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

Read Part One

Read Part Two

Read Part Three

Read Part Four

Read Part Five

Read Part Six

Read Part Seven

Read Part Eight

Jack awakes from the nap he enjoys immediately after breakfast. As he gets out of bed he can hear some noise coming from the front room and it almost sounds like music, but it doesn’t sound like the Old Timer playing or tuning the piano. Jack steps out into the front room and what sounds like an old soul or blues tune from the 70s plays on the stereo.

She caught the Katy,” says the Old Timer.

“She did what?”

The song. It’s calledShe caught the Katy’.”

“Who sings it?”

Taj Majal. Are you telling me you’ve never heard this song before?”

“No, I’ve heard it. It was in a movie.”

The Old Timer nods.

Good music ends up in good movies,” says the Old Timer.

“I never said it was a good movie.”

Are you in the habit of watching bad movies?”

“You know, I’m getting tired of your gas.”

Your life would have ended, and much sooner than you would have liked, and you will never had taken the time to better yourself with time spent in fine art. You don’t read. You don’t see good movies or listen to great music.”

“I watch Lost.”

That may be, but you don’t understand it.”

“Yeah? Well by the time it comes on again next week, I’ll be watching it by myself. Or better yet, with Gloria.”

Does Gloria understand Lost?”

“At least as well as I do.”

So tell me, my boy, who are the two characters in the most conflict on the show?”

“Easy. Jack and Sawyer.”

And why would you name them?”

“Because they’re both fighting over that chick.”

Why would you not name Jack and John?”

“John isn’t interested in her.”

Leave the girl out of this. Jack and John struggle over the fundamental nature of the show.”

“Which is?”

Are there such things as accidents.”

“Oh, yes. Now I remember this conversation.”

Only if recollection were the same as comprehension.”

“You don’t have a very high opinion of me for some reason.”

And you are blind to your own insufficiencies.”

“Such as?”

You still don’t agree with your wife that you need to grow up.”

“Aren’t we a pair? I need to grow up and you need to drop dead.”

In time I will. But I’m afraid that given all the time of the mountains you never will grow up.”

“You know, I’m not as bad as you and Gloria think I am.”

The Old timer shook his head.


The Old Timer turns off the stereo.

That’s one of the benefits of having a good woman in your life. She’ll call you on your peccadilloes. But if you don’t listen, soon you won’t have a woman.”

Jack laughs and goes to his fridge. He pulls out two cans of soda. He offers one to the Old Timer, but he shakes his head. Jack replaces one of the sodas, opens the other, and drains it one swig. He crushes the can on his forehead and tosses the can into the trash.

“Have you ever had a good woman? And I mean one who tells you what to do? One that tries to change you?”

Nothing wrong with a woman trying to change you if you need changing, and yes, I’ve had a good woman. And I lost her for the much the same reasons you lost Gloria.”

Jack sits on the couch.

“I haven’t lost her.”

He leans over and rests his elbows on his kneetops, and just as quickly he sits back and tosses his arms on the tops of the back cushions. He looks around and sighs.

“So tell me about her. And don’t tell me her name is Josephine Baker.”

The Old Timer forces a slight smile, but it crawls back inside him just as quickly.


The Old Timer sits at the dining table, rests his forearms on the tabletops, and braids his fingers together.

I was twice her age, but she really did it for me. Petite, but she had a bigness in her personality. We dated for six weeks. And then one day we were walking in the park. We liked to do that quite a bit, holding hands. But I could tell she was tense, so I didn’t touch her at all. She was quiet, and so was I. We sat on a bench and I knew this was it because she wouldn’t even look at me. I knew what she was going to tell me and why.”

“What was she mad about?”

Missed her birthday. More than that, I was supposed to have lunch with her and her mother, whom I had yet to acquaint. I skipped the whole thing. Didn’t tell her I wasn’t going to make it. Didn’t answer the phone all day. It rang quit a bit. Didn’t ring at all the next two days. And then I called her. Surprised she answered. She politely said that she didn’t want to talk just then, but that she did want to talk to me. That’s when she said to meet her in the park the next morning.”

“You shouldn’t have just blown her off like that.”

Says the man who intentionally did nothing on his ninth anniversary.”

“I didn’t …”

I was in the cab with you when your phone alarm went off, my boy. I know what you did and so does Gloria.”

Jack arises and sits with the Old Timer at the table.

“So what happened in the park?”

We sat on the bench and she started talking, but I couldn’t hear a thing. It was like I became deaf. But I did hear, ‘Are you paying attention?’ I think I nodded. She looked over her shoulder toward the tree that was behind her, and said I was more interested in some bird that was chirping on behind her. I told her I didn’t even know there was a bird. All the birds in the park can chirp all they want and I wouldn’t notice. Why should I without my Corrina?”

The Old timer lowers his head and shakes it.

So she gets up and leaves. Just walks away. That ol’ bird flew over to the bench and perched on the back just where she was sitting. I could see its beak opening and closing, and I just know it singing, but I couldn’t hear a note of it. And then I get a letter from her a week later. She’d went on the road with Joe Tex. She played piano. That’s why I play because of her. I had lunch with my friend Henry later that day and he asked about her and I told him everything. He ended up writing a song about it.”

“Was this Henry a singer or something?”

Him name was Henry Saint Clair Fredricks. But his stage name was Taj Mahal.”

“And he wrote a song about your old girlfriend?”

The Old Timer nods.

Corrina was my warm safe light that got me through the dark day. And after she left there was nothing remaining but the darkness. Since then my life has moved forward at the speed of dark.”

“You seem to have adjusted by now.”

You never adjust from something like that.”

The Old Timer chuckles.

She did leave me her car. In her note, she said I could have her car.”

“Well, that’s something.”

It was Citroën.”

“And that’s bad?”

Have you ever tried to get a part for a French car here in the States?”

Jack shakes his head.

The French are not known for the automotive greatness. Not just Citroën, but all of them. When it comes to cars, the French copy nobody and nobody copies the French.”

“Ever hear from her again?”

I saw her a few years later in New York. She was married. Guitar player I think. Big, stocky guy. Huge. He looked funny next to Corrina since she was so petite.”

“I know the type. As strong as an ox and twice as smart.”

No, he wasn’t just some musclehead. He was quite an exceptional person.”

“Well, good for her.”

I guess. I just wish I could have been the one who did it for her.”

“So if you had to do over again, would you have done anything different?”

Are you kidding me? Tell me, what would you have done differently if you were me, my boy?”

Jack hears the words form in the back of his throat, but he knows that as soon as he says them that the Old Timer will use his own words against him yet again. So Jack remains silent.

“Well I’m not just gonna give up like you. I know what I’ll do. Put on my old pilot’s uni. She always thought I was so handsome in my uniform. We got married in my uniform.”

How did the two of you fit inside your uniform?”

“No, I wore my uniform. She wore some white dress.”

Oh, that’s not what you said.”

“You know, not even you can bring me down right now. I’m felling kinda good right now. First time in a while. I finally know how I can get her back.”

By wearing a military uniform?”


That is going to fix everything?”

“She’ll forget all that’s bugging her when she sees me.”

Tell me, my boy, how did you get her in the first place?”

“Well, I told you how we got together.”

Yes, but what was it about you that made her want to be with you?”

“I’m not really sure about that.”

If you don’t know how you got her, how will you know how to get her back? I mean, which do you think would be more difficult?”

“I don’t understand.”

Which is harder, to get her to fall for you when she basically has no opinion of you or getting her to fall for you again when she has a negative opinion?”

“You’re being kinda rough on me, aren’t you? She still digs me. She might not know it because she’s mad and all, but deep down she still digs me.”

And a uniform will remind her of that.”


The Old Timer shakes his head.

“Let me show you something.”

Jack leads the Old Timer to a short hallway with various framed photographs. Three stand prominent beside each other. The left picture is of a middle-aged man in uniform, no smile and quite formal. The right is of a black man Jack’s age, also in a uniform, and all smiles. These two are bust images shot in a studio. The middle picture is of both men standing beside Jack. The older gentleman from the left portrait is holding a walking stick. They seem quite small, not even third of the height of the picture. Behind them is a jet of some kind.

This picture seems to be at a great distance, and not just that they stood a long way from the camera. The locale gives the sense of being remote, possibly another continent. Miragic heat waves blur the feet and lower legs of all three men, and a different interference distorts the distant mountains. A set of dogtags drape over the frame of this middle picture.

“Look at this and tell me I am not a handsome man.”

You’re gorgeous.”

“And do you think Gloria can say No to this?”

Maybe you should bring the plane with you.”

“Aw, what would you know about it?”

Everything. I was a pilot in the army, too.”

“No kidding? See any action?”

The Old Timer nods.


All over.”

“Which war?”

The wars.”

“Which one?”

All of them.”

Jack stomps away to the front room. He turns and stares at the Old Timer who is still examining the three photos.

“I forgot that I was dealing with a crazy old coot who doesn’t even know his name.”

Tell me about these other two men.”

“Oh, well, the guy on the left is my commanding officer, Captain William Anfort, call sign, Fisher. Might sound clichéish, but he was like a father to me. And that other handsome young bugger was my best friend. Lieutenant F.E. Reeves, call sign Magpie.”

What was your call sign?”

“Sky Knight. I hated it.”

Suits you, though.”

“Well, I know what suits me now, and that’s my old uni.”

And that’s going to bring her back here?”

“You betcha.”

Too bad I won’t be here to see you try.”

“Hey listen, I know that I’m sometimes kinda rough on you. But I’m not gonna turn you out or anything. You, you can stay here as long as it is necessary.”

I appreciate your graciousness and your hospitality, but I shall be leaving soon.”

“Where you going?”

I’m going home.”


The Old Timer closes his eyes and leans his head back slightly.

Yes. I am finally going home.”

“Are you telling me you know where you live? You know where your home is?”

I’ve always known where my home is.”

“Okay, I have to go to work in a few hours. When I come back I don’t want to see you here at all. If you are, then I’m calling the cops.”

Don’t worry. I’ll be leaving soon.”

Jack goes not his bedroom. The Old Timer sits at the piano and plays a blues tune. As he plays, he sings, “Gotta bird, wanna whistle. Baby gotta bird, honey gotta bird will sing. …”



Filed under short story

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

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

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

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