John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

“Don’t bother on my account.”

Wade grinned at him. “You too macho to look at flowers?”


Wade walked over to a log and said, “Come on over here and sit.”

The boy did as he was told, and lifted his shoulders in a long sigh of patience and the expectation of a lecture.

“Tod, your mother and I have been wondering and worrying a little bit about you. You seem kind of down lately.”

“What is that supposed to mean? Down.”

“Down means down. Gloomy, depressed, troubled. This would be a good time to talk about it, don’t you think?”

“I don’t know what there is to talk about.”

“Look, we’re proud of you. We think you are what is uncommonly known as a good kid. If something is bothering you, then it is bothering us too.”

Tod’s stare was flat. “Whatever could it be?” The tone was a half degree away from insolence.

“Can I ask questions then?”


“I don’t mean to pry. I remember that sixteen is kind of a rotten time of life. Sixteen to eighteen. Then it gets a little better. So you are into the first year of the three years when life can be totally the shits from time to time.”

He saw that he had startled the boy. “For everybody?” he asked.

“I don’t know how it is for everybody. I have the feeling that the more thoughtful a person is, maybe the more sensitive and the more curious, the rougher time he’ll have. There are some people who live their whole life in a vegetable state. They don’t read. They don’t think. They don’t care. They’re like some lower form of life in a lab. Jab them and they’ll flinch, and that’s the way you know they’re even alive. They did that intelligence testing last year, so we know you are brighter than the average, Tod.”

“I don’t feel bright.”

“It kind of surprised your mother and me when you messed up and had to take these summer-school courses.”

“The grades will be okay.”

“I’m glad you did it. It will save time later, maybe a whole year. Does it make you feel good to know you did well?”

The boy shrugged. “I don’t know. It doesn’t seem to mean a hell of a lot one way or another, you know.”

“Too many kids get bogged down in problems that seem a lot more important than they really are. And they drop out. That’s a dead end.”


“Being sixteen doesn’t mean the problem can’t be man-size. I am not patronizing you. But there is one ground rule. That’s what parents are supposed to do. Make the rules. Here is the rule. You have been in the dumps for about a week. If in another two weeks you are not back to normal, or, I should say, back to what we are used to, then we go find a counselor for you. And you can unload on him or her whatever it is you can’t or won’t confide in us. Is that a fair deal?”

“I don’t have any choice?”

“I just told you you have three choices. Back to norm. Or lay it on our doorstep. Or we find help for you.”

“That doesn’t sound like much of a choice.”

“If nobody makes the rules then it turns into a game without any rules, and nobody wins that kind of a game.”

“Are you looking to win something?”

“I’m looking not to lose something. We don’t want to force you into being a certain kind of person. Do you understand that? My son, the doctor. My son, the lawyer. My son, the astronaut. What we want for you and Kim is for each of you to fulfill your own potential in your own way. We’re around to see that while you are kind of feeling your way into life, you don’t screw your life up on account of something that seems terribly important right now, but isn’t.”

“Dad, how can you know what’s important these days?”

“Probably the same exact things that were important when my great-grandfather was a kid. The big things. Honor and faith and justice and love. And pride. That belongs in there. Pride in yourself. Don’t duck away from the big words just because they sound too straight.”

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92

Leave a Reply 0

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *