The way to the end is the beginning.
Cal used to say it all the time. It was a tic he had. I never really understood what it meant, and to be honest he never explained it. He was just awkward like that. Like how he would carry a toothbrush behind his ear.
“Just in case,” he would say. People would stare. He never cared. After awhile, neither did I.
I guess that’s the best place to start this story, about Cal and me, and Mary.
Can’t forget Mary. She was my friend first. It took a bit for her to get comfortable with Cal, but she eventually did. She was good for him, in a way. She challenged him.
And she was relentless from what I remember. He told me once that it was her way of showing she cared. When she stopped, he said, that’s when he would know she didn’t care.
School was finished for the summer. All the pent-up days were behind us. We were flush with freedom. We walked around like kings and queens on holiday.
I was tall for my age, taller than Cal. Mary was still a tomboy, I guess. I mean, I never once thought of her in the way a boy my age would be thinking about her. I’m sure at this point she was developing into a woman, but neither one of us noticed. Or if he did, Cal never said anything.
“I’m craving KFC,” said Cal.
“Traditional or Extra Crispy?” Mary said.
“Does it matter?” Cal replied
“It matters,” Mary said. “There are two kinds of people in the world and you have to be one.”
“I’m not picking,” Cal said, “I like them both.”
We ordered a bucket and sat on the bench outside. Cal fiddled and played with his Zippo. He didn’t smoke, he just liked having it. He would nervously flick it open and light it. The habit had worn the shine off the edges, and bugged the shit out of us. He called it, Gygax. Mostly because that’s what was engraved on the side. It was a gift from a friend, he would tell us.
I remember the sky was dark that night. I don’t think it rained. It was just one of those weird summer evenings. I remember we had our jackets, so maybe it did?
Our chicken came out and we declared who we were. I was traditional, Mary was crispy, and true to his word, Cal ate a piece of both. I’m not sure if we had finished or not, when he showed up. I’m mean, it’s not really important to the story.
He was tall, thin and wearing an old time cream-colored suit. The collars were worn, like you would find at a thrift store. I remember the red socks. Black shoes, red socks, and a hat, a white hat with a black band.
“Do you have the time,” he said.
He startled us, but not in a creepy way. It’s just that he was odd. And that’s saying something as we both hung out with Cal.
“7:35,” he replied. Cal was the only one of us who had a watch.
“That’s a wonderful toothbrush you have. Crest or Colgate?” the man said.
Cal tensed up. “Crest is an abomination. I only use Colgate.”
“I agree,” said the man. “Listen, could you all tell me where I could find a fly-fishing store?”
We all glanced at each other. We knew every inch of that small Texas town, but that was not a question we heard very often.
“I don’t think we have one,” said Mary.
“Think or know,” said the man.
“We don’t even have a fishing store,” said Cal.
“There’s no lakes or streams close by,” I said.
“Quite the team, the three of you” he said. “How about baseball cards?”
“New or used?” said Cal.
“Vintage. Older the better,” the man said.
“Across the way, then turn left. But, I don’t think they are open,” Mary said.
The man pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket, pushed up his glasses and put it to his face.
“That’s fine.” he said. “There’s time.”
And off he went.
And that was the first time we met Marson. The beginning to the end.