December 1971

Jimmy: A tale at Christmas present

by Lise

     "Deck the halls," I hummed to the windows as I attempted to brighten them with cut-outs from cast-off magazines. Leaving for the corner store, I bumped into the string of popcorn across the door and wondered if I should get the turkey noodle soup instead of chicken in honor of the season. Why not? As long as it wasn't any more expensive.
      Out on the street, the cold wind polished the concrete and asphalt with the paper in its grip. I tried to outrun it, but it caught me, cruelly. My eyes teared as I tried to run faster. In speed and blindness, I tripped over something on the sidewalk. Stopping, I discovered I had knocked down a little boy. About four or five and very agile for all his baby fat, he was already picking himself up. He examined me with solemn gray-blue eyes.
     "I'm sorry," I said, feeling guilty and Scrooge-like. Knocking down a little kid is pretty low.
     "I'm OK." A cautious glance met me from those unlaughing, uncrying eyes, with spiky black lashes. "Are you a mommy?"
     "Uh - no - I'm not, just an older sister." He reminded me of my little brothers who had been five when I left home at seventeen.
     "I'm going shopping to get a Christmas present for Mommy." We were moving now, towards the stores at the intersection. I wondered what mother let her child out alone in the neon-splattered, cold twilight.
     "What's your name?"
     "Hole old are you?"
     "Five and a ha'f."
     "Do you got to school?"
     "Uh-huh. I'm in the kin-er-garen at A-bram lincton school."
     I decided that this was a stupid line of questioning. It proved, with finality, I guess, that I had slipped into adultdom, and I didn't like it one bit.
     "Know what you're gonna get her?" He was concentrating hard, trying to get up the concrete stair of the Castle stationery store. He finished that with a might effort and turned to me, perplexed.
     "I don't know. Prob'ly some a'ficial flowers. She likeds flowers."
     "Official flowers?"
     "No, a'ficial, like plastic."
     "Oh." I was the perplexed one now. We parted; I went two doors down and did my meager shopping for one. The stupid store didn't have turkey noodle or even chicken noodle, so I ended up with vegetable, which I hate.
      The cold was even colder, the dark, deeper, and the neon glared false salvation into the night as I came out with my bundles. On the steps of the stationery store sat Jimmy, carrying. "Jim--Jimmy, what's the matter. What happened?"
      "Ah -- A big kid took my money."
      "How -- who --wh." Big kids! Likely, he had been a tough, snot-nose neighborhood kid. "How much d'ja have?"
      "Fifty-seven cents. I earn it all myself."
      "Com'on." Together we went back. He clutched some Kleenex. I helped him pick out four flowers; he chose and I reached them out of the large basket. He pointed out one blue, two red, and a pink which I paid for. I worried, out loud, about a blue flower. Jimmy stated, with finality, that blue was his mother's favorite color. I didn't dare protest again. My burst of generosity shot my extra money for the week. As solemn as ever, he clutched his flowers and the Kleenex as we came back out onto the cold street.
      "Thank you," he said, and started diligently home. I thought the wind would knock him over, it was so tough.
      "Jimmy -- uh -- I've got some wrapping paper. Do you want to wrap them for your mom?" He considered it, his round face rumpled into a frown.
      "Would it make'm better?"
      "OK then. Where's your house?" By the hand I took him home. I dug up the paper, wrapped the flowers, and handed them back to his anxious clutches. The whole time he sat very still on the one chair in my rickety room. I offered him some soup, but he said he wanted to get home because it was suppertime and his mother always made something special. I understood, knowing that if I had something to go home to, I'd go home, too. I walked him down the three flights of stairs.
      Even if I wasn't running around singing, I felt more like Christmas. My family was so large that someone had always been young,, ad Christmas was, for me the season of children.
      Good night, Jimmy, Merry Christmas. I hope your mommy realizes how great it is that you are you.
      Painting that night, I tried to finish a winter scene, one of an icy pond surrounded by trees and craggy hills. Cracks slicked the surface of the pond and toothed demons leered up, almost obliterated by frost and trapped beneath the ice. My usual paintings were rather abstract, bright splashes of emotions and color, composed using almost human figures. Recently, however, I had been painting differently. Tonight, I put in Jimmy-eyed children skating close to the cracks. They smiled innocently, and I almost ruined the canvas when I realized what I was doing.
      I was thinking about Jimmy's mother too. He was only five and acted, with his maturity and speaking ability, like an oldest or only child. Perhaps she was young. I clutched at straws, I guess, trying to find someone young enough to talk to in this old neighborhood. I was starved for company. Maybe that's why I talked to Jimmy in the first place. I imagined finding Jimmy again and taking him home. Ever since I had moved from Peter's and struck out on my own, I had felt isolation. I began to imagine talking with his mother, having coffee with her. I hadn't been in the neighborhood long. I wanted to meet people badly. I thought of Jimmy as salvation.
      I went to bed, deciding that the lack of people was driving me absolutely nuts. First talking to kids, then painting surrealistic, obviously symbolic paintings, next I would probably start considering marriage and kids. If Peter could see me now....
      The next morning, Christmas proper, was brighter and colder if that was possible. I convinced myself that I needed someone to talk to and went down to walk and search for my five-year-old salvation.
      Luck was mine; I spotted his dull blond head two blocks over. He walked with an older man. His father? I didn't know and hesitated as I caught up with their five-year-old pace.
      Loneliness and the wind pushed me. "Jimmy," I smiled and knelt, eye-level in front of him. "How are you?"
      "Fine." He looked up solemnly at the man who held his hand. "We're going to give my mommy her present at the cedmetary."
      This time I didn't need a translation. I guess my expression must have been a mirror of my mind, for as I whirled to run, father grabbed son, trying in vain to protect him from all the crazy people and pain in the world.
      I ran all the way to my room and up those three flights of stairs. As I dove through the door, I broke the string of popcorn hanging across it, and the white crumble catapulted all over the room. I stood in the middle of the mess, panting, my head spinning from the cold and exertion.
      I dragged out my duffle bag, knocking down some more of my cutouts. I was going home for Christmas.