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

Read Part One

Read Part Two

Read Part Three

Read Part Four

Read Part Five

Read Part Six

Jack awakes to the sound of the Old Timer on the piano, but not his chopanic tune. Truly, it sounds like a cat walking up and down the keyboard. Jack strolls out of his bedroom wearing only boxers. The Old Timer stands on the piano bench with the piano lid up. He reaches into the piano cavity with his right hand and stretches down to play with his left. And there is no discernible tune at all, just random notes that make no sense to Jack. But Jack is dreadfully deficient in his musical spires that he cannot tell if it’s a tune or not. Gloria used to say Jack was legally tone deaf. The Old Timer looks up at Jack and returns to his work.

Put a robe on.”

Jack looks down a himself bemusedly.

“What? This is alright.”

Put a robe on. You’re indecent.”

“This is still my place.”

The Old Timer continues tinkering at the piano. Jack marches back into his bedroom and to his bathroom door. Jack yanks down his desert cammo terrycloth robe he left hanging from a hook on the door. He slings it across his body and meanders back out into the living room.


I’ve not had a chance.”

Jack goes into the kitchen and prepares a pot of coffee to drip. He pours a cup, milks and sugars it, goes back into the living room and sits at the dining table.

“What are you doing?”

Tuning your piano.”

“Where did you learn how to do that?”

The Old Timer stops work just long enough to glance and Jack and grin.

I’ve never done it before!

The Old Timer hops down and sits down at the bench. He cracks his knuckles like a concert performer and played C arpeggios up and the down the register.

“Don’t you need, like, a set of tools to tune a piano?”

The Old Timer stops playing long enough to show Jack his toolbox. He holds up a fork he had taken from Jack’s kitchen where he bent the tines so that he could use it to tighten and loosen the pianostrings. He resumes his arpeggionation.

Jack returns to the kitchen. He pulls out bacon, sausage, an onion, and a cylinder of oatmeal.

“Have you ever had an Ulster breakfast?”

More than you have.”

“I’m gonna make some thadge.”

I am a quiver with anticipation.”

Jack finishes his assembling with a bottle of Lea & Perrin, a block of cheddar, and a grater. He cooks a skilletful of thadge and listens to The Old Timer’s ramblings on the piano.

“Hey, play that song.”

But he doesn’t play his chopanic tune, but instead another beautiful melody, but this song sounds hard and almost cruel in it’s melancholic phrasing and chord progressions, like Rachmaninoff when he might have been in a really sour mood. Despite its sublime timbre it leaves a ratcheting dissonance on Jack’s inner man.

Jack comes back to the table carrying a skillet, which he sets down on the wooden tabletop without a brace. In his other hand he has two plates on which are two cups of coffee and two spoons. The Old Timer joins Jack for breakfast. He brings with him the fork he has bent for tuning the piano. He sets it beside his plate as if he might use it to eat. Jack scrunches his face and The Old Timer laughs.

It’s my tuning fork.”

“Well, I believe you just wasted your time. I couldn’t play that if it were on fire. Gloria’s the piano player around here.”

Not right now, it seems.”

“Don’t start, I’m not in the mood.”

The mood for what?”

“Your tugging on my guts.”

Oh, is that how you see it?”

“How do you see it?”

I see it as you have weak guts.”

Jack snorted an insolent chuckle through a mouthful of thadge and a slurp of coffee.

“I was in the military, you know.”

Oh, I know.”

Jack goes into the kitchen and returns with the coffeepot not even half-filled. He poured half a cup refill for the Old Timer and finished the pot with a full cup for himself.

“I fought in Afghanistan. Nothing weak about my guts. And that’s the truth.”

Truth is Beauty, Beauty Truth.”

“What are you going on about?”

Truth is Beauty, Beauty Truth. That is all you know on earth and all you need to know.”

“What kind of piffle is that?”

No piffle.”

“Then what is it?”

Just the way it is.”

Jack shakes his head.

So you don’t play, do you even listen to music?”

“I listen to Country sometimes.”

The Old Timer laughs and smacks his spoon down percussively on the plate.

I said music.”

“Haven’t got the time.”

And I already know that you don’t have the time to read. Have you ever been to the museum, symphony hall, a bookclub?”

“No time.”

Oh, I see.”

“I mean, I go to the movies sometime.”

And I guess that make you an aesthete.”

“What in Sam Hill is that?”

Simply, someone who appreciates the arts.”

“Now you’re talking about Gloria.”

Jack scrapes another large spoonful of thadge. He does not set the edge of the spoon against the bottom of the castiron skillet, but skims it over the top of the thadge so that he may create a spoonful mostly of the melted cheese scraped from the top.

“Still, I think I might be considered an, … a cinematic aesthete.”

Really? So tell me, what is your favorite David Lean movie?”


I thought as much. So whose movie do you enjoy?”

“MichaelBay is quite good.”

So you have time for movies and TV and Country music, but no time for any aesthetical pursuits?”

“And this would strengthen my guts?”

The Old Timer nods with a birdish grin.

“Okay, I’m all ears. I’ve gotta hear this.”

Fine, let’s begin with my first statement. Truth is Beauty, Beauty Truth.”

“What does that mean?”

One arrives at truth and beauty the same way.”

“How so?”

Through the senses, and what is sensed is treated by our emotions, our cognition, and our volition. Have you ever heard of Leibniz?”

“I don’t listen to Classical music.”

No, he was a philosopher. He wrote that this is the best of all possible worlds, and he was right.”

“Well, I could think of one better than this. One where Gloria doesn’t leave me.”

Or one where you don’t neglect her.”

“I didn’t … never mind.”

Make no mistake, I do not mean a world where nothing bad ever happens. I mean this world is perfect for what God intended for it to be, which involves everyone facing both blessings and obstacles.”

“You’ve mentioned this before.”

So you do listen.”

Jack smiles, and says, “I have my moments.”

The Old Timer smiles back and pats Jack on the back of the hand.

Everything contributes to this perfection, which means everything contains within it the germ of perfection. Beauty is finding and acknowledging the perfection, excellence, or greatness of any thing. Following that, Pleasure is what comes from finding Beauty in any thing. Tell me, did God make Gloria beautiful?”

“You know He did!”

And how do you feel when you think about her beauty?”

Jack smolders inside thinking for the right an acceptable answer. He purses his lips and nods slightly.


That’s right, my boy. Pleasure.”

“And finding pleasure in things will strengthen my guts?”

Well, let’s chase this a bit further. Explain to me how it is that you come to know anything.”

“Well, by using my brain.”

Fine. And everybody has a brain?”


So everybody equally possesses a brain, therefore we all equally know things universally.”

“Oh, clearly not.”

So it’s more than having or using a brain.”

“Then what is it?”

The senses are how we perceive things that our brain eventually interprets. But there is a problem.”

“Tell me.”

Senses are flawed, not because we see things not there or hear things that are not sounds, but by physical limitations we sometimes do not sense things that exist.”

“In other words, not all that is sensible is sensed.”

Absolument! Also, emotions are flawed, because we can act wrongly when our emotions are out of control.”

“And our reasoning is clearly flawed, too.”

Not so fast. The rational is not itself flawed, but it is subject to fallibility. By their proper exercise, both the senses and our feelings can lose their fallibility. This exercise comes with joining them with the rational, which also elevates our thinking and keeps it from giving in to fallibility.”

“This is all quite a bit to follow.”

Try to keep up. From the exercise from perceiving a thing by the use of the senses, rationally considering it as beautiful, and emoting pleasure, we acknowledge the germ of perfection in anything, find beauty in it, and thus gain pleasure from this acknowledgement.”

Jack sits and snorts contemplatively. The Old Timer smiles as a satisfied pedagogue.

“This sharpens both the sense and the emotions so that they do not have to be flawed, and keeps our rational minds in top form.”

You’re getting it, my boy. Now let’s take it a level further. Pleasure is enhanced by our finding beauty in things because it latently reminds us of our own perfection. The perfection, excellency, and greatness of man can never be determined by what we do or think we can accomplish, but only in noticing we are created by God as part of His ‘very good’ Creation.”

“I’m agreeing with everything you say, even if I don’t fully understand it yet. But I’m waiting for this to get around to the subject of aesthetics. Is that the word?”

Fine, the perception of beauty that leads to pleasure can be found in sensing the perfection in things created by God as well as things created by man.”

“The world around us is God’s creation, and art is man’s creation.”


“But there is so much called art today that is, well, ugly.”

The Old Timer shivered with some remembered repulsion, and he shook his head.

Anything called art that stems from a flawed starting point cannot contain perfection, cannot be perceived as beautiful, and cannot emote pleasure. If there is any art that any person find pleasing that is by it’s nature imperfect, that pleasure arises from a lack of spirituality and an abundance of selfishness.”

Jack chuckles, and says, “Don’t hold back, Old timer. Tell me what you really think.”

This type of art cannot contribute any true Aesthetic. It cannot recall any innate or God-given perfection, so it cannot advance the senses, emotions, or rationale, and thus cannot help the soul. If anything, it retards its development.”

“So you’re talking what Gloria might call – fine art.”

Yes, because it requires true creativity. Now, let’s take the cap off. The aesthete’s brain goes through the same creative process as the artist himself.”

“So how does Truth and Beauty become the same thing?”

What the mind goes through in artistic creativity is the same process that takes place with scientific discovery. The more we learn, the clearer it becomes that there truly is no distinction between art and science.”

“I feel like digging some of Gloria’s CDs.”

Allow me to select something.”

Jack points to the wall where the television stands. Beside it is a stereo and large rack of disks. The Old Timer saunters to the rack and judges them like a woman at the butcher looking for a piece of meat.

You know, my boy, even a sad song can leave you with the feeling life is worth it all.”

He finds one he likes and places it is the disc player. He plays Haydn’s 94th Symphony and comes back to the table. Both men sit without a word as the piece plays straight through. After the last note the Old Timer takes a wishful drink from an empty cup.

Any more coffee?”

“I’ll make some.”

No, let me.”

The Old Timer goes into the kitchen and prepares another pot. He returns with a tray carrying a full pot, a bear of honey, and a half-pint of heavy crème. He creates two cups of Josephine Bakers and sits back down. He blows over the top of his cup, while Jack takes a mindless swig.

“Looks like I have a lot to learn.”

You had better begin before it’s too late.”

“It’s never too late as long as you’re alive.”

It’s too late for me. I’ve destroyed the lives of too many people.”

“How so?”

You’ve been in war, so you know.”

“Well, it’s not too late, Old Timer.”

It is too late. Too late for me. Which means it’s too late for you.”

Jack brims with scalding gall. He enigmizes over the paradox of the Old Timer’s sudden flights between the poles of insight and non-sense.

“Well, it’s not too late for me, even if I did fight in a war.”

Jack waits for the Old Timer to respond, but he says nothing. He just sits and sips his coffee.

“War, what is it good for, right? Well, I guess war is inevitable.”

Man’s inhumanity to man is not inevitable.”

“I wouldn’t call it that.”

What would you call war? Man’s kindness, charity, longsuffering?”

“Well, there is a lot for long suffering in war.”

Suffering is inevitable.”

“Yeah, like you’ve been saying all along, life is tragic.”

I’ve never said human life is a tragedy.”

“What is tragedy?”

That people suffer is not tragic, but the resistance to yield it its inevitability.”

“Then what’s all this love and strife business?”

We live day to day, but our existence progresses at great moments. These moments are those of great blessing, but also from terrible suffering. We chose to take the good and bad as each is a crossroads and chose to improve or impair our lives.”

Jack stands and walks about the livingroom in long and slow strides. He bumps into sofas and endtables and coffeetables, giving no mind to it.

What’s on your mind, my boy?”

Jack sits down and folds his hands together with his elbows on the dining tabletop. He braces his forehead on his conjoined hands. As he sits he breathes deeply and exhales out of his nose loudly.

Something burning a hole in you?”

“I can make something good out of something bad, right?”

You may.”

“My old commanding officer, Captain Anfort, isn’t doing well. Kidney failure. He may die. I hope he doesn’t, but if he does, he’ll have a monster of a ceremony. Captain adored Gloria, and she’d come to the services. That may be just the ticket for us getting back together.”

The Old Timer clears the table and cleans the breakfastware. When he finishes, he returns to the wall of CDs and places Beethoven’s Pathétique in the player.

You make me sad, my boy.”

The Old Timer sits on the sofa. All the while, Jack sits pensively at the table.

Read Part One

Read Part Two

Read Part Three

Read Part Four

Read Part Five

Read Part Six



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

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

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

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

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

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

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    • thanks or reading, and thanks for your comment. i plan to publish the whole thing later on this year. maybe some of the rough bits might get cleaned up by then. thanks again, and keep on reading!

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