down at the gang from atop the black iron skeleton,
and understood a simple truth. If it wasn’t for
Eleanor’s tits, he wouldn’t be here. He knew better,
but just couldn’t help himself.
beyond the hydroelectric plant, rows of brick houses
jammed against each other, lining the streets of
his new neighborhood like a mouthful of decaying
teeth. Before moving here, Tyler had never imagined
a neighborhood like this. Johnny Cash’s voice, drifting
through the opened windows above the cracked sidewalks,
warned passersby about falling into a ring of fire.
Every girl on the block owned Roy Orbison’s hot
new 45, Crying,
and usually did so while it played. The boys smoked
cigarettes and drank beer. Some of the girls even
opened their mouth while kissing. And then there
was Eleanor: last night, she had let him feel her
through her blouse while she leaned against the
warm bricks in an alley between houses. Nice girls
didn’t let boys do that. But Eleanor was
a nice girl: his mother had told him so. Up on the
hill where he’d come from, the nuns taught the consequences
of impure thoughts and deeds. Down here, everyone
went to public school. He’d asked his mother about
switching when he entered high school in September.
She’d reminded him the new President was Catholic.
a metal upright to his chest as tightly as he’d
hugged Eleanor in Pig Alley last night. The solid
steel against his crotch stoked memories of her
thigh rubbing between his legs. He stole a glance
down at her, the only girl in the gang, the only
girl in the neighborhood to wear the skimpy new
bathing suit they called the bikini. She was the
most beautiful girl Tyler had ever met. He hoped
he wouldn’t die up here or in the ditch below. Last
night’s sins weighed on his soul. If he didn’t confess
them before he died, he would spend eternity in
hell. The boys in the gang jabbed shoulders and
feet against the four piers of the tower. “Jump,
ya big sissy!”
He had stepped
around the shards of smashed beer bottles on the
cement base; handed his moccasins to Eleanor, and
climbed. Now he couldn’t move, and he had no reason
to believe anyone would come to save him. The swift
ditch churned below. Near his head, tight black
wires with rusty spots hummed a familiar tune he
could not name. This annoyed Tyler, who knew the
title, artist, and lyrics of every top-ten song
since 1956. His wet bathing suit clung to his butt.
His wiener, alive earlier because of Eleanor’s tongue
in his mouth, now shriveled. He hoped no one would
notice. If God would let him live, he would never
touch a girl that way again.
you a little baby?” someone shouted. The hum grew
louder, the pitch higher, the beat frenetic. The
ditch narrowed, current accelerated. Tyler looked
down; wondered if it was even possible to retreat.
His eyes were drawn to Eleanor’s bathing suit. He
imagined her without the top. Maybe she read his
mind. She waved. Wires cracked. A
smattering of jumbled lyrics floated by, just beyond
reach. “I love you, Tyler.” Eleanor’s words
sliced through the cacophony as if she were God
rendering an opinion on the tower of Babel. The
shock jolted him, loosened his grip.
pushing forward as he’d rehearsed. Clear the
base: water, not cement. Air rushed by. His
feet split the surface. Quiet descended upon him.
At the slimy bottom, he flexed his knees. Tyler
thanked God. He’d jumped. And
lived to tell about it. He began a mental
list of schoolmates he would tell. They would all
be impressed; maybe wouldn’t believe him. Good:
he’d have Eleanor vouch for him. That would shut
them up quick.
slammed him downstream. He straightened; thrust
himself toward the surface. His head bobbed above
the roar of the flood. He struggled to fill his
lungs. Ahead loomed the bridge,
the rope, and an almost-naked Eleanor. For
a fleeting moment, he panicked: imagined the torrent
sweeping him like a twig in a deluge, beneath the
bridge, past the rope; dashing him against the iron
grates that snagged the chaff from the screaming
turbines below. Then the rope brushed his shoulder
and he grabbed. He climbed to the bridge, the jumbled
lyrics now clear: the Del Shannon hit, Runaway.
I wonder: why, why, why, why, why; she ran away,
and I wonder where she will stay… Eleanor said
they should meet after dark. Why not? He could always
go to confession tomorrow.
The gang sauntered
onto the bridge. Tyler noticed it right away: They
didn’t swagger. The cocky look, a permanent fixture on their faces now gone.
Eleanor looped an arm around his waist. “Well,
Dicky Lemay shook his head. “You’re crazy, man.”
Joey Rogalo chimed in.
You guys are a bunch of chickens.” Eleanor was the
only kid Tyler knew who talked to the gang that
way. She was almost a junior, and if that wasn’t
enough, her older brother took care of any boy who
crossed her, beating the kid to a pulp and dumping
him in Pig Alley to die. Tyler hadn’t actually seen
any of the battered bodies, but he knew from the
nuns there were many things he should believe that
he’d never witnessed.
you kids doing in there?” The words were barely
audible over the rush of the current. A man unlocked
the chain link gate they’d scaled.
The boys bolted
across the bridge; disappeared. Tyler wanted to
stay; tell the man what he’d done. Eleanor yanked
his arm. “Come on, Tyler.” Once off the bridge,
they ran along a rutted dirt road lined with brush
and weeds. Eleanor pulled him through an opening.
They descended a narrow path to the river edge.
Tyler looked around, lost, and disoriented. Eleanor
rubbed her body against his. “Stay with me. I know
the way.” He followed, his eyes fixed on her wiggling
behind. She stopped, and turned. “Do you know you’re
the only one to make that jump?” She pulled his
head to hers and tried to suck his tongue into her
mouth. He gasped for breath as he’d done moments
earlier. “I like a brave man.” Tyler liked the sound
of Eleanor’s voice. Another voice in his head whispered
he kissed her open mouth and rubbed her boobs. When
he felt her hand on him, down there, it was as if
the black wires at the top of his tower had zapped
him. She guided his hand down along her blouse and
into her unbuttoned shorts. His fingers touched
silky fabric. He had never touched a girl’s underwear
before, except for his sister’s and she wasn’t wearing
them. This was different: the girl of his dreams
had opened the waistband of her underwear and now
coaxed his fingers inside. The terror was too much
to bear. Tyler froze: just as he’d done at the top
of the tower, staring down a passionate current
that threatened to engulf him. Eleanor tugged his
hand gently. Tyler looked into her eyes, searching
for approval, praying for a reprieve. Her smile
made him feel gooey inside, but that and her head
nod could move his hand no lower. She thrust her
hips forward, even stood on tiptoes. His fingers
clung to the warm skin near her belly button as
if anchors in a rising tide. A moment passed. Eleanor
kissed his cheek. “You’re a nice boy, Tyler.” She
removed his hand and led him from the alley into
the park across the street.
night Tyler lay on his back, eyes wide open, on
the top bunk in the room he shared with his two
brothers, the music from his transistor radio earphones
filling his brain. He memorized her every movement,
every word she had told him. He wasn’t sure what
to make of the hour they’d spent in the park, but
one thing was certain: he was no longer a boy. Tyler
wasn’t sure how he felt about that. Part of him
wished he had never left Pig Alley; wished he’d
never leaped into the murky undertow of older girls.
The next morning,
the guys came around looking for him. Tyler hung
with them. They asked him what it was like. He described
the thrill of the jump.
Dicky LeMay smirked. “We meant
doing it with Eleanor.”
a shock. A line from a movie he could not name popped
into his head. “I’ll never tell. Ask her.”
to,” Joey said. “She bragged.”
was short lived. Just before dark, Eleanor came
by and invited him to come to the alley. When they
were alone, she said, “I like you a lot Tyler. You’re
real sweet. But I want a boyfriend more my own age.
You can be my friend, OK?”
not speak. There were things he wanted to say and
do. But brave men didn’t cry or beg, especially
in front of girls.
Angela asked him to go for a walk. They strolled
in silence for a few minutes, Tyler wondering what
Eleanor was doing at that moment. Angela took his
hand. “She wasn’t right for you.” Angela pulled
him into Pig Alley and kissed him with her mouth
open. The next night he took a walk with Judy and
ended up in the same place, kissing her and feeling
her boobs. Neither girl loosened her shorts. His
baby sister’s best friend, Darlene, started hanging
around. Tyler ignored her as much as possible. The
day she asked him to go for a walk he ruffled her
hair and went in the house. He put off going to
confession and receiving communion. Everywhere he
went, Tyler cast a wary eye for Eleanor’s brother.
after Halloween, Angela intercepted him on his way
home from school. “Eleanor dropped out of school.
She’s going to have a baby.”
as if Darlene’s older brother had punched him in
the gut again for being a smart mouth. “A
baby, Tyler. What do you have to say…?” Angela
looked into his eyes. “…about that?”
away. There was nothing he could say: not
to Angela, not to anyone.
to call her, Tyler.”
intended to call, he was growing increasingly annoyed
by people telling him what he must do. “You know,
Angela, she broke up with me.”
turned red and her mouth opened as if to say something.
She closed it, turned and stalked off.
a dozen attempts to talk to Eleanor by phone, he
stopped calling. He knocked on her door. Her brother
met Tyler at the door with a punch in the mouth,
an elbow to his ribs and a kick in his behind. He
told Tyler he would kill him if he came anywhere
near Eleanor. Although Tyler had expected that reception,
he felt an obligation to Eleanor.
did speak to Eleanor. He never touched Angela again;
or Judy, or any other girl his age in the neighborhood.
The gang showed up less frequently at first and
then not at all. Tyler felt as if all eyes were
upon him, as they’d been when he stood atop his
tower, no one realizing he had no place to jump.
The exception was Darlene. During those difficult
weeks, it seemed any time he was alone, or feeling
low, Darlene was nearby to talk to him or just listen,
though he didn’t have much he could say.
The day after
Thanksgiving, Tyler trudged along River Road through
a heavy snowfall delivering his morning newspapers.
His tower loomed through a downy haze in the distance.
The memory of the jump and its aftermath had the
power to warm him, even in a storm.
fence was the first sign that something was wrong.
Tyler ran up the road. A set of tire tracks in the
snow led to the gap. He stood on the flattened chain
link fence and traced the tracks to the edge of
the swift ditch. He dropped his bag of newspapers
and sprinted to the nearest house. It was a precaution,
he told himself. The driver had probably escaped
and already reported the accident. The police would
thank him for the report; tell him everything was
under control. After the call, he retrieved his
bag of papers and waited.
An hour later,
the divers found the car a few yards downstream,
the driver door open. Tyler recalled the force of
the current slamming against his body as he pushed
to the surface looking for the bridge, the rope,
Eleanor. A policeman made a joke about swimming
on such a cold morning. Tyler vomited.
Later that day he learned the car belonged to Mr. Kingsley, Eleanor’s
father, who reported her missing. The news
didn’t make Tyler sad. He felt no sorrow; no remorse;
no guilt; no shame. He desperately wished to feel
something: anything. That had to be more bearable
than the nothing he felt at that moment.
Eleanor’s body two days later, lodged in the iron
grates above the turbines. The day before the wake,
a senior boy at Tyler’s school, St. Joseph High,
was found lying in McDonald Park badly beaten. The
boy told police he could not identify the assailant
.Tyler served as altar boy at Eleanor’s funeral
and felt her brother’s eyes burning holes in him
with their angry glare. Tyler cried like a baby
when they rolled the casket down the aisle and out
of the church.
for your thoughts,” Darlene said.
his wife of nearly forty years stood on the steel
bridge the power company built over the canal to
allow public access to the new Falls View Park.
Upstream stood the old wooden bridge where Eleanor’s
body once commanded his rapt attention. The span
crumbled with rot from decades of neglect: fate’s
molt whisked away on an unrelenting current–detritus
against the grates standing sentry at the end of
the wash. Beyond it Tyler’s tower jutted erect,
daring all who would challenge it: bigger, sturdier,
more threatening than he’d remembered. “Just
thinking about the neighborhood and some of the
tall tales of Tyler and raging currents?”
to face her. “I did jump from that tower.”
My cousin saw you.”
all these years you admit it: you do know
the truth? Why—”
Eleanor; I know the truth: She lied to the gang
about you and her.”
you hear that?”
the day she broke up with you: the same day she
told me you were more my speed than hers.”
Darlene looked into his eyes and shook her head.
“She was the envy of all the girls; shame what happened
made Tyler laugh. Eleanor had branded him with some
woman’s ‘good housekeeper’ seal of approval. “And
you never said a word?” He felt as if Darlene had
read his diary.
away and pointed to his tower. “So I’m at the top
of that tower over there, and I can hear the wires
humming a vaguely familiar tune. I think the song
is about living, daring, invincibility, and immortality,
but I don’t know the lyrics. Someone shouts above
the hum, and I realize, whatever the words, the
song is about me. I jump. The lyrics pop into my
head, but by the time I’ve got them straight the
him to her; thrust her pelvis against him. She leaned
over. “Just like that? The music stopped?”
seized his wife’s hips, and drew her close. “I guess
it was for the best,” he whispered.
lips were warm and moist against his neck. “Really?”
He knew she
didn’t believe him. He’d never been able to explain
to her that short but magic summer of life when
feats of daring were routine, all things were possible,
and the world’s horizons looked like a pair of unbuttoned
shorts, a smile and a beckoning nod. Eleanor had
shattered his illusions the night she’d laid next
to him in the park, explained the facts of life
and extracted a promise he’d quickly come to regret.
got over her, did you?”
sliver of truth about him and Eleanor failed to
capture the story, which was not that, despite Eleanor’s
and his best efforts, his first real sexual experience
would be years in the future and with Darlene. The
real story was the one Eleanor had told him that
night in the park, the one he had sworn he would
not repeat. That story had skidded to an end on
a wintery morning, plunging to the bottom of the
swift ditch along with Eleanor and the unborn baby
her older brother had fathered, stranding Tyler
in an eternal purgatory, unable to lighten the weight
of the awful truth without violating his sacred
In his head,
Del Shannon cried out: My little runaway; a run,
run, run, run, runaway.