Monday, August 29, 2011

Tuesday Tales: "Small Town Veneer"

This is a short literary type story - a switch from my usual romance or speculative work - using this week's prompt "marching band".  I think it owes a lot to the annual football homecoming parade in the small town where I live and also to my lifelong refusal to think that the high point of anyone's life should be in high school.

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Small Town Veneer
by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy
Late afternoon sun filtered through the branches of the massive oak trees that stood like sentinels on the courthouse lawn as the parade moved around each side of the Square.  Sunlight danced across her freckle-dappled hands as Keisha waved one hand at the crowds.  With her other, she reached up to touch the tiara that crowned her light brown hair. Although her posture on the back deck of a convertible had poise, she wanted to dance.  Wild, positive energy charged her as she waved to the crowds who had gathered to watch the annual homecoming parade.  This was her moment of glory and the sole thing that might exceed it would be if she were crowned queen at halftime of tonight’s football game.  At seventeen, Keisha had hit the pinnacle and little in her life to follow would soar so high.

     All ages had gathered for the annual rite.  Elementary age children chased one another beneath the oaks while toddlers cavorted in the grass with their clumsy, too wide gait.  Elderly men with cragged faces and eyes alight with the remembered victory of their own footballs seasons stood along the street as groups.  Their high voices quibbled over the merits of this year’s team and celebrated their own triumphs.  No team since had ever equaled their senior team and none ever would.

     Matrons – although not a woman there would have chosen the old-fashioned label – with hips widened by child bearing held the hands of excited children.  Some held babies on one hip or snug against their breast.  Among them, the one time homecoming and prom queens attempted to resurrect their long ago glory with stylish clothing and heavy cosmetics.  Some squeezed into too tight jeans and brightened their fading hair with new gold.  Others didn’t bother and stood with faces clean, eyes clear in calm contemplation.  These were the women who would go home to cook supper for a husband and stair stepped children.  Even among these were smiles in remembrance of the high holy high school years.

     Merchants suspended business to watch the parade, the home-crafted floats with tropical palms and Chinese paper hats, the bands that marched out of step blaring fight songs to rally the hometown team to victory, and the queen candidates.  As the line of new vehicles paraded past with the quiet purr of expensive automobiles, some of the men lusted at the young women, breasts high and firm beneath their formal gowns.  They ogled the lean line of leg revealed beneath the cocktail dresses, the red satin and the black velvet.  A few preferred the cheerleaders in their abbreviated skirts and sweaters, pom-poms bouncing with their perky gait and mindless smiles.

     The short parade began with one of the town’s fire trucks and an ear-irritating hoot of the siren.  Last in the lineup came the larger of the two trucks, this one laden with the heroes, the varsity football team.  With one great voice, the crowd cheered the boys, a wordless cry of joy, pride, and victory.  It was a barbaric sound; a noise like Roman crowds made to welcome gladiators into the ring. 

     If high school in a small town is everything, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, then football ranks high.  Football is the high priest, the communal altar at which small town folk gather to worship.  Football is the tie that binds.  It is the past, present, future of these folks.  High school becomes for them the standard by which all is measured for the entirety of their lives.

     High school is the common denominator.  It’s important who were classmates, who graduated the same year, who dated, who married just out of high school, what teachers were shared, and what activities were pursued.  Ten, twenty, thirty, even fifty years later, former students in one area disdain students in others.   High school lines are an invisible network that runs across the grain of any small town, vital and valuable.

     Keisha knew nothing of these things.  When the parade ended, she rushed from the car into the courthouse.  Like the other girls – Ryanna, Jasmine, Dorothy, and Cyndy – she took out her compact to check her appearance.  With a fresh application of lipstick stick and a dusting of powder, she snapped it shut after a last glance at the mirror.  When she linked her bare arm through Brandon Maulward’s, she shivered.  His skin was warm to the touch and he smelled of some rich, exotic men’s cologne like Aramis.  The aroma from smoked cigarettes blended into the fragrance until it was heady.  Pheromones wafted from his body and engaged her senses until her heart fluttered.

     He escorted her through the double doors of the east door and down the stone steps where a phalanx of R.O.T.C. cadets waited.  As they approached, the cadets raised silver sabers into an arch and Keisha passed beneath them.  The act fed her feeling of importance and she felt like a queen from an old storybook, beautiful and desirable.  Her wanton pride caused her to step down on the high heels of the sandals she wore and to move with wicked, carnal movements.  As Brandon led her to a seat of honor that faced the cheering crowd, she waved to the crowds with the perfect smile practiced before the mirror.

     Today was the pinnacle of her life, the one moment of shining glory that would guide her through all the long years that would succor her during her mediocre career as society editor of the local newspaper, and cast a golden, magical illusion of joy over her youth.  Nothing would achieve the heights of this moment again, not her wedding with six attendants in puce gowns or the birth of her twins seven months later.  This was it, the moment, and Keisha reigned, unaware that her fame was a thin veneer spread over nothing.

Tuesday Tales:


  1. I really liked the buildup and her
    own self importance! Nice twist at
    the end!

  2. you paint a picture with your words!!

  3. Beautifully written, Lee Ann, including the ending on a sad note.


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