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The Tale of 66
It was winter 1966. I recall that this particular winter the sun went down far sooner than any other winter I have lived through. That December was very bitter. I didn’t mess around with none of that heroin and I didn’t smoke no weed, but I did have a mighty weakness for the cigarettes and that winter I smoked a pack whenever it got too cold so I must have smoked fifteen packs a week. My best friend at the time was Henry Gloomburg but everyone called him Ed and I have never been sure why but I called him Ed just like everyone else. Ed’s mom had herself a car accident back in ‘59 and broke half her body and soon became a morphine addict. Ed being only a ten year old at the time was curious and soon took little doses of it himself. He started himself into heroin in ‘65 and even back then you got a bad reputation for doing it. Ed was no junkie but he did it whenever he was in good company.
Both me and Ed were only childs in our families so when we started becoming friends when we went to work on a farm down near Hannibal Illinois near Missouri, we became joined at the hip. That was in ‘62 of course. Huh, I guess I only knew him for four years. Anyways, on December 14th, we started that night off early and went to a swing club when the sun went down which was around six o’clock. After about an hour of this Ed took me to Tom Reefs basement down in New Madrid, I didn’t have much choice, him being the one with the car and all. In Toms basement there was some of that marijuana being passed around and in another part was where Ed was in some good company shootin up. I sat in the weed part of the basement.
This nice fellow came and sat down next to me. I always wished he never did. He of course was Jimmy Patton. He was a year younger than me but we both went to the same school. I never had talked to him much, him being the son of the man owning half the city and me being the son of a blind seamstress. But me and him started up a conversation and we found out we had a lot in common. He was a little deaf it seemed. I had to keep repeating what I said louder and louder because he couldn’t right hear or maybe he was just too stoned and didn’t pay attention, but I liked him none the less.
After talking for about an hour Ed comes out all wasted and tells me it’s time to go. I remember it was only about ten when we were headin out which was pretty early which meant that we were going off to someone else’s house and party, probably Tom Jones garage. We both got in the car and were about to pull out when Jimmy runs out and asks if he could get a lift to Claire’s Milkshake Restaurant. He was going to meet up with a girl he had been seeing for a while. I didn’t bother asking Ed, he was too far out to really know what was going on so I said sure and he hopped into the back.
Claire’s was a good forty-five minutes away so soon enough we all started talkin about this girl Jimmy was going to see. He told us she was real well off, daughter of a rich banker, but she was clean edge and didn’t even drink no gin. Ed started to come back down and said that he didn’t think he knew any sober girls. Jimmy said they were the best kind. Jimmy was going to quit drinkin and smokin if things started to go well with her and all. Her name was Jane. Jimmy and Jane, nice ring to it. Ed said that he had too many perfect broads for him to choose one. I said I didn’t have any girls who are interested me and I had no idea why any would.
Ed was never a very good driver, he never kept his eyes on the road but he aint never been in a car accident neither. Till that night.
We were speeding a little bit and Jim and Ed were talking about their gals and I was the one keepin my eyes on the road. There was a stop light coming up. Been green for a while and we were about fifty yards away when it turned yellow. I told Ed that it was a fast light. He sped up. Twenty five yards it turned red. I told him to stop, so did Jimmy. Ed sped up.
We didn’t know what to do. We ran. We were all paranoid. Must have drove about eighty miles per hour. There was no dent in the car; they were made out of steel back then. I was sure that the lady got a good look at the license plates. I told them this. They decided to abandon the car, it was almost out of gas anyways. Only mark on it was a slight smidge of blood on the hood. We all looked at that for a real long time. I said that we should hide it where cops won’t find it so we left it back at Johnsons Creek and took the license plates and threw it in the stream. We all had no idea what to do. We ran through corn fields and down gravel roads. Soon enough we found ourselves in a boxcar train hitching a free ride. Long time we were all on that train.
All of us just sat there real quiet like. I remember just going over what happened in my head over and over. We were about to run that red when the most beautiful thing I ever laid my eyes on appeared. Long brown hair, blues eyes, and nice legs to boot. She ran across the street not bothering to look both ways I mean why bother, it being a green light for her to walk and all. I only had seen her for about a split second but for the brief moment I thought that this girl could be the one for me. Maybe it was all that talk of having a gal for oneself maybe not. Then the front of the car slammed into her and she went under that ol Ford. We stopped the car right after. There was another lady standing on the side of the street screamin her head off soon after who looked like she could have been a sister. We just sat there all shocked for maybe thirty seconds before we bootlegged out of there. We fled the scene and I don’t think a single one of us looked back at what we left behind.
I looked out into the cold snow caked plains while on that train and I was wondering why something like that had to happen to me. To us. Maybe it was destiny. Maybe it was karma. I don’t rightly know but soon I saw the eastern sky start to brighten. The suns comin up I told them. My throat seemed very dry maybe that was cus none of us had said a word since the accident and that was bout probably 10 or 12 hours before. Ed and Jim just nodded. They couldn’t bring themselves to say nothing. We were all very tired so we jumped off as the train began to slow down. We found a dirt road and walked down it until we came across what looked like an abandoned building. The building seemed very lonely all by itself in the plains. So we took a look inside and found that it seemed like a deserted funeral home or something. The dawn was in full throttle but we were so tired we decided to sleep. We didn’t find much for warmth besides some old satin lining and some firewood. I did me some more lookin and found two wooden coffins. I told Jim and Ed that they could take em. They were too tired to complain so they snuggled themselves in and shut their lids. I just sat by the fire I started, didn’t get no sleep. I just kept thinking about that lady we hit. Didn’t think about the accident itself, just the girl. I didn’t smoke at all, with the matches that I had the only thing to start a fire.
They didn’t wake till maybe four in the afternoon and even by then it started to get dark already and when they came out of them caskets they looked dead themselves. I told them this but they didn’t have much of a sense of humor right then, not sure why I did. I guess that I’ve always just seen the funny side of life more than the dark. We left the funeral home and headed down the road west because that has been the general direction we been headin this whole time. Then we started to talk finally. About the girl. We didn’t talk about the accident, just the girl. I guess we were all thinking the same thing. Jim kept talking about her hair and Ed about her legs. All I said was that her blue eyes were what caught my attention. Funny how we all remember these little details about this girl we didn’t see for more than two seconds.
That night was the first night that I ever saw a thunderstorm in the winter. We all saw that storm front moving in west to east. So we decided to head back to that mortuary. The lighting was bright and the thunder was loud, the snow was fierce. By the time that we got back to our macabre sanctuary we were soaked through the socks in snow and were on the brink of freezing to death. Took me about an hour to start up the fire with me drippin all over my matches. After the fire was started we all just sat around that fire and huddled together for warmth.
Sleepless is what we were that whole night. Not a single word was spoken, only our shivers and the crash of the thunder broke the silence. That was the worst night of my life. As I started to see the light of the dawn the storm seemed to pass and Jim stood up and turned to Ed.
“This is all your fault” he told him. “You killed that girl and you’re goin to hell. I told you.” Jim started to get all hyped up about it. Ed soon stood up. “I told you to stop! Why didn’t you listen to me?!” I got up and told him to settle down.
“My fault?!” said Ed “It’s not my fault! You’re the one who dragged us down to take you to see your precious damn girl. If you never came I would never have come close to her.” They wouldn’t have had listened to me anyway so I just didn’t say anything. I didn’t even try breaking it up again, I just took a few steps back. They kept yelling at each other. Their voices getting louder and louder.
“Screw this” Jim said.”I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m leaving and I will just turn myself in and tell the cops all that I know. I mean we killed someone! We deserve to be punished.” Then he walked out of the sanctuary. Both Ed and I ran out after him. The sun was shining bright and there must have been about two feet of snow on the ground. The cold bitter air I breathed in seemed to calm me down but it only seemed to enrage Ed. Maybe it was the guilt. Maybe he didn’t want to go to prison. Maybe it was the withdrawal or maybe the cold or the fatigue or any other reason but Ed lost his humanity in that dawn sunlight. He ran up and tackled Jim from behind. Ed was at a major advantage and quickly grabbed Jim by the throat and began to squeeze very tightly. Jims face soon became purple and it was clear that he couldn’t breathe at all. I didn’t know what to do. I just stood there and watched. I had front row seats to the death of a boy. To the end of the world it felt like at the time. I remember looking into Jims bloodshot eyes and seeing only fear. I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to die. I still can’t. I felt only guilt while watching this. Jim wasn’t even supposed to be there, he was just along for the ride.
In my family deaths come in threes so as I saw Eds face filled with pure rage I felt a little bit frightened. He released Jim from his grasp and it was clear that the boy would not breathe again. Ed just turned to me and said that he was tired so he went into the mortuary and put himself into a coffin and slept. I carried Jim’s body back into the building and put him in the other casket that he slept in the night before. I found a shovel in the basement and dug him a grave. Took more than about four hours to dig through the snow and six feet of dirt and to drag that coffin down into the grave, but I did it. There was nothing I could leave behind to make a marking to that he was buried there, so I just said a prayer to God to ask him if he could please put Jim in heaven. He was a real swell guy.
Couple days later we did exactly what Jim wanted, we turned ourselves in. Them cops asked us what went on and we told him that we did hit that girl and we ran away. They asked where Jim was and we just said that he went off by himself somewhere. I’ve really felt bad for his parents. Them forever hoping he will come back someday and all. They were addicted to hope. I always felt guilty that I never told Jim’s parents what really happened. They will always be hoping he will come back. I never did learn the girls name but I did find out that it was her sister who watched it happen. I talked to her at the trial, she seemed real nice. I told her I was sorry and she said that she didn’t forgive me but she just felt sorry for me. I didn’t know what to make of that at the time.
I was sentenced to only four years being an accomplice and all but Ed got fifty years for being the driver and under the influence of several illegal substances. The jury had no pity for him. But Ed with his fifty years didn’t serve very much of it. Two months into his sentence he got his hand caught in the jail kitchen meat grinder. It got cut off alright and he about died but the doctors patched him up and make him all healthy again with the exception of his right forearm and hand. But that didn’t do Ed much good. He was soon found dead in his jail cell. Killed himself. He had bitten off his own tongue and bled to death. Never got to go to his funeral. Of course I didn’t find out any of this till after my time in prison, with us being in separate prisons and all. Him in the federal prison and me in county. I guess that maybe the guilt did get to him after all. Maybe for killing that girl or for killing Jim. I know he didn’t mean anything by either of them. It wasn’t like he planned it out. One accidental death led to one murder. Fate led to rage.
As soon as I got out of prison I tried findin my ma but it appears that she died about two years earlier by the cancer of the jaw if I recall correctly. Me and her were never that close. I was closer to my dad but he was killed in the war over in Korea. Her inheritance was left to me and it appears that we owned some land up in Earlysville and it was not doing anyone no good. So I went down and turned it into a farm. It appears that farming was my cup of tea.
It’s been about thirty or forty years since winter of ‘66 but it was the most important year of my life now that I look back on it. I never did find a gal for me. Tried plenty of times I did. Even thought I found the right girl once or twice. But I think destiny had it in store for me to not find my perfect match. At least not in this life. But around ‘83 I think it was, I adopted me a son and I think picked the right one. He grew up a strong fellow with good morals. He’s married now but still has got no kids on the way. I never told him that tale of ‘66 and I don’t know why. I probably just didn’t want him to know what I did or because I didn’t want him askin questions that I couldn’t rightly answer like why I didn’t stop Ed when he was killin Jim. I still don’t think I have a good answer for that and I guess I’ll never find one. If there was an answer I guess it was because I was a coward. But one should not be dwelling on the past too much. I guess I should stop lookin back now.