Every time I hear Glen Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” played on the pool hall Nickelodeon, I press my ear against the speaker to catch the last exquisite clarinet notes.
My pal waves a cue stick in my face. “Come on, it’s your turn.”
I have to be pulled away. I’ve tried to play those notes on our old piano, but it’s out of tune. That song ending makes me want to hang up my cue stick and go look for Millie, my one sweet love. Millie would never set foot inside a pool hall.
In fact, it’s illegal for teenagers under eighteen to be here. But the owner, Terell, lets us high school boys play on the back tables as long as we behave. The County Sheriff comes in, looks around, hears only the click of billiard balls, sees no gambling, and leaves.
We play “Pee” pool where we draw numbers, 1 through 15. If you sink your number you get paid a nickel from each player. If you make someone’s ball he owes you a nickel. One can make a lot of money and not lose much.
The poultry, egg, and creamery place where I work lies two doors down from here on Main Street. I get paid one dollar a day plus Eats to accompany Eddie on a 75 mile round trip twice a week to pick up chickens and produce, in his 1 ½ ton Chevy flat bed truck.
I quickly help “candle” the eggs to make sure they’re fresh. A Candler is a box with a light bulb inside and a round hole in the end slightly smaller than an egg. One holds the egg in the hole and the light shows everything inside.
We drop the load off at a Mammoth Spring processor. They kill the chickens on a conveyor belt, and sell the dressed chickens and eggs to grocery stores.
A Mountain Home hardware store takes in chickens and eggs for Eddie. Helen and Jack own the place, but Helen does all the work. Jack has lost most of his memory, and sits in the corner talking to himself.
“Don’t mind him,” she smiles and tousles his head. “Poor thing. There’s nothing in there anymore.” I sometimes catch her flirting and taking sidelong looks at Eddie.
One day Eddie goes next door and brings me a strawberry milk shake and a hamburger. “Here,” he says, “This is your dinner. We’re going to a hoedown party on the way home.”
“Won’t the chickens get too hot and die?”
He goes to the back, grabs a bucket, fills it half full of water and thrusts it into my hands. “When we get to Helen’s place, take a bowl and give them a little if they need it.”
Helen has a large living room. They roll up the carpet and she finds a seat for me in an open alcove between the dining room and living room. A wisp of perfume follows her around. I can see all the dancers whose gyrations keep me awake.
Eddie dances only with Helen. They glide to the far door and disappear. I look out the side window and see what appears to be her silvery skirt float between here and the barn.
Thirty minutes pass. Jack, Helen’s husband comes from the back room and takes a seat beside me. Oh, no, will he notice his wife missing from the living room? Why, he could pick up a hammer or hatchet and crush Eddie’s skull. I decide to distract him if he starts looking for her. But he just leans back and talks to himself.
Fifteen minutes later, oblivious to Jack, Eddie and Helen slip back through the side door. Helen hangs onto Eddie’s arm and is all smiles. Eddie seems disinterested in the dance.
He says, “Party’s about to break up. Make a check on the chickens.”
Wuh, huh, huh, left the bucket on the porch. Forgot all about them. I shine Eddie’s flashlight in the coops. All that I can see pick their heads up and blink. Thank goodness.
When Eddie gets in his truck for the drive home, a woman comes out on the loading platform and calls, “Eddie?”
“Not tonight,” Eddie replies. “Maybe next week.”
Eddie sings all the way to Mammoth. When we head for Salem twenty miles away, he says, “Had a great night tonight. Only two chickens died on me.”
A wisp of Helen’s perfume tickles my nose.
The moon rides high in the sky. Black Jack Oak, and pine tree shadows flicker across the windshield. The unloaded truck bounces on the rough pavement. Keeps me awake. Makes me want to sing, too. Wish I knew all the words to Moonlight Serenade.
by Dale Crum
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