The Candidate

I’m working on telling a story with a new format today.  This is a true bit from my life, a little anecdote from my childhood at Pistol River School. Let me know what you think.


“I don’t know, Brian. I might get myself dirty.”

That would be a shame, all right. I couldn’t imagine Jennifer Hull getting dirty. Just look how her long blonde hair cascaded down her shoulders when she shrugged. It was the lunchtime recess, and the Oregon sky was the color of a symphony. I was talking to the girl I was was destined to marry, and I would convince her to dig in the clay with me!

“I know, you might get dirty, but think of it! We could make something amazing! We could make a pot or a cup. Or castles! We could build castles, Jennifer!”

She put her finger to her mouth. “Yes, I suppose.”

“Believe me! You’re the perfect candidate for this.” She was perfect indeed. Like a woman out of a shampoo commercial. No–Like Amy Carter. And everyone knew the president’s daughter was a fox!

“What’s a candidate?” I had learned the word on the news from Amy’s dad.

“Never mind! I said quickly.” I said. “Just come on!”

I grabbed her by the hand. A bold move. If the boys saw me touching a girl, even Jennifer, they might tease me for a week!

“Okay,” she sighed.

“Grab a stick!” I nearly shouted. “Grab the best digging stick you can find.”

“You do it. I don’t want to get my hands dirty.”

Oh, I’d find her a stick all right. I’d find her the best stick of all Pistol River School! I found a cleanish one with a bulbous knob on the end, near the maple tree by the tetherball pole. The perfect stick! Perfect for digging. Perfect for Jennifer!

A few weeks before, Charlie Collins had discovered the clay halfway up the hill behind the merry-go-round. Charlie was good at finding things. He was also good at poking things with sticks. So it was no surprise he’d discovered the clay mine. But it was up to me to extract the stuff. Charlie wasn’t interested in building things. Breaking stuff was more his style.

I imagined castles that reached to the sky. Then Jennifer and I would live in them. And I would be the king, and she would be my queen, and we would be content, and talk in our own secret language that nobody else understood and…

“I don’t want to kneel here,” she exclaimed. “it’s all sticky.”

“Hmm? Oh… Here. Use my jacket.” I took off the faded army jacket that had been my dad’s, and spread it on the ground.

“Thank you,” she said. Her words sounded like music. Music to dig by.

We kneeled and worked silently, my princess and I, and before long, we had extracted a loaf of clay. The kids on the playground below were running and playing on the slide and the monkey bars and the merry go round. They seemed so little, down there, my subjects.

“I’d better go and wash up now,” Jennifer said. “Mrs. Biesen will whistle soon.”

My head snapped out of its reverie. “No! Don’t go! We just started.”

She considered for a second. “No. I’d better go.” And she stood up.

“But Jennifer!” I whined.  “Look at this clay! It’s perfect! Don’t you want to make a pot? What about our castle? Our castle!” I said, frustrated.

I squeezed the loaf of clay hard, and it oozed out between my fingers.

“But look! It’s perfect clay! You were my candidate!”

Suddenly, down the hill by the flagpole, Mrs Biesen whistled. It was scary, like a banshee–completely inhuman–how loudly she could do that.

As she walked away, she looked back at me once, and shrugged as her hair slid off her shoulder like a cascade.

She is perfect, I thought, as I looked at my hands. The clay oozed out my fingers like I had just squeezed a giant turd.

That was me. Giant turd boy. I dropped the lump of clay. I put on my muddy army jacket, warm from where Jennifer had put her knees. She would be my bride. I’d mold this clay into something amazing, and she would love me.  And until then, I’d have the warmth of the place where her knees had been on my old army jacket to keep me company. And even if that didn’t work, I would have Amy Carter to comfort me. Maybe, to celebrate the occasion, I would never wash my hands again.


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