“You ladies gonna sit there all afternoon staring into space?” came a booming voice from behind us. We turned and saw Fish’s dad standing in the doorway of the garage. He was still in his riding gear, faded and worn our blue jeans, a beat up old leather jacket that was unzipped and barely hiding his Harley Davidson t-shirt and biker boots. A cigarette was dangling out of his mouth and in his right hand he was holding Fish’s motorcycle helmet.
“We just finished painting the frame, Pop. What’s up?” Fish asked.
“Your mom called and wants me to go up to the store, you wanna ride?” Mr. Minnow responded.
“Uh, sure.” Fish said and then looked at us “You guys wanna put the frame away?”
“No problem, it’s getting late anyway and I need to get home.” I told him.
“Alright, see you guys at school tomorrow.” Fish said as he got up, dusting off his pants as he headed over to where his dad was standing. Then he turned around, reached in his pocket pulled out his smokes and tossed the pack to Fin. “Here, I’ll get another pack at the store.”
Fin watched as the red and white pack sailed toward him and land right next to where he sat. “Thanks Fish.” He said as he scooped them up in his hand and we both watched as Fish and his dad disappeared into the darkened garage.
When we heard the Harley start up we got up, untied the bike frame, stored it in the garage and went back to pick up the paint cans and trash. “What do you think it’s like?” Fin asked me.
“Think what is like?” I asked as we put the paint cans on the workbench in the garage. The acrid smell of the Harley’s exhaust still hung in the air, enveloping us with its promise of open roads and high adventure.
“Riding on a motorcycle.”
“It’s fun. I rode with my dad once when he had a bike and I’ve ridden on some mini-bikes a few times. One day I’m gonna have a motorcycle too.” I boasted.
“Cool. I’m gonna get one someday too.”
“That’d be cool, we could ride together, go up North, ride in the mountains or we could head south to the Dells.”
“Nah, let’s head west, to the Grand Canyon and then on to California. We could ride all the way to the ocean; hang out on the beaches there. That’d be cool.” Fin fantasized as we shut the doors to the garage and started to head home.
As we walked home, first down Allouez Ave and then down Libel, we spoke of all the adventures we’d have. We spoke of how we would camp in the Painted Dessert, visit Mount Rushmore, ride our bikes through the Rocky Mountains and take US-1 from Southern California all the way to Alaska and then getting a job on the pipeline. How all our problems would just disappear once we hit the open road, the way we figured it, we could get odd jobs here and there to pay for our food and gas and then move on. Drifters, that’s what we’d be. Living off the land and not having anyone to tell us what to do or when to do it. No one to rely on but ourselves; they were the pipe dreams of two kids who knew nothing about the world except what we’d read in the pages of Jack Kerouac and Jack London.
As we cut through the new home construction on Libel street near Brookridge Fin looked at me and asked “You think we can do all of that stuff? You know, just up and split? You wouldn’t worry about your family or nothing?”
“Well, yeah, I would.” I said “But by the time we are old enough to get our motorcycles and hit the road my sisters will be out on their own. It’ not like we’re gonna just up and leave tomorrow or next year. Hell, Fin, we don’t even have money to buy the tire of a motorcycle let alone two motorcycles. Yet.”
“I guess.” He said “But it would be nice to be able to take off now. No more crappy school, no more bullies, no more waiting to start our lives. You know?”
“Yeah, I get where you’re coming from.” I said and we walked the rest of the way home lost in our own thoughts. I can’t speak for my pal but I was trying to figure out a way to make enough money to make my dream come true. As we approached the back of the Jamrogs’ house I noticed Fin was frowning.
I didn’t say anything to him; I knew what he was thinking. Every time we cut through the Jamrogs’ backyard and Dennis, Glenn or Mike saw us, they would harass us. Especially Fin, he seemed to catch the brunt of the teenagers’ angst. I think it was because he was still thought of as the new kid even though he’d lived next door to me for almost two years.
Today though, we got through the yard and past the garage with no problem, a fact I can only attribute to a box of Playboys that were most likely being drooled on as we snuck past. Once we got to the end of the Jamrog’s driveway I noticed my mom’s car was not in our driveway and the garage door was open with no car inside. Good news for me, I wouldn’t have to deal with being yelled at for now.
Jim and I said our goodbyes to each other and as he headed next door I told him if he wanted to hang out in my room later to stop by. He just shrugged and waved at me as if to say “Yeah, man, maybe.” I headed to the back of the house and used the back door to get back in the house. Everything was pretty quiet and I couldn’t tell if anyone was home. My sisters room was empty, as was the entire main floor of the house.
As I wandered through the house I checked the kitchen table, the end tables in the living room and the door to my bedroom for a note from any of my family members but the only thing they had left behind was dust. The door to my bedroom was still closed and as I approached it I wondered if my family had even realized I had left earlier in the day. Had they knocked on my door? Checked on me? Thought about me? Are they even thinking of me at that very moment? Had anyone read the note I had left on my bed?
As I opened my bedroom door I thought I heard someone come in the back door of the house. I ignored the noise and continued into my bedroom. When I stepped into my room I noticed the note I’d left not eight hours earlier was still sitting on my pillow undisturbed. I glanced around the room and saw none of my toys, clothes or school books had been disturbed either. I realized at that moment that no one in my family even knew if I was home, out running the streets, alive or dead.
“It’s about time you came out of your room.” My oldest sisters’ voice called to me from down the hall, interrupting my epiphany and self centered reverie.
“Uh-huh.” I mumbled and turned to face her. She was coming down the hallway towards me, completely oblivious that I’d just gotten home myself. “Yeah, I, um, I’ve been doing homework and just hanging out.” I quickly said and sat on my bed and grabbing the mornings note, crumbling it into a ball then tossing it into my Green Bay Packers trash can by my bedroom door.
“Well, Mom and Bob went up to Crivitz and they won’t be home until tomorrow. Are you hungry? What do you want for dinner?”
“I’m not really hungry. Where is everyone?”
“Debbie’s out with friends, Suzy is in the kitchen and has been with me all day. Are you sure you’re not hungry? I was going to make some goulash.”
“Goulash? Ok. I think I could eat.” I said and smiled at my sister as I got up from my bed.
She stood there in my doorway with a pained expression on her face, “He really did a number on you last night didn’t he?” She said staring at the bruises on my face.
“Yeah, but it looks worse than it is.” I mentioned with false bravado and unconsciously rubbed my cheek and wincing slightly at the aching pain the slight touch caused me.
“You really shouldn’t mouth off to him. You know he doesn’t like it when you get smart with him.” She cautioned.
“I know, but I don’t like how he talks down to me either. So I guess we’re even.” I said with a grin and then shrugged my shoulders and added “Besides, he’s not family yet and I just don’t understand how he thinks he can just come in here and always boss us around.”
“Please can you at least TRY to get along with him?” She asked me as she turned to head back down the hallway “C’mon, you can look after Suzy while I make dinner.” She ordered in her mother hen like way.