FICTION

a Date for agnes

Pete figured it this way: Agnes talked in screams, but Link couldn't hear her. So why shouldn't they get married?

ERNIE RYDBERG August 1 1945
FICTION

a Date for agnes

Pete figured it this way: Agnes talked in screams, but Link couldn't hear her. So why shouldn't they get married?

ERNIE RYDBERG August 1 1945

a Date for agnes

Pete figured it this way: Agnes talked in screams, but Link couldn't hear her. So why shouldn't they get married?

ERNIE RYDBERG

THIS guy is waiting for me when I get down to work on Monday morning. He’s leaning against the big sliding door. I’m pretty short with

him.

“Listen, bud,” I say. “If your car is busted down, that’s just too bad. I’m full up. Can’t take on another job for at least two weeks. You might try Maxie’s down in the next block.”

This joe grins at me. He’s got a nice, wide smile with his own white teeth right in the middle of it.

“Yeah,” he says, “so I noticed. Thought maybe you could use a mechanic.”

I just stare at him. He speaks so low I think maybe I misunderstood him.

“Would you say that again?” I ask.

Without raising his voice, he says, “I’m a mechanic. I thought maybe you could use me.”

Something must be wrong with this bird, I think to myself as I shove open the door. For weeks I’ve had an ad in the paper, and not one nibble do 1 get. “What’s your specialty?” I ask him.

“Specialty?”

“Yeah! Rear end? Transmission? Fender man? Which one?”

“Gosh,” he says, kind of apologetically, “I guess 1 don’t have any. I just do whatever there is to do.” “You mean you’re not a factory man?”

“No. Just picked it up. Always liked cars when 1 was a kid. Had one torn down most of the time. That was on Vancouver Island. Worked in the coal mines a long time until they found out I was a pretty good mechanic. Took care of the rolling stock after that. Last job I had was with a construction company building a road down in Mexico. I kept the stuff rolling.”

Already I’d decided this guy was a lucky break for me. Rut T hedged a little.

“How come you pick out a one-horse garage like mine?”

Even while I was asking, I figured it out. Something about this guy had been bothering me. He did it again. He cocked his head over to the left when I spoke to him. I don’t mean he avoided my eyes. He didn’t. He looked me straight in the eye. And then there was something else. Even when he repeated something, it was in the same tone of voice—-which was pretty low.

“I like working in a small garage,” he says.

I nodded. I could understand that. Fact is, I felt sorry for him, big and handsome and with a handicap like that. I figured it was the mining business. Guys in that business lots of time got a thumb or a finger or maybe an arm missing. Probably this guy got too close to a blast sometime.

“Okay, bud,” I say, talking real loud and speaking very plain to him, “Give me your Selective Service papers and you got yourself a job. What’s your name?’

“Link,” he says.

“Mine’s Pete,” and we shake hands, and I put him to work.

By Saturday night I’m going around patting myself on the back for hiring him. He was no factory man, that’s a fact, but every job I gave him, he did it. Maybe not the regular way, but the thing I liked about him was he used his head. When he crawled under a car he always had just the right tools he needed within reach. None of this ambling back and forth from the bench like most of the punks that had worked for me.

Saturday night! The first one in months I had been able to close up at six o’clock. I even called

Josephine and told her for once T’d he there at eight o’clock, and without any grease behind my ears, either. Only when I hang up I’m feeling a little dumpy again.

I’d been hoping for once Josephine and I could step out alone. But no! We got to drag Agnes, Josephine’s older sister, along with us.

Oh, I haven’t anything against Agnes. She’s a swell girl. No great shakes on looks. Sort of on the plain side, but, brother, can that baby make a chocolate pie! Pretty trim. Of course, not like Josephine, but better than average. A lot of guvs have dated her—once.

Agnes likes to talk. Not gabby, 1 don’t mean. She’s really pretty smartknows a lot about things like books and pictures and music. Stuff like that. What she says is very interesting. And Agnes is enthusiastic too. But that voice of hers! It’s pitched a bit on the high side, and after listening to her discuss music from Bach to Spike Jones, you begin to wish you had some cotton you could wad in your ears.

And then I get it. Link, of course. He’s single. Good-looking. Likes to dance, he’d told me. Kind of lonesome. And hard of hearing! I couldn’t get to the telephone quick enough.

Continued on page 23

Continued from page 13

¡ My gosh, Agnes was excited. She hadn’t had a date in months.

I saunter over to where Link is washing up.

“Doing anything tonight, Link?” I ask.

He’s got a towel up around his head, wiping off t he suds

“What say?” he asks quietly. He \ cocks his head and listens.

“My girl and 1 are going dancing out j at The Palms tonight. She’s got a | sister. Swell girl. I was wondering if j you wouldn’t like to make it a foursome.”

“Sure would,” and he grins a mile wide.

“Okay, I’ll pick you up at quarter to eight.”

I’m very pleased when I pick up Link. He’s got a nifty haircut, shaved and is wearing a good-looking get-up of brown slacks, white shirt, nice tie, and a brown checkered sports coat. 1 hardly know him. I feel a little leery about things.

We sit in the front room, talking to Mrs. Murphy, the girls’ mother, for a bit. Mrs. Murphy talks to Link mostly, smiling very pleasantly. She speaks loudly and very precisely, on account I had stood behind Link and cupped my hands over my ears so she would get wise. Pretty soon the girls come down.

“This is Josephine ” I say, but Link is looking right past her at Agnes. If I ever saw the light of love in a man’s eyes, brother, that was the time. And Agnes didn’t look exactly unhappy, either.

While the girls are getting on their coats, and while Link is telling Mrs. M urphy what a pleasure it was meel ing her, I give the girls a quick wising-up about Link’s handicap.

We have a swell time at The Palms. Link dances with Josephine once, and all the others with Agnes. Which suits me just fine, although Josie was a hit sulky about, it.

Well, that was the beginning. Every night after that when I’d go over to pick up Josephine, Link would either be there or he and Agnes had gone out somewhere. For months I’d wanted to be alone with Josephine, and now I found myself wishing that once in a j while we’d make it a foursome. Jose' phine felt the same way.

“But I don’t really mind,” she’d sav. “For once Agnes is really happy. She’s crazy about Link. 'They have so much in common. Why, he knows about most of the things she does. Last Sunday af ternoon, when it was raining,

I thought I’d go mad. They sat in the j front room all afternoon. Jabber, jabber, jabber. You’d think Agnes would run down, wouldn’t you?”

But what did it matter, if Link didn’t hear so good and anyway, who i was I to complain? Business was swell, j Josephine had about decided there was I no use putting off getting married any longer. Especially with everything so hunky-dory for Agnes.

It’s on a Thursday that, Link breaks j the news to me.

“I’d like to have a week off,” he says.

“Sure,” I tell him. I’m pretty worried. “You’re not tired of your job, are you?”

“No, sir. Like it the best joh I ever had.”

I’m sure glad to hear that. I’d been doing a little figuring. With a little capital we could rent the vacant building next door, open up a couple doors and really expand. A guy had been after me for a long time to take on an • auto supply line. Only I didn’t feel I could swing it alone. Link had some money saved up, he’d told me. We get

along swell. He’d make a swell partner. Then if he and Agnes got hitched, it would be a great setup.

“When do you want to go?” I asked him.

“This next week. Got a little job I need done on myself. I know a guy who can fix me up in Toronto. Ought to be back in a week.”

He’s standing there with his head cocked over to the left. I feel weak in my knees. I see it all too plainly. He’s serious about Agnes. He’s ready to pop the question. Only it would be much nicer if he could hear sweet nothings in his ear without having to twist his head around. Some doc would work on his ear. And then what? When he came back to Agnes he’d probably cool off in a hurry. Just like all the others had. Like as not he’d leave town.

FOR a week I’m in a sweat. I meet Link at the depot on Saturday evening. Mrs. Murphy has invited us to dinner. Link pumps my hand when

he sees me.

“Brother, am I glad to get back,” he shouts.

And then I try what I’ve been figuring.

“Sure missed you, Link,” I say, sort of mumbling low.

He cocks his head. His eyes gimlet on mine.

He grins. “Nice to hear that, pal.” Now I don’t know any more than I did before. Twisting his head was a habit. Couldn’t break that in a week. But he got everything 1 said. But maybe he read my lips. While we drive to the house I try a new slant.

I ask him what kind of a time he had, looking out my side of the car.

“What’s that?” he asks, like he had just come back to earth. “I was thinking of something else,” he says apologetically, and there’s a lot of excitement in his voice.

And so I look at him and ask it all over again. You can’t pick on a guy that’s so far gone. I drive on, without saying anything more, and wishing I wasn’t going to any dinner.

At the door Agnes comes running to meet Link. He grabs her up in his arms, swings her around and kisses her like nobody’s business.

“Link,” screams Agnes, and I shudder. “Oh, I’m so glad.” Her words rasp down my spine. I venture a look at Link. If he notices anything he sure puts up a good front.

Mrs. Murphy comes in all in a dither. She wrings Link’s hand and even gives me a little pat on the arm.

“I’m so glad you got here on time. Dinner’s all ready. Gome on in.”

We amble into the dining room, Link’s arm around Agnes’ waist. There’s a guy in there I never saw before.

“This is my brother, Reverend Twining,” says Mrs. Murphy, and we shake hands with him. We all sit down.

What a dinner! Roast chicken and dressing. Mashed potatoes by the bucketful. Rich golden gravy. I’m all set to holler pass the ammunition when there’s a hush around the table. Mrs. Murphy nods at her brother. Everybody ducks (heir heads. Reverend Twining begins to say grace. He goes on and on and on. 1 steal a look at Link. He looks so peaceful with his eyes shut.

“Ding! Ding! Ding!" peeps the little clock in the living room. Only it’s seven o’clock. The reverend finishes. Everybody starts talking at once, Agnes the loudest. Link pushes back his chair, excuses himself, gets up. My gosh, here it comes, l figure. Link walks into the next room, brings the clock back with him.

“Oh, Link,” cries Mrs. Murphy, “don’t bother with that old clock. It hasn’t struck the right time in five years.”

Link takes out his penknife, and, while Mrs. Murphy serves, he tinkers with the clock. Then his face lights up. He turns it to eight o’clock. “Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.” He grins with satisfaction.

“Isn’t he wonderful?” shrieks Agnes. The perspiration stands out on my forehead, but Link just beams happily.

After we have the chocolate pie and coffee, Mrs. Murphy breaks the news.

“This is a very happy occasion,” she starts, sort of stiffly. She stammers, tries to laugh, and at the same time the tears are streaming down her face. “Oh,” she says, “I can’t make a speech . . . Agnes and Link are going to get married.”

Well you could have bowled me over with a chamois skin. Everybody yelled congratulations, and when things had quieted down, Mrs. Murphy insisted nobody could help with the dishes, and so we four went out to The Palms.

We had a swell time. Link danced once with Josephine, but all the others he danced with Agnes. Josie didn’t mind a bit, and by the time we got home we’d begun to plan a double wedding.

That night, after we finally left the girls, 1 drove Link home. I dropped in for a few minutes, and I told him of my plans for a partnership.

“Pete,” he says, shaking my hand warmly. “Gee, I don’t know how to thank you.”

“It’s nothing,” I tell him. “Say, I guess that operation on your ear was successful, wasn’t it?”

“Ear?” he says.

“Yeah. I figured you had your ear worked on so you could hear.”

“Hear?” His mouth drops open. “You mean you’re not deaf?” I ask. Link stares at me in amazement. “No, whatever gave you that idea?” “Well, you always cock your head over on one side whenever anybody talks to you.”

Link burst out laughing. “I guess I do. But that isn’t because I’m hard of hearing.”

“It isn’t?"

“No. That's just a carry-over from my mining days. I didn’t realize I still did it.”

“Well, what do you do it for?”

Link chuckled softly. “You know when you work down in the mines, you wear a little lantern on your cap?” “Yeah.”

“Well, when a guy comes up to talk to you, you don’t just shine that light in his eyes. You turn your head a little to the side.”

“My gosh,” I grunted. “I thought you went to Toronto to have your ear operated on.”

Link looked pretty sheepish. He unbuttoned his shirt, pulled it aside. “See anything,” he said.

“Just a big chest.”

“That’s good,” he grunted. “Once I got tired of mining. Joined the merchant marine for a short hitch. Met a girl. And so, like all salty men, I had myself tattooed. Well, I was never cut out for the sea, so I went back to mining.”

He came over close to me and stuck out his chest.

“Sure you don't see anything?”

“Not a thing that doesn’t belong there.”

Link sighed a big sigh of relief. “Right here,” he said, pointing with his finger, “it said Minnie in big blue letters. Over here Link. And around here and here were entwining hearts done in red.”