Monday, April 26, 2010

A Real Friend

Here's my entry into Jason Duke's writing contest. Hope you enjoy.

A REAL FRIEND - by J. F. Juzwik

Well, hello. Do you mind if I sit? Have you seen the Crosstown go by yet? I believe it’s the #7. They keep changing the bus routes and numbers on them all the time, and it gets me mixed up sometimes, don’t you know. You too? It’s the times though, don’t you think? The times are so crazy. Can’t even leave the buses alone.

Donut hole? Go ahead. Help yourself. I always buy a box full at Dinah’s Bakery when I’m out this way and if you don’t take some, why, I’ll just end up eating them all up by myself. Now, that wouldn’t be a good thing, would it. Some are glazed and some have sprinkles. Sure. Take a couple of each.

You’re out here visiting your uncle? I see. That’s hard when it’s family. He’s in for writing some bad checks? Oh, well, that’s not too bad. He should probably be coming home to you soon enough. I’m up here to the prison visiting my very bestest friend in the whole world. See, he’s locked up in that death row part because he got himself convicted of several murders in the very first degree. They’re going to do that executing thing in a couple of days and this was the last day he could be visited. They’ll be taking him to a special place down the hall where he’ll be waiting out his final hours. I won’t be there to see them do it to him. I don’t believe I could watch something like that. He’s in there still whining and crying; just like he’s been doing all his life. He never was able to move himself away from that.

You know, I’ve been knowing Jimbo since the very first grade. That’s his name, in case I forgot to mention it. Jimbo McCullough is actually his given name. Well, I do believe it may have been something else McCullough, but Jimbo is what we all ended up calling him. Anyway, Jimbo and me got to be the very bestest friends right from the first day. He was always on the small side, you know, and some of the bigger boys in the bigger grades commenced to picking on him and trying to take his little bit of lunch and snack money. Well, the teacher, she wasn’t paying him any attention at all, so I came upon the scene and told them they’d better stop bothering my friend or else they were going to have some hell to pay. They started laughing and thinking it was all a big joke, but they went away just the same. After school on that very first day, one of those bigger boys got runned over by a car on the highway. Didn’t anybody know how he got over to the highway all by himself either. One good thing did come out of it though. The rest of that bunch didn’t do too much laughing after that for quite some while. Not at anybody.

Jimbo and I were in all the same grades though elementary, middle, junior high and high school. Funny, huh? We always made sure we sat in the same row too, if we could. Those were great days, don’t you know. Well, great days, except for when my friend would be getting picked on and all. All through those times, he stayed kinda small and I’m not sure why they do it, but some folks just seem to try to go out of their way to pick on the smaller ones. You take Jeremiah Copperling. He went all through school with the both of us. Well, at least up until the end of the fifth grade. He had the same teachers and learned the same lessons as us, but the older he got, the stupider he got. It was as if every year that he grew bigger, his brain got emptier. He didn’t know to do anything except to pick on those smaller than him.

He sure was big in those days. I seem to remember one day right in the fifth grade. We were all out running around outside on the playground, you know how kids do, and here comes Jeremiah Copperling, clomping out of the school building out to where us kids were running around. I believe he had been called in to the Principal’s office again for doing something or another. Anyway, he comes out to the playground, and all you had to do was take one good look on that face of his to know that he was looking for trouble and wasn’t going to quit until he found some. He found a group of smaller ones, probably like third or fourth grade maybe, and started kicking mud all over them and pushing and shoving them around. Nobody out there did anything about it, not even the teachers, who mostly just looked the other way. Probably thought he’d kick mud on them and push them around as well.

Jeremiah wasn’t through though, because he came right over to where Jimbo and me were looking over some comics we had bought at the five and dime the Saturday before and Jeremiah just walked over and spit right on them. Yes, that’s what I did say. He just walked up and spit right on our brand new comic books that we had spent our allowance on. Then he started laughing and kicked some mud on both of us and just walked away to go and bother another group of small ones.

Nobody missed Jeremiah the following year when he didn’t show up for sixth grade though. Word went around that he was in one of those house-type hospitals where the patients are living and all, but just pretty much lay around and drool their days away. Some kind of accident, folks said. He was big and clumsy and he fell off of something. Nobody saw him fall sure enough, so the account of it never was very clear.

Jeremiah wasn’t the only one, you see. There was a whole group of them that picked on Jimbo. But, you know, it wasn’t just at the school. They ran together like a pack of something or other and if they saw him out front of his house, they’d pick on him. If they saw him coming out of the five and dime, they’d pick on him. If they saw him going into the grocer’s, they pick on him. It was like they had nothing better to do with their days but to make his life miserable. Things did get just a bit better by the time we graduated from high school though because most of them weren’t around anymore. They were a right dim bunch, probably ought to have been carrying some rabbits’ feet or some such thing. Good luck didn’t really follow these fellows too close, if you know what I mean.

Take Jerry Fuller for a real good sample. He was trucking down Highway 7 going South, and really had the pedal to the metal like he always did. Problem was, when he tried to slow down for that curve out by Aggie’s Bend, you know that one?, his brakes didn’t hold and he just went sailing out over the bluff and right down into Jake Corrigan’s field. His car had flipped a couple times before it landed, and when it did, it caught fire and exploded. Folks were saying that was odd, because the car shouldn’t have caught fire that quick and burned to a crisp like it did, but you know? You never can tell about those things. How would anybody know what a car would or wouldn’t do in that situation. Jerry’s mama was real upset at the funeral because the casket had to be kept shut and she kept telling everybody how she had found out Jerry was alive when the car caught fire and she couldn’t understand why he didn’t get out of it before it exploded. I guess we won’t ever know the answer to that one.

When Jimbo and me finished our school days, we decided to head to the city to get our jobs and make our livings. We both got good jobs working for this medical type place where we pick up and deliver stuff to doctors’ offices and the like. We both had our driving licenses by that time and even though we drove different vans, there were many days when we would meet up and have some burgers and beers together. Weren’t supposed to be having beers of course while we were driving, but nobody ever knew because we made our deliveries and pickups on time. Some days though, Jimbo didn’t make it until late so he only had time for the beer and had to take his burger to go. He never did say where he had been or why he was late, but I never asked either. He was my very bestest friend and you don’t question your very bestest friend. Not ever.

Things were going so good for both of us by then. We had already got us a big place that we shared the bills on. But, you know what? Just when you think things are going to start leveling off for you and maybe have smoother times, those old bad pennies start showing up. Mama used to tell me all the time that you just can’t rid yourself of a bad penny. You can throw it away again and again, but eventually, it’s going to turn up in your pocket. I would ask her, then, how do you rid yourself of a bad penny when it keeps following you wherever you go. She said, you got to bury it, know what I mean? Bury it. Then, it can‘t come back. I knew what she meant and I told Jimbo what she said, and I knew it deep down in my heart that he knew what she meant too.

We were having burgers and beer at lunch during one of our delivery routes, on a Tuesday I believe it was, and who did actually come into the diner where we were eating, but Thomas Krantz and Willie Hoover. Now, I don’t know if those names ring any bells for you, but it sure did chime a dark tune for Jimbo and me. Thomas Krantz and Willie Hoover had went to high school with us and never did anything all during that whole time but bother Jimbo and me. Now, with me, they’d push me in the hallway up against the lockers and such and sometimes spit on my books, but Jimbo? They would get much more rougher with him.

They’d wait for him outside the buildings when we had to go to our different classes, and they would toss his books around on the grass and jump up and down on them, and then push him down and jump up and down on him too. He’d come into the class all bloody and snotty--you know, from crying and all--and the teacher would get so mad at him. Can you believe it? The teacher would get mad at Jimbo and never said one thing to Thomas Krantz or Willie Hoover, who were actually in the same class. They would come in after him and just sit down like nothing at all had been happening and like they were as sweet and fresh as one of mama’s apple pies.

They did see us when they came walking into the diner, and what do you think they did? Why, they just walked over, right in front of everybody and they took Jimbo’s beer and poured it all over his delivery and pickup uniform and dropped his burger on the floor and stepped on it. Just like the teacher in the class too, nobody did anything or even said anything. They just started laughing and walked out. Didn’t order not one thing. It was like they just came over to that part of town into that diner just to ruin Jimbo’s lunch and then go back to wherever it was that they came from. Jimbo started whining and crying, again, as was his custom of doing, and went back to the house to change into a clean uniform and go back to work. That night, we didn’t even speak of it at all.

I have to admit to you that I didn’t feel too badly when I read in the newspaper not too long after that somebody had found their bodies in an alley across town. They were both cut up pretty bad, only the cutting isn’t what they died from. Paper said they were both just cut a lot to where they couldn’t move too well and then they both just laid there and bleeded to death. Took awhile too. Can’t say I was bothered much by that either.

When Jimbo and I next talked, it was at our house that we shared the bills on. He asked if I had seen that in the paper about those two old boys and I told him I did see it. He laughed about it, and I have to tell you, that was a good thing. Jimbo didn’t laugh too much really and it was nice to see him in good spirits for a change.

Life can be a bitter pill to swallow some days--my mama used to say that too sometimes. You’ll never guess who turned up at one of my delivery and pickup doctors’ offices--I believe that was a Monday if I recall correctly. It was one of Jimbo’s and my old teachers from middle school. I remember she was one of the nastiest people I had ever known in my life back then, and it was interesting for real that she was still just as nasty looking. She seen me and remembered me from middle school and started calling me stupid and saying why was I there and why wasn’t I in jail or dead in a field or something. Now, what kind of a way is that to talk to a person? She didn’t have a job in the doctor’s office, but she was one of the sick people waiting to see the doctor. If I had been that doctor, I would not get within ten feet of that dirty old witch, but since I was only the delivery and pickup person, I just put some containers down and took some other ones and left. When I got home at the end of the day though, I told Jimbo all about it. I told him where I saw her and how she acted and all. He got real upset and we didn’t talk about it anymore, and I was glad.

I never did see her ugly face again when I went to deliver and pickup at that doctor’s office. There was a little writeup in the paper awhile after though about her body being found inside her house, which wasn’t all that far from our house that we shared the bills on. She had lots of cords wrapped around her neck and her hands and feet and she was all swelled up and stuff. The paper said she didn’t die easy and that was alright with me. Jimbo laughed about her when I showed him that and I did too. Those were the good times. Yes, they were.

On the day when the police came knocking, now, that was the start of the bad times. I don’t ever remember seeing Jimbo whine and cry that much over anything. They under arrested him for killing some people. They said he killed Thomas Krantz and Willie Hoover. They had a whole list. On the list was old Mrs. Trousdale (the nasty, dirty old teacher I had run into at the doctor‘s office), and then they had some names from our school days, like Jeremiah Copperling and Jerry Fuller too. The other names were some of those boys that used to bother Jimbo and they had all been killed and there was evidence on hand, they said, that made them know that Jimbo had done all the killings.

Well, they did handcuff him and take him out, crying and whining, but you knew that, didn’t you? When they did his trial, he went through boxes of tissues and you should have seen him when they said they were going to do the executing thing to him. He just about fell over, but I suppose anybody would have done that under the same situation. Then they locked him up in the death row part so he could do his waiting, and now his waiting is almost over. I’ve been coming up to the prison to visit him ever since and do you know, that he has never grown up. He has never even tried to. He keeps whining and crying about all of this and this time, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had to set him straight once and for all.

I let him know that today was going to have to be the last time I would be let in to see him since his executing would be coming soon and I said this is going to be your last chance to act like a man. I told him that I hoped he knew just how lucky he has been during his whole life because he had me with him all during it. Not very many people are so lucky as him to have a friend like me--I mean, a real friend. One who will do things to help you get grown and so you can stand up straight and tall and hold your head up. Well, I did those kinds of things for Jimbo--things that would make people look up to him and be afeared of him so he could stop all his whining and crying, and did he appreciate it? Not one little bit.

Here, I killed all them for him--I ‘buried’ all those bad pennies mama talked about and left something of Jimbo’s there so the police would know it was him who had done them all. Then, you see, people wouldn’t pick on him any more because they’d know they’d end up dead if they did. I looked him right in his eyes and told him when he was on his way to meet his maker, he should square his shoulders back and lay nice and straight and tall on that table when they stick him and be proud because nobody believed he was a pussy anymore. I did that. I did that for him. Because I was always his very bestest friend. A real friend.

Oh, I see the #7 coming. I need to get my fare out. The driver doesn’t like it when you start digging in your pockets after you get on. He likes the fare put in right away. You can keep the rest of those donut holes if you like. I shouldn’t take them with me because from here I’m going to visit my new bestest friend, Tyler. Tyler Johanson. Can’t bring sweets into his house, you see, all because of his missus. She won’t tolerate sweets in the house, or strong drink either. Truly, she doesn’t tolerate much of anything being brought into the house. Tyler having people over either. Now, my friend, Tyler, he generally lets her have her way about most things. He says it’s easier on him if he doesn’t create a fuss with her. But I’m helping him with that because I’m his very bestest friend. Really.


  1. Very descriptive and with nice doses of dark humour. I love the way you build this story up Joyce.

  2. Thanks so much, Richard, for stopping by to read and comment. Glad you enjoyed it. This one was really fun to write!

  3. this is excellent. it moves right along and i love the intimacy of the writing. it's like an excellent monologue.
    i'd like to see/hear an actor do it on stage or on television.
    really good Joyce!
    10 out of 10!

  4. Thanks so much, Carole. I did try to picture the scene in my mind the whole time. Somebody sitting down at a bus stop and chatting. Just a nice little sitdown. Glad you liked it.

  5. I love the voice you've used Joyce. His manerisms, trying to sound worldy wise whilst sounding dumber than a bag of spanners. Great piece.

  6. Thanks much, Lee. That character really was a trip to write. Kind of like Forrest Gump from Hell...

  7. I'm so behind on all these stories but this was a real treat. Great, consistent voice. A fun person to hang on a bus bench with. All up know.

  8. Thanks, Eric. I appreciate your comments. Great to hang on a bus bench with, sure. But exchanging BFF rings? I think not! Glad you enjoyed it.