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No More Nickernackin'

Peter Obourn

“Two men” postcard—two men in old-fashioned suits that fit too tight, standing stiff next to a 1936 Chrysler. The car was in front of a white house with a wide porch. This was the one with the pretty handwriting: “I hope this reaches you. I don’t know your address, but you talked a lot about Walt’s Diner, so I am hoping he will be kind enough to pass it along to you. You liked this picture of the house so much, I thought I’d send one to you. I hope you are feeling better and arrive home safely. Sincerely, Harriet Spencer,” it read.

Norland was studying the “two men” postcard. Walt had the “green bottle” postcard in one hand, and was looking over Norland’s shoulder.

“Love,” said Walt. “Mine says ‘love,’ Norland. Yours just says ‘sincerely.’”

“Let me see that,” said Norland, and he grabbed the “green bottle” postcard away from Walt. Norland studied it carefully, then handed it back to Walt. “Humph. Not very romantic.”

“It says love, don’t it?” said Walt.

“I don’t care if it does; it ain’t romantic,” said Norland. “Mine’s romantic.”

Roy was studying the “oak table” card. He kept muttering “M.”

“You thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’?” said Norland.

“What?” said Roy.

“Could be,” I said, then Walt and I looked at each other, shook our heads, and said “nah” at the same time.

We studied and we discussed the cards almost every day until the “two men” postcard got kind of limp. Roy made such a mess out of the “oak table” card, we had to take it away from him. Then he made a whole list of “M” names. He made us vote. It came out “Mary” if it was a girl, and “Mitch” if it was a man.

“Say what you like,” said Norland, waving the “two men” postcard. “You need to read between the lines.”

Roy looked hard at the card. “Between what lines?” he said. Molly strolled over.

“So, what do you think?” I asked her.

“I think, boys,” she said, “that something happened in Iowa.”

Then, one day in late September, he was back.

He drove up to Walt’s and sat on the bench like he’d never left. The Cadillac had 56,000 miles, one long dent all along the passenger side and one on the trunk. Looked like a moose kicked it, then sat on it. He was still wearing that old brown cardigan with the same smells.

I walked right up and put my foot up on the bench. “Where the hell you been?” I said.

“The question is,” he said, “how’d I ever find my way home.” He patted the bench, then looked down and rubbed it with his hand. “Let’s see now. First, I decided I had to stop nickernackin’, as you put it. So I decided to go to that new casino, ‘Turning Rock’ or whatever it’s called, down near Rome.”

“So you went gambling.”

“Well, not exactly. I couldn’t find the place, but you guys said I had to do something, so I just kept going.” He shrugged and looked at me. “Then I come home.”

“Tell me about it,” I said. “Where did you go?”

He sat and thought. “Well, not sure exactly where I went. Stayed in some real nice places.”

We showed him his postcards. He acted proud, especially of the “two men” postcard, but he didn’t say much, except to ask how they got so beat up. “Looks like someone was chewin’ on this one,” he said. “It’s all taped up.”

“Norland did that,” said Roy. Norland looked at Roy, but let it go at that.

Walt pinned the postcards up next to the cash register, and Bill let them stay there, like showing off his grade school homework.

We weren’t getting to the bottom of anything this way, so one day I carefully picked up the “oak table” postcard. “So Bill,” I said, “you went to Yardley, New Mexico?”

“That card from there?”

“Yep.”

“Then I went there.”

“Tell me about it.”

He looked at the card. “Hot,” he said.

I heard him telling Walt about the “green bottle” postcard. “Pretty country out there,” he said. “Windy.”

Roy said it was no wonder he didn’t have much to say. “He left with a new Caddy, and now all he’s got is a beat-up old sedan and three postcards.”

“When you going to harvest your lawn?” said Norland.

Bill looked out of Walt’s plate-glass window. The maple tree was bright yellow. “Kinda late for that now,” said Bill.

As the leaves got knocked off the trees, Bill’s stories got a little longer. Some detail snuck in. “Here’s a B & B I stayed at,” he said, holding the “two men” postcard. “I always went to little towns, where I wasn’t so confused. They don’t call them rooming houses anymore. They’re called B & Bs—want your eyeteeth for a room. One had a bathtub called a ‘Jacuzzi.’ You turn it on and water shoots all over the place.”


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