What follows are the opening pages of my short story. The story itself is about four times as long as this excerpt. I need some guidance with this section. Comments and suggestions will be appreciated.

A Seventeen Year Olds Search for Manhood

In 1949, innocence was still within my reach, or so it seemed. I was beginning my final year at Roosevelt High School; I was a seventeen years old; I was a boy testing the waters of manhood.

My life had touch points with four families: my family of origin, my adopted family, my peer group family, and my family within. Each of these families had its own rules of conduct; each its own persona, each its own domain of influence. Each gave me more than I deserved; none gave me more than I wanted; all gave me more than they took away.

My adopted family included six people: two coworkers and their wives, and the owner of Red & White Grocery—where I worked after school and on Saturdays—and his wife. The owner called me “Bugger” in a way that made his name for me sound worse than it was. I hated it. My adopted brothers and sisters were kinder and called me by my name.

The Jacksons had a special affection for me, which made it easy for me to adopt them, although they never knew they were adopted. My red was what Mrs. Jackson liked most about me. For Mr. Jackson, it was my work ethic.

Since Mrs. Jackson didn’t drive, I was her chauffer—something I looked forward to because this gave me the keys to Mr. Jackson’s most treasured possession: his 1949 Buick Road Master. Besides Mr. Jackson, I was the only one who ever drove it. On the way the beauty shop one day, Mrs. Jackson said, “If Joseph and I had had children, I would have wanted them to be redheads.”

“It’s not all that great being a redhead,” I answered.

“Why ever would you say that?” she said.

“When you have red hair, everybody knows you, but nobody knows your name,” I said.

“Oh now, is that all bad?” she said.

“Well, it is if they call you red-on-the-hear or carrot top or bugger-red,” I said.

“Oh I know it bothers you that Joseph calls you Bugger,” she said. “He only does it because he likes you so much. He does like you, probably more than you know. Can’t you see how he treats you differently than the other employees? You must know that you’re the only one he would ever let get behind the wheel of this car. Even if I could drive, I doubt that he would let me drive it.”

“Yes ma’am,” I said. “Still I wish he would call me by my name.” By now we were at the beauty shop.

“Pick me up in an hour, and we’ll get a milk shake before you go back to work,” she said. This was the best part of chauffeuring Mrs. Jackson to her various appointments—an hour to cruise the neighborhood, drop by friends houses, and pretend. I only did this when I wanted to show off. Even then, I felt guilty. Most of the time I went back to work during the interim.

Mr. Jackson did like me more than any of the other employees. I was always on time, worked late if need be, had good rapport with the customers, took no breaks, and most of all did my job when he was not there. When he returned from his vacation—three days—he said, “Bugger, I can see that you’ve been busy while I was gone—rotated all the can goods stock.”

“Yes sir,” I said.

“The others don’t do much while I’m gone, do they?” he asked.

I couldn’t bring myself to answer, because he was talking about my adopted brothers. My silence though was answer enough.

“Well, I want you to know that I appreciate your loyalty. Here’s $5.00 and the keys to the Ford. Take your girl to the movie tonight,” he said. He knew I didn’t have a girl, but he wanted me to. This no doubt was his gentle way of urging me to ask Julie, a cute neighborhood girl that I was crazy about, for a date.

I was more than crazy about Julie; I was in love with her. I was more than in love with her; she was my first love. I thought about her, dreamed about her, fanaticized about her. She was always on my mind. That she was three years younger didn’t matter. I wanted her, not for sex, but for a girl friend. Mr. Jackson wanted that. My adopted brothers wanted that, but they would have included sex. My entire adopted family could see it in my eyes when she came into the store.

First loves may be lost, but they are never forgotten. And when that love is not returned, the lover builds an even stronger case for the one loved. A love not returned distorts feelings about the one love as well as about the lover. Being shy only amplifies the feelings. And I was shy, and I was in love, and my love was not returned.

Even though Julie and I dated, we didn’t date often. What few dates we had left me feeling that she was with me for my sake and not hers. We had everything in common; yet, we had nothing in common. The only passion I felt for her was when we were not together. Absenteeism fed my desire for her.

She was not as pretty as I painted her in my mind. She was not as popular as some other girls I tried to date. She was not as style conscious as other girls her age—a boy’s leather jacket was her coat of choice. Yet she was my first love, and I never forgot her. I lost her, but I she remained a memory.

One day she came to the store to shop for her mother. When she checked out, I jumped at the opportunity to walk her groceries home—a routine task for those who lived only a few blocks from the store. On the way we talked. I waited for just the right moment and then said, “How about a movie tonight?”

“Oh, I’d like to but I can’t,” she said.

“Something you can’t get out of?” I asked.

“Yeah, I have to stay home. School night, you know,” she said.

“What about Friday night?” I asked.

“Sorry. I already have a date,” she said. By now the conversation was a little awkward.

When we got to her house, I put the groceries on the kitchen table, and she went to her room. Her father, whose first name we shared, was sitting at the kitchen table with a bottle of whiskey as I unbagged the groceries. Julian was a mechanic at Jack Roach Ford across and a short distance down the street from Red & White Grocery. Pouring himself a straight shot of whiskey, he invited me to sit down.

“Something going on between you and Julie?” he asked.

“No sir, I just wanted to take her to a movie, but she turned me down,” I said.

“Well, don’t take it personally. She likes you, I can tell you that,” he said. Getting up from the table, he got another glass from the drain board, poured an inch of whiskey in it, pushed it over to me, and said, “Here. Drink this. It’ll make you feel better. Take it from me, women seldom tell you the truth. I know my daughter, and I know she like you.”

Liking what he was saying, I tilted the glass to my lips. It was my first taste of alcohol, and it burned my throat. I smacked my lips to show my manliness. “I like Julie to, and I wish she would stop putting me off. If she likes me, then why doesn’t she show it?” I said.

“Give her time. She will, she will,” he said. His speech was becoming more slurred as he refilled both glasses. Then to my amazement, he called out, “Julie, come here. Tell Julian how much you like him.”

Even though the alcohol was beginning to have its effects on me, I was embarrassed, and I saw immediately that Julie was humiliated. “Oh daddy, he knows that. He knows what a good friend he is to me,” she said. Not very convincingly, and “a good friend” was not what I wanted to be. Yet the moment, forced on her by her drunken father, could not have been redeemed by anything she could have said.

Within minutes, I made an excuse to get back to work, staggered the two blocks back to the store, and hid out in the stock room until quitting time.

Yes, it was Julie that Mr. Jackson had in mind when he said, “Here’s $5.00 and the keys to the Ford. Take your girl to the movie tonight.” The girl was more my fantasy than the 1935 Ford. My adopted bothers and I loved this car. Mr. Jackson had received it in payment of a delinquent grocery bill by one of our customers. Since none of my adopted siblings nor I had a car, we yearned for the times when Mr. Jackson would offer it to us. With it, the town belonged to us. Five made us look like circus clowns climbing out of it.

One of the things I liked most about my job at Red & White Grocery was delivering groceries. Most of the time, I simply walked the groceries home with the customer, as I had done with Julie, since almost everybody lived within walking distance. There were a few people who lived in Manchester, a community closer to the ship channel than the store. And too, we sold large amounts of groceries to a half dozen tug boats. In those cases, I made the deliveries in a 1938 Chevy panel truck. It was not a pretty thing, but I enjoyed driving it. I learned how to shift from first to second and from second to third and from third back to second and from second back to first without using the clutch. It was just a matter of having everything in sync and at the right speed before shifting. On some occasions, I ground the gears.

The tub boat deliveries were my favorites, and I tried to arrange to be at the dock at meal time. Tub boat crews ate well, and their Filipino cooks were good and fed me well because I was so complimentary. “You sit right there. I fix you a steak,” one said.

“I want to work as a deck hand on a tub boat next summer,” I said.

“You too young,” the cook reminded me.

A police officer who patrolled the area around Red & White Grocery seemed to enjoy in intimidating me. Mr. Jackson loved for him to come in the store. On every visit, Mr. Jackson gave him a handful of Roy Tan cigars. Payola for the officer’s keeping a lookout on the store. I figured him for more than Roy Tans if Mr. Jackson had offered. I didn’t have a real good feeling about this officer. On most of his visits, he made his way to where I was stocking groceries and said, “I saw you speeding down Manchester the other day. You need to slow it down boy.” The way he said “boy” was more demeaning than Bugger-Red. He made it sound like the only reason he was letting me off was because he was doing a favor for Mr. Jackson. I usually shot him the finger as soon as his back was turned.

The first crisis in my adopted family came when Mary Ann Jenkins, a neighborhood girl, became pregnant. The whole community was abuzz with the news whose headlines carried my name. A lawyer, for one of the accused, told my parents that I was one of three names given by Mary Ann. The crisis now spread to another of my families. As a seventeen year old, I was on the verge of becoming a victim of my own innocence. With my trust on the line, I gave assurance to my parents, and they never doubted me. Not so with my adopted family. Mr. Jackson asked many questions before restoring to me his mantle of his trust. My adopted brothers didn’t even ask; they just assumed I was the one. The accusal assured them that I was a normal seventeen year old.

The issue was never resolved for some people, and from that moment on, a crack existed in the neighborhood community. After the baby was born, one woman told me to my face that the baby was redheaded. That was convincing enough for her.

This was my community. The neighborhood provided me boundaries where I felt both judged and accepted, believed and doubted, part boy and part man. It was a typical 1949 community. The store employees were my adopted family where I was the youngest child, benefiting from my adopted position, conforming to my adopted family’s expectations, trusting what I heard and believing what I saw. It was an untypical family. The two had a profound effect on my journey into uncharted waters.
Well as far as guidance goes; the story has no particular flaws. There are few grammatical and spelling mistakes and the story seems to flow quite well. There are lots of insightful ideas and a fair dose of good imagery in the text and so it keeps moving pretty well.

The only criticism I may have is that there is no marked predicament in the story and that may deprive the story of excitement. Also while I think I understand the 'adopted family' concept, you could explain it a little better.

All in all it kept me interestedEmotion: smile!

By the way what Manchester are you referring to?

Thanks for your input. I knew when I posted this excerpt that I had not "upset the equilibrium" enough to create the excitement you suggest. Your confirmation of that will help me come up with a "marked predicament" that I hope will help keep the reader's attention. I am currently revising this beginning and should have a new post in the next few days.

Thanks for your help.


By the way, Manchester is a small community on the east side of Houston, Texas. I doubt that it's the one that my story brought to your memory.
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
Ah I figured that about the Manchester in the story.

Excellent I'm looking forward to it!