Author’s note: Today, we take a break from the usual fun. Rather than indulge in the groping, vaping, lying antics of well-endowed congressional clowns, the hilarious hijinks of fake “joggers” running over real bicyclists, or the need for a revival of the Dan White Gun Club, we instead enjoy a bit of story-telling from a bygone era. Some might suspect it is tinged with an aura of the pseudo-autobiographical.
The boy gradually became aware of three things. First of all, while staring off at someone’s porch lights, and then maybe while glancing up and around, he noticed that dusk had fallen and was even then giving way to full nighttime. Never one to wear a watch, if such a confining thing could be avoided, he had no precise way of knowing the time. At the moment, “kind of dark,” “a little late,” or “around supper time” worked well enough in his head. Further considering the latter description, he was a little hungry.
It had been a busy day, or, rather, a busy afternoon that almost without warning fell into the evening. But a dedicated working man, even one only eight or so years old, couldn’t be a clock-watcher. And again, he was sans chronometer. Whether he’d been hired or volunteered for this particular job he just couldn’t remember in the far distant future. The school, one of those delightful Southern academies that magically sprung up during the Sixties, had at times need for fundraising. For something or another. His teacher or the assistant principal had surely explained it. Or was it the Cub Scouts? It couldn’t have been his Little League team, given the time of the year. Forced to look back, as through a dark haze, nearly half a century, he decided— Forty years. It was about forty years earlier. Forty sounded better than fifty, and as sure as his hair was slowly graying, it was closer to the numeric truth. He decided it had to be the school and for generic academic purposes.
But what kind of solicitation had him out that night? Chocolate bars certainly come to mind given questions of that nature. That, he thought, was the wrong answer. Also incorrect was the little catalog of Christmas ornaments he could almost picture. In a pinch of creative logic, he firmly decided it had been the list of magazine subscriptions. People read back then and there was seemingly a circular publication for every taste, whim, or fancy. In fact, his list, another kind of catalog, was organized according to the particular interests of the prospective readers. Those were further divided into three master classes: men, women, and children. It was all coming back to him. Each publication had a number or code along with its price. He was assigned a sheet whereby his customers selected their chosen work or works and provided their names and addresses. He could not recall how financial matters were handled, assuming a clearing house billed as needed and, as it concerned him then, after the fact.
He was not a born salesman. Where, he had wondered, would one look to find literary patrons? As with many such concerns, he consulted an authority:
“Dad, where do I find people to sign up?”
“Why don’t you just walk around the neighborhood?” his father suggested. “Knock on doors. There are enough people around here to fill up that sheet.”
It was sound advice. University Estates was a large settlement, plenty large enough for his purposes. And it was full of good, decent, literate people — many of whom he knew. It was laid out in three sections, the old, the middle, and the new. Likely sometime in the Fifties, people had begun building in the older parts. Those were located near the eastern edge of the campus. They flowed in a roundabout, up-and-down fashion to the middle section which had probably come along during the Sixties. Both of them hosted a variety of nice houses on acre-ish lots. Most impressively, the old and middle sections both had paved streets. The asphalt ended and gave way to dirt and gravel at the two approaches to the new section, his neck of the woods. There, beginning, he supposed, in the Seventies, the houses and the yards became larger and further apart. It was at that end of the area that the Estates name earned its keep, with each lot being a minimum of five acres.
Owing to something, his parents had built their house at the then extreme eastern end of the last road. His was, for a time, literally the last house. As such, it bordered on, and he considered his backyard to include thousands of acres of University forest and agricultural test field land. In those days, like any civilized man, he was accustomed to entering and exiting the house by the back door. A turn to his right, or walking straight ahead, meant entering his vast playground, hunting fields, and imaginary worlds. Of course, that afternoon, he’d turned to the left and walked down the driveway and then up the road leading to the other houses, and eventually, to the college and town. He knew all the routes by heart, having walked and biked them many times, sometimes with friends and sometimes alone. America was then safer, saner, and more civilized, and no one had yet thought of ten thousand phantom dangers to keep children inside and under constant surveillance. Somehow, against all odds and all the concerns of the professional hand-wringers, he (and virtually all the other children) had survived that blissful nightmare of freedom.
That day, for whatever reason, he’d left his mildly customized Huffy where it rested under the carport, and set forth on foot. Many steps were needed going there and back again. His future self, afflicted with many cares, could not place what kind of afternoon it was. A Saturday would have been ideal. Therefore, he concluded it must have been a weekday, and thus, the end of a school day. Regardless, on he had walked.
Naturally, he immediately took a shortcut and his first stop was at the Wilson’s house next door. A path down through his own garden field, across a railroad tie bridge over a small creek, and up through the Wilson garden led him to their backdoor (where he generally entered, with or without a knock). Then it was on to other homes all across the newer portion. If he had a plan, it was to keep to the newer and middle parts. He knew the more populated older areas would probably get covered by Sam and Ashley, two boys a year or three ahead of him in school. Part of his memory suggested he had seen one of them at the first crossing where the streets were paved.
“You going towards town?”
“No, I figured you guys were handling that.”
“Good call, kid. Got many yet?”
“Seven, eight, nine … the next one is number ten!”
“Good job. Getting a little late. See you around.”
He couldn’t recall whether it was Sam or Ashley. It was probably Ashley. He was a relaxed lankier youth with a semi-bookish appearance. Sam, while of similar demeanor, was built more like a football player. Both were solid ordinary Mississippi boys of a kind the world would benefit from, then and later, if they were of greater numbers. Or was it Sam? He couldn’t quite recall. Nor, interestingly enough, could he later remember exactly what anyone had ordered. Beyond the Wilsons, he couldn’t even picture any of the many other faces he encountered — with two pretty exceptions. Regardless of his other plans, he purposely steered himself to the houses of both Amy and Edie, two high school girls. As luck had it, they’d both been home! Their ordering was immaterial and he might have even forgotten to mention his magazines. But a hug —that kind of little brother “hello!” hug, maybe with a lingering squeeze— he’d certainly offered that. They’d reciprocated with that wonderful soft, sweet-smelling, sparkly generosity only Mississippi girls can properly muster. The world desperately needs more Mississippi girls.
“We can walk to the pond another time. It’s getting a little late.”
“Or we could do it now! You’re my favorite cheer—, uh, flag girl, you know.”
“I know. And it’s getting late.”
“I like your sweater. And your jeans.” He left unsaid his appreciation of their fit.
“Thanks. You’re cute.”
“You smell like flowers—”
“Okay, Shortstuff. Mom said something about your magazines.”
He was remembering something… The door-to-door! Of course.
Not long after taking his reluctant leave of Edie (“Ee-dee”, for Edith), he’d turned back out of the middle section and set foot down a meandering dirt drive that ultimately looped back to his road. The shadows grew longer, as did the intervals between houses. After hastily leaving one abode and pausing at the lawn edge of another, he gradually became aware of three things. It was dark. It was considerably cooler. And that dog had followed him.
It was a larger breed. A moment earlier, it stood somewhat menacingly between him and the last doorbell. It uttered a low growl, probably a dog’s way of saying, “Nobody’s home. Take your magazines and beat it.” He did, slowly, politely retreating to the lane and the crunch of gravel under his boots. He might have walked off whistling innocently. The beast now inched towards him. A new tactic leaped into his brain. Crouching down, he did what any man does when confronted with a strange canine. He called it to come closer. And with its ears half-cocked but without any snarls, it responded. His hand was extended for inspection. A sniffing earned a petting that turned into him having to sit on the road and scratch a shaggy coat from head to tail. Suddenly, his new friend heard something and darted off. Relieved and gladdened by the encounter, and being almost saddened by the departure, it was about that time he really first observed the darkness. And the creeping chill of mid-fall air.
He’d prepared for the weather in advance. Like the fashionable Edie, he was wearing jeans atop his cowboy boots. Over his long-sleeve t-shirt, with or without a polo collar, he was wearing his favorite vest, the beige one with the orange pocket and edge markings. Imagining he could almost see his breath, he calculated the temperature to be somewhere in the upper fifties. He also roughly calculated the time. That last house was the very last one, and he soon trotted off towards home. Perhaps only half an hour later, he was at the table over something hot. Time progressed as it did.
The long years since, many of them, were spent on another kind of odyssey, one not dissimilar to the early quests of wandering Thorongil. He and the great king had experiences and realizations of differing sorts. That thought was driven home, perhaps for the final time, as he walked out of the customs office. Pyotr from the forum was waiting for him in the public area of the concourse.
“We meet, at last, my digital friend!” the man exclaimed happily. “Welcome to civilization! As I mentioned on the phone, we are eagerly awaited back at the office. A special party, now with a special guest. You’ll get a sneak peek of how everything works. Elsewhere, your room is waiting before the apartment lease is signed. All is ready. But tell me, how was the long route through Istanbul?”
“It was the long route, for certain. Before we get into all that, I was wondering if I might grab a magazine and take a short walk. And, Lord, this is like going back in time! Started at one MSU, only to come, as if back home, to another. Hello, my new old friend.”
Through the doors to the taxi stand, a breeze hit his face, and he noticed three things. It was dark. It was cooler. And that dog— No, the dog was only a memory, the cloudy, rosy reflection of a once-upon-a-time little peddler.
We are reminded once again of the words of that great philosopher, Meatloaf: “It was long ago, and it was far away, and it was so much better than it is today.” Then again, as ever, things change.
Perrin Lovett is a novelist, author, and small-time meddler. He is a loveable, unobtrusive somewhat-right-wing Christian nationalist residing somewhere in Dixie. The revised second edition of his groundbreaking novel, THE SUBSTITUTE, is available from Shotwell Publishing and Amazon. Find his ramblings at www.perrinlovett.me. Deo Vindice!