The First RingJohn White / Science Fiction
The following is a work of pure fiction. Any resemblance between characters in this novel and any persons, living or dead, is purely accidental. No resemblance of any characters, places, towns, cities, or events found in this work of fiction to any actual persons, places, towns, cities or events was intended or designed.
The First Ring
By John White
James T Lawrence had lived neither a good nor bad life, and like his life his death was an experience in mediocrity. Lying on a hospital bed with a clean white sheet pulled to his chest Jimmy was expiring in a slow, rudderless departure like stale air leaking from an old worn tire. He had been called Jimmy for as long as he could remember. The name James sounded strange to his ears and had only been used by his mother when he was in trouble. Jimmy’s withered lips stretched into a feeble smile at the memory of his mother, Mae.
Confined to the hospital bed Jimmy was too weak to rise or even turn over. He felt like an old shoe that had been cast aside with the sole pulling apart from its cracked and stained uppers, the connecting strings frayed and frail. The thought was depressing and he ditched the idea, closing his faded eyes, he sank into a drifting world of disjointed memories and muddled reminiscences. He floated in a river of disjointed time and disembodied faces. Images, sounds, and smells drifted through his anchorless mind in an unchorographed jumble until he realized they were all memoirs of his infancy. The ancient familiarity lighted his aged heart and for the first time in a long time he felt happy, and at home.
At home, the concept was instantaneously comforting, soothing in a way he had not experienced in years without number. Dust motes floating in slanted sunlight as his tiny fingers tried to capture them, wallpaper designs of flowers, and his mother humming in another room solidified into a reality that tugged at him with a force so physical he sensed moving through time and space. His dad, Bill, slumped in a chair listening to Dragnet on the radio in the evening. Jimmy never called him dad until he was much older. His mother called him Bill, so he called him Bill. A little toy truck in his hand and a broken Messerschmitt on the wooden floor, Bill called it a Messerschmitt; it would a long time before Jimmy knew it was an airplane.
Grandma’s house, grandpa always just called her, woman, with the new wringer-washing machine, “Don’t get your fingers in there, Jimmy!” Wandering through scenes; canning green beans and tomatoes in grandma’s kitchen, quilting at the neighbors, and hog killing in the back yard, the bladder blown up to make him a ball. It made a ‘bonig’ sound on the floor. Jimmy laughed at the ‘bonig’ sound. The car parked by the house, Bill said it was an old prewar trap. Jimmy didn’t know what prewar was. He knew Bill had been in the war, and his buddy W.C. had been at Omaha Beach and drank a lot because of it, that’s what his mother said. And he didn’t know what a trap was either but he thought it meant dusty because the old car was dusty. The cloth seats smelled dusty and when he pushed the front seat forward to get out dust came up and smelled like the roads.
Jimmy remembered hiding behind the dusty seat at the Shoals drive in down at Wheeler Dam when Bill and Mae took him to see a movie where a man turned into a frightening animal! That thing scared him silly and after that he was afraid to go down to the outhouse at night, even with the flashlight, and even when he had to go bad.
Waking on the dusty back seat, it was cold when they left home headed for California to visit Maybelle, Bill’s sister, and his cousins for Christmas, but it was hot now. Jimmy sat up and looked out the window. Right blue sky stretched so far he couldn’t see its end until he stood up on the floorboard and looked out the front window. He could see hills way off where the road went to a point. The land was flat and treeless, nothing like home. There were trees all around their house and he knew them, but this scene he knew not at all. Mother had called it the desert and Jimmy suspected California must be at the end of the desert where the road came to a point.
Bill turned off the highway. The highway was paved, not like the dirt roads at home and most of the cars had bags strapped over their front radiators with ropes. Bill said it was for when the cars overheated. They must do that a lot in the desert because none of the cars at home had bags tied over their radiators.
Gravel crunched and dust rose outside the window. Jimmy climbed up on the seat and peered out the grimy window. Big trucks and cars were parked outside a building that looked like it was made out of mud, but painted white. Bill got out and stretched. Mother pulled the seat forward and held out her hand.
“Come Jimmy, let’s get something to eat,” she bent to help him out. Jimmy stepped onto the running board. He liked the running boards. He’d once seen “Gobbler” Grey standing on the running boards of a car that passed the house. Mother said “Gobbler” was touched in the head and Jimmy had wondered who had touched him and if he stood on the running boards long enough may be he would get touched too. “Come on,” she insisted and Jimmy jumped down.
Holding mother’s hand felt so good, so secure. Bill opened the door and they walked into the place. The walls were bright blue with strange trees painted on them. Palm trees, palm trees in the desert. Jimmy sensed, but he didn’t know how or why, the owner must have been in the war too, only he was in the Pacific. Jimmy wondered what the Pacific was and in his head he saw an expanse of blue water. He wondered about that as mother lifted him up and sat him in a highchair by a table.
Bill sat down and Mae sat on the other side. A fat woman in a white dress came to their table with a little notebook in her hand. Jimmy watched her. She looked like Mrs. Killen, except her hair was different. Suddenly Jimmy knew Mrs. Killen would die in a car wreck in 1957.
“What’ye having?” the fat woman asked.
“I bet the chili’s hot,” Bill smirked, eyeing Mae mischievously.
“Don’t you dare,” mother says, looking over her menu at Bill. “I ain’t riding in a car with you for another day and half if you eat that stuff.”
Bill does one of his sideway smiles, which Jimmy knows is a signal he was kidding.
“It’s hot,” the fat woman confirms titling her head to the side.
“It’s what I heard about you’all’s chili,” Bill said, eyeing the menu.
“I ain’t from here,” the woman said, “so can’t blame me.”
“Where’re you from?” Mae asked, laying her menu to one side.
“Dallas,” the woman replied.
“Kennedy was shot there,” Jimmy said.
“Who’s Kennedy?” Mae asked confusion on her pretty face.
“President,” Jimmy chirped, smiling up at his mother.
“No, honey, Eisenhower’s President,” Mae corrected him, looking up at the waitress. “I don’t know where he comes up with some of this stuff.”
“That boy is strange,” Bill said with a sad shake of his head to the waitress.
“’It’s not from my side,” Mae insisted playfully, her dark eye confidently returning his gaze before looking at the waitress. The fat woman smiled back at her consolingly.
“Yeah, this from a woman whose grandfather used to smear Vick’s Vapor Rub over his head every night before he went to bed,” Bill snorted. The waitress’s eyebrows went up but she held her peace.
“He thought it helped him sleep,” Mae was mildly rebuffed, but her confidence was fading and she glanced at the waitress as if seeking comfort.
“Or your sister who used to eat chicken manure,” Bill never knew when to let a subject go. Mae’s eyes seemed to turn completely black and her attention riveted on him.
“She was just a child, and besides Dr. Cotton said it was because she was lacking some nutrient she needed.” Mae’s feelings were hurt now and when Bill opened his mouth to add to her misery she shot him a stabbing glance that even he picked up on. So did the waitress.
“What can I get’ye?” her offer was quickly accepted.
“Just get us some burgers and fries,” Bill said, looking at Mae for validation. She nodded, but added,
“Can you make his small?” she nodded at Jimmy.
“Sure, hon,” the waitress scribbled in her notebook.
“What’ye want to drink?”
“I’ll have tea,” Bill said and Mae nodded, pointing at Jimmy and holding up her fingers to indicate it should also be small. The waitress winked at Mae, made a note and left.
A cowboy looking man, but without a gun on which puzzled Jimmy, went to the jukebox and dropped in a dime. He punched some buttons on the machine with bubbles rising up glass tubes on the sides and started playing Hank Williams’ Cold, Cold Heart. Bill played guitar but couldn’t read music. He liked Hank Williams and started nodding his head to the song.
“They say he actually cries when he plays sad songs on stage,” he said to Mae. Mae’s heard this before so she doesn’t reply. The waitress comes back with their drinks. She pats Jimmy on the head when she set his small glass in front of him.
Bill listens to the song, smiling all the while and Jimmy feels good hearing the old song again.
“He dies in the