(I’ve been working on a novel in recent weeks, resulting in fewer postings to this web site, so without any other new material, I thought I’d post a short excerpt. The novel is about a fictional northern Wisconsin community, and is currently very fragmented and disorganized. I’ve been having fun making lots of terrible things happen to lots of the characters I create, but I thought I’d share a kind of sweet and innocent moment –this scene takes place in the early 1960s. The characters are 15 years old and just met at a church benefit dance and have instantly become smitten with each other)
“Would you like some punch?” Joe heard himself asking Kim.
“That sounds nice.”
He went up and returned a moment later with two plastic cups filled with punch. She was standing up when he returned, they were both feeling restless. He handed her a cup, and they wandered together back to the hallway.
“This is good”, she said after taking a sip.
“Yeah, it is.” Joe said. “It’s too bad you have to leave tomorrow,” he added.
“I mean, if you weren’t leaving, I could show you and your brother and sister around”
“I’d like that,” she said.
Silence overtook them, neither knowing what to say, both sensing the mutual attraction as they sipped from their cups. Finally, Joe said, “Let’s go outside.”
Kim trusted him enough to go with him. They stepped outside. The air was warm and still and crisp. Joe led her out away from the church, to the center of the parking lot. The music faded to a faint murmur. Darkness engulfed them when Joe said, “Look.”
Kim had to squint in the darkness to make out the silhouette of his arm pointing up to the sky. Looking up she could see, scattered across the night sky above them, a million stars and their dust. It was the first cloudless night of the week, and the first time Kim had ever seen so many stars.
“Wow”, she said.
“There’s the big dipper”, Joe pointed, “and there’s the little dipper. See them?”
“I do”, Kim replied. “Wow, it’s so beautiful.”
“They look so close, but they’re so far. They’re so far it’s taken thousands of years for their light to reach us. “
Kim was looking up, her eyes wide and moist. Joe could see, in the darkness, the reflection of stars, and he knew that that moment, with the light from thousands of years shining in her eyes, would stay with him forever, and it occurred to him that when he first saw her earlier that evening, standing by the table reading her raffle ticket, that same reflection was already there, it was what made her shine and glow. He didn’t understand any of this; he just knew it, and he felt it, like he had never felt anything before.
After a while, they went back inside, even dancing a couple of dances, with Joe teaching Kim the little he knew about polka dancing. They spent some time sitting with the rest of the Hamel family, Joe feeling more and more comfortable with them, everybody in high spirits, everybody having a good time.
The night slowed down and came to a halt around 11:00, the hallway slowly emptying as people made their way to the parking lot. The Hamels offered to give Joe a ride home, and he accepted, climbing in the back seat of their station wagon, with Karla sitting between him and Kim. Josh had climbed far in the back and curled up; he was fast asleep before the car made it out of the parking lot. They turned down County Highway O to drop Joe off. Joe promised he’d ride his bike to the Mighty Casey’s in the morning and see them off. Then they were in Joe’s driveway, a light was still on in the house. He said his good nights to the Hamels, opened his door and got out, taking one long last look back at Kim, lit by the car’s dome light. He shut the door and stood in the car’s headlights and waved as Dean backed out of the driveway. Then he became aware of the cool, still night air, and the night song of a thousand crickets keeping perfect time from the depths of the darkness. Everything seemed fresh and new. It was as if he had never felt the night air or heard the sound of crickets before.