Latest Flash

Big, Bad Jim

Marietta Miles returns to the Gutter with another uplifting tale of man doing his worst. Today's lesson: fruits and vegetables.

Apples and trees. Sometimes how far one falls from the other all depends on how hard the big man doing the shaking shakes.

Big, Bad Jim by Marietta Miles




Jimmy fades in and out of sleep, humidity setting over him like a blanket. Morning sounds ring: the window fan, traffic along U.S. 40, squawking crows in the tomato garden. He shuffles into the kitchen. Staring thoughtfully out the window, toward the pond and barn, he switches on the percolator. Under foot Marty Robbins grumbles. Jimmy fills the kitten’s bowl and sets out fresh water.

“He’s mine, I named him,” Jimmy’s mom announced after discovering the stray under their back porch a month ago. Next to Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins was Mom’s favorite singer. And since the name Jim was claimed, the cat became Marty. Stepping over the tabby, Jimmy turns on the radio and sets out two mugs.

To make extra money Jimmy’s mom took in sewing and mending from folks around town. It wasn’t much but it paid for little things—comic books, 45s, and Saturday matinees. All luxuries Big Jim, Jimmy’s heavy-handed dad, would never pay for. Although his mom was an early riser, today she was moving slow. She and Jimmy were laid low. Mom took a call from the Red Bird Truck Plaza in Eudora, Georgia, just the night before. His dad was a long haul trucker, running Virginia ham to the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. And Big Jim was coming home.

“Get that backyard cleared,” Big Jim barked into the phone. “Make a spot for my rig.”

“Want Jimmy to clean out the barn?” Mom asked.

“Did I ask Jimmy to clean out the barn?”

“No.”

“Then no. Just clear the yard.”

Big Jim never wanted anyone in his barn. He stored his rusted red tools and an old Army trunk, now used on long hauls, in the ramshackle building. Jimmy had seen his dad sifting through the trunk one evening almost a year ago. Big Jim ogled what looked to be Polaroids, then sniffed and fingered a bundle of stained, wrinkled clothes. Grinning, his dad returned the stash to his trunk, locked, and covered the case. Jimmy hid when Dad exited the barn. Big Jim was strong and hard, like a concrete wall. He kept Mom and Jimmy on a knife’s edge and well under his thumb. Jimmy knew his dad would snap if he caught him spying.

“Thanks, baby,” Mom says, breaking Jimmy’s memory, stealing into the kitchen. She was already walking on eggshells. They look at each other in silent, solemn understanding.

“Call your friends and go for a swim,” his mom says.  Sipping her coffee, she folds her arms over her chest, as if chilly. Though the day was bright, Jimmy could feel summer winding to a close.

*

Amy, Jimmy’s best friend since first grade, floats in the middle of the pond. Buster, Amy’s little brother, drowses on a blanket in the grass. Jimmy rests on the pier, making circles in the water with his toes and secretly watches Amy. Quickly, she disappears under the water, surfacing next to him. Water droplets gather on her eyelashes, making her green eyes look like stars.

“Let’s have a secret.” She smiles. Amy could climb trees, throw a wicked curve ball and cuss more than any boy Jimmy knew. And he was in love with her. “Meet back here tonight.” Her eyes turn down. “Just us,” she whispers nervously.

“Us?” Jimmy finally stammers. “Us, sure. Yes.

*

After midnight Jimmy makes sure his mom is asleep. Grabbing a blanket and sodas from the fridge, he heads out the back door, catching the rickety screen door before it slams. Once off the gravel path, Jimmy runs like the wind. Imagining the tan lines on Amy’s shoulders and her long legs in short shorts, Jimmy grins wildly. With the edge of the pond muddy from an evening rain Jimmy sets his blanket on the pier. He listens to the bullfrogs and crickets.

Like a clap of thunder, squealing breaks and chugging hydraulics break the night. Angry headlights and glowing clearance reflectors slice through the murky darkness. Big Jim’s tractor-trailer bumps up the path, exhaust stack belching one last time.

“Amy!?” Jimmy calls before the truck stops. She doesn’t answer.

The rig falls silent. Jimmy holds his breath, waiting for the slam of the screen door. But there is only silence. He pictures his father, sweaty and fuming from the drive, ready to unload on anyone and for any reason. Then, Jimmy hears a heart-stopping caterwaul.

“Marty?” Jimmy worries. There were countless pets and strays buried in the family’s backyard. Big Jim was known to use animals as whipping posts.

Nearby, the long grass rustles and parts. Jimmy grabs the blanket and sodas, eases into the chilly water, and wades under the pier. Footsteps make a sucking noise in the mud, then stomp on the weathered boards over his head. He peaks between the planks.

Jimmy sees flashes of Amy’s dark brown hair and faded yellow T-shirt. There is muffled crying, followed by ugly laughter. He sees her head and shoulders shake violently. Amy is abruptly turned over, now facing Jimmy. There is a sickening crack as her head slams down. Jimmy sees her bright green eyes fade and her mouth fall open. Her head twists. Her cries turn to groans and her neck snaps. Amy’s hand dangles over the side of the pier before she is dragged away.

Jimmy remains under the pier until dawn. He is numb. Jimmy limps home, telling himself he is only dreaming. Edging closer to the house he sees Marty Robbins under the porch, scared but alive. Instead of going inside Jimmy waits and watches through a softly lit window. Shaking, he quickly covers his eyes.

Big Jim stands naked at the kitchen sink, washing his bloody hands and arms, an open bottle of Jim Beam on the counter. Jim Reeves croons from the transistor. Dad sings along.

“Tell your friend there with you, Big Jim sneers, he’ll have to go.”

Marietta Miles has published stories with Thrills, Kills and Chaos, Flash Fiction Offensive and Revolt Daily. Her writing can be found in anthologies available through Static Movement Publishing and Horrified Press. Marietta Miles is on Facebook. More stories can be found at www.mariettamiles.blogspot.com.