Dallas Dave

Tommy woke up to a very fuzzy sight.  He could see two women dressed in white with caps on; he assumed them to be nurses.  Then he noticed his mother and father, one of each side of his bed.  They had worried looks on their faces and he thought that he could see through the haze that his mother had been crying.  He felt pain and a heaviness in his left arm and his right leg and could see well enough to determine that a plaster cast encased both of them.  He tried to talk but could not move his jaw.  One of the white clad women noticed that he was awake and came over to the bed; “your jaw is wired shut because it is badly broken and you will only be able to have liquids for at least three or four days.”  This lady he assumed to be a nurse smiled sweetly at him and told him that he should rest, producing a syringe which caused him to drift away.

Tommy Carter and Jim took turns squealing their tires as they left the parking lot of Bethel Methodist Church; the youth group meeting was over and lately they had made a ritual of the raucous departure each Sunday night.  The group leader, a lady named Raylene, had chastised both of them and they had promised to stop doing it but it had continued; Raylene was disappointed in them and worried about them, especially Jim.  He had dated her daughter Jeanine a couple of times until Raylene had “put a stop to it.”  Raylene liked Jim okay but was quite worried about her daughter riding around with him; he was cocky, smoked cigarettes, and his teeth had started to go bad. 

“I am satisfied you can do better than that,” she had told Jeanine, employing the local vernacular.  Raylene and Jeanine were standing in the church yard as the boys sped off; “see what I mean,” she told Jeanine, and her daughter nodded in agreement. 

“Why don’t you encourage that nice Perelli boy?” Raylene suggested, looking at Jeanine and smiling; “I think he is cute.  If I were you I would set my cap for him.”

“Oh mom, he is a year younger than I am, and soooo immature.  I think I will just keep looking,” Jeanine said.  Raylene smiled and hugged her only daughter.

“I think those two are just a little too wild for their own good,” Raylene declared.  “Come on honey, you can drive us home.”

Tommy and Jim pulled into the little Shell gas station and went in and got a beer; they brought the Pabst Blue Ribbon long necked bottles out and sat in Tommy’s daddy’s new car, a Chrysler Imperial with the big fins.

“Man, this is some serious luxury,” Jim said, firing up a Pall Mall with no filter.

“Blow the smoke out the window; daddy don’t like smoking in his car,” Tommy told his friend.  Tommy had lowered the electric windows in anticipation of Jim lighting up; the two of them knew each other very well.

“Reckon this set your old man back a pretty penny,” Jim said, blowing smoke rings out the window.  “I reckon you are gonna be a very rich guy someday.”

“Yea, I guess, but don’t talk like that; I love my daddy a lot,” Tommy said, the hint of a hard look in his eyes.

“Don’t get too excited, bud, I am just joking around,” Jim said, grinning at his buddy.

“I know man, it’s just that I don’t want my parents to ever think that I am waiting around for them to die,” Tommy said, taking a long drink from his bottle.  “He would be all over me if he thought I would ever drink beer, much less drink and drive his new car.”

“I know, just be careful, and load up on the spearmint gum before you go home,” Jim said.  “I think those Lindsey sisters over in Lead Mine are kinda sweet on us; might not be a bad idea to ride up to Scronce’s and see if they are at the drive-in.  Whaddayathink?” Jim said.  “Betcha they would like to ride in this big ‘ol fancy new car.” 

“Let’s do it,” Tommy replied, grinning, and they took off up the road.  The Lindsey girls were indeed at the drive-in, sitting in a car eating burgers with some of their friends, but it took only a minute for Jim to have them over in the new Imperial.

“This here is Tommy’s new car,” Jim boasted as he ushered Carol into the back seat.  Her sister, Evelyn, scooted into the front seat beside Tommy. 

“Actually this car is my daddy’s, but I can get it about any night I want to,” Tommy explained.  Jim was talking his head off to Carol in the back seat while it was fairly quiet in the front.  After a while Tommy did manage to get into a conversation with Evelyn about a class they had been in together a year ago at Boger City High School.  All four of them had graduated the past spring, so Tommy and Evelyn talked about what they were doing that summer and any plans they had for a vacation while Jim and Carol were making out in the back seat.  Jim was quite a bit more forward with girls than Tommy was and before you knew it Jim had already set things up.

“Hey Tommy, Carol says that she and Evelyn would go to the Diane 29 with us this Friday night, right Carol?”

“Sure,” Carol mumbled, pulling her mouth away for a moment.  “You’ll go won’t ya Evelyn?” she asked. 

Evelyn looked shyly at Tommy and said “if Tommy wants to.”  Tommy quickly assured her that it was a date.

“Wonder what movie is playing?” Evelyn asked, looking at Tommy.

“Who cares,” the duet in the back seat caroled, “who cares.”

Carl Carter sat down at the kitchen table; Mary Edna looked at him and saw that he had that crease in his forehead, the one that always appeared when something was worrying him.

‘What’s got u concerned?” she asked, pouring him a glass of buttermilk.

“I’m kinda afraid that Tommy might be racing that car around more than he should.  I was awake when he came home last night and it sounded like he was going mighty fast before he turned into the driveway,” Carl replied.

“You sure ‘bout that; he has always been mighty careful with it when I’ve seen him.   Seems like he takes a lot of care with it, just like he has always been so gentle with the farm equipment,” Mary Edna said.

“Well, I don’t know for sure, just seems like since he has been hanging around Jim Rayfield he has been a little reckless, even with the tractor,” he said.

“Like how?” Mary Edna asked.

“I come up on him down at the creek last week; he didn’t know I was around and he was kinda actin’ up.  He was on the tractor in the creek, had one of the brakes on, and was spinning the tire and just laughing like crazy.  Just ain’t seen him act like that ever before,” Carl said.  “It was shootin’ water six feet up on the bank; ya know them tires ain’t cheap,” he said, the crease in his forehead deepening. 

“I swear, you are a bigger worry wart than I could ever be.  He might be showin’ off a little but you know what a good young’un he is.  Why he ain’t missed a Sunday at church in ages and even goes to the MYF group on Sunday nights.  I reckon we ought to get right down on our knees and thank the Good Lord for that fine boy; furthermore, Jim Rayfield is a good one too and from a fine family.  Why I bet his daddy has painted ‘bout everybody’s house that goes to Bethel Church and you need to remember that he had his crew paint the sanctuary just last year and only charged the church what it cost him,” Mary Edna said, and sat down beside her husband and rubbed his balding pate. 

“Guess ya got some purty good points there and I know I do worry a lot, but I have seen young boys turn a little wild before, and I guess it could happen to anyone.  But you are right about Jim being from a good family and all and I guess if spinning tractor tires in the creek is the worst bad deed he ever does we will have a reason to rejoice,” Carl said, a smile coming to his face.  “And my hearing ain’t what it used to be, so maybe I didn’t hear him going so fast like I thought I did.”

“You are most likely right, Carl; now go on down to the barn and get to milking.  I can see that Tommy is already heading there with two buckets,” she said, looking out the kitchen window and seeing Tommy on his way. 

“I am sure you are right, Mary Edna, but you know how I can get,” Carl said, grinning at his wife.  “He has always been a good one.”

Tommy awakened to see a nurse with her hand on his shoulder; she was holding an iced drink in her other hand.   She positioned the straw between his lips and told him to suck on it.  The cold coca-cola felt wonderful to his parched mouth and he did his best attempt at a thanking smile. 

“Just take in all you can,” she said, “we don’t want you to get dehydrated now.”  Tommy kept working on the straw; after he finished he took his good hand and made a motion like he was writing something.  The nurse caught on right away and brought him a pencil and pad.

 “What happened to me?” he wrote.  The nurse took the pad and looked at it and said “your mom and dad will be here in a bit; I don’t know but I am sure they can tell you,” she said reassuringly.  As Tommy lay in the bed he tried to think but the last thing he could remember was Jim and him picking up Evelyn and Carol over in Lead Mine, the little community where they lived.  It had gotten the name because during the Civil War the Confederates had mined lead there to make bullets.  He thought as hard as he could but nothing would come to him, just driving up to the girl’s house and Jim and him getting out and going up and knocking on the door and the two of them escorting the girls  back to the freshly washed Imperial.  He noticed that the nurse had returned.  He had written down that he was in a lot of pain; she had brought another hypodermic.

The movie was about half over; it was a warm night at the Diane 29 drive-in so everybody had their windows rolled down, except for the fortunate ones like those driving a new Chrysler Imperial with air conditioning.  Jim Rayfield was quite grateful for the opportunity for privacy, at least for noise traveling to the outside, and he was making the most of it.  Tommy and Evelyn were a bit more subdued than the active couple in the back seat; some hand holding, a few brief kisses and a little nuzzling being about, but Tommy was not dismayed.  He was not a player, like Jim was, or fashioned himself to be; he was quite content to take things slowly.  Actually that approach suited him a lot better; he was a bit shy deep down.  Jim Rayfield decided to liven things up a little; “lookie what I got,” he called out, laughing as he pulled a quart jar from under the front seat.  It was some of Lincoln County’s best moonshine, recently purchased from the local famous bootlegger Harold Castner. 

“When in the world did you sneak that in here?” Tommy asked.  Tommy was not that much of a drinker, a beer now and then being about the extent of it; however, Jim Rayfield’s embibing experience was quite different.  Jim had sneaked into his daddy’s stockpile for years until a friend had introduced him to the infamous Mr. Castner.

“Some of Oodly Creek’s finest elixir,” Jim said, as he unscrewed the top off the quart mason jar. 

“I don’t know about all this,” Tommy said, looking into the back seat as Jim Rayfield took a big drink.  Tommy looked on with surprise on his face as Carol took the proffered jar and drank a bit of it.

Tommy watched as the two in the back seat took a couple more drinks; he had inherited the crease in the forehead when he was worried and it was on display.  Tommy paused his thinking for a minute; he decided that he was probably over-reacting; anyway, it wouldn’t hurt to drink a little and he didn’t want Jim to think he was some kind of sissy.

“I reckon it will be alright,” Tommy said, and took hold of the quart jar as Jim handed it to him.  He took a moderate drink; he understood how easy it was to get drunk on Castner’s moonshine: it was awfully smooth.  He was surprised when Evelyn looked up at him and reached for the jar.  He watched her take a good healthy drink.

“I had no idea you would want to drink anything,” he said, not trying to hide his surprise.

“Guess there’s lots you don’t know ‘bout me,” Evelyn said, winking at him and giving him a long, deep kiss. 

The four of them passed the jar back and forth and when the movie ended rolled down the window, replaced the speaker in the stand and headed out.  Since they had eaten burgers at the drive-in they decided not to take the customary trip to Scronce’s for food; Tommy eased the big Imperial out into traffic and headed toward Lead Mine.

“Durn, it’s almost eleven, and daddy told us to be home by then,” Carol said. If she had inherited a worry crease in her forehead it would be in full eruption, but the concern in her voice was enough to convey that she was on the verge of panic.

“Don’t sweat it baby, Tommy can send this rocket down the road,” Jim Rayfield hollered, and Tommy took the cue and floor-boarded the big car.  He was closing in on the Long Creek bridge when Evelyn shouted “remember that sharp curve.”  The warning came too late and the Imperial spun around and crashed into the concrete guard rail.

Carl had finished the milking and was sitting at the kitchen table on one of the yellow plastic covered chrome chairs; Mary Edna was stirring some green beans on the stove and looking at her husband, looking at the crease in his forehead.

“Well, I reckon the boy is gonna live,” he said, “but it is gonna be a long recovery,” he said, pulling a tobacco pouch out of his overalls pocket and packing his briar pipe.  “He took the news real hard, didn’t he, Mary Edna?”

“Lord yes, I reckon we done the right thing telling him early on; he was so insistent in his questions,” she said, stirring the beans slowly.  “I guess it is normal to second guess something like that but I swear I couldn’t see any use in puttin’ it off.  Sometimes not knowing something like that can be ‘bout as bad as findin’ it out; just ain’t a thing in the world easy ‘bout it,” she said, looking at Carl, tears forming in her brown eyes. 

“Yea, it was sure a pitiful thing, him asking about Jim and them girls, having to write everything down and all, but I am sure glad it is done.  But you know it is just the beginning, both for him and for us,” Carl lamented.  Mary Edna was looking at his creased forehead again and noticing how he looked so awful tired; part of it was having to do the extra work with Tommy still in the hospital but she knew for a fact that it was a good night if he were able to sleep four hours.  She had awakened several times in the last days and found him gone, finally peeking into the living room and seeing him just sitting in his chair.  Carl was awful worried about finances; he had offered to pay for the funerals of Jim Rayfield and the Lindsey sisters and it had been well received by both sets of grief-stricken parents.  Carl figured that was the least he could do under the circumstances; Jim Rayfield had been buried at Bethel and the Lindsey sisters’ service was over at Lead Mine Methodist; the girl’s service was a double one and everyone agreed that it was by far the largest crowd for a funeral in memory. The families agreed to have the girl’s service on the Monday after the wreck and Jim Rayfield’s the following day; Tommy was still recovering in the hospital and of course was not able to attend.

“Doctor says Tommy will probably be in there for another week, and then will have to be in a wheelchair for at least a month,” Mary Edna said.  “I reckon we will have to install one of those ramps to accommodate him.”

Carl nodded and picked up some papers from the table where he had left them that morning after breakfast. 

“I understand how insurance works and everything but I swear it seems like mighty fast to be getting letters from lawyers,” he said, shaking his head.  “Apparently they have checked out the limits of my insurance policy; what they are suing for is way yonder more than the coverage.  Reckon I better get Mr. Stott to look at this stuff and figger out what to do.  I am thinkin’ it is gonna be a big hit.”

“Now don’t go worrying yourself to death Carl,” Mary Edna said consolingly, “maybe the Lindseys and Rayfields will listen to reason, us being friends and all.  I’ll bet that is exactly what will happen, they will listen to reason; the kind of money they are talkin about would just about ruin us.”

“Maybe that would be the case if the attorneys were not involved, but them boys will be pushing it hard; I hear they usually work on what they call ‘contingency,’” Carl said. 

“What does that mean?” Mary Edna asked.

“Means they get thirty percent or more of the amount awarded by the court,” Carl replied.  Don’t think many lawyers are gonna be holding back in those circumstances.  I’ll just talk to Grady; he will tell it to me straight—-he always has.  I probly shouldn’t have even approached the Lindseys and Rayfields with the idea of giving them money, but I figured that it was worth a try.  Ya know both Rayfield and Lindsey wouldn’t even consider it; they both hung up the phone when I started talkin’ about it,” Carl said.

Mary Edna walked over to Carl and put her hand on his slumped shoulder.  “We’ll just have to do the best we can,” she said.

Tommy dressed with difficulty; it had been four months since the accident and his parents had persuaded him to go to church with them.  He had not been out of the house except for doctor appointments; he had been out of the wheelchair for a month.  Tommy had tried to do as much as he could around the house during that time, feeding the chickens and other small tasks; he had even tried to do some milking one day but found that once he got down on the three legged stool he could not get up by himself, his daddy having to help him.  He thought about Evelyn and Carol and Jim an awful lot, finally coming to the conclusion that it was pointless; what was done was done and that was all there was to it.  He felt like his parents were not the same, having become somewhat distant, but was not sure about it; “maybe just my imagination?” he thought, but thinking about that did not keep those feelings from recurring.  He did not know the ins and outs of the lawsuits and was afraid to ask, but he did know that his daddy had sold off one hundred acres a month before; he had entered the living room unexpectedly on more than one occasion to find them talking in hushed tones, only to speak normally the moment they saw him.  He finally negotiated the Windsor knot in his tie and walked out of the house behind Carl and Mary Edna and managed to get into the back seat of the used Chevy Carl was driving these days. 

The short trip to Bethel Methodist Church was a quiet one and when they arrived he maneuvered out of the back seat and walked stiffly into the church, negotiating the one step up into the vestibule with more than a little difficulty.  He sat down in the back row while Carl and Mary Edna went to their usual spot on the second row on the right side up toward the front.  Tommy had noticed that everyone in the place turned their heads to look at him when he came in and then again when the service started and the minister made it a point to welcome him back to the church and congratulate him on his recovery. 

While the congregation was singing the final hymn Tommy stood up with difficulty and walked through the double doors into the vestibule; he stood there a moment, looking at the chain that disappeared into the ceiling, the chain he had pulled more than once to ring the bell announcing the start of preaching.  Something looked different and it took him a moment to realize what it was; there were two frosted glass windows on each side of the vestibule, at least that was the way he remembered it, but something had changed. The right-side window was now stained glass, light blue and pale red colors in the glass.  At the bottom of the window was an inscription; “In Loving Memory of Jim Rayfield” and below that “From your dear friend Tommy Carter.”  Tommy stood looking at the window until he heard the last words of the  closing hymn and the Benediction, then limped down the one step to the sidewalk.  He made it to the old Chevy and crawled into the back seat; Carl and Mary Edna didn’t stand around and talk like they usually did after church when they saw him sitting in the car.  The two of them came and got in the front seat and looked around at their son; “thanks so much—that means a lot to me,” Tommy said, tears staining his cheeks.

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