A journal of narrative writing.
Page 3

Gary let out a couple of chuckles. Jackie knew he was a smart ass. He'd accumulated enough bloody noses and school suspensions to prove it. Sometimes he even ran into adults who liked smart ass kids, the people who didn't say things like, “What are you going to do with your life?”

Gary was a few years older than Jackie, probably around twenty. But it was hard to tell. He had an ageless quality, like one of those long-lived sea turtles.

“That's only one horn?”

“Yeah, a saxophone.”

There was a pause while they listened.

“Do you listen to horn music?” Gary asked.

“No, not much.”

“Poor pitiful white people,” Gary said.

They started hanging out at lunch, sitting in the car, leg sweat turning their jeans from blue to black, while Gary explained how jazz developed from field hollers and work songs, African counter-rhythms and the blue scale.

Jackie didn't understand a word of it technically but the explanation made him think of a vine winding in and out of a trellis. He felt like a little boy who was being told of another kingdom that had existed right before his eyes he had not been able to see before. And he was being told of it with a quiet, soothing voice that wouldn't ruffle the hairs on a baby's neck.

Gary began picking Jackie up for work. Mama would peer out her window and say, “Your ride's here,” and go back to what she was doing. After work, they would sometimes go back to Gary's tiny apartment with the old one-piece stereo on the floor and listen to Coltrane, Bird, Miles, Sonny Rollins, Lester Young.

Every time he put a new album on, Gary would introduce the story of who was on each cut and how the cuts were recorded. Jackie soaked up the stories of the cutting sessions in Kansas City Hi Hat Club the same way Shelia swallowed a tall Budweiser.

Soon, Jackie was hearing the music in his dreams, especially the album A Love Supreme. He was surprised when he started hearing it in his dreams because he didn't think he liked it when he was awake. It was like the sounds that would come from a church with a funeral on one side, the mourners yelling and moaning their agony, and a baptism on the other, with the family singing out their joy at the new life, full of expectation.

It had frightened him; now it filled his dreams. The dreams were nothing special. He would be walking in a strange city, or sitting in the brown, dusty yard of his house and watching the stars, and the music would come along and pick him up and hurry him away, not to exciting places, but to some other plain-old regular place.

Then one morning Gary didn't show up to take Jackie to work. He walked all the way. Gary didn't show up for work.

At the end of the day, Jackie walked a mile out of his way to go by Gary's apartment. No one was home. Jackie turned back, tired, and surprised at how empty he felt inside. A couple of blocks from the apartment the yellow VW stopped beside him. Jackie got in the car, careful to hide his pleasure. Gary was wearing a white shirt, tie and dress slacks.

At the apartment Gary said, “Put on whatever you want to hear,” and walked into the bedroom and shut the door. He came out a few minutes later wearing jeans and a T-shirt and fell into one of the metal and plastic kitchen chairs. He put his head into his hands.

Jackie listened to the music, thinking that it was easier to understand it than to understand human beings.

Gary finally said, “I guess I should tell you something.”

“Go ahead,” Jackie said,.

Gary talked, as the August afternoon slipped into a humid twilight. He told the story of how he and his brother Bernard had left college to work with the Black Panthers. Most of their time was spent setting up free breakfast programs.

“Remember when the police raided the Panther's headquarters. The cop got shot?”

“Yeah.” It was the biggest thing to happen in High Point in years.

“Well, Bernie was in the office.”

“Did he . . . ?”

“He says he hid in a closet. They could have tested his hands to see if he fired a weapon but didn't. They charged him instead. Now he's going to prison, serious time, if I can't help him. The Party has deserted him. I don't know what to do. He's my brother, I'm supposed to help.”

Their friendship changed that night. They still listened to music, Gary could always dig out something Jackie had never heard. But now, when the album was finished, Gary would launch into a lecture about the ruling class, class war, urban guerrillas, and how Jackie was lucky to be introduced to the future.

When school started that fall Jackie quit his job at the furniture plant and got one loading trucks on the weekend. He had more time for reading. He read a couple of Lenin biographies, then went on to Russian fiction. Chekhov's “The Kiss” and “About Love” told him more about Russia than both of the biographies. He read “War and Peace” for the first time. He didn't know what to think of Tolstoy's philosophy of history, but it didn't seem any stranger than Marx's. He mainly loved the chapter when Nikolay took the old hound hunting, the sections of Pierre searching for the Answer, and the wounded Andrey staring at the lofty sky.

He began reading other novels about war. He would be eighteen his next birthday and there was still a draft.

On his last day of high school Coach Greegson started off class explaining that it was a good thing the troublemakers and other communists were about to get convicted. The good people's patience was almost worn thin.

Jackie tried to ignore him. He hurried his eyes across Hemingway's loping prose. He knew Coach didn't like him, ever since he'd walked off the practice field and didn't look back.

Jackie hadn't been called on all year. He didn't at first hear Coach call his name this time. “I bet you don't agree with what I'm saying, do you Jack York?”

Jackie only looked up when he realized the room was suddenly very quiet. Coach stood next to him, smiled and repeated his question.

Jackie thought: Why am I getting all this attention? Then he thought—Neil must know who Gary was and passed on word of his and Gary's friendship.

“I hope they get a fair trial, Coach.”

“What about the police officer that was shot? Did he get a fair trial?”

“I thought trials were for people charged with crimes, sir.”

Coach sucked in air and clicked his teeth. “You're sure the smart one, aren't you?”

“Not really, sir. It just seems that way, depending on who I'm talking to.”

The sound of thirty people going “Whew!” filled the room.

Coach Greegson was smiling, a flinty sparkle of anticipation in his eye. “Trot on down to Mr. Sparkles office, York. I'll be down directly.”