Read All Your Pretty Dreams Online

Authors: Lise McClendon

Tags: #romance, #coming of age, #humor, #young adult, #minnesota, #jane austen, #bees, #college and love, #polka, #college age, #lise mcclendon, #rory tate, #new adult fiction, #college age romance, #anne tyler

All Your Pretty Dreams (2 page)

BOOK: All Your Pretty Dreams
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What had he wanted out of
life? The unmapped path his life had taken seemed like a black mark
on his record. Where was his ambition? What chance was there he’d
find it in Red Vine, Minnesota?

Around the table his
parents discussed whether Ozzie was safe on the roof with his trick
knee, who had borrowed the ladder, would insurance pay for roof
repairs of the Rainy Days Motor Inn. The motel next door was their
livelihood. Ozzie bought it for a song thirty years before and
proudly claimed to have spent next to nothing on it. Jonny had
painted it, patched the roof, washed windows, set gutters. Not that
you could tell anyone had so much as swung a paintbrush in that
direction for years. The place was held together with baling wire
and duct tape. Artie had also done forced labor, probably why he
went into law, as far from pulling toilets as possible.


The Bee Wild-ers are
really fun,” Wendy was saying, her eyes twinkling. “You’ll like
them, Jonny.”


Who?”


The college kids. At the
motel. Bee Wild, get it? They’re doing some study about wild bees—
not honeybees like Mr. Grissom’s. To, like, figure out if they can
be seduced into having hot sex with our apple trees and
blueberries.”


Wendy!” With her watery
blue eyes and wispy gray-blonde hair, Margaret always seemed to be
thinking about something else while she talked to you. She was
known to forget what she was talking about mid-sentence. But her
voice did carry, sometimes tricking you into better
behavior.


They don’t call it the
birds and the bees for nothing,” Wendy said, smirking.


Stay away from those
older people.”


They’re, like, twenty.
And I clean their toilets.”


Just get in and get out.
No lollygagging.”

Wendy wiggled her eyebrows.
“Who are these students?” Jonny asked.


They’re from Chicago or
somewhere,” his mother said.


University of Illinois,”
Wendy said. “Urbana. Lots of fun things on campus. I looked at
their website.” Also it was far from home. Jonny remembered that
age, when the world was your oyster if you could just break out of
the shell.


Out of state. Not a
chance,” Ozzie said.


We’ll see.” Wendy stood
up. Jesus, she’d filled out. She was wearing her red Tastee Freez
uniform, hemmed to barely cover her ass. The top pulled tight
across her breasts, displaying her summer tan among other things.
She flipped back her long blond hair and spun on her white tennis
shoes. “Maybe I’ll get a scholarship.”

Ozzie watched her prance
through the swinging door, his blue eyes clouded with defeat. “And
maybe I’ll win the lottery.”

Jonny perched on the peak
of the rotting shingles of the motel and examined the gap near the
furnace flue. The Rainy Days Motor Inn sat molding into the peaty
soil on the south end of town, a block from the state highway.
Would you call it homey, cozy, serviceable? More like shabby.
Beyond it clapboard farmhouses nestled in maple and ash trees with
gooseberry bushes and lilacs along fencerows. Farther out, apple
orchards stretched away, orderly and tidy, into the thick woods
that turned flame and gold in the autumn. Now they were shades of
green— deep pine, soft leaf, thick emerald masses.

The roof was shedding
gravelly specks like dandruff, one of many projects Ozzie had put
off. A little more glue, a bit of flashing, and the leak would be
good to go.

The smell of warm tar
scented the air. The view was fine: rolling hills, ripe and green,
to the east, cow pastures and wheat there, woods to the west past
the town, with a hint of the lake to the north. The sparkle of the
water reminded him of his uncle’s red canoe, diving contests, the
sailboat with the polka dot sail his grandfather built him and
Artie. Mosquitoes the size of small aircraft. Hiking the woods to
find the perfect Christmas tree.

He wiped his forehead with
the back of his hand. Was he getting sentimental about the place?
It had brought him Cuppie St. John: nothing to get misty about. The
only problem with that was he couldn’t decide if he was happy now
that she was out of his life. On a mental health spectrum, with the
black-dog-of-Minnesota-winter depression at one end, to skipping
through daisies at the other, he was in the mud, wearing galoshes.
Stuck.

The summer sun broke
through the clouds. The spring, rainy and gray as usual, had
dragged him into this quagmire. Now June was nearly over and he’d
been summoned home. The architects he worked for told him to get
lost, recharge the batteries.

The sound of crunching
gravel pulled him back to the present. A car door slammed. A
woman’s voice from below startled him with its sharpness. “Thank
God. Not that freaking raccoon again.”

Her face was shadowed by a
pith helmet wrapped in white netting. She paused, tucking gloves
into her leather belt. She wore cargo pants with grass stains on
the knees and a safari jacket. Where were the elephants? He stifled
a laugh. She disappeared and the door slammed. Jonny swore as he
caught a shingle and cut his finger.

College students. He knew
the type, the hot-shit college kid, bored out of her gourd in
Backwater, Minnesota, looking down her nose at the hicks she was
forced to endure. The type surfaced in Minneapolis too, transplants
from LA and New York, none too happy about their transfers and
eager to decry Endless Cold and Lack of Culture.

At least he knew where he
stood: unwaged fix-it man, pledged to squelch the twin rebellion of
rot and rust. Squeeze box slave. Great. Weeks with stuck-up rich
kids. This stretch was starting to make prison look like a health
spa.

He put an old rubber band
around his finger to squelch the bleeding then finished the
patching. Halfway down the ladder another voice stopped
him.


Jonny-boy!”

Lenny Rhodes wore his
uniform: faded black t-shirt with ‘Rage Against the Machine’ barely
legible, dirty jeans, and ancient Converse high-tops. He made a
tidy income as a computer fixer for everyone over 50— that is to
say the entire county. He called Jonny a punk for not letting him
know he was back in Red Vine, or ‘come to ground’ as if he was a
gangster on the run.

Jonny felt an unexpected
rush of gladness at the sight of his only friend from high school
who still lived in Red Vine. “You’re still here, you bastard. When
are you moving to the Cities?”

They walked into Margaret’s
rose garden. Lenny grinned, his curly blond hair falling into his
eyes. “Can’t now. I’m getting the keys to the kingdom. Running for
mayor. Mayor— me! Can you believe it?”

Lenny had spearheaded a
drive to move the town dump away from a stream that fed into the
lake. Citizens had taken up sides, those who didn’t want to pay for
anything even if it meant poisonous water and a fish kill, and
those who wanted to save the lake and their town. Lenny was on the
lake’s side. He’d been recruited by the town’s newspaper editor,
lover of a good election fight, to run against Norm Norman, mayor
for twenty-two years and counting.


You’ll like my slogan.
Born in the USA. So, of course, I’m calling myself ‘Thunder’
Rhodes.” Lenny squinted. “You don’t think the Boss will mind, do
you?”


I think he’d be
honored.”


You hear his new
album?”

Jonny hadn’t listened to
Bruce Springsteen in years. Cuppie controlled all the music and she
didn’t like rock and roll, preferring bluegrass, banjoes, and
mary-janes with big bows. What else did he give up for her, he
wondered, listening to Lenny rattle on about rock and roll. He’d
been in a coma for eight long years but he was awake now.
Free
. It took coming
back here, to the place they’d met, to realize he was really free
of her.

He stood a little taller.
There, that was the first step.


Come to the Owl tonight.
We can talk strategy.”

It sounded great. Away from
the parents, their carping, Wendy’s drama, the motel slowly being
eaten by termites and neglect. He glanced up at the peeling white
paint. Old gutters lay twisted in a heap. The green doors were
faded and cracked, numbers missing on rooms 2 and 5. He couldn’t
believe his father had somehow conned a major university into
booking students there. They can’t have known what a shit-hole the
Rainy Days was.

His mother squawked in the
house. Baloney sandwiches were ready.


The squeeze box
calls.”

The recreation room of the
Spoon River Retirement Home was painted egg-yolk yellow to
compensate for the rain, snow, and mist that often hung over the
town. Now at mid-summer the chalky blue waters of the lake
stretched out beyond the grass, with sun breaks setting the scene
with dazzling clarity. Red Vine could be bucolic and calm, even
pretty. It was a good thing to remember.

Jonny looked around for a
man with an accordion. On one side of the room three ladies hunched
over cards. Two men sat staring at a television set. Neither had a
lick of hair, and the Canadian had been described as having a full
head of white hair.

He headed back to the front
desk. His grandfather was down the opposite wing, for Alzheimer’s
patients. He should go see him, even though the old man hadn’t
known him for years. Right after the lesson.

Room 612 was at the far
end of the corridor. Jonny retraced his steps past the recreation
room, past the hallway that led to the dining room. The accordion
strapped to his back felt like dead weight, a burden of
responsibility. But if he perfected the polka his father would be
happy— proud of him. Man, what a thought. How much he still wanted
to please his father— or at least have his father acknowledge his
skill, his commitment, to
respect
him— made him slow his steps.

The problem wasn’t his
father. It was polka. Not that he didn’t like the form in general.
It was happy music. The
oompah
made people want to get up and dance. It made
them smile. It spoke to them; it was part of who they were. Yet it
didn’t speak to Jonny. Even after all these years. To feel polka
deep inside the way he felt rock and roll, was that too much to
ask? At sixteen he tried to play Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’ album
on the accordion. He could still play those tunes. But the sound of
rebellion and the road sounded so much better on the
guitar.

When he’d played with the
family band in high school, Ozzie on drums and Artie on trumpet, it
had been fun up to a point. Artie was a kick, going off on jazzy
riffs like Miles Davis. That made Ozzie so mad he would clack his
drumsticks together to get him to stop, right in the middle of a
song. When Artie left for college there was the expectation he
would come back in summers for polka mass and party gigs, but he
never did. Ozzie found a high school kid who played until he got
Wendy on the horn. Stumpy took Jonny’s place on accordion when he
left for college. With Stumpy in the band there was no need to step
up. Until now.

The old man sat by a
picture window that overlooked a stretch of lawn. Claude Bayard
waved him in. The room was bright and warm, very different from his
grandfather’s in the nursing wing. Pictures on the walls, a fluffy
red comforter on the bed, real tea cups, a worn oriental rug over
the industrial carpet. The armchair he sat in looked comfortable
and well-used.


I would get up,
monsieur
, but the legs
don’t work so well,” he said, motioning Jonny into a straight-back
chair. “Ah, you bring your instrument.
Bon.”

Jonny shook the dry
fingers of the man’s gnarled hand. Wendy was right, he was ancient,
withered below the waist but with a fascinating, deeply-lined face,
large nose, and alert blue eyes below the white-as-snow thatch and
shrub-like gray eyebrows. Before Jonny could wonder if this was all
a giant waste of time, the old man began ordering him to do
things.
Put on the accordion, close the
door, show me your finger work, play some chords, what do you know,
we must check the felts for the moths, stand up and play, give it
some power now.
He was a bossy old fart
with a French accent but he obviously knew what he was doing. The
hour went quickly.

The old man pushed back his
hair, looking tired. “You come back tomorrow then? With knowing the
bass chords?”

Jonny unstrapped the
accordion, heavy old beast. Still pearly but scratched and a bit
tired, it had been his grandfather’s. Reinholt had bought it just
after World War II. Jonny got it officially when he was twelve and
his grandfather retired from the band. Reinholt had been teaching
him to play since he was six.


I used to know all those
chords,” Jonny admitted. “I’m pretty rusty.”


When I was your age I
learned three new songs every night. And played them the next day
with the band.” Claude fixed him with his stare. “You like this
band?”

Jonny nodded. “It’s the
family— my father and my sister.”


Just three?”


There’s been others but—

BOOK: All Your Pretty Dreams
10.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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