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Ames K. Swartsfager

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By Ames K. Swartsfager
Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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Jackson, an old man, returns to the place where he was raised. Things have changed, but not his memories.


            Jackson R. Holman woke up slowly, rubbed the sleep from his eyes and looked around the drab plastic motel room.  It was all he could afford.

            "Past nine," he murmured and with great effort got up from the bed and went into the bathroom.  Afterward Jackson -- his friends called him Jackie -- washed his face and decided not to shave,  It was late and he was in a hurry.

            He looked into the mirror and saw an old man with a leathery face that resembled a crumpled sheet of paper.  All the hard work, the sadness, and the anxiety over the years were imprinted on it.

            "Got to get going," he said, making a cup of instant coffee the motel had provided and pulling on his old clothes and shoes.

            "I'll save the better ones for my trip home," Jackie thought, as he hid his return ticket behind the mirror and opened the door.  A hot blast of August air that could only be found in Dallas took his breath away.  He had forgotten how blistering the sun could be in Texas.

            Jackie found a corner store and bought a package of cigarettes, pulled one out, lit it and took a deep drag. 

            "It's hot," he said to the store clerk, moving to stand under an air conditioning vent.  The air felt moist but not really cooling.

            "I'll say it is," the clerk replied.  "They say it's going to top 102 today.  A scorcher."

            "Feels like it already.  Say, where can I find a street car to take me to Garrett Street?"

            "Street car?"

            "Yes.  There used to be a street car near here that went along the edge of Garret Park.  I don't remember the name of the street but it went right down past here...might have been Gaston Avenue.  I'm not sure."

            "There hasn't been a street car running here for thirty years or so," the shopkeeper said with a laugh.  "There's a modern one downtown, but it's for tourists and shoppers.  Doesn't come out this way."

            "What about the Ross Avenue trolley bus?"

            "That's gone too.  But there is a bus that runs up Ross.  Walk three blocks that way," said the store clerk pointing.

            Jackie left the store and trudged toward the Ross Avenue bus stop.  As he walked along he thought that maybe his kids had been right.  "You're was too old and sick to make this trip," they told him.

            But ever since Anna's death he'd been pulled back to Texas.  Jackie had wanted...had been driven to...return to where he had enjoyed life most.  High school, university and even a highly successful career had not provided him the joy and feeling of freedom he had experienced when he lived in Dallas.

            "How old was I then," he wondered.  "Seven ...eight...nine?  Jeeze, that was more that sixty years ago.  No wonder the street cars are gone.  What was I thinking?"

            "God, it's hot," he muttered out loud.  He pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his balding head.  "Should have brought  my hat."


            Getting off the bus at Fitshugh he walked over to his old grammar school.  The old building was still there, but the many additions to it made it unrecognizable.  If it weren't for the name `Fannin Elementary School' carved in the cement over the door, he would have passed it by.

            Jackie walked two blocks up Ross.  He discovered that he was trying not to step on the cracks in the sidewalk.

            "Step on a crack, break your mother's back!"  he heard the chant in the back of his mind.  He made an effort to walk normally. 

            Coming to the corner of Ross and Garret Street he saw the cathedral he remembered so well.  It looked like a castle.  Jackie and his friends had attacked it many times, imagining a damsel in distress imprisoned in the high tower.

            "But we never captured it," Jackie thought as he looked at the high square tower.  "I wondered if there really was a damsel held captive there."

     His old home, which was near to the Cathedral, was now a parking lot with two refuse containers sitting where his bedroom had been.

            "Gone...all gone," he sighed.

            Turning around he saw Kenny's house.  At least it was still there. And Robby's?  He couldn't remember if the brick apartment house was where Bobby had lived or not.

            Jackie felt a little sick and lightheaded.  "You can't really go back," his son's words echoed in his mind.  

            "I'll go to the park and sit on a bench until I get myself together...maybe get a drink at the water fountain.  I can watch the children and relax a bit." he said.  "Just for a little while."     

            He turned the corner and stopped abruptly.  The park he had remembered...the park that was always teaming with children...playing baseball...swimming... 

            "It's empty," he grumbled with shock.  "Where did all the kids go?"  Then Jackie felt a surge of anger.  "What did they do to my park?"

            He stood looking at the empty park, thinking about what had drawn him here.  A return to his childhood.  A search for long ago happiness.

            "Yes," he muttered with a long sigh.  He reached in his back pocket, pulled out a handkerchief and mopped his head and neck.  He gave a short laugh.

            "See what air conditioning does," he said to nobody.  "Everyone stays inside and watches television."  He remembered he had lived here when air conditioning and, yes, even television, came to Dallas.  Howdy Doody had replaced the Saturday afternoon movie matinees.

            And how his friends and he had rejoiced when the Sears store opened behind the Cathedral.  Two things had attracted them: air conditioning and escalators.

            "How cool the floors felt on my hot, bare feet, and how much fun it was running up and down the escalators, trying to escape the clerks who wanted to throw us out!" he thought.

            He  felt dizzy again.

            "I've got to sit down," he mumbled.  He looked around, but there were no longer any park benches.  No benches for the young mothers to sit on and gossip while airing their babies and trying to escape the stale, even hotter air of their homes.  No drinking fountains either.  Again anger surged through him.

            He walked on through the park, noting how dirty it had become.  Broken bottles and papers scattered everywhere.

            "A kid would surely cut himself if he ran through the park barefooted now."

            Jackie found the old swimming pool, fenced and padlocked. 

            "It's only five feet deep," he laughed, setting his irritation aside.  "It sure seemed deeper than that."

            The shack where a city worker distributed arts and crafts was gone, along with the bathroom.  The large swings which took you high into the sky and the teeter-totter he had played on had been replaced by some flimsy back yard slides and swings.

            Still no bench.

            Jackie was really tired now. 

            "That sun is doing a job on me," he thought, looking around and seeing some inviting shade under an old elm tree.  He picked up part of an old Dallas Morning News he found caught in the bushes, spread it on the ground, relaxed against the rough trunk of the tree, and closed his eyes against the glare of the sun.


            "Get up! Come on Jackie.  Aren't you goin' swimmin'?"

            Jackie rubbed his eyes.  A boy with tousled black hair and a nose almost too large for his face was standing over him.  He was about nine years old.

            "Ah, Jackie if you don't hurry they won't let us in the pool until the second session.  Come on, get up!"

            "That you, Bobby?" Jackie asked sleepily.

            "Who the heck do you think it is?  Kenny and I have been looking all over for you.  Now get up and let's go!"

            Jackie got up as Bobby took off across the field toward the swimming pool.  Bobby was way ahead of him when they reached the pool.

            "Come on!" yelled Kenny, a freckled faced youngster with large ears and blond hair with an untameable cow-lick. "They're letting us in."  The three of them shoved past a bunch of girls and got into the pool.

            After dunking one another--and a few girls they knew, especially Jackie's older sister--they rested on the edge of the pool, soaking in the hot sun.

            "Look over there,"  Kenny said, nodding his head toward a group of giggling girls.  "Wonder what they find so funny."

            "You," said Bobby.  "They're in love with you."

            "They are not."  Kenny gave Bobby a punch in the shoulder.

            "How could they love you?" chimed in Jackie.  "You're too ugly."   

            Kenny started to punch Jackie, but he jumped into the pool and out of his reach.

            "Trrr! Trrt!" sounded the whistle.

            "Oh shit," said Bobby.  "Time's up."  The three friends stayed in the pool until everyone else was out.

            "Okay you guys," yelled the lifeguard. "Get out.  You know that time's up."

            As slowly as they could, the boys got out of the pool and walked across the lawn to the shade of a tree.

            "What do we do now?" asked Bobby.

            "Donno," said Jackie.

            "Let's go the clubhouse," suggested Kenny.

            Without discussion they started running for the rest rooms, climbed up the adjacent fence and reached the roof.

            "Let's tell dirty jokes."  This from Kenny.

            "Go ahead," urged Bobby.  There was a tingling expectation in the group,

            "Well," said Kenny, "my sister told me this one.  You know she is dating a sailor.  Well, she told me that her boy friend said she reminded him of San Francisco from the twin peaks to the waterfront."  He laughed.  The others chuckled, not really understanding the joke.

            "I know something," said Bobby excitedly.  "You know Cindy, Jim's little sister?"

            They all nodded.

            "Well," continued Bobby, "she will show you her `thing' for a quarter."

            "Yeah?" asked Kenny with renewed interest.

            "That's what I heard,"

            "I'm not interested in girls," said Jackie.

            "You don't know what you're interested in," said Kenny with a sneer. 

            "Yes I do!"  Jackie exclaimed and punched Kenny's shoulder.

            "No you don't!" Bobby insisted smiling.  "You don't know nothin'!"           

            "Not only that, but you'll probably die a bum," Kenny said, laughing.  Jackie grabbed his wrist and gave him an Indian burn.

            "You'll be a bum too!" Jackie yelled, as he rubbed even harder.

            "Ouch," yelled Kenny struggling to get away.

            "Take it back," yelled Jackie.

            "Yes! Yes! Just stop!" 

            Jackie was good at giving Indian burns.

            "What about you, Bobby?" he said, reaching for his wrist.

            Bobby quickly scrambled down from the roof and over into the field next to the park. 

            "You'll have to catch me first, you bum!" he yelled.

            The two boys followed but Bobby was a fast runner.  They couldn't catch him.

            After crossing the field they forgot the chase and walked along Garrett Street.

            "What do y'all want to do now?" asked Bobby.

            "Let's steal some cigarettes," proposed Jackie.


            "You heard me.  I'm tired of trying to smoke coffee, tea, corn silk, and all the other junk we've tried."

            "But stealing...That's illegal," Bobby protested.

            "Yeah," Jackie said.  "But we won't get caught."

            "I donno," said Kenny. "But I would like to smoke a real cigarette."

            "Well," Bobby added, "If we didn't get caught, it'd be swell."

            "Who's going to steal them?"

            "I will," said Jackie.  He'd always been the bravest of the three.

            They ran around the corner and down Ross Avenue to the little drug store where cigarettes were displayed near the front counter.  They all went in and looked around.  Waiting until the clerk was attending a customer, Jackie grabbed a pack and they left the store, the screen door slamming behind them like a shot.

            "Did you get them?" Bobby asked as the trio ran down the block.

            "Yeah," gasped Jackie, running as hard as he could and looking over his shoulder occasionally to see if anyone was following.

            "What kind?" yelled Bobby, leading the group.  "I hope you got Camels."

            "Donno," replied Jackie, trying to keep up with the others.

            They arrived at Jackie's house and headed for the garage.  Collapsing on boxes, they tried to catch their breath.

            Jackie pulled the cigarettes out of his pocket.

            "Damnit Jackie!" exclaimed Kenny. "You got Kools.  I hate menthol cigarettes."

            "How many have you smoked?" asked Jackie with interest.

            "Well...none.  But if I had, I wouldn't have liked them."

            "Anyone have a match?"  Jackie pulled out a cigarette.

            "Here," said Bobby, handing Jackie a well worn match book.

            It took several attempts before he got the cigarette lit, then handed the pack to the others.

            "Jeese,"  said Kenny.  "You got cork tipped.  That's for women."

            "Next time you can steal the cigarettes."  Jackie took a drag.  The smoke tasted cold, not at all as he had expected.  He felt more manly just holding a cigarette in his hand.

            They smoked in silence.

            "Let's sneak out at nine tonight and watch the lovers in the park," said Kenny, taking a deep pull at his cigarette.        

            "Okay," both Jackie and Bobby agreed.

            The boys puffed their cigarettes for awhile.  Then Kenny said,

            "I think I'd better go home."   He was very pale.  "My mom told me to get home early today."  He stubbed out his cigarette, about half smoked, and left the garage running for his home.

            "Me too.  Got to go," Bobby mumbled and took off running.

            Jackie put his cigarette out.  He wasn't feeling very good. Dizzy, he ran around to the back of the garage and vomited.

            That night at dinner he didn't eat much.  His mother, concerned that he was getting sick, dosed him with Castor Oil, her cure-all.  After he swallowed this he inadvertently yelled,


            Hearing this, his mother grabbed him by the ear, took him to the kitchen, and washed his mouth out with kitchen soap.  He vomited for the second time that day and was sent to bed.


            "Tap, Tap, Tap." 

            A noise at the window.

            Jackie rolled over and opened the window.

            "Be quiet Kenny... for God's sake," whispered Jackie.

            "Let's go to the park."

            "I don't think I can come tonight.  I'm bushed."

            "Awe, come on," pleaded Kenny.

            "No can do," Jackie repeated.  All he wanted to do was sleep.  It had been a long hard day and, if truth be told, he was still a little sick from the cigarette and soap.

            He lay back and thought about the day.  It had been fun until he smoked that cigarette.  Maybe he'd try smoking again tomorrow.  Maybe not.

            As he contemplated the day, sleep closed over him.


            The two policemen stood over the old man on the ground.

            "He alive?" asked the first policeman, nudging him with his foot.

            "No.  He's very dead.  Maybe a heart attack," replied the second.

            "Looks like another derelict.  How many of these winos have we found here?"

            "Third one this month.  They ever find out who they were?"

            "After the second one I was curious so I asked the sergeant.  He said that fingerprint checks had identified the other two.  One of them was a Robert Holstein," the officer continued, consulting his notebook, "And the other was some guy named Kenneth White."

            "Any ID on this one?

            "No, his pockets are empty, just like the others."

            "A bum."

            "Well," said the first policemen, "maybe someone cleaned his pockets out after he died."

            "Nah. Like I said, a bum.  This park seems to attract them."

            A siren sounded as it closed on the park.  They had come to pick-up Jackson R. Holman, successful businessman, widower, "bum" and... nine year old boy.




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Reviewed by John Domino 4/11/2010
A good piece of work. Many points to ponder.. Should we go back? Should we go forward?
Reviewed by m j hollingshead 3/25/2010
well said
Reviewed by Mark Lichterman 2/20/2010
Very good, very well written and did hold my interest to the end.

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