By August Goldie matured into the teenage circadian rhythm. Now she slept until after her parents had left for work. On Monday, August 5, she awoke to see Mr. Johnson was not on his porch, no doubt, on one of his morning lefse visits; to whom and why was still a mystery. Mr. Johnson was a hard man to read; his outside did not show his inside.
Expecting no answer, she knocked on Mr. Johnson’s door. Goldie felt restless, not adventuresome. Restless. She pedaled through the town without much thought, even into the downtown, where she had not ridden all summer. The bakery smells brought her to a halt. Yes, now, fresh bakery bread for lunch was a good thought. In the bakery she looked into the glass case and planned her lunch. Swiss cheese, sardines, and pickled onions would go well on rye bread. Despite not being a sweet lover, she found the eclairs appealing. She ate only half of the one she bought. The sugary cream filling and the chocolate were nauseating She drifted out a country road and back into town to coast through alleys, not once looking into open garages. Maybe the library would settle her.
Sirens wailed. More than one vehicle. A new adventure! Off she raced to find them. She traced the sound for a few blocks to the abandoned pit where she read. Firemen had just cut through a gate to lead an ambulance and police car down the spiraling road. Wasn’t it peculiar for them to use the sirens on the way down? Who were they warning to get out of their way? Adults and other children gathered along the fence trying to see the bottom of the pit, which was screened from their angle. The conversation around Goldie told her what had happened. Kids, mostly boys was the consensus, sneaked into the mine to swim in the water that collected as lakes. They’d been doing it for all the years the pit was abandoned.
“Dangerous place to swim, especially to be diving,” one man said.
“For boys ain’t that the reason to do it? Was for us, anyways,” another said in almost a shout. An old woman shushed him.
“It gets really deep in places,” the first man stage whispered to the women around them.
“It’s hard to see in that water,” the second man said with the same too loud voice. “And rock piles stick up under the water.” This time he was shushed by several people.
Goldie heard a voice she recognized. Talking in a consoling tone, policeman Salmi had his arm around a crying woman. A woman behind Goldie was stage whispering to the crowd, “. . . comes to our house. We live right over there. He says them two boys dive in and doesn’t come back up. I calls the cops, but it musta been awhile since it happened, by the time he comes up here. So I went over to Steve’s house and tells her. That’s her over their with that cop. Maybe I should of waited for the cops to come to tell her, but, you know, one mother to another. I don’t see Ron’s mother here. She’s. . . well, I better not say it right now. . .”
Goldie spun around and asked, “Steve and Ron who?”
The woman sized up Goldie for her age. She did not answer.
“You mean Steve Hokanson and Ron Crebek!” They were the two classmates who more than once she had watched sneak into the pit below her bench above the mine.
The woman nodded. “Sorry, dearie. Them friends of yours?”
Goldie pushed her bike through the crowd. She heard a voice say, “Death’s pretty hard at that age, don’t you know.”
Goldie stood up on her bike pumping the pedals hard for two blocks. She sat and let the bike coast to a stop. After several deep breathes, she moved slowly forward, stopping at every crossing to look both ways until her vision became blurred from the tears yet to roll from her large glowing eyes. Afraid she might tip over, she walked the bike through intersection after intersection, blinking the tears out of her eyes, looking three times both ways. Where was she going? Home? No. She wanted her summer guardian angel.
Mr. Johnson did not answer her knock at his front door. He was not in his backyard nor in his garage with the out-of-date calendar. Mrs. Hagen yoo-hooed to Goldie from her back porch. Goldie ignored her. She ran the bike down the alley to her own back door. She grabbed the bread, dropped the bike, fumbled with the key, opened the door, locked the door behind her, and ran to her room. Curled up on her bed and crying, she tore small pieces off the rye bread to eat, of which she was unaware until she had to rush to the bathroom to vomit up the rye bread and the eclair. After washing her face, she took the bread downstairs and threw it in the garbage.
A chair in front of the kitchen corner windows allowed her to see part of Mr. Johnson’s garage door. She wiped away the tears smearing her vision. Why was she crying? She did not know. She hardly knew Ron. He was often in trouble in school. Steve teased her, but not in a mean way, unlike many of the kids.
Goldie wanted her mother to hold her, but she was miles away. Her father would do, but she was afraid to ride that far. Bike-riding had never before been frightening. If two boys her age were just that suddenly dead . . . well, you know . . . If she called her father, what would she say was wrong? This was all weird. Goldie did not ever cry, not even after her worst days in school.
She wanted her guardian angel.
Afraid she would miss Mr. Johnson, she quickly drew a glass of water and sat back down to drink it. Mrs. Hagen was standing by the fence in her back yard staring at Goldie. Watching the garage door and only the garage door, Goldie ignored the woman. Then the door began to rise. Goldie ran out her front door, down the sidewalk, and around the other side of Mr. Johnson’s house, not stepping into the backyard where Mrs. Hagen would see her. What was she expecting from her guardian angel?
He saw her, deduced she was hiding from Mrs. Hagen, deduced something was wrong, and came around the corner of his house. Goldie flung herself against him and cried into his orange and blue suspenders. At first he just stood, but he soon wrapped his arms around her. She was so thin and fragile, a child for all her wiles, he told himself. When her sobbing reduced to sniffling, he said, “I heard about those two boys. Are they why you are so upset?”
She nodded her head yes against his chest.
“Were they your friends?”
She shook her head no between his suspenders.
He waited for her to grow calmer. “Let’s go around the house and in the front door.” He led her into the living room and to her corner reading nest.
“No, please not there. I want to be by you, for you to talk to me.”
He feared the burden she was placing on him, to explain premature death to a child. He led her to the sofa, where she sat curled forward, her arms crossed on her knees, her chin only inches above her arms, tears still dropping from her closed eyes.
“After all that good crying, you should drink some water.” She nodded. He returned with a full glass of water and a box of tissues. “Drink up, Goldie.” He watched her swallow most of the water. “I know just the thing for you. I’ll be back soon.”
When he returned a few minutes later, she was curled up in the corner of the sofa wiping her swollen red eyes. He handed her a mug of hot liquid. “Careful, now, Goldie. It’s hot.” She looked into the mug and up at him. “It’s hot water, the best drinks for bad times. Just sip it.” He pulled a chair to sit facing her with his legs crossed and his hands lying in his lap.
After several sips Goldie said, “It doesn’t taste like water. It doesn’t taste like much of anything.”
“I think the heat will help revive you, I hope so, anyways. Do you want to tell me about it or just sit and sip?”
“I was out biking around, looking for something interesting . . . I followed the sirens to the pit. I heard people talking and they said Ron and Steve had not come up. Maybe they didn’t drown.”
“I was at the hospital visiting . . . they did drown. How well did you know them?”
She sipped. She thought. She sipped. “I don’t. They were just two dopey boys in my class.”
Mr. Johnson waited.
“I think I figured out why I was so scared. You see, I was even afraid to ride a bike. Why does a person stay upright on a bike? I started thinking I might fall over. But that was after. I have never known anyone who has died. My grandmas and grandpas are all alive. I don’t like to eat things that are all sugary. I bought an eclair at the bakery this morning before it happened. I only ate part of it. I got sick on it and some rye bread after in our house. This hot water is taking the taste out of my mouth. All kinds of people were there by the pit, kids and adults. Mr. Salmi was there with Steve’s mother. About the bike—all of a sudden I was afraid to think in three dimensions. Have you had anyone die on you? Oh, I’m sorry. Your wife.”
“My parents, my wife, friends, brothers and sisters, and others, but that’s what happens by the time you are old . . . Goldie, you are growing up. I have watched you change this summer. I do pay attention. You are becoming a woman. You will one day be a most beautiful young lady, you know . . . So the two boys died and you realized . . . “
She smiled. “Finally, you call me Goldie . . . I know everybody dies . . .I think about time all the time. Is time only one dimension, like one of my father’s timelines? I think sometimes about the moment, that moment right then. That moment right then will never happen again. You know, like this moment right now will never happen again. Do you want bad moments to be over? I do. By the pit was a horrible moment. There will be more moments. Time is just moments after moments. You can never go back. You just go onto another moment. School is just moments after moments . . . This summer I keep thinking, but don’t want to, that sometime the moment will be my last moment, which is scary. Why can’t time be three-dimensional? You know, so you could go off left or right or up or down, and escape, or do interesting things . . .”
“Then you found out two dopey boys died just like that . . .”
“I should not say they are, were, dopey. But I thought that my last moment was way far down my timeline. At the pit I realized maybe it might not be. What will that last moment be like?”
“When Hilda died, my son Davey told me it will be his last adventure to know what that last moment will be like. Davey is adventurous like you. My other son Marvin died. That scared Davey who was only a couple years older than you when that happened. Marvin had Downs syndrome.”
“Well, it was a few years ago, many years ago. Now . . . about the calendar . . . “ She looked intently into his eyes, an eager lust to know shining in her liquid eyes. It was almost too much to look at, at her eager youth, but he held her stare. “I was getting old. I was just living day to day, moments after moments, like you say . . . One day I was carving out on my front porch just watching people pass by, the few that did. I cut myself badly and had to drive myself to the hospital. I was bleeding all over myself. But, you know why I cut myself?” He waited for her to solve the puzzle.
“Your knife wasn’t sharp, was it?”
“Not as sharp as it should be. I was getting too lazy to keep sharpening it. I tried to force it through a tough spot of wood with twisty grain. I came back from the hospital into the garage. My clothes were all bloody. My right thumb had five stitches and was all bandaged up. When I got out of the pickup, I saw the calendar hanging there. It was December First and the calendar was on November. Then I decided not to turn over the month. I decided I would keep my knife very sharp. And I would do something that mattered. Old age is lots of moments that don’t matter much, if you let it be that way. So I started visiting old people who don’t get out much any more. It was the only important thing I could think of to do with the rest of my moments. My church gave me names of people to visit. Those people gave me other names. Pretty soon I was bringing lefse to some of them. I try to have . . .I’ll say have as many good moments as I can. You have given me good moments this summer. Every time I pull into my garage . . .”
“You see the calendar on November, 1970. Mr. Johnson, that was an impressive amount of personal talking for you.”
“Goldie, call me Arne, if you would.”
She thought before answering, “No, you’re Mr. Johnson.”
“Then you are still Marigold.”
She laughed, which made him laugh. “It’s a deal,” she said. He could see she was still thinking. Her crying had stopped. “You know, it’s like you got off the one dimension of time.”
“Well, I’m not up to three dimensions like you. But I guess I’m managing two dimensions. Let’s us go visit Hilda. I’ll drive us out. We’ll say hello to Hilda and feed horses to cookies.”
She laughed. “You mean cookies to horses.”
He smiled. “I bet you have not had one of your Marigold’s special sandwiches for lunch. We’ll stop at the drive-in for hamburgers. Should we call your parents?”
“No. Will you tell my parents about my bad moment, like you tell them everything else I do?”
“Not everything. Do you want me to tell them?”
“No. I’ll tell them. Then Mother will hug me and I’ll probably cry some more, but that will be later. I would like to have a greasy drive-in hamburger, just for a change from my three-dimensional sandwiches. I’ll treat you.”
Mr. Johnson had the wisdom not to argue with her about who would pay.
Newspaper Column “The Third Dimension”
People in the cemetery stand and listen as I play. They dwell in their memories. I dwell in mine. They thank me and we part. Me to my chair. They to tend graves.
I take several of the shortbreads and crumble them on the top of a few old tombstones for the squirrels and birds, as Mr Johnson would do.
I finish my hot water before I clean and pack away my trumpet to leave.
©Clyde L. Birkholz 2017