This is the third episode of an abridged version of my novella Alice. You can read the whole thing here over the next weeks or buy a copy and binge. Or you can do both and compare the two – writers may learn from the differences. As always, you are welcome to share this link with others, but please respect copyright by contacting me for permission if you want to use the material elsewhere. Even if you’re making it into a school skit, I’d like to know where it’s being heard.
We only had one television; Mom was weird about that. She thought it was almost all a waste of time. I even had to promise not to watch programs online. At least I had my own computer. It was her old desktop, but I’d put in some new components to speed it up, so it worked great. No, I wasn’t really a computer geek. They had a workshop at school on how to build a computer.
Anyway, the television was in the den, where I helped Jack set up temporary living quarters. I figured I wouldn’t be watching TV much while he stayed with us.
“Does this thing pull out into a bed?” he asked.
“No, sorry, but it’s comfy to sleep on,” I said. “I’ve zonked out on it plenty of times when I was watching movies late. Or we have those really thick air mattresses that we use for camping, if you’d rather have one of them.”
“No, the couch is fine. How often do you go camping?”
“At least half of the summer, usually.” Talking with him while we put sheets on the couch seemed like the most natural thing in the world. “We’ve been to most of the national parks east of the Mississippi. And we were going to hike the northernmost section of the Appalachian Trail this year, except Mom’s got to job hunt now instead. We were going to do part of it each year and finish right after I graduate from high school.”
“Don’t teachers get tenure in New York?”
“Doesn’t matter when they cut the program. If she’d been qualified to teach something else they would have transferred her. But she can only teach French.”
Jack laughed so hard his shoulders shook and his eyes teared.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“Your mother started speaking French when she was about your age,” he said. “We were living with this woman in Quebec. That only lasted a few tense months, but your mother caught onto the language easy as pie.”
“You lived in Quebec?”
“Just while I was with. . .Genevieve, that was her name.”
“Mom never told me she lived in Canada. She never talks about anything before I was born.”
“She had a whole lifetime before that, Darlin’.”
I whispered again, “She used to skinny dip?”
He whispered back, “When she was a little tyke, she hardly ever wore clothes and no one wore them for swimming.”
“What are you whispering about?” Mom was in the doorway and she didn’t look happy.
“We’re just talking about how much you liked swimming when you were little, Baby Girl.” He sounded completely innocent. “Thought you were unloading your car.”
“It was almost done. Nina, don’t listen to his stories. This man is the biggest liar you’ll ever meet. And you, don’t you infect her with your nonsense.”
“What do you mean?” He looked bewildered, but I could tell he knew exactly what she meant.
“And no pot in my house,” she continued to lecture. “Nothing illegal, or you’ll get a ride straight to the police station, you understand?”
“Sure thing, Baby Girl. I don’t want to cause any problems. I’ll just sleep here a few days until I figure out where I’m going. I won’t be any bother at all.”
“Yeah, right. Nina, take him to your room and do a search for this Jimmy Parks person in Arizona.”
“And leave the door open. I’ll be checking on you. No stories.”
Jack had never had a computer or a cell phone.
“Seriously?” I asked.
Jack sat on the bed behind me. “Played with one at the coffee shop a few times, looking around on it, but most of the news was about people I’d never heard of. Seemed like most of them hadn’t done anything worthwhile for people to care about, either.”
“Yeah, but you get the news fast.” As I waited for the internet to load, it didn’t feel fast.
“How much confidence can you have in the truth of it? They’ve always tweaked history, but they can do it way too fast with the internet.” He sounded so much more serious now. “I’d rather read something on paper, where they know what they said is going to be around for people to take a second look at it. That’s harder to change.”
“You can get news from around the world, though, and get their perspective on things. Our Social Studies teacher had us checking the BBC last year.”
“Really? Well, that might be a good thing,” he said. “So you think you can find Jimmy Parks?”
“I can try.”
It turned out that there were dozens of Jimmy and James Parks in Arizona, but we didn’t find the one Jack knew.
“I should have had them check while I was at the hospital.” He sighed and shook his head.
“Should always have a backup plan.”
“He was in the military with you?”
“We were in ‘Nam together.”
“When’s the last time you talked to him?”
“Ten, fifteen years ago. Maybe.”
“He could be anywhere,” I said.
I was thinking he could be dead, and Jack looked like he was thinking the same thing. I figured that was why he hadn’t asked at the hospital – that and he’d expected Mom to be happy to see him. Sadness poured out of him the same way happiness did. I wanted him happy.
“How did you meet Mom’s mom?” I asked.
“Got out in June of ‘67. Headed straight for San Francisco.”
“That’s what they called the Summer of Love, wasn’t it?” I was proud of my knowledge. “We had a sub in Social Studies when we were studying the sixties, and he told us about that and Agent Orange and a whole bunch of other stuff that wasn’t in the books.”
“History changes according to who has power.” Jack spoke in what I already considered his lecture voice.
“That’s exactly what Mom said when I told her the teacher was upset his plans hadn’t been followed! Word for word the same.” And she’d sounded like Jack, too.
“Well, she heard me say it often enough, and she was there for the protests. She was a tiny thing, she may not remember much of it, but she was there.”
He dug in his pocket for his wallet and pulled out a plastic sleeve. I caught a glimpse of a young woman with flowers braided into her hair before he turned it over and pulled out a yellowed piece of newspaper. He unfolded it carefully and smoothed it out on my desk where I could look at it. It was starting to rip on the folds.
“That’s your mother,” he said proudly.
It was a peace rally. The toddler he pointed to had tangled hair down to her waist and she was wearing shorts and nothing else. She was helping a much younger Jack hold a sign: Make Love, Not War!
“Did she do protests when she got older?” I asked.
“Nah, the movement cooled off once they finally pulled out. There was still stuff going on, but the fire had died. At least for me it had.”
He looked sad again so I got the hospital’s number from Mom and called to ask about Jimmy Parks. Jack’s social worker connected us with an officer who connected us with another officer, until we finally got someone who could help us. Jack had enough information for them to track down Jimmy Parks.
Unfortunately, Jimmy was residing in a cemetery in Phoenix.
You are welcome to share this link with others, but please respect copyright by contacting me for permission if you want to use the material elsewhere. Even if you’re making it into a school skit, I’d like to know where it’s being heard.