Chopping corn


“Let’s do it Bro, we don’t want to be late.”

James was getting used to following Freddie’s lead. The big score on an IQ test when he was ten, and the ensuing fuss, had furnished Freddie with a grand sense of power. It was Saturday. It was time to get to Mass.

“You two behave yourselves in Church.”

“Okay Dad.”

James, newly licensed, slipped behind the wheel of the Camaro. He had waited until he was eighteen – two years over the minimum – to acquire the privilege. There had been driver’s ed. during a summer, well passed, but he was timid. Socially inept.

“So where are we headed?”

“Anywhere but, Bro.”


That was a lie. Attending Mass sounded grueling, but the prospect of being caught skipping was burdensome. Week after week of the same routine invited disaster. Freddie, hair past his shoulders, was nonchalant.

“Screw that shit.”

His friends had long hair too. Fourteen year olds who had been eleven when Woodstock went off. James had been fifteen then, as unaware of Woodstock then as he was about the looming draft a year ago. His birthday, Flag Day, had pulled a low number in the lottery. Their dad, their Battle of the Bulge bazooka man dad had not weighed in about Vietnam. Not to them anyway. The only moment he shared about his war framed “sleeping in frozen tank tracks on Christmas Eve.” He stuck with the Dodgers when they left Brooklyn, his opinion of draft dodgers was  unknown, and he attended Mass on Sunday morning.

The Camaro was a three fifty four barrel automatic coupe in gold, but with Freddie in the car James felt diminished.

“What’s going on later Fred?”

“Probably Jack with Jim and stay up all night.”

They rumbled out of town to the east as usual. Jack was Jack Daniels, Jim was Freddie’s best friend. Or maybe Jack was. They smoked pot and took pills too, without discretion of any kind, on a daily basis. There wasn’t much to talk about really. Two brothers who had shared a bed until James was ten, whispered hopes and secrets every night, cuddled for warmth and security. Now he was just Freddie’s driver.

“What the fuck is going on up here?”

“Fire or accident.”

“Park it, we’ll walk up and find out.”

There were a dozen cars parked helter skelter behind the fire trucks and police cars, plenty of flashing lights, but only one person visible in the road. It was Al George, the bald local barber with two first names. He cut James’ hair and he was a fireman.

“Hi fellas.”

“Hey Al. What’s goin’ on?”

It became clear that the emergency was in a field adjacent to the road. Several cars and trucks were parked in the field, as was a farm tractor with a wagon behind. There were two clusters of people, one near the wagon, one a good distance away. There seemed to be little activity. A lone man sat on the bumper of a pick-up, head in hands.

“Guy’s wife slipped and fell into the self-unloading wagon. You boys don’t want to go down there.”

“Is she dead?”

“She probably is by now.”

“Okay. Well. Thanks Al.”

“Okay boys.”

James clicked the shifter back through reverse and neutral.

” What next Fred?”

“Church is about over now. Let’s roll for home.”

2 responses to this post.

  1. I’m getting behindhand with US idiom. Was a low number good or bad? How does “framed” work? Also “Anywhere but…”. Sounds as if “gruelling” (sorry about the double l) must have gained another meaning

    I take it “Now he was just Freddie’s driver.” is an elaboration of “with Freddie in the car he felt diminished.” But is that really the case? Isn’t the guy behind the wheel always in charge, sort of superior?

    Are there grades in passing driver’s ed?

    I like “weighed in”. Also “stuck with the Dodgers when they left Brooklyn”, although wouldn’t that put him in the majority? And the curiously anachronistic “without discretion of any kind”. And the tricky “with two first names.”

    I envy you “sat on the bumper of a pick-up” since insurance requirements have changed car design in the UK and this might not be possible. On a pretty oldish car or pick-up perhaps. But it’s good to have him there, sitting in despair, needing to sit but too overcome to get into the cab.

    Could you work in something to do with time and the passage of time (ie, death) in the last line to tie in with they’ve just experienced.


    • Robbie: A low number was bad. Framed as a picture might be framed, I knew I was out on a limb with that. “Anywhere but” might have had needed “but” italicized. (Anywhere but Mass). Grueling = arduously severe. You may not have spent hours kneeling during Mass, but James has. The point had hoped to be that James was a follower even behind the wheel. Pretty severe. My 2010 Tacoma’s got a sit-able bumper. I’ll ponder your last line advice. Thanks.


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