IF EVER Chapter I

IF EVER Chapter I

A Chapter by Richard Adamson

CHAPTER I

     If ever there was a time in history that compared with the loneliness and shallow dreams of the people of this small mid-western town,  those who lived, indeed, deserved the compassion of others in a more contented state.  But, being the year 1936, the more fortunate were few.  The hope of renewing the past is always present with a strong people such as these.

     By early August, it was becoming a very long summer.  The arid conditions were almost unbearable.  It had not rained a measurable amount in months.  The agricultual economy was at a standstill.  Everything, inside and out, was continuously covered with a film of dust.  This dust, in these times, made for a feeling of foulness and extreme discomfort.

     Candor was a very small town.  The bank was at the point of failing.  The doctor was past retirement age.  A blacksmith specialized in sales and repair of farm machinery.  His sales were none.  His repair of wornout equipment made a meager living.  The local sheriff's office occasionally had an overnight guest from the bar down the street.  Candor's city building contained a library and a part time mayor.  The barber doubled as an undertaker.  A post office displayed the US flag daily.  Both the two room school house and the church served as community meeting places.  There was a train station, but travel outside of the area was rare.  The tracks ran adjacent to the feed and milling business owned by the mayor.  A filling station, offering full service, sat on the corner accross from the bank.  One general store served most of the household needs of the citizens.

     Mrs. Bernard, along with her son Thomas, operated the general store, known as Bernard's Merchantile.  With her late husband, she had raised two sons.  Her tired body was showing signs of age.  Things were getting tougher because of the large number of uncollectible bills, but they managed to live quite comfortable due to the food and other items taken in on trade.  She was overly generous in her way of offering goods to the public.  The people of Candor were all her neighbors and most were not as well off as she was.

     Thomas Bernard, known t everyone as Tommy, had spent all of his twenty three years in Candor.  He was a tall, handsome young man.  His bold features and strong stature made him appear as an all-american boy for this era.  His life had been spent taking care of his mother and helping her with the business.  Only his thoughts carried him away from Candor.  He often dreamed about and explored, through books and magazines, life beyond what he had experienced in this small mid-western town.

     It was a bright early morning in Candor.  It was approaching ninety degrees, and was expected to top the one hundred degree mark by afternoon.  These temperatures, along with the winds and dust, of this summer had already taken a large toll on all living things.  Even though the people of Candor had adjusted their lives to this unbearable climate, apprehension was evident.

     Tommy had opened the Bernard's Merchantile for his mother, as he always did.  After routinely finishing his chores of cleaning and restocking, Mrs. Bernard had arrived.  This gave him a chance to relax for a short while when business was slow.  Tommy took advantage of these breaks.  Working from daylight to dark at the store and continuing with chores at home in the evenings kept him busy.  He did not really mind it.  He had been doing it for many years and there was nothing else to do.

     Sitting outside under the awning, enjoying a glass of lemonade, Tommy felt a sharp sting on his thigh.  Something had hit him hard in the leg.  He looked in the direction in which he thought in came from and saw Chubby holding an empty slingshot.

     Chubby, at the mature age of eight, was the town terror.  He was always into some kind of trouble.  If he wasn't in the middle of tormenting someone, then he would be sneakily planning to do so.  He was small for his age, and no one knew how he got his nickname, but everyone called him Chubby.  He could run like a rabbit, and had so many short-cuts and hiding places that no one would even bother to chase him.  He had sandy brown hair, or at least it appeared to be.  He was always so dirty it was difficult to tell.  His foul mouth made him a complete deranged child.

     "How ya doin' ugly?"  He asked Tommy.

     "Just fine, until you showed up.  Can't you go harass somebody else?"

     "I want t try out my damn slingshot.  My pa made it.  He said I could shoo birds, but I'd just as soon shoot me a fat old lard butt like you."  Chubby continued, while Tommy tried to ignore him.  "Did it hurt?  I hope so, else it wouldn't be no damn good."  He loaded the slingshot with another rock.

     "Get out of here, before you break something."

     "I ain't done yet.  Gotta try one more."

     Tommy knew he probably couldn't catch him, but he could chase him off.  He stood up and said, "Go, or I'll give you a thrashing!"

     Chubby took off running and screaming.  "I'm gonna git my pa.  Pa'll whip your a*s like he done mine."

     As Tommy went back inside, finishing his cool drink, he saw Charlotte Hansbury heading towards the store.  He almost choked on the last swallow.  His feelings for Charlotte were nuetral, but he would just as soon avoid the little pest.  Lately, she had been constantly hanging around, getting in his way.  She was kind of cute, but she was nothing more than a tomboy with a crush on him.  How could a young man be so lucky?  At times he wished he could tell her to leave him alone, but his manners would not permit him to offend her.  He hoped her admiration for him would soon pass on its own.

     Charlotte lived alone wih her father, the sheriff of Candor.  She had never known her mother, who had died when she was very young.  The sheriff was quite a harsh man and had not taken the time to educate his daughter on the feminine things that make up half of this world.  She had grown up waiting on her father never realizing that there could be any other way of life.  She was satisfied with this, at least until she had recently found the void in what was to be the rest of her own life.  She felt Tommy's future should somehow coincide with her own.

     This morning there was something different about Charlotte as she entered the store.  Her long dark hair was not tucked up under a cap as it usually was.  She was wearing an attractive blouse instead of an old shirt.  Her new jeans seemed to highlight her best attributes as she moved with a new found elegance.  She appeared to be a woman rather than a  childish girl of eighteen, as Tommy knew she was.

     After greeting Mrs. Bernard, Charlote started brousing around the store.  This was something new.  She had been spending alot of time at Bernard's recently.  Normally she would eagerly approach Tommy and follow him around with meaningless conversation.  Telling him of how her life was going to be someday.  This morning was different.  She seemed to completely avoid him, except for an occasional glance of unusual seriousness.  Her nervous appearance was apparent.

     Tommy started back to work wiping the ever accumulating dust off a shelf stocked with canned goods.  He found himself thinking of the impression Charlotte had made on him when she first entered the store.  She seemed to have transformed into an adult overnight.  It was definitely and improvement.  Most possibly she had also outgrown her affection for him.  Puzzled over his feelings, he felt a little saddened that she my not be hanging around him any more.

     Busy with his work, Tommy had not noticed his mother enter the storage room, leavng him alone with their one brousing customer.  As he was replacing a can of vegetables back on the shelf, he heard his name spoken softly.

     "Tommy?"

     Awkwardly he let the can fall t the floor.  As he turned to pick it up, he found himself facing Charlotte.

     He asked, "Can I help you with something?"

     "No."  Charlotte answered.

     Noticing her soft smooth complextion and dark brown eyes staring at him, he asked, "What is it then?"

     Charlotte spoke in a delicate voice that he had not heard before.  "I have to talk to you, Tommy."

     "OK."  He stated.

     Sheepishly she said, "Not here Tommy.  I'll meet you tonight by the old apple tree on Candor Creek."

     She turned away and headed towards the door before Tommy had a chance to say anything.  If she had given him a chance he didn't know what he would have said.  He did know he was not pleased withthe vague details of this secret meeting.

     The day trudged on, as all days did.  The only difference was that Tommy had something to keep his mind busy today.  He was angered by the thought that this girl was so bold as to demand an out-of-the-way meeting between them, even though, he knew her demand was more of a request.  He had not decided if he would keep the appointment or not.  He had almost entirely forgot about his earlier impression of her as a childish tomboy.  His curiosity of what this young lady might have to say to him grew overwhelmingly as the day progressed.

     Later that same day, as Tommy was helping anothr non-paying customer, he saw Amos Hansbury enter.  Amos was the sheriff of the town and quite frequently walked across the street from his office to purchase a pouch of tobacco or other small item to sustain him between meals.

     Amos was a large stout man with a beet red face and hair to match.  He was not very well tempered.  Not many people liked him, but he was the only one idle enough to accept the low paying position of sheriff.  Besides that, he had had the job forever.  At least as long as Tommy could remember.

     Mrs. Bernard had left Tommy alone in the store while she delivered some goods to an elderly shut-in.  After finishing with his customer, he returned to the counter where the seriff was impatiently waiting to be served.

     "Good day Sheriff Hansbury."  Tommy greeted.

     Without acknowledging his greeting, the sheriff ordered a pouch of tobacco.  After counting his change in his hand, he added a couple of licorice sticks to his order, and dropped the exact amount on the counter.  As he turned to leave, Tommy thanked him.

     When the sheriff reached the door he turned his body back around half way to speak to Tommy.  His waist and neck were incapable of turning on their own.  "My daughter has been talking about you, quite a bit lately.  You had better stay away from her."  He paused with an icy look in his eyes, then continued.  "I won't warn you again."

     Tommy replied not thinking about how intriguing she was earlier, "I want nothing to do with Charlotte.  She's the one that needs to be told to stay away from me."

     The sheriff repeated as he walked out the door with his back to Tommy, "I won't warn you again."

     The conversation bewildered Tommy greatly.  Amos had never been very friendly, but he had always treated Tommy and his mother with repect.  He was probably just having a bad day, with the heat and all.  Charlotte must have made her feelings towards Tommy known to her father.  The thought of someday not having her to wait on him hand and foot was evidently bothering him.  It would pass.  Tommy didn't really care.

     Twelve years ago Amos Hansbury had shot Tommy's father to death in a late night street brawl.  At that time Tommy's mother had explained to him that he should not hold blame with the sheriff.  It was in the line of duty and was done in self defense.  He had never felt that the whole story had been told to him, but had repected his mothers wishes.

    Frank Bernard had come home from Europe after the Great War.  He was a different man than when he left.  He was drunk most of the time and would fight at the drop of a hat.  He was a very strong man.  Except for his wife, the pain he inflicted was soon forgotten.  He couldn't hold a job and even during those better times their family was amoungst the poorest.  Mrs. Bernard taugt her sons not to have hard feelings for their father.  He also had a wonderful caring side, according to their mother.

     Mrs. Bernard had began working at the store while her husband was away at war.  This income along with some part-time sewing and washing was all that their family had to live on.  She took over the business after her husbands death.  They did quite well for serveral years until the depression came along.

     By late afternoon the heat was all but unbearable.  Business was slow in Candor.  The people would stay inside, out of the sunlight and dusty winds in the heat of the day.  It was an exhausting time for everyone.

     After Tommy restocked the shelves and locked the money in the safe, the day was over.  His moter had left eary to start their supper.  It had been a typical day for the general store.  There had been an adequate number of customers.  That is, if they had been paying customers.

     As Tommy walked home along the dusty streets he thought about his life and what it must be like away from Candor.  Things had to be better elsewhere.  Realisticly there did not seem to be much of a future for him.  He felt trapped.  His mother had become so dependent upon him that he knew he would never escape.

     When he arrived at home his mother had supper ready for them.  There was very little conversation while the ate.  They discussed several items of inventory at the store that they were running low on and needed to be ordered.  He complimented her, as he always did, on the meal she had prepared even though it was simple in content.

     He could not help noticing how old his mother was getting to look.  Her hair was completely white.  Her skin was becoming wrinkled.  She had worked hard all of her life.  Her body was tired and her slow actions made this increasingly evident.  Each day seemed to age his mother even more.  He felt sorry that her life had been so hard.

     Mrs. Bernard could see that her son appeared troubled during their meal.  She waited until they had finished and were doing the dishes before she commented, "You are awfully quiet tonight, Thomas.  Is there something on your mind?"  She asked.

     Without thinking he denied this.  Then he added, "Mom, I think you should slow down.  You've been working too hard."

     In a dominant voice she replied.  "If I didn't work, how would everything get done?'

     He responded, "I didn't mean you should quit working at the store.  I meant maybe you should slow down a little and let me do more.  I can handle more.  Things will get done."

     She answered, "I don't know.  We will see."

     Tommy knew it would  be hard for his mother not to spend all of her time at the store.  She had been doing it for so many years and alot of their customers relied on her being there.  If for no other reason than to visit or use her to listen to their problems.  It did not seem fair.  She was so good hearted.

     Mothers have an instinct when it comes to their own children's feelings.  Fishing for the problem, she continued, "Didn't Charlotte Hansbury look nice this morning?"

     Emabarrassed by the question he responded, "I didn't notice."

     Sensing her son's awkward feeling, she knew she had hit the nail on the head.  She loved her son greatly and realized that the store was sometimes a burden on him.  At his age a young man had things on his mind, other than work alone.  She wished times were better and that she could do more for her son.

     "Well, I think that she looked real pretty."  She continued, "You should do things with people your own age more often.  It is not good for you to spend all of your time at the store either.  Maybe we both need a break from tme to time."

     Not about to give up, she pursued the subject.  "It wouldn't hurt you to give Charlotte a little more attention.  She is a nice girl.  I can tell that she thinks alot of you.  Why don't you ask her to come for dinner this Sunday?"

     Tommy trying to avoid any more dicussion said, "She's just a kid."

     "Charlotte is an attractive young lady that any boy should be happy to have as a friend."  She offensively stated.

     Knowing that he could not avoid it any longer he confessed.  "She did ask me to meet with her tonight."

     "Get going Thomas, go!"  She demanded.  "I can finish up with these dishes."

     Not wishing to appear too anxious, he slowly wiped off his hands and said, "I think maybe I will go for a walk.  It's a nice night."

     Mrs. Bernard was proud of herself.  She was happy that maybe her son had changed his opinion of Charlotte Hansbury.  He needed something to occupy himself with other than the store.  He did not have many friends that were around his own age.  She also had always accepted the fact that her son should have his own life to live.

     Walking towards Candor Creek, but not admitting to himself where he was going, Tommy thought that life in this town was terribly uneventful.  The slow pace and the faces that seemed like permanent fixtures were all that it had to offer.  He wanted more from life.  He did not know what, but something more than what Candor had to offer.

     It was a delightful evening.  The wind had gone down along with the temperature.  The moon and stars shown brightly.  Besides the dry smell of dust, there was little evidence of the unbearable days that divided the nights into short periods of comfort.  If it could rain, it might wash away some of the heartlessness along with the dust.  This was not very likey in August.

     When Tommy arrived at Candor Creek he was fascinated by the creek bed.  In the moon light it appeared as a giant road map.  The cracks being roads that led to unknown areas, that with one step could be explored in a second.  It was as if in this small creek there could have been unlimited life beyond what was known to Tommy.

     As Tommy walked down the dry creek bed he heard a rustling in the grass under the old apple tree.  He stopped a short distance from the tree, wondering if his decision to meet Charlotte here was a good one.  It was a pleasant night for a walk and, for some reason, he was interested in what she would have to say.  He walked closer.

     Out of the dark under the tree came a feminine voice,  "Hello, Tommy."

     He acknowledged her greeting as she stepped out into the dim light.  He was amazed at the perfect shape of this person previously hidden by the shadow of the apple tree.  Silhouetted by the shining moon, she looked like an angel.  He stepped up the bank recognizing that it was Charlotte.

     "I have been waiting awhile.  I thought maybe you weren't coming."  She said.

     Still stunned by her beauty, he remarked, "I didn't decide to until the last minute, but I'm glad that I did."

     She remarked, "It is beautiful out tonight, isn't it?  I love the moonlight.  Can we sit down for a few minutes?"

     Without saying a word he sat down with her on the grassy bank of the creek.  He felt uncomfortable.  It had been a long time since he had been alone with an attractive girl.

     Charlotte continued, "When I was younger and things were bothering me, I used to follow the creek clear to the bluffs.  There's a beautiful spot up there,  where an old oak tree shades the creek.  It is my secret place.  I've never told anyone about it.  I would spend the whole day by myself thinking about things.  By the time I got back home everything would be better.

     Tommy was enchanted by the story.  He could almost picture the place, complete with Charlotte.

     After a short period of time, he said, "I don't know if I should be here.  I don't think it would make your father very happy."

     "He thinks he owns me."  She replied.

     Tommy reminded her, "He is your father."

     "I know, but I'm old enough to make my own decisions."  She stated.

     Inquisitively he asked, "Why are we here Charlotte?"

     In a timid but captivating voice, unlike the Charlotte that Tommy was accustomed to, she answered.  "I have been trying to get your attention for weeks."  She paused before continuing.  "Your always so busy.  You don't have the time of day for me.  I have tried everything."  Her voice was breaking.  "I talked with your mother, and she told m to come right out and tell you how I feel.  I've made a fool of myself."  She could not go on.

     He found himself reassuring her with a hug while he thoght of his sneaky mother.  She had known all along.  He was a bit hurt that she had not told him,  but he knew she meant well.

     He forgot about his mother when he smelled the fresh clean fragrance of Charlotte's hair.  He realized that what he was holding was a very charming young woman.  His reflexes and lack of exposure to this situation almost allowed him to release her.  He instead held her tighter with his strong arms.

     He spoke tenderly.  "You are not a fool.  You're a very pretty girl and I think you are very sweet."

     She looked up with glowing tears on her cheeks and a look that completely demolished any previous dislike that Tommy had had for her.  She was a different person.  Someone who was as intriguing as she was beautiful. 

     They sat in each others arms or sometime.  Finally Charlotte announced.  "I have to go."

     Tommy inquired, "Can I see you again?"

     She simply responded, "Yes."  and disappeared as quickly as she had appeared earlier.

     Sedated, Tommy sat there thinking for a long time.  He had not felt this good in many years.  It was a perfectly refreshing night.  But, his thoughts were not on the weather.  He was excited about the future.  Something new.  Something lovely.  Someone to share his dreams and desires.

     This was not the first time that Tommy had been interested in a girl.  Two years ago his first love had left him.  It had been a long relationship and ended without a clue as to why.  Until now he felt that it would never happen again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

    

 

 

 



© 2010 Richard Adamson


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Added on October 8, 2010
Last Updated on October 22, 2010
Tags: books, stories, fiction, novel, depression era, mobsters