The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume 6, Number 3, Pages 14-18
By Terry Davis
A graduate of EWU, Terry Davis presents this excerpt from a novel set in the region. This is the opening of Chapter VIII. Terry Davis was born in Spokane in 1946. He attended Spokane schools, received his BA and BA in Education degrees from Eastern Washington University, then moved to Monroe, in the Cascade Mountains, where he taught high school English for one year. He moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1970 and taught English at the Escola Americana until 1972, when he left to attend the Iowa Writers Workshop. He received his MFA from the workshop in 1974, then was granted a Wallace Stegner Literary Fellowship at Stanford. Davis left Stanford in 1974 and moved to Dijon, France, his wife's home town. The family returned to the States in '76 and settled in Greenville, North Carolina, where Davis taught in the writing program at East Carolina University. In 1981, Davis moved to Moscow, Idaho, as visiting writer at the University of Idaho. In May of '81 he returned to Spokane, where he now makes his home.
Davis's first novel, Vision Quest, was published by the Viking Press in 1979. His second, Mysterious Ways, is in progress. Reprinted by permission of the Viking Press. © 1979.
In a way it was the Columbia that finally got Carla and me together, and in a way it was Dad. Dad read in the New Kettle Falls newspaper that Lake Roosevelt was being lowered because of some work on the dam, and he told Carla and me that if we drove up there we might get to see the river and the falls. Carla was fired up to go, even if it was with me. I traded my days off to match hers and we were set.
Carla wanted to get an early start. I heard the basement door open and close and then footsteps across the patio. I opened one eye for a second and saw Carla's boots at the edge of my cot. It was still dark. She nudged my shoulder through the sleeping bag. "Louden," she said. "Louden. Time to get up." Her voice was soft. I kept my eyes closed and thought of waking up beside her. "Louden."
"Good morning," I said, opening my eyes. "Thanks for waking me."
"You're sure you're awake?" "I'm awake. I'll be in in just a sec." Carla went back in and I sat up and rubbed my eyes and peered at my watch. I had to cup my hand around it to read the dim luminous dial. It was 4:30. I checked around to see if she was looking out the door, then jumped up, grabbed my jeans, and ran to the grass behind the house. I had my shorts on, but I didn't want her to see me. My cock stuck out straight as a tent pole.
We still had our '51 Ford half-ton pickup then, so we set the tent and sleeping bags and mason jars that we had to take back to Aunt Lola and ax and shovel and tarp and first-aid kit in the back, since it wasn't going to rain.
It was an incredibly beautiful morning, which is the way most summer mornings are around Spokane. There wasn't a sound and the only smell was freshness. The street lights were still on and the sky was graying into blue. I was stretching and yawning and growling and about fixing to give the neighborhood my Mountain Man good-morning yell when eleven-year-old Dwight Thuringer came whistling down the sidewalk with his newspapers. My hiding was totally unpremeditated. I just whipped into the big shrubs before he saw me. I didn't decide to scare him until he got right to the porch and banged his paper off the screen door. I leaped out and threw my arms in the air and bellowed like a Sasquatch. Little Thuringer screamed and fell back on the lawn in a storm of neatly folded newspapers. He twitched a little and gurgled in his throat. I was rolling on the lawn, laughing out of control.
Dwight was throwing papers at me as hard as he could when Carla came out. I was still laughing, rolling around, but I was trying to cover up my tender spots. Those square-folded papers hurt. When he got me right at the base of the skull, it sobered me up and I got to my feet and ran around behind the house. I heard Carla ask Dwight what happened. "Goddamn Louden jumped out and scared me," he said. He sounded like he was ready to cry.
I had climbed over the fence and come through the breezeway and out onto the lawn again. "God, I'm sorry, Dwight," I said. "I just couldn't help myself." And then I started to laugh again. But then I saw he had peed his pants and it made me feel ashamed.
Finally Dwight started to laugh, too. He began to pick up his papers and I helped him. "You really scared me," he said. "I must have looked funny."
"You flew through the air," I said, starting to guffaw again.
Carla and I lifted his double bag over his head and brushed the dewy grass off him, ignoring the pee smell, and waved him good morning. I brushed the wet grass off my front and turned for Carla to brush my back. "You're really a bastard," she said, refusing to brush me. I asked her if she wanted to drive and she said she did.
The old Ford had to be double clutched, and Carla took a while to get the hang of shifting. But once we got out on 395 she didn't have to shift, so the ride was smoother. The windows wouldn't roll up and the heater had a leak, so we were cold till the sun got up a little. I would laugh a little to myself, then shut up, then just go to pieces and laugh till tears ran down, thinking of Dwight flying through the storm of newspapers. Carla asked me to explain what was so funny. I tried, but couldn't stop laughing. Then she began to laugh, too. She wished she could hear some music and cursed the old truck's lack of a radio. I pulled the tape player out of my wrestling bag and clipped in a special traveling-music tape. She liked that. Then I took out my tea thermos and poured us some. Carla drinks a lot of tea.
"You come prepared," she said. "I'm just waiting for the day some millionaire will get a flat or run out of gas. I'll change his tire, drive him to a gas station, pour him some tea and honey - and he'll pay my way through college."
"What he'll do is hit you on the head and you'll wake up with an asshole the size of the Chicago Loop." She giggled as I squirmed a bit in fun. "I'm very interested in that bag," she said, looking down at my big old wrestling road bag. "What else do you have in there?"
She was bent over a little and through her second button I could see a nipple register its protest against the cold morning. Her hair was blowing out the window and back against the broken gun rack. God, she looked good driving the old yellow Ford. Among other things it made her freckles redder.
"Oh, I've got a couple pair of socks and some shorts and towels, some soap and a thermos full of Gatorade," I said. I didn't mention Dad's old .9mm Luger.
Carla flipped out when "John Wesley Harding" came on the tape. I knew she liked Bob Dylan because that's what she played all the time on the stereo at the New Pioneer while she drank tea like an addict. I had the tape loaded heavily with Dylan tunes I recorded at Kuch's house. I had some Merle Haggard, some Leon Russell, some New Riders and Grateful Dead, and a couple obscure Jim Croce and John Stewart truck-driving songs. It was definitely a tape for the old Ford on 395 North and for Carla.
We talked about music and books and kids at Lake Shore, Carla's old schools in Chicago, and kids at David Thompson. We were laughing so much and having such a good time we forgot to watch the gas gauge. We ran out on the Colville side of Addy and I had to walk back and get some.
More than anything else, I was fascinated with Carla's independence. There are lots of really beautiful girls around and lots of soft ones who are smiley and bright-eyed and in shape and smell good and don't smoke cigarettes. But I just have the feeling that few of these attractive girls keep time with their own clocks. But Carla had had a baby and she was nineteen and had to be self-sufficient after she left home, so maybe my comparison with the other girls I knew wasn't fair. Anyway, on that trip to the Columbia I was giddy from more than the memory of scaring the pee out of Dwight Thuringer. I was about half in love.
I tried to get her to talk about herself, but all she said was that her father was an insurance executive and her mother was housefrump, that they were both shithooks, and that her brothers and sisters would turn out exactly the same. "What saved you?" I asked. "Getting pregnant," she replied. That sobered me up a little, but just then Dylan's "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" came around on the tape and Carla rocked back and forth and banged on the steering wheel and tapped her free foot in time. The girls I knew were more sedate than that, and right then I realized exactly what it was that fascinated me about Carla. She had the best things I liked about girls and the best things I liked about guys. She was soft and beautiful and made up little animals and could be kind and tender. But she also swore creatively and worked hard at stuff besides her appearance and did what moved her - like leaving home or peeing with the door open or going with a black guy or banging on the steering wheel.
Maybe when you get older you begin to appreciate many of the same qualities in the opposite sex that you do in your own. It would be pretty hard to live closely with somebody if you couldn't like her or him at least for the same reasons you liked all your other friends. Now that Carla and I have been together for a while I can feel this happening in me.
We rocked and rolled through the main street of Colville and turned west on 395 to New Kettle Falls and my great-aunt's place on Gold Creek. We talked about our jobs and the jobs we'd had before, laughing about everything. I told Carla about my job helping the Stern family get in shape.
"Last year," I began, "Mr. Stern, a teacher at school, hired me to teach his family an exercise routine that would get them in shape for summer hiking in the Cascades. They're probably on Mt. Rainier right now," I said to add immediacy to the story.
"Umm," Catla replied politely. "What exercises did you teach them?" She was only listening half-intently because the tape had come around to The Dead and "Casey Jones."
"Oh, some pushups and sits and rope skipping and run-a-Iap, walk-a-lap. Just stuff everybody already knows. Just stuff to help them build up a little muscle tone. By the end of the year I'd left no Stern untoned."
Not only did Carla refrain from laughing, she didn't even react.
"Stern," I explained. "Stern untoned."
"I'm trying to ignore it," Carla replied. "You are a menace. You scare little paper boys and you make dumb puns. You watch out," she smiled. "You're gonna get it."
"It," of course, was exactly what I wanted.
She talked about working in a record store in Chicago and about all the records she left with her brothers and sisters back home. "It's hard to believe people really live this kind of life," she said, swinging her arm out the window toward the fields and farmhouses. "Nobody next door and nobody across the street. Dogs and cats probably live long enough to die natural deaths here."
"A lot of 'em get killed on the highway," I said. 'The more room you've got, the farther you roam." That sounded like a song, so I started to sing it to the tune of "Momma Tried," which was playing at the time. I don't sing nearly as pretty as Merle Haggard, so I shut up after the first few lines.
Carla was mellowing. She was also probably about to have kidney failure from the truck's bouncing. A straight hour of that old Ford suspension was all anybody but a bronc rider could comfortably take. We were almost to Aunt Lola's place, so there wasn't much use to stop and rest.