C A P R I C I O U S   S A V A G E R Y :
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O F   F A B L E S   I N V O L V I N G
C H I L D   S T A R S,   C O M P L E T E
W I T H   B I B L I C A L   A L L U S I O N S

BY ANN J. O'KEENE


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It was a warm, balmy, you might even say hopeful day, in a large Midwestern city. A city without a future: post-Industrial, pre-Internet. The images everyone is familiar with: the frustrated unemployed middle aged father, looking for scapegoats and hope; businessmen unapologetic about their 'service to shareholders'; city leaders intoning gravidly about the retraining and new initiatives that never went further then their relatives pockets. Even Curly Sue failed to bring the nation to its feet once again.

Then, finally, as if to consign our great town to dust heap of lengthy, winsome Times articles, the city was flooded by some freakish accident. For weeks, throughout the summer, the city looked over its shoulder suspiciously, as it looking for locusts. Families kept their livestock indoors, even during the awful humid dog days of august.

Everywhere, schoolchildren pinned their hopes on Fred Savage. The Wonders Years had completed its triumphal run, and now little Fred was returning home, to grow up, and maybe to shine some of his special light on us in the process. We might go on to be famous, to be happy and touchingly introspective, or maybe we would meet him, and that glow would shine only on a select few. One, even. Me. At St. Ignatius College Prep.

I had just enrolled, scrubbed face and new clothes. Picture Day. Held, like always, in the cafeteria, packs of children wandering, the cliques that seemed to form out of the ether, already classifying and rejecting. I was still solo, wandering the room clutching my Trapper Keeper with the intricate form for the photo company people, the obscure filigee that mandated a complex admixture of wallets, portraits, and sizes of all kinds.

It wasn't what I had expected, but it wasn't awful. Sister Thomas Agnes from Avery Coonley Prep (go Seahorses!) encouraged me to enroll, thinking its rigorous academics would set me straight. But this day, this day was about flights of fancy, and of love.

Every so often, each circle would erupt in giggles and screams. And then, almost in a undertone that rippled across the room, you would hear "Is that him?" replete with surreptitiously pointed fingers, heads turned.

I did not know what I believed would happen. Would he see me across the room and move in my direction inevitable, even meaningfully? Would he be awkward and hesitant like the early years, or mature and confident as he was in the end? Maybe his interest would grow quietly, carefully, like a pearl, and I would wait, patiently, confidently.

What our love might be like was a great, exciting mystery. Perhaps we would be glamorous, jetting off to meet his old Hollywood crowd. Or perhaps it would be quiet and dignified, a studious approximation of serious shows about adult relationships we had all seen on television, but were conspicuously absent in our personal lives. None of these distinctions mattered. Fred would bring his love to me, and that would be more than enough.

I would never learn the answers. The day dragged on, and the crowds lingered long after the photos were complete, until teachers had to shoo the students, clucking about the cheeky attitude of Fred, marveling at the students willingness to actually not want to leave, hoping this portended a different year, different attitude.

But it was not to be, and they knew it. That year was no better. In fact it was worse. Only imperceptibly, but inevitably. Grinding down, year after year, the number of shuttered storefronts increased. It seemed that garbage was always piling up on main streets, that For Sale signs spouted like leaves. In some windows you might still yellowing signs about events that were being planned in which Fred Savage might be included.

I don't know what happened to Fred; he went on to do other things, as did I. Maybe everything worked out better, and maybe it didn't. I lament the loss of my first love, and maybe I have grown strong in what I learned. I'll never know. Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you're in diapers; next day you're gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul. I remember a place...a town...a house like a lot of other houses... A yard like a lot of other yards... On a street like a lot of other streets. And the thing is...after all these years, I still look back...with wonder.



OTHER McSWEENEY'S STORIES
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Errata by Gerry Haslet
Recently, at the Biennial by Victor Maskell
You Can Go Home Again by Johann Livelb
The McSweeney's Allegory Contest Results
A Note on the Type by Benjamin S. White

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