May '03 [Home]
"You're chicken!" Francis Cherry said.
"Then go on, go talk to Jimmy. Ask him if he wants a highball!"
I saw the wink he gave to Tom McCoog, who just nodded passively, as if he agreed. They had me, and all three of us knew it.
So I progressed across the scarred wooden floor of The Polish Falcon's Hall in the midst of somebody's wedding reception, over the throbbing polka or Irish reel, Tom and Francis's rendition of the Death March in my ears, slowly, but inexorably, toward the hard, dark brown stare of Jimmy Boom-Boom.
At eleven, I was taller than Jimmy, but shrank as I approached his short, bull neck, the boulder chest, the shoulders that looked padded, but were not. I swallowed hard. Yet his eyes, which I felt drilling me, were seeing something else.
"Yo, Jimmy. How's it goin'? How about a highball?"
He focused and fixed on me, only to turn his head away and smile his little half-smile. Suddenly, his lips began to move, rapidly but in silence, as if he were trying to say the Rosary, some Glory Be's and the Litany of the Saints, all at once.
"Boom!" I was halfway back across the floor when the first one hit. And then, "Boom!"again. Reflexively, I ducked my head, laughing-running-stumbling into the giddy waiting arms of Tom and Francis.
Everyone in town knew Jimmy. Everyone, eventually, got to hear him shout his "Boom!" and then "Boom!" again. It was all anyone had ever heard him say. Perhaps it was all he could say.
The first time you heard it was a shocker. After that, it was funny—for a while. At last, almost unnoticed, it disappeared into the vague, white noise of living, like the sound of trucks from the expressway, just something else that comes and goes, like sunlight on a winter afternoon.
Jimmy was the sole support of an ancient, maiden aunt. She would hire him out to local contractors and tradesmen, masons or men who worked with concrete—anything requiring a mule.
Even Holy Mother Church got a piece of Jimmy. He was brought in to help the aging sexton, to polish pews, or to mop the endless floors.
Sure, you could say Jimmy was exploited, but not excessively. His life was stable and secure. There was a place for him at every table, every neighborhood function, and little gifts: a good, used coat against the cold, even some whisky now and then. People protect their village idiot. Everyone needs someone they can help or use or look down on, each according to their need, in the ineffable, deep maze that is the heart.
There were even some who said that Jimmy talked to angels, spoke in tongues, lips moving faster than the Wissahickon Creek in spring, when the water lisps and chortles over pebbles, around rocks But surely, it was gibberish, except for "Boom!" and "Boom!" again?
Leaving choir practice late one night, Francis Cherry, Tom McCoog and I saw Jimmy in the murky half-light in the rear of the church. He stood, mop in hand, in the Alcove of the Archangels, looking up at marble Gabriel, then Michael. In the sad, blue light of the votive candles, we watched him, lips moving fast as flames.
"He's talking to the angels," whispered Francis Cherry.
And who's to say he wasn't? Who's to say that it was not the beat of wings that sometimes made him raise both hands up to his ears and run, head forward, run blindly down the street, summoning instruction from the empty air?
Daniel Maguire's story, "Martin Leahy's Toys," won Special Mention in the magazine's 2002 fiction contest. It appears in the Oct '02 issue.
(The Hand of God, Auguste Rodin)