by Bob Lovely
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
Jimmy froze on the curb. He had just crossed the street and into the glow of the only street light in Stuart, perhaps in all of Warren County. Scarecrow was here and was going to take him away.
The whirlwind formed in front of him, growing now to about four feet tall, more bits of dust and pieces of straw forming the body of Scarecrow. Jimmy felt his gut tighten, his whole skin a shell of bumps, and he couldn’t move. The early October air was cool, but the cold that gripped Jimmy came from the demon forming in front of him, and from his own fear.
Jimmy wasn’t aware of breaking and running, but suddenly he was racing the devil for his home. He and his dad lived in a little, three-bedroom house the color of sunshine. Jimmy could see the shifting blue-white of the TV flickering in the living room. Hearth and home. The lamp light spilling through the windows of his house looked like the comforting glow of firelight. Something sharp pricked the back of Jimmy’s neck.
Jimmy let out a single yelp and ran for all he was worth. He leapt the fence and dashed to the porch. He grabbed for the door handle, was thankful the door was not locked, and pushed it open. Trembling, he entered the sights and smells that had begun to seem like home and tried to shut the door without slamming it.
“Jimmy?” His dad’s voice came from the living room, the parlor as his dad called it. Jimmy heard the sounds of both the newspaper shuffling and the news on the TV.
“Yeah,” Jimmy managed to croak.
“Come here, would you.”
Something went skittering across the outside of the door, a light scratching. From the safety of the entryway, Jimmy told himself it was just straw and leaves being blown on the wind. His inner eye knew better, though. In his mind he saw Scarecrow standing two feet away, held back by just the door, pressing his straw ear to it, listening to Jimmy and scratching his straw fingernails across its surface.
James Boyd closed his newspaper and continued to ignore the droning of the TV news, which he liked to have on though he rarely paid attention, and looked up as his son entered the parlor. Jimmy looked tired, maybe sick, and as if he’d been crying. James was concerned maybe Jimmy had been beaten up.
“What’s the matter?” James gestured for Jimmy to come closer.
“Scarecrow,” Jimmy said, before he could think not to.
“Ah, come on, you shouldn’t scare yourself like that.” James awkwardly held his son with his right arm, his son who every day looked more like a man than a boy.
Jimmy finally noticed that his eyes were wet, and he wiped them with his hand, hoping to conceal the tears and instantly realizing he was drawing attention to them by wiping them. “I guess.”
“Well, go up and take a bath. Maybe you should hit the bed early tonight. Any homework?”
“No. I got it all done after school.”
His father smiled. “Great. How was basketball?”
“Okay,” Jimmy replied, sounding neither excited nor dejected.
Jimmy was on the basketball team. He was sure he’d made the squad only because the school was so small that everyone who tried out made it, but he was on the team nonetheless, and his head was full as any boy’s of sports hero fantasies. Even now he saw his impossibly long shot curling around the hoop and dropping through just in time to beat the buzzer.
“Okay.” Jimmy smiled at his dad and started upstairs.
“I’ll be up to tuck you in, if you want.” James added this last part somewhat tentatively, not sure Jimmy even heard it.
“Okay,” came Jimmy’s voice from upstairs.
As the hot water played over Jimmy’s toes, the bubbles of his bath rose to surround and protect him. Jimmy liked to bathe. He was a boy, of course, and had no problem getting dirty, but he sure enjoyed making himself clean.
Above him, the black square of night peered in through the bathroom window. The Night of Scarecrow. He tried, he really did, to find the courage to stand and look outside. Instead he reached up, hooked his finger in the white plastic loop that dangled from the cord and drew the blind, blocking out the night. In the familiar and well-lit safety of the bathroom, Jimmy relaxed.
James Boyd walked up the stairs to the second floor of the house he had purchased with a small portion of the money he had made on a big products liability case. He had always tried to make time for his family, which is probably why he had been only an attorney for years, rather than a rich attorney. When Julie had given birth to Jimmy, it had been the happiest day of their lives, but also a signal to James that maybe he should sacrifice some of the time he cherished with his family in order to provide for their financial needs.
Julie. Even now the very thought of her brought tears to James’s eyes, and the remaining stairs between him and the second floor landing blurred a bit. Her stomach had been acting up, and the two of them assumed it was acid reflux. Her medication wasn’t helping anymore though. By the time they visited the doctor and the test results had come back, the cancer had eaten so much of Julie’s insides it was a wonder she was not already dead. Within weeks she was.
James had felt so helpless. This was no mugger he could stand against, no drunken driver he could sue. The blackness that grew within Julie had developed since her last regular check-up and had consumed her by the time they discovered it was there. In March of that year James and Julie had been considering a second child. On the third of June, James was throwing the first handful of soil on her coffin as it lay in the cold earth.
James wiped his eyes, in much the same fashion as Jimmy had wiped his own downstairs twenty minutes earlier, and entered his son’s room.
Jimmy lay on his back in bed, the covers more or less over him. For a moment, as James looked at his son, Jimmy looked like an image in a genetic kaleidoscope. He looked just like Julie and he looked just like James himself. He looked like the boy he was still and like the man he was becoming. James cleared his throat and let out one cough.
He moved to the bed where Jimmy lay and took hold of his son’s covers, adjusting them, tucking the boy in. James wasn’t sure these days if Jimmy wanted to be tucked in and kissed goodnight, to be treated like a boy or like a man. Tonight Jimmy had been terrified by the local kids’ legend of Scarecrow, and he looked vulnerable, like a little kid, so James leaned down and kissed his son on the forehead.
“Goodnight, Jimmy,” he said softly.
Suddenly James’s mind and heart were flooded with a million things he wanted to say to his son, things he had long wanted to say, had said in imaginary conversations in his head over and over. He tousled Jimmy’s hair and stood, turned and began to leave the room.
Sounding as if he were already slipping into dream, Jimmy said “You miss her, don’t you, Dad?”
James stopped just inside the doorway to Jimmy’s room.
“I know you always try to be strong for me, ’cause I’m the kid and she was my mom. But she was your wife and, before that, she was your girlfriend. You loved her. You loved her before I was even around to love her. I know you still love her, just like I do. It’s okay to miss her, Dad. You have just as much right as I do, maybe more.”
James tried very hard to say thanks, but all he could manage was a scratchy, breathy sound.
* * *
Jimmy walked into his mother’s room. The place smelled like a hospital. Jimmy couldn’t help but wonder if that smell was from the medicines or the way the place was cleaned, or if maybe hospitals had some sort of air freshener they used to make them all smell the same.
The lighting was soft, but he could clearly see his mother’s face as he approached. Everywhere there were machines making mysterious beepings and chirpings, and displaying all sorts of blinking, steady and wavy lights. Then he smelled dried grass.
Jimmy’s skin tightened so much he felt it may crush him as he saw, in his mother’s hair, a length of straw. When he had entered the room, he thought his mother looked as if she may have been sleeping, but now she looked shrunken and sick. Her features had a puckered look as if something were sucking her inward and soon she might collapse and disappear. Suddenly Jimmy felt a cold wind blow from behind him and heard the sound of small scratchy objects skittering across the floor, dancing a dance of fear on the icy wind.
* * *
In the light of morning, the dream of his mother in her hospital bed mostly dissipated by the sun, Jimmy followed his standard school morning ritual. He got up, made the bed, went into the upstairs bathroom and peed, washed his hands and face, and took last night’s bath towel down from the rack where it had dried and smelled it to see if it was fresh enough to use again.
Deciding the towel had at least one more use in it before it would require washing, Jimmy neatly folded it and laid it on the shelf where it belonged Then he brushed his teeth, which he would do again after breakfast before leaving for school. Smelling bacon and either pancakes or French toast, he bounded downstairs.
Father and son had their customary moment of silence. James had never focused on any one religion and preferred Jimmy make up his own mind about such things. Then they dug in. Several minutes passed, the kitchen full with the sounds of clinking and munching.
“What are you doing tonight, Dad?” Jimmy asked.
“I need to finish up a little work today, and it may take me until sometime this evening. What about you?”
“I thought you were retired,” Jimmy countered, not answering his dad’s question.
“Not retired, just suddenly wealthy. Still, I have a few loose ends to tie up before I can completely not be an attorney anymore. At least for a while. I got really lucky on one big case, and I’d like to use that money to give us a chance to be a family.”
“Not lucky, Dad,” corrected Jimmy. “You won because you’re smart and honest.”
“Wow, thanks.” James smiled. “Not everyone has such a high opinion of attorneys.”
“You’re not my lawyer,” Jimmy clarified, “you’re my dad.”
James smiled, then tried again. “You got plans for tonight?”
Jimmy didn’t look up from the remains of his pancakes. “Me and some of the guys were going to hang out, ride bikes or somethin’, after practice.”
“Well, don’t be out too late.” James stood from the table and took their plates to the sink. “And be sure to call if you end up at a friend’s house.”
“I will, Dad.” Jimmy stood as well, and headed off for the downstairs bathroom to brush his teeth before heading for school.
James rinsed their dishes and looked west out the window over the kitchen sink.
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Bob Lovely