A Busted Afternoon by Pepper Espinoza
It’s June, 1972, and the Vietnam war overshadows Ed Sorenson’s life. Barely out of high school, and there’s nothing ahead of him except war and death. On a whim, he packs up his old station wagon with California in mind. He invites his friend, Sammy, to join him on his journey, never expecting the other man to jump at the chance.
The station wagon barely makes it as far as Nevada. It dies on the shoulder during a freak summer thunderstorm, trapping the two young men, and giving them no choice but to face the secrets they’ve been hiding, the fears they’ve been harboring, and the desire they can barely keep at bay…
A look back at a scary time when the draft loomed over many young men forcing them to take hold of their destiny and live in the present rather than worrying about the future. This short story (~40 pages) is sweet, sensitive, and gives a lasting relationship to a childhood crush. The happy ending in the epilogue is the perfect touch on a lovely short tale of first love. The writing is good and gives the characters an honest description, rather than a false sophistication. My only complaint is that the story is so short it ended before I could really connect to either character. For that, the story is sweet but not lasting sadly. Hopefully other readers will connect sooner to the men because this story is definitely worth reading.
One of the best things about this short story is the semi-historical setting yet the atmosphere feels entirely modern. Although the draft no longer exists, the elemental fear of it still looms for many young men. This wonderful look brought the time and attitude of the early 70’s back with clarity while smoothing out the edges to focus on the men. Both characters are constantly aware of the draft and their place in it, but decide to take a trip to California before their decided fate steps in for them. This seemingly simple action shows a deep well of courage existing simultaneously with what could be a paralyzing fear. Instead these two men grab life and adventure with both hands and set their own course.
The story almost entirely takes place in the backset of a broken down station wagon on the side of the road in nowhere Nevada. The two men knew each other as children but were never friends. Thus Sammy’s decision to accompany Ed pleased him, but baffled him at the same time. The two men admit, in stops and starts, their lingering feelings for each other, but not without their own fear and confusion mixed in. Although the first blush of love between the two young men is lovely, their emotions also swing to anger and rage. The two battle both verbally and physically as they struggle with unknown emotions and fears neither wants to acknowledge. Eventually that anger dissipates in the face of overwhelming desire. The sweet, often clumsy first kiss leading to both virgin boys giving into their hormones is touching while still giving readers a bit of a thrill. Let’s face it, two twinks in the backseat of a wagon is never a bad thing, especially since they’re legal.
The characters of Ed and Sammy are brief but enjoyable. Ed is the smaller and frailer of the two often sick and picked on some as a kid. Sammy is bigger but has always noticed Ed and protected him, even without Ed realizing. This dynamic will please those fans that like the idea of a childhood crush turning into first love and lasting happy ending. The story stays true to the young men as it explores their emotions, desires, hopes and dreams, as they know them during the fearful political time. This is the strength of the story as the language is emotional and touching. The prose is best exemplified with this lasting impression:
They fell back into silence. Sammy wasn’t eager to break it. He just wanted to enjoy the quiet. It pressed in around them, comforting in its own way. He didn’t know if they’d ever be able to figure anything out. He didn’t even know if they’d be alive a year from now. But, for the first time in their lives, neither one of them was alone. Sammy didn’t think he had the need, or the right, to ask for anything beyond that.
This solid short tale will connect with some and be too short for others, but is definitely worth reading. The beautiful emotions are easily translated and depict two young men on the verge of the scariest time in their lives, grabbing a hold of the few constants they can. There is an uplifting emotion though and ends on a positive note. Fans of the author especially will adore this short.
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