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Westwords, Chapter 3

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About 94,000 words First Serial Rights 1990 Lewis W. Heniford

May, 1943

 

"If that's the bunk you want, take it." Chuck pointed across the dormitory room as he neatly squared the corners of his bed. "I've chosen the lower one near the door. Our roomies can sort out theirs when they get here."

The novelty of the double-deckers had caught West, but how could Chuck know which bed he had been eyeing? He crossed and climbed to the upper bunk. He bounced a few times on the bare mattress and said, "Ill take this one."

"You spend a third of your life in the sack, so be sure. Do you want to try the others?"

"Oh, no, this is fine. A third of your life?"

"Yeah, over a year of your undergrad time will be in the sack."

"I never thought of that."

"A major part of your college education. Don't sell it short. Pick the right bunk."

"I'll settle for this one." From that height, West surveyed the small room's furnishings. Between the bunks, a sturdy writing table and chair faced the single window. The two dressers, also, appeared built to last. The furnishings had a hardness; certainly the mattress on which he sat did have and apparently the others, also. He studied the cement floor, so similar to the front porch at home on which he had learned to roller skate.

Chuck handed him two sheets, a pillowcase, a face cloth, two towels, a laundry bag, and a blanket. "This is standard dorm issue. Your personal laundry and bedding go out weekly, so every Monday leave it all in this bag before your first class. Pile it just inside the downstairs door; everybody center section does."

Two fellows appeared at the door with word that all sixteen incoming freshmen center section third floor needed bedding. Chuck left to handle the problem.

West tussled with the crisply-clean sheets, trying to arrange them properly on his bed. He yanked and pulled the blanket to get it neat. Before the look somewhat matched Chuck's, he had remade the bed three times. Only once before in his life had he troubled to arrange sheets, pillow, and cover just so--that time he had wanted the family to let him go to Folly Beach the summer after seventh grade, just before entering high school.

He reinspected his bunk. The square corners, nearly as neat as Chuck's, stirred his pride. He hesitated to lie there before showing off his accomplishment. Then he remembered that Chuck could not see the achievement, anyway. Lying on it or not would make no difference.

So, what else? He undid the strong twine around his battered, small suitcase and emptied his few possessions into the dresser that Chuck was not using. There was plenty of space. The clothing and stuff his folks would send him from home would not fill his one-fourth share of the drawers and closet. After hiding the suitcase in the farthest corner of the closet, He looked around and judged that he had done at this point as much moving in as he could.

He clumsily mounted the bunk and stretched out, ankles crossed, hands cupped behind his head. This room measured no larger than the bedroom West and his brother Vince shared back home. He scanned the off-white ceiling and walls carefully for clues of previous occupants. He found no clues, only a dead insect, stuck by one wing to the ceiling. In fact, the whole room looked and smelled freshly painted, except the smooth cement floor. Although the exterior of the dormitory matched the ivy-covered and weathered bricks of the aged buildings nearby--inside it looked, well, if not new, then certainly not old.

A short, pleasant-looking older gentleman knocked on the door frame. "Hello, you're new to Carolina, aren't you?"

West bounded off the upper bunk and accepted the offered handshake. "Yes, sir."

"I work here. They call me Dr. Frank. What's your name?"

West found the conversation easy. Right off the bat, he gave his name, talked about his home and family, explained his sudden enrollment, and dreamed about his future here.

"Being away from home at such an early age should prove a grand adventure. You will keep me posted, won't you? My name is on my office door over there in Old South Building, and the door is always open. But you're off to the best possible start already, rooming with Chuck here. He's one of our brightest. He does wear clothes when he goes out of the dorm, you know. If Carolina can educate him to clothes, then we can educate you for whatever you need to do and win the war at the same time. See you around campus."

"Yes, sir, thanks for dropping by."

West climbed back onto his bed and had nearly nodded off when he sensed two fellows peeping in.

The shorter had blond hair and a slanted congenial smile that bespoke complete self-assurance. He entered first. "This room has our number." The blond youth crossed and determinedly met West with a handshake. "My name is Montgomery Upshaw--Monty, please. And another Charlestonian, Lane Tyler."

Jerked awake, West quickly sat upright, with no chance to jump down onto the floor.

The taller was really taller, seen from atop the bunk, so tall that his eyes almost came level with West's. "Tyle, please. Not Lane, not Tyler. Just Tyle. Okay?"

"Sure. I'm Weston Newcomb. Just call me West." As he finished the handshake, West slid off the upper bunk and, still absorbing the height, stood looking up at Tyle.

Immediately, the tall figure shrank to West's five feet, ten and a half when Tyle seated himself on the edge of the desk by the window. "Nice to meet you. Monty and I've been speculating about our roommates." Then he gestured to the two made beds. "Somebody else 's here already."

"Who's our fourth?" asked Monty, combing his hair.

"Chuck Rutledge, from Tarboro. He's the upperclassman in charge of the middle section, all three floors. He's helping some guys settle in. Should be right back."

"What's he like?" asked Tyle, emptying one of his three suitcases onto the other upper bed.

"He's blind."

Tyle rose to his full height. "He's what?"

"You'd hardly know it," West answered.

Monty frowned. "How can you not know if a guy's blind?"

"I didn't notice it--for, maybe, thirty minutes when we were first talking."

Tyle sat on the desk beside Chuck's typewriter. "The University appointed him to supervise this whole section --twelve rooms, three johns, and, maybe, fifty freshmen--and he can't see?"

West spoke earnestly. "He seems like he can do it. You'll be impressed."

Monty asked, "How can he help us? Won't we have to be doing for him?"

"The only thing I've done for him in these first three hours is match a pair of socks."

Monty laughed, as he again parted his hair. "Well, our parents said Carolina would be different. Say, where're you from?"

"Loris."

"What part of North Carolina is that?" asked Monty.

"It's in South Carolina, same as Charleston."

Tyle registered surprise. "Yeah?"

"Not far from Conway, Ocean Drive, Myrtle Beach--in Horry County."

"Hey, I like those beaches up there," Tyle said. "Monty and I drove through on a trip to Wilmington, stayed over at Ocean Drive both ways."

"Well, that's the one closest home. I live about twenty miles directly inland from there."

Monty nudged a blond wave into place. "Great strand there. They told us you can open a car full throttle for miles and miles on hard sand."

West could not help bragging. "Eighteen miles."

"You ever done that?" asked Tyle.

"Sure have." West thought, if these fellows knew about and liked his strand--well, he would have some stories to tell when they really got to know each other.

Monty paused in his combing. "Man, Tyle, wouldn't you just love to open up the Olds there!"

West responded quickly. "You've got an Olds!"

"Tyle does. His folks are keeping it at home for the gasoline allotment."

West felt joyous. "That's the kind of car we used to race along the strand."

"You have an Olds?" asked Monty.

"No, this friend of mine has. She likes to open it up."

"She?" Tyle scoffed. "A female driver."

West hastened to defend. "Nora Nell's the best driver I've ever known. You should see her on that strand!"

"I'll match her Olds on Olds--Ocean Drive or anywhere else. You write and tell her that."

"That would be fun. I just may do it. She likes a dare. You know, I spent a summer near Charleston."

"Where?" asked Monty.

"Folly Beach."

"Yeah, that's great. We know that area. Lot o' fine chicks over on Folly." Monty cupped his left hand then tapped his comb rhythmically on the circle formed by his thumb and index finger.

"I stayed with the family of a friend. Dr. Nolan--his dad--'s a dentist. They have a cottage named Sealand, right in the center of the beach."

"Yeah. Tyle, you know the one!" Tap, tappity, tap, tap, tap went the comb on the hand.

"Oh, right! But we never met the Nolans." The insect on the ceiling had caught Tyle's attention, and he easily reached up and pulled it off to study it.

"No, we never did, but we used to eye some good-looking ladies at that cottage," said Monty.

"Well, I stayed there all one summer, with a buddy of mine who moved from Loris a long time ago. His two older sisters must be in their twenties by now," West said.

Monty laughed. He gave the comb a final, careful pull through his frontal wave. Studying his grooming in the mirror over Chuck's dresser, he said, "Between my women and me, I like the maturity on my side."

Tyle looked around the room for a piece of paper in which he wrapped the insect. "I'll check this with my entomology chart later," he explained.

Monty tapped Tyle with his comb. "You make sure that thing's dead. I don't want your collection getting loose like back home. We're living in the same room now, so you keep those bugs under control. . . . Hey, hey, that just about completes it till we get bedding. Didn't take long, and we're all moved in."

A voice came from the doorway. "Then let me borrow your butts to help a few latecomers upstairs." Chuck extended his hand and walked directly toward Tyle and Monty. Neither blindness nor nudity hindered his taking command. "Hi, I'm Rutledge. Follow me."

Monty, Tyle, and West fell to.

That night, after the room had accommodated all their precisely-organized gear, Chuck proved a good talker while the four swapped histories. He told them little of himself; rather, he spun stories of Carolina.

"Who is Dr. Frank?" West asked.

"He's been by already, hasn't he?" responded Chuck.

"We had a great time. He made me really feel welcome."

"That, young West, was the President of the University of North Carolina." Chuck was pulling a violin from the left end of the closet shelf.

"You're kidding!"

"And he won't forget your name, either. Are you guys up for a bit of music before we turn in?"

He played shaded, sleep-inviting music such as West had never heard. It was the first time West had ever seen an actual violinist play. He loved the way Mr. McHenrie, who lived next door back home, played the piano, and Chuck's playing this violin also got his full attention. He was not ready to sleep until Chuck had replaced the instrument in its case and had put it in its exact spot on the closet shelf. Then they exchanged good-nights.

In one day, West had learned the desirability of a tightly-made bed and a neatly-arranged closet and dresser, as well as the camaraderie of Chuck's violin music. West wondered, what do I learn next? He drifted into sleep.

You can go to Chapter 4.

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