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Fiction Drama Adventure

“I’m sorry Granddad. It’s just Holly Hill is… is..."

“I know, expensive," I said, saying what she couldn't.

“That doesn’t mean you can’t live with me and Bill.”

But seeing the way Annie put her hand to her chin as she was driving in the drizzling rain, the way she averted my eyes, how she teared up, we both knew there was no space in her tiny apartment.

She pulled up to the light at the entrance to the mall, the traffic all backed up, the whites and reds of car lights in the gray light, the slow slapping of our windshield wipers. I looked around, wondering who all these people were. Did you ever look at the drivers, just people watching? I’d play a game in my head and imagine what it would be like to be those people, and then I’d make up a story. One’s a soccer mom, both hands on the wheel, a taxi driver basically for her kids, maybe cheating on her husband for lunch; another an HVAC man hunched over, life a drag at thirty, but his son just died and he’s got to make arrangements for the funeral; and then some kid with the car full of little whiners, jagging each other, their whole life ahead of them. It’s true a lot of them had stories I made up, but for years now I saw them in a trance when it comes right down to it, like zombies. Well, maybe not zombies, but you get the idea.

“Did you ever look closely at the people in these cars,” I asked Annie.

“What are you talking about?” she said. She was like that. Not having the energy to people watch and make up stories. But why would she have time? To be honest, my heart just ached in my chest.

A homeless man with bad teeth was at the light sitting in a lawn chair. His grubby cardboard sign said, ‘Help a veteran. Hungry. God Bless.’ Where do those guys come from? I mean he was a veteran. You'd think there'd be a safety net for people forced onto the street.

Anyway, I dug into my jeans pocket and pried out my billfold and tossed it on the dash. Then the iPhone and reading glasses with the billfold. I actually did this. Tossed all my stuff on the dash.

Annie side-looked me. “What?”

What? She does that, like I’m supposed to have an answer. But I did have an answer. I really did. It started with being homeless, but it wouldn't end there. I imagined her tears tasting bitter, salty.

So, yes, I opened the door and climbed out and began walking. Discarded trash lay on the curb. As I went by the homeless vet, he raised his cardboard sign up, a dripping wet wrinkly little thing. His sign was desperate, pleading, ‘See this? Do you have money you can give me?’ I always feel bad about homeless people, but let’s say you give ‘em five bucks, then what? Do they use the money to buy drugs and alcohol? Or is the guy just hungry? Hungry was my bet, but I didn't have any money.

“Sorry,” I said.

 “God bless you, sir.” Everybody calls me ‘sir’ all the time and I can't stand it. It’s only at a certain age people start calling you respectful names like sir or ma'am I’ve noticed. They say it out of respect for old people, but what they’re really thinking deep down, whether they know it or not, is, ‘You poor old bastard slob, I don't want to be you.' Am I right? This HOMELESS guy is effectively telling me he doesn’t want to be me. Give me a break. He’s HOMELESS for Chrissake.

“Hey guy," I asked. "Can you make any money doing this?”

He craned his neck around, turning to me with bloodshot eyes. “What? You think this is a business opportunity, pops?” I also get offended when people call me pops.

“No. I was just curious. Do you?”

He pulled in his sign hugging it, like I might grab it. I thought of a red life preserver. I wanted his sign, right? “Just move on pops,” he said. I supposed these guys have corners like drug dealers or something. I felt sorry for him. I really did.

Now, Annie. She drove by me after the light changed and rubbernecked me out the driver’s window, a ‘what the f**k’ expression on her face. She couldn’t stop with all the traffic behind her I guess. Total, absolute puzzlement, with her mouth hung open. I felt sorry for her. None of this was her fault, but she was paying the price. You bet she was. Funny, her face was in focus while all around her everything blurred. I remember that.

The mall had these restaurants which all had tacky neon signs, but I needed to get somewhere before Annie turned around. At the entrance was a Japanese steakhouse so I went in. I took a stool at one end of the bar, away from two corporate guy types at the other end. The dining room had all these big tables where the chefs did their demonstration cooking, and the bar was like fifty miles long, but just us three were there. These guys were drinking fancy cocktails. What were they doing drinking cocktails in the middle of the afternoon?

“Can I help you?” The bartender was a bored looking girl, they’re all girls to me. I liked her tattoo. A unicorn on her forearm. Anybody who puts a unicorn on their arm is OK with me.

“Double Jack Daniels. Rocks,” I said. 

She brought the drink and I downed it, like Clint Eastwood. Just LIKE that.

Now the girl’s eyes went wide, then crinkled down. “Are you OK?” she asked.

“I’m great. I just won the lottery.”

She bent over the bar and gently looked up into my face, staring into my eyes like she was trying to see what color they were. “You don’t look too good, sir.”

“I’m OK. Give me another double.” I was really feeling the buzz now.

“I don’t know if I should.” But she did. She really did, and I kind of couldn’t believe it.

At the end of the bar the corporate guy was wearing a pink pocket handkerchief to go with his pink tie. He slid down to me and took the stool beside me. I hate it when guys match their ties to a pocket square. It’s trying too hard and they should know that, but they never do. Not only a matchy-matchy, but pink, PINK for Chrissakes. That’s a double moronic move.

“I know you,” he said

“Uh-oh,” I said.

He pointed at me and looked at the bartender and his friend at the other end of the bar. “He’s that writer. I met him at a book signing back in the nineties.” Now he’d hit on a real perturbing thing, talking about me in the third person like I’m not there.

“I’m right here,” I said. “Don’t talk about me in the third person. Or we’ll have to go outside.” I can’t believe I said that, go outside, Jeez.

“Give me a break,” he laughed. “How old are you now?” He had one of those sniveling laughs, high pitched, which didn’t go with his body. He was a well-built guy, I could tell. “I’m not going outside with you. But you’re him.”

“Him, who?” the bartender asked, peering at me.

Now the well-built guy had his phone out. “He’s Holden Caulfield, ya know? Holden Caulfield, Catcher in the Rye? I thought he was dead.”

“That’s not me,” I said. “People confuse me with him all the time.” I downed my double and turned to go.

“Sir, your bill.”

“I don’t have my reading glasses.”

The bartender took one look at me. Bartenders know how to read people. She shook her head, took my highball glass, and wiped down the bar. “I got it sir. It’s on the house. You have a great day.”

That bartender girl was OK.

The Brentwood Neighborhood is behind the mall. I knew that, and to be honest that’s what started this whole thing, if you remember, when I told you about leaving my billfold and phone on the dash.

Anyway, the idea was to first look up Ackley Drive, 106 Ackley. That’s where my sister and her kid lived. My sister was old Phoebe. I called her old Phoebe and she lived there before she passed, raising my grandniece. I liked that, ‘Grand Niece’. And she was too, grand that is, like her mom. But it was raining now and I must have looked like hell. I was freezing my butt off if you want to know the truth. I found it though, the old house, 106 Ackley. It looked smaller than I remembered.

Once I knocked on the door and heard nothing, I rang the bell, then waited, freezing to death. Finally, a young guy in a wheelchair opened the door. He had long black hair stringing down and I could smell onions.

“What do you want?” he asked.

“My sister used to live here,” I said. “She’s passed now but I was thinking I could see where we used to hang out, she and I."

“Well, I don’t think so. You can just trot on down the road.” He made a little back and forth motion with his two fingers like people do when they’re telling you to move on.

“I just wanted to see where we hung out is all. Just take a minute.” I really did. I really just wanted to stand in the place where me and old Phoebe hung out. Before she died that is.

“No,” he said, and slammed the door, it rattling in the frame something bad. All that walking in the drizzle, freezing my butt off, on the run kind of, and the guy just shuts me down? It wasn’t because he was in a wheel chair, if that’s what you’re thinking. I knew people in wheelchairs clean as dickens. It has nothing to do with the chair.

So I walked away, still cold as hell. It was interesting though, him not letting me in, but depressing at the same time. So depressing I even thought about how hypothermia could kill you, which brought me back to why I left Annie. Let’s say I headed to a grove of trees, kind of hidden near where old Phoebe used to live, and I ran across some field where they’d ripped everything down for cheap apartment buildings. And let’s say the field was not all mud and crap, but rye, a rye field, and I was running across it, howling out loud the Robert Burns poem, ‘If a body meet a body coming through the rye!’ And let’s say it wasn’t about saving thousands of kids, but about outrunning the burden I’d become. What if it was me running away? And what if I just lay there under the dripping trees? Would I actually die? How long would it take? Would it hurt, go to sleep, what?

But dammit, I was yellow clean through, lying there freezing my ass, the rain on my face, and I concluded it would hurt and be a miserable way to go, which made me think about what they say about what starving people will eat: tree bark, grass, each other. I didn’t think I could eat someone but I guess you never know, being in such a desperate situation. So I wasn’t going to go die in the woods, not that day anyway.

What I did. I went back to the road, and in no time a black and white with blue lights flashing pulled in front of me like they do to block you off. There was ‘Serve and Protect’ in a big shield emblazoned on the door. That made me feel better. ‘Serve and Protect’. My cousin Alfred though? He’s about my age and grew up rough, he says, in Philly. Rough my behind. He grew up on the north side and it’s not rough. But he still thinks all cops are corrupt. I asked him once. I asked, “Allfie.” He liked to be called Alfie and all because that made him a regular guy in the neighborhood. Everyone knew he was a miser though. I asked, “Allfie, are cops corrupt?” I was really just baiting him because I liked to fire him up, his nostrils flaring in an interesting way. Made me think of a bull actually.

“They’re all corrupt,” he’d say.

“How can they ALL be corrupt?” I’d ask. He always thought in absolutes this guy.

“They just are.” How can he know that? He can’t, that’s how. What a schmuck this guy was.

One officer came out of the car, the blue lights still flashing. Immediately I thought of Dudley Do-Right with his cop sunglasses, the reflective kind, along with his square jaw. When they recruit cops they show him Dudley. ‘Just look exactly like him,’ they say. But you can’t MAKE somebody look like somebody else. They have to want to be somebody else.

“Sir? Are you Mr. Caulfield? Mr Holden Caulfield, Sir?”

Right then I knew Dudley had me. “I guess that’s me.”

Why do cops always put their hand on your head when they put you in the back of a police car? Tell me that. They must have a bunch of people smack their head because the female cop, a lot smarter than Dudley, I could tell, pushed my head down as I near stumbled into the back seat.

“Have you been drinking, Mr. Caulfield?” Dudley asked.

“Not a drop,” I said. “I’ve got leprosy.” Leprosy? Now where that popped out I’ll never know, but you can about say anything to people and if you can confuse them, they’ll believe it.

“Uh-huh,” the female smart one said.

The radio crackled. “Have you got a 20 on Mr. Caulfield? Over.”

Dudley held the mic like it was a living rose he could take home. “He’s a runner but we have him in custody, over.”

The dispatcher came over the radio. “We’ve got his granddaughter down here waiting on him. Just take him to Holly Hill Nursing Home and she’ll meet you there, over.”

“Roger,” said Dudley, his voice flipping into this low cop speak. He LOVED saying 'Roger', and then, 'Over and out,' even more. I could tell you big time, he LOVED being a cop. I was jealous he loved it so much. I really was.

The smart female officer said, “You wasted our time today you know that? We’ve got better things to do than chase you down. I’m surprised at you. I am. I read your book and you were an inspiration. Before I went to school, your book said, and I remember, ‘you leave infinitely more behind being educated, brilliant, and creative, not just brilliant and creative.’ You were cool and caught me at a bad place. I stayed in school because of you.”

“That wasn’t me,” I said. “It was a teacher in an old story. I never said that.”

“All the same, Mr. Caulfield. I did stay in school. I was just some kid at the time.”

I wasn’t excited to be going back to Holly Hill. You wouldn’t be either if you knew what I knew about the place, which I won’t tell you because it would just about make you puke.

So we drove on with me still complaining.

Finally, we were at Holly Hill and Annie's car was there, so I knew I was in for it.

Just to get a last lick in, the smart one said. “You’re not the first old codger to be confused and sarcastic. Why don’t you grow up?” I thought that was kind of funny. ‘Grow up’. She was right though, I had to admit. I bet you'd think so too in my place.

Dudley held my head as I got out of the back of the police car. It had stopped raining, and I turned and Annie was coming at me like no tomorrow in her bright blue dress. She wasn’t mad, it was relief all over her face. It was kind of nice to see someone who’s relieved to see you, especially when you’ve been thinking about your sister old Phoebe all day and wanting to do about anything to see her again. Seeing Annie was more than kind of nice, to tell you the truth. And then I saw she was crying. It just made me happy as hell to see her. You weren’t there, but I wish you’d seen it. I promise to God I do. It was something. It really was.


January 30, 2024 21:57

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20 comments

Angela M
14:29 Feb 06, 2024

This was such a fun story to read! Based on the previous comments here, I see that its based on a story I have no idea about but I was still hooked on the narrator's motives and voice because of how well-written it is!

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Jack Kimball
16:11 Feb 06, 2024

Hi Angela, Yes, The Catcher in the Rye, a 1951 novel by J. D. Salinger. In the book, Holden Caulfield doesn't belong anywhere. He's in the no-man's-land–between teenhood and adulthood. My story attempts to paint how older people are caught in a no-man’s-land between adulthood and old age. ‘Since 1951 when it was first published, The Catcher in the Rye has served as a resonant expression of alienation for several generations of adolescent readers and adults who have considered themselves at odds with the norms and institutions of American so...

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Kathryn Kahn
21:04 Feb 04, 2024

You have perfectly captured Holden's voice and attitudes, with the overlay of old age. Bravo.

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Jack Kimball
23:58 Feb 04, 2024

Thank you Kathryn. I appreciate you reading, liking, and commenting. Given you are a published author with your three book series: The Sheltered Pandemic, it really means something to me that you took the time to read one of my stories.

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Alexis Araneta
15:23 Feb 02, 2024

What a brilliant way to continue Holden's story. Amazing job !

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Jack Kimball
16:29 Feb 02, 2024

Thank you Stella for both liking AND reading.

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Aidan Romo
15:10 Feb 02, 2024

Great introspective piece with a good use of unreliable narrator. This writing of yours might be the best I've seen from any of your work so far. So many great passages that kept me glued to every word.

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Jack Kimball
16:31 Feb 02, 2024

Well, ‘… might be the best I've seen from any of your work so far. So many great passages that kept me glued to every word.’ is highly encouraging. Lord knows we writers need encouragement, a strong suit from Reedsy with so many to learn from.

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Michał Przywara
02:07 Feb 02, 2024

I love the voice on this character! It's basically a story of an old man going for a walk, and yet because of the way he paints things with his observations and strong opinions, it feels like a sweeping adventure. Full disclosure, I haven't actually read Salinger, so there's probably a lot I'm missing. But I can appreciate the story of an old man trying to make sense of a world that doesn't always make sense. He's not just about to enter the real world with his whole life ahead of him, but rather he's looking behind and realizing how bizar...

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Jack Kimball
16:33 Feb 02, 2024

Hey Michael. Thank you for both liking and commenting. I always get something from your insight. I really do.

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Helen A Smith
10:20 Feb 01, 2024

I liked the way you developed the character here, Jack. Very relatable. I enjoyed the way everything annoyed him. Can you blame him? Among other things, he didn’t like being called “sir,” and he got irritated by the matching pink tie business. Good point. I was drawn in by all the observations about other people, most of which we make subconsciously. Just out of interest, what is an SUV? Plenty of punchy lines about “older people” being patronised all the time as if they’ve “lost their marbles.” An expression used in Uk. I have to pass ...

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Jack Kimball
23:55 Feb 01, 2024

Thank you Helen. SUV is 'sport utility vehicle'. I'm a Salinger fan. Thanks for reading!

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Helen A Smith
06:06 Feb 02, 2024

Ah, thank you. I did read Catcher in the Rye and enjoyed it, but it was a long time ago. Be good to read it again..

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Christy Morgan
02:26 Feb 01, 2024

I give it to you, Jack! This story is perhaps the most ingenious and clever that I have read in a very long while. I wish I had thought of the premise! Who wouldn’t love a revisited look at ol’ Holden Caulfield?! You capture the essence of the character completely, most notably in the dialogue and how he would speak (the phrasings) and react to his environment. Lovely how you draw in Phoebe, and how he just wants to remember them hanging out together in her old house. If nothing else, you’ve got me reading Salinger’s classic again, and...

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Jack Kimball
02:49 Feb 01, 2024

Thank you Christy! You saying ‘… perhaps the most ingenious and clever that I have read in a very long while,’ makes my day.

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Mary Bendickson
18:28 Jan 31, 2024

Did you mean to confuse granddaughter and daughter. Once the driver was the daughter. But of course the character may have been confused. You certainly pegged him well. Yet some of his acquired wisdom was still showing.

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Jack Kimball
18:37 Jan 31, 2024

Nice catch Mary. Thank you. I made the correction to make granddaughter consistent. Thanks for reading and commenting! I have to ask though. What made you think his acquired wisdom was still showing?

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Mary Bendickson
18:57 Jan 31, 2024

Some of the comments he made. I'll have to take another look to be more specific. Should on time right now.

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Jack Kimball
19:13 Jan 31, 2024

No big deal Mary. I was just curious.

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Mary Bendickson
01:54 Feb 08, 2024

Like your natty new look in your photo.😉

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