Caught in the Current

“Shouldn’t waste yer time.” The guitar slipped off the sofa’s cushion, Double-J catching its neck before it fell to the apartment floor. A car engine roared to life outside. “Kids with any smarts, move outta this town soon as they graduate. Come back for the holidays, summer vacations. Kids who stay, not only don’t they have the means to leave, don’t have the smarts to figure out what they want out of life.” He raised the guitar to his lap, brought his right hand over the strings, as if prepared to resume playing. “Just drift along without a plan, lettin’ the stream of life take ’em wherever. Gives ’em the impression they’re going forward, when all they’s actually doing, is getting dragged along with the current.”

“But you ain’t like that.” Jimmy seemed to rise in his seat. “Known you long enough, t’ know you got your eyes wide open. Know you got ambitions that should be taking you far ‘way from here.” His hands rubbed together — “Know you smart enough, t’ know what you doin’ now, ain’t gonna get you nowhere. Smart enough t’ know, that buckin’ the stream just give you a sense you fightin’, you winnin’, when all the time you just bein’ pushed along by the current, jus’ like ev-rone else.”

Sitting on a metal chair at the far end of the small room, Rex examined the participants in the emerging debate. The thin black wires of Double-J’s hair and mustache seemed even more disshevled than usual, as if charged with static; the teen’s face was placid but his eyes were narrowed, focused on the middle-aged businessman sitting just a few feet in front of him. Jimmy crossed his arms, exhaled deeply through his nose, bearing a patience that would remain until a satisfactory answer was provided. Rex had known Double-J long enough to know what the nature of that answer would be; Jimmy, though, while not a stranger was still too much of an unknown quantity for Rex to judge how he’d receive that answer.

Double-J blinked. “Don’t gotta worry about me.” Rex nodded, and in the three seconds that followed, he saw Jimmy Saunders perform three actions he had not previously demonstrated in front of any members of the Bark Bay High School fencing team.

First, Jimmy rose abruptly from his chair.

Second, he glowered down at Double-J, looking as if he were about to challenge him to a fight.

Third – and this was the most surprising thing to Rex – this soft-spoken volunteer fencing cach, owner of the most successful catering business in the region, a man both respected and respectful within their community — Jimmy Saunders told Double-J, in terms that could not be possibly misconstrued, that he was full of shit.

“Can you just look at you-self?” Spittle flew from Jimmy’s lips, sailed over Double-J’s head. “Livin’ in a dead-end apartment, workin’ a dead-end job — ” he turned sharply towards Lefty — “no ‘fense.” The lead mechanic smiled, turned away, Jimmy taking the cue to focus again on the apartment’s teen tenant. “Dropped outta high school, quit doin’ a sport you love to prove some kinda damn point. Act like you so proud, but what you gotta show for all that pride?”

Double-J squeezed his face, hands remaining at his sides. “That what you think? That my life’s just one big mistake, after another?”

Jimmy’s face softened, seeming to contemplate whether he wanted to speak the words on his mind. Then — “Yeah. That’s what I think.”

“All right then!” The teen rose, his head rising only to the level of Jimmy’s shoulders. “But what I know, is that they’re my mistakes, and I’d rather make my own mistakes, than accept anybody else’s lies.” Double-J stepped back, addressed the other three occupants in the room. “If you think anything you’re gonna say this evening, is gonna persuade me to go back to that damn school, get me back on the fencing team again – I’m telling you now, there’s nothing you can do to change my mind, so I suggest you stop trying, save yourself the energy. Because I’ve made my decisions, and if they’re wrong I really don’t care, because at least I’ll know they’re my decisions.”

[“Gray Metal Faces,” March 13F]

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