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A Corner Room at the Y

Published: December 17, 2012

Gruber’s dad presses his face against the windshield. A moment later he jerks his head back and yells, “So what in tarnation you waiting for then?!”

“Sorry, sir.” Milvey tugs open the doors, which sound for all the world like they’ve not been oiled since our last trip. Milvey scurries down the stairs and waits until we’re all outside before he unfolds a sheet of yellow paper and reads: “My good friends, we’ve come such a long ways to be here today, 42 and a third miles to be exact. I, for one, don’t intend, God willing, for none of those miles to be rode in vain!” Milvey gives us a victory sign. “Far as any dreams go, how’s about we try dealing with a little reality first!”

If somebody from the contest committee hadn’t come running out to let us know we were holding up the show, no telling how long we would of stayed in the parking lot cheering and carrying on.

Lucille and I took turns blowing a paper horn. McPeter lights a string of ladyfingers. Willie Stone throws up shreds. Two abreast with Orange “Bill” Johnson calling cadence, we march into the Des Moines University gym.

An orange-and-black pennant with “The 21st Annual Iowa State/National Typing Championships of Dubuque, Iowa.
Organized in 1837.” hangs down from each backboard. Nobody bothers asking anybody how it could still be the 21st Annual three years later than the last time it was the 21st Annual. You get to a point in life where you pretty much know what questions not to ask.

Milvey jogs around the floor, knocking over chairs and picking them up, frantically searching for the electric IBM with his nametag on it. Soon as he finds it he plops himself down and just sort of sits there, not moving a muscle. He doesn’t crack his knuckles; don’t even bother taking off his hat!

A half hour later, give or take, after everybody’s sitting behind their machine and the officials have made all the speeches they care to make, the gun sounds. Milvey’s hands race across his keyboard like a herd of greased pigs.

Stanley Owens passes around an unmarked pint he claims is Metter’s Classic Blackberry, but to me it tastes more like Metter’s Old-Fashioned Elderberry. We take turns using the binocs rented to us by Nat, who had the hives and couldn’t make the match. McPeter and Mattie help Willie Stone tear up shreds. Lucille and I hold hands, something we’d normally never do in public, but remember these were our friends.

The roar of all those electric machines and the blur of all those hands going full speed was a thing uncommon to behold, pretty much awe inspiring.

Some 50 minutes later, there’s Milvey, sweat blotching his hat and staining his shirt, standing on his chair waving a hanky to let the judges know he’s done. “Over here!  It’s me again!” he yells. Well now, let me tell you, we let out such a stomping and carrying on up in the bleachers, Lucille said on the trip home she thought sure as shooting we’d all collapse into a dusty heap of twisted metal and wood, battered and bruised beyond repair.

The gun sounds. Three elderly judges weave their way towards Milvey. Two are carrying the traveling trophy, the third cradles a bouquet of mixed carnations in one arm while balancing the clunky adjustable Iowa State Championship Finals Typing Ring on a small red pillow with the other. Meanwhile, all the other contestants doggedly continue typing.

Grinning from ear to ear, our good friend carefully, maybe just a little too carefully, releases his tension spring to free the last sheet of paper.

That’s when it happened! We couldn’t tell dead certain from where we stood cheering, but later that night Lucille and I figured out what it most likely had to be. The doggone copper bracelet Milvey wore for his arthritis must of snagged the tab key! It wasn’t much, but it was enough. Way more than enough!

ZONK! CLUNK! The delicately triggered electrically operated carriage shot to the left, taking a piece of the last page with it! Milvey had forgotten to shut off his typewriter!

“Oh no! Noooo!” Milvey groans. His head hits the keyboard with a sickening clatter. First place goes to Phyllis Smith, a widow with four kids, who works part time at Botford & Sons Dry Goods.

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