The bell was a real nuisance because it was cold outside. It was worse than cold it was raining off and on, mostly on, and the wind gusts blew past 40 miles per hour. The humid, cold April weather penetrated the Navy pea jacket with a vengeance. Undeterred, he set his coffee aside and moved out the glass door toward the gas pumps without hurrying.
Lucky had been working at first part time during the previous summer, then full time for his cousin-in-law, Jerry, at his service station. The Union "76" station was located along the I-80 freeway just north of the main entrance into The City of Hood River. This was an ideal spot for a 24 hour service station because of the heavy traffic.
The station was not usually busy during the evening shift when Lucky worked but he worked the day shift on this Sunday so he could spend the evening with Alice. He pumped gas, washed windows, rang up credit card purchases and smiled and said, "Thank you." He was a dependable employee, eagerly sharing his natural mechanical aptitude in spite of his cousin Jerry's original reservations about his age. Jack's endorsement to his employment application had been accurate.
Lucky occasionally convinced someone to let him check under the hood, then he could usually sell a quart or two of oil. He had sold a battery earlier when someone couldn't get started. He sold a pair of tires to an older couple when he discovered they had studded snow tires when it was past time to remove such traction devices, so it wasn't a wasted day. He made a 5% commission on these sales and that augmented nicely the $2.50 per hour he made.
Except for the unseasonably cold weather, it was a reasonably good day by Lucky's standards because he had something to look forward to. He was in a positive mood when his replacement came just before 8:00. He surrendered the cash register key after counting the difference between the $100 change and his cash sales, $287.50. This amount went into the floor safe.
"Take it easy Lucky! Don't do anything I wouldn't do!" Lucky's replacement called, barely visible from behind a fuel pump.
"Hang in there Mack." Lucky waved with finality.
"I'm gone sucker," he thought to himself. "Movin' on." Once in the driver's seat he fumbled in his pocket for the key. He chided himself for not removing the key before he sat down, something he was trying to remember. The engine ignited easily and he pulled abruptly out of the lot skidding the tires in the loose gravel on purpose.
Lucky headed directly to meet Alice for the first time in more than a week. He had his aunt's car under the pretext of replacing a signal light, so he had wheels for a change. She had arranged other transportation to get to and from Church.
Needing the light fixed was the truth of course. Since Jack was gone to college, Lucky had to help with those details to keep on good terms with his Aunt. He had been staying with her since Jack left but only long enough to complete the necessary paperwork to enter the Army. He had received his high school diploma by exam and enlisted as soon as possible.
Curiously, losing his freedom in the Army was the price Lucky had to pay for gaining his independence.
There was almost no traffic so he opted to take a left turn and enter the freeway instead of driving through town. As he descended the on-ramp he put the accelerator to the floor. There was no traffic on the freeway either, coming or going, so he let the clumsy Ford wind up. 40...50...he was going 60 miles per hour by the time he entered the right lane of the freeway gaining speed, 70... 80 and gaining. He hadn't driven over 85 before, although he had ridden up to 110 with some of his wild friends.
He could just hear Jack, "Slow down you shit, why do you have to go so damn fast?" He missed Jack but he was on his own now with no Mr. Conscience looking over his shoulder. 90...and climbing; the car was doing fine. He had already passed the low bridge spanning the Hood River and the exit was just up ahead, so he coasted after the speedometer hit 98.
"Some other day," he thought to himself. He wouldn't mind being a race car driver but having a big motorcycle was his dream. Bike's were his first love, although he had never owned one. He drove those of his friends for short distances whenever he could.
He hit the Loops and moved as fast up the winding hill as the "old tub" would go. He pulled into Alice's driveway in record time. Her folks were gone apparently, at least there were no other cars in the driveway and the garage door was open and empty.
He stopped the car close to the front door away from the garage entrance so he wouldn't interfere with her parent's coming home if they did. He was exhilarated by his little race and felt pumped up and excited. He had been drinking coffee all day trying to keep warm, so now he was suffering the consequences. He had to take a leak and bad.
As he knocked on the door there was a light showing from the kitchen, otherwise no sign of life. No action. He knocked again and louder just as the door opened to the limit of a chain. "You trying to beat the door down?" Alice seemed upset.
"Oh, sorry. Thought maybe you couldn't hear back in your room."
"I could hear just fine and I wasn't in my room. I've been ready for an hour or more." Alice shut the door before Lucky could respond, unhooked the chain, then opened the door wide.
"Come on in you big lug." She was smiling shyly as she shut the door tightly behind and connected the chain.
"Looks like your folks aren't home.., what gives? You locking me in?"
"They went out to a movie. I just don't want anybody coming in unannounced. They like to go to the movie Sunday night when it's not so crowded. The kids make too much noise on Friday and Saturday, so they say. I wouldn't know. I haven't been to the movie for so long, it's hard to remember what goes on."
"Easy now. I haven't either, I've been workin' in the evenings. What can I say?"
"Maybe I should've gone with my folks but I kinda wanted to be together tonight. You want a beer or somethin'?"
"Just a minute. I have to use the john first. I've been drinking coffee all day. You know what that means." Lucky sauntered through the dimly lit kitchen. It was in a perpetual state of being remodeled with unfinished carpentry work exposed continuously. He began taking off his coat as he walked toward the half-bath beyond the pantry.
"Can I come watch?" Alice liked to tease whenever she could.
Lucky retorted: "You can hold my dick if you really want to." He chortled to himself as he removed his coat and entered the toilet.
"Never mind. Just don't jerk yourself off, I've got other plans." She could be just as crude. Alice got two beers from the green hand-painted refrigerator and returned to the back room where she had been watching TV. She sat in the center of the sofa so Lucky would have to sit close to her without her moving.
A moment after the flush of water Lucky came into the room where the light from the TV was blinking on and off reflecting from unwaxed linoleum.
"What did you say? What plans do you have?"
"Pam gave me something for you. Kind of a present. She said war heroes deserved it."
"I'm a long way from being a war hero. What is it?"
"Don't rush it or maybe you won't be so lucky. My folks won't be home for a good hour, so we have plenty of time."
Lucky leaned down and spread his arms on both sides of where Alice was sitting and kissed her as passionately as he knew how. While still holding his lips to her's, he took one of the beers and lowered himself to the edge of the sofa beside her.
As he pulled back he said: "Girl, that makes me thirsty," and grinned. They took a long drink from the stubby brown bottles.
She acknowledged, "Ya, it tastes good after a long, lonely day."
She kissed him again moving her free hand to hold his head around the back of his neck. Alice was warming up to the project quickly. She had already had one beer.
"It's a shame all this nice hair has to be cut off when you enlist." She pulled gently on his duck-tail and said softly, "Come with me."
She swung her legs off the sofa and lifted him under his arm pit with her free hand. As she walked ahead, they took another long drink.
They both got a quick buzz from the beer and were beginning to relax. Beer doesn't quench the kind of thirst they shared for each other, in fact it did the opposite. The alcohol removed their inhibitions and thus increased their sexual impulses.
They moved away from the TV toward a shut door. "Where you taking me? I'm not sure I trust you."
"Oh, shut up and just do as you're told and follow." She took another quick drink before she reached for the door knob. "You know very well where I'm going. Come on in."
The recurring vision of pure white nothingness filled the inside screen of Jack's eyelids. For a timeless period all life and personal associations disappeared. There was no sound, no sky, just a vague dichotomy of white below and white above...a two-tone, unapproachable blankness that had no contour. It was like being in the air floating over an Arctic plane. Nothing was there and the horizon moved away and near and he was part of it but only as an observer.
No human form ever joined his mind's eye during this lonely trance-like state before dreams, beyond reality and beside reasonable explanation. This wasn't sleep, it was non-sleep, non-life.
Jack was experiencing a vague, recurring dream-state which as a child he called the "far-away." He frequently delayed going to bed until forced, then he cried himself into exhaustion. He feared falling into this unpleasant spacial crevice even more than punishment. He would lie awake at night crying, sometimes even screaming, not able to connect with any reality.
The vision became most frightening when the horizon moved completely away into nothing. He could become dizzy and disoriented, as if his mind was outside his body.
Originally, the emotion was like the panic associated with a dream of falling when he might wake up just before he hit bottom. There were never any other physical details in the vision, there was no tragic end, no discernable end at all.
He finally learned to control his own response without fear by the time he was about twelve years old. Once he gained control, he could pull himself back and go in and out of the depth of nothing. At the deepest point, the vision is best compared to snow-blindness. He would lose his way and there were no visual cues with which to orient his senses.
This drifting became more challenging and exciting as he grew older. Unfortunately it came less frequently, maybe because he tried to analyze it's qualities. He only rarely drifted completely into this dizzy state, when he did it was like a religious rapture, comforting and inspiring.
Sometimes he could create the vision of blankness but there would be nothing enthralling about it, just mundane simplicity. There was never any contour of mountains and even the line of the horizon would sometimes be too vague to discern. The horizon was moving now and he relished the emptiness, he was ready for it.
Thoughts about the disconnected nature of life came not as sentences but as concepts in flashes of data, bits of information like inspirations. During the best and deepest of these illusions it was as if he gradually connected with infinity. There was no political conscience expressed, no words of wisdom associated with this vision of remote isolation. There was not ideology or bias, just an open terrain, an empty mind.
It was only in retrospect that Jack recognized how unique this a-moral, a-social, a-cultural apparition was. It occurred in a very narrow gap between sleep and being conscious like a seam in a seamless, non-discrete continuum. He had the normal dreams of action and conversation. The events, fantasies and fears of his life were displayed in a random mixed-up fashion in normal dreams but these dreams were completely dissimilar experiences.
The "far away" did bring a certain peace of mind, a poetic inspiration without words. Nothing followed by nothing, as contradictory as that is, that was the essence of this trance-like state of mind. The deeper the trance, the closer to nothing he became.
The whiteness in this vision contradicted the association of black to death because it was white associated with nothing. Yet this was not the apparition of white as life, it was a non-vision of white as not-life, not-death, not-thought, not-sight, not-feeling beyond sense but not nonsense. It made sense, in fact it made supreme sense to connect to infinity without any stimulation...
Jack woke with a start when a door slammed shut. It was pitch dark and he was stiff and more tired than when he had begun to rest. He flexed his hands, working to remove that sense of weakness until they regained circulation and vitality. It took him a second to remember where he was. He stumbled over his shoes as he moved in the direction where he thought the bedroom door should be. The light from the living area shocked his eyes as he opened the door and became more alert.
"You're still alive? You've been asleep for nearly six hours during the best part of the day." Bill complained. Bill Logan was an older friend from Hood River and Jack had come to visit because he was one of the few people he knew who had a car.
"I think so. I must'a needed some sleep. I've been studying too late for exams and for too many days. I was just unconscious for a while."
"You want some salad with bean sprouts? They're a great source of protein."
Bill was something of an odd-ball. He was barely a Sophomore in the English department after spending three years in various subjects. It was uncertain if he would actually finish, judging by his record. That depended on how long he could stay alive. He was tall and thin and had become a vegetarian. His eating habits were poor and so were his study habits. He had changed majors several times, that set him back both financially and chronologically. He just wasn't very persistent and lacked a certain element of self-discipline that is an essential skill of any would-be college student.
"Is that my choice? What's a bean sprout? You actually eat that stuff? It looks like grass."
Bill continued as if uninterrupted. "You can sprout almost anything and improve the nutritive value. Mung beans have a nice crunchy texture and radish sprouts have a tangy, crisp flavor."
"Ya, sure. You have any potatoes and gravy? Hey, can I use your car tomorrow to go up the canyon to visit my father?"
"Well I have to go to work early and I don't think it will make it that far. I have to do some work on the wiring. The ignition's loose."
"Maybe I should hitch-hike?" Jack suggested and questioned at the same time.
"Wait till next Friday and I'll take you myself after I fix the car."
"No, I want to go tomorrow. I'll probably stay overnight. I don't have anything else to do. I'll just hitch-hike. I've never done that before."
"Well, suit yourself." Bill conceded.
Jack, determined on his plan, decided to hitch-hike. Since he had never done that, it took on the dimension of a rite of passage, or at least presented another new and exciting challenge. He was under the influence of his forceful nature, looking for exciting challenges. Each new adventure at college was addictive like a drug habit. He looked eagerly for new challenges and stimulation. Each new hit had to be greater than the last to have an impact.
Jack Lincoln was securely in the mainstream of young male members of the Mormon Church. He excelled in classes at The Brigham Young University and that was certainly one outstanding accomplishment. This is the premiere educational institution for the Mormon Church and it performs the important role of preparing young people to be missionaries.
But, there was something missing in his life. He had to make the connection between Jack the active student and Jack the great-great-grandson of the Mormon pioneers. He was instinctively embarking on a search for his heritage that was an important, internal, emotional journey well beyond the scope of his matriculation at the university.
The next day Jack rode to work with Bill as planned. Without delay he walked the few blocks to the major highway leading north toward the Provo Canyon. It was early, there wasn't much traffic. Jack hadn't known exactly what to expect, that was all part of the excitement. He hadn't anticipated the lack of traffic though.
After twenty or so cars passed in at least that many minutes, he grew progressively discouraged. The excitement of the challenge was wearing off quickly. There was still a chill in the air and a heavy dew. The sun hadn't made it's way over the steep Wasatch mountains. The large white "Y" painted on the bare rocks wasn't visible in the dark shadows at this distance. He knew it was there somewhere.
Jack continued walking and shuffling with his spirit beginning to sag. "So this lonely, stupid feeling was what it was like to hitch-hike?" He pondered this question after watching the next two cars pass. Hitch-hiking was a difficult task for someone as shy as himself. He began walking and wished he could walk the whole distance. As hard as he tried to rationalize the triviality of asking for a ride, it seemed like begging for food or the worst possible form of humiliation imaginable.
Jack turned again to face the traffic. As he did so, an old pick-up truck with various colors of green and rust competing for dominance approached. The shaky truck pulled off the road rattling and bouncing as it rolled over the rough edge of the blacktop. It stopped just in front of Jack. He jogged a few steps and reached for the handle.
As the door swung open Jack saw the toothy grin of an old man with unkept, grey hair. For a second there was a rush of emotion, "What if this was his own father?" It wasn't of course. The old man looked surprisingly like one of those dried apples carved to look like a human face.
His voice was as crusty as his appearance. "Where ya headed son?"
"Thanks for stopping." Jack said with an unexpected difficulty. His tone was obsequious but when he tried to speak his throat cramped. He was choking on the suppressed emotion the thought of visiting his father had raised. "Charleston City... a.a.a ...I mean Heber City." His father had visited him in Provo but he hadn't found time to make the trip there.
Jack was surprised and confused by this unusual reaction. He had repressed these feelings so deeply he was no longer aware of them. It was like being strangled by those few short words. Was it shame for needing to hitch-hike or desire to avoid any such exposure of his already bruised ego?
"I ain't goin' that far but I can get ya up near the Canyon where I have to turn off the other direction. Is that okay?"
The spell was broken. "Ya. That sounds okay." The words came more easily.
"You won't get just one ride all the way from here anyways. So you'll just have to take your chances." The old man explained the logic of Jack's journey with a confidence that defied argument and a tone of wisdom. The truck rattled and revved to pull back to speed. "Where ya from boy?"
The old man asked the question pleasantly enough but Jack felt a surge of emotion again. He didn't want to tell his story but couldn't think of a convenient lie. His mind was clogged with self-pity. He wasn't in the habit of discussing his personal history.
After a deep swallow he managed, "I'm a student at the BYU."
The old man nodded slightly, that seemed to satisfy him.
"What takes ya up this-a-way. There ain't very many people up in Heber City. I ain't been up there myself for years."
Jack searched for words again with a sense of tortured privacy. "I'm going to visit family. How 'bout you? Where do you work?" Jack was desperate to divert the conversation away from himself and his actual plans.
The old man began to explain about his small farm and his life in the area. He grew nursery stock and made deliveries on the weekends sometimes. He lived alone and enjoyed telling his story, so Jack was off the hook.
The old truck made its way past Orem and up the winding road to the mouth of the Canyon with its passenger in tortured silence.
"Well, here is where I have to turn." The truck slowed and stopped across from an intersection that led north. Jack was reluctant to get out, obviously he had no choice.
"Thanks a lot. I appreciate your help. And good luck." Jack said as he jumped to the gravel roadside.
"Hey, you're the one needin' the luck. Just follow that road to the right. Bye!" The old man waived a friendly salute and the noisy pick-up truck was on its way.
Lucky knew they were approaching her bedroom, even though he hadn't made it that far before. They moved in unison with Lucky in a state of excited suspense.
Lucky stopped for a moment at the threshold to let his eyes adjust to the dark and took another drink. There was a small night-light in one of the plug-ins close to the floor on the right side. That was enough light for him to make out the outline of the bed in the center of the room where Alice was sitting on the edge. The covers were already turned down; the smooth sheets would have looked inviting in any context, especially so now.
Alice stood up and stepped toward Lucky. She began to unbutton his shirt, bumping his chin with the top of her beer bottle.
Lucky let her proceed, not knowing exactly how to respond. He took another drink nonchalantly, though he was nervous and getting very excited. He reached around Alice's back with his free hand and rubbed up and down gently.
Alice opened his shirt and rubbed his clean, bare chest under his t-shirt. He only had a few hairs, not like Jack who was well endowed with chest hair. Alice didn't seem to care, if she even noticed. She tugged on his shirt and followed it around his pants to his back. She pulled strongly as she moved her hands in unison, spilling a little beer.
Lucky took a handful of her blouse and pulled up until it began to slip from inside her skirt. He was clumsy and used excess force.
"Here, let me do that." Her complaint was urgent but gentle. So Alice began to unbutton her own blouse before he could mess her up.
Lucky took off his shirt but forgot to unbutton his sleeves. He trapped himself because his shirt was off his shoulders and he couldn't undo the buttons and still hold the bottle with one hand.
Alice relieved his plight. "Let me do that too, you lummox."
When his shirt was off, Lucky sat on the edge of the bed to take off his shoes. He took the last, long drink and emptied the bottle, then set it beside the bed frame on the floor. He pulled and groaned at his engineer boots and finally got them off by the time Alice had slipped out of her sandals and removed her skirt.
Lucky unhooked his belt and unfastened the buttons on his blue-jeans. Alice reached down and pulled while he leaned back full on the bed. Before he could raise himself to his elbows, she was on him like a cat. They hugged and kissed for a minute as Lucky fumbled with her bra snaps.
"How do you do this?" He was embarrassed to ask, he only did so after he had struggled and failed.
"Now I know you're a virgin. That's great." Alice teased.
"What-do-ya-talk. I've been around. I just didn't remember how to undo that kind."
"Sure, then how come your feet and hands are so cold. You nervous?"
"No, this is great. I'm ready can't you tell."
"Well, I can feel your boner, if that's what you mean. But there's a lot more to this than just getting a hard-on." She took on a lecturing tone.
Lucky was unfamiliar with this tone from her. She was usually so tender and coy. This surprised him and he lost some of his tension.
"So you've had lots of experience, how could that be?"
"I'm not say'n except Pam told me what to do. And the first thing is to get in the covers and take your under-pants off."
"Right, I knew that." He was surprised again, this time by her frankness and meekly followed her instructions. He scooted backward and took off his shorts.
He got under the covers as Alice stepped around to the lamp and picked up a small envelope. "What's that." Lucky asked suspiciously.
"It's a rubber stupid. Pam gave this to me for us to use. You ever use one?"
"No." He was going to say yes but he figured he would have to explain if he did. It's always more polite to be inexperienced in these matters.
"I didn't think so. But then why should you, being a virgin."
"I wish you wouldn't keep saying that, I thought just girls were virgins."
"You know what I mean, anybody who hasn't had sex is a virgin. That's all I'm saying. Don't take it so personal like."
By this time Lucky had relaxed. When Alice slipped between the sheets there was nothing waiting.
"Now look at what happened, you lost it." She scolded softly and took him in one hand and squeezed gently.
Lucky just laid there dumfounded and uncertain what to do. He didn't need to do anything because his erection returned in only a matter of a few seconds.
"That's more like it. Help me open this package." She handed Lucky the flat plastic envelope.
Jack was alone in silence on the side of an empty road until he heard the song of anxious sparrows. The silence was more contrast than actual. There were plenty of noises once his ears had forgotten the vibration of the old pickup.
He walked deliberately along the side of the road enjoying the direct heat from the early morning sun. He turned as required and extended his thumb in the accepted manner attempting to convince each passing car of his sincerity. He silently vowed never to repeat this experience. At whatever penalty or cost he would have his own car or transportation. Never again would he submit to this humiliation.
He walked briskly and the surrounding country became rougher with huge rock outcroppings. The steep foothills he had passed became mountains rising in the distance. The road disappeared winding between massive rock cliffs. Only a few trees survived in pockets between the huge formations. These heroic structures made a striking contrast to the drab grey of the dried cheatgrass and sagebrush near his feet. In sum this virgin beauty was worthy of a calendar photograph.