The boys dangled their feet off the raft. On all sides, sparkling like an emerald was the lake. The forest, lush and alive, encompassed the shoreline and beyond the dappled green fringe was a cloudless dome of infinite blue.
“Are you okay, Chris?” Eddy said.
“You’re not talking much.”
“I’m not looking forward to going back tomorrow.”
“Maybe you could call your Mom and ask her if you can stay until the end of the week?” Billy said. “Then we can all go home together.”
“I’ve got to do my paper route.”
“Could you get the guy to do it a few extra days?” Eddy said.
“I need the money, Eddy. My Mom can’t afford to buy me clothes and stuff for school like yours can.”
The raft drifted with the hint of current toward the south end of the lake. A crow called from shore, and it’s shrill cry echoed in the stillness.
“Do you guys ever think about the future?” Chris said.
“We can make KD for dinner tonight,” Billy said.
“I let my Mom worry about the future,” Eddy said
“I’ve been thinking about it, and it sucks.”
Billy and Eddy were quiet.
Next year Chris would start high school and probably take shops so he could learn a trade since there wasn’t any money to go to university even if he had the grades to get in. When he graduated, he’d get a job, probably one he hated, with a miserable boss always on his back. He’d get married, because everybody seemed to, and then he’d slog through the week, go shopping and do chores at home Saturday, go to the Legion Saturday night, and recover Sunday so he’d be ready for work on Monday - at a job he hated.
It wasn’t like he’d ever be able to save enough money to do what he wanted. If he was lucky he might afford a used car, maybe the bank would lend him a down payment on a broken down house that would take all his extra earnings for upkeep and any extra time in keeping “up appearances” for the neighbours – lawn mowed, steps painted and stuff like that.
And what about kids? They’d always be wanting something he couldn’t afford, they’d get sick, they wouldn’t behave. No wonder his Dad drank and his Mom was always nervous and angry.
There had to be a different way to live, a better life, maybe like Graham did.
“I wonder if a person could live differently?” Chris said.
“What do you mean differently,” Eddy said.
“Not like our parents.”
“Who’d want to?” Billy said.
“I’ve got a trust fund from my Dad’s insurance to pay for university,” Eddy said. “My mom wants me to be a lawyer, or maybe a doctor.”
“How could you be a doctor, you can’t even gut a fish, how could you do an operation?” Billy said.
“What do you want to be, Eddy?” Chris said.
“I don’t know. I like music.”
“My Dad wants me to get a government job,” Billy said. “He used to work in construction, but sometimes he got laid off. Now he works for the city repairing the roads and sewers and stuff. There’s always work and good benefits, plus a pension when you’re old.”
“Maybe if you didn’t get married and didn’t have kids you wouldn’t have to work all the time.”
“Can you do that?” Eddy said. “Who’d clean the house and cook dinner?”
“You mean be a bum?” Billy said.
“Don’t you want to have a car and a television and stuff?”
“Not if it means spending my life working at something I hate. And what good is a pension when you're too old to enjoy life?”
His friends were silent. I’m ruining the day, Chris thought, but he couldn’t get rid of his bad mood, his feeling of gloom.
“What do you want to do, Chris?” Eddy said.
“I think maybe I’d like to be a writer.”
“A writer? You mean like write books?” Billy looked at him like he was crazy. “Is that a job?”
“You’re really good,” Eddy said. “Mrs. Stafford always reads your compositions out loud to the class.”
It made Chris feel funny in a good way when she did that. He’d wanted to learn more and had responded to an advertisement in a magazine where you could take a correspondence course to be a writer. He got a letter back, and they said his submission was excellent and their representative would be in touch to work out the details.
The details included a contract for three years at twelve dollars a month. Chris made enough (barely) from his paper route to pay it, but since he was a minor, his mother would have had to co-sign. She refused.
The woman representing the company asked his Mom if she didn’t want her son to achieve his dreams? His Mom said she had enough trouble just putting food on the table and Chris would need that twelve dollars for necessities.
Once the woman left, his Mom went on a rant about “who did she think she was, a bloody salesperson just like your father” until Chris went outside so he couldn’t hear her. When he returned for dinner, she’d calmed down.
“Start thinking about a real job and put that writing nonsense out of your head,” she’d said when she sat down at the table with him and his little brother, Petey. “You don’t want to end up a dreamer like your father.”
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