Eighty-Eight Days: A Foreshadowing

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Homer savors his walk home on the last day of school.

Submitted: November 15, 2016

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Submitted: November 15, 2016

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But never mind about that, because right now, the last day of school has come and gone, and Homer’s walking away from it, walking right away, going home, happily hot and stupid, windbreaker tied around his waist, shoulders moving freely, white deck shoes agitating the gravelly dust that plumes like an aerosol in the heat, telling him, yes, it’s the first of another eighty-eight days of doing what he pleases.

Another eighty-eight days.  That’s 88, for anyone’s information.  Twelve short of 100.  After all those days of swinging at air, of lobbing bobbled grounders at the moon (once clean over the backstop and into the astonished lap of Nettie Arnold, the high school’s sixty-seven-year-old secretary at the controls of the concession stand on wheels), of letting pop-ups plop dead to the turf at his feet, Homer’s never felt such coordination, never known such grace.

Rumbling up the road is Horton Hanover’s two-door blue beast with rust trims, his dream wheels, the product of two years’ worth of slaving as Head Blood Burger Cook at the Bismarck Inn.  He swerves at Homer.  His younger brother Poppin’ Fresh, Homer’s classmate, flicks a smoldering Viceroy butt out the passenger-side window, toasts Homer with a can of Miller High Life.

“Nice fan job.  Love it, babe,” he hollers, flashing a wicked grin as his zany brother swerves back onto the road, a miniature replica of the Travel Lodge Bear swinging wildly from the rearview mirror.  “Be back in an hour to pick you up!”

People speculate that Horton wants to die with his car, wants to reach the Pearly Gates on wheels.

As Homer walks on, heading for home, out from under both arms bulge the insides of his locker: loads of dilapidated folders defaced with rock-and-roll graffiti representing nine months’ worth of daydreaming and dawdling, stuffed with long-forgotten or otherwise meaningless assignments and quizzes; a duffle bag crammed with a pair of threadbare Converse All Stars, a “Property of Smoky River Athletic Department” T-shirt, crumpled shorts, toxic athletic socks and a crusty green towel; his end-of-term science project for Mental Marv, the one he’d deemed “The Solar System,” the one for which he’d actually felt something bordering on affection, had exhausted two weeks on, designing and redesigning, cutting and re-cutting, pasting and re-pasting, bending and re-bending and bending some more; and even though the only illusion he’d conjured by the time he was through was ten spray-painted styrofoam balls suspended by piano wire from wooden dowels, and even though he’d condemned it openly, publicly … inside, secretly, stingingly, it’d kind of meant the world to him compared to past projects, because only he’d known the soul that’d gone into the making of it.

But now, with the first of his eighty-eight days stretched out before his feet (of course we count this one!), Homer pays no mind to a severely dented Venus, to Neptune dangling lamely, to the happy face his good friend Grunter carved into Uranus, for it’s all in the past now, back there with everything that smells of scholasticism, rotting with plot summations, allegorical interpretations and bombastic bardic illustrations by Mr. Zarcoccovich; back there with topic sentences, thesis statements and five-paragraph essays; back there with the whiteface makeup Homer had to wear for the annual spring play fiasco, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, not to mention the tinsel garland and cardboard wings.

And don’t forget about the gargantuan purple papier-mâché flower.

It’s all in the past now, back there with the giggles in the dark of the audience, former friends who’d known straight away it was only a play; only good old Homer, prancing around in gray tights and slippers in front of the whole school; good old red-faced Stroker, swinging (more like dangling) from a rope in an elf’s costume and bare feet; known straight away it was only Crazy Larry and Poppin’ Fresh, wearing bathrobes and eyeshadow and having trouble with their vocabulary.

No more, “Look at the fairies!”

Never mind about the “Nice pansy!”

Goodbye Midsummer Night’s Dream.  So long Old Yeller.  Take a hike, Zarcuckoo for Coccovich.

Yes, it’s all in the past now, back there with the teachers and the coaches and the administrators who used to know what was best for Homer.

Uncle Neville used to know what was best, ancient Uncle Neville, sitting stiff-backed and comatose behind his trusty red math book, reading word-for-word from the chapters, hoping to catch even Martin Finkmeyer, the best and the brightest, off guard:

“When each angle of a triangle is sixty degrees,” Neville’s dusky voice still echoes, “it is said to ... what? Martin Finkmeyer.”

“Er, an isosceles triangle?”

“The answer is be, Mr. Finkmeyer.  Be.”

But Uncle Neville doesn’t know anymore.  Uncle Neville doesn’t know about freedom, doesn’t know about the eighty-eight days, doesn’t know life is x, death is the given; plug in your own y.

It’s only the seventh of June, merely the first movement of the real plot, and already Homer’s olfactories are tuned to the humid heat of summer, the scent of dust and dandelions and the blue air that was denied him these last nine months of Hell.  He looks up.  The sun makes everything bright, especially the chrome on cars.  The sky is blue, the sun is yellow, the trees are bushy-green and rubbery-leaved, glittering in the breezes, and the road is gray and barren, stretched way out before him.

And that’s as scientific as it gets.

The weight of the scholastic debris begins to make his forearms burn and his brow sweat.  Dust adheres to his upper lip and dries out his teeth.

But none of it matters, because Homer’s walking away from prison, from tyranny, ignominy—a free man, a beautiful man, and soon he’ll be home for eighty-eight days, and right about now, eighty-eight days sounds as good as forever.

Think of the things foreshadowed by this toasted gravel crunching underfoot: baseball games that don’t count, sleeping out, making out (well, it’s a thought), summer storms, storybook bolts of lightning splitting Lake Pearl’s aqua waters, the coal embers in Dad’s new concrete barbecue glowing a cool orange after midnight, free live rock performances (Stroker’s on bass) at the Smoky River State Park Pavilion, ripe breezes funneling through the bedroom window, maybe another Beer Tent blowing down, maybe even a tanked-up Sheriff Sheski backing his three-wheeled metermobile one more time into the river.

It means squatting in the middle of the street to catch no-hitters for Poppin’ Fresh’s brother Horton, the biggest jock who never played sports.  No one in the land pitches better, dunks better, throws bombs better or knows more about athletic lore.  No one so skillfully sustains a form-fed hall-of-fame commentary riddled with obscure statistics and brief flashbacks to fabled moments on the diamonds, courts and gridirons of America.

It means Horton’s battle cry, “Sink the Bismarck!” and his wife Babe, who lives in the kitchen with her twelve-inch black-and-white tubular TV, watching game shows while folding the laundry.

It means walking the railroad tracks to Art Sausage’s white wooden store in the gravel lot off U.S. 7 to stock up on summer sausage.  It means bottles of Cream Soda and Frostie Root Beer in the Coke machine just outside the dented screen door, and the big old fives and zeros and nines that pop up in the window at the top of Art’s cash register.

It means the Seventy-Seventh Annual Smoky River Fourth of July Rhubarb Parade and the entire population, and then some, coming out to witness it—ladies in lawn chairs, old men in flip-flops, kids with cotton candy, craning their necks to see the float with the Guinness piece of Rhubarb sticking straight up into the heavens, and the thing that looks like a motorized order of hash browns but really isn’t, and the clowns with the big white bellies and black axle grease smeared on their faces, and the war veterans in phosphorescent silver helmets twice the size of their heads, marching down River Boulevard in vintage battlefront step.

It means Crazy Larry, son of a post-mortem examiner, and Poppin’ Fresh sprinting into the road for an autograph and a handshake from a substitute but well-meaning Bozo and bragging about it for the rest of the summer.

It means fishing on Tuesday, sleeping until noon on Thursday, going to the beach on Monday and staying up late on Wednesday.

And then mixing it all around and starting over.

Think of the things foreshadowed in the heat membranes rippling above the road, in that ladybug alighting on Homer’s shirtsleeve: Stroker’s musty old rain-and-soil smelling tent and contraband periodicals under flashlight, bike rides to the Big Dipper for two scoops of Mississippi Mud, the thick thrashing branches of the poplar tree across from Crazy Larry’s and a burned-out streetlight squeaking overhead, pickup baseball games at Elderkin Park.

It’ll be nothing short of the supernatural, walking in the familiar unknown at two in the morning with Crazy Larry, Grunter and Stroker, lighting gas fires in the street and dodging cars.

Call it the perfect crime.  Every day will be Saturday.  Every night will be Friday.  Now the real Homer can come out.  Now he can have a real life.  It’s what the dust and the heat and the beat-up folders tell him.  It’s what the red-winged blackbirds and the worksheets say.  And now, to be sure, this boy can feel it; through and through, he can feel it ... doggonit!  He owns this town!

What’s the plot?  Simple:  Homer and Grunter swim in Lake Pearl and throw their beach towels in the burning sand, letting the sun bake their bodies dry—the two of them, shut off to everything except WKSM-FM on Homer’s Motorola transistor and the wind combing across the beach and through their hair and the waves and the echo of their toes digging in the sand.  What’s the game plan?  Eighty-eight days.  It’s what you get for your troubles, what you get for messing up your politicians, your continents and capitals and stock market figures, what you get for fooling nine months with rhombuses and trapezoids and parallelograms, for stomaching lessons on appositives and causatives and infinitives, not to mention subjunctives and disjunctives and conjunctives.  And it isn’t a day too long for Homer.  Maybe for Martin Finkmeyer or Jane the Brain, but not for Homer.

As he turns onto Buckthorn Drive, oblivious to a sad-faced spelling paper crumpled and bopping in the balmy breeze, Homer’s pulse rate quickens, and his heart begins to palpitate, for there in the distance, playing Frisbee with her Irish Wolfhound, is Lolly Murphy, daughter of Hank and Cookie Murphy, realtors.  She’s a miracle in the sun—cobalt eyes like jewels, mounds of swirling white-gold hair like cool whip, slender brown legs in pink cotton shorts, a white bikini top, exposing the chocolate-colored birthmark that spreads from the top of her right shoulder to the middle of her back, resembling Idaho.

She’s the shape of Homer’s airy nothings.

He might even dream of dancing with her, if only his feet had brains.

She waves at Homer, even calls his name.

Though stunned, Homer understands it’s not a normal time.  Her hair hints at a wildness, her eyes at a sparkle, braces a gleam.

Yes, Homer whispers within ... Yesss.

He waves back and calls her name, too, as if it’s a normal thing, as if maybe there’ll be more where that came from.

It’s going to be one fine summer, all right, full of Crazy Larry and Poppin’ Fresh and the streets at night and air guitar and baseball games ruled by bases drawn in the dust, and Homer would say flowers, too, but it isn’t his style.

Oh, what the heck, he thinks, glancing over a shoulder ... flowers.

Only one official NFL football, Grunter, Stroker and some open space is all it’s going to take for Homer to let his dreams loose, to mix the physical with the mental, the sounds of his breathing and his beating heart with the exhalations of the capacity crowd as he leaves his feet, stretched out, straining for Grunter’s long bomb.

Good dreaming is the key.

As Homer walks along the roadside, dead into summer, he feels a direct line to God.  He didn’t even have to die and he’s made it to Heaven.  The apple trees have blossomed.  The dandelions have bloomed.  The Big Dipper is open for business.

If the other Heaven, the church one, can match this, it’ll only be icing on the cake.

Homer can handle it now—the humidity, the sweat, the feet burning up inside his deck shoes, the primeval papers and handouts oozing from the seams of his folders, like an old self shedding, like rebirth, resurrection, because Homer’s seen the future, and he’s seen that it’s going to be good.

A sonic-booming car approaches from behind, the roar of its engine overpowered by rock-and-roll guitars buzzsawing from the backseat speakers, singer wailing that he’s “feelin’ good, can’t be real, must be dreamin’ ‘bout my drivin’ wheel.”  Homer hears it coming for a long time.  It rumbles up next to him—an orange-bondoed Chevy Nova, wired for concert sound—and screeches to a halt, bouncing on its shocks.  Girls, piled all over inside, hurl forward en masse, crashing into the front seat.  Behind the wheel is upperclassman Bitchin Bill Banter, Satan’s mechanic.  His face is a pair of mirror shades.  He stares menacingly at Homer, revving the engine, then brandishes a whopper of a white grin that turns his face into all shades and teeth.

He revs the engine again, harder, foot on the brake, actually waves, howls “Yaw der!” and lets go of the brake, leaving a three-yard streak of rubber in a wake of buzzsawing guitars.

“Powerful love, steady roll, move my body and it rock my soul.”

Homer feels suddenly fond of Bitchin Bill Banter, even dares to consider him a comrade in freedom.  He understands his message.  It’s the craziest thing.  He almost could be in that car with Bitchin Bill and feel right at home, not counting the girls.

But never mind about that, because right now, Homer’s closing in on home, on freedom, crossing the Orion Bridge, whose wooden planks creak beneath his feet.  Below, the river is smoke, hidden and still.  To fish in the river in summer is like casting your line into the clouds.  You have to be standing on its banks to believe it’s there.

But never mind about that, either, because right now, like turning the corner in a dream, like exposition giving way to the first chorus of a canticle, Homer beholds his home, there on the corner of Stambaugh and Caspian—a narrow, two-storied, gray-shingled colonial, the front of its white-trimmed roof rising through the green and into the blue.

He’s in the front door.  He drops this year’s educational manacles and remnants thereof in a pile in the entryway.  Silence answers.  Homer’s alone.  He’s standing in a big cool empty home on the first of eighty-eight free days.

The kitchen window’s open and the sun’s shining on a plant that hangs against the screen.  A light breeze nudges the leaves.  The radio on the kitchen table is tuned to WKSM-AM, a station for old people, due to a preponderance of trading programs, weather reports, in memoriams and warmed-over tunes from the Dark Ages, served up on violins, oboes, French horns and harps, all mushed together into one mushy instrument, with Frank Sinatra voices practically sleeping at the microphone.

But Homer knows it’s not a normal time, as he takes a look in the refrigerator and Frank crooningly spreads the news, because Homer actually thinks it sounds pretty wonderful.  It actually kind of fires him up, fills him with contentment, makes him feel free—free, like a cuckoo shrike.

Already he’s feeling older, wiser, as the cool refrigerator air wafts into his face with the aroma of fresh lettuce and leftover spaghetti and something not quite discernable, but fresh and sweet and juicy, nonetheless.

What is that anyway?

As the plot thickens, Homer bends down in there to get a better look.  And then, there, on the bottom shelf, just as he’d suspected, looking all fat and proud under waxed paper ... goldammer, it’s the first watermelon of the summer!


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