Charly


Charly

“Roberts, we’ve got you surrounded, so don’t try anything. We think the whole structure may be weakened. So just sit still until we can get both of you out safely. You’ve got a charge of kidnapping against you, but things will go easier for you if the girl gets down safely.”

The policeman handed the portable megaphone to Charly’s mother. “Charly, this is your mother. Don’t worry. The police are doing everything possible to get you down. Just don’t panic …” She broke down and began to sob.

Charly, her long, wheat-blonde hair waving as the car of the stalled Ferris wheel rocked gently in the wind, grabbed my hand and smiled. “Roberts, I hope you let this be a lesson to you. You can’t hi-jack a Ferris wheel to Cuba.”

It started innocently enough a year ago in May. Dad and I had jogged our two miles in the morning, and we were eating our nutlike cereal on the patio overlooking the city.

“Sam, you know the new manager I was telling you about?” Dad said as he took a vitamin pill and downed it with the rest of his orange juice. “Transferred here from Boston. He’s finally found a house, and his family moved out here last week. He has a daughter Charlene about your age. Naturally, she doesn’t know anybody here.”

He paused, hoping I would volunteer and not force him to spell it out. “I was wondering if you’d take her out once just as a favor.”

“Well, I’d like to but I’m kind of low on money right now. They don’t pay much in the basement,” I said, referring to his office on the eighth floor and my summer job as a shipping clerk in the basement of one of the large buildings in the city.

“Maybe I could help you out,” Dad said. I was enjoying this.

“I won’t need much. I’ll take her to the museum, and then to the visitor’s center, and then to the drug store for a milk shake.”

“Why don’t you take her to the country club for dinner?”

“Okay. I’ll even get my jeep washed. I sure wish I could get it out of four-wheel drive.”

“Okay. You win; take my car.”

“That’s a good idea. Thanks, Dad.”

A few days later I made my way to her home. It was an ornate building, a little north of the capitol. I spent about ten minutes talking with her parents about the difference in humidity between Boston and Utah. Then finally she came down the stairs.

She was almost as tall as I, with a face that didn’t need make-up. She was skinny and looked like a model for a diet soft drink.

I stood up, remembering a Cary Grant movie I saw once on TV. “Charlene, it is indeed a pleasure.”

“The pleasure is mine,” she said. As we shook hands she, still smiling, dug her finger nails into my palm.

We drove silently down the interstate to the country club.

“How much did your dad pay you for taking me out?” she asked.

“I was happy to ask you out,” I exaggerated.

“What would you think about turning off the air conditioning? It’s freezing in here.”

“Why don’t you check the blower so it’s not aimed directly at you? It’s very seldom I get to drive a car with air conditioning.”

She sat and glared at the dashboard.

“Tell me, Charlene, how do you find the difference in humidity here as compared to Boston?”

“Don’t call me Charlene.”

“What then?”

“Charly.”

She opened the side window and deliberately adjusted it so the hot air outside was blowing directly at me.

“It’s wasting gas to have the air conditioner on and the window open,” I said.

“You never told me how much your dad is paying you to take me out.”

“Not enough, I think.”

She folded her arms, turning away from me. The periodic brightness as we passed lamp posts showed tears on her face.

“I didn’t mean that. Look, I’m turning off the air conditioner. There’s a Kleenex in the glove compartment.”

“Why would I want one?” she asked.

“Because you’re crying.”

“I’m not crying. My contacts are bothering me.”

“Well, whatever,” I replied. “The Kleenex is still in the jockey box.”

“I’ve got my own,” she said, rummaging through an old leather bag. Eventually she found one crumpled tissue that she smoothed out and used. “Will you take me home please?”

We rode in silence back to her home. I shut off the motor at her curb. “I’m sorry things didn’t work out.”

“It’s no big thing.”

“I did my best to make it a night you’d enjoy.”

“Implying that I didn’t do my best?”

“No, you probably did the best you could,” I answered.

“I’d better go now. It’s getting late,” she said.

“It’s only nine o’clock.”

“Time really flies when I’m with you. I thought it was eleven.”

“You think it’s easy going out with a girl from Boston? My dad and I thought you’d like the country club.”

“Listening to you talk about humidity and watching old golfers slap each other on the back?”

“Well, it’s not my idea of fun either,” I said.

“No?” We stopped halfway up the walk.

“No.”

We walked back to the curb, sat down and talked about things we always wanted to do but could never find anyone else to do them with.

A few minutes later we got back in the car, drove to a park, and bought 30 dollars worth of tickets for the Ferris wheel.

“What’s your name?” Charly asked the attendant as he helped her into the Ferris wheel car.

“Raferty.”

“Mr. Raferty, I’d like you to meet my fiancé. He’s just proposed, and you’re the first one we’ve told.”

“It’s not true,” I said. “I’ve just met her.”

Mr. Raferty was hard of hearing. “Congratulations, kids.”

“Thank you,” Charly smiled. “Sam and I want to ride on your Ferris wheel for a long time. You understand, don’t you?”

“Sure, I’m not that old,” he said as I gave him several tickets.

We rode and talked. Up over the trees, the laughing children, the crying children, the picnicking families, the merry-go-round, and then back to earth and Mr. Raferty, who gave us a wink as often as he could.

“Sam, alias Utah Kid, maybe we’re going to be friends.”

I took her to church that next Sunday. The following Wednesday she began the missionary lessons. She began to jog with Dad and me in the mornings.

About three weeks later I took her fishing with me at Strawberry Reservoir. We left about four in the morning. When we got there, we rented a boat, rowed out to my favorite spot, and threw out the anchors. I baited the hooks with cheese and marshmallows and tossed my line out.

She curled up and went to sleep.

When she woke up, I had caught four nice trout, the sun had come and driven off the patches of fog, and ten other boats were anchored near us.

She studied the people in the boats around us. They were sitting quietly, watching their lines.

Suddenly she stood up, cleared her throat, and addressed the boaters with a Kissinger-like accent. “I suppose you know why we have asked you here this morning. We’ll dispense with the minutes and move right along.”

The people in the boats looked at her with disbelief.

“Because some of you have been putting marshmallows on your hooks, the Fish and Game Department has asked me to speak today. Clinical reports indicate that the fish in this lake have 53 percent more cavities. Do you know what this means?” she asked.

She waited. Most of the other boaters tried to ignore her. But that was hard to do.

“It means that the state of Utah now must stand the expense of sending a trout through dental school.”

“Charly?” I asked.

“Yes, Utah,” she said meekly.

“Normally we don’t talk between boats. Please sit down.”

I baited her hook and tossed it out. In a few minutes her line began to feed out steadily. I could tell it was going to be big when she set the hook. She followed my directions, and soon I dipped the net into the water, bringing up a four-pound rainbow.

After the fish had been taken care of, she stood up again and addressed the other boaters. “Do you people wish to know how I caught this fish? I used peanut butter on my hook. It sticks very well, it’s nutritious, and it does not cause cavities.”

I pulled in the anchors and began to row out farther.

“We recommend creamy instead of chunky,” she shouted as a parting shot.

“Sam, where are we going?”

“Away.”

“Is the fishing better where we’re going?”

“No.”

“I embarrassed you; is that it? Go ahead and say it.”

“You embarrassed me.” I splashed a little water on her so she wouldn’t think I was mad.

“You’ve got no sense of humor, Utah. Life is for laughing.”

I stopped rowing and threw out the anchors again.

“Sam, how many of those people in the boats do you think were Mormons?”

“Maybe half.”

“A school of Mormons,” she said.

I baited the hooks again and tossed the lines out. “Charly, you haven’t said much about the Church to me, except ‘Very interesting.’”

“Very interesting,” she mocked. “I wanted to be fair, Sam. We New Englanders are noted for our fairness.”

“Yes, I’ve read about the Salem witch trials,” I countered.

“Very good, Sam. Stick with me and I’ll make you a wit.” She opened a sack of oranges and threw me one. “Okay, Sam, I guess I’m ready.”

For a few minutes she concentrated on peeling her orange, her face strangely solemn. “Utah, I’ve read the Book of Mormon.”

“What do you think about it?”

For a long time, she just looked out over the lake. And then in a quiet voice she began, “Humor them along, I said. Take the lessons; go to church. It’s all just part of the tour after all. And then walk away laughing.

“I grew up in Cambridge, Sam. Our next door neighbor wrote a best seller on economics. My mother played bridge with the wife of a man who became one of Kennedy’s advisers. We had as a weekend guest a man who later received a Nobel Prize. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“What are you saying?” I asked.

“I’ve been exposed to the finest intellectual environment. Then you come to me with your 2 1/2 minute talks. Why not three minutes for crying out loud? I thought I’d spend my life laughing at the world. There was so much to ridicule, so many balloons to pop. It would take a lifetime.”

“Don’t give me a dissertation, Charly. What about the Book of Mormon?”

“It’s true,” she answered simply. “I believe every word. The plates, the angels—all of it. Now I’m afraid of what that implies.”

“Why?”

“When fall comes and I go back to school, and my friends come up giving the cynical smile and asking, ‘Well, did the Mormons get you?’ what do I say?”

“Tell them.”

“They’ll think I’m a fool.”

“What are you interested in, truth or pretense?”

“You ask me that? That’s the same question I’ve been using as a weapon against the world.”

It was too late to be fishing, and the wind was starting to come up. I pulled in the anchor and started rowing for shore.

A week later she was baptized. She was beautiful in white. Her parents didn’t come to the baptism.

“Are you going to ask me to marry you, Sam?” she asked while putting suntan lotion on my shoulders as we soaked in the sun one Saturday at the country club pool.

“You’re not supposed to ask that.”

“Male chauvinist. Why can’t I ask it? Are you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t be so insistent, Sam. You’ve got to give me time. I’ll have to think it over and let you know. So don’t rush me, okay?”

I ignored her and lay back down on the warm sun deck.

“Sam, are you awake? You’re going to get a sunburn.”

“I’m awake,” I answered sluggishly.

“Sam, I’ve thought it over. I accept. You’re a lucky man.”

I sat up and put a towel on my sore shoulders.

She leaned over like she was going to kiss me, but instead slapped me on my sunburn. “Race you to the diving board!”

She beat me there. We took turns diving. She was very good. While we were waiting our turn, she punched me on the chin in slow motion. “Sam, you son of a gun, asking me to marry you when we’ve only known each other part of a summer. You’ve got some nerve, Utah.”

She stood on the board and did a perfect swan dive. I just dived off.

“Why the joke about marriage?” I asked.

“Who said I’m joking?”

She stood up at the board again. She addressed the line of swimmers waiting to dive. “For this next dive, I must have silence so that I may concentrate,” she announced dramatically with a slightly European accent. “This dive is one that my family has passed down from generation to generation. If you will be quiet, then I will do it for you today.”

A hush fell over the swimmers. She surveyed the pool. A waiter carrying food to a lounging couple stopped to wait. “So, I will do it.” She slowly approached the middle of the board, stopped, put her arms out, seeming to be reaching for psychological strength. Then, summoning courage, she raced to the edge of the board, jumped in the air, tucked in her knees, and did a cannonball.

Two or three times a week we went back to the Ferris wheel.

Near the end of August we were walking around a shopping center on a Saturday afternoon. We were in a large discount department store. We passed the maternity clothes.

“How many children do you want, Sam?”

“At least six.”

“So many? How come? Religious reasons?”

“That’s right.”

“Six kids. That’s a bunch.”

“They come one at a time. That way you can make all your mistakes on the first one.”

“Careful, fella, I was the first one,” she warned.

A while later we walked by the toy department and a row of dolls. She picked up six, but one fell down. “I can’t get six, Sam.” She put all but one of the dolls back. “I’ll be a good mother, Sam. When I was little I had a doll and she was no problem at all. I just said, ‘Go to bed and sleep,’ and she did. So six will be nothing.”

“You know, Charly, I’ve never really asked you to marry me.”

“I noticed that. Yes, sir, I have noticed that.”

We got what she needed, but on the way out I remembered I needed to get a coupling for our water hose. Since she was not really interested, we agreed to separate and then meet later. She suggested the jewelry counter.

I found the hardware section, found the coupling, and went back to the jewelry counter. She wasn’t there. I waited for five minutes and then started walking around to see if I could find her.

After 15 minutes of looking, I heard a strangely familiar voice over the P.A. system. “Sam, Sammy, you hear me? This is Mommy. The nice men let me talk to you on the big radio. Sammy wherever you are in this big store, stop and listen to Mommy.”

I looked around to see if anyone was looking at me.

“Sammy, if you can hear me, listen carefully. Remember when Mommy bought you a big bag of popcorn last week. Sam, go to the popcorn machine, and Mommy will be there. Do you understand? The popcorn place. Mommy will get you a big bag of popcorn. Mommy loves you, Sam.”

A man standing next to me grabbed a handkerchief and blew his nose. “Poor little guy,” he muttered to himself.

I walked over to the popcorn machine. There was Charly with a bag of popcorn in her hand.

I grabbed her arm and quickly escorted her out of the store.

“Sam, do you want some popcorn?” she asked. “You’re mad at me, aren’t you?”

“Get in the car.”

“I was a bad girl.”

“Why don’t you grow up, Charly? You think the world was made for your amusement?”

“Don’t preach to me, Sam. I’m sorry. Okay?”

I should have waited until I got control before I said anything, but I didn’t.

She didn’t defend herself but just sat there, holding that ridiculous bag of popcorn in her lap.

Then I said the thing that I shouldn’t have. “You’ve been talking about marriage. Well, I’m not ready for marriage and especially not to someone who hasn’t grown up yet.” I drove her home, and she opened the door by herself and ran up the walk alone to the door.

I sat and watched her go.

I suppose I figured I’d let her stew for a couple of days and then call her up and tell her she was forgiven. But on Monday when I called, her mother said that she’d decided to go back to Massachusetts early for school. She’d left that morning. Her mother told me that Charly didn’t want me to know where she was going, didn’t want me to write or call, and didn’t want to see me again.

After a week of long distance phone calls I was finally able to get her address. When I phoned, she hung up. I wrote to her several times. But she never answered. One day I got a large envelope with all my letters inside. None of them had been opened.

Then I quit my job and went back to school.

I tried to get in touch with her during Christmas vacation, but her parents went back to see her so she wasn’t in town.

In June I was back in town. My dad got me a job on the first floor of the same building, in line with additional schooling, I guess.

One day at work I got a phone call from my dad who now was on the ninth floor. “She’s back in town with a boy named Mark. I thought you might want to know.”

That night I drove by her house. There was a small sports car with Massachusetts license plates parked in the driveway. I drove around her block about 20 times trying to formulate a plan. Nothing came to mind, so I finally just parked and walked up to the door.

They were in the backyard. The door was open and I went in. I could see Charly through the kitchen window, standing next to a Harvard type gesturing with a pipe in one hand.

“I’ll be back in a minute. I’m going to change.” Charly left him, walked into the kitchen, and into the hall.

She saw me and stopped. “Sam?”

“Hi, Charly.”

“Are you real? For a minute there I thought you were the ghost of boyfriends past.”

“My dad told me you were back. They say it’s serious when she brings the guy home to meet the parents. Are you engaged?”

“I could be.”

“Do you love him?”

“You’re not supposed to ask that.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Would you like to meet Mark? He’s discovered a lot of investment opportunities right here in Utah. Maybe you two could work out a partnership.”

“No, I’d better go.” I started for the door.

Charly walked out with me. “Whatever happened to all those tickets we got for the Ferris wheel?”

“I still have them.”

“I thought you’d use them for your other dates.”

“No one else would understand.”

“Oh.”

We walked out to the jeep. “Did you ever get this thing out of four-wheel drive?” Charly asked.

“Sort of. Now I can’t get it into four-wheel drive.” We both smiled faintly.

“Why didn’t you answer my letters?” I asked.

“I guess I felt like I’d made a fool of myself and didn’t want to be reminded.”

I walked over to the right-hand side of the jeep, opened the glove compartment, and pulled out several faded, bent tickets.

“There are still a few left,” I said, walking back to her.

“I wonder if they’re still good,” she said. Then, so I wouldn’t misunderstand, she quickly added, “I mean, you should find someone else to use them with.”

“It wouldn’t be the same. I’ll just get rid of them,” I said, ripping one of them up, letting the pieces flutter to the ground.

“Don’t,” she said, grabbing the others.

Our eyes met.

“Charly, couldn’t we go somewhere and talk? Just to make sure things are the way we want them.”

“I can’t. It’s too late.”

“Maybe there’s nothing left between us, Charly. I don’t know. But I don’t want to spend the rest of my life wondering what would have happened if. If there’s nothing left, give me the piece of mind of knowing that.”

“What do I tell Mark?”

“Just leave a note saying you’re going for a ride, and you’ll explain when you get back.”

She went in the house and in a minute was back again.

We drove to the park, gave Mr. Raferty the rest of the tickets, and got in the Ferris wheel car.

“I was listening to Mark while I wrote the note. I think he just sold my dad an apartment building in Newton.”

“Then the trip out here won’t be a complete waste,” I said.

“Mark will someday be governor of Massachusetts. I’m sure of it.”

“He has a Word of Wisdom problem.”

“You’re always classifying people, aren’t you? Do all Mormons do that?”

“You’re a Mormon, remember?”

“You won’t believe this, but I have been going to Church. And I have asked Mark about taking the lessons. He thought that was very funny.”

“Are you in love with him?”

“I don’t know. I have a high regard for him.”

“That sounds pretty weak to me. You could say that about your milkman.”

“Don’t push me, Sam.”

“I’m just asking you to wait before you do anything dumb like getting engaged to him.”

“Why?”

“Well, for starters, he can’t take you to the temple. A marriage with him would have a built-in divorce clause. And I can’t forget you. Maybe at first you loved me more than I loved you. But I’ve had a year to catch up. Give me a chance.”

She started going through her old leather bag. “You never can find anything when you need it. I put Kleenex in here, and it’s there for months, but the minute I want it, it’s gone.”

“I have a clean handkerchief,” I volunteered.

She took it, and wiped her eyes. “My mother ordered a cake for a garden party we are going to have tomorrow for Mark. She knows I haven’t said yes to Mark yet, but the cake looks a lot like a wedding cake. She’s trying to talk me into making an announcement at the party. You know, she isn’t really that fond of you. What do we do about that?”

“Cake will freeze for months. Put it in the freezer until you decide.”

“What about Mark?”

“I don’t think you should freeze him. It’s up to you, though.”

Just then we noticed somebody arguing with Mr. Raferty. Charly scrunched down in her seat, but Mark had already seen her.

“I want this thing stopped! He’s kidnapped her!”

“I’m not stopping anything until their ride’s up. They’ve got ten more rides coming, and that’s what they’re going to get.”

Mark stormed away, walked to a pay phone, and made two phone calls.

“Charly, what did your note say?”

“I think it was, ‘Am being taken for a ride. Will explain later.’ Is that bad?”

“Not usually. But Mark thinks you’ve been kidnapped. He probably found the torn up Ferris wheel ticket and came here first.”

Mark stormed back to the Ferris wheel and began arguing with Mr. Raferty.

On our way down, Charly started to explain. But Mark lunged for me, missed, didn’t get away soon enough, and was struck on the shoulder by part of the frame. The blow threw him against Mr. Raferty. Raferty and Mark fell down and in the process broke off the speed control lever.

We started going very fast. I put my arms around Charly and held her close to me.

Raferty was knocked unconscious. Mark got up, looked around, grabbed a long pole, and crammed the pole into the gear mechanism. The pole jerked out of his hand, throwing him against the ground. Suddenly the pulley for the drive mechanism snapped, and the Ferris wheel slowed down and stopped.

A few minutes later the police arrived, apparently called by Mark from a pay phone earlier. A police ambulance took away Mark and Mr. Raferty, unconscious.

Then Charly’s mother and dad arrived.

Charly stood up to yell that everything was okay, but the motion caused one of the other cars to break loose and fall to the ground.

That was when the police told us not to move around and to be quiet.

“Roberts, I want you to throw down the weapon you used against the Ferris wheel operator and this girl’s boyfriend. I don’t want you harming the girl.”

“No, I don’t ever want to do that,” I said to Charly.

“Roberts, you’ve already got a charge of kidnapping against you. Don’t make it worse. Throw down the weapon.”

“Sam, you’re not cooperating.”

“I don’t have a weapon.”

“Let’s see if I can help.” She opened her bag, and we sifted through the stuff she carried in it. Finally we found a pair of scissors, which we tossed down. It seemed to please everybody.

In a few minutes a fire truck with a ladder pulled close to the Ferris wheel. “Miss, just reach slowly and grab hold. I’ll have you down in no time,” the fireman on the extended ladder told Charly.

“If I jumped, I’d be down in no time. Let’s go very slowly. See you, Sam.”

In a minute I was back down on the ground also. After Charly talked to the police and after we called the hospital and had Mr. Raferty and Mark explain things, they undid the handcuffs.

On our way to the hospital, Charly explained to her parents that she probably would get engaged, but not at the party the next day, and maybe not to Mark.

“But what about the cake?” her mother asked.

“Freeze it,” Charly and I answered.

That’s just what we did.

[photos] Photos by Cam Anderson and Paul Proctor

[illustrations] Illustrated by Peggy Proctor