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Almost Fiction: 4 1/2 days in 1942

By Sam Jones

Almost-Fiction-web

It was not quite midnight when he got off the bus at the downtown station. Claiming a small suitcase, slinging his raincoat over his arm, he walked across the street to the cheap hotel.

Unpacking the suitcase that held everything he owned didn’t take very long. He hung the raincoat on the back of the door covering a tattered card that explained checkout time, left his room and walked downstairs to the bar that connected with the lobby.

The next day he found a park two blocks from the hotel. It was a town square the same as in a thousand other small towns across the country. Buses came and went. A train stopped thrice weekly. Business was slow on Main Street. The draft-age men were off to war. The town was quiet. None of it was a surprise.

A boy on a motorcycle pulled up to the Western Union office across from the square, left the motor running and hurried inside. He came out with some envelopes, mounted the motorcycle and rode away. Returning an hour later, he again ran into the office, came out with a small package, nodded to the man sitting on the bench and rode off.

Later, the sheriff stopped his Ford coupe, questioned the man, checked his ID and left.

The boy on the motorcycle finished his last delivery, this time killing the engine before he walked into the telegraph office. When he came out, he crossed the street and sat next to the man. “You didn’t get very far today, did you,” the boy commented.

“Nope, just taking in the sights and getting the flavor of the town,” said the man.

“You come in on the bus?”

“You sound like the sheriff.”

“Don’t mean to pry. I know everyone in town and you’re new. Just looking for some conversation.”

The man relaxed. “You ride that motor pretty good.”

“Yeah, been riding it forever. Like to get a car but no use now. Got drafted in the Army. Take the train to boot camp in a few days. Guess I’ll have to store the Harley at my uncle’s house for the duration.” The boy didn’t look old enough to go to war, but in 1942, he was just the right age. “Say, you wouldn’t want to buy it would you? Fresh air, clean travel, it’s a good runner, take you anywhere and it’s got a sidecar that goes with it. I used to take my girl out in the sidecar until she met some sailor at a stupid armory dance. They got married in a week. She left and went back east where he was stationed and now lives with his parents. I got pissed and took off the sidecar. But it has one and it wouldn’t be any trouble to reattach it.”

“I like the bus. Don’t really know anything about motors.”

“That’s why you want the sidecar. It’s nothing at all to ride one of these things and my Harley is a peach. I’ll give you a great price. My mother could use the extra money while I’m gone.”

“Kid, you are a hell of a salesman; I’ll give it some thought.”

“Right… well… take care.” The boy would have told him his entire life story if he had stayed longer.

The man spent the rest of the day walking around town. Returning to the hotel he had dinner and drinks in its restaurant and bar. While eating he thought about the kid being drafted. He also thought about the sidecar motorcycle.

Business was slow so he struck up a conversation with the redheaded waitress. In between other customers they talked about life, the town and about the fact that she was not happy living there. He made the obligatory pass and offered her a drink in his room. “Not on the first date,” was her answer.

The next afternoon the kid zoomed into the telegraph office, grabbed a delivery and rocketed off. Later, after collecting his last paycheck, he joined the man who was again sitting in the park. “So, fresh air, independence, no worries about bus schedules, did you give the Harley some thought?” The kid was a good salesman.

“OK, what do you want for this wreck?”

“Wreck? Don’t let Beatrice hear you talk about her that way. Motorcycles are alive; they have feelings.” The kid was half-serious. They haggled for an hour and a deal was struck.

That evening after dinner, while enjoying a cocktail, the man questioned his sanity. The waitress again filled her slow time between customers by chatting with the man. This time, when he offered to buy her a drink, she said yes, but no to the room invitation. He noticed that she had blue eyes.

The following day the man helped with the attaching of the sidecar. He also listened to a dissertation on the quirks of this motorcycle as well as all motorcycles with sidecars, and then came the driving lesson. Not as good as the boy, nevertheless he picked it up quickly.

After dinner, the waitress and the man were seen kissing as she left to go home. Neither of them wanted her to leave but she did. He insisted on walking her back to her boarding house. Stopping in front of the hotel, the man pointed and said, “That’s my new transportation.”

“It looks like Bobby’s sidecar rig. He used to go with my sister until she ran away with a sailor. You need transportation? Where you off to?”

“The West Coast to find work in a defense plant.”

“You’re leaving?”

“Yeah… why… you want to go?”

“Don’t tease me. I hate this town. If you’re serious, I’d go in a second.” Her eyes were both intense and filled with tears. They went back to his room to talk.

The next morning, outside her boarding house, while waiting for her to settle her rent, he busied himself by tying both of their suitcases to the motorcycle’s luggage rack.

The day found the drafted boy going east to boot camp, on his way to becoming a soldier going to war, and the man with the blue-eyed, redheaded waitress going west to work in defense plants. In 1942, major decisions were made quickly and people moved suddenly. They had to. The future was uncertain.

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