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The 1950s

by Wesley McNair


“Let’s take the car after school,” the two girls
would say, which meant they wanted to be taken
by it, the top down, the wind surfing over
the wrap-around window. The stepdaughter,

Carol, always drove, just as her new stepfather
insisted, and while her girlfriend Debbie listened
for the lighter to pop out from the dash
and with its tiny, interior hotplate lit menthol

cigarettes one by one for both of them, they thought
about how the boys would admire them.
When they drove into their station at the A&W
and Carol unhooked the mic to order their Cokes

pushing back her shoulder-length hair to reveal
her long throat, she thought she resembled
a popular singer. “Beautiful,” was the word
the boys used to describe the car as they gathered

around it, stroking its curves and sometimes
asking if they could see what was under
the hood. Then they looked into Carol’s amazing
and frightening blue eyes, or Debbie’s warm,

compliant ones, the door or fender giving them a way
to steady themselves. All of that was OK
with the stepfather, who only required that they let
no boys inside, or they could never borrow

the car again. Handsome like a man, he really wasn’t
much more than a boy himself and, not wanting to be
anyone’s father, told them to call him “Petey.”
As he said goodbye in his T-shirt some afternoons,

leaning comfortably into the open window of his new
Chevy convertible, he would call Debbie
“Ginger Snap,” and his stepdaughter, his favorite,
with a knowing wink, “Angel Pie.” He was proud

of the sinuous Hawaiian woman in green he wore
on his muscular forearm and the darker tattoo
in cursive letters of his own name underneath, the same
tattoo he had his new wife ink on the inside

of her ankle. “Don’t you go changing on me,”
he would say with a smile before they headed out
the driveway and the motion rose in their ears, but
the two in the car were already changing, Debbie,

who hoped each day at the A&W for a certain
cute boy to return her gaze, and Carol, in distress
because she couldn’t quite get the muscular forearm
and the wink out of her mind even after she touched

her cigarette to the lighter and took a deep drag
and tried to find a good station on the radio.

 

Donald Hall once said of Wesley McNair that “because he is a true poet, his New England is unlimited.” Mr. McNair's most recent books are Fire (Godine, 2002) and Mapping the Heart: Reflections on Place and Poetry (Carnegie-Mellon, 2002). He directs the creative writing program at the University of Maine at Farmington. (5/03)


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