chapter 22 - a fresh of breath air
Jack was lying inside Mr. Karras’ musty duffle bag but he wasn’t running out of fresh air. No, there had never been any fresh air in the duffle bag to begin with. Not a moment too soon, the zipper buzzed open and Jack scrambled out onto the garage floor, gasping for breath. He lay there panting like a shipwreck survivor who had just reached shore.
Standing over him were Mr. Karras and a person whom Jack could only guess was his wife, Mrs. Karras. Mr. Karras stood lean and tall, with an angular jaw line and sharp eyes sheltered under bushy eyebrows. Mrs. Karras looked just as fit but was shorter, with twinkling eyes and a kind smile.
They both stared at Jack for a few moments until Mrs. Karras wrinkled her nose at Jack and said with a smile, “You smell like a goat, dear.”
Mr. Karras burst out laughing as he caught Jack up by the hand to lift him onto his feet. “I’m sure being stuck in my musty Ragbrai duffle bag didn’t help matters, but you must have quite a story to tell, kid.”
The pressure had been building inside Jack for too long, and he was about ready to burst. “Uh, could I use the bathroom?” he asked. It had been a long and bumpy truck ride since breakfast.
This brought another fresh round of laughter and a hearty slap on the back as they ushered Jack inside and showed him to the bathroom. Mrs. Karras had already sized up Jack’s situation and called in through the bathroom door a few minutes later to say that she had set some fresh clothes outside the door. Jack took the hint. In the three days since he had left the orphanage, Jack had washed up when he could but he hadn’t showered.
It felt good to be clean again, and when Jack finally came out of the bathroom, he found Mr. and Mrs. Karras in the kitchen about to have lunch. Mrs. Karras set plates of sandwiches, chips, and carrot sticks in front of Jack and Mr. Karras, along with a plate for herself. There was barely enough space left for the newspaper Mr. Karras had been reading, but he managed to thumb through it while holding it off to one side.
“Is that the Des Moines Register?” asked Jack.
“It sure is,” said Mr. Karras, flipping the paper closed so that Jack could see the banner. “I’ve retired from being a full-time writer except for the usual Ragbray columns, and we moved clear out here to Colorado for some peace and quiet, but I still subscribe.”
“Did you say Ragbray?” asked Jack.
“As a matter of fact I did,” said Mr. Karras firmly, and he bit down on a carrot stick that snapped in half and sounded like a rifle shot. “Everyone else pronounces it the wrong way. Donald Kaul and I invented the ride across Iowa, and I came up with the acronym RAGBRAI to name it.”
Mr. Karras continued, “The last two letters A and I put together make a long a sound in the English language. Take “brain” and “braid” for example. There’s no eye sound in them. And yet people keep trying to say Ragbrye year in and year out. I’ve given up on everyone else. Say it however you want to, but I’ll choose the correct pronunciation.”
Then Mr. Karras turned his attention back to his lunch while muttering something about Don Quixote tilting at windmills.
An awkward silence followed. Jack hadn’t been expecting the stern grammar lesson and didn’t quite know what to say. He glanced at Mrs. Karras, who smiled and said, “It’s true. Everyone else says it the wrong way, and that will probably never change.”
Mr. Karras paused from eating and flipped through the paper, then folded the pages back, and handed it to Jack. “There’s a story about you here.” As Jack began reading, Mr. Karras turned to his wife and said, “The weather forecast is for snow tonight, and the temperature is already dropping. Our first winter storm of the year is early, and it looks like a big one.”
to be continued...
[a serial by little orphan dbax]