The Reader - Week 4
The next morning Andy woke with a start. The house was quiet: there hadn’t been Evelyn’s usual clattering to disrupt his final dream, the dream that was always the sweetest one. He padded out to the kitchen in his bathrobe, started coffee and then went into the bathroom. After performing his toilet, he dressed and, by the time he returned to the kitchen, the coffee was done. On the top of the stack on the table there was another installment of the ongoing memoir queued up for his inspection:
Londa and the Gang
The older city buses had character. The buses had been built in the early 50s, cheaply, to drive out the perfectly serviceable trolley service. The city had sent the old streetcars to Mexico City where they were still being used. The old buses were being replaced by newer ones, slowly. The one we were riding in was probably overdue for replacement—the shocks certainly were.
Londa and her “boys” were riding to the hockey preview. I had heard about Londa, nothing bad, just that she would rather hang out with guys rather than girls. She didn’t do it to lead them on; the twinkle in her eyes was never a come-on. No guy would ever consider her a femme-fatale, not with her goofy grin, one that wasn’t always in sync with the situation. It was cold—typical January weather on the Northern Plains—the aged transport they were using wasn’t much warmer. Londa was in a seat mounted over the rear wheel-well, facing sideways, it offered her better dramatic opportunities. She was visible to the rest of the gang who sat in across from her and in the adjacent back row. When she was sure everyone was looking, she he leaned her head back against the window behind her and let her mouth hang open, slack-jawed. Whenever the bus ran over a rough patch of paving her whole face would quiver uncontrollably, making the guys laugh. She would then pull her head forward, the jiggling ceased and she acted as if nothing had happened. The guys found that to be even funnier. She kept them all amused with antics of this sort for the twenty minutes it took to get downtown. When they reached it they had to transfer to a different route. The guys formed a tacit cordon around her as they waited for the next bus. There were plenty of undesirable types on the street: guys who considered sixteen-year-old girls fair game. As well as thirteen-year-olds. None of the guys wanted any trouble for Londa, she was an alright girl, so they kept close to her. The second bus ride was shorter, they were out of their turf now, they kept hi-jinks to the minimum. After they arrived at the arena they paid their admission and went in.
The “ice barn”, as it was known, was old and constructed of wood. It had a narrow causeway around the arena proper: the rink and the seating. It was a firetrap. There were eight high school teams playing, two each in four quarters, it was the season preview. I found another friend from school and left the group to sit with him. Londa smiled as I left, opening her eyes wide, suggestively, but any malice she may have intended was betrayed by a giggle. Play began, but I quickly lost interest. I had never grasped the finer points of the game: there was a lot of “icing” and penalties and face-offs, none of the teams seemed to be very good. From time to time I would look over at Londa and the guys, trying to imagine how the dynamic of her “group date” was developing, but even when viewed from across the ice it was evident that she didn’t play favorites. The matches went on, my high school’s team played last and, much to everyone's surprise, decisively beat the other team. By this time it was after nine and there was a ten P.M. curfew, although if you had a ticket stub you wouldn’t be picked up. I took different bus home so I left the others. When I joined the throng in the corridor on the way to the exits a young rowdy, presumably from the team that had just lost, ran up and hoisted me off my feet and sneered “Are you from Henry?” he huffed. I actually was, but quickly denied it, saying I was from another team that had been beaten in the first round. The punk let me go and I went the other way. When I looked back, the punk had evidently gone looking for another victim.
Londa and the gang were not to be seen.
Andy put the manuscript down. He wasn’t in the mood for this coming-of-age story, but it helped to pay the bills. He made a few short edits and put it back in the unfinished pile. He’d get back to that one later, after he’d done his usual work.
The Reader is serial fiction, published every Friday.