Sunday Serial: Virgin Territory, Ch 6
The Fall Carnival was held at Dagger Lake Community Park. The classic cars parked on the baseball field, while the picnic area housed the cook-offs, and the beer tent was conveniently pitched by the bathrooms. As far as festivals went, Gary knew it wasn’t much, but Dagger Lake didn’t need anything bigger. He parked the Shadow along the side of the road and told Andrea to watch out for the ditch.
“There must be a lot of people here,” she said as they walked along the row of cars on the side of the road.
“Pretty much the whole town,” Gary said.
“So how many people is that?”
“Two hundred, give or take a few. Most people only stay here during the spring and summer, when it’s warm. After Labor Day they take off until next May.”
“That’s sad, all those people abandoning the town.”
“It’s just how things work.”
“It’s still sad.”
“Maybe you’re right.” He led her through the park gates, where Mayor Colbert greeted them.
“Hello, Gary. I do believe this is the first time I’ve seen you at the Fall Carnival. Who’s this lovely lady you’ve brought?” Mayor Colbert was not only the mayor, but also the town gossip. Gary tried to avoid her whenever possible. In Andrea’s case, though, the town gossip might be who they needed.
“This is Andrea. You don’t remember seeing her before?”
The mayor put on bifocals hanging from a chain around her neck to examine Andrea, who stared down at her blue high heels. “No, I don’t think so.”
“The thing is, Andrea has amnesia. She showed up at my door last night with no memory. The sheriff is putting the word out, but if you hear anything—”
“Yes, of course I’ll let you know right away.” Mayor Colbert took Andrea’s hand in both of hers. “You poor girl. I’ll do everything in my power to help.”
“Thanks,” Andrea said.
“In the meantime, I hope you can enjoy yourself. Be sure to try some of my daughter’s delicious blueberry pie.”
“We will,” Gary said. He nudged Andrea forward and she mumbled a goodbye to the mayor. “I hope she didn’t scare you too much.”
“No, she’s nice. It’s just—” Her voice trailed off.
“It’s just what?”
“Nothing, I suppose.” She looked around the park and then said, “Seems like a lot of old people around here. Makes me feel like a little kid by comparison.”
“We could go home if you want.”
“I’ll be fine. Let’s go over and see the cars.” He led her over to the baseball field, where about a dozen classic cars were gathered. He remembered the time when the real Andrea had dragged him to the Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit. They spent an entire Sunday choking on exhaust fumes as old cars paraded by. When he asked to go home, Andrea said, “Come on, Gary, cars are what put food on the table for both of us. You should celebrate their heritage.”
Gary wanted to say at the time that if he cared about cars he would have joined his father on the assembly line instead of going into accounting, but he didn’t. He only nodded and tried to pretend to have a good time. That seemed to describe their entire relationship.
“What’s this one?” the new Andrea asked. She pointed to a red-and-white sports car.
Mr. Simmons, dressed like an extra from Grease said, “This here is a 1954 Corvette. Only one of the finest sports cars ever made.”
“It’s beautiful,” Andrea said.
The old man rattled off a bunch of statistics about acceleration, cubic inches, and so forth, none of which Gary understood. What he did remember was how much it cost Mr. Simmons to buy the car three years ago from his tax return. Gary would have invested the money in stocks or something that might make money instead of using it up, but accountants didn’t tell people how to spend their money. It was none of his business what kind of expensive hobbies his clients maintained. “Maybe we could go for a ride some time,” Mr. Simmons said.
“Maybe,” Andrea said in a tone that indicated otherwise.
“See you around, dollface.”
They hurried around the baseball diamond, not stopping to ask any other questions. “These are nice cars,” Andrea said. She stopped at a truck identified by a sign next to it as a 1949 Suburban. “Look at how big this is. I bet you could sleep in that backseat.” She winked at him before moving around to the back of the Suburban.
“I don’t know about that. It probably wouldn’t be very comfortable,” Gary said.
“I’m just teasing you.” She laughed and then lightly touched his arm. “You should see how red your face is.” He bent down to see his reflection in the glass of the Suburban. She was right; his face was as red as Mr. Simmons’s Corvette.
“Are you hungry? Maybe we should try some of that pie the mayor’s daughter made,” he said, hoping to change the subject.
“I’m still full from lunch.” She hadn’t eaten more than half her tuna sandwich and chips and only a few spoonfuls of the coleslaw, but he didn’t want to argue.
As they walked over to the picnic area to sample the food, Gary asked, “Does anyone here seem familiar yet?”
“No. I’ll let you know if I remember anything.” They stepped onto the concrete slab housing the picnic tables, upon which platters of food had been arranged by category. They started with samples of chili in Dixie cups.
“Why do you suppose they call it chili when it’s hot?” Andrea said. She winced after tasting the first cup.
“I guess I never thought of it that way.” While the first cup was bland and heavy on kidney beans, the second was much spicier with chunks of jalapeno peppers thrown in. Both their eyes were watering as they tried the third entry. It was not as spicy, but had a tangier flavor.
“I like the last one best,” Andrea said.
“Me too.” He wrote down both their names on a form and cast their votes for the third entry. From there they moved on to the pies. Mayor Colbert’s daughter’s pie made their mouths pucker from the tartness of the berries. They voted for a cherry pie instead.
“I could use a drink,” Andrea said.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Because you don’t have any identification.”
“You have to be twenty-one to drink alcohol.”
“Really? That seems kind of fascist.” She crossed her arms over her chest and pouted.
“How about if I get you one? I shouldn’t drink anyway since I have to drive us home.”
“You’re a lifesaver,” she said. She kissed him on the cheek again. “I’ll wait right here until you get back.”
He nodded and ducked into the beer tent. Older men, swapping war stories and gesturing with their hands, occupied the card tables set up on one side. Gary paid for a bottle of Miller Lite, but almost spilled it when Andrea surprised him right outside the tent. She held out a plate of hot dogs, potato salad, and dill pickles. “Sorry to scare you,” she said. She traded the bottle of beer with him for a can of Diet Coke.
Old women sat at the picnic tables near the cook-off stations, sharing tales of their children and local gossip. Mayor Colbert waved to them, but Andrea squeezed Gary’s arm. “Let’s go somewhere more private,” she said.
“Sure,” he said. He pretended not to notice the mayor’s wave and led Andrea back towards the baseball field. They sat on the top row of bleachers with the plate of food between them. By now the sun was starting to set and Gary regretted the missed opportunity for Andrea to see how beautiful the sunset looked on Dagger Lake.
“So how long have you lived here?” she asked.
“That’s a long time.”
“A lot of the people here have been here ten times longer than I have. Mrs. Haggerstein is ninety-six, all spent right here.” Andrea looked at the bottle of beer with confusion until he demonstrated how to twist off the cap. Then she took a long pull before wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
“Are you planning to stay here that long?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought that far ahead.”
“Why did you come here? Or shouldn’t I ask?”
“My parents and I used to come here during the summer. A lot of my best memories are right here. Plus, it’s quiet and peaceful. Not like Detroit. You can’t get anywhere around there without running into a traffic jam.”
“There don’t seem to be many people your own age around here. Doesn’t that get lonely?”
“I don’t mind.” To keep from having to say anything else, he jammed one of the hot dogs into his mouth. Andrea seemed to take the hint, saying nothing else until they finished the rest of the food. She put her empty beer bottle on the plate and then stood up, wobbling on her high heels.
“I know what we can do next,” she said. She pointed to the unused playground equipment nearby. “Let’s go over there.”
“I think maybe we should go home.”
“Come on, Gary, don’t be a stick in the mud.” He relented, helping her down the bleachers and following her to the playground equipment. She ran across the sand to the slide and climbed up the ladder.
“Don’t get stuck,” he said. “Or we’ll have to wait for the fire department to get you out.”
“I’m not going to get stuck. You just wait and see.” She stood at the top of the slide and shouted, “Here I go!” She dove into the twisting tube, screaming all the way down until she ran headfirst into Gary at the bottom. They collapsed into a laughing heap in the sand. “I told you,” she said.
“I bet I can swing higher than you.” They each took a plastic swing and backed up to gather momentum. “Ready, set, go!” He raised his legs and the swing shot forward. Andrea was less graceful, almost falling off her swing. He demonstrated how to pump her legs during the swing for more lift.
The higher she went, the more she screamed. “I’m flying!” she shouted. A part of him knew they must look ridiculous to everyone else, but he needed only to see the joy on Andrea’s face to stop worrying about appearances. He couldn’t remember the first time he’d felt as free as he did soaring through the evening sky with her by his side.
The story continues next Sunday with Chapter 7. In the meantime, come back Tuesday for another Terrible Tip!