scholars and rogues

Peacocks

by Terry Hargrove

In April of 2004, mom decided it was time to clean out my old room, unoccupied and almost untouched since 1978. I was going to bring home what I could and toss the rest, so Nancy and I hopped into the truck, and made the 23 mile drive to the Hargrove Homestead. As we sped over the crest of Lookout Ridge, we came upon a peacock. He was standing in the middle of my lane, with his feathers out in a glorious display, impressing two pea fowls who were on the side of the road. The peacock didn’t see me. He was focused on the females, and his feathers ruffled and swayed, and undulated, and the females’ heads bobbed in appreciation. When my truck struck the peacock, the females fainted at the wondrous display.

“Well,” I said. “We’ve learned something today.”

“Yes,” said Nancy. “Peacocks explode on impact.”

I didn’t meet Nancy until I was 38 years old. This timing worked to my benefit, since I wasn’t considered an adult by any fair standard until I was in my mid-30s. Still, she wonders what I was like before middle age and gray hair settled on me. Mom was always bragging on how I was a good student who hardly ever caused any serious trouble. That’s what moms do. Later, as we went through all the memorabilia of long ago, in the drafty corner of the attic that had been my personal fortress of solitude, Nancy started asking questions.

“What kind of person were you in high school?” she asked.

“I was captain of the football team,” I responded with pride. “I still don’t know how that happened, but it’s in the yearbook, if we can find it. Page 55. Actually, I was one of four captains. I kissed the Homecoming Queen. Strawberry lipstick she wore.”

“Uh huh. But Yoda, what kind of person were you?”

“Senior class president,” I added. “Class of 1973. I actually beat a guy who went to Vanderbilt on a basketball scholarship. His name was Spence. He was a great guy. I don’t remember why I ran, and I‘ll never understand how I won. Got my picture in the Lewisburg Tribune. They spelled my name wrong. I think I’m supposed to be in charge of reunions, but I had a great vice president, and she takes care of all that stuff. I really should go to one of those reunions.”

“You aren’t telling me anything,” she huffed. “Where are your old pictures? Yearbooks and things like that. Did you ever go to a prom?”

“A prom?” I scoffed. “Are you kidding? I didn’t go to A prom. I went to seven proms. Look, here is my prom picture shelf. I need to dust these off. You can see how my hair waxed and waned. The ’70s were a crazy time, and I was in the Navy in ’74 and ’75. Here I am in 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, and 1978. That was my last prom. It was time.”

“But you graduated in 1973.”

“Yeah. So?”

Nancy began to wave her hands in front of her face and shake her head. She always does that when she doesn’t understand something, like the rules for hockey or my marriage proposal.

“It was like this,” I said. “In the ’70s, nobody cared who a girl took to the prom. Society had other distractions like gas shortages, the war, and Billy Carter. You didn’t have to take a classmate. An older alum was an OK date, as long as it wasn’t somebody who was on parole, or who fired off a shotgun at graduation. Now, back in the ’70s, I had the reputation of being a bad boy. That was very prestigious for a guy, and made a lot a girls want to take me to prom, to get even with old flames, or something. But it was just a reputation. ‘The bubble reputation,’ as Shakespeare put it. I was harmless. The teachers knew that, so did the principals. So I was viewed as a reliable and calming influence at all the proms I attended.”

“Why did you stop going after 1978?”

“Had to. I got married.”

“I can see how that would slow a bad boy down,” she laughed. “But what about these pictures. Where did they come from?”

“My prom dates sent them to me,” I said. “Except for the first two. She-Whose- Name-Must-Not-Be-Spoken refused to have a professional photographer take our prom picture. Something about not wanting the evidence floating around.”

“Oh,” said Nancy. “You mean Car…”

“Stop!” I demanded.

“…mine?”

“Don’t!” I repeated. “I took a vow. Now, Unspeakable Person’s opposite can be found here.”

“You have a picture of Lurlene?” Nancy asked. “I thought you made her up. What kind of name is Lurlene, anyway?”

“No, she was real, and it‘s a fine name,” I said. I reached over and pulled my personal favorite prom photo from the shelf. It was the 1976 Bicentennial Prom. I was with Lurlene, and I looked fabulous in my powder-blue leisure suit. But the years that mutate fashion had also warped the picture frame, and as I was pulling it toward me, our photo slipped out, and revealed another photo that was behind it. It was a glossy 5 X 7 of Lurlene and some dude sitting side by side. They were holding hands.

“What the… who is this guy and why is he sitting with my Lurlene?” I demanded.

“That is sad,” added Nancy.

“It’s worse than sad,” I sighed. “I’ve been oggling this photo for almost 30 years. It was a lie. A sham. I thought she was special.”

“That’s not what I meant,” said Nancy, who tossed the photo on the floor and glared at me. “It’s sad that Lurlene has to go through the rest of her life, knowing that her high school prom photo is with some guy in a powder-blue leisure suit. That is worse than sad.”

As we drove home, all was quiet in the car. Nancy stared straight ahead, so to fight the silence, I cut loose a torrent of anger at Lurlene, so unfaithful, who must have placed the second photo there on purpose. She wanted me to find it. But I was jumpy. I kept feeling like something was approaching at high speed. It was very close now, and it was inevitable, and would strike with a fury that just might tear me to pieces, or at the very least, destroy the rest of my weekend.

Categories: scholars and rogues

Tagged as:

2 replies »

  1. The hitting of the peacock, I’m sure, was an accident, correct? You do not explicitly state that it was, but I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt. I have narrowly avoided hitting many animals in my long career of driving, but I did hit exactly one. It was a ferret, or weasel, that was being chased by a cat, in the wee hours of a saturday morning. It happened so fast, I had no time to hit the brakes. It moved like lightning. I barely saw the flash of movement before my tires rolled over it. When I saw what I had hit, I could not believe it. What the hell was a ferret or weasel doing in Brookline, MA, in the wee hours of a random saturday morning?

  2. Tell your wife that your prom date was fortunate to have a guy wearing a powder blue leisure suit. My prom date will, forever after, be forced to live with the godawful brown tux that I was wearing.

    In my defense, she made me wear it. She picked it out because it went with her dress.

    As I have pointed out many times through the years, I didn’t peak as a human being until well after high school…