Somebody New

August is Summer Reading Month in Daily Nutmeg, and Tim Parrish is this week’s featured author. Please enjoy the following excerpt from Parrish’s novel The Jumper

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Jimmy sailed over the swamp, marveling at the stilted road. He’d never seen a highway raised above an endless lake shot through with mossy cypress and abandoned platforms on telephone pole legs, but then he figured he was just beginning to see things. He took a long drag and let the smoke waft from his mouth, already on his second cigarette, his daily quota. He didn’t care. Life was opening like a giant door, every cloud a promise, every interstate exit an invitation, and Jimmy was celebrating in his own small way. Twice already he had rolled his shoulders and stretched his neck against the taut cords of his muscles, then veered off the highway to some unknown truck stop in some foreign town for coffee and a doughnut or a candy bar and Coke, for a stroll through the aisles of crap he couldn’t imagine anybody needing yet was himself tempted to buy, the wad of his savings urging him to pick up a belt buckle or a beer coozie or a cap he’d never wear. He was trying hard to embrace that as soon as you crossed a state line or set foot in a town you’d never been to, you were somebody new.

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He took a last long inhale, let the smoke percolate in his lungs, then blew a thin stream as he stubbed the butt in his ashtray. For the umpteenth time he pictured meeting J. T. Strawhorn, his father, his father, an older man neatly dressed, frail and in need, opening the door to his modest house. Jimmy would extend his hand and say, “Pleasure to meet you, sir,” and the man would invite him into a cool brightly-lit living room. Jimmy had considered calling him Father, scrolled through Daddy and Poppa, just to try them on, and had settled on Mr. Strawhorn. After all, he had no experience with this sort of event. Hell, he barely had experience with anything father-and-son-like of the sort he’d seen onscreen or heard people talk about. Yesterday, as he stored his belongings, packed and settled with Floyd, Jimmy had thought of calling Sparks to see if he knew about any of this, but that seemed like stepping backwards. Years before, Sparks had staked him five hundred dollars and gotten him the job, but he’d never seen fit to have Jimmy schooled, never seemed much interested in him and Pepper over at the small spread, never seemed much interested after Pepper died. But then why should he have been. For a while, Jimmy had been satisfied in this life with Pepper, that is until Pepper began to slide. Once Pepper was gone, Jimmy had argued with Sparks to be left alone to run the small place, even though it was a struggle. Maybe Sparks was just being respectful.

Jimmy thumped another cigarette from his pack and lit up. In the distance a boat cut a trail through gray water. Sun glinted off the calm surface. Low in the sky where Jimmy was heading, a jet left a vapor trail. This trip wouldn’t be like that trip into Houston so many years ago, the skyline rising from the plain like a threat, the interstate spreading into more lanes than a sane person could account for, the unreadable road signs crowding above him as he entered the city and tried to recall the number of the exit Mr. Sparks had told him to take. No, none of that now. Today was a fresh start.

The top of Jimmy’s scalp almost levitated when he began to climb the high arching span of the Mississippi River Bridge. The brown river dropped away beneath him, the car rose at a sharp pitch, and Jimmy’s head rose even higher. He locked his vision on the road. His father waited on the other side, and he wondered what he would really find. His breath shallowed. Why hadn’t he listened to Floyd, thought it through before jumping in his car and heading out? An old voice called him toward the bridge’s edge. He eased to the inside lane, his palms gummy with perspiration, and fixed his eyesight on the white lines dashing past. His awareness partly broke from him, spilled outward and then down, anxiety intertwining with euphoria to tempt him toward the bridge’s railing and the unfettered space beyond. He sped up, rocketing toward clear sky beyond girders, then the bridge peaked and Jimmy crested, the trees and rooftops of Baton Rouge expanding before him. His lungs let loose something between a laugh and a grunt, and his self began to unscatter as he glided downward.

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The Jumper by Tim Parrish
Texas Review Press, 2013
Where to buy: RJ Julia | Barnes & Noble | Amazon

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