Driving to the Lake – Chapter 22 (The Girl Next Door)

I don’t know exactly, but I felt like Ricky and Lucy on the way to California. Fred Mertz had packed their car with things hanging off the sides, the top and everywhere else. He had left a small hole where Ricky could see out of the front windshield, but even I could see, that they would never make it to California like that.

We had a bit more than my father had reckoned with, which meant that if the car was completely packed with all of our things, then we might as well spend the time camping out at home for all the room there wasn’t in both front and back. My father just shook his head and began to sift through the various piles. “If only your mother….” with that thought left unsaid, but could have been one of the following things:

  • had been here. Her intelligent ways would have solved our problems immediately.
  • had seen this mess, she would have yelled at us, until the cows came home
  • had seen that the Girl Next Door was going with us, then heads would fly
  • had experienced a fatal traffic accident, and couldn’t remember who we were…

He didn’t finish that statement, nor did he chose to use any of my suggestions either. We tried to put things into 1. clothing; 2. essentials; 3. games; 4. food.

Essentials for my father were copies of Fly Fishing Digest and Garage Monthly, while I chose a ball, a few books and a baseball bat, without baseball. My friend had any number of unnamed boxes which had to be taken along, or else!

We finally weeded out a few of the larger things, like a footstool, an ironing board and a set of Winter Tires. My mother would have insisted on those things, and would have forced the rest of us to re-examine our essentials, leaving them at home instead. I might have been brave enough to point out that Winter Tires in the middle of Summer might be overkill, but she would just bring up the poor Donner Family in California, and how they only had their Summer Tires to chew on, when they had run out of food on their vacation. Naturally, Winter Tires would be more filling, and would have gotten them to the next filling station, and customary gift shop.

After my father had checked the doors and windows, and especially the lock on the garage door, we set off at last. It really didn’t seem like the time had gotten to be 11am, but then The Ricardos and The Mertzes couldn’t have left New York any earlier, I’m certain of that.

My father yelled, “We’re Off”, like some fellow in a checkered shirt firing his pistol at the start of the race. A voice called out from the crowd. Oh My God, he’s been shot! And everyone’s attention get diverted from the race to the man on the top row. “Stop him. Stop that killer! A dark figure was seen running away from the bleachers, hopping over obstacles, catching himself once or twice from stumbling and falling. Now the race left the confines of the track with everyone and anyone scrambling in the direction of the elusive figure. “Grab onto your varicose veins!” an old Geezer yelled after the crowd exited the area, leaving plenty of hot dogs and Cotton Candy to eat in the wake of the confusion. The man that was shot was heard to utter the following words: “He did it. *cough* cough*” with blood running down the side of his mouth. The one-armed man did it, but it wasn’t him that fired the shot. Everyone present looked from side to side, trying to make heads or tails of these cryptic words. Then suddenly….

“Hey. Poindexter! Isn’t it great that you have the privilege of my company on this trip?” She looked at me with a wink, knowing that I was lost in my thoughts once again. If only I knew what to say to her, then maybe I’d stay in the present?

“It must be years since I’ve been on vacation”, she said, breaking into my thoughts. “The last time was when we went on a lion safari in Botswana. My father bagged a nice one, but the authorities confiscated it ,when they found we were trying to smuggle Coffee out of the Country. My father started to argue with the border authorities, when one of the guards pulled out his pistol. My father grabbed the lion’s head, and hit the road, leaving me with his passport and bottle of whiskey. They searched for weeks, but never found a trace of him. Years later my mother and I got a letter, which had postmarks from no less than 10 African Countries across the backside, with my father’s message to us in an unintelligible code:

Rickets, Rackets who has my Sackets. Peron has one, but he gave it to Samuel. Yours Truly. Truely.

My mother began to cry at the mere mention of Peron, who had been my father’s faithful native water bearer, during his travels along the Chobe River. He was indebted to my father, when a sudden flood occurred during the rainy season in December. He had lost his footing while attempting to fill the water jugs, and plunged into the surging river. He was swept away into Zimbabwe until he came dangerously close to Victoria Falls. My father well-versed in the act of lasso throwing, succeeded in casting his lasso out in the surging waters to Peron, and exhibiting almost super human strength, he was able to drag him ashore, just before he was dashed to his death on the rocks beneath those spectacular falls. Peron swore on a stack of bibles after that incident to serve my father until the day of his death, which was the start of a friendship that only a few in this life will ever experience.”

My mouth was wide open, while she told me that story. I couldn’t find a single word to say, or even attempt to daydream myself to another place, because her story was so gripping that I couldn’t believe my ears.

She just looked at me after telling her story and smiled, as if we were the only 2 people in that car, speeding along toward Lake Winnipuh, towards our honeymoon suite. With this ring I thee…..

“But as I said, my life tends to be a bit complicated”, she said as she looked out of the window once again. “I can’t wait until we get there! Maybe there is a lion head on the wall, which is hiding a secret message from my father?” said, as I almost choked on my Pixie Straw with its bittersweet candy inside.

“Hey kids, look over there. A marauding flock of Wildebeests.” Craning our necks to the left, the only thing visible was a herd of cows, chewing their cud, totally unaware of us. “Just kidding!” I can’t wait until we reach the cabin and our vacation can finally start! Just think of it. A cold drink enjoyed on the veranda, with the sun shining down, on my latest issue of Garage Monthly, waiting to see, who has won the contest this month for “The Most Innovative Garage this side of the Chobe River!”.

Wait a minute. Did he just say Chobe River? Wasn’t that in my friend’s story? I turned towards her to see her reaction, but was greeted by the sight of a lion’s head mounted on the wall of the safari shelter.

“Did you bring your gun with you, Bwana?” A tall, but extremely thin native was standing in front of me, waiting for a reply.

“I didn’t catch your name”, which I hadn’t having just come in the door after being caught in the torrential rains of December.

“Peron is my name. Just Peron!” I saw dim images resembling water jugs stacked in the corner of the shelter, and ragged suitcases belonging to someone long, long ago.

“Do you know of a man who…”.Then I was stymied. I didn’t even know her father’s name, let alone what he looked like.

My friend seemed to be asleep, but awakened when I touched her arm. “Oh, it’s you. I thought it was the doctor telling me that my mother had contracted Malaria after having searched for my father in Zimbabwe, and Botswana. He also touched my arm in the same place. Funny thing isn’t it?” I didn’t want to ruin her memory of that moment, but I had to ask what her father looked like, otherwise I’d never get back to my conversation with Peron and his water jugs.

“He was rather tall, with brown hair and blue eyes. He always joked with my mother telling her, how he’d never fit in with the indigenous population looking like that, but that didn’t keep him out of doing his job in Africa. He loved Diamond Mining and was good at it as well. His workers respected and adored him, which is probably why my mother fell in love with him way back when at that Cotillion held at the embassy in the capital city of Gaberone.”

I excused myself, striding out into the blazing sun of the Botswana Summer. I needed to travel back to that shelter, before my time ran out. Finally, I found the shelter, but the man, Peron was long gone, which I discovered by feeling the temperature of the coals in the fire ring. His water jugs were also gone, which made me want to follow his tracks, along the Chobe River in search of my friend’s father and his faithful companion.

My father let out a “Whoop”, which sounded like a wild Indian on the American Plains, when we reached the entrance to Lake Winnipuh. Boats were seen in the small harbor to the left, while the check-in cabin was visible on the right. My father parked the car on the side of the road and sauntered up to the cabin, pulling out his wallet with the reservation hanging out, threatening to fall.

My friend sighed a sigh, and turned toward me while we waited. “Did you find him in time?”

“Sadly no, but I did speak to Peron, and was certain that I could follow his tracks down the Chobe River.” She took my hand and looked into my eyes. I felt a warm feeling radiating in my limbs, making me want to draw her closer and kiss her. Just when the moment that we both had been waiting for came, my father returned to the car.

“I have it! I have it here”, he said waving a piece of paper and a set of keys. “Now we are ready to rock and roll!” said as if we were about to strip naked down to our waists and set fire to the band!

My friend just looked at me and said, “This will be a vacation, you never will forget. Mark my words….”

Then I knew it! I knew, regardless of me finding Peron, or not, this still was going to be something that I would never forget…..never!

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