A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

Brookside Park
by Kim Burnham (Jan 2011)

        It was a magnificent May evening. The crickets chirped in the freshly mown grass and bats circled the streetlights. It was Brookside Park, just down the hill from the high school.

        It was the night of high school graduation. The class motto has long been forgotten, but the “unofficial” version was: “Sex, booze, LSD, we’re the class of seventy.”

        Students were gathering, not knowing what to do but suspecting tradition dictated staying out late.

        “What are you going to do after college,” I asked John, the brightest bulb on the class marquee.

        “The service,” he said. “They are looking for engineers. And the benefits are good.”

        “I suppose engineers don’t end up in ‘Nam.”

        “Depends on what kind, sometimes civil ones do for bridges and so forth, but not mechanical.”

        “I hear there’s likely to be a lottery.”

        “Maybe I’ll do ROTC. That might keep me out until I graduate.”

But John didn’t do ROTC or finish college. He did LSD, and came to believe he was Richard Nixon.

        Another student approached John and I.

        “Got some change? I need to use the public phone.” It was Sam, a class bully who knew me from church. He wasn’t very bright and didn’t do anything at school. But an abusive father had made him tough.

        I reached for some change and John gave me a dirty look. But I shrugged and handed over the money.

        Sam went across the street but didn’t stop at the pay phone. He went inside the 7 to 11. Sam would die in Vietnam. And many would wonder if he’d been a victim of friendly fire.

        A group of jocks with a couple of cheerleaders came up and said Hi to John and I.

        “I’ll bet we could climb that fence around the swimming pool,” said Joe, the football team captain. He would become Idaho’s first Native American governor.

        “There’s barbwire on top,” said John.

        “So,” said Joe.

        Joe’s group and then John and I began to scramble up and over the ten-foot fence, followed by others, about two dozen in all. Most of us had never before consciously broken a law.

        Soon fully clothed students were jumping into the pool, some from the diving boards but most from anywhere around the edge.

        Sallie, one of the cheerleaders, noticed Joe staring at her chest and smiling. She looked down, gasped at how tightly her wet blouse clung to her breasts and folded her arms across her chest. This isn’t the last time she would be embarrassed. Marrying a guy that would beat her and trade her for cocaine would do that.

        The rest of the students splashed and bobbed about in the pool, laughing. There is little to say about them. They got jobs, spouses and children, and were mostly happy. And as they grew old, they all carried a photo with them of a group in front of a swimming pool with wet hair, soggy clothes and arms raised in spontaneous joy.

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