Well, it’s been a month, and as planned, here’s the second chapter of my novel, High Pocket. If you missed Chapter 1 (or if you want to look it over before continuing with this tale), just click on the word Writings on the right sidebar of this site under Site Content to display previous chapters. Thanks again for your ongoing interest in my work. I look forward to your reaction to this post.
I met Mary on the Fourth of July in front of the Homestake Club while I was watching the Gold Diggers march up Main Street. The Fourth is still a big deal in Lead. Everyone was there, probably the whole town. The Gold Diggers–that’s the high school band–leads the parade, then come the glee clubs and drill team and cheerleaders. When I was in high school, even the football team was in the parade, waving their helmets to their parents. The shopkeepers along Main Street open their doors and bring out chairs for kids to stand on, and the Silver Star Bar serves beer for a dime a glass all day long. You could say Lead still has the spirit.
After living there all my life and knowing every inch of it by heart, it’s hard for me to imagine someone who hasn’t even heard of it. When I try to think of the best way to describe it, for some reason I keep thinking of the toy model I made for my sixth grade science fair. It wasn’t that good really, but I did get an Honorable Mention.
What I did was take a 4′ x 8′ piece of half inch plywood as my base and hammered two 3′ x 6′ pieces of pine onto it at forty-five degree angles, forming a kind of valley. Then right down the middle of the valley, I painted a black strip for Main Street. On the sides of the valley, I hammered some cubes I cut from redwood, and they were my houses. I hammered larger cubes along the black strip that were supposed to be the businesses that line Main. I even painted some of the names of the stores on the front of the cubes. That was all pretty usual stuff. But what I think got me the Honorable Mention was what I did for the Homestake Gold Mine, which is important because without it Lead wouldn’t exist today or ever.
I built a three-foot high, flat-topped cone out of papier mache’ and wire, and put it at the east end of the town. For the top of the cone, I got two toy-train watering tanks and painted “Yates” on one and “Ross” on the other, and they were my head frames for the two shafts that go into the mine. They actually worked, too. You could lower a little cage I made from popsicle sticks three feet down into the cone, which was the mine shaft, and back up again. I had to compromise some, and ended up putting army men in the cage because I couldn’t find any toy miners to use.
Mr. Purdue, my science teacher at the time, walked up to my booth in the auditorium on awards day and shook my hand.
“Good work, Jake,” he said, “very clever, indeed.” And he gave me the ribbon.
When I think about Lead, that toy model is the first thing I see. Fact is, it was pretty damned accurate. Lead is just about nothing else but the gold mine, Main Street, and houses built on the hills. They’re the Black Hills of South Dakota where the Indians once buried their dead and worshipped the earth. As kids, we’d go arrowhead hunting all the time and find them pretty often, too. My oldest friend, Tom Furgis, once found the blade for a tomahawk just north of the Washington District, still inside of the city limits.
It was a great place to grow up and pretty as hell. And it’s still beautiful country all around the town. When you leave Lead in any direction, it’s like driving into a State Park. There’s pine, spruce, and birch, and Spearfish Canyon and Deerfield Lake. It’s hard to believe anyone lives nearby, let alone that the world’s second largest gold mine is just a mile or so away. I guess you can tell I’m homesick. I could probably go on talking about the land forever. But I want to tell you first about Mary.
Mary Joy Stennis. That’s her full name. She was standing by the curb, watching the band and talking to her girlfriends. I didn’t actually know her, but I’m sure I must have seen her before because there are only six thousand people in all of Lead. You might not know everyone by name, but everyone looks familiar. I never saw her like this before, though. She seemed like a stranger in town. Hell, I’m not good at explaining things like this. You could say I fell in love with her on the spot.
I was with Tom and Joe Basset, another friend of mine. They both saw me staring at her and started razzing me.
“Hey Jake, got a snake jumping in your pants?”
Joe could be pretty crude, especially after drinking ten cent beer all day.
“Knock it off,” I said, and I shoved him into Tom.
“Hey, what are you getting so jumpy about?”
“Nothing. Just cut it, will you?”
I must have yelled that last little bit because Mary turned around and looked at me. Then she turned back to her friends, and they started giggling. She looked back a couple of more times before they all started following the Gold Diggers up Main Street.
“You know who she is?” I asked Tom.
“Who?” said Joe.
“C’mon. Do you know her?”
“Never seen her before.”
“How ’bout you. D’ya know her?”
“Don’t know her,” Joe said, “but I think her name’s Mary something. I picked up my kid-sister from a party awhile back, and she was there.”
“No idea. Why the big interest? Are you in love?” Tom laughed. .
I felt like smacking him in the mouth. It was crazy. He was my best friend. We contracted together at the mine, played football together in high school, were kids together. But right then, the way he said “love” made me want to punch him in the teeth.
I walked passed them both, started up the sidewalk behind Mary, past J&E’s Hardware and up to Siever Street. Joe and Tom didn’t say a word more to me. I forgot they were even there. Pretty soon they weren’t. I just kept looking ahead of me at Mary.
She was real young looking. I found out later she had just turned eighteen, and I was twenty-eight at the time. God, she was beautiful Long brown hair, curled down the middle of her back, and she was wearing a checkerboard red and white cowgirl shirt, with blue jeans and a pair of Fryes. Her skin was dark, like an Indian’s, and I wondered if she was one. Families who’d lived here a long time could pretty much be certain there was Sioux in them somewhere.
When the girls got to Taylor’s Barber Shop, they stopped and started talking and giggling again. I guess she knew I was following her, but she didn’t turn around. Don Taylor was sitting with some friends in front of his shop, and the whole bunch of them got up from their chairs and had Mary and her friends sit down. Sitting there, they were kind of a roadblock, so I just stopped and stood in front of the Homestake General Offices watching her.
I don’t know how long I would have waited there, or what I was waiting for (I guess for them to move again, so I could move again) but suddenly, Mary turned around and looked right at me. She knew exactly where I was. We only caught eyes for a second, then she turned back.
I don’t exactly remember walking up to her, but the next thing I knew I was standing behind her chair. One of her friends shook her knee. When she turned around, I just stood there, mute as nail. She looked up at me. Her girlfriends were probably giggling and the band must have been playing, but I didn’t hear any of it. I could have been anywhere or nowhere and it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference. I was looking at Mary and that’s all I saw and heard. I just stood there like a sick cow. Finally, I got something out. I remember exactly my first words to her.
“Do you like the Gold Diggers?” Of course, by that time they were way up the street. It was a nothing first line.
“The band, you mean?” she said.
“Yeah, you like ‘em?”
“No. Not much. Do you?”
“Not much. No.”
There was a long silence after that great start, and I didn’t know what to say to make it end. Luckily she thought of something or we would probably still be standing there.
“What’s your name?”
“Jake. Jake Garnes.”
“Mine’s Mary Stennis.” Then she introduced her friends.
I can remember only one of their names. It was Nancy something, Nancy Krooce or Krootz. I wasn’t really listening to what Mary said so much as to her voice. It was a real low voice. It surprised me coming from her delicate face. She looked like a little girl up close, but she didn’t sound anything like a little girl. She seemed a whole lot older with that voice, all grown up somehow. I said my “Please-to-meet-you’s” to her friends and settled back into my silence.
I couldn’t think of anything else to say until Nancy started to get up and I realized I had better say something quick before she walked away and left me standing there. So I asked Mary if she was planning on walking up to the Gardens. She said she was. Her friends drifted ahead of us and we were walking alone, alone that is except for everybody else who was packed onto Main Street.
The Sinking Gardens used to be the business district and the center of Lead years ago, until the businesses started sinking into the mine below. It’s called “subsidence.” Since nearly the whole town sits on hundreds of miles of tunnels and drifts and crosscuts, as winding and turning as the roots of some huge tree, you can bet some part of the surface is going to cave in sometime. I remember there was a woman who stepped out of her back door one morning and found her yard twenty-five feet lower than it was supposed to be. It made the front page of the Lead Daily Call, and the Homestake sent engineers out to pump in backfill dirt until the yard was level again. Up at the Gardens, though, the subsidence was too widespread and too dangerous to keep the businesses there. So they tore them down, planted some trees, and put up some benches and bar-b-que pits, and made park of the place. I think it’s pretty clear how it got it’s name.
By the time we got there, the Gardens were overflowing with people. You could hear the band, but you couldn’t see it. I swear, with the whole town packed in the Gardens like that, I thought the place was suddenly going to drop out of sight. Everyone was standing up, trying to see the Gold Diggers, so Mary and I sat on one of the benches and started talking. It’s weird, but suddenly it was as easy as could be to talk to her.
She told me she was nearly nineteen, but still had a half a year to go at Lead High because when she was a kid she’d taken a year off to be with her dad.
“He was real sick. And since my mom died when I was born, there was no one else to stay with him.”
“No brothers or sisters, huh?”
“Just me and my dad.”
I wanted to ask what he was sick with, but she seemed kind of secretive about it, so I just kept quiet.
“Are you a miner?” she asked me.
“Sure am. I’m a contractor on the 6,500 level. Me and my buddy, Tom, are drifters. You know what drifting is?”
She looked offended when I said that.
“Anyone in Lead knows that. Besides, my dad did some drifting when he was younger.”
That brought our talking to a quick stop. The band was playing “America the Beautiful,” and most people were singing or humming along. As I sat there next to Mary, with the sun going down at the other end of Main, shooting its last beams on the park like a spotlight, and the soft, echoing voices of everybody singing, I felt very happy and a little sad at the same time. It was like I was going away somewhere and this was my send-off. Strange, looking back on it now, like I knew what was on the road up ahead. I was both excited and sad about it. I looked at Mary and she turned toward me, and I knew she was feeling something like the same thing. We stayed looking at each other for a long moment, and I was about to lean in and kiss her when a girl came running over yelling Mary’s name, breaking up the whole picture in my head.
“Mary. Hi ya. I thought I saw you sitting over here.”
Mary introduced me to her friend, and Sue sat down and started jabbering about a camping trip she’d been on with her folks. I felt like an old man suddenly, like I was at the park and these were my kids. Mary seemed so much older when we were talking together. Now she seemed like a teenager again, like the high school girl she was.
Thank God for parents I thought when Sue’s dad came over and fetched her to go home. The band had stopped playing by then and was marching west on Main Street. Pretty soon the Gardens were empty.
“Have you ever been to Rapid City?” I asked her.
“Sure. Mostly with the Glee Club, though, for tournaments and exhibitions.”
“There’s a nice restaurant there called the Black Hills Room. Ever been there?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
“Maybe I could take you there for dinner next weekend, if you want go.”
“I’d like that. I’d like to go.”
“You could ask your dad.”
“No way. My dad wouldn’t let me go to Rapid City with a man, especially a miner.”
She got up from the bench.
“What do you mean ‘specially a miner’? What has he got against miners?”
“He’s just not wild about mining.”
“Well I can’t say I’m ‘wild’ about mining, myself. What’s he doing in Lead if he doesn’t like miners?”
I was getting righteous, now. I was mad. I didn’t know who he was, but I didn’t like him already.
“I guess he has his reasons. But it’s not snobbery or anything like that. He still works at the mine. You probably know him.” She stopped for a moment then said, “I won’t ask him about dinner, but I will go with you next weekend. What time?”
“We could leave here about six. It’ll take about an hour to get there. Say six o’clock next Saturday?”
“Okay. I’ll be ready at six.”
She got up to leave.
“Hey wait a minute,” I said, touching her arm. “Where do you live?”
“I’ll meet you outside Carr’s Pizza at six.”
“Jesus, your dad must really hate miners. What’s he do at the mine, anyway?”
“He’s the bitman. His name is Sandy,” she said, and ran off down Main Street.
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