The Austin Chronicle

https://www.austinchronicle.com/books/2008-02-15/591592/

'Why Jimmy'

Second-Place Winner

By Erin Pringle, February 15, 2008, Books

Off the record, Grandmother brought Jimmy to our house because his goodfornothing mother was hooked on the bad stuff which I should've understood because my mother is also a goodfornothing which is also why I live with the Grands.

For the record, now that Jimmy doesn't have feet he can't walk all over my books or jump on my coverlet, and that satisfies me greatly. He also can't stand on Grandmother's steamer trunk, which is why this whole ordeal began. Really, this can all be traced back to God because he created people and so he should be in jail instead of Grandfather. But I suppose that won't hold up in court so start with Jimmy's goodfornothing mother. Skip to his dragging Grandmother's steamer trunk and scratching the wooden floor, so that I had to pull the rug over the scratches. It was a trial to pull that rug.

If Jimmy's goodfornothing mother sent his birthday present in winter on his actual birthday, he wouldn't have a temptation to succumb to. But, she sent it in summer and so Grandfather put the present on the high shelf for safekeeping. Maybe it's Grandfather's fault for not letting Jimmy open the present, but it's not his fault that Jimmy acts like his goodfornothing mother and Grandfather's willy-nilly son who got hisself locked up – have mercy! – and became Mr. Goodfornothing instead of Our Precious One, which is why Jimmy's mother became Mrs. Goodfornothing, seeing as how the woman takes her husband's name.

Well, Mrs. Goodfornothing forgot to put Jimmy's actual present in the box. Jimmy should have known the box was empty because he had been sending mind messages to his mother. According to Jimmy, the reception for mind-messages is better the higher you are. Long story short, the roof was hotter than the concrete around the park swimming pool so we couldn't stay long. Maybe that's why Jimmy's mom only got the part about any old shoebox will do. But he said she had received his messages and that the present was a map to her house. He said the present came early because she wanted him to begin the long journey and arrive to her by the time of his actual birthday.

Off the record, I am not so easily convinced, but I also had a mother plan, and since no magicians are listed in the Yellow Pages, I had to place all my bets on Jimmy.

Jimmy learned about mind-messages from a book about a sad girl who moved objects with her mind. I had to swear on Grandmother's casket receipt that I wouldn't tattle because the Grands would not approve of adult books with scary covers. I swore, even though the kitty inside me thought I was not doing the Godly thing. While I was supposed to be looking out so the Grands wouldn't catch Jimmy and the book, I saw the neighbors pull a refrigerator box to the curb then drive off. I jumped out the window and ran quick so Jimmy couldn't call my name without tattling on hisself.

I dragged the box between the garage and the fence where I go when I don't want anybody looking at me or asking me what's wrong. I fit perfect inside the box. Long story short, my thoughts and I agreed to make the box my own special house. If Mother got word I had a house of my own she'd step toe on my doorstep and finally know a good thing when she sees it. I'd give her a tour of my house, and after a quick game of Shoots and Ladders, we'd drive to the park. She wouldn't sit on the playground bench with her Sunday crossword and get irate with me for asking her to underdog me in the swing because she's not a suffering old woman with arthritis and halitosis and liable to break a hip if I swing back and kick her with my feet even if it is by accident.

She'd push me in the swing – my back or the seat or the flats of my feet. And this time, she wouldn't go talk to the man at the fence then wander into the little wooden playhouse by the tall slide where teenagers wrote bad words in permanent marker on the walls and ceiling. And I will not sit at the window while he wraps his ugly belt around her thin arm, her arm like a cassette tape streaming black ribbon.

I drew windows on my new house and painted the inside with the yellow paint left over from the kitchen since Grandmother refused to die in a house with a white kitchen.

I would have come out the first time Grandmother called my name, but she sounded weak – like my mother when the man ribboned her arm – and that scared me. When Grandmother started singing the song that made the kitten inside me cry, I unhid myself. But the box taped itself to my shoe and followed me halfway to the porch. When she saw me and the refrigerator box, she called me by my whole name and said my whole name should know that there's no difference between acting like trash and being trash and did I want to grow up to be like my mother? The kitty chased its tail in circles in my belly until I felt dizzy, too. So I started running in circles and shouting to keep from pushing her down. Then I was over her knees, getting a sound wallop that should teach me a thing or two about – I'm not quite sure exactly what word she said – probably respect.

If Jimmy hadn't laughed at me when I was back in my room then I wouldn't have kicked his dumb mouth. And his two front teeth, which weren't babies anymore, wouldn't have jumped into his windpipe and so he wouldn't have grabbed at his throat and started shaking and so I wouldn't have had to go get Grandfather. But he laughed so I kicked so he grabbed so I told Grandfather so I had to explain how this all began so Grandfather found out about me in the neighbor's trash. After Jimmy coughed up his teeth and Grandmother made an appointment for the dentist who wants to send us to a poor house, Grandfather made us sleep in trashcans so we'd know what trash truly felt like. If we had not slept in trashcans in separate rooms, I never woulda remembered how peaceful my own place felt.

Nice. It felt nice.

But then Grandmother died and so all the catalogs by the toilet for rainy, paper-doll days stayed where they were and she got buried in the casket named August Bloom. Grandfather stopped cooking and changing his shirts, so the hamburger meat in the refrigerator rotted with the crumbs on his breast pocket and then Jimmy's mom sent a present out of season.

I was gonna comfort Jimmy and ask him to put the box back on the high shelf and climb carefully off the steamer trunk Grandmother had brought from the old country when times were bad, but then he said – bless his idiot soul! – that the empty box was exactly what he'd wanted and that verified the success of the mind-messages.

What about the map? I asked.

This is the map, he said.

It's an empty shoebox, I said.

But it's a shoebox and it's her shoebox, and so that is a clue that I should begin walking in her shoes to find her.

I called him a fool.

Then he called me a goodfornothing.

So I pushed him.

So he fell and cut his eye on the trunk's corner. If Jimmy hadn't cut his eye then I wouldn't have had to wake up Grandfather. But Jimmy's pouring face blood was staining the rug from the same old country so I had to go into Grandfather's room and calmly explain the situation rather than screaming my head off, which won't accomplish anything.

Of course, I didn't know Jimmy had climbed inside the trunk until Grandfather put his suspenders back on and followed me to the situation. He saw the blood and the area rug and empty shoe box. Then he opened the trunk and there was Jimmy, bleeding all over – god rest her – Grandmother's special-occasion linens. I called Jimmy a damn fool so Grandfather wouldn't have to waste breath, but he must like to waste his breath. He called to that young man to get out of that trunk right now or hell would pay.

Off the record, how can hell pay seeing as how God's got all the rubies and diamonds in heaven and he wouldn't give the devil any diamonds to pawn for money to pay Grandfather?

Grandfather asked if Jimmy had gone deaf. When Jimmy didn't answer, I explained that Jimmy was in his eternal resting place like Grandmother. Then Jimmy popped his head up and asked how I knew that and so I told him I must have gotten his mind-message and we laughed and shook hands and Grandfather sat right down on the rug and put his head in his hands and started crying. Tiny water drops ran out of his hands and down his saggy arms and off his elbows onto the blood-stained rug. It looked like his hands were crying.

Don't say I said he was crying. I like that man very much.

Before I could kiss Grandfather's baldy head and put on a pot of coffee so we could discuss this matter like adults, Jimmy saw Grandfather's couldn't see and so he leaped out of the trunk, a special-occasion pillowcase wrapped around his head, and ran out the door. Grandfather jumped up like the spry young man he once was and ran after Jimmy, yelling not to run away like your goodfornothing father, which probably made Jimmy think slower and so he scrambled up our dearly beloved Grandmother's morning glories and onto the roof.

Had it not been the hottest day on record and had Grandmother loved roses instead of morning glories, Grandfather woulda gotten control of himself and Jimmy woulda come down shortly.

But Grandfather yelled up that Jimmy better stay up there if he knew what was good for him. Then he went back inside.

Jimmy stood real still up there. I yelled in Grandmother's voice to come down, but he didn't say nothing back. He didn't even look down. I was turning to get the ladder when he screamed. Screamed that he was stuck. I said you certainly are. No, he hollered, I tried to pick up my foot, but I've melted. To the roof. Call the fire truck, he shouted.

Now, if he hadn't said fire truck, I wouldn't have remembered the purry kitten my mother gave me on my fourth birthday or how when I tried to push it in the park swing, it ran off and scrambled up a tree. Mom called the fire truck and the firemen brought a ladder taller than the slide. The fireman carried my dangnumb kitten real gentle down the ladder and handed it to my mother. I reached for it, but she didn't give it back. Then the bad man came and my mom and my kitten went to the playhouse and my kitty made the same sound Mom did when the man turned her arm into a broken cassette tape. But my kitty didn't smile. When the man left, I went into the playhouse but my kitty wasn't there. Mom said the man took it to climb heaven's trees. I said we should call the firemen. Mom said their ladder wasn't tall enough. Then we drove to the Grands' and Grandmother gave me a stuffed animal cat so I cried so Grandmother called me disrespectful so Mom and her went into the guest bedroom. When they came out, Grandmother put me in her lap, pointed at my belly, and said my purry kitten lived inside of me now. I asked her to take it out and opened my mouth real wide, but she shook her head. Then my mother left and hasn't come back.

If I had called the fire truck, the bad man would come and Jimmy would have to climb heaven's roofs or live in my stomach with my kitty and play all the games I want to play with it.

I asked why he couldn't send a message to the fireman since he had good reception up there. He said if I weren't a goodfornothing, I'd bring him the big knife from the kitchen drawer. Seeing as how I'm not what he said, I got the knife. Seeing as how I was liable to chop his head straight off if I threw it up to him, I delivered it in person.

Jimmy had sunk into the roof so far I couldn't see his piggy toes. He never cleans the lint out or cuts his toenails. But god's honest, when I couldn't see those toes, I felt real bad about ever calling him lizard feet. He said he would cut off his feet, then when the sun went down, he'd pull his feet out of the roof with his mind-waves and then put them back on. It will be my best mind-trick ever, he said, and I agreed because really, it would have been.

I shoulda known he wasn't thinking clearly on account of he never does plus his bleeding head plus the sun. I handed him the knife. Hurry up, I said. I'm getting up my gumption, he said. In recollection, we should have waited for him to sink through the roof and out the ceiling into the dining room. But I didn't have recollection then. He kinda bent over and sliced his ankle like Grandfather while shaving. But Grandfather never faints. Jimmy did. Because of do unto others, I sat down next to Jimmy's legs and took up the knife. The world wasn't made in a minute and patience is a virtue I've been working on, I kept at it and shut my mouth tight and sawed like Grandmother taught me how to cut bread without smashing it.

After Jimmy was free, I rolled him down to the gutter Grandfather hoses leaves – and once a dead baby bird – out of every autumn. Then I climbed back down and threw my coverlet over the bushes below just like I'd practiced in case of a fire burnt or Mom came back. Then I got back up there and pushed him off. He fell bull's-eye on the coverlet. When the ambulance men came and strapped Jimmy on the rolling bed, he started screaming that he wished he'd never been born. Grandfather and I just stood there sending mind messages back and forth, but I don't know what they said.  

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