I hope you’ll enjoy my short stories enough that you’ll be interested in reading my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, which can be purchased online (yahoo.com, bn.com), from the montedutton.com web site and at several independent bookstores in the Carolinas. Here’s the fourth and final installment of the story of Eddy Dunnaway and Papa Jack.
Papa Jack was never happier than the second weekend of September in 1991. By then, Eddy was already out of college. He was living at home but commuted sixty miles, round trip, six days a week, to write sports at a small daily newspaper. He’d spent the summer writing about American Legion and minor-league baseball teams. Jackson was a senior at Hobart-Loudermilk College, where he started at cornerback on the football team and got his share of playing time at guard in basketball. It was the grand opening of a new stadium, a dividend of the previous two seasons’ success. Papa Jack, now seventy, insisted on driving, which was a cause of some concern. He seemed ten years younger, though. Granny Dunnaway’s carping at his driving didn’t faze him. He ignored her and kept looking back to Eddy, his father Preston and mother Jean, while regaling them with all the law-enforcement tales they’d heard dozens of times before. Eddy’s favorite was about the time “Bean killed Corn,” in which Papa Jack never succeeded in making it clear that killer and victim were named Bean and Corn and it wasn’t some parable about growing vegetables. They all rolled their eyes like they’d done a hundred times before.
The highlight of the morning, and the trip to the game, was when the white Cadillac zipped by a field of cotton, by then was rare in upstate South Carolina. Papa Jack got all misty-eyed. He could have been a character in Gone with the Wind.
“Good Goddamighty,” he said. “What more money I couldn’t make if I could get my hands on some of that good, old, six-dollar-a-day labor.”
Eddy looked at his father. He didn’t need to say what he was thinking. Well, hell, I hope so. Neither could keep a straight face. By then, the minimum wage was four or five dollars an hour, and who’d want to pick cotton for that?
They picnicked outside the stadium. Papa Jack stopped people on the way in, informing them emphatically that Number One was his namesake, Jackson Dunnaway, and he was the defensive captain. The Night Owls won convincingly, and the band played, and Papa Jack yelled as loudly as anyone else, “H-L-C! H-L-C!” At the end of the third quarter, still in the game though the team was four touchdowns ahead, Jackson intercepted a pass near the home sideline and picked up several blocks as he made his way laterally across the field, aiming for the corner of the far end zone. Pinned in at the two, he tried to cut back left, and his right foot was planted when he took a devastating hit that ripped apart his anterior cruciate ligament.
Eddy could swear he heard pop from the stands across the field.
Thus ended Jackson Dunnaway’s athletic career. Papa Jack’s face was ashen as they visited him in the hospital, and the drive home was almost completely silent. By midweek, his mother told Eddy that Papa Jack had gone on a drunk. It had been a while. The following weekend Eddy was watching Georgia play Clemson on TV. He had no local team to cover because the college in Tebbetts didn’t field a football team, and his mother and father were off at the South Carolina-Duke game. The phone rang.
“I need you to come up here right away,” Mama Dunnaway said. “Jackson’s fallen down, and I can’t get him up.”
What she hadn’t told Eddy was that Papa Jack was in the back yard of the big house, writhing on the ground in nothing but his underwear. He had fallen, and he couldn’t get up. It was all Eddy could do to get him in the house, and the stench was enough to make his stomach turn. As he carried him up the steps, through the kitchen, and to his bed, Eddy could see the panicked look in Papa Jack’s eyes, and he could feel the old man’s heart, pumping furiously and out of rhythm. In his bones, Eddy could tell the old man was about to die.
He didn’t do anything. He hoped he was wrong. He wasn’t.
When he got back home, Eddy didn’t feel like watching the ballgame anymore. He felt like drinking. He went to The Wolverine pool hall, and several of his friends remarked at what a rotten mood he was in. Eddy didn’t say much. He just brooded. Doom hung over him. He wasn’t surprised when the bartender came over and said he had a phone call. He wasn’t surprised when his father told him his grandfather was dead.
Papa Jack had just gone to the well one too many times. He’d gotten too old to fall off the wagon. He hadn’t been able to talk his way out of death, not with Bean killing Corn, not with sage advice he’d learned from a country song. At the end, he was just an unfulfilled old man, rewriting the past and trying to rationalize a life that had never lived up to expectations. The only way he’d ever been able to put his inferiority to rest was with a bottle.
When the word came that his grandfather was dead, Eddy Dunnaway had been drunk, too. When he got home, his father was drunk. It was the family way. The cycle they rode was vicious.