Les Bird and I were walking our bikes along the banks of the creek that ran between the theater and the packing plant, and I can’t say why we were even walking because we always rode everywhere, anywhere we wanted to go, as long as we could pedal there, Les Bird on one wheel. He could wheelie for miles. I was proud to be his friend. That morning by the creek, the ground was covered in popcorn—dumped, we assumed, by the theater’s night shift, older kids from the high school. Their manager, Stevie, who nobody fucked with, lived in his Datsun truck with the cabover camper.
We tasted the popcorn—Les on a dare, me because I was hungry. I wasn’t the one with the real Schwinn stingray. We decided if we were ever hobos or ran away from home, we’d always have food. Les Bird’s mom had this stuff called Salt n’ Butter in a shaker. Next time we’d bring it. He said she wouldn’t know.
We sat next to our bikes on the ground eating popcorn on a Saturday morning for free. Watching the world and waiting. Les Bird wanted to ask Erica out when he turned 14. I wanted to ask out her best friend Judy whose brother Ray grew eucalyptus, as we called it, in their mom’s garage. We ate popcorn and looked across the parking lot at Stevie’s truck and wondered if he was in there.
The backdoor to the camper opened and someone stepped down.
“Isn’t that Judy?” said Les Bird, punching my shoulder.
“Isn’t that Erica?” I said, punching back, harder.
It could have been a girl we didn’t know, a girl from the high school on the other side of town. Whoever she was, she looked too young to be with Stevie, who was like 20. We watched the door to the camper close behind her and the girl walk across the parking lot, stumbling once as if catching a rise in the pavement, but not falling, getting smaller and smaller before she disappeared.
We got up from the bank of popcorn that had lost all flavor, and in that strange way endings can sneak up on you, unexpected yet unmistakable, credits rolling down the screen, we climbed on our bikes and pedaled away in opposite directions—Les Bird riding to his parent’s place on the beach, me riding up the hill to our rental to mow the neighbor’s lawn.
Photo by Richard Masoner, used and adapted under CC.