Jamaican Grace

Do you write with music on?  I MUST.  It’s the way I operate, get in my character’s head, and keep my voice, tone, and mood.

So I started thinking – what about the other way around?  What if I listened to a song first, and it dictated what I wrote?

I asked readers, on my author page (if you haven’t joined my Facebook author page now, you should, because I post there far more frequently about my books and writing, and it’s lots of fun, I hope!), to post a link to a song they love or find interesting, and I would write a flash piece on the spot after only listening to it once!  😀

The second winner was Laura Pol with MercyMe’s “Grace Got You”!

The following short fiction piece was written in 15 minutes on the spot while listening to this specific song!  😀

I highly recommend you listen to it while reading my piece below, which is a gift to Laura that I hope she enjoys!  🙂

If YOU like flash fiction, and think you can write an emotionally moving piece in under 1000 words and want to win ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS, my contest is still open!

 

JAMAICAN GRACE

 

Solomon “Jamaica” Barnes sat under the cement bridge, bopping his head to the hidden tune that only he could hear from the pounding of vehicles over his head.  The rhythm reverberated all the way down to his fingers, which tapped against his side happily.  He closed his eyes, his grin splitting his chapped lips.  Popping another peanut into his mouth, he dropped a handful at his feet.

Down on the cement, a tiny New York city squirrel wrapped itself around his ankles, scrambling for the peanuts.

“Dis be d’life, eh, Crunkle?” he murmured, reaching two fingers down to gently stroke the furry back of the small animal.

Crunkle’s rapid crunching was his only reply.

“Ho, Jamaica,” a voice muttered from behind him.

The dark-skinned man lazily turned his head to welcome a grungy, gray-bearded hobo pushing a loaded shopping cart around the far corner of the bridge.  “Jimmy!  Mon, how you be?” Jamaica waved his hands, the squirrel skittering away at lightning speed. “You comin’ to hang?”

The man shook his scruffy head, his eyes on the ground, sandaled feet scuffling forward slowly. “I’s be tryin’ to get to Central Park b’fore dark.”

“Sure, but I could use d’company.  Any time, mon.” Jamaica squinted at his friend, watching the man roll by him.

“I know, Jamaica.  I know. But I hate sittin’ on cement these days.  My war-torn backside ain’t what it used to be.” The old man’s coat had bird dung and dirt encrusted on the hem.

Jamaica watched him carefully. “You and d’war, Jimmy.  When ya gonna let dat go, mon?”

“When I be dead,” came the murmur as the shopping cart creaked around the opposite corner of the bridge, and the sound of cars covered anything else Jimmy might have added.  The echo of the word “dead” reverberated around the hollow underside of the bridge.

Jamaica frowned, but only for a second.  “Crunkle?”

The squirrel reappeared, a tiny little nose twitching above the black canvas bag behind Jamaica.

“Come ‘ere, ya lil’ beggar.”

The squirrel ignored him, sniffing the bag for more hidden food.

Jamaica scratched a spot on his foot that shouldn’t itch.  Pulling up his pant leg, he checked over the prosthetic.  “Jimmy and d’war… that mon wasn’t da only one who saw bloodshed.”

Crunkle made an angry squirrel noise, halfway between a chitter and a tiny cough.

“I’s be all outta peanuts, beggar.” He picked at his holey pant leg. “If we want somethin’ more dan dat, we’s a hafta go to Letitia’s, an’ I canna afford dat wit my pride.”

The squirrel gave him the nastiest stare a rodent was capable of giving.

Jamaica laughed loudly, his guffaws rumbling around him, adding a chorus to the car thumps above his head. “If squirrels coulda give d’evil eye, you’da killed me dere.”  He leaned back against the cement, pulling the bag forward to use as a makeshift pillow.  Folding his arms above his head, the little squirrel clambered onto his chest. He sighed, staring at a spot of graffiti on the bridge ceiling above him. “Wonder how dose dumb kids got up dat high to paint up dere,” he mumbled.

The squirrel stretched out a leg, all taut and tight, and then relaxed and went limp, tucking its head into its tail, its body a neat little circle.

“It’s gonna be Thanksgivin’ soon.” Jamaica frowned.  The grafitti read “Girls.” He put a hand over his eyes to block it out. “Wonder if my lil’ girl, Letitia, woulda be stark shocked t’see me show up for Thanksgivin’.” He tucked his chin to peek at the sleeping squirrel. “Think she’d be too ‘shamed to see us, huh, Crunkle?  Think she’d forgive her old dad now dat I be clean?”

A pipe from a motorcycle above popped, and Jamaica jumped. “It’s a hard world for us vets.”  Heroin had been an easy out.  He could block out the memories.  All that blood.  Men doing things he had never imagined, let alone wanted to experience.  All those faces, gone and dead.  And then he had come back home, missing a leg, his wife and strangers to him and his pain.

He had come to America at the tender age of ten, and becoming a US citizen was the highly of his life.  When World War II broke out, he had been excited to do his duty to this great country.  But no had prepared him for what life was like coming home.

Marge had wanted nothing to do with him when he wasn’t the man she had married any more, and he couldn’t stand the judgment on his oldest daughter Lucy’s face when she had chosen to turn her back on him and take her mama’s side.  That last day he had seen her, his vision blurred from his last fix, she had linked her arm through her mother’s, standing on the edge of the bed of the moving truck.  Her face was as steel as granite, even at the tender age of fourteen.

But little Letitia had turned around.  When Marge took her hand to lead her to the car, his second ten-year-old daughter had given him one last hopeful glance, those eyes open and still trusting.  There was love still in her heart, he had been sure of it.

It had been a decade and a half since then, and supposedly Letitia was married and back in New York, a brand newlywed. Her husband was a newspaper man or something like that. The last time Jamaica had visited his elderly father at the nursing home, before the nurses had shooed him out, their noses pinched, their hands shaking with anxiety, he had seen the letter from her.  After all these years.  Letitia had written to him, hoping her grandfather would pass her words on.  She wanted to reconnect.  She wanted to know her dad, to give him a chance.  She wrote about Jesus.

He had carried the wrinkled letter in the bottom of his bag for a while now – her address written clearly on the outside of it.  But he hadn’t need to – the address was seared into his memory.

Sure he had been clean for a year now, but time had passed him by.  He had no money and ability to do anything but beg.  Shelters were for those harder up than him.  Old Jamaica Barnes – he could tough it out, adopt baby squirrels, turn highway noises into songs in his mind, and keep up his cheer.

Until he thought about his baby girl reaching out.  Dangnabbit, she was brave.

He pulled out the envelope for the thousandth time and stared at it.

“I’ll go,” he said, and suddenly he knew that’s what he had always and ever wanted.

Thanksgiving was coming.

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