The Summer of '62; Episode 24

A Son No More

My Dearest Chet,
By the time you receive this letter I will be long gone. I want you to know that no matter how long I live or how far I travel I will always love you and never ever forget you. I must unburden my soul and confess the baby that I am carrying is not yours. It is my step-fathers. He has had his way with me from the time I was twelve. I thought that some how if you thought you were the one responsible for my pregnancy that things would work out. I talked to Reverend Picket and he said that I should go away. He refused to believe that it was my step-father and so did my mother. Please believe me. I beg you with all my heart. I could not bring myself to start a marriage on deception nor the wiles of a woman. You are truly too good for that. When I have the baby, if it is a boy, his name will be Chester. I will raise him to be a fine man like you. There is a woman named Claire Basset. She is quite beautiful and it is rumored to be quite taken by you. Love her as you loved me. If you should pry the second board from the bottom of the north/west side of the Slabtown General Store you will find the ring you gave me.
All my love forever,
Lilly.”
Rich handed the letter to Chet. He slowly took it from Rich's hand, pulled it to his face, and wept bitterly. “I would have married her no matter what,” he sobbed.
Rich slid his arm around Chet's shoulder and drew him close and they wept together. After a moment Chet pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, dried his eyes, and blew his nose. rich pulled up his shirt and dried his eyes.
You better get back to the Tuttle’s,” Chet said looking at his watch. “It will be sunrise in an hour or so.”
Rich reached for the door and Chet grabbed Rich's arm. “There’s one more thing I want to tell you. It was forty years ago today that I got up about this time of the morning and walked over to Lilly’s farm. I walked the back lanes and she met me in the barn. We sat in the hey mow and watched the sun come up. When the sun shone on her face I could not hold it any longer. I said ‘I love you. Will you marry me?’ Just like that I said it. She threw her arms around me and said yes. Then she said, ‘Never forget this sunrise.’” He paused. “That’s who Lilly was. You better go now.”
Rich went back to the tent. Sammy and Don were awake.
Where have you been?” Sammy said in an angered whisper.
The only people that are out this time of night are Peeping Toms and grave robbers and I don’t like dead people,” Rich said and crawled inside his sleeping bag and slept until the morning sun was hot against the side of the tent.
Rich went home.
The next day Rich rode his bike to practice. Don did not play on the team, but Sammy was the shortstop. After practice Rich and Sammy rode home on their bikes. Sammy’s house was on the way to Rich's. Sammy steered his bike into the driveway as Rich kept going straight.
So ya later,” Rich said.
Later,” Sammy said.
Rich saw Sammy's mother come out of the house. She and Sammy met half way up the driveway.
Rich peddled a short distance. A baseball slipped from his glove that was strapped to the handlebars. It rolled into the ditch. Rich stopped, got off his bike, and looked for the ball in the high weeds in the ditch. He found it and walked back to his bike
He heard someone yelling at him. It was Sammy. “Rich! Rich! You got to come here!”
Rich turned around and peddled back to Sammy's. They met at the end of the driveway.
What?” Rich said.
You ain’t gonna believe this,” Sammy said excitedly, “My Mom just told me Ole man Winters was found hung to death in the Jorgenson barn this morning.”
Rich swallowed hard and said slowly with little display of emotion, “Really.”
They said the barn door was wide open and he was just hanging there with a pile of crap in his pants,” Sammy said as though he wanted to talk about it further.
That’s too bad,” Rich said. “I better go now.”
Sammy stood motionless and confounded as Rich peddled away.
Two days later Rich retrieved the mail from the mailbox in front of their house. Normally Rich just grabbed it out of the box and placed it on the dinning room table, but as he tossed it, the mail fanned out. He saw a letter addressed to him. He opened it. Rich could do not believe at first what he saw. Inside was a hundred dollar bill and a letter.
Rich unfolded the letter and read it.
Dear Rich,
Please keep our secret. The money is for a good night’s work. I think if I would live longer we would become great friends. Remember where the ring is. It is yours.
Chester Winters.”
Rich laid the money and letter on the dresser in his bedroom. He mowed the lawn for the rest of the day.
Rich's thoughts were only of Chet, Claire, and Lilly – the tragedies of life, innocence and brutality. He wondered what, if anything, was to be learned from this. Rich thought about Don’s treatise on god making even bad things come to a good conclusion, because Chet ended up with a good wife and two children. “What would have happened if Chet went off with Lilly? He would have lost his farm and maybe they would have had a terrible life together, but as it was, Chet and Claire had a good life. The suicide of Chet did not seem rational or a just end.”
After supper Rich relaxed in his room and listened to radio. Mrs. Larsen called Rich from downstairs. He sprang up from bed. Before leaving the room he passed the dresser. The letter, the envelope, and the hundred dollar bill was gone. He opened the drawers and looked behind the dresser. There was nothing.
Rich slowly walked down the stairs.
Where ya at, Mom?” Rich said.
We’re in the kitchen,” Mr. Larsen said.
Rich walked into the kitchen. Mrs. Larsen leaned against the counter and Mr. Larsen sat at the table holding the letter and the hundred dollar bill was in front of him on the table. Rich looked in their eyes. They were emotionless and stoic.
What is this all about?” Mr. Larsen said.
Rich looked to the floor and said, “I can’t tell you.”
What do you mean you can’t tell us?” Mr. Larsen said with a firm controlled anger.
Rich shrugged his shoulders and pressed his lips tightly and said, “I just can’t.”
What’s going on here?” Mrs. Larsen said kindly. “We can’t help, if you don’t tell us.”
There’s nothing to tell and nothing to help with,” Rich said. “I did some work for Mr. Winters and he paid me for it.?
Mr. Larsen slammed his fist to the table and shook the butter dish and the salt and pepper shakers. Rich flinched. He cursed and blared, “There’s something screwy about this and I’m going to get to the bottom of it. You get a lot of money from a guy who kills himself and for all we know you‘re involved somehow.”
Rich straightened the butter dish and the salt and pepper shakers. “I promised not to tell and I won’t.”
Please son.” Mr. Larsen pleaded. “Just tell us and everything will work out.”
I can’t,” Rich said.
Mr. Larsen sprang up from the chair causing it to fall over. Rich flinched again and stepped back. “Has that ole pervert been queerin’ you?”
No!” Rich said indignantly.
Are you queerin’ him?” Mr. Larsen said with his hands on his hips.
The room became cloudy and darkened from the edges of Rich's vision. He breathed deeply but it did not satisfy his lungs' appetite for oxygen. His body felt weak and his face felt as though it was going to melt away. Finally he was able to harness the much needed oxygen and said. “Can I have the letter and the money.”
Take your love letter and shove it, ya little queer,” Mr. Larsen said and tossed the letter at Rich.
Rich picked it up from the floor and waited for the money.
I’m keeping’ the money until we find out what’s going on.”
Mr. Larsen’s eyes were sharp and resolute. Rich looked at Mrs. Larsen.
You heard your dad,” she said.
And what’s this about a ring?” Mr. Larsen asked.
I can’t say,” Rich said.
You two going steady?” Mr. Larsen said sarcastically.
No,” Rich said.
Get out of my sight,” Mr. Larsen cursed flinging his hand.
Rich returned to his room and listened to radio.
Shortly Mr. Larsen cam into the room. Rich jerked.
Mr. Larsen unplugged the radio and tucked it under his arm like a football. “There’s no radio until you cooperate. And if you want baseball you have to get there yourself,” he said firmly. “You‘re not my son anymore.” Mr. Larsen left and shut the door. Mr. Larsen never shut doors.

Rich stared at the ceiling. Later he reached underneath the bed and grabbed his transistor radio. He held it to his ear and turned it on low.