Summer Stories: Summer of '69
For this sixth edition of Summer Stories, The Spokesman-Review's annual short fiction series, we’ve decided to go back 50 years to the Summer of ’69, one of the most significant years of the late 20th century.
By Jess Walter
I have a crush on the mother of my worst student.I suppose crush might seem an odd word for someone my age, 50, but it’s an apt one. I feel crushed by this woman who appears in my classroom doorway to talk about why her son is failing seventh-grade science.Abigail Cullen is ethereal. She wears a white skirt and a dark blue top that remind me of the upper atmosphere, where the stratosphere meets the mesosphere.Hey, I’m a science teacher, not a poet.
By Thom Caraway
“You know what the problem is, don’t you?” Paul leaned forward. It had been a sunny day, but evening settled in cool. It smelled like grass and hot concrete.Al knew this look, the tone. “Geez, Paul, can’t you wait until we start drinking?” He poured the scotch.Earl took his glass. “Thanks, Al. Glad you came around to the Islay stuff.” He settled his big frame back against the patio chair, sniffing the glass. “The best.”Al held his glass up, shot a warning look to Paul. “Welcome back, friends. To you, to us.” He tapped the glass on the bar, then raised it to his lips. Earl looked delirious as he took his first drink.
By S.M. Hulse
In the final month of her final summer working at Dairy Palace, Debbie Baker’s boss asked her to be the Dairy Princess in the end-of-summer parade. After three-and-a-half years of wearing a black-and-white cowhide-patterned paper crown while dispensing cone after cone of soft-serve every afternoon, it was finally her turn to wear a glittering tiara. After three years of following Sadie Johnson’s horse down the six-block parade route, pitchfork in hand, it was Debbie’s turn to ride and not worry about what her horse left in the road
By Chris Crutcher
Tommy rolls another joint and hands it over the back of the bench seat to the hippie chick riding shotgun in the 1966 VW van that picked him up more than an hour ago hitching on Highway 80 across the southern Idaho desert. He nods at the other hippie chick sitting cross-legged on the floor in the back corner next to her sleeping golden retriever. She winks. Both hippie chicks are named Sherrie. Tommy’s extremely grateful for the ride, though the driver, who introduced himself as Sunspot, said they had no idea where they were headed.Tommy said he was headed there, too.
By Sherry Jones
All Jack wants for his 69th birthday is to celebrate the way the people used to: around the table, feasting with friends, everyone happy. Is that too much to ask?
“A party in these times?” When Jack had apparated to his daughter’s place with the invitation, her husband, Bob, hadn’t even tried to hide his contempt. He’d smirked at Sunny, who shook her head ever so slightly. But Bob was never to be dissuaded from speaking his mind, especially when he had something negative to say, which was always. “Nabob,” Jack calls him under his breath.
“While Rome burns, Nero fiddles,” Nabob said. “Typical of your generation.”
By Kris Dinnison
Charlie got on his knees, leaning out the car window. He was looking for landmarks. They were close to the cabin. He knew that. But until he saw the “No Trespassing” sign and then caught a glimpse of the island, he couldn’t be sure.
“Charlie, sit down, dear. That’s not safe.”
“Mom,” he whined, but he sat.
By Sharma Shields
After the offensives, after the riots, the murders, and then – to their surprise – the music, the mother shuttered the windows and locked the doors.
“To keep you safe,” she said.
Her three children blinked up at her from the divan. She switched on a lamp, unplugged the television set. They trailed her into the kitchen for their breakfast. She poured her fear into their breakfast cereal, she stirred her hatred into their Ovaltine.
By Megan Louise Rowe
Leading up to the launch, Janet Shearon told Life magazine, “I’m not married to ‘an astronaut.’ I’m married to Neil Armstrong. I knew he wanted to go to the moon, somehow, some way, when I married him.”
With children living and dead, Jan observed Apollo 11’s flight from a yacht moored on the Banana River. Her boys used binoculars, but she knew there was nothing to see by looking closer.
She wondered if he hid a letter for the children; it would be in the false bottom of his desk drawer.
She knew more than he thought.
By Stephanie Oakes
Hannah could see the future in car parts. In the slick backs of brake pads, and the calcified pathways charted by battery acid, in the shattered bodies of taillights, metal and filaments and needles of glass spread like entrails on the oiled garage floor.
She’d crouch in her khaki jumpsuit and study the spilled contents of some customer’s Camaro, and be struck, sudden and bright, by a vision of the future. Theresa, the shop’s receptionist, would find Hannah like that, repositioning her head like a TV antenna, neck cocked uncomfortably, searching for the clearest signal, the most accurate view of this flash of future.
“This winter will be the worst anyone has ever seen,” she said, eyes still fixed on the garage floor.
By Shawn Vestal
Lunch was bologna, Wonder Bread and red Fanta in glass bottles bought at Safeway in Sandpoint and eaten in the car as they rode north with the windows rolled down. When the bottles were empty, their father would lob them, left-handed, at the road signs along the freeway. Bonners Ferry 11. Highway 95 Junction. U.S. Border 7. A couple hits, couple misses.
The air was hot, slapping through the windows. The children were shouting questions about Beverly to their father.