Geoffrey Pope could always shut off his alarm and go back to sleep, but it wouldn't stop the cruel onrush of time.
Or could it?
He reached out of bed, grabbed hold of his clock radio, and ripped the cord from the wall. The strident buzzing stopped, immediately plunging the room into silence, only to reveal further auditory dimensions to the dawn.
The sounds impinged on his consciousness like multiple stab wounds. A car gunned down the otherwise empty, urban street. A summer storm poured down upon the gently sloping roof of his family's home. And his parents' bed thumped rhythmically against the wall. He would have preferred the alarm.
The longer he lay there listening, the more his inertia appealed to him. It seemed to sum up his life and challenge the world. It preserved and defended what little was left of his tender young soul.
If he lay there all morning, he was sure to arouse the suspicion of his parents and surely incur the wrath of his supervisor, but would he truly offend the gods? What universal law told him that he had to haul himself out of bed and march off to work that rainy August morning?
By six-thirty, still buried beneath his pillow, he found himself drifting in and out of a comfortable sleep. The daily routine had been all but shattered. He could forget about breakfast. He wouldn't punch in at the hospital. He wouldn't see anybody he didn't want to see. He would slowly starve to death in the shadows of the raging storm until his mother stumbled across his emaciated body and revived him with a few morsels of Roman Meal bread.
Rain rapped harder against his window as twilight began to faintly define the contours of his room. Gusts of wind tugged at his faded bicentennial-inspired curtains. The trapped, humid air smelled of a turtle bowl and mothballs and old baseball cards.
He watched the raindrops splat and smear against the glass. Faint blue streaks glowed between the clouds. Somewhere back there, the sun had risen. But the light would never dispel the gloom. The drumming of raindrops was constant, occasionally punctuated by a clap of thunder that rolled over the flat, Midwestern city.
He extricated himself from the sheets that he had wrestled with all night and lay on his sweating back gasping for air. He reached up and opened the window just a crack. Cold droplets sprayed against his face and bare chest. He quickly grabbed for the window handle, but as it drizzled in and ran down his arm, he changed his mind and lay back to contemplate the cool breeze and gentle mist.
By the time his mother finally swept through his room that morning, he was shivering violently. At first he smelled the hairspray she used to give her dark brown curls bounce. Then, through thinly parted eyelids, he made out her rumpled flower-power blouse and form-fitting Polyester bell-bottoms. She bent over him in the dim light to close the window.
She was gone in an instant, only to reappear with a towel to dry him off. He let her fingers roam over his chest and arms and cradle his neck and gently wipe the droplets from his face. He didn't open his eyes, but she seemed to sense that he was awake.
"You should've shut your window," she admonished. "Now you'll catch a cold."
"I don't have a cold," he muttered, realizing for the first time that he was going to need some sort of excuse. "I think it's worse than that."
He felt the back of her hand against his forehead. "You get more rest. You'll feel much better in a few hours." Noticing that the time was wrong on his clock, she studied the problem, then plugged it back in the wall and twisted the knobs trying in vain to reset it. At last, she gave up and padded out into the hall and gently closed the door.
Geoff slept on through the morning. His door opened once, letting in a draft from the hallway. His father carried several two-by-eights through his room and down the basement steps. The fresh aroma of pine lingered in the air for a long time after he left.
From time to time, he was awakened by the sound of his father's hammer and crowbar prying the old basement steps apart. He lay in bed straight through the morning, growing more weary and hungry and sick. He wouldn't move until the storm passed—even if that meant wallowing in his misery for days.
At one point, his mother ventured back in to apologize for the noise. She had cautioned Avery, his father, but Avery explained that he had a limited amount of time to replace the staircase. She leaned over Geoff and whispered, "He's only home for one day, then he goes on another haul. Please try and understand."
"But I'm sick," he insisted. "Doesn't he realize that?"
"He knows and he cares for you, Sweetheart. I care for you, too. You just have to understand."
He rolled away and faced the wall. Rain continued to roar outside his window. "Can you bring me a bucket?" he murmured. "I don't feel so great."
"Sure, Sweetheart." She brought in a bucket and towel and set them on the floor beside his bed. Once again, he felt her delicate hand against his forehead. "Get some more sleep," she said, and left.
He could only listen to his father's yanking and pounding for so long. He could still hear the racket as he squeezed his hands over his ears. He gritted his teeth and slammed the pillow down over his head, and still he heard it.
He picked up a work boot and hurled it at the door. The hammering continued unabated. In a flash of rage, he reached up and yanked at the patriotic curtains. The entire assembly, rod and all, came crashing down on his head.
He sighed under the crumpled heap of drapes, and buried his head deep under the warmth of his pillow.
This coming-of-age novel captures a formative summer in the life of Geoffrey Pope, a brilliant teenager who must cast off the trauma of his parents' ill-fated marriage, navigate the perilous shoals of first love, and venture out to seek his place in the world. A fascinating tale of personal triumph.
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