Contemplating the Ripples

Lake Berryessa, California (Monte Dutton photo)
Lake Berryessa, California (Monte Dutton photo)

I had time to kill. I had driven over to the college town early that morning and spoken to several classes. I make so few “days of it,” and a freshman outfielder in one of the classes had invited me to come see the team play.

I said, “Hey, I’d like to do that,” when I should have asked, “What time does it start?”

The game was at seven. Damn those inconvenient lights.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Why not a drive? It was almost as if I flipped a coin. I headed south toward the lake, the one that was twenty miles from my town and a different twenty miles from this one, and it occurred to me that I had not seen the lake, over on the other edge, near the dam, in twenty years. I drove by the restaurant where the family used to go and found it still had the name, but the name was a stack of condos.

Panorama Lodge to Panorama Vista, a redundancy if ever there was one.

Then, almost without conscious intent, I drove back past the dam, took a left at the crossroads, and somehow managed to navigate my way to the old Charland house, which I was pretty sure was now owned by non-Charlands, and I wondered if they’d managed to get rid of the mild scent of beer rising from the carpet and oozing from the logs in the walls.

The scent was likely gone from the house, but it still oozed into my mind.

The parents didn’t come out there much and made a point of staying away when we – their kids, their kids’ friends, out-of-town guests from various colleges where kids and kids’ friends had enrolled – were cutting up. Cutting up meant barbecuing a pig, setting up kegs, and engaging in risky behavior that was far enough away from neighbors that none of them would mind … much.

We weren’t … too illegal. A boy could drink beer when he turned eighteen back then.

Alton Bay, New Hampshire (Monte Dutton photo)
Alton Bay, New Hampshire (Monte Dutton photo)

So I pulled up into the yard. No cars were there. Hearing no barking dog, I got out, looked at the right where the Truelocks’ house, saw no one there, either, and walked past the house. The lawn still had the three fortunately placed pine trees that made suitable bases and fly-ball obstacles for softball games where a lefthanded pull hitter could put one in the drink but only via the line drive. The outfield shifted to protect the water.

Know what really hurt? Leaping to catch a line drive and landing in three feet of water. With rocks. A kid didn’t do that but once.

I sat near the edge of the lake on a stump that hadn’t been there before. For a long time, my eyes were fixed on the water, shaking like Jell-O, reflections of the sky bouncing amid the deep green of the depths. My eyes were on the water, but my thoughts were on the pier, where, once, a legion of patriotic and drunken American youths had dashed its length, nude, diving off its end and vowing to free the hostages on the distant shore posing as Iran.

We fancied ourselves heroes, though we found our imaginary hostages before the water got over our heads. Thus were casualties avoided in the high-risk mission, but, man, were our girlfriends pissed.

Lake Berryessa, California (Monte Dutton)
Lake Berryessa, California (Monte Dutton)

Everything was sturdy at the Charlands’ house. It was furnished secondhand, with a living-room couch inherited from dead relatives and bunk beds from a pawn shop. The TV wasn’t cable-ready, which is why it was there. Mr. Charland had bought a newfangled one for the house he di dn’t want torn up.

We sweated over the barbecue, drank ourselves silly till we didn’t actually wind up eating much of it, and spent much of the night staggering around like zombies marveling at how half the town had shown up.

It was historic. It was mainly where I learned to drink beer. It was mainly where I learned to smoke pot. I learned valuable lessons, several of a sexual nature, and I survived such rites of passage and went on to become a respectable man who secretly resents the strictures of respectability.

By the time I got to the baseball park, I was almost back in my right mind.

              Many more of my short stories are here. I hope you like them. In fact, I hope you like them so much that you want to read my books:



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