09/23/2021

George Singleton ~ Bobbleheads

Instead of relax­ing, or mea­sur­ing my breaths, or con­cen­trat­ing on low­er­ing my heart­beat, or think­ing about a pos­si­ble APB, I sat in the hot springs, near-December, plot­ting how to ruin the lives of a group of high school kids. I can­not say that I’m not proud of it. Who cares? Overall, it might be good for them to learn how they can’t ruin a stranger’s life, a per­son who want­ed only to cap­ture them smil­ing, wear­ing clothes they’d prob­a­bly not wear for anoth­er year unless they hap­pened to be church­go­ers. And I would bet that—because of their lies, their ratio­nal­iza­tion that mak­ing shit up about me would be what Jesus wanted—they attend­ed not only on Sundays, but Wednesday nights, as is the norm down here.

            “You find­ing every­thing all right, Gerald?” Vivian asked. She got in the water across from me and stretched her legs out until our toes near­ly touched. I wished that I remem­bered her from two-to-three decades ear­li­er. Vivian wore kha­ki shorts and a tee-shirt. She’d brought with her two tow­els and two ter­rycloth robes, plus an old school kerosene lantern, and set them down on a piece of cut lime­stone placed at the edge of the water. She said, “Your mom­ma called ahead to let me know you were com­ing. I can’t believe you don’t remem­ber me.”

            I looked down, won­der­ing if min­nows lived here. I didn’t remem­ber see­ing any kind of spring life twen­ty to thir­ty years ear­li­er. I remem­bered birds star­ing down from above, but not much else. I said, “I might’ve been a lit­tle bit self-absorbed back when my par­ents brought me here. That, and I felt like there was noth­ing to do. That, and I prob­a­bly felt embar­rassed to be stuck with my par­ents for two weeks every sum­mer. That, and my par­ents taught me Stranger Danger long before it became a thing.”

            Vivian said, “I remem­ber you. You liked rasp­ber­ry sno-cones. You liked Milk Duds.”

She per­formed some kind of frog­man maneu­ver with her legs. She looked to be twen­ty years old, at the most.

            I said, “Well.”

            Vivian plunged her head beneath the water. When she re-sur­faced she looked like an actress I’d seen in a movie I’d for­got­ten, the wet t‑shirt actress, except Vivian owned raven-black hair. “So your mom­ma says you’re a pho­tog­ra­ph­er now.”

            I didn’t reveal the truth about my sit­u­a­tion. I said, “Yeah.” I said, “I’m sor­ry about your parents.”

            “Oh, they’re not dead. They just got tired and hand­ed over the place to me. They thought I might be able to meet a man if I got out of my rut. Or a woman. I think my par­ents just didn’t want to see me alone, that’s all they cared about.”

            This woman looked like a true-to-life mer­maid. How could I not have been enthralled with her back when I was a teenag­er? I said, “Have you been work­ing the con­ces­sion stand all these years?”

            Vivian laughed. She tilt­ed her head back and laughed so open-mouthed that I noticed her uvu­la. She shook her head side­ways quick­ly, almost to the point where I thought she suf­fered a seizure. “No, no, no,” she said. “I taught high school, and kind of over­did it, down in Lake City. English. School news­pa­per. Cheerleader coach. Head of the year­book. Coach for the foren­sics team. I left for school at sev­en-thir­ty, and rarely got back home before eight. And then there was grad­ing. I did it for thir­teen years. Glee Club.”

            I said, “Huh,” but could only think that Vivian’s chances of meet­ing a pos­si­ble part­ner here couldn’t be any bet­ter than her old rou­tine. I said, “Head of the year­book?” and got out of the water. I said, “I brought along some bourbon.”

~

It might be a med­ical mir­a­cle that I don’t have week­ly chi­ro­prac­tor vis­its. I spent my entire child­hood with a father who insist­ed I look to the ground, a moth­er who urged me to con­sid­er the night­time sky. It’s not like they worked as geol­o­gist and astronomer. My father wasn’t a land­scap­er, my moth­er a mete­o­rol­o­gist. They weren’t star-struck lovers, one of them a her­petol­o­gist, the oth­er a bird­er.  I guess I could go on and on, per­son aller­gic to ground-dwelling yel­low jackets/air traf­fic con­troller, per­son who read the leg­end of Thales/believer in God. My father, to prove his point, walked around with his pock­ets filled with arrow­heads and sil­ver dollars—tossing them off non­cha­lant­ly, sub­tly, imperceptibly—then point­ing down and say­ing, “Look, Gerald. See? You have to keep your eyes down. If you kept look­ing to the earth, you, too, might be find­ing trea­sures.” Similarly, my moth­er would point up toward clouds and say, “See that light­ning com­ing this way? If you don’t pay atten­tion, you’ll get struck. What’re you going to do with your head on fire, Gerald?”

            I’m sur­prised that, by the time I went off to col­lege, I’d not earned the nick­name of Bobblehead. If any­one asked me a Yes or No ques­tion it became impos­si­ble to shake my head side­ways. I looked as though I suf­fered ear­ly-onset nar­colep­sy, or that I might have been born with­out C1 through C7 ver­te­brae. Look at the ground, look at the sky, look at the ground, look at the sky: The sole thing this seemed to be good for, if you ask me, is get­ting my hair ful­ly-rinsed in the shower.

            Neither of my parents—both alive, still mar­ried to each other—found any pride in what I end­ed up in life, a man with a degree in stu­dio art who couldn’t cut it, a man who stooped to tak­ing pho­tographs for var­i­ous mid­dle and high school year­books, a man who said, “Look straight ahead” a few hun­dred times a day, from August until November, for a third-tier year­book out­fit fight­ing against Jostens. When the sea­son fin­ished, I worked part-time at a frame shop where, more often than not, I told peo­ple how best to hang their work at eye-level.

            “I always thought you’d be an arche­ol­o­gist,” my father said to me every Christmas, Thanksgiving, his birth­day, and Father’s Day.

            “You have per­fect eye sight,” my mom said on Christmas, Thanksgiving, her birth­day, and Mother’s Day. “You could’ve been a pilot. You could’ve been an astro­naut if you’d’ve tak­en my advice a long time ago and applied to the Air Force Academy.”

            “I read an arti­cle the oth­er day about an arche­ol­o­gist up in Manitoba who found a com­plete wooly mam­moth, melt­ed out of an old ice­berg or glacial ridge. Can you imag­ine find­ing some­thing like that?” my father said. “Goddamn that would be excit­ing.” I nev­er knew if there’s actu­al­ly a mam­moth found quar­ter­ly, but it was always an arti­cle he “just read.”

            “There’s a pop­u­lar TV show on now all about UFOs,” my moth­er told me. “You could’ve been a TV per­son­al­i­ty if you’d’ve applied to one of the larg­er uni­ver­si­ties that has physics depart­ments, and mythol­o­gy depart­ments. Maybe a minor about ancient aliens.”

            At each of these occasions—well, for Christmas, birth­days, and Mother’s/Father’s Day, I hand­ed out wrapped presents. My father usu­al­ly received a framed black and white pho­to­graph I’d tak­en of, oh, an inter­est­ing pot­hole. For my moth­er it was a bird of prey, car­ry­ing off an unfor­tu­nate and strug­gling rodent in its talons.

~

He was cross-eyed. You don’t see many cross-eyed kids any­more. I think the med­ical com­mu­ni­ty  suc­cess­ful­ly dis­cov­ered that a patch over the good eye makes the bad eye turn for­ward. This guy, though—a kid, an eleventh grad­er named Granger Talbot—had both eyes point­ed straight at the tip of his nose, not just one. I won­dered if oph­thal­mol­o­gists ban­daged one eye to get the oth­er look­ing straight, then tried the sec­ond eye, only to have the first one ease back wrong side­ways, back and forth, kind of like row­ing a canoe. Maybe I shouldn’t’ve said, “Look straight ahead at me.” Maybe I should’ve said, “Man, that’s a nice bow tie you’re wear­ing,” which hap­pened to be a god­damn con­fed­er­ate flag. I won’t pur­port to lay­ing claims, but every male who wore a bow tie, I’d learned, came from a dad­dy who wore a bow tie, and that dad­dy usu­al­ly worked in either the law or finan­cial sec­tor and sup­port­ed politi­cians I didn’t cot­ton to.

            “Hey, Granger, look this way, straight ahead,” I said. It hap­pened to be Veterans Day, in November, and I’ll nev­er for­get it. Airy High held some kind of anti-Veterans Day cel­e­bra­tion, because of the town get­ting burned down in the Civil War. Between my year­book pho­tos, they had a makeshift parade in the park­ing lot, and a bake sale to raise mon­ey for the school’s march­ing band.

            Granger jerked his neck left-to-right in a way I’d nev­er been able to do, his bangs fling­ing off there on the Airy High School the­atre stage where I’d set up my two soft­box lights and blue-and-gold muslin back­drop, the school’s col­ors. Airy High! Home of the Eagles! Named after a local famous Confederate near-gen­er­al who pur­port­ed­ly died when a Minie ball ric­o­cheted off a cypress knob and caught him in the eye at the Battle of Whatever, Who Cares? as Sherman burned the area down.

            “I am look­ing straight ahead at you,” Granger said. He said, “Are you mak­ing fun of me?” and swished his hair a few more times. “Don’t make fun of me. You’re a los­er, man.”

            I couldn’t argue with that, real­ly. I said, “Do you have your Senior quote ready? Do y’all do that? Beneath your pic­ture, is there going to be some kind of quote you picked out?”

            I know, I know, I know—I tried to veer the sit­u­a­tion. I want­ed out of there. Typically, it’s about three min­utes tops for each pho­to, but some­times they come off as end­less. When I’m pho­tograph­ing in poor­er areas, much like Airy, I come across boys and girls with bad acne. You don’t see acne-rid­dled faces much any­more, much like cross-eyed peo­ple. I guess there’s a com­pe­tent drug out there. Anyway, at least I’d been good about not men­tion­ing how these stu­dents might be dis­ap­point­ed at a pix­i­lat­ed pho­to, et cetera.

            “Just snap the fuck­ing pho­to,” Granger said, look­ing east and west wrong­ly. He said, “Do you know who I am? Do you know who I am?”

            Well of course I didn’t. I trav­eled to Airy ear­li­er in the morn­ing, from six­ty miles away. I checked in with the principal’s sec­re­tary, and she took me to the the­atre so I could set up. At eight-thir­ty some­one came on the loud­speak­er and request­ed that all tenth grade stu­dents, last names A through E, show up to get their pic­tures tak­en. I had a sign up sheet, to keep every­thing in order, just in case two peo­ple looked alike. Oddly enough, in Airy, a lot of peo­ple looked alike, males and females, except for Granger Talbot.

            “I don’t know who you are,” I said. I said, “Look straight ahead,” and got my eye back down to the tri-pod­ded viewfinder.

            He gave me the fin­ger as I snapped and snapped and snapped. I thought, This isn’t my prob­lem. I thought, His par­ents should’ve told him to look either up or down all the time, not sideways.

~

It end­ed up, the cross-eyed kid’s dad­dy was the Deputy State Agriculture Commissioner. You wouldn’t think that posi­tion held so much clout, but evi­dent­ly the father had only to tell the Commissioner, who might’ve told, I don’t know, the Lieutenant Governor, who told the Governor, whose office called the own­er of Give It Another Yearbooks, Simon Mayes. Granger Talbot con­tend­ed that I made him feel uncom­fort­able, and he got anoth­er twen­ty Airy High grad­u­ates-to-be to sign some kind of peti­tion against me, both boys and girls. I don’t think the attor­ney gen­er­al ever got in on this chain, or it would’ve been worse. My boss called me in to the office Give It Another Yearbook kept in Orangeburg, which meant in a cement block out­build­ing Simon Mayes kept on his prop­er­ty, which his par­ents and grand­par­ents had farmed. I don’t lean toward con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries much, but some­thing told me that “farm­ing” and “Deputy State Agriculture Commissioner” didn’t take much of a straight line.

            “Is it true that you snapped some pic­tures right when the girls got seat­ed down, so it went up they crotch­es?” Simon Mayes asked me.

            “No,” I said. “What? No, I’d nev­er do that. You mean like some kind of up-skirt I’ve read about on the internet?”

            Simon Mayes still car­ried the air of a mis­un­der­stood, wist­ful, pock-marked, defeat­ed, bald­ing, south­ern aris­to­crat. He stood slumped, and wore what looked like sec­ond-hand smok­ing jack­ets when­ev­er I dealt with him.“Did you make fun of a boy for his cowlick, and anoth­er for cross eyes, and anoth­er for own­ing,” Simon pulled out a doc­u­ment from the side pock­et of his pais­ley coat, unfold­ed it, squint­ed, and said, “‘a base­ball mus­tache’ because there weren’t but nine play­ers on both sides of his lip?”

            Fuck, I thought. I had said that to some coun­try boy with the weak­est facial hair of all time. At least I didn’t add, “A foot­ball team’s offen­sive line on your chin,” which was true. I said to my boss, “Well.”

            “We won’t be need­ing you from here on out,” Simon said. He said, “What a screw-up. Do you know how easy it is to find pho­tog­ra­phers for a high school annu­al? I might hire out my blind cousin.”

            Simon Mayes knew all about my part-time work at It’s a Frame Up! frame shop, so I prob­a­bly shouldn’t have said, “Was that blind­ness caused by the incest? Do you have any con­joined twins on your fam­i­ly tree out here?” I might’ve con­tin­ued. I’m pret­ty good at block­ing most things out. I might’ve said, “Do you not have an inden­tion in your upper lip because of fetal alco­hol syn­drome? Is your big sis­ter your mom­my? Hey, you live on this big farm with noth­ing grow­ing or graz­ing? Is your mid­dle name ‘Fallow’?”

            Anyway, he called up my boss there at the frame shop—who went by Ribba, for some rea­son, I think because she had a younger sib­ling who couldn’t say “Reba” or “River”— and she thought it nec­es­sary to find ways for me to nev­er frame prints that matched people’s couch­es, here in town.

            Ribba. When three peo­ple called her name one after anoth­er it sound­ed like a cho­rus of frogs, or peo­ple at a bar­be­cue joint order­ing the main­stays of a skew­ered pig.

~

The Airy High School Incident, as I will call it for­ev­er, occurred, like I men­tioned, in ear­ly November. Poorer school dis­tricts always hire us out toward the end of the season—I don’t know how they even put out an annu­al. A typ­i­cal year­book costs, I don’t know—they nev­er told me—something like fifty bucks a book, per stu­dent, and there are a whole lot of stu­dents whose par­ents can’t afford it, see­ing as they need fifty dol­lars for, oh, food and exter­mi­na­tion. I think my old com­pa­ny was cheap­er than Jostens, most­ly because we didn’t offer larg­er pic­tures for the seniors, and we didn’t offer col­or pho­tos, and we didn’t real­ly care about Staff pho­tos, like for jan­i­tors, cafe­te­ria peo­ple, and the cop stand­ing at the front door. Hell, we didn’t include shop teach­ers, the dri­vers ed guy, or the home ec lady. (I’m not being sex­ist, god­damn it—maybe I’ve tak­en pic­tures, over the years, at a few hun­dred schools? Not one female dri­vers ed teacher, not one male home ec teacher. It’s not my fault. If you’re incensed, write the god­damn Deputy State Agriculture Commissioner, who might write the State Ag Commissioner, who might write the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor, who might write the gov­er­nor, who might con­tact the attor­ney gen­er­al, who might get in touch with some kind of Title IX rep­re­sen­ta­tive, who might get in touch with a PTA pres­i­dent, who might at least con­tact an HR per­son jonesing for a high-expo­sure case.)

            This is all to say, this hap­pened. And then I showed up at my par­ents’ house for Thanksgiving. I’d not seen them since, I don’t know, Father’s Day, back in June. We lived a hun­dred miles away from each oth­er, them up toward the mid­dle of the state where I grew up, me down fifty miles from the coast. You’d think that they’d come down on their way to the beach, but they nev­er did. My par­ents didn’t dri­ve well. If my father drove, he stared at his gas ped­al; my moth­er seemed to be enam­ored with the flip-down sun visor. Back when I was a kid, odd­ly, we drove down to Florida every June, but nev­er to Disney World,  Key West, St. Augustine, Cypress Gardens, Sanibel Island,  Sea World, Fort Meyers, Marineland, Ross Allen’s Reptile Institute, Miami, Panama City, Cocoa Beach, Weeki Wachee, or Clearwater Beach. We always end­ed up in the dead cen­ter of the state—one of my par­ents drove west on I‑20 until it merged with I‑75, and the oth­er drove south straight on until the park­ing lot of Hoffman’s Suwannee Springs Campground, maybe twen­ty miles south of the Georgia bor­der. The Suwannee Springs—I might be wrong on this, but I think there were five or six  of them—held, sup­pos­ed­ly, reju­ve­na­tive and heal­ing pow­ers. My par­ents and I went year­ly between my ages of about six and six­teen. The place smelled like some­one burned packs of match­es, over and over, what with the sul­phur in the water. We pitched two tents—a lit­tle two-per­son pup tent for me, a more expan­sive four-per­son tent for my par­ents, side by side, in front of the rock-lined fire pit, maybe a hun­dred yards from a con­crete block bath house. In the day time, we hiked and sat in those mal­odor­ous waters, usu­al­ly amid lame, obese, or sick­ly opti­mists. Maybe I’d blocked it out of my mem­o­ry, but I didn’t ever remem­ber see­ing a child my age in atten­dance. It could’ve been because my father always asked me to look down for inter­est­ing stones in the water, my moth­er urg­ing me to gath­er in the roost­ed wake of vul­tures above.

            And I don’t know if my par­ents’ year­ly pil­grim­age to Suwannee Springs was sup­posed to reju­ve­nate their love life—thus why I had a sep­a­rate tent, which, these days, would be cause for child abuse or aban­don­ment. Maybe my father had gout, or child­hood polio, what with his look­ing down­ward constantly.

            Anyway, I came to vis­it my par­ents ful­ly unem­ployed, and before I got two steps into my child­hood home I went ahead and blurt­ed out, “Well, I might need to move into the base­ment. I don’t have a job anymore.”

            I expect­ed my par­ents to run down the rea­sons why I should’ve kept look­ing down or up. I thought they might say some­thing about how, if I’d ever got­ten mar­ried, maybe my spouse could take up some slack.

            Instead, my par­ents looked at each oth­er, smiled, and said, simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, “I know what can cure you, Gerald,” as if they’d prac­ticed for this moment.

            My father said, “We’ve been wait­ing for the day.” He looked at my moth­er and said, “You owe me. I told you.”

            She said, “We bought you a tent the same size as ours. It’s a dome tent, though, but it’s big­ger than your old pup tent.”

            I could smell turkey in the oven. I smelled ham. I delin­eat­ed oys­ter stuff­ing, yams, maybe a squash casse­role. I knew that my mother’d made cran­ber­ry bread, just as she’d baked every oth­er day between Thanksgiving and Christmas for forty years. Perhaps the con­junc­tion of mem­o­ries and smells hit me in ways that nos­tal­gia can only hit. I said—my par­ents didn’t keep mir­rors on the wall, but I bet if I saw my image I’d’ve been over­ly-excit­ed looking—“Is Suwannee Springs still open? Is it open this time of year?”

            My father pulled at his crotch in much the same way a pro­fes­sion­al base­ball play­er might, in between mis­guid­ed swings at a curve ball. He said, “Ronnie and Juanita’s daughter’s now run­ning the place, and she’s doing a great job. You remem­ber her, right? She used to work the con­ces­sion stand, Vivian. We just got a post card from her, offer­ing a spe­cial deal until the end of the year, but for one tent only!”

~

One does not have to dri­ve west on I‑20 from my child­hood home, then south on I‑75 to reach Suwannee Springs in north-cen­tral Florida. No, one can dri­ve south on back roads all the way to Airy High School, then take high­way 17 until it almost cross­es into Georgia, avoid I‑95, zig, zag, and final­ly get on 129 in south Georgia straight on down until the Suwannee Springs Campground. It takes almost twice as long, espe­cial­ly if one stops by Airy High School with a half-dozen cans of Krylon snagged from the shed of one’s father, et cetera, and goes to work the exte­ri­or bricks unin­ter­rupt­ed, what with the Friday after Thanksgiving being a school holiday.

            I’d already packed up the brand-new tent, bor­rowed a Coleman camp stove of my par­ents, and decid­ed to swing back by my own house for a sleep­ing bag I used more often than not on the couch. My par­ents offered extra mon­ey should I need it, and urged me to use the time to con­sid­er options. They left before I did, with a cool­er of left­overs, on their way to an out­door lec­ture con­cern­ing vir­gin south­ern bot­tom­land hard­woods at the Congaree Swamp. They were up to some­thing. They’d been up to some­thing all my life. I tried not to think about it, but I felt sure that if I ever got online and looked up groups or clubs of senior swingers, my par­ents might appear, maybe wear­ing appro­pri­ate costumes.

            “Ask her lots of ques­tions about her inter­ests,” my moth­er said from her open car win­dow. “Keep nod­ding up and down so she knows you’re interested.”

            I nod­ded my head up and down.

            “Maybe if y’all get along, Vivian can find you a job at the Springs, you know, like as a handy­man. Don’t for­get to ask about jobs in the area,” my father said, lean­ing into the pas­sen­ger side to speak across my mother.

            I nodded.

            “Be spon­ta­neous!” they said togeth­er, then my father put his car in reverse, backed out of the dri­ve­way, and yelled out, “We’re on our way to hard wood!” like that, like some kind of per­vert. I thought about going back inside to rifle through the med­i­cine cab­i­net, but knew that if I found those erec­tile dys­func­tion pills I’d be scarred and tempted.

            I drove home. I got what I need­ed. I remem­bered to be spon­ta­neous. And I don’t want to say that some­how I’d improved, blos­somed, and flour­ished but there—right in the day­light, an hour later—I spray paint­ed Airy High in ways that would make Banksy proud.  That’s right, Banksy—I might not have con­tin­ued in a stu­dio-art-kind-of-way life­wise, but when I vis­it­ed high schools in the Carolinas and Georgia I made a point to eat my lunchtime tuna fish sand­wich­es in the art rooms, and read what­ev­er mate­r­i­al a good teacher kept handy. I knew graf­fi­ti art.

            It’s not so dif­fi­cult to spray out cross-eyed vis­ages with “Granger Tolbert Was Here” above it. It takes only a basic under­stand­ing of Pointillism to achieve acne-rid­den faces on all avail­able win­dows. It took extra time, but I’d done research on Granger Talbot’s Deputy Secretary of Agriculture daddy’s picture—white guy, comb-over, fake smile, orange tie with a tiger paw—and used the win­dow­less side of the Airy High gym­na­si­um to por­tray him hav­ing his way with a heifer, pants around ankles, both cow and bureau­crat look­ing over their shoul­ders straight back at any view­er, tongues hang­ing out.

            It takes only the cap­i­tal let­ter T to make it Thigh School, and an H to make it Hairy Thigh School.

~

I prob­a­bly need to tell you that Athena and Zack called me up sep­a­rate­ly, giv­ing me a head’s up, I guess. It wasn’t just your mom. And it seemed like they must’ve called six times apiece,” Vivian Hoffman said. “Are they suf­fer­ing from any kind of demen­tia, like maybe they for­get that they’ve already called?” Athena and Zack are my swing­ing-prob­a­ble par­ents. Sometimes at back­yard bar­be­cues I remem­ber their refer­ring to them­selves as “You can get any­thing you want, from A to Z.” Vivian said, “I don’t want to be nosey.”

            I said, “I wish I’d’ve brought one of my bet­ter cam­eras down here. And a flash. Maybe my soft­box light. Do you have an exten­sion cord around here that would reach all the way back to an out­let?” Sure, I got ner­vous. I want­ed to know what Vivian might be hold­ing back. I said, “I’m a good painter. You need any­thing paint­ed out here? I don’t have any­thing else to do for a while. I guess they told you I got fired.”

            The only thing to paint, real­ly, was the bath house, and the one cab­in where Vivian’s parents—and I assume, now, Vivian—lived. That wouldn’t take a few days’ work. She said, “No. They just told me you quit. Nothing about get­ting fired.”

            She held out her hand for one of the plas­tic Solo cups I’d brought back from my tent. I unscrewed the met­al cap on some Cooper’s, tipped the bot­tle, and said, “Say when.”

            I found it dif­fi­cult to look her straight in the face, of course. I looked into the water, which wasn’t steam­ing as much as I remem­bered as a child. Up toward the sky it looked like spi­der webs, what with the trees no longer hold­ing leaves. It still smelled, though. This par­tic­u­lar hot spring didn’t deal with dilu­tion or entropy. Off in the dis­tance, bog gasses con­jured a murky pur­ple fog. Two owls called to each oth­er. Someone in the campground—I’d only noticed one oth­er car, an old woody sta­tion wagon—started singing that song about drunk­en sailors. I won­dered if Hoffman’s Suwannee Springs Campground hap­pened to be a stop­ping spot on the Irish Travelers routes up and down the east coast, fake-fix­ing asphalt dri­ve­ways. Peripherally—and I almost want­ed to be cross-eyed at the moment—I could see her in what lit­tle light we had from the kerosene lamp. I’m no expert, of course, but she had to mea­sure about a 34 D up top, unless she stuffed water wings into her shirt. How would I know such things?

            I thought about how I should’ve eat­en some­thing before com­ing down to the springs. I tried my best to erase any images of my par­ents, post-bot­tom­land hard­wood lec­ture, min­gling with oth­er swamp-lov­ing diplo­mats. Then I got to imag­in­ing the future, how maybe Vivian and I would fall in love and com­ment, dai­ly, how lucky we felt to have held off with oth­er pos­si­ble spous­es, over all these years. How come Vivian didn’t work the check-in booth when I arrived? Was I get­ting a free stay here? Was that part of everyone’s plan?

            Vivian said, “When,” about two inch­es from the rim, which meant just about half the bot­tle gone. She said, “Actually, it’s 32 dou­ble D. I’m like a top-heavy bob­ble­head. You don’t need to stare.”

            Mind read­er. I said, “Sorry I didn’t bring any ice.” Here’s the truth: I didn’t look at her breasts. No, I became enam­ored with those per­fect eyebrows—not plucked and waxed like I wit­nessed dai­ly. Vivian’s eye­brows looked like per­fect Jungian man­dala quar­ter-cir­cles drawn by a Spirograph.

            Vivian cupped her hand, dipped it in the spring, then tilt­ed over a hand­ful of water into the bour­bon. She said, “Don’t look at me like I’m crazy.” She said, “I’ve been drink­ing this water all my life. I hope you don’t have a prob­lem with that.”

            What could I say? Even as we sat there, our legs dan­gling, she looked even younger than when we first took the short walk in. I said, “It must be good for the mem­o­ry, too, because, you’re right, I do love rasp­ber­ry sno-cones.”

            Vivian said, “Tomorrow I have to gath­er fire­wood for the camp­sites. It’s part of the deal.”

            I said, “They say that a giraffe has the longest neck in the ani­mal king­dom, but I argue it’s the python.”

            The man kept singing about that drunk­en sailor. He’d found a trash can lid to bang on, too. I hoped he wasn’t stay­ing more than a night. Vivian said, “Did I men­tion Glee Club? I did that, too. I spon­sored the Glee Club.”

            I nod­ded. I couldn’t tell if she could see me. Vivian looked upward, then down. She looked upward and down in the same way I did most of my life. I told her I’d tak­en pho­tos of Glee Clubs over the years, and she didn’t seem as cheery as those peo­ple. I said, “No offense, but you don’t act like you’ve had a lobotomy.”

            “Little enti­tled rich pis­sants,” Vivian said. “Your par­ents told me all about that one kid mak­ing stuff up. I bet if you talked to my par­ents, they’d tell a sim­i­lar sto­ry. My student’s father had some­thing to do with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. I’m just wait­ing for him to come up here and inspect this place, or do what­ev­er they do at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.” Then Vivian got up, set her drink down on a rock, and walked a few steps to the tow­els and robes. I couldn’t see every move­ment clear­ly, but I assumed, from the sound, that she reached in, pulled out a pis­tol, and shot into the water, then up into the sky. “Hope I didn’t hit a tur­tle or duck,” she said. “We’re out of sea­son, you know.”

            I was alarmed, of course. I thought to say some­thing like, Hey, why don’t we put that gun away? Maybe my men­tion­ing a python set her off. Maybe Vivian thought it was some kind of sex­u­al innu­en­do. Then, some­how, I got stuck remem­ber­ing every school Glee Club I’d ever shot, and how every­one looked straight ahead, half of them with their mouths open, in fake mid-excite­ment, unable to fore­see how the rest of their lives might swerve toward such things as van­dal­ism or remorse, how no one under­stood the impor­tance of tim­ing and portents.

~

George Singleton has pub­lished nine col­lec­tions of sto­ries and two nov­els. He lives in South Carolina.