January 01, 2008

The Ring

By Johnny Hughes © 2007

It wasn't freezing, but it was too cold for the signature red jacket, part of the James Dean outfit that Cody Slaton had worn most of the time for eight slow years. The strong wind messed with his pompadour, but he was determined to see if anyone he knew was in Broadway Drug. He joined the circle of mostly older men at the horseshoe-shaped counter. They were sipping coffee and speaking with great confidence about the recent assassination.

"A hawk flies up high," Jack Davis, the boot store owner, said. "Hawk flies alone. Acts alone."

A chorus disagreed.

"Remember Sandy Kay, Mr. Carson?" Cody asked. "She ever come around?"

"Around Christmas or Homecoming, lots of old customers drop by. Haven't seen her. Everybody in Lubbock has heard she’s planning about the fanciest, most expensive wedding in Lubbock history."

It was all Cody could do to make it back to the one true Chevy parked on College Avenue. Cody was in shock, denial, disbelief. Cody had known with certainty that his overpowering obsession, the long sought eternal reunion with Sandy Kay was often delayed as dreams vanished like smoke, but always remained a distant reality.

"She can't just marry somebody else," Cody cried loudly. The wind howled back louder.

Again, for the millionth time, Cody went over the "list" in his head. We wore each other's rings. She wore my letter jacket. We were the best dancers. We both were virgins. We made love here—right here—in the one true Chevy. Sandy was a cheerleader. Cody was nearly All-District halfback. He nearly got a scholarship to Tech. They shared golden times. "Rough as hell. Sweet as heaven. Senior class of fifty-seven."

Cody was a hero in the fifties. A perfect bopper. Heavy greased ducktails. The Chevy. Sandy Kay. Football. Cody peroxided his hair for the Gold Team. Cody Slaton was a James Dean impersonator long before the hoard of Elvis impersonators sought to clone the King. Somewhere deep down in his peanut-sized brain, Cody was forever trapped inside the teenage world of Rebel Without a Cause. He asked people if Sandy Kay didn't favor Natalie Wood. She didn't.

Dressing like James Dean for all those years didn’t seem odd to Cody but marked him as crazy, even in Lubbock. Some whispered that the constant red jacket had political overtones. The fifties had faded away just like almost everyone Cody knew who left for college, the army, Dallas, or Austin.

"Cody and Sandy. Sandy and Cody." The words bounced around inside Cody's head like the steel balls in a pinball machine, leaving his brain in a permanent tilt condition. Cody always thought he'd lost Sandy over one ill-advised temper outburst at Buffalo Lakes in 1959, when he'd thrown her Monterey High senior ring in the lake. That was also the last time he'd seen her. Actually, he'd been slowly, and with great certainty, losing Sandy the whole five years they’d been together. She had been successfully navigating the traps and pitfalls of the maturation process. He was frozen in time.

She was sitting at the Hi-D-Ho in Jane's Cadillac, sipping a cherry-lime, when a cruising pickup load of Arnett-Benson rowdies yelled, "There’s James Dean's girlfriend!" That did it.

That night at Buffalo Lakes, Sandy gave Cody his ring back. He threw her ring in the lake. Now, four years later, he drove out to Buffalo Lakes, to the same spot. The wind was making small whitecaps on the lake. The sky was beige. A towheaded boy about eleven was fishing for carp on a cane pole using dough balls for bait.

I'll get her back, Cody thought, I’ll talk to her. I'll appeal to her.

The young boy split open a half-pound carp with his small pocket knife. Cody immediately recognized the shape and shine of a ring in the carp's belly. The boy polished and shined the ring with his red bandanna.

"Let me see that," Cody said, rolling the ring around in his hands.

It was a woman's Monterey High School senior ring with a bright blue stone. Cody read the face of the ring, then turned it toward the masked sun to read the engraving on the inside. "Carol Jo. 1962." Wrong ring.

Johnny Hughes is the author of the novel Texas Poker Wisdom.

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