Taylor’s Fourteenth Summer

By. Lloyd Hudson Frye

Taylor Richards looked around as he stepped off the bus. What a God-forsaken town, not even a depot, only a dilapidated Greyhound sign above a rickety bench. Where the hell was his uncle? He had been riding the dog for three days and he was tied and hungry. He had come to this northern California hick-town to spend the summer working for his uncle Ray.

Taylor glanced at his watch. Ray should have been there a half hour ago. To pass the time he reached in his back pocket for the book he was reading on the bus. The JD Salinger classic, “Catcher in the Rye” was his favorite. He identified with, Holden Caulfield, the main character. He had just finished a paragraph when a blaring horn jolted him back to reality.

“Hi kid, sorry I’m late” Uncle Ray called out. “Throw your duffle bag in back”

“Where were you?”

“A patient had a medical problem”

Taylor climbed into the cab of the old ’57 Chevy pickup. There wasn’t much to talk about. This whole thing had been his mother’s idea.

Taylor had just turned fourteen. He was good looking, clean cut, chiseled, and tossed brown locks. At six foot, he was tall for his age and loved sports, all sports. He maintained a 3.5 grade point average, not bad considering he was more interested in girls than school, but was too shy to ask them on dates.

After arriving home from a private prep school, he was told he would be spending the summer in California. He would do anything to get away from his abusive father and depressed mother, from years of abuse and cheating. The beautiful, large home with; lawns, rose gardens, and massive patios, stood in stark contrast to the family inside with ugly, dark secrets.

His uncle’s business was a four-bedroom rest home, with two patients in each room. Taylor’s indoor duties would include delivering food trays, sweeping the main areas, and cleaning up after patient’s “accidents”. Outdoor would include lawn mowing, sweeping driveway and walkways, weeding, and watering. This would pay for his room and board. He resented his father’s tight fisted control over the family finances.

“Taylor, you’d better get in to Mr. Brig’s room and clean up quickly before someone drags the urine all over the premises”

“Yes Sir.”

Taylor hated the clean up part of his duties. He was sure the bladders and colons of old people made up 90 % of their total body weight, and that the heart and brain were there to make sure none of the excretions landed in the toilets, throughout the building. He was sure the tenants smiled as they released their goodies in a new place, previously untouched.

You couldn’t smell when a new puddle was formed because the place reeked of urine with more than a hint of feces. Mostly you kept your eyes open and your mouth shut, even breathing in shallow, slow, breaths.

Each patient was allowed personal belongings, usually fitting into a small suitcase. It felt strange to see such few possessions of those people in their final days. Taylor thought about the end of life being like the beginning, pretty much in soiled clothes.

“Did you get Mr. Brig’s room cleaned up?”

“All but the final scrubbing”

“Denise said Quick Harold has made a mess in the laundry room”

“I guess laundry room comes before final scrub of Brig’s room”

“That goes without saying”

“Yes Sir.”

The problem was, none of the final scrubs were ever accomplished.

There were times Taylor was free to leave the grounds, which he did whenever possible. The town was dead from morning to night. Although there was diagonal parking all along the retail storefronts on Main Street, he couldn’t remember anyone actually parking in the spaces. For that matter he couldn’t remember any cars on the streets, just the occasional delivery truck, there to restock dusty shelves of goods rarely purchased.

There weren’t any boys his age Taylor knew of. The only non-adults were three girls from the wrong side of the tracks, in this already impoverished town. They were illiterate with tattered clothing covering their unwashed bodies, their dull eyes hidden behind dirty, tangled hair. Taylor tried to talk to them from time to time, but there wasn’t much to say. They would giggle and run back home if he talked too much. One time they rolled around on the ground and did cart wheels as he approached them, embarrassed he looked away. Was this a backwoods flirting ritual?

What Taylor liked most though, was going hunting with his uncle’s pellet gun. At first he couldn’t hit anything he aimed at, but finally he did, making him dangerous to all living creatures. The first bird he dropped was a defining moment in his life. It was a red-winged black bird high in a pine tree. He took careful aim and squeezed the trigger after pumping up the gun several times. The pellet must have hit a vital organ because the bird came down like a rock, bouncing off five or six branches on the way. It lay there motionless. Taylor felt detached. The sport was trying to hit anything, now that he had, he didn’t like it. The bird looked small and defenseless. He went home, returning the gun to the shelf.

The dead bird dropping to the ground, stayed with him all week. It had taken the fun out of hunting. The next week, because there wasn’t anything else to do, he went hunting again, only this time he would just try impossible shots. High above, he saw several wrens in flight and tried for the lead bird. He missed and was glad. A buzzard circling 200 feet above was the next target, again failure. Taylor tried for a bird, far away on the highest branch of a tall tree. On the third try, with an angle to compensate for the distance, he hit it. It too fluttered to the ground and as he approached the bird, it was still breathing. Taylor turned and ran back to the home.

Later he figured he should have put it out of its misery. No more helpless birds he swore. The following week he had the gun out, but strictly for target practice. On top of a bridge he saw a snake in the river, before thinking he aimed and fired. The snake began to twist and coil up, writhing in pain. Taylor shot the snake over and over until there was no movement. That was it. No more hunting, target practice, even fly-swatting.

The rest of the summer was spent pulling weeds, spreading gravel, mowing the lawn, bringing food trays, and cleaning up urine and feces off the walls and floors. Oh yes, and the occasional glimpse of dull eyes hidden behind dirty, tangled hair.

The single lasting image Taylor left with that summer was Maureen. She was a woman in her eighties and had one nostril much bigger than the other. He had been fascinated with the huge nostril, staring at it, when delivering her tray.

“What you staring at boy?”

“Nothing Ma’am”

“Get out of my room”

“Yes Ma’am”

Taylor became obsessed with Maureen’s nose. One day he looked around the corner into her room, and saw her with an index finger in her nose up to the third knuckle. He ran outside and put his third knuckle to the opening of his nose. She could be scratching her brain with that finger, an image that would haunt him for years.

Summer finally came to a close. As he boarded the bus, he waved good-bye to the rest home, his Uncle, and of course, Maureen.

Once on the bus, Taylor tried to relax. There would be three days of shopping for clothes, then off to boarding school. He would rather work full time, take a full schedule of classes, and study all night, than live at home.

Llyod Hudson Frye was born in California in 1947. He earned a BS degree in Business Administration from CSUC in 1975. He spent 28 years working in electronics before being NAFTAed in the back in 2003, at the age of 55.