Most of us loved Uncle Ringo. He was the cool uncle if there ever was one. He’d lived in Venice for a couple of months last summer and brought back with him an Italian sports car—not at all legal on American streets—a Lancia D24 with the famous double wishbone suspension and Barchetta body. He traveled the world. He loved foreign women. He brought us exotic gifts, things like peacock feathers from the Moroccan casbah, buckeyes from Singapore markets, scrimshaw necklace pendants from Oslo. He smoked his cigarettes in the European fashion, with his hand turned up, pinched between his thumb and forefinger. In pensive moments, he absently pressed the corners of his thin black moustache.
His lifestyle couldn’t have been more different from his brother’s—my dad’s, the Presbyterian elder and harrower of lost souls. He traced his catechetical lineage through Luther, Zwingli, Huss, and Calvin. A gleeful double predestinarian, he was rhapsodic in his expostulation of the supreme wisdom of God in his reprobation of those “Esaus” that he “hated” from before the foundation of the earth, to his everlasting glory. I know he was As I Lay Dying-crazy with indignation when he saw that Ringo had excised a page out of the massive family Bible simply to scrawl a farewell message.
He endured Ringo’s visits because of some promise to their father long ago when Ringo was 18 and my dad was 33. That regrettable vow now showed in my dad’s eyes when we sat at the dinner table. But he’d crept into everyone’s heart, even my mom’s. He’d charmed her as a kid when she and my dad were courting. Now, the tension between the three of them, as they say, was palpable.
“Hm. My, my. Janet,” he said at the table. “This meatloaf is even better than the last time. Have you done something different?”
My mother furtively touched her mouth as she swallowed, darting eyes at my father. “Oh I don’t know. The onions are real fresh.”
“Well it’s delicious. What do you think Harold…Harold?”
“Janet knows what I think of her cooking.”
After dinner, Ringo often sat in the dark on the porch swing smoking his little French cigarettes and humming a tune that seemed to consist of the same four notes. I sometimes went out there with a page of homework paper. I’d give it to him. He’d look it over and say something like, “Ah my boy, you don’t need to know this. Trust me.”
I wanted to believe him, that in fact I didn’t need to know it. In my boyish imagination, as I suspected, so much schoolwork was just socializing us into good workers and consumers. He knew there was another world out there. He had broken out. As I pondered the import of such offhand comments, he’d taken Hagar and bounce her giggling on the toe of his boot until dad huffed out and told us to get ready for bed.
And now he was gone. Enoch sulked all morning over his oatmeal. Hagar sniffled through endless mewling questions to which mother repeatedly flipped her hands up as she dithered around the kitchen saying, “I don’t know sweetie…I’m sure he will sweetie…He didn’t say sweetie.”
I was just angry. How could he leave without a word? I thought we were pals. What about the recent weeks in which he seemed to allow only me into his confidence? A special bond had formed, I thought. And then last night, in that wonderful moment, he invited me, only me to the table to smell the brew and feel its effects. It was a betrayal for him to leave without a word.
I walked the path through the wet pine forest on my way to school, my disappointment simmering. I hadn’t gotten far before the one and only thing that could ease my mind appeared standing there far ahead on the trail—a girl. A shadowy contrapposto figure, books slung down in her arms at waist level, head cocked sideways, the cut of her skirt sure to translate vice principal Hodge into a dervish.
Her name was Dimity St. John.
That’s right. Dimity St. John.
Now, you’re probably thinking, Dimity? Is that a real name? Yes it is. Where she was from.
I think it must be a name reserved for careless young nymphs oblivious to and dismissive of the almighty power they wield over hapless young men.
And St. John? Yes, well, all I can say is that it was a surname appropriate to her ample divine spiritual…endowment.
She waited for me today as she did on rare mornings when there was no cheer practice.
Dimity was a shaggy blonde, sunbaked, surfer-girl from Australia who last year moved to our town. Our romance was in that first springtime discovery stage of bewitching freshman passion.
Straightening up I quickened my pace. I was already rehearsing to her the events of last night, the mysterious elixir, the vertigo-inducing altruistic tidal wave felt in my deepest bowels.
Just seeing her unguarded smile would turn this gray day into a sunny maypole dance.
I tucked away my uncombed hair and gave a tug at the hem of my shirt.
Two faraway noises came into my ears. One, a church bell somewhere far away—glorious, or was it my heart singing? Who can say? Also a faint buzzing sound was intruding on my golden apotheosis.
Dimity took lazy steps toward me that seemed to say, “come on, you silly.” I may have only been fourteen but by all that’s holy, I was going to kiss that tidy little overbite like Clark Gable.
Where in blazes was that buzzing coming from? As it got closer, my annoyance grew and the church bells faded.
Suddenly, breaking in from a nearby residential street, ramping off a berm and skidding sideways right up to where I was standing, Ringo pulled up on a black Moto Guzzi, lifted the goggles onto his forehead, and shouted in a frenzy,
“Get on! Quick!”