I been thinkin bout this thing for a while now. I gots to tell someone bout it.
I been thinkin bout what makes people go. Well, what makes them do good in life. How come some people’s so sad and others strut around all giddy and happy.
So what came to me was Jake Stephens. Ol Jake lived in a trailer down my driveway right next to the garage. Skinny? You aint seen a man skinny as Jake, but he’d work as a horse every day. Every damn day. Never had friends ova. Don’t know he had any cept maybe the guys he worked with.
“Beer?” Jake’d ask me anytime I went to check on him. He’d hold out a cold can. Kept nudgin it at me. “Beer?” Now I don’t drink much. Can admit there’s a day or two when a sip of Single Barrel does me some good, but not too often.
See, here’s what was strange about Jake. He was the only man I ever met seemed happy without connections.
“That’s life,” he’d say before taking another sip of beer. “You wake up, go to work, come back home, have a little somethin’, get up do it again.”
He had eyes brighter’n a light house. But like an icy color–blue. Arms like taut ropes, always movin, doin somthing. Always got a project.
“I’m a mechanic, John. That’s what I do, jus like my father did.” He’d pull out a smoke after he’d said something like that. “That’s alls I got to offer anyone. What a man does is what he is. ” His eyes would sparkle like you wouldn’t believe when he start talkin and drinkin a few. Still be in green Dickys, holes burned through all over like someone’d poured holes out a shaker. His hands had cracks on em, an his fingers were knotted up. Looked like driftwood.
Then he’d say this after he kept drinkin: “Yep, a man is what he does. That’s what Dad use a say.” A man jus layin there don’t mount to much. Some people likes ta think a man’s worth somethin even when he’s layin round. I say he’s worth less than nothin. He’s takin, not makin.” He’d take a few more sips. ” An a man either has a family or’s tryin ta get one.”By then Jake’d have a sheen coverin his eyeballs. A glow bout his face, too. He’d fall asleep for two minutes at a time. Think he’d be sleepin anyway, then his eyes’d pop open an he’d start jabberin away again s’if he’d been pretendin ta sleep. Maybe he’d jus been thinkin.
“You know I love ma boy, John. Evey day I get up an go and do my thing so I can be a man worth bein, jus hopin ma boy’ll see me an be proud for the first time. Proud a his papa.”
Now Jake never said a word bout his boy till he’d made a twelve pack disappear. But the beer washed away all Jake’s surface thoughts so that the thoughts he’d been thinkin without even knowin it came out.
I guess I’d known Jake then for at least fifteen years. Knew him from when we used to have breakfast at Jill’s Diner. Heard he was a drinker, but just sos you know, I never known him ta miss a day’s work on account of it. When he’d start talkin about the work he’d do on the cars and some weldin job he had comin up–I knew he was the real deal. I’m a welder myself.
When Jake got his divorce, only thing he had left was his camper–trailer. I had plenty of place to put him on my lot, so I let him settle down by my garage. He was down there, I’d say, bout three years. Didn’t change his schedule much. Sometimes he sucked up some overtime at work on Saturdays. Generally, we’d have breakfast most everyday at Jill’s, and most nights Jake’d pull down another twelve-pack.
Then, bout four months ago, somethin clicked in im. Jus somethin I could see was different. Despite everything, divorce from his wife an the beer an not havin his house, Jake was such a happy guy. Least he seemed it.
Right before Christmas I think it was, yeah I remember cause it was about twenty below with the wind that night–I went down to make sure Jake didn’t need anything.
“Common in, John”, Jake said. He stepped away from the door and fell back into his chair, which should have hit the dump about ten years prior. The way he fell back looked as if he’d given up on somthin. Normally, Jake’s a wiry lookin fellow. All stringy an jumpy. But that night he was kinda swishin around all loosy–goosy. His eyes told the rest of it, cause even when Jake was three sheets to the wind, his eyes normally sparkled.
He started in on me.
“John,” He looked like he’d start bawlin. “You know a man’s either got a family or’s tryin ta get one?” He chucked an empty can he’d been holdin, right over his shoulder. It bounced off the bathroom door an settled back by his foot.
“Yeah, you said that before an I guess you’re right.”
“An I’m glad for a lot of things, you know. Got a good job. That’s more’n my father had most a the time. Prolly worse a man not have a good job than no family. Wanna hand me anotha?” He flicked his hand at the beer case, which was torn open an layin by the front door. Bout six left in it. Guess maybe a draft was keepin the beer cool cause there was a pile of snow hedged along the bottom of that door an I could see flakes flyin up from the wind gettin in. I did what he wanted.
“Mind?” I said. I held another beer in my paw after he’d grabbed his.
“Plenty more where tha came from, John.”
So I popped it open and took a draw.
“This is it, I think.” Jake took me by surprise when he said that.
There was a long time before I said anythin. Just sat there waitin for him to finish.
“This is the last Christmas, I think.” He cleared his throat, settled down a little further in his chair. But then the old Jake showed up, a little grin on his face. “Sent Bobby, ma boy, Bobby, a letter. Told im how good I’d done. Told im how sorry I was for all the stupid shit I’d done long time ago.” His grin went down. “Sent the letter last week an told his mother ta tell im to look for it. Ain’t heard back yet.”
“He’ll get it, Jake. Just take it easy. Why not come up to the house an have some pumpin pie? Vanessa made it today. She puts extra cinnemon in it. It’d win a ribbon somewhere.”
“Naw. That’s alright. Think I’m settled in for the night. Jus thinkin.”
“Don’t think too much,” I said. “it’ll get you in trouble, is all. All the thinkers out there, seems ta me ain’t done much but get us in trouble. Don’t get much done, an others seem a take their ideas places they weren’t meant ta go.”