Our first date was in the Clatchy. Arlene was reluctant to go out with me, and I think it was only out of pity that she agreed. Certainly she did not see me as a prospective suitor. I wasn’t much better than a dirt farmer. Her family had a bit of money, and in a small place like Handsome, there was a blurred line between class distinctions. There were the land-poor sharecroppers, the scratching-by landowners, and the seeds-already-paid-for venture capitalists. If you had a five-year-old Oldsmobile in your driveway, you were considered well-off. There were a few rich folks, those who owned semi-prospering businesses, but they were in a league of their own. They didn’t mix with anyone but their own. Their purpose was to shake the nickels out of everyone’s pockets. Arlene’s daddy owned the land he farmed, so that practically made her high society. We were barely harvesting enough corn and wheat to make the rent on the land. Mom made me learn my numbers at a young age, so I knew one bad season would shut us down for good.
I don’t know that Arlene and I talked that much. I asked her if she had seen next year’s Farmer’s Almanac, and she said she had.
Says it’s going to be a dry year, I said.
She shrugged. Said that last year, too.
Cold winter, though.
She admitted it probably would be. Winter’s always cold, she said. Nothing we can do about it.
She had a tuna sandwich and I had a hamburger.
She moved her sandwich around on her plate. She barely looked at me, but when she did, I noticed how green her eyes were. Her dark blonde hair was done up in a bun. She wore a simple white blouse and a maroon skirt. Her face was freshly scrubbed, without a trace of makeup. I couldn’t even smell her perfume, if she wore any. I doused myself with Old Spice aftershave lotion and it made my eyes water, and my hair was plastered with Brylcreem. I looked and smelled like a dandy.
She asked how my mother was, and I said she was fine. I asked about her folks, and the answer was the same. She took a bite from her sandwich. I asked her if it was okay. She said it was. She asked me about my hamburger, and I answered the same. The minutes dragged by, but I didn’t want to leave. I would be happy just sitting with her in the Clatchy until it closed.
She told me she wasn’t comfortable with boys. They were too tongue-tied to be interesting, and they had the unfortunate habit of acting foolish.
I couldn’t think of anything to say.
She smiled. It’s not your fault. Boys are what they are. I don’t blame you.
I told her I spent most of my days working and taking care of my mother. I reckoned I was just about as unpolished as anyone. I did the best I could.
I told her I liked her smile and her green eyes. I had forty-three cents in my pockets and that was probably the most cash money I’d be seeing for a while, and I wanted to spend it on her, if that was all right.
She didn’t say anything for a long time, but she didn’t get up and leave, either.
Excerpt from Ordinary Handsome. Available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00P46ZPA0
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