The Ballad of Jimmy James
A Serialized Novella by Lynda Simmons
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For as long as I can remember, my mother has kept housework to a schedule. Monday is wash day followed by ironing on Tuesday, dusting and vacuuming on Wednesday and Saturday, and fresh linens on Thursday. Sunday means pancakes for breakfast, roast beef for dinner and a full lineup of television Ministries in between. Which leaves Friday for banking, groceries and any other errands on her list. Of course, it came as no surprise when all of these tasks were added to my usual list of chores after I retired. My mother always made it clear that once I no longer had a day job, much would still be expected of me at home. If nothing else, she is a woman of her word.
Having reached the ripe old age of sixty-one, I admit there are days when it all feels like too much. But I don’t complain because along with all that extra work, came the unexpected reward of Fridays. My mother never viewed those errands as anything but a pain, something to be handed off to me as soon as possible. Which is why I never forget to offer up a quick thank you to God and Guardian Angels and even lucky stars each and every time I wake up to another of those blessed Friday mornings, despite the fact that nothing good can happen until I hear my brother’s heavy footsteps on the front porch stairs.
“George is here,” my mother says, as though the curses accompanying those footsteps could belong to anyone else. “Don’t let him in yet,” she adds, letting the living room curtain fall back into place; the heavy velvet shutting out the sun, the street, the prying eyes that are surely turned our way, trying to see things that are none of their business.
George’s curses grow louder when he discovers the front door is locked, still refusing to accept that this is the way it will be forever. He may be the favourite son, but money is precious and forgiveness is not my mother’s concern, that’s up to God. So until He makes His wishes known, George will never again have a key, or an opportunity to steal from her.
“George James, you keep your voice down out there,” she hollers on her way to the curio cabinet by the fireplace; a birdlike figure in black moving slowly across an oriental rug that has been known to bunch up suddenly and trip her. Stepping carefully around the coffee table whose corners have recently grown sharper, like teeth waiting to bite into her shins. “You’d think this house would be kinder to a woman of eighty-two,” she mutters, eyeing a rocking chair she no longer trusts.
Her troubles have nothing to do with the house and everything to do with age and deterioration, but my mother likes to imagine herself as feisty. A fighter of odds and a survivor of more misery than any woman should have to bear. There is no room in that picture for a cane or a walker or one of those chairs that take you up the stairs, so it’s been almost a year since she visited the second floor. George is the only one who rummages through my things now and every Friday night I thank those same lucky stars that George is not half as smart as my mother.
Taking a key from around her neck, she unlocks the curio cabinet where she keeps her purse. Removes a debit card and a list of errands, then turns to me. “You can open the door now.”
While she locks her purse into the curio again, I turn the deadbolt and step out of the way as the door swings back and my brother sweeps into the foyer.
He’s tall and broad shouldered with a full head of silver hair. A handsome man by any standard, my twin who looks nothing like me. The smell of liquor is all around him and when he turns his blue eyes on me, all the hate and anger of more than forty years is still right there, as fresh and hot as ever. I understand why, everybody understands why, but if anyone had ever asked me, I’d have said the scar on the left side of his face was almost a good thing; adding mystery to perfection, a story waiting to be told. But my opinion is the one thing my family is happy to let me keep to myself and since George is never likely to agree anyway, perhaps it’s better that way.
“Tell him I’m gone at noon,” George says to my mother and strides past me, heading for the kitchen.
George hasn’t spoken to me in close to twenty years. I can’t remember why. He probably can’t either, but I’m so used to it now I can’t imagine what it would be like if he suddenly turned around and said, Hey Jimmy, want some company? Which is good because I don’t want company, and that would make him mad and then he’d stop talking to me and we’d be right back where we started. But at least we’d know why again, which would be something.
“Tell him, I’ll leave whether he’s back or not.”
We all know George won’t go anywhere until I return, but my mother plays along. “Jimmy knows the rules,” she says. “He’ll be back in time for lunch, won’t you Jimmy.”
In the six months that I have been doing Friday errands, I have never once been late for lunch, but that doesn’t matter. She holds out the debit card along with the list of groceries and errands. “Tell me you’ll be back by lunch time.”
“I’ll be back,” I say and put my fingers on the card.
She holds on tight. “That gives you three hours.”
Two hours and fifty-five minutes to be exact, but unless I want it to be two hours and thirty minutes, I need to stick to the script. “I know,” I say and give the card a tug, not expecting her to let it go. I have to try to take it three times before she’ll relinquish control. This ritual is to teach me patience and respect, both of which I now have in abundance.
“Tell him not a minute later,” my brother calls from the kitchen.
“I know,” I say, taking the card on the third try and grabbing the bundle buggy from the closet.
“Noon,” my mother says.“Noon,” I say and push open the door, finally making my escape.
by Lynda Simmons
One minute Maxine Henley is the happy bride-to-be and the next she’s the girl who gets dumped over the phone. Max has never believed in magic and fairy’s tales, but if wearing a love charm can warm her fiancé’s cold feet, she’s happy to stuff that little wooden heart next to her own and wait. The charm came with a promise that the right man will find her, guaranteed, but how can that happen when her teenage crush Sam O’Neal keeps getting in the way!
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Lynda Simmons is a writer by day, college instructor by night and a late sleeper on weekends. She grew up in Toronto reading Greek mythology, bringing home stray cats and making up stories about bodies in the basement. From an early age, her family knew she would either end up as a writer or the old lady with a hundred cats. As luck would have it, she married a man with allergies so writing it was.
With two daughters to raise, Lynda and her husband moved into a lovely two storey mortgage in Burlington, a small city on the water just outside Toronto. While the girls are grown and gone, Lynda and her husband are still there. And yes, there is a cat – a beautiful, if spoiled, Birman. If you’d like to read the legend of Birman cats click here. If you’d like a link to allergy relief, click here.
When she’s not writing or teaching, Lynda gives serious thought to using the treadmill in her basement. Fortunately, she’s found that if she waits long enough, something urgent will pop up and save her - like a phone call or an e-mail or a whistling kettle. Or even that cat just looking for a little more attention!
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