Thursday, June 22, 2006

It's Never Too Late to Apologize

By William Rainbolt

To Carlton, I was just a potential customer. I had called the day before to say we had been in high school together more than thirty years before, had played football on a great team, Someone from the past, a good connect for any salesman.

“Hey, great to see you,” he said, grinning, as he led me to a chair facing his cluttered desk. “Geez, thirty years ago--”

“That’s right, and I can still see that tackle you made at the goal in the Garland game.”

“Hey, really?! Geez.” He looked toward the window and smiled as if he could see the play on a screen.

“Me,” I said, “I was mostly kicking teams, and mop-up duty.”

“Hey, that’s great, Jimmy. Is it Jimmy, or Jim, or James?” Time to get back to business. “So are you moving back?” he asked, patting the homes booklet on his desk.

“I’m here to apologize.”

Carlton nodded, his smile now as stiff as one of his “For Sale” signs.

“It’s been thirty-five years,” I continued. “The summer between our sophomore and junior years in high school.”

He stared at me.

“It was a really hot and dry July,” I explained, eagerly, “and I was running sprints at the football field, I don’t know why since I knew those coaches would never give me a chance since my dad was long gone. Anyway, you asked for a ride because you were meeting some of your friends at Greenview Drugs. So I drove you there in my white-over-yellow `57 Ford with black vinyl seat covers, and you played with the radio, even though you hadn’t asked to.” I glanced down. “I’m sorry, that last comment is a cheap shot.”

He tensed his hands, palm down on his desk as if he were about to launch himself. “What the hell--”

“Anyway,” I said, leaning forward, “when we got there you said, `Thanks,’ and I said, `Call me anytime you need a taxi.’ Honestly, Carlton, I said it to be funny, but it was very rude of me. So, I apologize.” I paused. “I have no idea why I remember this,” I said, just as I had told each of six people before Carlton. Only one had been gracious about it.

“Shut up!”

“I have a list of over thirty names,” I continued, “and you’re number seven. I guess more will come to me as I think about it. Things keeps gnawing at me, some things even more than thirty-five years ago.”

“Jesus! I’ll tell you the damned truth, I meant to look at the yearbook and figure out who the hell you were but I got busy, you understand, you weren’t important enough. I don’t care who you are now or who you were then.”

“Anyway, I feel better now, and I wish you did, too, but if you don’t, that’s okay.”
I took out my small black notebook, opened to the page with the list, and crossed through Carlton’s name.

Willim Rainbolt's historical novel, “Moses Rose,” was published in 1996. He is an associate professor of journalism and English at the University at Albany, SUNY.

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