LATE IN LIFE

LATE IN LIFE
a novella
by Charles McKelvy

Chapter One: Totally Taken for Granted

So, it’s Monday, August 3, 2020, and we’re back at Panera in Saint Joe, Michigan with our cup of the house dark roast and two cinnamon crunch bagels. Well, the bagels are in the belly, and the coffee’s about ready for a refill, but we’re ready to write another pocket book.
But this one, as we explained in the author’s note will be a bit longer, owing to the larger notebook in use. Not meatier necessarily, but certainly longer. So to the caffeine-induced story:
The 70-year-old retiree and general layabout found himself looking at his high school yearbook from his senior year, in 1968. Yes, that’s the year often compared to 2020 for its wild and crazy ride.
Anyway, he opened randomly to the middle of the book and came upon the candid photograph of a girl he had totally taken for granted.

(to be continued)

Chapter Two: Strangers No More

Hey, he thought, we went eight grades together at grammar school and four years of high school, and we were basically invisible to one another.
Hmm. How can that be?
Linda Keller.
Hmm.
That’s her, all right.
A real beauty. At least in 1968.
Who knew?
I sure didn’t, because I had my head up my ass that year. What was I thinking in 1968?
Was I thinking in 1968?
I guess, but I certainly wasn’t thinking about Linda Keller. And I’m sure she wasn’t thinking about me.
So he went to Facebook and whispered, “strangers no more.”
Time to get reacquainted.
Or acquainted.
Because we were ships passing in the night back then.
“Strangers no more,” he told himself as he hit the keyboard.

(to be continued)

Chapter Three: I’ll Buy You a Pony

He found her on Facebook, and, to his pleasant surprise, he found that she still went as Linda Keller.
He also found she was living halfway across the country in a western state, and that she had plenty of Facebook friends, and liked to ride horses.
There had been no horses in their native Chicago neighborhood.
Wait a minute, he thought, there was a girl in our class at Alice Elementary School who had talked her father into buying her a pony. And she and her friend Linda Keller had ridden that pony along the Rock Island tracks.
Our friend,, whose name is Gordon Farley, remembered seeing the girls taking turn on the pony. One would lead the pony and the other would ride, and then they’d switch. They never offered the boys a ride, but then the boys never wanted to admit they wanted to do something as silly as ride a pony along the Rock Island tracks. Gordon was one of those boys who would have enjoyed riding the pony. But he had to feign indifference, like the other boys.
Now he cursed his younger self for being so stupid and conventional.
Who knows, I could have ended up with Linda back then. Hmm.
So he wrote: “I’ll buy you a pony if you’ll be my friend on Facebook.”

(to be continued)

Chapter Four: Write Back, Right Back

Linda Keller wrote Gordon Farley right back and said she’d be delighted to be his friend on Facebook.
“But,” she said, “I need to know if you still swim. Do you remember when you and Gerry Schaeffer posed in your little Speedo swim suits for the yearbook? I was the editor that year, and when I saw that picture, I decided to give it a full page because I knew it would make all the girls hot. Do you remember?”
Gordon Farley remembered all right, and so he turned to that page in their 1968 high school yearbook and smiled ruefully at that chiseled image of his high school self. Oh, he thought, if only I could appear like that to Linda Keller now.

(to be continued)

Chapter Five: Man Tits

Now I’ve got man tits, Gordon thought. But back then I was an Adonis. No love handles. No stomach don’ loppin’ over my belt, or “Donlopp Disease.” And certainly no man tits.
Man tits!
How disgusting!
Good God Almighty, what in heaven’s name happened to me?
Gordon wondered.
Gordon pondered.
Then he flipped back to the candid shot of Linda Keller in the yearbook. And he looked at the picture she had posted of herself on Facebook. She was astride a groomed quarter horse and looking good in Western attire, complete with a Stetson hat and cowboy boots.
Gordon wondered what she was going to make of the paltry picture he posted of himself on his Facebook page.
And, he thought, what the hell is she going to make of my man tits?

(to be continued)

Chapter Six: THAT Day in 1968

Gordon shrugged and said to himself: “Ah, fuck it! Don’t mean nothin’.”
And so he replied to Linda Keller, and said he was sorry he had never paid any attention to her—whatsoever—all eight years of grammar school and all four years of high school.
“I don’t know how I could have overlooked you,” he wrote. “What was I thinking?”
Linda wrote right back, saying, “Don’t sweat it, Gordon. We were aware of one another. We just traveled in different circles, is all. Now, after all these years, we’ve rediscovered one another. More like a discovery, really. We have shared memories, though, so why don’t we start with THAT day in 1968.”

(to be continued)

Chapter Seven: Where Were You THAT Day?

Gordon wrote: “You mean the day after Doctor King was assassinated?”
“Yes,” Linda replied. “That day. I was in the newspaper/yearbook office hugging all my black friends and crying. What about you? What happened to you?”
“Well,” Gordon wrote, “I made the mistake of going into the boys’ room on the second floor, in the old building. About ten black guys I didn’t know were waiting for some stupid honkie like me to wander in. They put one hell of a beating on me, but I managed to fight my way out and got the hell out of school. It was crazy. I know some of the greasers wanted me to grab a baseball bat and drive around with them and beat in black skulls all day, but I just went home and chilled. It was all so crazy.”
“Yes,” Linda wrote, “it was. Do you hate them for it?”

(to be continued)

Chapter Eight: No, I Don’t Hate Them

“No, I don’t hate them,” Gordon wrote. “But I know those greasers wanted to put a hurt on anybody with a black face. A lot of good that would have done, right?”
Linda agreed, in writing. Then she wrote: “So when would like to come out and see me? You do like to ride horses, don’t you?”
“Gordon had never met a horse he didn’t like, but life had not been good enough to him to allow much horsing around. Horses are for rich, successful people. Hmm.
He thought about Linda’s offer and decided it was late in life for both of them, so he replied: “Why not?”
She responded immediately: “When?”

(to be continued)

Chapter Nine: How About Next Week?

“How about next week?”
Gordon stared at the computer screen. Next week?!?
He went to look at his calendar and realized he didn’t have a calendar.
Nor did he have any plans for next week, as he was pretty much a day-at-a-time kind of spontaneous divorcee.
So he wrote right back, saying, “Sounds good. What airport are you near?”
“Train’s better,” Linda replied.
“Train?”
“Train! You do ride trains, don’t you?”
Gordon tried to remember the last time he had been on a train and couldn’t come up with anything after high school.
“Well, sure. Amtrak, right?”
“Amtrak’s your only choice. I’ll send you all the details.”
And she did, and he booked himself a room on the Builder.

(to be continued)

Chapter Ten: A Room on the Builder

Gordon was immediately impressed by Amtrak’s Empire Builder.
He had been expecting a string of wooden cattle cars, and here before him, stood a line of gleaming Superliners.
Double-deckers, no less.
A smartly dressed porter stood at the door to his car and asked for his name and destination.
When Gordon told her, she said, “upper level. Bedroom A. You’re going to travel in style, my friend. Thanks for choosing Amtrak, Mr. Farley.”
Mr. Farley, Gordon mused. Who the fuck ever calls me Mr. Farley?
So, yes, he was mightily impressed.
And he was even more impressed when he found his luxurious room on the Builder.

(to be continued)

Chapter Eleven: Me and My Jackie MaDee

Soon Gordon was crooning Me and My Jackie MaDee, and taking slow, deliberate sips from his bottle of Jack Daniels bourbon.
Jack Daniels, in Gordon’s mind, equalled Jackie MaDee, and, after a few sips, he fancied himself every bit as good a crooner as poor, dead Janis Joplin.
The perky, professional porter appeared presently and told “Mr. Farley” that she would be happy “to turn down your bed while you go to dinner in the diner. You have the first seating, Mr. Farley. If my old Timex is still ticking, and it appears to be, then that would be in ten minutes.”
She pointed and added, “The diner’s that-a-way.”
“They serve liquor there?”
“Wine and beer for dinner and the lounge car has a full bar for your after-dinner drinks.”
“Which way do I go again?”
“That way,” she said, pointing again.

(to be continued)

Chapter Twelve: Suffice it to Say

Suffice it to say Gordon had himself one lovely train ride. He called it his Irish Vacation, and he enjoyed every last drop of his Jackie MaDee.
He even offered a wee dram of it to the ever-helpful porter, but the young woman declined, saying she wasn’t allowed to drink on duty.
No matter.
Gordon was one happy camper, and he didn’t mind one bit when the porter rousted him the next morning from a sound sleep over the syncopated beat of steel wheels riding along steel rails.
“Your station stop is in 15 minutes, Mr. Farley. I’m sorry to have to wake you, but I know you don’t want to miss your stop,” she said, ever so sweetly.
Gordon raised his shade and saw only shadowy shapes slipping past in the pre-dawn dusk.
Hmmmmm, he thought. What have I gotten myself into?

(to be continued)

Chapter Thirteen: East Bumfuck

When the porter opened the door and set out the stoop, Gordon peered into the good-morning-gloom and said, “What is this—East Bumfuck?!?”
The porter laughed and said, “This is where you get off, Mr. Farley. Enjoy your stay in East Bumfuck, and thank you for choosing Amtrak.”
“Yeah, right,” Gordon said, pulling up the handle on his ratty, old suitcase. “See you on the return trip in a while.”
“Unless you decide to stay. Who knows, right?”
“Right. Who knows? Life is a journey, not a destination. See ya.”
The porter signaled the engineer, and the Empire Builder let out a horn blast that awakened the early birds, and the mighty train chugged on its westward way.
Gordon pulled his suitcase along the dimly lighted platform and wondered if he had made a huge, fucking mistake.

(to be continued)

Chapter Fourteen: Thundering Hooves

Just when Gordon was ready to throw out his thumb and hitch a ride back home, he heard thundering hooves.
That’s right—thundering hooves. High-volume hoofbeats, if you will.
I’m in a fucking Western movie. Who the fuck hears thundering hooves, but in a Western with the Duke or Gary Cooper or Clint Eastwood or bad-ass Lee Marvin or—
The thundering hooves—high-volume hoofbeats—were upon him.
Gordon gasped, for there sat Linda Keller astride a mighty black stallion with the horse’s identical twin in tow.
“Let’s go,” she said.

(to be continued)

Chapter Fifteen: Breakfast at Sunrise

“What about my suitcase?” Gordon asked.
“Shorty will be here shortly. He’ll take care of it. All you need to know, my long-lost friend, is that we’re going to have breakfast at sunrise. And you don’t want to miss sunrise in these here parts, good high school buddy.”
Gordon looked up at the lady in the Stetson and cowboy get-up. She had weathered naturally, and looked every bit as lovely as she had in 1968.
And now she was handing down a glowing doobie and bidding him take “a toke or two to enhance your appetite for a real, Western-style breakfast under the rising sun, with a special surprise for dessert.” She rolled her eyes lasciviously, leaving nothing to Gordon’s imagination.
Gordon dutifully toked up and climbed aboard the mighty champion, who seemed mighty happy to accommodate him.

(to be continued)

Chapter Sixteen: Died and Gone to Heaven

“I’ve died and gone to heaven,” Gordon said, sipping his fifth Bloody Mary.
He looked at the lovely lady of 70 years before him, and the spread she had had her ranch hands set out for them, and let the sun shine in.
“It’s all too beautiful, isn’t it?” Linda observed.
Gordon blinked, and it all disappeared in a twinkling.
Then, all he could hear was some gruff old-timer saying, “Wake up, Gordy. The topic’s drinking dreams. You ever have drinking dreams?”
Gordon looked around the morning circle and smiled.
“Just had a doozy, thank you very much. Wanna hear about it?”
They were all ears.

(th-th-th-that’s all, folks!)