An excerpt from the novel The Meteoric Rise of Simon Burchwood by Scott Semegran
The pine trees surrounding the old neighborhood were taller and more majestic than I even remembered them to be. I rolled the window down and let the fresh Alabama air rush in the car. The air smelled noticeably different than the Texas air, mainly because of the pine trees. But also, for some reason, my allergies didn't exist here like they did in Austin. My clear nasal passages took in the air freely and deeply. My nostrils were so clear that I felt like a different person. It's true. I hated having allergies. They made me fucking miserable, what, with my nose running all over the place and the headaches and the coughing and sneezing. The headaches were the worst part. But I didn't have them here. And the sun was getting ready to set soon. It made for a mesmerizing ride in Jason's crap mobile.
"It smells so good outside," I said.
"Wait till we pass that old, swampy lake behind the neighborhood. You'll change your tune then. Still smells like a toilet back there."
Jason downshifted the car into third and pulled into the turning lane for the entrance to our old neighborhood. Another black cloud rose from the back of the Chevette and the cars that were behind us honked and swerved. It was fucking hilarious. It really was. I thought Jason's car was about to kill itself, hari-kari style. It knocked and screamed as much as it possibly could. As the Chevette slowly approached the entrance, the neighborhood sign came into view, a small wood and brick job that appeared to have stood the test of time and the pranks from my childhood buddies. It was an unfortunate target of rotten eggs, stink bombs, spray paint, and toilet paper. There wasn't one weekend that that sign didn't have some kind of shit on it. The kids loved to muck it all up, don't ask me why. They just did. I was guilty too, of course. It's true.
"And here we are... Country Down Estates," Jason said, cranking the steering wheel to the right and pulling into the neighborhood. The street stretched a ways up an incline, just like I remembered, before actually entering the community. It seemed to me that I remembered the street to be a lot longer than it actually was. As a kid, it seemed like it took forever to go up that street. But in reality, it really wasn't long at all. Jason's Chevette screamed up the hill, chugging and clunking as he downshifted to second gear. That car was really on its last leg. I thought the transmission was going to fall out, the way it grinded and clunked and all.
"Come on, baby!" Jason screamed. "You can do it!"
As he pushed the Chevette harder, memories from my childhood came rushing into my head. I remembered riding my bicycle on this street, my ultra cool Diamondback BMX bike. I saved months and months worth of allowances and yard-cutting money to buy that bike. We'd pop wheelies off the curbs and make skid marks on the driveways of all the old men who hated skid marks on their driveways. Those old bastards, they just hated it when we came whizzing down the street. They'd run and get their water hoses and try to act like they were watering their yards. I think maybe they thought we'd leave them alone if they had the hoses but we'd zoom in and skid on their driveways anyway, just because they hated it. They'd scream and yell and squirt the skid marks so they wouldn't set on the hot cement. I always got a kick out of that. We left skid marks everywhere.
We also passed Beth Myers' old house, the first girl I ever kissed. I took a good look at the house as we went by, remembering sitting in her backyard behind the tool shed. We were dared by our so-called friends to kiss each other and we lived up to their dare, clumsily kissing, our eyes closed and our little hands clinched. We were so scared to do it. The sloppy, wet kiss repulsed the two of us, yet it brought us closer together in a rare moment of maturity and adolescent clarity. I kept that moment in a special place within my heart; this was the first time that moment had surfaced in a really long time. I wondered what good ol' Beth was doing these days.
"Isn't that Beth Myers' old house?" I asked, even though I already knew the answer.
"Yep, sure is. She's still around here somewhere. I'm not quite sure where but I know she stayed in Montgomery and went to college and all. I'm sure you could find her if you tried."
"I'm not sure I want to do that."
"Remember when you guys sucked face in her backyard? You guys sure didn't kiss right, not like normal people anyway. That's for sure. You two looked like a couple of catfish attached at the face and all." Jason started laughing like a goddamn hyena. He had this laugh that was a combination of wheezing and coughing and snorting, except that he'd do all those things really fast like he was choking on a hunk of beef jerky. It was annoying and funny to hear at the same time. He hadn't changed one bit. "That dare sure brings a smile to my face whenever I drive by that house. I bet that was the inspiration for a lot of stories you've written, huh?"
"Sure was. This old neighborhood has inspired countless poems and stories and even my new novel, in a way. I've sucked the marrow out of many memories and recollections and created some great literature."
"Did you ever imagine back when you lived here that you would finally get out of Montgomery and become a famous writer and all?"
"I always knew I would be a writer, even when I lived here."
This part of Country Down Estates was like the more upscale part, housing some of the higher ranked officers from Gunter, the nearby Air Force base. The well-manicured lawns were as green and neat as I remembered. My father was a newly promoted major back then and my family fit snuggly in the middle of the other majors and colonels' families and their near-identical houses. It was all a bunch of shit though. It all seemed nice and suburban and perfect but Montgomery was a really fucked up place. I mean, racism was still pretty rampant in this part of the country and Montgomery was no different. They tried to cover the racism with monkey grass and iced tea but it was still there, ugly as ever. But I'll get to that later. The part of the neighborhood where Jason lived was a few notches down the social ladder, houses that were a little older and a little bit rundown compared to the houses my family lived around. It was kind of like the middleclass ghetto of the area. The strange thing about Jason's family though was that even though they lived in the rundown part of the neighborhood and their house was rundown and their cars were rundown, they had a lot of rundown things. I mean, they had four cars and a swimming pool and a lake house and a ski boat and they always seemed to have money. Everything they had just looked rundown. I never could figure it out. I never could figure out if they were just messy pigs or something like that. Maybe they just didn't care about all that class stuff. Who cares about that stuff anyway?
Jason put the car in neutral then stopped. We sat in front of another house full of memories for us.
"Remember that house?" he asked, pointing to the brown, one-story home.
"That's Darren Reedy's old house, isn't it?"
"Sure is," he said. He sighed and leaned back in his seat with his arms behind his head. He had this stupid look on his face, this content and happy look. I knew what he was thinking about.
"Whatever happened to that sick little freak?" I asked. Darren was a sick little bastard. It's true. But he was our friend too. Everyone has one of those sick bastard friends in their childhood. Darren was our sick bastard friend. "Remember how he used to torture his pets?"
He couldn't have been anymore blunt or direct about it. What a shocker! He just blurted it out, like it was nothing, like it was old news. I didn't know what to say. In a way, it wasn't like it was really surprising or anything like that. Darren was a sick little bastard that did sick things to defenseless animals. But it was just so definite and blunt and direct, the way he said it. Jason was like that, though. He was direct as hell. He got that from his mother. She was direct as hell too. His whole family was direct as hell. It drove me crazy sometimes.
"I just wanted to let you know in case you wanted to stop by or something. His mother is still quite upset about it and if you stopped by and asked her about him, she would probably break down. You know, cry and all. He died a kind of bizarre death."
"What happened?" I asked.
"I'll tell you about it later. No need to put a damper on your visit so early in. You have plenty of time to hear about it. Remind me tonight and I'll tell you."
Jason revved the Chevette into first gear and drove a few houses down. He stopped again and put the car in park. I was still in shock about Darren. I was too shocked to notice anything.
"And here it is. Does it look exactly like you remember?" he asked.
He climbed out and stood there on the curb by my side of the car. We were parked in front of my childhood home. Man, you want to talk about memories? This place was full of them. Still painted white and brown, it looked just like I remembered. Yet it was a little different too. The grass was shaggier and unkempt. The roof looked worn and in need of repair. One of the windows in the front was cracked. But I could picture myself playing in the front yard when I was kid, playing lawn darts or touch football. We'd play late into the evenings, well after dark. The house didn't seem as big as I remembered though. Isn't it funny how things are always not as big as you remember?
"It looks pretty close to what I remember. Pretty close," I said. "Who lives there now?"
"Nobody. It's vacant. It was up for sale but it didn't sell. I think the owners are going to do some work on it before trying to sell it again."
"That's why it looks kind of crappy now. Not like when your dad was here. This lawn looked like a golf course putting green back then. Remember?"
"Of course I remember. I was the one who had to cut it every five days." My dad was a fucking slavedriver when it came to the lawn. It seemed like I was always cutting and trimming it. Raking, watering, weedeating, fertilizing, a huge chunk of my childhood consisted of taking care of this goddamn yard. And for what? Look at it now. Any signs of the hard work I did was gone. Completely gone. Jason noticed that I was still a little sore about the subject. To be honest, I was pretty goddamn sore about it.
"Come on. Get over it. That was a long time ago," he said, walking back to his side of the Chevette. "Betty's waiting for us at the house. She probably made us some cookies or something."
We hopped back in the turd-on-wheels and ventured toward Jason's house. More memories rushed into my mind: the bike races down Smithson Street, trick or treating and the poop-bag pranks, hikes through the woods behind the neighborhood, finding Playboys in the ditch behind the school. As the wind and the pine-tree smell rushed in the window, I felt like I was thirteen again. It's funny what your mind will file away if it's not using it. I hadn't thought about all of these things for a long time and they were coming to life by the dozens.
"Hey, there's Patty Green's house. Right there, the yellow one." Jason pointed to the little yellow house as we drove by. Patty had the unfortunate status of being the seventh grade whore. She quickly turned from prissy little Patty to Patty the hooker one night when a small group of boys and girls convened at her house for her thirteenth birthday party. The party started innocently enough with chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream and party games and presents and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. But once the uninterested parents moved inside to the bar for scotch on the rocks and cold beers, we kids moved to the garage for a quick game of Spin the Bottle. Patty received two spins since it was her birthday and she kissed two boys. She kissed Jason, who for the rest of his junior high days was in love with Patty, and Justin Moss. The other kids affectionately called him Mossy on account of his dingy teeth, rotten gums, and stinky breath. The combination of kissing two boys and the excitement brought on by all the goddamn sugar the kids ate generated the incessant, hateful chatter. Patty clearly enjoyed being the center of attention, which to our young eyes, meant she enjoyed acting morally irreprehensible, of course. She was labeled a whore that night and was scarred for the rest of junior high.
"I never got to spin the bottle because Patty took my turn," I said.
"She might not have been called a whore if you had gone instead. Think about it."
"Unless she kissed me, of course. I think her fate was set already."
I thought fondly of little blonde Patty. She was a beautiful little girl. And though I didn't have the courage to tell her back then because of the stupid talk from the other kids, I liked her very much, even when the other goddamn kids called her a whore. One thing I knew for sure back then was that Patty wasn't a whore and I sympathized with her unfortunate circumstance. The day before I moved away to Texas, I rode my bike all the way to Patty's house. I rode fast and determined, the adrenaline pumping through my veins, and leapt from my bike while it was still moving when I reached her house. Leaving it on its side in the street, I ran to the front door and rang the bell. I remembered hoping that her father wouldn't answer the door and fortunately, he didn't. When she answered, I took her by the hand without saying a word and led her to the side of the house. Next to the air conditioner, she looked to me to say something, anything, about why I was there. But I didn't say a word. I didn't know what to say anyway. All I knew was that I liked her. I leaned over and kissed her, a long lingering soft kiss. We slowly embraced each other, my hands on her hips, her arms draped across my shoulders. As my lips pressed against hers, I could feel the emotion overcoming her. Her lips quivered as we kissed. She knew, without me saying anything, that I liked her and didn't think of her in the hateful way the other goddamn kids did. And after five minutes, I pulled away from her and smiled. I didn't know what to say. I turned and ran for my bike. Picking it up, I mounted my trusty BMX bicycle and headed for home. I never saw or heard from her again after I moved away.
"Her fate, huh? That was unfortunate," Jason said.
"It sure was," I replied. I still didn't know what to say.