About the Author

Bill Cosgrave

Bill Cosgrave was born in Toronto. After his vagabond days in Los Angeles, he settled down and co-founded a national travel company which he named, appropriately, Fun Seekers. He lives in Kelowna, British Columbia./p>

Books by this Author
Love Her Madly

Love Her Madly

Jim Morrison, Mary, and Me
also available: Paperback
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1. Dream Girl
Florida, 1963

Alligator Alley slices through the prehistoric Everglades, a straight cut from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic. I have my thumb out in the torrid heat. Destination: Fort Lauderdale.

A battered pickup truck pulls over, with rusted, mud-caked shovels in the back. I climb into the filthy cab. The driver is wearing a dirty T-shirt and faded jeans. He’s balding, with stringy black hair slick along the sides of his head. Crooked, yellow teeth, tobacco-stained fingers, nails chewed to the quick. He reeks of stale sweat and cigarettes. He looks at me with dull eyes. I ask him how far he’s going. He mutters “Fort Lauderdale.” It’s going to be a long drive.

Hot air blasts through the windows. The baked dashboard is cracked, the windshield peppered with rock chips. The guy doesn’t talk, he broods. The asphalt surface quivers in the visible heat.

A half-hour later, there’s a major furor on the road. What the hell’s going on? Brooder slows down. Crimson-headed vultures are furiously devouring a crushed alligator that has met a semi-truck.

“Look at that!” Weirdly excited, Brooder brakes and pulls up beside the frenzied feast. Cutting the engine, he leans out his window. The vultures jerk their heads up from the festering corpse. A dozen cold, beady eyes stare at him, then plunge back into the carcass. It’s dead quiet except for the sound of their beaks frantically tearing flesh, yanking out white strands of sinew. Horrible snapping sounds. Bits of blood and flesh spattered on their faces. Jesus, the stench.

“That’s a nine-foot ‘gator, probably four hundred pounds.” He’s murmuring to himself.

The guy watches too long.

The hot air is filled with the putrid odour of death. I start gagging. Brooder stares at me while slowly reaching for the ignition, a strange look in his eyes.

Who, or what is this guy?

We drive on in an eerie silence through seemingly endless swampland. Finally, a hint of civilization appears: a faded “Alligator Wrestling” sign, a rundown trailer park, an unpainted shack — “Curly’s Beer and Liquor.” A sideways Coca Cola sign hangs by a rusted chain. I begin to relax. Soon a suburb, then another, stretching out forever on this flattest of land. Buildings appear in the distance, their office lights twinkling in the dark blue of dusk.

Fort Lauderdale.

He drops me at a gas station. With a strange, sardonic look in his eyes, he reaches out to shake my hand.

I get the key to the washroom and scrub my hands, thinking I’ll take the Greyhound back.

I show the gas attendant the address. “Not too far,” he says. “Straight down about four miles, then in three blocks.”

I hesitate to stick out my thumb, but this time my ride is a pleasant-faced woman with bleach-blond hair looking just so. The scent of hairspray. Her companion in the back seat is a nervous Chihuahua. “It’s okay, Princess, it’s okay,” she tells the dog. Princess has the shakes.

The nice lady drops me off with a happy wave.

I walk the last three blocks to a tidy white house with green shutters and black street numbers. I have arrived at the house of Mary. Trembling with anticipation, I ring the doorbell.

* * *

Clearwater, Florida

Mary Werbelow. Dream girl.

I watch her from a distance. Her luminous beauty, the sparkling, intelligent eyes, porcelain skin, and sunny smile. She glows with optimism, self-confidence, independence. Her mesmerizing face, her Bardot pout, the liquid motion of her ballet body, her swanlike neck. She is radiant. I am captivated by her, but she’s older and doesn’t know I exist.

Or … Did she just smile at me as she walked past me in the hall? Was she acknowledging me? Not likely. She has the world cupped in her perfect palm. I’m imagining things.

A few days later I see her in the school parking lot, standing by her Volkswagen, talking to some girls and guys. She’s engaged, yet somewhat aloof. She’s … different. She looks around and notices me watching her.

A week later, I hear an unfamiliar voice behind me. “Hello.” And my world changes in ways impossible to imagine.

A brief exchange, then her smile: “See you later.”

The next chat, a little longer. Later, a real conversation followed by, “Would you like to go for coffee?”

Hell, yes I would.

She picks me up in her Volkswagen and an easy friendship begins. She treats me like a younger brother. She likes me, seems to trust me and see something different in me.

“But why did you leave home?” she wants to know. “What are you doing here?”

“I saved enough money to buy a ticket from Toronto to Clearwater to spend Christmas with some family friends. They have a daughter my age, and I met all her friends over the holidays.”

Mary pays attention with her bewitching eyes.

“One of her friends said I could live in their guest cottage and go to Clearwater High with them. So I did, and here I am.” (My mother wasn’t thrilled, but told me it was my decision. A divorced single mom with four kids, she couldn’t afford to come and get me. And I knew it.)

“Don’t you miss your family?” Mary looks puzzled.

“I do miss my family and friends,” I say. “I mean, I love them very much.” But I wasn’t happy at my high school in Toronto where there had been zero tolerance for kids who were the least bit defiant, I told her.

“And you were defiant?”

“Well, yes.”

Mary laughs and claps her hands. “So, now you live in a screened-in porch?”

The guest cottage hadn’t worked out. Luckily, I’d gone with a girl to a babysitting job and hit it off with the couple. The next time I met them I told them about my situation and they offered to let me stay in their Florida room. In exchange, I did some babysitting and paid a bit of room and board. “They’re great,” I tell Mary.

She looks at me quizzically. “How old are you?”


I am smitten. She has no idea how dazzled I am by her.

She graduates and will attend St. Petersburg Junior College in the fall. At the end of school in June I tell the school secretary that I’ll be back in September to begin grade twelve.

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