AFTER AUGUST, fourth excerpt

Once Corinne got the hang of driving, it was like dope to her. She couldn’t get enough of it. That was fine with me, because it meant I could buy a six-pack and just sit in the passenger seat and ride. One thing that I had loved to do ever since I was a teenager was to ride around at night and drink beer. Between the end of tight money in the Depression and the start of gas rationing in the war, I never did get my fill of it.

I didn’t like to drive when I was drinking, I just liked to ride. It had been a long time since I had been friends with anybody who liked to drive just to be driving. I guess it was a kid trick and they all grew up on me. And then I moved to Florida on top of that.

After August, Corinne drove me all over those beaches, as far north as Atlantic Beach and as far south as the Oasis Restaurant, which sat right on the beach sand just south of Ponte Vedra. We covered every street in between. About two nights a week we’d go riding after work. We worked six nights a week, but only the eight-hour shifts. Business was way off and the waitresses were taking turns getting off way before the restaurant closed. Corinne would work late the nights she wanted to drive around. Dawson was even talking about starting up a five-day week, just like an office, so everybody could get some hours in and two days at a time off. When Dawson got started breaking tradition, he was hard to stop.

The kitchen was like a tomb, almost. It was getting where I could finish all the Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock and Mike Shayne mystery magazines by the middle of the month, and had to start buying paperbacks again. It got so slow I would occasionally sneak one of the girls’ True Confessions off to the john. I must have read everything right down to all the classified ads in the Jacksonville evening paper every night.

One night was really bad. From seven to eight p.m. there wasn’t a single customer. It was three weeks into September. The first full-moon tide had got the marsh hen hunting off to a good start, but everything else outdoors was dead, even the bluefishing. Dawson was going to go marsh hen shooting on the morning high tide, so he said what the hell and told us all to shut up early and go home.

Corinne had that look like let’s go drive up a tank of gas, and I was ready.

“Let’s go riding,” I said.

She was just like a kid. “You really want to?”

“Let’s go. We’ve got all night, and I can already taste the beer.”

I drove by the package store, got two six packs at the drive-in window and then got out of the car and went around. She slid over.

“Watch out for the county fuzz,” the drive-in guy, Eddy, told me. “They’re keeping an eye on the drive-ins. Easy pickin’s, you know.”

“Right,” I said. I got out my church key and popped one open. It foamed up and made little bubble-bursting sounds.

“Just be careful,” Eddy said.

“It doesn’t matter,” Corinne said, looking up at him. “I don’t drink. I just drive.”

He did a double take. “Come again?”

“Let’s go, Corinne,” I put in. “Good night, Eddy.”

She pulled out. “What’s so funny now?” she wanted to know.

I was grinning. I drank off half the can in two long swallows and slid down in the seat. I felt good.

“Don’t try to tell people things they are never in a million years going to believe,” I said. “It makes them think that you think they’re stupid and they get mad with you.”

“What would he never in a million years believe?”

“That you just want to go driving, and never have a beer. You can’t expect a package store guy to believe that.”

“Well it’s none of his business anyway,” she said.

We turned onto A1A and started down toward Ponte Vedra. The moon was almost full, fat and silver and a little lopsided now, just like a tropic moon in a Technicolor movie.

“He was just trying to be friendly,” I said. “Sometimes the county deputies will charge you even if you’re not drinking, if there’s open stuff in the car.”

“They can’t do that,” she said. She always kept both hands firmly on the wheel at the ten o’clock and two o’clock position, and her full attention on the road. “That’s against the law,” she added. It was, too, in those days.

“Honey,” I said, “they are the law.”

“My name’s not Honey,” she said to the windshield. “And no they ain’t the law, either.”

“Well, if they ain’t, who is?”

“The Constitution of the United States,” she said grandly, like a Catholic calling on Mary.

I laughed.

“You think that’s funny?” she said in her dangerous voice.

I finished the beer and lobbed the can out into the ditch. We were coming into the long double row of expensive houses along both sides of A1A where Ponte Vedra started. I opened another.

“You sound like a barracks lawyer,” I said.

“I know what that is. I saw it in a movie about the Army. That’s a soldier who knows all the regulations and makes the sergeants go by them.”

“Not exactly,” I said. “They don’t make anybody do anything. They can’t, because they’re nothing but soldiers. Mostly they just try to hide behind the regulations to get out of things they don’t want to do.”

“You think I’m trying to hide behind the Constitution of the United States?”

“I just had a picture of you pulling that crap about the Constitution of the United States on a county deputy.”

“What do you mean?”

“You really don’t think he’d pay any attention to that crap, do you?”

“He’d better, by God! He is a public servant, and he’d better act like one, or he won’t be one for long.”

“What if he told you to get out and walk a straight line?”

“I’d tell him to go straight to hell.”

We rode a way farther. The houses got bigger and more spread out. Almost every one of them had two Cadillacs or sometimes an Oldsmobile or a Lincoln Continental parked in front. Rich Floridians didn’t drive foreign cars in those days.

“I believe you would tell them that,” I said finally.

“The law is to protect innocent citizens, not harass them!”

“All right,” I said. I finished my second beer, tossed out the can and got another from the floorboards.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” she said.


“Throw those beer cans on people’s lawns.”

“It don’t hurt ’em any. They’re rich. Most of ’em have a permanent yard man.”

“So what? How would you like it if they threw cans in your yard?”

“I’d never notice,” I said. Here she went in another direction, defending the poor defenseless rich.

“Just because you wouldn’t mind it doesn’t mean they don’t. You still shouldn’t do it.”

“All right, I give up,” I said.

I liked her to take me in hand that way. It made it even better than just riding and drinking the beer. That was great, but it was even better when she started trying to re-raise me according to Georgia standards of conduct. She was pretty stubborn, but this time I was betting she couldn’t change my ways very much. I never told her I was betting against her, though. Knowing there were odds against it would have really got her started on me.

I tossed my third can on the floorboards in back. She just nodded and smiled, and I was glad I had. Before I was half-through my fourth can, we were down at the Oasis.

“Stop a while,” I said.

She looked at her watch. “All right. Fifteen minutes.” She wheeled us over into the far side of the parking lot. I had already taught her about not trying to drive on soft sand.

“You sound like you’re on a timetable,” I said.

“My daddy waits up for me,” she said. Her tone of voice closed the subject. I looked out at the ocean.

Remember all the old romantic tourist crap about a Florida moon on the Atlantic? It isn’t crap. It especially isn’t crap when you’re beginning to feel the result of drinking too many beers too close together, and you’re with a woman on a deserted beach. Sometimes that silver on the moving water can just get to you.

After Christine and Sally were gone, I used to drive to the Oasis after work to sit and think and keep from going back to that empty apartment. Sometimes, sober, the night ocean was almost too much to look at. I would leave and head for an all-night truck stop where everybody knew me and played a lot of loud jukebox music.

Tonight, though, I was protected from that kind of lonesome feeling because I was with Corinne. It made the moonlight all right again. It was like it had been waiting here all those other times to look at it through the beer with her there in the dark behind the steering wheel.

“It sure is pretty,” I said.

“Ben used to tell me that I should see the moon come up behind those Oklahoma hills where he was born,” she said. “Ben was my first husband. He was a real cowboy, had a horse and everything. There was a song out called Those Oklahoma Hills Where I Was Born. When he sang it, he sounded just like Ernest Tubb. He said kiyotes yodeled at the moon out there just like in the Western movies.”

“What did you say back?”

She snorted, but not with the usual energy. “I told him the moon was just as pretty over the backyard of 1617 Central Way.”

“Where’s that?”

“In Macon, Georgia.”

“Is the moon as pretty over 1617 Central Way as it is right here?”

She started to say something and then shut her mouth. It was like she was trying to get what she was saying exactly right.

“Well it was pretty, even in Macon. But I don’t go for that romantic hogwash.”

I just sipped my beer. I felt almost lost in that hammered silver radiance on the water. I read something once about silversmiths and hammered silver. The moon on the water looked just like hammered silver sounds, if it meant something to break your heart just to look at it.

Finally, she said, “Well?”

“Well, what?” I said.

“Well, what have you got to say to that?” She wanted backtalk. Maybe she wanted to be argued into how pretty the moon was over the ocean. To hell with her.

“Where you think the moon is pretty from is your own business,” I said.

“But I never thought of it as all that pretty, even over Macon! Not the way he was talking about it.”

The moonlight and the beer and her warm soft presence in the car was so different from her complaining voice. I was in a rare mood, all right.

“But he wanted to impress you with how pretty it was where he came from, and you just had to put him in his proper place.” I was feeling old and sad and drunk.

She started to say something again, and stopped. This time she kept still. I liked her a lot better that way. I got kind of lost in the moon-dazzle on the ocean. The burning moonlight really had a grip on me, and the feel of a woman sitting quietly beside me in the shadows of the car.

“Walter,” she said, after a long while.

“What?” I said.

“We better start back. Daddy…”

“All right,” I said. The relaxed feeling was slipping away, and I couldn’t seem to hold onto it. I let it go. “All right,” I said again.



Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.

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Bill Burkett

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.