“Firmament” a short story by Neal Abbott – Part One: Jack Johnson & The Old Timer

Last November I began NaNoWriMo with an idea for a novel. On the 1st, I began writing. Even though the story had been outlined and the characters developed, I knew that this story did not have the guts for a novel. So, I gave up on it and began a different novel on the 2nd. But I never gave up on the story. Some time in December I decided to write it as a short story, but with divsions within it, like how a novel has chapters. Now I am going to release this short story with a “chapter” or small section each week. As my readers, I highly encourage Comments of any kind. Corrections are the most welcome kind. Now enjoy part 1 of “Firmament.”

Jack Johnson walks out of the Circle K convenience store without a purchase. Yet he still maintains the same intent as when he entered, now coupled with a fresh frustration. He checks out the cross streets, 14th & Treadway, and dreads the long walk he faces back home. On the side of the store Jack notices a yellow cab. He recognizes the cabbie as a man a few ahead of him in line just a moment ago. Jack approaches the cab, even though the AVAILABLE light is not lit. The cabbie holds a pair of beef & bean burritos, one in each hand, and he takes bites from each alternatively. Jack knocks on the driver’s window. The cabbie looks up, then back to his two-fisted meal. Jack knocks again, this time louder. The cabbie sticks his left burrito in his mouth for lack of a better place to free his hand. He cranks down his window a few inches and shoots the burrito back into his hand.

“Buzz off.”

“I need a ride.”

“I’m off duty.”

“Look, I don’t wanna walk.”

“Learn to live with frustrations, buddy.”

The cabbie pounds a left and a right bite almost simultaneously.

“Lookit, where I live, it’s a long walk, but just a short drive from here.”

“Bounce, or I’ll bounce your head off the concrete!”

Jack stands straight and sets his arms akimbo. He lets out a long exhalation out of his nose. He looks at his watch and folds his arms across his chest.

“It’s only a quarter till three.”

“So?” says the cabbie with a mouthful.

“So I’ll bet you’re not off duty until the top of the hour.”

The cabbie stops chewing and looks at Jack.

“So who are you? My boss’s brother-in-law, or something.”

“Or something.”

The cabbie scowls and shoves the rest of his left burrito in his mouth to quickly roll up the window. Jack juts his elbow into the space before it closes.

“Whatha? Are you out of your freakin’ mind?”

“I just want a ride.”

“You’re about to get a ride in the back of an ambulance.”

Jack grins and winks at the cabbie. He steps back and pulls his phone from his pocket. He makes it a clear point to stare at the cab door as he dials.

“Yeah, I need a cab. 14th & Treadway.”

In an instant the dispatch calls the cabbie on the radio summoning him to pick up a fare at the intersection he is already on. The cabbie sets his tongue between his teeth barely past the lips with the lower lip clearly rolled out in both anger and disgust. Jack squats and rests his forearms against the side of the car just at the bottom of the window.

“Better than cabbing back in Belgrade.”

“I’m not from Belgrade. I was born in Noodle Dome.”

“Hmm, then your folks?”

“My father was from Belgrade. How did you know?”

“That gesture with your bottom lip. Seen it before.”

Jack opens the back door and the cabbie starts the engine. As Jack climbs into the back seat, he says, “Southern Hills Apartments, please, kind sir.”

“Southern Thrills it is.”

As the cabbie backs out, Jack notices an old man sitting beside him.

“What are you doing here?” shouts Jack.

What are you doing here,” says the old man.

“Who are you?”

Who are you?”

“I’m Jack Johnson. Now who are you?”

Jack Johnson.”

Jack squares his shoulders against the back of the seat and crosses his arms over his belly. To look at him it would seem that he were a pouty eight-year-old.

“Crazy old coot. Doesn’t even know who is, or what he’s doing here.”

What are you doing here.”

Jack turns and faces the elderly gent.

“That’s what I still want to know. What are you doing here?”

You don’t know.”

Jack seems confused by this response.

“Yeah. I mean…”

You don’t know why I’m here.”

“Right. I don’t know why you’re here”

You don’t know why you’re here.”

“Whh, but …”

Jack sits back again with equal amounts of frustration leading to surrender and aggression pouring over into resolution.

“Crazy Old Timer. Don’t even know your name.”

I’m Jack Johnson.”

Jack shakes his head, and mumbles, “Crazy Old Timer.”

From Jack’s shirt pocket his cell phone plays Endless Love. Jack pulls it out and presses his thumb against the symbol for an alarm clock with the date underneath. On the screen there is the image of a woman with long dark hair wearing a white dress as snuggly as can be fit and not be skin. He looks to the Old Timer, who is gazing out of the window. He turns toward Jack, and is spreading a smile.

Is that important?”

“The alarm? Yeah, well, kinda. There’s something I should have done earlier. I dunno. I guess I can always take care of it later.”

If it’s important, you should take care of it now.

“Yeah, well, I’ll take care of it when I take care of it.”

That’s a beautiful song.

“That? Yeah, well, it’s from our wedding.”

The Old Timer nodded slightly and reminiscently.

Then that message had to do with your wife?”

Jack looked down at the screen and ran his thumb over the top part of the picture, but not in the manner of moving to an application on his phone, just more like a caress.

It was.

Jack shoved the phone back into his shirt pocket.

“Mind your own.”

The last few minutes of the carbide go conversationalessly, each fare looking out of his own sidewindow. Soon the cab pulls into the Southern Hills parking lot toward the unit Jack directed him toward. Jack and the Old Timer both get out.

“I assume you have no money to pay your half of the fare?”

The Old Timer grins. Jack hands a few wadded bills to the cabbie who folds it and shoves it into a purple Crown Royal velvet pouch without looking at the money. The Old Timer scans the buildings that are in every direction except for the streetside. he extends a finger and points to all the apartments in a somewhat knowing fashion.

I live here.

“You live here? I’ve never seen you here.”

I live here.”

“Which one, Old Timer?”

Still pointing about, “Here.”

Jack enters his apartment and sees several packed boxes and a suitcase. Gloria comes in carrying two more packed cases, both smaller than the suitcase. When she sees Jack she stops and sets the cases down as if they were full of explosives.

“What’s all this?” says Jack.

“I’m leaving you.”

“What did I do?”

Gloria crosses her arms and shifts her weight to one leg.

“I’m not going to ask if you know what today is because I know you know. We set the alarms together on your cell phone. One to remind you to meet me for lunch and another later one to remind you to do whatever it is you promise you were going to do before you got home. You missed lunch so I knew you would forget the other thing. What was it going to be this year? Were you going to forget to get me flowers? Oh, were you about to forgot to make dinner reservations?  I know, how about you forgot to buy me a day at the spa. What did you have in mind his time, huh? What were you about to tell me this year you forgot to get me?

“Gee, Gloria, I never took you for the materialistic type. Well, actually I did, but I never thought that’s why you would leave me.”

Gloria walks up to Jack.

“It’s not that you forgot things, but you forgot me. You forgot us.”

Jack reaches out and rubs his fingertips on the back of her upper arm. She grabs his wrist and twists until he cries out. Jack leans in toward Gloria and bumps foreheads with her.

“I love you, Gloria.”

“I love you, too, but love don’t flip the pancakes.”

Gloria steps away from Jack and paces to a mirror by the front door. She pulls out her lipstick and refreshes her gloss. She also touches up her makeup with the nail on her pinky, which is merely a rouse to hide her wiping away a few tears. Jack stalks up behind her and rubs the tops of her shoulders.

“So this is it?”

“It doesn’t have to be. I’m not leaving you for good, just for now.”

“Where ya going?”

“My sister’s.”

Jack withdraws his hands.

“She hates me.”

“She’s my sister.”

“Yeah but going there ain’t gonna make you wanna come back here. Hayley will bad mouth me the whole time you’re there.”

Jack ambles backward and sits on the sofa.

“You going there tells me you got your mind made up, and you just want your sister to validate your poor decision.”

Gloria turns, and says, “And what decision is that?”

“To leave me for good.”

A car pulls up outside and the driver blares the horn.

“Would you at least help me carry these outside?”

“No. Why should I help you leave me?”

“This is going to be the last thing I will remember from today, and you want it to be something like this?”

Jack sighs and stands in a manner resembling a rag doll. He shuffles over to the luggage and picks up a pair of bags. Gloria sticks a few small cases in the crooks of his arms before she picks up the remaining pieces. Thy go outside and Hayley gets out of the car. Jack goes by the trunk and drops the cases with a rumbling thud. Gloria sets her luggage down quickly and hugs her sister. Jack bangs on the trunk and Hayley pulls herself away just long enough to remotely pop the trunk. She embraces her sister again, half with greeting, half with consolation. Jack tosses the cases in the truck and comes for Gloria’s pieces.

“I’ll just get these then will I?”

The women pull away from their hold and whisper to each other, punctuated with small nods and sniffling tears. Jack slams the trunk with more than sufficient force.

“Well, if you’re leaving, then I guess you had better get going, then.”

Gloria goes to Jack who is still by the back of the car.

“I still love you, Jack. And I want to stay married to you. Just give me a reason to come back.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“You need to grow up, Jack.”

Jack snickers and Gloria starts away in  frustrated pace, but Jack grabs her arm.

“Don’t be like that.”

He hugs Gloria with all his strength. Gloria returns the embrace and soon both are crying together. They separate slowly and Gloria walks to the driver’s sidefront door. Hayley saunters up with half grin on her face.

“She’s right, you know. It’s about time you grew up, you big baby.”

“Hayley, stop it.”

“No, no, I’m gonna have my say. You’re a baby and you’re selfish and you’re, you’re, you’re weak, that’s what you are. If you were any less of a man, you’d wearing a dress.”

“Oh yeah, well maybe then you might fancy me, you smarmy little dyke.”

Hayley slaps Jack across the face. All are frozen, waiting to see the next move or figure out theirs.

“I’ll be you want to hit me now. Well, why don’t ya? I won’t mind. I want Gloria to see what kind of person you really are. One who hits girls.”

Jack exhales, and says, “My father taught me not to hit girls, but he never said anything about kicking a dog.”

Hayley gawps and plants herself in the car. Jack looks over to Gloria, who is looking at him with disgust, and immediately he regretted saying what he just did. Hayley rips out of the parking lot. After she has left, Jack notices the Old Timer sitting on the steps.

“You here the whole time?”

Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Well, it’ll get dark soon. You had better get inside.”

The Old Timer gazes about.

“You said you lived here, right?”

He nods.

“Well, which one?”

I don’t have my key.”

“Which one?”

I’m not sure which one I live in since I don’t have my key.”

“Your family is going to worry about you soon, if they’re not already. Can I help you find your place?”

The Old Timer continued his bewildered gazing about.

“Com on in, then. You can stay the night and then we’ll get you have to your own place tomorrow, okay?”

The Old Timer doesn’t respond. He simply gazes around him in all directions. Jack helps him up from the steps and escorts him inside.


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13 responses to ““Firmament” a short story by Neal Abbott – Part One: Jack Johnson & The Old Timer

  1. Good dialogue, but I need to know more about Jack to believe the setup for the encounter with Gloria. I can’t believe that he forgets everything, even with an alarm going off in the cab. Also, about that, you made a metathesis – you called a cab ride a “carbide.”

    Here’s a bet that the old man is Jack from the future.

    • Thanks for the Comment. About Jack, there is more to know, just remember this is part 1. An “carbide” is a misspelling. I meant cabride. mia culpa. And for the record, there is no time travel in this story.

  2. Pingback: “Firmament” a short story by Neal Abbott – Part Two: Jonathan & Florida Gamuret | A WORD FITLY SPOKEN

  3. Pingback: “Firmament” a short story by Neal Abbott: Part Three – Jack Johnson & The Old Timer | A WORD FITLY SPOKEN

  4. Pingback: “Firmament” a short story by Neal Abbott – Part Four: Juan & Mariposa Tierra | A WORD FITLY SPOKEN

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  6. Pingback: “Firmament” a short story by Neal Abbott – Part Six: Ian & Lilly Doitean | A WORD FITLY SPOKEN

  7. Pingback: “Firmament” a short story by Neal Abbott – Part Seven: Jack Johnson & The Old Timer | A WORD FITLY SPOKEN

  8. Pingback: “Firmament” a short story by Neal Abbott – Part Eight: Johnn & Bryony Rivers | A WORD FITLY SPOKEN

  9. Pingback: “Firmament” a short story by Neal Abbott – Part Eight: John & Bryony Rivers | A WORD FITLY SPOKEN

  10. Pingback: “Firmament” a short story by Neal Abbott: Part Nine – Jack Johnson & The Old Timer | A WORD FITLY SPOKEN

  11. Pingback: “Firmament,” a short story by Neal Abbott: Part Ten – Yvan & Iolanta Nyebov | A WORD FITLY SPOKEN

  12. Pingback: “Firmament” a short story by Neal Abbott: Part Eleven – Jack Johnson & The Old Timer | A WORD FITLY SPOKEN

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