Junior & Sally learn about each other and find surprises.
Sally Mae's uncle gave me a job stocking shelves Monday through Friday from 5:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M. and agreed to pay me two dollars an hour. It wasn't much, but at least I would have enough money to pay Sally Mae for staying at her place. I was still shocked at how quickly my fortunes had turned around. I had a job, money, a place to stay, and I would get to talk to and see Sally Mae every day.
Her apartment building, a three-story red brick rectangle, was just four blocks from the store. The apartment itself was on the third floor and was small. It held two bedrooms, a tiny kitchen, a living room/dining room combination. There were three posters on the wall. The one over the record player was a frame poster of Tommy James and the Shondells, Crimson and Clover album cover. The poster behind the couch was a Woodstock one, "3 Days of Peace and Music." The one next to the front door was the most impressive, a large horizontal poster of the early Beatles. I dropped my suitcase near the couch.
"Nice. Your roommate is into rock?"
"Those are mine, Junior." My face must have reflected my surprise because she laughed a deep throaty sound. "See what you missed out on when you didn't talk to me."
"But you were…I mean, you didn't seem…"
"I was prim and proper in high school, a good Catholic girl because I thought that's what everybody wanted. When I left Serpentville, I left all that behind me. This is what I like. This is exciting."
"Are you into…?" I couldn't seem to finish a sentence. I was having trouble seeing Sally Mae in this new light.
"No, I'm not into drugs, if that's what you planned to ask. I just like the music, the rush to change the world."
I nodded and sat on the couch.
"Let me show you around. That door there leads to Latoya's bedroom." She pointed to the door to the right of the couch. "This other one is mine." She indicated the door across from me with her head. "That other door is the bathroom. The kitchen is to your left. That's it. It's not a big apartment, but it serves its purpose, and the rent is cheap. I leave for work at eight in the morning and return around noon. I clerk at the IGA. On Saturdays, I work from eight until closing time at nine. On Sundays, I work from eleven, when we open, until five, when we close."
"Wow, you're pretty busy."
"I make enough to pay the rent on this place and buy food. My mother pays my college tuition. That's about all there is to know about me. What about you?" She sat next to me. I caught a scent of honeysuckle.
"Well, you pretty much know how I got here. I plan on spending four years in the navy, save some money, and use the GI Bill to get through college."
"What's after college?"
"I'm not sure, but I've always been interested in books, so whatever it's going to be will probably have something to do with literature or writing. How about you?"
"Either a nurse or a doctor. I'm not sure. I want to help people."
"Wow, a doctor."
We went on like this for over an hour. Then she stood, made a couple of sandwiches, and we ate. When we were done, she stood and grabbed a set of keys hanging on the kitchen wall.
"Come on, Junior. I want to show you something."
We climbed into a Volkswagen Bug, and she drove to Lac Point Vert. She parked the car, and we climbed out. The sun shimmered on the water like diamonds. We sat among the roots of a large live oak, our backs resting against the trunk.
"This is my favorite spot." A heron flew across the lake and landed about twenty feet from us, and in the shallows near the shore, eyed the surface for a meal. "It's so quiet out here, and I like to sit and think about the things I'd like to accomplish."
She glanced at me.
"I want to travel, Junior, to see the world."
"You could always join the navy."
"You're joking, of course, but I thought about it."
We were silent a minute.
"Have you ever been out of Louisiana, Junior."
"Texas once, about a mile across the border to do a boardroading job. That's it."
"I went to Pensacola with my parents once. I was thirteen. I was too frightened to go into the water. I don't want to be that way. I want to do new things, experience new things. I want excitement in my life. I'm so tired of the same routine every day—work, school, homework, church. I want surprises. I want to do new things."
"You brought me here and shared this spot with me. I'd like to share something with you."
"It's a person. He lives in the woods about seven miles south west of Serpentville. Want to meet him?"
"I don't know. It'll be close to dark by the time we get there."
"That's okay. He's a night person."
She gazed into my face.
"Is it safe?"
"I doubt it, but you wanted a new experience. I promise you, this will be a new experience."
"Okay, let's do it." She stood and handed me the keys to the car. "You drive."
Hunter Monet was a recluse. He lived in a house, a tarpaper shack really, perched on the banks of the sleepy Bayou Serpent. A dusty lane, unpassable when it rained, snaked through a mixture of cottonwood and oak trees. It wasn't quite dark yet, but he had already started his fire pit. A rabbit sat cooking in an enormous cast iron pot. When he saw the car, he stood walked into his shack. He came out a few seconds later holding his Winchester in the crook of his arm. When he recognized me, he leaned it against the wall and smiled, exposing a mouthful of black and mostly rotten teeth.
"Junior, where'd you get the shiny new wheels?" he said, walking toward the car.
I nodded at Sallie Mae.
He leaned into the driver's side window and stared at her.
"Well, now, I don't get too many visitors of the female type out here. Welcome to my home, young lady."
Sallie Mae gave him a nervous grin.
Hunter could be intimidating. He stood about six two, wide shoulders, arms as thick as the oaks surrounding his shack, long grey hair that flowed down his back, and a full grey beard that hung down to his waist.
"Ya'll get down. I got a rabbit stew cooking, and we'll have ourselves a little party." He paused. "You did bring some refreshment, I hope." I nodded at the case of PBR in the back seat. He opened the back door and pulled it out. "C'mon, let's get a few of these down our gullet before they get warm."
Sallie Mae and I followed him to the fire and sat on a couple of stumps he had placed there for visitors. He popped opened a couple and handed them to us.
"Ya'll make yourselves comfortable. I'll be right back."
I could tell Sallie Mae was uncomfortable.
"I met Hunter about three years ago while hunting squirrel on his property. He didn't seem very happy about it, and I thought for sure he was going to shoot me with that rifle of his."
"He does seem menacing."
"Yeah, he does, but he's about as gentle as they come. He's from Opelousas. He left there for California to make his millions. He didn't make that much, but he made a bunch, invested it in a company called IBM, and dropped out."
"Yeah, he became a hippie. Lived in a commune for a few years and came back here. He bought fifty acres of this woodland, built this shack, and has been living here, alone, ever since."
"You're saying he's rich and chooses to live this way."
"That's exactly what I'm saying."
But I didn't get a chance to answer. Hunter returned carrying a scarred and battered Washburn guitar and a joint.
"This is straight from Thailand. The very best stuff on the market." He held the joint out for us to inspect. Sally Mae gave me a worried glance. "We'll smoke a little, listen to a few tunes, and then eat. It's going to be a party." He lit the joint using a live coal from the fire. He took a hit and blew the smoke out into the air. Then he handed it to Sally Mae. She took it, looked at me, and I nodded. She hit it, coughed, and passed it to me. I sucked on it, held the smoke in my lungs for a few seconds, and exhale. Hunter took the joint from me and it made its way around again. This time, Sally Mae held the smoke for a few seconds. After the third round, Hunter killed the roach and placed it on a stump.
"Now for a little entertainment." He picked up the guitar, hit a few random notes, and then broke into the mellow chords of "The Sound of Silence." When he ended the song, Sally Mae clapped.
"You have a beautiful voice for…" She let her voice trail off.
"A big man?"
"Yes," she said and blushed.
"Don't worry. I know I'm a big bear and a little frightening. My momma was Baptist, and she insisted I learn all the hymns we sang at Bedrock Baptist Church. She even sent me to a voice trainer and a piano teacher. I never took to the 88, but the guitar rocked my soul."
"A piano has 88 keys, 52 white and 36 black. Anyway, turns out I had a mellow voice for a big man, but I never did anything with it. Might be the only regret I have about my life."
"Well, you certainly rocked my soul."
"Great, how about another song?"
"How about a Van Morrison tune? You familiar with 'Slim Slow Rider'?"
Sally Mae shook her head.
"I know some of his stuff, but it's what I hear on the radio."
"Then you're in for a treat."
Hunter played several songs, and then we attacked the stew. We smoked and drank some more after we ate, and I decided that it was time to leave. Sallie Mae staggered to the car, and I sat behind the wheel. Hunter leaned into the driver side window.
"Yeah, Hunter, we don't have far to go."
"Good. It was nice to meet you, Sallie Mae. You're a very pretty girl. You remind me a little of my wife." He shook his head a little. "Anyway, ya'll have a safe trip home. Come back any time."
I turned the car around and navigated the dirt lane.
"He said I reminded him of his wife. Is he married?"
"Was. I never did get a chance to answer your question about why he chose to live like he does. He had a cushy job with some bank out in California. He married and was living the suburban life. Then one day, while he was at work, some asshole broke into his house and raped and killed his wife. As an homage to her, he decided to devote his life to peace. The hippie lifestyle seemed to fit the bill."
"He told you all this?"
"Yeah, one night, he drank too much or smoked too much, and it shot out of him like vomit."
"Why'd you bring me here?"
"Hunter is one of the most interesting people I've ever met. I thought maybe you'd enjoy meeting him."
"Is that the only reason?"
"No, seeing the sun shimmer on lake waters is calming and beautiful, and I had a nice afternoon watching it with you, but the world is a lot more fucked up than that. You can also see beauty in a person's struggle to cope with the loss of someone he loved dearly."
She stared at me for a long time as I drove.