Firmament: Part Five – Jack Johnson & The Old Timer

Jack Johnson just got by all his life. Fortunate to be born with an innate genius, he leaned on his intelligence far too often and never learned to work hard. So when he left school and came into a world where smarts alone accomplish little, he didn’t have the skills to do anything. Hence, his basic immaturity.

For this reason, Jack loved things that made him think without having to exert any effort otherwise, especially if it were some form of pleasure and recreation. He loved the television show Lost. He watched it religiously, even recording it to see the show over and over. He would often request a late shift on Thursdays so he could rewatch a new Lost episode all night.

Being Wednesday night, Jack sat on his couch and watched the latest Lost offering, cherishing all of the interconnectivity. The Old Timer sat in one of the chairs from the dining table that he had pulled into the living room. Part of Jack’s joy in viewing this night came from the private realization and internal snickers that the Old Timer had no idea what was going and Jack did.

When the episode ended, news teasers interrupted the credits, and Jack turned off the television.

“Blah, blah, blah. Someone died. A storm’s coming. Someone won the big game. All noise.”

We’re not watching the news?”

“I hate the news. I get along fine without it.”

Jack stood and walked to the kitchen. He returned with two glasses and a pair of two liter sodas, ginger ale and orange.

“I understand this is a world where bad things happen. Nothing I can do about it. It’s all random.”

It’s possible that it only seems random.”

“Bad things are not random?”

Not just bad things, but all things.”

“No, you’re wrong, Old Timer. I believe in free will.”

So do I, but isn’t it possible that many of the affairs of life, the ones you feel are so random, might have some cause behind it? One that doesn’t interfere with our free will?”

“No. I don’t see it.”

You don’t see it so it doesn’t exist. My, what a burden it is to be so knowledgeable.”

“Well, I am kinda smart.”

But to know everything.”

“I never said that I know everything.”

But to insist that there cannot possibly be some Cosmic Cause to things simply because you are unaware of it.”

“That’s not what I said. I’m not some know-it-all.”

Or maybe are you projecting your limitations on the way things really are.”

“Hey, be nice. You’re still a guest in my place.”

Does that mean I should lie to you? Oh, well then, you are indeed right. Certainly all wisdom will end when you die.”

“Fine, if you’re so smart, tell me all about this Cosmic Cause you believe in so devoutly.”

I never said I believed. I merely asked the question if it were possible.”

“Senile goat.”

Jack opened the ginger ale and filled the glasses about two-thirds of the way.

What did you think about what we just watched? About what those two were arguing about?”

“Which two?”

Jack Sheppard and John Locke.”

“Oh, yeah. Well, it was the ago old dispute between science and religion.”

Science and religion?”

“Maybe not religion, but falling for something you don’t know.”

And Jack knows what he knows how?”

“Because he’s a doctor, he’s a scientist. He goes by the evidence.”

And didn’t John Locke come to his conclusions based upon evidence?”



“Well, not scientific evidence.”

But his proof was everything he had seen and experienced on that island.”

“It’s not entirely the same.”

But didn’t Jack experience the same things as John?”


So it’s not a fight between science and religion, or the proven against the unproven, but between two different ways of looking at the same evidence.”

“I think you’re reading way to much into this. Jack’s the doctor. He’s got a scientific mind. He knows how to figure things out.”

But haven’t you figured it out by now that Jack is wrong and John is right?”

“Are you telling me that you agree with him? That they are all supposed to be on that island.”

I simply meant as far as the telling of their story. John Locke is right.”

Jack shakes his head and pours some of the orange soda in one of the glasses.

You’re a lot like him, Jack. You both act like know-it-alls but are afraid to admit it.”

Jack poured orange soda into the second glass, but it ran over and onto the coffee table. Jack mumbled as he dabbed it up with a nearby t-shirt tossed on the couch.

That didn’t look random to me.”

Jack went to the kitchen and returned with a few paper towels and finished cleaning up his spill. The Old Timer took a drink.

There are no accidents.”

Jack took one long drink, all the while staring at the Old Timer.

“Now that’s where you’re wrong. Gloria leaving me could not have been a part of any grand design.”

It’s better this way.”

“No, no. She misses me. I know she misses me right now.”

She wouldn’t be missing you if you hadn’t made her leave.”

“I didn’t make her do anything.”

You didn’t stop her.”

“I couldn’t have stopped her. Once she makes up her mind …”

No, I mean you could have prevented all of this by honoring your wedding anniversary.”

Jack looked deep inside his glass.

“She’ll be back.”

No, she won’t. And as I said, it’s better this way.”

“Better for who?”

For the both of you. She will miss you less if she only despises you a little. And that is better for you.”

“But I don’t want her to despise me or leave me.”

It’s not about what you want but about what is right and what is best.”

Jack rewound the Lost episode and watched it again. Afterward, the Old Timer sighed.

Love and strife. Love and strife.”

“What are you going on about?”

One of the old Greek philosophers said all things are created from love and strife.”

“Well, they said a lot of things. Some of them are about goofy.”

But he is right, you know. Blessings are sufferings are what help us grow as people.”

“Maybe so, but I’ve had enough strife for a while. I’ll take some blessings.”

It’s not like that. It’s all based upon what you need and what is best for you. Maybe what is best for you right now is to be challenged.”

“Hmm, you’re challenged – mentally.”

The Old Timer drained his glass with one long drink.

There are no accidents.”

Jack refilled the glasses with ginger ale and orange soda.

“It’s called a Gertrude Stein. Drank these all the time growing up.”

I enjoy it.”

“And there were others. All my dad’s doing. Let’s see, there was an Ernest Hemingway. That is Coke with lemonade. And a T.S. Eliot, which is Dr. Pepper with a splash of Big Red. And what else? A Djuna Barnes. Coke and orange soda. Or was it Dr. Pepper?”

The Old Timer went to the piano and sat down. He played his chopanic tune. Jack was not tired, but decided to go to bed. He went to his bedroom door and turned back toward the piano.

“Hey, I’m gonna hit the sack soon. Do you think you could keep it down?”

You’ll be hearing this tune tonight whether I play it or not.”

Jack went inside his bedroom and took off his shirt. He sat on his bed with his laptop to read email. The first was from an old military buddy named F.E. Reeves, but everyone called him “Magpie.” It was in invitation to join him and others from the squadron in Las Vegas the next month. He loved Magpie and would do anything for him. He wrote him back saying he’d think about it, but he knew he wouldn’t go to Vegas.

Jack picked up the photo of his parents that sat on his nightstand. He thought of his father drinking Eliots and encouraging him to remember how smart he was. He died while Jack was young. He though even more about his mother who put into him any good that was there.

As Jack ran his thumb across the old photo a chime rang indicating that he had just received a new email. It was from Gloria. She missed him but knew she need this time away. She said that Hayley hadn’t stopped bad-mouthing him, just as he said she would do, but she wouldn’t let that determine your course. He picked up the laptop and kissed her name on the screen and closed his laptop.

“Oh, my beloved Gloria. How I truly despise you.”

Jack took a shower. By now he was humming the chopanic tune along with the Old Timer’s playing of it, which he could hear clearer in the shower than in his bedroom. He became aware that he was smiling and he knew of no reason why. After he finished his shower he climbed into his bed. He reached over to turn off the lamp that sat behind the picture of his parents on the nightstand. He stopped and instead opened a drawer on the nightstand and pulled out a file folder. He opened it, and inside were three letters written to him by his old commanding officer, Captain Anfort. He reread the letters with awful deliberation. Jack closed the file and turned the light off. He rested the file on his chest and folded his hands across it in security.



Filed under short story

7 responses to “Firmament: Part Five – Jack Johnson & The Old Timer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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