien.”

I put my head in my hands.

“Tell me this isn’t happening. I finally, finally get it right with a guy… What, you’ve got a tinfoil hat in your pocket?”

But hold on. In a case like this, being a little crazy is a lot better than being undocumented. Congress is full of crazies. In fact, they could be getting crazier. Sometimes it seems that way.

“Great,” I said. “If it makes you feel any better, you’re not the first crazy person I’ve dated, and with my luck, probably not the last.”

I was glad I bought the cocktail dress, even if it was for barbecue with a Martian.

“Of course it sounds crazy,” Josh said. “I won’t mention it again. I was honor bound to tell you, but now I’ve done that. If you want to break it off, I’ll understand. I won’t like it, but I’ll understand.”

I sat there. I thought about getting up and leaving. Gosh, he was so darn handsome. So quiet and self-assured. But intense. Intense in a mild, good way. A way that led to high poll numbers. Would it be so bad, dating a guy who thought he wasn’t human? He had all the human parts I needed. We had proved that. He’d already sent me to outer space a time or two.

I sighed. My appetite came tip-toeing back.

“You told me,” I said. “I appreciate that. You risked the love that we’ve started to feel for each other. That took courage. Let’s try to move on, without discussing the matter further.”

And so we did. The campaign intensified. Not another sign of weirdness from Josh. I was thankful that we were all so busy, because otherwise I would have just swooned into a puddle of love.

Our opponent, Bruce Parducci, liked to compare Josh’s past to his own humble beginnings and extended family. Josh met the issue head on.

“My opponent grew up poor, but in a loving family,” Josh would say, never mentioning the Parducci family’s criminal connections, which were well known in Hartford. “I congratulate Mr. Parducci on his success in life and his strongly held values. I simply don’t agree with his political philosophy. Meanwhile, as he points out, my past extends back only ten years, to a time when I was afflicted with total amnesia. Perhaps in my youth I too was a member of a loving family. Perhaps I was poor. Perhaps I was rich. We don’t know.

“As voters, you have only my record for the past decade to go on. It speaks for itself.”

It seemed to speak well, according to the polls.

I didn’t move in with Josh officially, because of the campaign, but we were effectively living together. After that one little bump in the road at Black-Eyed Sally’s, I just kept falling.

Then came a crisis. A fellow in Waterbury accused Josh of murdering his brother a dozen years before. Without any memories or clues as to his whereabouts during that time, Josh couldn’t effectively deny the accusation. Parducci declined to comment.

“This is baloney,” I said to Josh. “Parducci is behind it.”

“Probably. Don’t worry about it,” Josh said.

“Have you seen the polls?”

“They’ll go back up when I’m proven innocent.”

“And how is that going to happen, pray tell?”

“There are some folks working on it.”

“There are some folks? What folks? Which folks?”

“You haven’t met them yet. They’ve been important in getting me on the right track to office this time. The first two times I ran, I was on my own.”

“Why don’t I know about them? I thought we had no secrets from each other.”

“It’s not a secret. It’s connected to that confession I made to you. The one we don’t talk about.”

I knew what he meant.

“Don’t say any more,” I said.

He didn’t.

I assumed he was sunk, but lo and behold, the Waterbury police announced two days later that they had procured, in fact, DNA associated with the case. The candidate was invited to provide a sample of his own, for comparison purposes.

“You’re going to do it, of course,” I said. “I’m sure there is no chance…”

“I can’t give them a sample. My DNA would raise eyebrows, to put it mildly,” he said. “Besides, my friends planted the DNA that the police so conveniently just found. It isn’t mine.”

“There is only one way your DNA could raise eyebrows and that’s if it matched the police evidence.”

“No, there’s another way. The way we don’t talk about.”

How silly of me. Of course. Alien DNA!

“We’re in love, right?” I said.

“Absolutely.”

“Our mutual love… it has implications.”

“A lifetime together,” Josh said, “for example.”

“I can live with a guy who thinks he’s an alien,” I said, “as long as it doesn’t impact me, or us, day-to-day. The police have to see your DNA. I don’t think you’re a murderer, of course, but let’s do a little diligence here.”

“The murder accusation is a fabrication created and bruited about by Parducci,” Josh said. “Without resolution of the charge, I’ll lose the election. So this is what I propose. Today, you find a local DNA testing center. There are plenty of them in Hartford. Call one. Make an appointment. They all have a menu of tests you can order. It’s all confidential. Most of them don’t even provide their address until you make an appointment and pay a fee.

“We’ll drive over to the lab and let them take a sample from me and run the test. OK? If the results come back normal, I promise that I’ll drive over to Waterbury immediately and let the police test me there. But if the test results aren’t normal, my friends will help us with a sample that will resolve the issue in my favor. With that, we’ll put this behind us.”

I agreed. I didn’t bother asking him what he’d say if the tests came back normal. I’m sure that in his delusion, he’d have an explanation handy. Fine. Just as long as he drove over to Waterbury and proved that he wasn’t a murderer. Proved it to me, that is.

I scheduled us at a lab on Farmington. Josh provided a sample on demand. We waited.

The tests did not come back normal. The lab apologized and speculated that the sample had been corrupted somehow. It was “all messed up.”

The following day, the media reported that Josh’s DNA (provided by his friends) had been checked by the Waterbury PD and that he was not the killer.

What did I make of all this? As a woman in love, I was relieved. Confused, but relieved. If I can love a man who thinks he’s an alien, I can love a man with goofy DNA. I think.

We were in bed with the lights out the following night.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “What about children?”

“That won’t be a problem,” Josh said.

“Why not?”

“I can’t explain why not without talking about the forbidden subject.”

“We’re having breakfast together in the morning, right? You won’t be rushing off?”

“I won’t rush off.”

“Let’s talk about this then. I need to think about it.”

Obviously, the simple statement that Josh was an alien was not going to be quite enough for me. Not in view of this DNA development, and Josh’s mysterious “helpers.”

“Just tell me enough,” I said at breakfast, “to reassure me that we can spend a normal life together.”

“I can do that,” Josh said. “It’ll make me sound quite delusional, but you already think I’m delusional.”

I sat there and held my breath. Yes, I was in love. Desperate love. But how much could I hear before I’d be forced to walk away? Josh looked so calm, so contained, so handsome, sitting across from me. I was still in one of my total-swoon periods.

“I’m risking our relationship, talking about this,” he said. “I understand that. Unfortunately, reality has a way of intruding into life. If this DNA issue hadn’t arisen, something else would have come up.”

I drank some coffee.

“I’ll give you the short version. If that’s good enough, we’ll resume our silence about this. If it isn’t, we’ll take a walk down at Great River Park after the rally this afternoon, and we can talk some more.”

I nodded.

“I’m on vacation,” Josh said. “I’m a politician on sabbatical. I bought a tour package through a travel agency. I’m here for sixty years, from age thirty to age ninety. It’s a political package. I’m guaranteed election to state office within three tries or ten years, whichever comes first. I thought it would be fun.”

“You’re vacationing on Earth,” I said, though I had sworn to myself that I’d keep my mouth shut.

“Lots of… of vacationers come to Earth. It’s primitive, it can be dangerous, but you can buy anything you want here. Sort of like spending a weekend in Tijauna.”

“And this vacation will last sixty years.”

“We’re long-lived. The tour was on sale. I got a deal.”

“OK, stop,” I said. “I think I’ve reached my limit.”

I left him to finish his breakfast. I took a shower, dressed, and went to to work.

How could I have let this romance go on for so long? But why not? I can’t describe how lovable, how steady, how altogether totally cool this man was. I couldn’t stop looking at him. I melted when he paid attention to me. I couldn’t keep my hands off him. I was in love. My God, I wanted this guy.”

We walked by the river after the rally. I told him to continue.

His current body, it seemed, had belonged to a George Martin, who died homeless and unidentified in Los Angeles ten years ago. Aged thirty at the time of his death. The travel bureau obtained his cadaver, reanimated it, did some work on the face so that he wouldn’t be recognized in the future, and then stuck Josh’s mind inside him somehow. Voila.

“The bureau usually doesn’t bother with backstory,” Josh said. “An amnesia claim is simpler and safer.”

“How can you love me if you’re an alien?”

“Why not? I’m using George Martin’s brain, with a little superego smeared over it. I do love you. In fact, I want to marry you.”

That took a minute to sink in.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. My lifelong dream come true. A marriage proposal from a tourist from Quidrxxixz.

“What about children and your corrupted DNA?” I said.

“George Martin’s DNA got tweaked during the reanimation. That’s normal. The travel bureau has a supply of Martin’s sperm for us.”

“When would this marriage happen?”

“If you want a fancy wedding, after the election,” Josh said. “Otherwise, let’s get a license tomorrow.”

“And then… work, and raise a family, and grow old together?”

“Yep. Neither of us will ever get sick. Nor will the children. That’s part of the package. At age ninety, I’ll need to leave. If you choose, you can come with me. Transformed, of course. Our children and grandchildren will have to stay here, but we can visit, for years if we want.”

I said yes. Since we’ve been married, I’ve never caught a cold and I’m no longer allergic to cats.

My Halloween Daffynitions

My daffynitions. Plus a few from others.

Halloween

The year I turned twelve, my big brother invited me to go out with him on Halloween. I said yes. I always said yes when he invited me on one of his adventures. This time, though, I didn’t really want to go. I wanted to go to the Halloween party at the Whitaker’s farm. I had fallen hard for Hannah Blumenauer. My first, unspoken, love.

“We’ll go to the party, I promise,” Steve told me. “Scarlett expects me there too. But first we’re going to sneak around and tip over some privies.”

Steve had just broken up with Scarlett. I was surprised to hear him mention her. She was just about as wild as he was, so they made a good match, but their split-up was famous all over the county because of the public fireworks it produced.

“I don’t think Scarlett is going to be waiting for you,” I said.

“Sure she will,” Steve said. “You’ll see. She’ll forgive and forget.”

Since I had never had a girlfriend, I let it go at that. Just the same, everybody said Scarlett was still mad as a hornet at Steve. She was telling anybody who would listen that she was going to get even with him for being a two-timing rat.

“We’ll never tip over a privy,” I said. “You know how careful everybody gets on Halloween.”

“We’ve got to tip one,” Steve said. “I’ve got a bet with Charlie that we do. He’s got to tip one too.”

I just shook my head. Maybe I was only twelve and he was older and wiser, but I knew from the start that we weren’t going to get near an outhouse after the sun went down, never mind turning one over.

When dinner was through and we had cleaned up the kitchen – Steve washed and I dried – we put on our costumes and set out. I was a sailor and Steve was a soldier. Our dad left at the same time, taking our younger brother and sister to a party for the little kids at the church. Mom stayed home with a pie she had baked, in case somebody showed up.

The farms in Greene County are all spread out. If you want to trick-or-treat on Halloween, you can’t get to very many farmhouses on your bike. On the other hand, you’ll be given a nice, fresh-baked treat at every place you go. After you’ve sat and eaten a couple, you’re ready to quit for the night.

We headed over to the Olafsen place first. We left our bikes by the road and made our way through the orchard next to their house. The moon was almost full so we didn’t need our flashlights. We had cut through that orchard a million times before.

“I wish a cloud would come along,” Steve said. “I feel like we’re as easy to see as if it were daytime.”

There weren’t many clouds in the sky. We were in for a bright night, getting brighter as the moon rose higher. We climbed through the fence rails and circled behind the barn. We hadn’t got halfway to the privy when the barking started.

Olafsen had chained his mastiff Chuck out by the privy to keep watch. We were old friends with Chuck. The problem was, he was making a lot of noise. Olafsen would hear Chuck’s barking turn happy and know what was what before he even came outside. We turned tail. Chuck’s disappointed whine followed us.

Next we rode over to the Kelly place. We took the dirt road that ran between our pumpkin field and a fallow alfalfa field. As we came on, we could see a glow up ahead. By the time we pushed through the corn stalks behind the farmhouse, we could see that Mr. Kelly had set out lanterns all around his privy. Never mind the moon. The lanterns lit the structure bright as day.

“We should have brought masks,” Steve said. “We can’t do anything with all this light.”

So much for the Kelly place.

We had to ride a mile down the county road to get to the Rickenbacker farm. We left our bikes on the shoulder and took a path that skirted a lot of blackberry bushes. No dogs. No lights. The only thing we spotted as we crept toward the privy was a solitary figure sitting in a cane back chair smoking a pipe.

“Rickenbacker,” Steve said in a whisper. “Who sits out all night guarding a privy? That’s just stupid.”

With that, we gave up and headed over to the party at the Whitaker farm.

“Are you interested in a girl at this party?” Steve asked as we rode. He knew that I had started noticing the other sex.

“I told Hannah I might dance with her,’ I said.

“Hannah. Good for you. She’s real cute,” Steve said.

“Are you still going to try and get back with Scarlett?” I said.

“Absolutely,” he said.

“She hates you,” I said. “You broke her heart.”

“Brother, you just don’t know girls yet. If I play my cards right, I’ll be back on track with her by the end of the night.”

“You’re nuts,” I said.

The party was well along when we got there. The Whitakers had a large family room in the back of the house and it was decorated with black and orange crepe paper and bats on strings and cornstalks and so forth.

They had already played Murder and Bandage the Mummy and now they were listening to records and dancing. I went over to Hannah, who was talking to her friends Anne and Daphne. They were all dressed as princesses and Hannah looked like one for real.

“Where have you been?” she said.

“Nowhere,” I said.

“Un huh. Did you have any luck nowhere?”

“Nah. We should have come here in the first place.”

“Why is Steve talking to Scarlett over there?” Anne said.

“He thinks he can get back together with her.”

The three girls all shook their heads.

Hannah and I danced. We drank punch and ate cake. The Whitakers had some candy for everybody to take home.

I saw Steve and Scarlett go out back. I knew he had a pack of cigarettes. If Mom or Dad caught the smell on him, there would be the devil to pay, but Steve would just laugh it off. He got me to try cigarettes and cigars and a pipe, but I didn’t care for any of them. Not yet, anyway. I didn’t want to chew or dip either. I didn’t mind drinking beer when the opportunity arose. No sign of any at this party, though.

When it was time to go home, the Whitakers brought out a hay wagon pulled by a tractor. Most of us climbed on. Steve and Scarlett had disappeared somewhere. It was a swell hay ride, passing by each farm and dropping off kids as we went. Hannah and I held hands, which made me a little light-headed. Luke Whitaker on the tractor waited at her house while I walked her up the drive to her door. I didn’t have the nerve to kiss her but we did agree to see each other at school the next morning. Which wouldn’t be hard because the school was so small.

When I went to bed, Steve still hadn’t come home. The next morning at breakfast, he came down with a cast on his arm. Mom wasn’t talking to him but on the way to school on our bikes, Steve told me that Scarlett had talked him into going with her and Mary Beth and Charlotte to tip over the privy at her house. She told him she was mad at her parents and wanted to pull this trick on them.

We were taking it slow because Steve was riding his bike using just one arm.

“Once we got to her place, the four of us sat in Charlotte’s car for a while, drinking beer and smoking. Once we were drunk enough, or at least once I was drunk enough, we snuck around the house and headed out back. Scarlett told me that after we tipped over the outhouse, she’d take me back to the barn and we’d snuggle. My reward for helping. But you know, I don’t think the girls had drunk much at all.

“We got back there and all of a sudden, Scarlett shushed us. Then she told me to hide for just a minute in the privy until the coast was clear. I wasn’t thinking too well and I went in and because of the beer, I decided to do my business while I was waiting. But Scarlett had mounted a latch hook on the door in advance and now she locked me in. Then the three girls tipped the thing over. I landed on my arm and got a fracture.

“The girls ran off. Mr. Hutchins came out and dragged me into the house and called the sheriff. The sheriff took me over to Doc Morris to get my arm set and then brought me home. Mom and Dad were up and worried. The three of them gave me a good talking-to.”

“I told you Scarlett was crazy,” I said.

“I can’t help it,” Steve said. “I’m in love with her. I can’t wait to get to school today and get my one good arm around her.”

This is a good example of how I learned about life from Steve while we were growing up, although in this case I’m not exactly sure what the lesson was.