Donal Mahoney, a native of Chicago, lives in St. Louis, Missouri. He has worked as an editor for The Chicago Sun-Times, Loyola University Press and Washington University in St. Louis. His fiction and poetry have appeared in various publications, including The Wisconsin Review, The Kansas Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Christian Science Monitor, Commonweal, Guwahatian Magazine (India), The Galway Review (Ireland), Public Republic (Bulgaria), The Osprey Review (Wales), The Istanbul Literary Review (Turkey) and other magazines. Some of his work can be found at http://eyeonlifemag.com/the-poetry-locksmith/donal-mahoney-poet.html#sthash.OSYzpgmQ.dpbs
An Old Flame Flickers
They had things in common, Paul and June, at an age when most boys and girls don’t and maybe that’s why they were the only couple in sixth grade dating, if you can call it that. This was the early Fifties when dating didn’t begin until senior year of high school, if then, and that was because you had to find someone to go with to the senior prom.
Back then, maybe two families on the block had a black and white TV. Arthur Godfrey played his ukulele on his show and Bishop Sheen had a show almost as popular as Arthur Godfrey, only the bishop always talked about matters involving Heaven and Hell. Nevertheless, people watched Bishop Sheen and one year he had more viewers than Milton Berle.
Paul and June were dating if you can call walking six long blocks to and from school together dating. They didn’t call it that but their classmates did. The young couple later found out they were the subject of unwarranted gossip although they had never done anything to violate the Ten Commandments except kiss each other on June's enclosed front porch. And that didn’t happen too often.
One thing Paul and June had in common is June wore braces all day and Paul had a special set he had to wear only at night. He got to know June when he told her about his braces because she seemed nervous about hers. She didn’t smile much but when a smile appeared inadvertently, she covered it quickly.
What Paul and June really had in common was that June came from a broken home and Paul from a home that probably should have been broken but his parents stayed together, sometimes fighting long into the night. Fighting couples who stayed together were not uncommon in 1950. A broken home, on the other hand, was very uncommon. It was avoided and feared almost as much as polio which was the scourge of America at the time.
Walking to school or anywhere else, Paul and June never talked about their parents. He knew she had a stepfather which made matters worse because after a divorce, uncommon as well in 1950, her mother, a Catholic woman, couldn’t remarry without an annulment of her first marriage and although annulments are common now they were literally unheard of back then.
June never asked about or met Paul's parents. He never asked about hers and never officially met them although he locked eyes with June’s mother once when unexpectedly she came into the enclosed front porch when the young couple was saying good night. That was not an auspicious meeting.
Paul and June kept company, if you don’t mind that term, all though sixth, seventh and eight grade and well into the summer before high school. They were both lucky enough to be accepted by good high schools for the following September. As was the norm in 1950 for Catholic high schools, Paul's was an all boys school and June’s was all girls.
Something happened, however, just before school started. Now some 65 years later Paul had been reminded of that. June's cousin, Martha, got in touch with him about plans for a class reunion and memories came flooding back, not that Paul wanted them. He had never thought about June after that summer before high school. What had happened was painful enough at the time and Paul had forgotten all about June. He had been married many years and was a father, grandfather and soon he would be a great-grandfather. He still had all his marbles and could remember all the names.
What happened just before high school was June's mother and stepfather took June, an only child, and moved to California. Her cousin, Martha, with whom Paul has been communicating about the class reunion, was the one who told Paul back then about the departure. Although that was 65 years ago, Paul can still see Martha’s face as she rolled out the details despite Paul’s obvious sadness. She seemed to enjoy his grief.
Martha was a lovely girl, no braces, but she hadn’t been allowed to date. Most girls in the early Fifties, especially if they attended Catholic schools, were protected by their parents. It’s possible she resented her cousin having a boyfriend when she could not.
What bothered Paul even more is that he had seen June the night before she and her parents took that plane to California. June had never said a word about leaving. He can’t recall what they talked about that evening. In fact he can’t recall anything they ever talked about. But for three years they had walked to school together and some evenings they came home from the library together and kissed each other good night if June’s enclosed porch seemed safe.
Passion was not involved because Paul knew June went to daily Mass and Communion and he really didn’t think about sex when it came to her. He liked her, how much he never thought about, but up until that point he had never liked anyone else. He's not even sure if he liked his own parents at the time, what with all their fighting, and he saw no sign from June that she was close to her mother or stepfather. But he thought they knew each other well enough for June to tell him she was going to California with her parents and never coming back. And that, of course, is exactly what happened. It hurt to be dumped at so young an age.
So when Paul heard about the class reunion and received an email from her cousin, he could sense as the emails progressed that Martha was waiting for him to ask about June. But Paul didn’t have to ask, thanks to Google and the Internet. Once he got that first email, he found June on the Internet and may have learned more about her life then than Martha knew because the two cousins were never close. June was a black sheep in the family, what with braces and seeing the same boy for three years in grammar school, even though she went to Mass and Communion every day.
The class reunion went well but there was no mention of June. Paul’s still in touch with Martha now who, it turns out, has had a nice life of her own and seems to be a nice person.
Some day Paul may mention June to Martha and simply say that he hopes things in California turned out well for her. After all June is 79 now and still married to a man from Finland who’s 83. She’s had almost as many children as Paul if the Internet isn’t lying. And he figures neither he nor June wears braces anymore.