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X-Ray Rider 3: Mileposts on the road to Childhood's end
The X-Ray Rider Trilogy, Volume 3
Wayne Kyle Spitzer
Published by Hobb's End Books, 2017.
While every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this book, the publisher assumes no responsibility for errors or omissions, or for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein.
X-RAY RIDER 3: MILEPOSTS ON THE ROAD TO CHILDHOOD'S END
First edition. November 25, 2017.
Copyright © 2017 Wayne Kyle Spitzer.
Written by Wayne Kyle Spitzer.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
I | Fireworks
II | Kiss
III | Magic Kingdoms
IV | Werewolf
V | Terrified and Alone
VI | The Arm of the Milky Way
VII | The Willows
VIII | The Auto Shop
IX | The Fall
Chronoscope | 1981
THE LUMPECTOMY HAS GONE WELL. Her doctors believe with near certainty that they have gotten it all. That nothing has spread to the lymph nodes and she will make a full recovery. But she has a long, nauseous August ahead in which she will be bombarded with powerful X-rays, five days per week for five weeks, which could keep her incapacitated into September, and will probably cause her to become gravely ill and to lose her hair. His mother believes a celebration is in order before the follow-up treatments begin—a road trip, naturally. Sheldon chooses not to go, opting instead to join his friend John Morrison’s family on a fishing trip.
She insists they go to Kelowna, British Columbia, to visit Bedrock City—a theme-park based upon The Flintstones, for the Kid; but the Kid doesn’t enjoy it, having lost his taste for dinosaurs, or at least ones that look like Dino—colored purple or Day-Glo orange or sherbet-green—with frilly humps along their backs. Because they take the El Camino (“124,000 miles and still unstoppable,” his father says more than once) they are forced to stop frequently to buy tranny fluid, especially on their way home, so that they find themselves pulling into a town called Oliver at twilight just as a professional firework display is starting—apparently in celebration of British Columbia Day.
He is amazed by the rockets; how they shoot so high, momentum upon momentum, heat upon heat—then burst, crackling, into a thousand little stars. He and his mother watch them out the passenger-side window, their faces parallel to each other, as his father maneuvers the Camino through an area of grassy knolls, then stops and backs up a slope—ratcheting the parking break so that they remain there, the rear of the car with its minor dent pointed at the sky, where the fireworks boom and blossom like an interstellar conflict only within the earth’s atmosphere. He helps his father set up the lawn-chairs so that the two fixed-back ones flank the long recliner, which his father insists his mother lay upon, “Like Cleopatra,” says the Kid, which causes her to laugh heartily as she settles in.
His father goes to the cab of the car, returns with his mother’s camera and a pair of binoculars.
“Try these,” he says, handing him the binoculars.
His mother takes the camera. “Cleopatra accepts this homage, Marc Antony.” She gestures grandiosely. “So many Marc Antony’s, so little time....”
“There was only one Mark Antony,” says the Kid.
“Tell that to Liz Taylor,” she says, and laughs.
Since the lumpectomy she has become buoyant— poking fun at people she would never have poked fun at before and generally behaving as though she were seeing everyone in a new and ridiculous light. Not in a mean- spirited way, but just to have fun. So it comes as no surprise when—realizing they are not alone among the knolls—she leans toward his father and whispers, “Looks like we have some hipsters next door.”
The Kid gazes across the elm-dark dunes, sees a psychedelic-painted van parked half-hidden amongst the trees. It has an awning made of what appears to be pink, fake fur attached to it, which reminds him of the shag carpeting in his half-brother Mick’s perpetually smoky apartment. “Those are hippies,” he says, leaning forward in his chair, rubbing the growing pains in his thighs and his calves.
“Those were hippies. But now the war’s over and they’ve adapted.” She winks at him and at his father. “Now they’re just having fun. Still running wild but with a whole new set of pretenses.”
He looks at the van through the binoculars, adjusts the focusing wheel. There are four or five “hipsters” beside it, reclining in their own lawn-chairs, passing some kind of vase. He watches a woman place the vase to her lips and strike a lighter, sucking while keeping the flame going so that the flame curves into a little bowl at the bottom and makes it glow. She sucks and sucks, cheeks indented, hair hanging. Finally she looks up and tilts her head back, appearing to hold her breath, and seems to notice him watching her. She has long, straight hair the color of goldenrod and is wearing blue eye makeup in which she has sprinkled glitter. A firework explodes above turning everything green and gold. Everything about the woman screams ‘adult;’ not adult in the sense that his parents are adult, but adult in the sense of ‘forbidden,’ although she couldn’t be much older than his half-brother, Mick, who is 26.
He works the focusing wheel furiously.
Her cheeks dimple as she seems to smile at him; then she exhales, as though blowing a kiss, making an ‘O’ with her lips—which are shiny with lip gloss—puffing softly, her eyes narrowed and glazed. The smoke turns to rings in the air, expanding and dissipating. For some reason he thinks of his X-ray glasses, which are neatly folded in the pocket of his shirt—his brother’s shirt, actually—the one with the stiff collar and the lapels like garden trowels, which he has “borrowed.” He takes them out and unfolds them, feeling their frames, now thin as felt, and slides them on.
“Look,” says his mother, squeezing his arm. He looks, the binoculars hanging loosely in his hands—sees embers twirling slowly back to earth, dying. “They’re always at their most beautiful when falling,” she says, smiling at the sky. Her eyes shine as yet another burst goes off, painting her face white and blue and red.
“Fantastic,” says his father, cupping his eyes out of habit. “Faaantastic. You watching this, buddy?”
The Kid nods, gazing at the fireworks, hearing both the people nearby and people far off celebrating, gasping as each new missile explodes—while each new firework, for him, because he is viewing them through the X-ray glasses, becomes multiples of the word X-RAY—which spiral and dash and rotate and sizzle, which lance into space and open like umbrellas; which burn white-hot, flashing like warning signs, like drive-in projection beams, like yellow-jacket stings and pebbles against the windshield. And amidst all this, all the booms and snaps and concussions like thunderclaps, all the shrieking and exploding and frizzling—the howling and the hollering—he hears music.
Not the Music of the Spheres, which Fast Eddy talks about, but radio music, pop music: “Undercover Angel,” by Alan O’Day; which is emanating from big speakers placed outside the van. He swipes off the X-Ray Spex and peers through the binoculars.
He sees that the woman who had been sucking on the vase is no longer in her chair; she has been lifted on the shoulders of a man, whose neck she straddles Indian-style: her bare thighs supported by the man’s hands, the threads of her cutoffs hanging. She glances at the Kid, or so it seems, maintaining eye-contact for a full breath before looking away—then crosses her arms and pulls her top over her head, dropping it to the grass, swinging her hair, grinning toothily, carnivorously, arching her spine so that the tips of her hair touch the small of her back. Everything turns white as a series of blasts rattles the windows, mellows to chromium-yellow, fizzles to green.
His mother gasps at the fireworks, “Look at that, sweetie...!” Her old Argus camera goes click-click-click.
He stares at the hipster woman.
She is magnificent beyond belief—the eerie green light painting her face, her hair, her breasts, her belly—while Alan O’ Day sings about thunder and magic and dream. He feels it again—the tightening in his groin, the thundering of blood and fluid into it. The woman places her fingers between her lips and whistles, rocking upon the man’s shoulders, rocking and being rocked. He hears someone saying his name, his mother, or even his father, or both. But it is as though they are a million miles away....
He hears the Camino fire up just as the grand finale is beginning, sees his father in the cab while his mother sits deathly straight in her lawn-chair, glaring beyond him at the woman—the hipster.
“We’re leaving?” He glances at the van, where the woman has begun unzipping her cutoffs—diverts his eyes to the sky. “But we haven’t even seen the whole show! The big finish...” He glances at the van—she’s still unzipping—back to his mother, “We’ll miss the entire clima—”
But his mother has raised her chin, arched an eyebrow. Which means it is time for him to stop talking.
HE HELPS HER WITH THE CHAIRS, doing most of the work himself, folding them up and securing them against the cab. When he looks toward the van again he sees that while the woman is still on the man’s shoulders, she has not, in fact, completed the show, but only watches the fireworks, smiling breezily, self-satisfyingly.
It isn’t until they have pulled down from the knoll and are well upon their way that he asks his mother, “Why would she act like that, that woman?”
“Because they wanted to get rid of us,” she says. “So they could have that spot all to themselves. So they could go on getting high.” She looks out the window thoughtfully. “And because she’s an attractive, liberated, insecure young woman who will do almost anything for attention, for anyone.”
He nods, thinking about it.
“She would do anything with anyone,” says his father. “I knew girls like that in the 1950s. In Seattle. Mom’s right.”
“Yes,” she says. “Mother’s right.”
But his mother is wrong. She would not do anything for anyone. She did it for him. Because he is so young and cute and has learned how to dress. Because he is wearing his brother’s white shirt with the stiff collar and lapels like garden trowels. Because his platinum hair is turning gold and he’s feathered it just like Shawn Cassidy. Because he has sloe-blue eyes, high cheeks, an upturned nose and a pert mouth. Because he has dark swooping brows like a vampire, and he draws and writes and is an artist; meaning he is sensitive, insightful; a ravaging lover—better even than Valentino—which she knew the instant their eyes met. Because he is the Kid and there can be no other, certainly not those Neanderthals with their scraggly beards and shaggy legs with whom she was faking everything; whom she was using, surely, just for a free ride to the British Columbia Day firework display.