Sunday, December 27, 2009

Jimmy Welty

In the middle of the city of HotWinds, inside a bookstore: portraits of famous American authors, reproduced on canvas. A tall, black, and moody homeless man used to come by almost every day. He would also cadge cigarettes from employees outside on break. Sometimes, he would scare the hell out of them. That was when he was drunk.

Most of the time, he was in the company of other homeless men, and they would all sit on the sidewalk benches, laughing and arguing and drinking beer out of discarded Styrofoam cups. He had different names, depending on who he talked to. To me, his name was Jimmy, and you had to be careful not to sit on that bench if he was coming toward it.

One night, Jimmy came screaming into the store while I was dealing with a customer service issue--i.e., an unhappy customer. He immediately barreled over to me, yelling that something was wrong, something about Grandma, and that I was a bitch. The security guard threw him out.

That customer service issue evaporated pretty damned quick. Jimmy asked the security guard if I would talk to him. So about ten minutes later, I went outside.

“Jimmy, I don’t understand what you’re trying to tell me.”

“Look.” He led me away from the door and toward the window, which did not make me happy, since the security guard couldn’t see me. He pointed.
“Every night I lie on this bench and talk to Grandma,” he told me. “When I get tired, she watches over me. But now she can’t watch over me no more.”

I looked in the shop window.  Eudora Welty’s portrait had fallen off the wall.
“See,” he pointed again. “Grandma.”

“I’ll take care of it,” I promised.

The hanging screw and wire had come out of the back of the picture. I poked a new hole in the back of the frame and screwed it up tight. I rehung Ms. Welty's portrait. Made sure it was level. And he was satisfied, for months. If he screamed at me, he apologized immediately. He’d back down.

On December 27th that year, I heard he’d killed a man in front of a downtown fast food outlet on Christmas Day. I don’t know if that’s true. I only know I never saw him again.

I asked a police officer once on our beat. But Jimmy was not his name. It is only a name constructed for me to know him by.

Eudora Welty was a white Southern author, childless and unmarried. Her stories are told by unreliable narrators. In this way, she scammed her readers into learning more about human frailty, strength, and social relations than you can even add up. She never preached. She just told stories.

How thin is the barrier between sane and insane, violence and security? Her grandson knew.


Texas Ghostrider said...

Very thin.....

Good Post.....

Slamdunk said...

Interesting story AH.

I had to read a little more on Eudora Welty. Any author who can inspire an inventor to name a email program after her is ok with me.

Ann T. said...

I could go on about Eudora Welty far past what is pleasing to you!

I still hope that story about Jimmy isn't true--another unreliable narrator. I missed him for a long time, even though he was not a comfortable feature of my life.

Thanks to both of you for commenting!
Ann T.