Bruce Pemberton

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Senior Prom, May 1972

It’s a triple date with two buddies
and three sophomores who mis-
takenly think we’re cool seniors.
My father voices concern about
his Lincoln. He’s suspicious. What’s
the evening itinerary? It’s prom,
I tell him, we’ve got tuxedos, there’s
a late dinner downtown, and I’m home
by one and the buddies are staying over.

It goes well enough for an evening
in the gym: photos, cookies, punch,
chaperones, and then after, bottles
clattering around on the backseat
floorboard. After dinner, where I
mispronounce filet mignon, the six
of us go parking. I barely know my
date, and hesitate kissing her, but
she insists.

On the drive home, one gal, not mine,
vomits out the window, as I drive ten
miles an hour under the posted speed
limit. We drop them off, then stop for
gas as the old man wants his tank full.
We responsibly toss out all the empty
bottles. At my house, my mother comes
downstairs in housecoat and slippers to
tell us to pipe down and go to sleep.

I dream about climbing up through
the branches of a tree when my shoulder
catches on a limb that pokes me. I awaken
as my father, in full fishing gear, becomes
that limb. Get up, he says, you and your
knuckleheaded friends are washing the
Lincoln. It seems, someone has thrown up
all over the side, and I’m not going out to
the lake with that on my car. I know it
wasn’t you, he says, you know better. It
was one of your clownish and fatherless
friends, or one of those young girls. We
wash it as the sun comes up. I hand back
the keys, and we head into the house for
the rest of last night’s sleep.

An hour later, my mother gets me up
for church as my friends sleep on. I have
a raging headache, but I drank nothing.
My family surrounds me in our usual pew.
It’s a good time to pray. Heavenly Father,
thank you for getting us home safely last
night and for letting me kiss a persistent
sophomore. Sorry about the very inexpen-
sive wine, it wasn’t my idea. Maybe when
I’m older, it’ll become amusing, but for now,
I don’t see it. Amen.

Bruce Pemberton is a retired high school English teacher, tennis coach, and Gulf War veteran. His most recent work has appeared in FOLIATE OAK, SKY ISLAND JOURNAL, THE WILD WORD, THIRD WEDNESDAY, DUCK LAKE JOURNAL, RIGOROUS, AMERICAN LIFE IN POETRY, and the anthologies, IN TAHOMA’S SHADOW and SPOKANE WRITES. He lives on the Palouse, in rural, eastern Washington state. 

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