The Good Life _     _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _  Mark and Rebecca Spencer

 

 

THREE

 

     Lon's moving van rumbles into my barnyard.  Diesel exhaust spoils the air and rises and writhes in the gray sky like black spirits.  Diesel engines are loud, and the van's engine has a ping it shouldn't have.  Some time soon, I'll have to help Lon pull the engine out, show him what's involved in an overhaul.  God knows Lon can use some help, somebody who can show him things.  He's like a teenager, knows close to nothing.  It's been nearly twenty years since he was one of my students and the greatest baseball player in the history of the county.  He thought he was going to play major-league baseball, would be a

millionaire by his twenty-first birthday.  He never prepared for an ordinary life. 

     Lon slouched, sleepy-eyed, in the back row of junior-year American History and senior-year Civics.  He was never a trouble maker, just overconfident and uninterested, stared out the window at the baseball field in the distance, seemed indifferent to the red C's and D's I marked on the tops of his tests. 

     I would call on him--"Lon, can you tell the class the name of the president who fought in the Spanish-American War?"  He would be grinning out the window as the rising sun peeked above the distant bleachers of the baseball field.  "Lon?"

     He would turn his head, grinning shyly, "I'm sorry, Mr. Anderson."

     The words "CHEAP LOCAL MOVES" are painted sloppily on the moving van's side panels.  Lon has bummed around for years--no other way to put it. He went away right after high school to play minor-league ball, failed at that and at a marriage with one of his high-school sweethearts.  Worked odd jobs out West for five or six years and didn't come back here until both his parents were dead and the family farm was his.  He didn't want to be a farmer, though, and sold the place, tried to sell real-estate, then just a couple of years ago started his moving business.  Things have been rough for him ever since high-school commencement day, and things aren't perfect now, but he has a wife--a strange little woman--who seems to make up for a lot. 

     When I climb into the cab of the moving van, Lon grins at me then winces.  His eyes are bloodshot.  He licks his chapped lips.

     "Looks like you had yourself a time last night," I say above the noisy engine as Lon heads the truck down the long gravel driveway to the road.

     Lon grins, shakes his head.  "Yeah, I thought being married was supposed to make life simple and steady."

     "You young people."

     "What about us?"

     "I don't need to tell you."

     Lon's like most young people now days.  He has led a messy life.  His life is like a motel room strewn with beer cans and women's underwear. 

     I study Lon's profile.  He's always been a good-looking boy, tall and lean and dark-haired, the kind women go for.  His grin, his teeth all straight, always makes me think of the pictures of him in the county paper years ago and in the high-school yearbooks.  Major-league scouts came to see him play.  He probably bedded half the girls between Columbus and the Ohio

River.  He dated some sweet girls.  I don't want to know what all Lon did with them.  I taught most of them and have my notions of them being a certain way.  I don't need someone telling me now that those girls--so pretty and fresh-looking--smoked dope and lost their virginity when they were fourteen.  I just don't need to hear it.

     Lon's daddy farmed a place over on Apple Ridge Road .  I used to see him at the grain mill or the slaughter house sometimes.  Lon's daddy became a celebrity right along with Lon.  People would ask him, "What you goin' do when your boy's makin' more money than Pete Rose?  He gonna build you a mansion?  Will you give me your old Chevy truck?  Hell, you'll be drivin' around in a Cadillac.  You won't need to farm no more."

     Then Lon went away to play minor-league ball, to get some polish before playing in the majors.  But something happened.  The newspaper stopped running his picture every week.  Some times a small note at the bottom of the sports page mentioned he got a hit in a game down in South Carolina .  But those notes were infrequent.  And the paper didn't print a word when the Raleigh Rebels released him at the end of the summer.  Better not to mention the death of a dream.  All of Adams County had thought they had produced a major leaguer.

     The moving van bounces along, sways on the curves.

     "How's Chachi feeling?" I ask.  "Over the morning sickness part of it now?"

     "Oh yeah."  Lon grins big.  "Just getting that big belly.  She said she's afraid I'll start mistaking her for my moving van."

 

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