Miller Williams


hicksM.jpg (51015 bytes)After washing his tennis shoes, Kelvin Fletcher had tied the strings of the two together and hung them over a clothesline to dry. Even in the August sun it took more than four hours, and though he had made a bowknot, the shrinking of the laces made them difficult to separate. He was already running late. He didn't want to make Roy Dean Cummins wait on him.

Roy Dean had moved to town only a couple of months ago, and he was already popular in school.

"He seems awfully nice," mothers would say when they met him. And he did. He was as nice as anybody Kelvin Fletcher had ever met. But he was also very smart—he was ahead of the class he came into—and he was good-looking in a way that Kelvin had always wanted to be.

Still, the mothers were right to like him. He said always yes, ma'am and May I, please, and smiled at them.

Sometimes, when he saw how the girls at school liked to be with Roy Dean, Kelvin didn't want to like him at all, but he did. Everybody did. He was just a nice person.

This was Kelvin's first chance to get to know him better, maybe even to be friends with him, although Roy Dean didn't really seem to have any friends, strange as that was, considering that he was the center of things wherever he went—a dance after school, where he danced better than anybody else but never showed off, or just at the snack shop, where he fed the juke box but didn't usually choose the records.

When Jennie Thornburg invited the whole class for a picnic out at her place—a big farm the river bends around—Roy Dean asked how to get there. He didn't ask Kelvin, exactly. He asked whoever heard him, and Kelvin answered.

It would have been simple enough to draw a map, but Kelvin said he would ride his bicycle and that Roy Dean could ride along with him. He expected Roy Dean to say, "Why don't you just draw me a map?" but instead he said, "That'll be fine; thank you very much."

"I'll come by your house," Kelvin said. "What? About nine?"

"You don't know where I live."


"I'll meet you in front of the school. No need for you to go out of your way."

"About nine?"

"How far is it?"

"Pretty far."

"Whenever," Roy Dean said. A little impatiently, Kelvin thought, but not unkindly.

And soon they would be together, riding side by side, talking about things. Everybody at the party would see them riding up together.

He got the laces separated and the shoes on his feet and was on the bicycle in time to get to the schoolyard by ten after nine, no matter that he hadn't taken time for breakfast.

Roy Dean was waiting for him, sitting on the grass, watching cars go by, his bicycle lying on its side behind him. He didn't seem irritated. He just smiled.

They rode the first mile in silence.

"Do you like it here O.K.?" Kelvin asked.

"Sure," said Roy Dean.

Then they rode in silence a while longer.

"Are you going to go to college?" Kelvin asked.

"Sure," said Roy Dean.

And so forth.

Then they rode in silence a while longer.

And then the chain on Roy Dean's bicycle broke. Kelvin offered to walk with him to push their bikes the rest of the way. Roy Dean wouldn't hear of it. Then Kelvin offered to carry Roy Dean on his bike the rest of the way, with the other one hidden in the woods.

"Let's hitch-hike," Roy Dean said. "If we can hide one, we can hide them both. We can come back later and pick them up."

"We'll have to hide them real good," Kelvin said. "I had to save two years to buy mine."

"We'll cover them with leaves. Don't worry about it."

"I'm not worried."

The place was marked in their minds by telephone poles and a silo, and the bicycles were chained together to a small tree and buried under all manner of leaves and limbs.

Kelvin and Roy Dean stood for an hour with their thumbs out, with no luck at all. Once four girls in a blue convertible, girls not from their school, slowed down and threw them kisses and laughed and then speeded up and left them.

"Bitches," Roy Dean said. "Friggin’ bitches."

“Bitches," Kelvin said.

Roy Dean looked sidewise at Kelvin and barely smiled.

"If I was in a car and they were walking," Kelvin said, "I would have picked them up."

"No Kidding," Roy Dean said. He walked across the country road and set himself to hitch-hike in the other direction.

"You're not going to the party?" Kelvin asked him, raising his voice to speak across the road.

"By the time we got a ride, there wouldn't be any party."

"I guess not."

"Come on," Roy Dean said. "I'll buy you a beer.

Kelvin had never had a beer.

A farmer stopped in a pickup truck that must have been as old as the man. A loose front fender bounced and clanged when the idling engine shook the frame of the truck. The farmer had a large brown dog in the front seat, so there was room for only one more. Roy Dean insisted on getting in the back, with a load of cantaloupes, and told Kelvin to get in the cab.

This was partly, Kelvin surmised, because the old man smelled bad. They could tell that as soon as they opened the door, even on the passenger side. It wasn't the dog. Kelvin saw Roy Dean wrinkle his nose.

They drove as slow as the man talked, dragging out his words and forgetting what he had said. He talked mostly about his family, the wife poorly, the son and daughter gone, and about the county, how much it had changed, about his dog, and then Kelvin stopped listening. He looked around and saw Roy Dean lobbing a cantaloupe into the woods that ran beside the road, then another one. Kelvin was terrified. When he gathered the nerve, a couple of miles later, to look again, the pale dirty orange balls were flying in easy arcs, one to the left, then to the right, then to the left. He saw then, with guilty relief, that the side view mirror had no glass in it and the rearview mirror hung swaying in its socket. When he looked again, cantaloupes were dropping over the side like bombs from Roy Dean's extended arm. As the truck would barely outrun them, down a hill, they would veer off into a ditch.

Kelvin wanted to get out of the truck, but there was nothing he could do but sit where he was. He patted the dog.

When they pulled into town, they bumped off the road and stopped at a gas station.

"I can take you a little farther after I fill up," the farmer said. Kelvin looked back at Roy Dean, jumping from the bed of the truck, empty now except for three melons still rolling around the bed. Kelvin didn't know what to say to the farmer so he didn't say anything. He got out of the cab and ran as fast as he could after Roy Dean, already lost up a side street.

They didn't stop running until they got to the schoolyard. They stood there panting, looking at each other. Roy Dean let out a tiny chuckle, then a louder one. Kelvin forced a kind of smile in the corners of his mouth and then he looked away toward the fields at the edge of town. Roy Dean suddenly laughed so loud that Kelvin jumped.

"You better get your daddy or somebody to drive you out and pick up the bikes," Roy Dean said. "They're gonna rust under those leaves." Then he saw something down the street that attracted his attention and he started walking in that direction.

When the two of them spoke after that, which was not often, they never mentioned the cantaloupes. More than he wanted to, though, Kelvin thought about the farmer, what he said to his wife when he got home. He guessed that Roy Dean was probably going to be an important man someday, because it didn’t bother him at all. And everybody liked him.

(Photo by M. Hicks)