Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Girls Waited

The girls stood across the road from the Sierra Mountain Gas & Tackle, situated at the very east end of the lake.
A clean, blue, cloudless sky swayed the tall trees, but otherwise a roll of hot valley air perspired against my skin.
Across the lake, the two-lane highway looped around, unnoticed in the trees except for the effort of the occasional car whining its way up the steep grade.
A motorboat burbled somewhere on the lake, and the gas pump churned and ticked, and if not for the call of an occasional bird, the world stood quietly, and innocent.
The girls’ laughter sparkled and broke the moment, like glints on the water, then passed. Secrets on a summer’s day at the edge of the lake. Something funny, soon forgotten. Something said that only young girls could understand.
They marched across the road, chirping, sandals clomping, all skin and sunburn. Blonde, ageless faces, uninspired by the world’s woes. They dragged their beach towels and pink backpacks, yet were burdened by nothing more than innocence.
I watched through the truck window, invisible, as they passed, knowing that nothing could get in the way of their being young girls on a summer’s day. They owned everything as they marched before me and through the creaky door into the air-conditioned, neon world of the Gas & Tackle shop.

Butch came round from behind the store and wrestled his plaid girth into the truck cab just as the girls came back outside.
They straggled back across the road, each of them handling a large, melting, ice cream cone.
The truck rocked as Butch waddled in the seat, situating the necessities––cigarettes from the pocket, lighter on the dash and lastly, he pulled from the bag at his feet, a beer.
“Cold one,” he said. “Nah, thanks,” I said and instead reached for his pack of cigarettes. “Maybe later.”
Butch, as though driving with a can of beer was a natural and law-abiding thing to do, took a long guzzle, then paused to stare at the cold sweating can before him. “You don’t want a beer?”
“Good stuff, gonna get warm if we don’t drink it.”
I think he just didn’t want to drink alone, but he took another swig and nestled the beer between his legs.
“Suits me,” he said, pawing for his cigarettes. “Suits me just fine.” And with that he reached in and had another one popped before it left the bag.

We sat in silence, in no hurry to get back to driving the two hours up and into the mountains.
We smoked the cigarettes and stared blankly at the girls across the road. They dropped their towels and backpacks, engrossed in their messy, melting cones, hands, tongues, lips, laughter, they dripped vanilla and chocolate, pushed one another as though they were boys, and then, just then, a dusty Volvo pulled off, just past them and they began to cheer, loudly.
Butch tossed his cigarette to the floor and cranked the key before grabbing another smoke. Outside, the girls whirled and thrashed, each of them working with one hand, while they hurried to finish their cones and toss their things into the back of the car. The mother paced back and forth, arms in motion, cell phone at her ear. She stopped her conversation for a moment. “Finish those before you get in the car.” She said.
We watched as they made quick work of the cones and then one of them, the first, jumped up and down, “I won,” she said. “Second,” shouted the next girl and then mom chimed in, “let’s go,” and without fanfare the other girls either finished their cones or dropped them at the side of the road.

Butch pulled out of the station and we watched as the last of them got into the car. “Not too many ice cream summers left there” he said and I didn’t know quite what he meant, but I did, and with that notion floating around, I reached down and pulled out one of the beers.


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