I sense my good fortune, my excitement at doing something on my own even more when I’m down in the big cushioned seat.
I couldn’t have known, I didn’t know, I only sense, at seventeen, what the summer will bring. I only know that on the bus I’m detached from the life I’ve lived so far. I omit it from the present so I’m free, as if nothing existed before. As if everything from myself is loosened from it, removed from myself. So it’s during this ride to Cape Cod, to Roslyn, in that summer, that I feel I’m leaving all that behind.
It’s morning. Eight o’clock. June 14th. He’s in the car his father drives that takes him to the Greyhound station. He’s going to Cape Cod for the summer. He has a job there. He’ll be staying with his aunt and uncle, his cousins Bobby and Susan. He’ll be working at the driving range at Roslyn Country Club where Bobby’s a top caddy. He’ll fill buckets for the members, drive the tractor with the reaper behind it that scoops up balls, make sure members sign the form so they’ll be charged, and he’ll keep his mouth shut too, as his parents have told him he better.
His parents are worried though. They think it’s good he’s doing this. They think it’s bad. All the way from Felton to Back Bay they tell him how they expect him to act. How he has to do everything Uncle Bill and Aunt Doris tell him to do. How he has to help out with the dishes and the cleaning and other chores. How he has to use his own money to pay his way. How he has to get in early. How he has to be nice to Bobby and Susan. How he has to do his own laundry and make his bed every morning.
His mother sums it up, “Act the right way. Mind your manners. Don’t be like you are at home.”
He listens. He repeats. He agrees with everything. Since he’s leaving it’s easy to do this without coming back with a flip comment.
The morning’s warm, the brilliant sun low in the blue sky. It hits on the windshield so his father has to lower the visor.
The bus is almost full. Almost, but not all. I have two seats in the back to myself, the ones across the aisle and one row up from the bathroom, that even with the door closed has a sour smell I don’t like. But after a while I ignore it. It’s worth it if I don’t have to sit beside anyone. If I don’t have to feel I have to talk to them. In my backpack I have a book and paper bag of food, but I don’t take them out. I let my mind drift. I look out at the houses and buildings and streets. Then come the suburbs. By the time we’re in them the bus is going full speed. There’s no more braking and shifting. No more jerks and stops. No more hiss of the air brakes. Right behind me the engine hums at a high pitch.
I see the younger image in the female doctor coming at me in the green hospital smock. She’s seventeen, just as I was. She’s with her father. They’ve come to the driving range. She’s pretty, with blonde hair and sunflower-yellow shorts. A skinny girl, a smooth tan on her face, arms and legs, a high voice. Her father’s tall, with broad shoulders. His brown-and-silver hair’s brushed to one side. When he smiles he shows all his teeth.
He’s dressed to play a round of golf, in a green knit jersey with a small, darker green alligator on the breast, creased tan pants of a light material, a two-tone belt, brown and gray, black and gold shoes. I give him a large bucket. He’ll use half to practice his driver and half for his irons; I know this habit of his already. He takes a dollar out of his pocket, the only one that was there as if it was ready for me. Then he goes to the far end of the tees where the grass is scuffed more than it is closer to the gray shed with the bin of striped balls and wire buckets and myself in. Where there’s a stool for me to sit on and through the open window look out at the members taking their swings.
The far end is where members practice their irons. Dr. Sutherland uses a three or four, I see from the low trajectory of the balls he hits. I position myself on the stool so I’m able to see his daughter sitting under the elm tree that shades the Halfway Shack. She reads a book. It’s the third time since I started that she’s come with him. She’ll leave soon, to go to the Clubhouse to swim or play tennis on the clay courts, and after that, well, after that I can only imagine what someone like her does all day.
I’m stealthy. I look at her only when I see she’s concentrating on the book. We haven’t talked. I don’t talk to the members unless they talk to me. Not even to their children. Especially not to them. Bobby told this to me. And Uncle Bill hinted at it. They’re like my coaches letting me in on the game plan. That’s the way the caddies act, and the way the driving range boy is supposed to too. Don’t speak unless spoken to, and I’m too afraid to say anything anyway.
The girl on the bench rakes her fingers through either side of her hair to loosen it from her temples. The color I see in the hospital only suggests it was blond. The look in her eyes is the same, though. An inquisitive look. A look of knowing more than you do. A look that sees below surfaces. That finds symptoms that aren’t evident to the untrained eye. A doctor’s detached look.
Did she see the boy of seventeen or the man of forty-four? Did she go back to the driving range as I did? Or did she only wonder what brought me there? Was it an ill family member or a friend? Did she see the awkwardness I felt at still feeling like the boy I was then?
“It is you,” she said. “I knew right away.”
“So did I, of course. How have you been?”
She was in a hurry. She had to get to the O.R. Here’s her number. Call her tonight, anytime past seven.
The morning’s bright. The sun burns on the windows and his eyes. But it doesn’t divert them. He looks at the landscape through a squint. He looks but he doesn’t project language on objects. He doesn’t define. He stays within himself. The early summer sun highlights everything. No, it’s late spring he reminds himself. June 14th. Summer starts on the 21st.
The sound of the engine behind him. The powerful force of its pistons pushes the bus forward, toward Roslyn where his cousin and aunt will pick him up, where the summer will begin when he gets there, where his job at the driving range starts in two days.
The voices of two men, two men who don’t know each other, are talking three rows ahead. They pause for a few moments then start up again. He’s not interested in what they say. They’re more like the noise of the engine, a noise that’s there when he stops to recognize it.
The bus moves ahead, carrying him to that place, to Deborah. Everything’s lining up to converge there, to that place where she is. He only knows that something awaits him. The freedom and experience, and lots of fun, he hopes. But right then he’s suspended in his seat, looking out the window, squinting into the glare of sun.
The world’s out there. He hasn’t seen much of it. Yet already he has a feeling for it. The feel of all of it at once and himself in it.