MEMORIES OF TIMES GONE BY
Phoebe and Tiny trotted back to the truck. Glenda, impatient to visit Teachers College, spun her wheels in the gravel driveway. In seconds they were through the green light and heading up the highway with little traffic. After getting over her annoyance with the grease stains on Tiny’s shirt, Glenda chatted for a few minutes about her hopes for school, but Phoebe was picturing the boy in the gas station office.
He’s staying in that loft. And the guitar must be his. I bet he’s got a toothbrush in that foul bathroom. She tried to shift her attention to Glenda’s discussion of college, but her mind was spinning with other thoughts.
Tiny interrupted to say, “I’m going to school too!”
“That’s right,” said Glenda. “Our next step will be to enroll Tiny. She’s already visited a class. Her friends from the church group are all going.”
“Lucy’s already going to the pre-school,” Tiny declared, proud to be sharing this important news. “She sees Rose and Rob every day.”
“Oh!” cried Phoebe in surprise. “Of course! I went there too! Yes… oh… fourteen years ago. I know Rose and Robert. They’re very nice. Though I’m afraid I was hard to handle. She smiled to herself. “And they brought classes to the toy store every year for arts and crafts. You’re going to like it there.”
“I want to go to the toy store too!” said Tiny with glee. “I want to do arts and crafts!”
“That’s great!” Phoebe cried. “I do hope you get your chance!” She could hear the emotion in her own voice, and knew it was far too loud. Both Glenda and Tiny glanced at her with puzzled expressions. “It’s hard for me to talk about the toy store,” Phoebe admitted. “It was such a big part of my life.”
“As if we didn’t know!” returned Glenda. “I’ve been wondering how you’d handle it.”
“I’m so curious what it’s like around there now.”
“Oh, nothing you’d want to talk about. No good news.”
“Please. I need to know something – anything – however bad.”
“Well, there’s nothing really bad. It’s just that whenever I go in there’s hardly anyone there, and I go pretty often for Tiny’s toys and books. All I see is Gilligan behind the counter reading a book. Sometimes George Thompson works there, but I can’t even tell what he does.”
Phoebe’s heart skipped a beat. My God! George? He’s taken my job? Oh no, this is awful. Her heart sank. “I had no idea,” she said, trying to sound indifferent. “How did he end up there?”
“Oh! Sorry, somehow I thought you knew.” Glenda shot Phoebe an apologetic look. “I heard he argued with his parents and wanted to get out of their store.”
“Sounds familiar. That used to happen all the time.”
“And his uncle Gilligan helped him out,” Glenda continued. “Plus, well… you know George always wanted to work at the toy store.”
George’s crush on Phoebe was well known, almost legendary, among the teenagers in Middletown and Half Moon. Phoebe frowned and stared into the distance. Beyond the cedar trees by the side of the highway, mile after mile of swamp grass and water rolled away under gloomy skies.
The visit to Teacher’s College ended in late afternoon with promises to get together soon. After being dropped off on Main Street, Phoebe considered what to do next. She wasn’t ready to go home, and decided to walk back to High Street and up the hill past the apple trees.
She needed to give Glenda’s news about George some thought. Her big plan in returning to Middletown was to work at the toy store, but discovering that George already had a job there certainly threw a wrench into things. In the dim light the apple trees looked twisted and contorted, shaped like grotesque humans struggling to stretch their arms and stand up. Phoebe put her hands in her pockets and limped up the hill. A fine drizzle filled the air.
Without the toy store or soccer, I just don’t know who I am. Her thoughts took a sorrowful turn as she tried to imagine seeing George again. If he asks me what’s up, what can I say? How about, ‘Oh… nothing.’ Or maybe, ‘Well, I had my heart set on working at the toy store, but you kind of ruined that for me.’ But that would be stupid. It’s not his fault. This is all a got mess.
Phoebe continued on up the hill past Cliff Views Road, with the trailer park in the shadowy mist on her left, and a cornfield to her right. She took a right and walked along a deserted lane. The rain fell harder, but with her hood up she tried to ignore it.
Memories of George and Ellie Thompson awoke and poured into her mind, memories of being thrown together as children working in their parents’ stores over many years. Ellie, three years younger than Phoebe, had copied her expressions and her clothes. George, a year older than Phoebe and in her class all the way through high school, had nursed a crush on her all since the age of twelve.
She vividly remembered during the first month of 11th grade arriving among the throng of students early one morning to notice everyone pointing at her and laughing and making remarks. A crowd had gathered by the big bare brick wall outside the gym – but on that morning the wall was not bare. The name PHOEBE had been painted in giant white block letters over twenty feet up the sheer face of the thirty-foot wall.
She hadn’t even been talking to George at the time. They’d had a bad break-up, and that bombshell message was designed – like a colossal love note of bouquet of flowers – to make her relent and restart their relationship. But Phoebe had been too confused about her own feelings for any normal romance.
How had George even gotten up there, with a roller and a tray of white paint? Everyone seemed to know that he had done it. Yet when Phoebe asked him, he denied it, giving her a hurt look. He looked so sad that she never forgot the pain in his eyes. Soon after, the tag OUTSIDER – written as two words, one above the other, inside a circle – appeared all over the high school, Half Moon, and Middletown. Everyone said that George was the one tagging things, and in less than a month he ended up suspended from school for graffiti.
For the rest of high school they stayed on separate paths. George played guitar and Phoebe played sports. I’ve got to talk to him, but going to his job and asking for work is probably not the best idea. It occurred to her that maybe Jim and Jeremy would know where to find him or who he’s friends with. Maybe I could meet George somewhere like at Sammy’s and just catch up with him. At least it’s a place to start.
As she headed down the hill toward Main Street the rain broke loose and fell in wind blown sheets. Thunder rolled nearby. She limped along at top speed, heading for home.