© Tim Parrish
Used by permission.
All rights reserved.
For Chris, Isabel, Rich and Vicki, who let me share their amazing lives.
Jimmy held the piece of paper as though it were both a gem and a bomb. Telegram. He knew he knew what that meant. He’d seen it in movies and on TV, heard people talk about it, but it was the brain scramble now, what his mind knew scurrying away from sense like a jackrabbit. This was what sometimes happened when things counted, when he needed the right word at work to prove he understood the bit of info that would say, “I’m smart, I’m like you, I get it.” He flapped the telegram against his palm, shifted on the couch and glanced at his watch. His roommate would be home any minute, but until then. . . Sound it out. Tell-uh-gram. Tell-uh-phone. Yeah, talk to the phone. Tell-uh-gram. Talk to a gram? Tell-uh-vision. Talk to what you see? That could work, but he knew it didn’t. What else? He rummaged. Tell-uh-port. What did that mean? To send space people to another place. Yeah, he knew that, and he knew that lots of folks probably didn’t know. So tell wasn’t tell like to tell. It meant, what?, things going, things sent. Sounds, pictures, space people, a letter. A letter sent. So why not just let it be a letter and not a telegram?
He slapped the paper on his thigh, considered shredding it then kicked his boot backward into the couch face. The telegram was nonsense, except for his own name, which was both in the middle and the top, with what he could tell were slight differences. He stared and the letters shimmied, shifted, rose and floated from the paper, then blurred. Jimmy shook his head and shoved back into the couch.
On TV the President was speaking: “Star Wars . . . lasers . . . evil threat . . . missiles.” Jimmy studied the president’s face, vacant somehow, eyes glancing to words on a podium and back up where he said into the camera the words that made him president. Jimmy knew he was as smart as this man, knew he was smarter than half the people who came in the store with lists that they read from, or worse tried to hand to him, lists that carried a power Jimmy did not have. His mind worked better, his memory remembered better, then a paper with marks knocked away his clarity and confidence, making him less than a child. Anxiety ran through him like hunger shakes, his face heated. What was it he held? When the woman brought it, he’d felt poised on that familiar precipice of lashing out at someone guilty only of accidentally exposing him, or at himself. He could’ve asked her what it was, but she would have said again, “A telegram,” beginning one of the absurd dances he was cursed to dance.
—Who sent it?
—It’s right there on front.
—I mean what for?
—What for? For you.
Relax, relax. Then the step he rarely took.
—Could you read it to me?
And the look.
He popped up from the couch and snapped off the TV. The sound of Floyd’s truck rattled through the thin door of the apartment, and Jimmy shifted his tightening shoulders, adjusted his expression not to show agitation and sat once more. The truck door slammed, then Floyd’s aimless whistling and jingling keys filtered closer until he stepped in, his jeans dusty, his boilermaker’s cap turned backwards, the Houston sun blazing behind him. “Howdy,” he said.
“Hey,” Jimmy said, and held up the paper. “Got me a telegram.”
Floyd shut the door and took the telegram from Jimmy. He turned it to every angle as if there were a facet he might miss. “Huh. Don’t think I ever seen one.”
“You never got one?”
“Don’t think nobody I know ever got one. Heard they used to send them when somebody was killed in a war.” Floyd turned the brim of his hat forward and eased into his recliner. “Says here it’s to James T. Strawhorn from J.T. Strawhorn. Didn’t send it to yourself, did you?” He laughed and poked his tongue around in his mouth.
“You mind just reading it, Floyd?”
Floyd’s eyebrows peaked at Jimmy’s tone, and he tore open the envelope. Floyd was one of the few people Jimmy had ever asked to read to him, and it irritated Jimmy that Floyd almost never read even though he could, struck him as sad that even Jimmy knew Floyd wasn’t a good reader by the way he stammered and halted. Floyd unfolded the telegram and cleared his throat.
“Here goes: ‘Dear James, I am your father.’” Floyd swallowed so heavily that Jimmy saw his Adam’s apple bob. He flexed the paper. “‘You might be shocked. Have lots of mistakes to make up. Poor health, hard times. Want to meet you before it’s too late. Have no phone. Please come to Baton Rouge. Here are directions to Baton Rouge . . . ’ There’s directions here on I-10 and such, then it ends, ‘Sincerely, J.T. Strawhorn.’”
Floyd stared at the letter a while more, then lowered it to his lap. “I thought you was a orphan.”
The couch quavered beneath Jimmy. An image of Pepper, good eye agleam with booze, raked through him, and he shifted in his seat. “That’s what I was told.”
“Then who you think this fella is?”
“Got no idea.” Tremors passed through Jimmy. His head went light. “Says he’s my father?”
“That’s what he says. Can’t figure how he’d get your address. When kids get adopted, I thought they’s supposed to seal up their identity.”
“I ain’t adopted, just orphaned.”
“Neither of them fellas Sparks nor Pepper adopted you?”
“Huh. Maybe you oughta call Sparks.”
“Don’t know what he’d have to say. Ain’t spoke to him in three years.”
Jimmy hoisted himself, wavered and took the telegram from Floyd. The paper buzzed against his fingertips as if a current coursed through it. Since he’d come to Houston six years ago, he knew his childhood was different, but now it struck him it might be even more different than he thought. What if this really was his father? He stared at the paper again, the word father as unintelligible as all the other words there. He locked his knees.
“What you gone do?” Floyd asked.
“Don’t know.” Jimmy turned and walked to his room. He shut the door and stood in the center of the small space, examined the telegram once more. Father. He’d barely considered the notion, never put the name to anyone, especially not Sparks, who’d mostly been twenty miles away on the main spread while Jimmy grew up. Pepper would’ve been more likely, but he’d died when Jimmy was thirteen, leaving Jimmy to run the smaller spread. His blood pitched. Pepper. Jimmy saw him as if he were written on the paper — that last night trailing whiskey and fright as he rode away on his horse. He lowered the telegram. A sizzle crossed his scalp, then he was atop a mesa, before him open sky, an expanse of land, and the urge toward them. He dropped to his seat on the bed and buttressed himself with his arms.
As if a curtain had been opened, Jimmy saw his room: a double bed, a chest-of-drawers dotted with movie-ticket stubs, his hardware-store smock stenciled with the only words he knew. He’d hopped here from west Texas with barely a thought, carrying Pepper’s memory and paranoia like rocks in his car trunk. He took the job at Home Depot that Mr. Sparks had fixed up for him, the only job he’d ever had off the ranch, and there he still worked, a floor man, “The Human Inventory” his coworkers called him because he knew the store frontwards and backwards, the highest an illiterate could go. Away from work he’d stopped dating, the dread of being found out and rejected a lode stone. Twenty-four and afraid to take a chance. As mired here as he’d become in west Texas, as scared as Pepper in his last years.
Jimmy hoisted himself, staggered, caught his balance and returned to where Floyd reclined in his lounger. “You think I could get to Baton Rouge?” he asked, noticed the paper trembling and lowered it.
“You feeling okay?”
“Said you reckon I could I get there?”
“Sure,” Floyd said, his eyebrows dipped. “You gone check it out?”
“Just gone go.” The room angled. Jimmy widened his stance.
“For good?” Jimmy nodded. “Whoa, buddy. You don’t know if this fella’s on the up and up.”
“I don’t know he ain’t neither. Says he’s sick, and there ain’t no reason to lie. Even if he ain’t who he says, least I’ll be outta here.”
Floyd tugged the brim of his hat. “Didn’t know you was so down on here.”
Jimmy wiped at the corners of his mouth and yearned for a smoke. “It ain’t here. I’m just stuck. All I do is work and sit in this little hole.”
“You just need to get out. I told you I knew some women.”
Jimmy thought of their faces, the few women he’d dated, at the moments they realized he couldn’t decipher something at a restaurant or movie theatre, thought of both the pity and revulsion, and the former was worse than the latter. Sometimes at the store he would find one flirting with him and like her, but he knew if she was smart, it wouldn’t take long for her to see what he couldn’t do, knew any woman who would want a man who couldn’t go any farther than he could was probably a woman he didn’t want. The floor rippled. He reached his hand to the wall.
Floyd stood. “You oughta take a load off. Let this mess settle.”
Jimmy stared at the couch as if it were a coffin. He wiped his mouth. “What if he really is my daddy and sick, Floyd? What if I have a momma too?”
“Just check it out. You ain’t got to leave everything.”
He saw Pepper railing at the mesa, saw him sprawled on the plain, felt his own feet heavy in this spot and dragging him down. “If I don’t go, I might never go nowhere.” Jimmy’s shoulder locked, but he rolled it against the tension. “I got some savings. I ain’t gone leave you in the lurch.”
“I figured that,” Floyd said, but Jimmy barely noticed. The wall behind Floyd had gone diaphanous.
Jimmy sailed over the swamp, marveling at the stilted road. He’d never seen a highway raised above an endless lake shot through with mossy cypress and abandoned platforms on telephone pole legs, but then he figured he was just beginning to see things. He took a long drag and let the smoke waft from his mouth, already on his second cigarette, his daily quota. He didn’t care. Life was opening like a giant door, every cloud a promise, every interstate exit an invitation, and Jimmy was celebrating in his own small way. Twice already he had rolled his shoulders and stretched his neck against the taut cords of his muscles, then veered off the highway to some unknown truck stop in some foreign town for coffee and a doughnut or a candy bar and Coke, for a stroll through the aisles of crap he couldn’t imagine anybody needing yet was himself tempted to buy, the wad of his savings urging him to pick up a belt buckle or a beer coozie or a cap he’d never wear. He was trying hard to embrace that as soon as you crossed a state line or set foot in a town you’d never been to, you were somebody new.
He took a last long inhale, let the smoke percolate in his lungs, then blew a thin stream as he stubbed the butt in his ashtray. For the umpteenth time he pictured meeting J.T. Strawhorn, his father, his father, an older man neatly dressed, frail and in need, opening the door to his modest house. Jimmy would extend his hand and say, “Pleasure to meet you, sir,” and the man would invite him into a cool brightly-lit living room. Jimmy had considered calling him Father, scrolled through Daddy and Poppa, just to try them on, and had settled on Mr. Strawhorn. After all, he had no experience with this sort of event. Hell, he barely had experience with anything father-and-son-like of the sort he’d seen onscreen or heard people talk about. Yesterday, as he stored his belongings, packed and settled with Floyd, Jimmy had thought of calling Sparks to see if he knew about any of this, but that seemed like stepping backwards. Years before, Sparks had staked him five-hundred dollars and gotten him the job, but he’d never seen fit to have Jimmy schooled, never seemed much interested in him and Pepper over at the small spread, never seemed much interested after Pepper died. But then why should he have been. For a while, Jimmy had been satisfied in his life with Pepper, that is until Pepper began to slide. Once Pepper was gone, Jimmy had argued with Sparks to be left alone to run the small place, even though it was a struggle. Maybe Sparks was just being respectful.
Jimmy thumped another cigarette from his pack and lit up. In the distance a boat cut a trail through gray water. Sun glinted off the calm surface. Low in the sky where Jimmy was heading, a jet left a vapor trail. This trip wouldn’t be like that trip into Houston so many years ago, the skyline rising from the plain like a threat, the interstate spreading into more lanes than a sane person could account for, the unreadable road signs crowding above him as he entered the city and tried to recall the number of the exit Mr. Sparks had told him to take. No, none of that now. Today was a fresh start.
The top of Jimmy’s scalp almost levitated when he began to climb the high arching span of the Mississippi River Bridge. The brown river dropped away beneath him, the car rose at a sharp pitch, and Jimmy’s head rose even higher. He locked his vision on the road. His father waited on the other side, and he wondered what he would really find. His breath shallowed. Why hadn’t he listened to Floyd, thought it through before jumping in his car and heading out? An old voice called him toward the bridge’s edge. He eased to the inside lane, his palms gummy with perspiration, and fixed his eyesight on the white lines dashing past. His awareness partly broke from him, spilled outward and then down, anxiety intertwining with euphoria to tempt him toward the bridge’s railing and the unfettered space beyond. He sped up, rocketing toward clear sky beyond girders, then the bridge peaked and Jimmy crested, the trees and rooftops of Baton Rouge expanding before him. His lungs let loose something between a laugh and a grunt, and his self began to unscatter as he glided downward.
The first exit number appeared, and he was thankful he’d studied a map with Floyd, matching numbers to the names on J.T.’s directions and penning them in the margin, thankful too that this interstate didn’t seem as crazy as Houston’s. “Baton Rouge,” Jimmy sounded to himself. He’d heard people mention it, remembered it from songs, knew it was the capital of Louisiana, but that was about it. He hoped that was enough for now. The expressway banked left, carved through the center of downtown, headed toward a thicket of silver smokestacks, then curved right past an old gray mildew-streaked stadium. When the road straightened again, chemical plants and refineries lined the horizon to the left, while trees and houses appeared to the right below. Already the numbers told him he was nearing his exit, and by the time he saw number three up ahead, his palms throbbed. He ramped off the interstate, chanting the directions Floyd had read from the telegram. But the telegram only told the names of the streets and the direction to turn, not how many streets or how many lights or how far between turns, which meant that Jimmy had to do the closest thing to reading that he could: hold the directions up and try to match them with the names on street signs. He slowed at the end of the ramp and wondered if he hadn’t made a huge mistake, hadn’t left something safe for something stupid, felt a shadow brush him, and kept going, past deserted businesses and tiny houses. He noticed nothing but black people around him, noticed boarded-up windows and grass-sprouting parking lots, hoped he hadn’t already missed his turn.
Luckily the road he was on had four lanes, so people could pass him as he crept along looking, but drivers were still honking as they passed. He hated this feeling, like trying to put a puzzle together in the dark, like pretending he couldn’t read a customer’s handwriting or asking leading idiot questions such as, “What exactly you want this for?” and getting answers like, “To take a bath in.” He tried to work up some spit and focus on the pay-off ahead. At the next large street, he held the telegram up and studied the column of directions that Floyd had written. The street name Jimmy was looking for lay just below the number of the interstate exit, the number a good marker. He pulled to the side of the road, folded the paper and lifted it so that the street name sat just below the street sign. A match, as far as he could tell. Horns blew as he made his way from the right lane to a left-hand turn into a heavier stream of traffic. Buildings, signs, driveways, billboards and off-streets crammed the roadside. He had no clue how far until his next turn, his father’s street, and the road was too busy to hold the paper up and try to match while moving. The sensible thing would be to stop and ask someone for directions — he knew the name of the street from Floyd and could say it out loud — but it seemed important that he navigate this on his own. He crawled, traffic zooming past him. He’d trained himself to mentally file so well that he knew where everything was at the store, bought a precise street map in Houston so Floyd could help him memorize specific directions, disciplined his memory to know how to get places after just one trip, yet here he was like a child again, the letters on the paper jiggling and shrinking.
A semi’s horn blasted him. He banged the steering wheel, hit his turn signal and jerked between oncoming traffic into the lot of a dying strip mall. He pressed his thumb and finger against his eyes, the memory of Houston’s traffic that first day coming to him as a metal river washing him along. Panic had choked him until he veered off the interstate to fight the shakes and spins. He’d refused to call Mr. Sparks, was too uncertain to travel far from the main road and so had sat in an old service station parking lot for hours, thirsty and hungry, until he and the traffic settled enough to risk traveling once more. He’d sworn he’d never be so helpless again. And he wasn’t. He wasn’t sure if he had already missed his father’s street or not gone far enough, but he knew he wasn’t lost. His options were to backtrack and try again, keep going forward, wait until traffic slowed much later, or get out of the car and walk in order to see better. He stretched his neck to the side, the muscle popping like a whip snap against the winch of his shoulder. Shit. He supposed he’d ask somebody.
The mall before him was a right angle of connected stores fronted by a covered walkway. Jimmy eased into the parking lot until he reached one of the two clusters of cars, a group of three near what he could tell from the sign of a mortar and pestle was a drug store. He stepped out and strode across the burning asphalt, pushed through a glass door and into cool air. The clang of a cowbell caused him to spin. He gripped the bell, then heard a full-throated, woman’s chuckle that heated his face. “It does that to everybody,” she said from behind the counter and began gnawing the tip of her thumb. Jimmy blinked, the sight of her so bright and unexpected. Her hair, so blond it was almost white, spouted in a ponytail from the side of her head and over her bare shoulder. Her blue eyes seemed illuminated in the pale skin of her face and set off by her wide, red mouth. A galaxy of green spots adorned her pink sleeveless blouse, everything large — her height, her expression, her breasts.
Jimmy cleared his throat. “Too much coffee,” he said, pinched at his lips and sauntered over, his calm exterior the one thing he could count on.
“I had to give up caffeine,” she said. “Too jittery.” She jerked her thumb away from her mouth as if she’d just remembered it, then turned the paperback she’d been reading face down. “What can I do you for?”
“Pack of Marlboro Lights,” he said, glanced at the cover of the book and away as if it might strike him.
“Killing yourself lightly, huh?” She smiled and took the cigarettes off the rack.
“I reckon.” He laid the directions on the counter and smoothed them, pointed to what he knew was his father’s address. “You know how to get to here?” Jimmy tried to cover the top of the telegram with his palm, but the woman slid the paper out and held it close to her face.
“That’s just one block over, behind the mall.” She lowered the paper and set the Marlboros on the counter. “You’ve never been in there?”
“Just come in from Texas.”
“Texas. You mind if I ask why you’re going there?”
“Why you’re going there.”
Jimmy wondered if everybody here was nosy, if coming several hundred miles could change behavior as radically as it sometimes seemed behavior was changed from west to east Texas. “Going to meet somebody.”
“You don’t seem like the type to meet somebody in that neighborhood.”
“I mean, it’s not my business, but there aren’t many white people in there and most white people who go in there go to buy drugs. At least that’s what I understand. You don’t seem that type.” She held him full on with her gaze, and he looked down to his cigarettes before the roundness and blueness of her eyes swallowed him.
“I’m going to meet my father.” He looked back up. “I never met him before.” He grabbed the pack of cigarettes and thumped it twice on the counter.
“Oh.” She nodded. “That’s wonderful. You must be excited.”
“Ain’t sure what I am. Didn’t know he was alive till day before yesterday. Still don’t really know for sure. You sound like this neighborhood’s kinda rough.”
“Don’t pay any attention to me,” she said. She shook her head and placed the telegram on the counter. “I’m sure it’ll be fine. I just talk too much. I don’t get many people my age in here to talk to.” Gold flecks floated in the sky of her eyes, but her smile had left her. Her forehead was rounded to her high hairline, her lashes long and jet black. He took a half-step back.
“How much?” he asked.
She started. “Oh, nothing. They’re on me. For luck, even though I hope you’ll quit.” She laughed and touched her index finger to her lips, then handed him the cigarettes. “Come back and tell me how it went,” she said.
“Meeting your father. How it goes.”
She smiled impossibly wide, her teeth big and white and slightly crooked. He nodded and turned to leave. “Don’t forget the bell,” she said. “And be careful.”
He entered the heat again and paused in the shade of the sidewalk’s overhang, the pulse loud in his ears. The contrast between the radiant woman and the run-down mall staggered him like a collision of worlds. He wished he’d asked her name, was jarred by his old doubt and snorted. Back in his car, he circled around behind the mall, drove one street over and turned, his pulse picking up. He cruised past a row of small, identical, dilapidated houses with scruffy roofs and peeling paint. Black people sat on tiny stoops and on front steps, fanning themselves against the heat or simply staring as if paralyzed. He wondered if his father was here because he was so sick he was about to die. Or maybe he was here because he, like Jimmy, was unable to do the things you needed to do to get the really nice things. Or maybe his father was black? It seemed impossible. How could a black man produce a red-haired son? Jimmy supposed it could happen. Not that it mattered. They’d still be father and son.
Jimmy saw the number hanging sideways on a porch and pulled into the tiny yard, his legs thrumming. Someone peered through the screen door, then ducked away and shut the inner door. Jimmy checked the number again and stepped out. His muscles, tendons and scalp tingled, but his legs were as limber as if he’d sprinted from Texas. He couldn’t understand why whoever was in the house had disappeared. Regret at sending for Jimmy? But, then, whoever was inside had no way of knowing Jimmy was even coming and especially not so soon. He climbed the single step onto the porch and knocked. And knocked. And knocked.
“He in there,” said the woman sitting on the stoop next door. “I just seen him outside.”
“Obliged,” Jimmy said. He tried to peer through the thin curtain on the door’s window but saw no movement inside. “J.T. Strawhorn?” he called out. “Mr. Strawhorn, you in there?” Silence. “I came all the way from Texas, Mr. Strawhorn.”
“What do you want?” a voice came through the door.
“Is this where J.T. Strawhorn lives?”
“I asked what you want?”
Jimmy paused to consider his answer. “I’m . . . My name’s Jimmy Strawhorn. Mr. J.T. Strawhorn sent me a telegram.”
“Say you’re Jimmy Strawhorn?”
“Yes, sir. I got this here telegram.”
The wooden door cracked, then slowly swung open. The man moved up to the screen and pressed a hand to it. He was about Jimmy’s height, his light hair thin and unruly, his long white face and deep-set eyes strikingly familiar, although blue and not brown like Jimmy’s. He wore wrinkled khakis and a sleeveless T-shirt. His cheeks were stubbled. Jimmy figured him to be in his fifties, but he looked older.
“I’ll be damned,” the man said, then his mouth hung open. “I’ll be goddamned.” He pushed the screen toward Jimmy and extended a hand. “J.T. Strawhorn,” he said.
Jimmy shook his hand, his throat tickling. “Jimmy Strawhorn. Pleasure to meet you, sir.”
The edge of J.T.’s mouth lifted and his expression went goofy. He held onto Jimmy’s hand even though they’d finished shaking. “Jimmy damn Strawhorn. I didn’t think you’d come. Hell, I didn’t think you’d even get my telegram.”
“I sure did get it.”
“Jimmy Strawhorn.” J.T. shoved his hands in his pockets and rocked, then started as if thumped on the nose. “Come on in, boy.” J.T. moved out of the way until Jimmy had entered, then glanced both ways back through the door. “You ain’t got nothing valuable sitting in your car, do you?”
“Got my bag and some stuff in my trunk.”
“That’ll be all right. They liable to take it if you leave it where they can get at it.”
“They tough customers up in here?”
“I met worse.”
The small, barren room was baking. Jimmy’s vision took a moment to adjust to the dimness, then he saw one straight-backed chair set in the middle of the room before a box-fan clicking at full speed. Cracks and stains decorated the walls. A narrow hall led directly to the back door. The thought that living in small places might be genetic scampered through Jimmy’s mind.
“It ain’t much,” said J.T., rubbing his chin and studying the shotgun house as if he were a prospective buyer. “Kind of a shithole really. Only temporary, though. Been down on my luck.” He gave Jimmy a desperate look, then smiled and raised his shoulders, adjusting his whole demeanor as though another person had suddenly inhabited his skin. He slapped Jimmy’s shoulder. “All that’s gonna change now you’re here. You planning on staying or you got yourself a motel room?”
“Hadn’t really thought about it.”
“Why don’t you stay here at least tonight so we can talk about what’s gonna happen. Here, you probably need to pee. Give me your keys and I’ll get your bag out the car.” Jimmy nodded and dug into his pocket. The man and the room tilted off their axes. Jimmy expected it would be a while before he was set level again, but in a way that suited him fine. He handed J.T. the keys. “Jimmy Strawhorn,” J.T. said. “Bathroom’s just on your left.” J.T. peered both ways through the door and hurried outside.
The bathroom was a steamy closet with a commode, a step-in shower, and sink with a brown-stained drain. The linoleum flooring curled at the edges and Jimmy saw several giant roaches scurry under it when he entered. He’d seen better outhouses in west Texas, half expected a scorpion to be lurking on the wall. After he finished he heard the creak of the screen and was about to step into the hall again when he eased open the rusty rectangle of a medicine cabinet above the sink. Inside were aspirin, stomach mints, a splayed toothbrush and a nearly empty tube of toothpaste, a good sign, he hoped, in that there were no medicine bottles. But then, living here, J.T. might be unable to get medicine.
“I brought this in,” J.T. said, sitting in the chair with Jimmy’s duffle at his feet. “I figured this was what you needed.” Jimmy nodded. Questions rolled through his head at an unbelievable rate, but he was unsure where to start. J.T. sat with his legs crossed, working his foot at high speed and grinning like he was drunk. “Oh,” he said, and popped to his feet, “why don’t you sit down.”
“No, no, I been sitting.”
J.T. settled back into the chair and looked around the room, his smile fading to a frown until he focused on Jimmy and grinned once more. J.T.’s cheeks were sunken and the bones in his shoulders were visible, although Jimmy couldn’t be sure if that was just age, illness, build or lack of food. He thought of offering him a cigarette, then thought how bad that would seem if J.T. suffered from a lung problem.
“You have trouble finding it?” J.T. asked.
“Naw, that lady at the drug store helped me.”
“Over at that sadass mall?”
“I been in there.” J.T. winked recrossed his legs. He rubbed one of his ankles. “So, you must’ve took off work soon as you got my telegram.”
“Might say that. I pulled up.”
“Dragged up at work and took off.”
“You quit your job?” J.T. uncrossed his legs.
“Wasn’t much of a job. Worked at the Home Depot.”
“Hm. Well, hope you ain’t expecting much here right away. I’m in sort of a tight spot.”
“Don’t worry about that. I had some money saved up.”
J.T. nodded. “I didn’t mean like I don’t have anything. I only been here a few days. Lived in a real nice place, but had some, what you might call, reversals. I’m working on some things, though. I’ll be right back where I was soon.”
Jimmy looked at the closed windows. “Maybe we can get a little window unit to cool it off some till then.”
“Oh, I’m fine,” J.T. said. “Heat don’t bother me. I’ve had lots of jobs where the heat was worse than this. Only thing is I have to dress like a bum to keep from sweatin’ on my good clothes.” He tugged his shirt away from his chest, then rubbed his palms on his knees and smiled close-mouthed as if to prove how cool he was. He glanced at the window, seemed to notice that the house was sealed and popped up. “Let’s open some of them windows.” J.T. tugged one open then sat again, ogling it. Jimmy went over and raised the other two, sat on the sill of one.
“How’d you find me, Mr. Strawhorn?” he asked.
“Call me J.T.” He paused and flexed his fingers, his gaze fixed on a spot on the floor. “How’d I find you. Well, it wasn’t easy. I tracked you. I hoped you were out there, but I couldn’t get my hands on the records. Fact is, I wasn’t even sure where to start cause I didn’t know exactly what’d happened. Your momma ran off with you when you was little, and I just assumed she still had you. I tried to find her, you know, I asked around and all, but I didn’t find out for years that she’d give you up for adoption.”
“How’d you come on that?”
“How’d I come on what?”
“That I’d been put up for adoption.”
J.T. tapped his lower teeth with his fingertips. “I ran into somebody I knew knew your momma and they told me. Said your momma wasn’t able to handle having you by herself, what with all her problems. So I started going around trying to find out from government people where you might be, went around and around. Wasn’t till a week or so ago I finally found somebody who showed me the records on you.”
“They had my address?”
“Well, no. They, uh, gave me the number of some slow-talking fella in Texas.”
“Yeah, Mr. Sparks. I explained the situation to him and he gave me your address. I’d have called you too, but I thought telegramming might be better. You know, give you a chance to think about it. Plus, I lost my phone.”
“Did Mr. Sparks tell you they said I was an orphan?”
J.T. put his forearm to his forehead and looked up. “He might’ve mentioned that. Last couple of weeks’ve been a jumble. I can’t say as I have everything lined up.”
“It ain’t important right now,” Jimmy said. He wanted to ask about his mother, searched a moment for an image of her and thought it odd how little he’d tried to imagine her, even when she crossed his mind. Jimmy started to ask what she looked like and what her “problems” had been, ask if she might still be around, but J.T. looked worn from the few questions he’d already answered. Jimmy thought maybe he should ask him what he could help with, but it was too soon. Instead he said, “I’m obliged you tracked me, J.T.”
“Me, too, son. Me too. We’re gonna have a big time.”
Text prepared by
- Bruce R. Magee
Parrish, Tim. The Jumper. Huntsville: Texas Review Press, 2013. Print. Used by permission. All rights reserved.