"Hey nef. Wanna crack a seal?" It was Clyde with his usual invitation.
"You know that's my favorite sound in all the world. You coming by?"
"Yeah, see you in a few."
I had just gotten home from a long Friday of late classes when the phone had rung. It was the best ending for a difficult week at C o C. That place was tougher than any school I'd ever attended. Well RTS and JIHS were just preparation, I know, but I began to realize that preparation was not what it should have been. 'It could have been me,' ran through my head briefly during such thoughts. My problem was I enjoyed enjoying more than I did working at working. Getting those A's wasn't going to be the cakewalk I'd been through the privious twelve years. Aaah, who cared? It was Friday. The road into the night called and my unk had a new bottle of Calverts Extra.
The rumbling of his pipes grew louder as he came down the street.
"I'm going out!" I yelled at my folks as I slipped past the TV room.
"Whoa, son. Where are you going?" My dad suddenly took an interest in my destination.
"Clyde's outside. We were just going to ride over to the Patio. Meet some friends."
'Please be careful, son. Remember to call us if you need a ride home."
"I'll be with Clyde. That won't be necessary."
"I'm just saying, if it should be necessary. YOu have a dime to call?"
"Yessir. Right here." I lifted the old Mercury head dime into view.
"Alright then. You two be careful." He had a pained expression as I turned to leave. His interest always peeked when I was riding with Clyde, but he never tried to stop me.
When I had started high school his relationship with me had changed. I remember when it happened. We were raking leaves. Let me rephrase that. My dad was raking leaves. I was leaning on my rake day dreaming. My granddad had been over one day helping my dad in the yard years before. He saw me in that same stance back then and remarked to my dad, "You know. Kids are only good for two things." "What's that?" my dad had asked. "Eatin' and shittin'." That scene was one that floated through my mind on such rake leaning occasions along with so much else.
Dad saw me leaning and had decided this was the time.
"Son, you want to listen up for a minute?" He said holding his rake to the side.
I started raking with quick strokes knowing I would get a lecture on hard work and how good it was for you.
"No, no. Don't rake for a minute."
This was new. He usually talked about my grasshopper habits. That's the grasshopper that fiddled while the ant worked his behind off. Not this time though. He had a wrinkled brow. That wasn't normal. His next words took a while to come.
"You're getting older now. You'll be in high school this fall. It's time I talked to you."
'You always talk to me when I'm goofing off, I thought.
"I'll try to do better," I said. That usually cut talks short. He would nod and say, "I know you will," and go about his business.
"Yeah, I know but this is different. I need to talk to you about life and such." He seemed nervous. It was a new side of my dad. I'd received lectures all my life. Some punctuated with a heavy hand to my posterior. I knew the look that came with such moments. This wasn't one of them. My dad had sweat on his forehead. I didn't think anything of it since he'd been raking for an hour.
'Um, you, um. Well, where do I ... Um." He started to rake while he was talking. I'd never heard him hum and hah like this.
"Um... Birds and...bees...um. Oh hell. I know you are aware of the facts of life. You've heard it all from you friends. I'm sure Clyde has told you a lot. So, if you have any questions, I'm saying you can ask me. Now or later."
I stared at him dumb-founded. He was leaning on his rake now, staring at me. He was right about one thing, I'd heard a lot of baffling stuff. As to Clyde, he'd told me lots of stuff but none of it sounded quite possible and he'd said it with that crooked grin that usually meant he was having me on. But my dad was telling me it was alright to come to him to ask questions. I could never do that. It wasn't possible to approach this man who had been so stern his entire life with questions of a delicate nature.
Sex was what he was hinting at. I would never be able to speak with him about that.
"Uh, OK," I said.
"Oh, good. Glad that's over with." He turned his back and began raking a little faster.
That was our talk. That was my official introduction to the facts of life. Dad was relieved. I was relieved. It was done, never to be mentioned again, by either of us.
Clyde was waiting in the drive, the deep rumble of pipes under the '57 Ford sounding like Thunder Road. He saw me at the door and revved the V-8 filling the fall air with a roar heard across the Stono.
"Get in. The Patio awaits."
I slammed the door. He backed out and roared off. At the stop sign I asked, "Where's that seal I get to break?"
He reached under the seat an pulled out a pint.
"Here you go, nef."
Cups and chaser sat in the seat between us.
"Love that sound." I poured some into the plastic cups.
"Pour it like it ain't yours, nef."
I added some to his, then poured cocola to the brim.
We both drank. The Ford found its way to the Patio. He pulled into a slot. One of the waitresses came out.
"Whatcha gonna have, handsome? Whadda you want, Rickey?" There was always a distinct difference in the way we were asked.
She hung around the window for a while until another car parked across from us under the rain shelter.
Our stay there was punctuated by visits from all his buddies. Most of the girls who drove up had to spend a few minutes with him. The entire time we were mixing drinks and downing them.
"Well, another soldier dead," I said holding up the empty pint bottle.
"And another live one to the rescue," he said pulling a second one from beneath his seat. I began to think there was a cornucopia of Calverts beneath that seat. No matter, we cracked that seal and started in. My head was light as a feather. The talk began to float in and out when someone said, "Ever seen the light at Summerville?"
"What's that?" I asked.
"It's a ghost that walks along a road in Summerville. Some woman back in the 1800's used to meet her husband at the train station until one time he never came back because he was killed. They say she still walks to where the station was carrying a lantern."
"Sounds like a crock to me," I said with a laugh.
"Why not? We got nothin' else to do. Let's ride out there." Clyde seemed enthusiastic so I agreed. What else was I going to do? I was in his car.
I don't remember much about the ride to the stretch of lonely road. It was close to midnight. We sat in the dark staring out the windshield. The night was kind of a blur as my eyes slowly blinked into dozes.
"Look!" Clyde's shout woke me. "See that?"
There in front of us was a pinpoint of light.
"I see a speck of light way down the road there."
"Yeah, that's it."
"That's the light? Big deal."
We sat watching.
"It looks like it's getting bigger to me," said Clyde staring beyond the hood.
It did appear to be increasing in size.
"Is it waving back and forth?"
"It looks like an old time lantern swaying back and forth like somebody carrying it."
"Hey, it is getting bigger."
"No, it's getting closer not bigger."
"You think it's true? Do you think it's a real ghost?"
"Anything is possible, I guess."
"How close do you suppose it will get?"
"Wait. It isn't moving now. It stopped."
It was there. It had increased double the size it had been when we first saw it. We stared for a minute quietly.
Then it was gone. We waited for about ten minutes, but there was only darkness.
"Kinda gives me the creeps," I said.
"Yeah, let's go." Clyde cranked the car. The engine roared as he spun onto the roadway. We were quiet on the way home. When he dropped me off it was early in the morning. The lights in the house were off. I had to stumble in as quietly as a drunk can manage. I forgot about the light in Summerville as I slipped into my bed and promptly fell into a deep sleep.