Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Reaching: A Novel

Mention the other day of the unknown fate of the Byron Burford painting belonging to the University of Iowa inspired a reader to remind us of this now out-of-print novel by an Iowa novelist. It is a coming-of-age tale set in the 1940's written by Harlan native Julie McDonald.

The passage, below, perfectly fits the painting and, oddly, was published about the same year as the painting itself.

Reaching, A Novel
By Julie McDonald
Sutherland Publishing: 1988

A chaste kiss at the cottage door was Harley's reward for all his attentions, and I found it as exciting as kissing the back of my own hand.

Venus observed all of this and finally asked with that bright, bird-like expression of hers, "Don't you think you're getting his hopes up for nothing?"

"What hopes?"

"He's obviously crazy about you."

"You're imagining things."

So I thought until the night Harley took me to hear the music in the basement of Hotel Jefferson. Bobby Cotter was singing there with Larry Barrett's orchestra, and I was so caught up in her sad, smoky version of "I Cover The Waterfront" that Harley had to repeat himself to get my attention.

"Margaret—I really am serious about this."

"About what, Harley?"

"I'm going to need someone to help me entertain my business clients, and I—I thought it might as well be somebody that I—"

Bobby Cotter sang with a catch in her voice, ".. .for the one I love to come back—to me."

Why couldn't it be Harley? He yearned for me the way I yearned for Arthur Blair, and Arthur probably yearned for a woman who yearned for someone else. It was as if we all were running in an endless circle, never catching the one we were pursuing. If just one person in that circle would turn and run to the arms of the pursuer, somebody could be happy. But I simply couldn't be the one to turn. He was waiting—and with such pathetic hope. Belatedly, I realized that he had been outlining his excellent future prospects while I was covering the waterfront with Bobby Cotter.

He didn't see how I could refuse.

"Harley, I'm just a freshman. I'm not ready to think about anything like that!"

He snapped his fingers. "Knew I was bringing it up too soon, but I wanted to get my bid in."

I bent my Coke straw into one-inch segments, folding it into a packet that sprang into an angled corral when I let go. "Don't Fence Me In!"

"Well," he said, smiling with less certainty, "you can think about it."

I looked at my watch. "I think I'd better get back, Harley. I have a test tomorrow."

'Tomorrow's Sunday!"

I blushed, grateful for the dark room. "I—I meant Monday, but even so-"

As we left, Bobby Cotter was beginning "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man 0' Mine." I wondered if I'd ever find one to love 'til I died.

Harley walked me to the darker door between the cottages, and as he reached for me to administer the usual good-night kiss, I said, "Harley, I don't think we should see each other anymore."

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