Thunder and Lightening
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
It was almost eleven before Jerry arrived from the mall with his son in tow. Knowing that his son was going to get his clothes dirty while working on the car, Jerry had bought him a new outfit while at the mall. His son, Bill, was overjoyed at getting new clothes. It turned out that Bill only got enough clothes to replace what he had worn out or outgrown. Often, his wife had bought him used clothes from thrift stores. Jerry was angry when he heard that and hadn’t realized that his wife had been treating his son like a second class citizen.
Pulling up in front of the house, Jerry was surprised to see Martin waiting for him. The two got out of the truck and went to the Caddy. Martin greeted him by saying, “I thought we were going to start earlier.”
“Sorry, had to buy some clothes. Martin, this is Bill. Bill, this is Martin.”
The two examined each other and decided that they could get along. Jerry went into the house and brought out the toolbox. In minutes, the three of them were working to get the engine out of the Caddy. Jerry and Martin worked on the engine while Bill handed them tools, watching what they were doing. Working on a car was a totally new experience for him.
The day was threatening to be a real scorcher. Before long, all three of them were sweating in the hot humid air. Jerry looked up after they had been working for a couple of hours and said, “We don’t have an audience today.”
Glancing around, Martin noticed some of the guys sitting by the car across the street. They were shooting negative looks in his direction at the perceived sucking up to the white man. He said, “I think a few people are upset about how you treated Kenny.”
“The kid last night. His name is Kenny.” Martin avoided looking at his friends. “A lot of people are upset.”
Surprised by that, Jerry asked, “Why? I didn’t kill him.”
“I think people were a little shocked that you threw him twenty feet. You’re a big man and Kenny is pretty small. You’re white and he’s black. Around here, that makes him the victim.”
“It doesn’t matter that he was breaking into my place, and stealing my tools?”
“Not at all.” The flatness of the voice conveyed as much information as the answer.
“What do you think?”
There was a long silence as Martin thought about it. “I don’t know.”
Eyeing the young black, Jerry wondered how it was possible that he didn’t know what he thought about it. Changing the subject, he said, “Let’s get to work on the engine.”
For the next two hours they took the engine apart, examined individual parts as they were removed, and cleaned up the sludge left by the oil that had been too long in the engine. It was dirty work as grease and oil seemed to leap from the engine to the men. They washed the parts in a small pan of kerosene, scrubbing the engine block with kerosene to get rid of the sludge that had built up on it. Engine solvent would have been better, but this was a poor man’s operation.
Martin was amazed at the difference in the condition of the engine they were working on with the engine of the previous day. The parts were less worn, but much dirtier. With the engine clean, the men went to work cleaning their hands. Washing their hands with kerosene and then with soapy water, they managed to get most of the oil and odor of kerosene off their hands.
The three went to the porch and sat down to take a break from their work. Sweat poured off their brows, trickling into their eyes burning them with the high salt content. The heat and humidity was taking its toll on them. Much longer without fluids and they would get ill.
Jerry stood up to go in the house to get some soft drinks, just when the biggest man he had ever seen, other than himself, came strolling up the walk. The man was dark black with his head shaved. Sweat was beaded on his brow and bald head. The sleeves were ripped off his shirt, showing arms bulging with muscles. These weren’t the kind of muscles that one got at a gym, but the kind that came from doing hard physical labor. The shirt was pulled tight from the muscles that rippled under it.
Studying the man for a moment, Jerry went into the house and picked up the soft drinks. As he returned to the porch, he passed Bill heading into the house. Stepping out, he noticed that Martin had moved out of the way. The neighbors were gathering to watch what would happen. A tense expectation of violence settled on the neighborhood.
Holding up a can, Jerry tossed it underhand in a slow arch to the black man without saying a word. Sitting down on the porch, Jerry patted the place next to him. The black man stared at Jerry not knowing what to make of him. He did know that if it came to a fight, neither one of them would win.
When nothing happened, Jerry said, “Have a seat.”
Wary, the black man sat down next to Jerry and opened the can. Taking a sip, he looked out at the street observing all of the people watching them. He couldn’t believe the white guy sitting next to him was actually a little bigger than he was. In a low voice that carried the threat of harm, he said, “You beat the shit out of my neighbor last night.”
Jerry took a sip of his drink and didn’t answer right away. After sighing, he said, “I feel like a bandy rooster at a cock fight. People are throwing you and I at each other, and are waiting to see what will happen.”
The black man stared at Jerry wondering where he was going with it. Looking at the neighbors, he could sense the undercurrent of excitement at the possibility of a fight between titans. The analogy was accurate, but it didn’t change the reason he was there. “So?”
“I’d rather disappoint them.”
“That doesn’t change the fact that you beat the shit out of Kenny.”
“I caught the kid trying to steal my tools. I picked him up by the belt and threw him out of the house. I’ll admit I dropped him once on the way. The way he was thrashing around, he hit the wall a few times,” replied Jerry with a look that suggested that Henry could take it or leave it. He took a sip of his drink, trying to act a lot calmer than he felt.
“He said that you beat the shit out of him.” He narrowed his eyes as he stared at the white man. Implicit was a challenge for him to call the kid a liar.
Jerry didn’t bother to look at the man sitting next to him. He could see Bill looking out the window at the men, fear written on his face. “What would happen if you hit that kid?”
“Shit, one serious punch from me would kill that little f•©ker.”
Jerry smiled and turned to look at the man seated next to him. “You don’t think the same thing would happen if I hit him?”
“You’d kill the son of a bitch, too.”
Satisfied that the two had reached an understanding, Jerry extended a hand and said, “I’m Jerry Smith.”
“I’m Henry Buckman,” replied the black man. He reached over and shook hands with Jerry. Their grasps were firm, but it wasn’t a test of strength.
Henry finished the drink and set the can down with a hollow ring. Standing, he said, “Thanks for the Pepsi.”
“Thanks for talking with me,” replied Jerry. He knew how close they had come to serious violence. Both men knew that.
Henry nodded and walked away, pausing to look at the two cars under the oak tree. A thoughtful look crossed his face and then he left. Jerry watched as the neighbors, disappointed that nothing had come of the meeting, returned to their normal activities. Martin came back to the porch and took a seat while Bill came out of the house. No one said anything for a long time.
Bill that broke the silence as he asked, “Could you have taken him?”
Grunting in a non-committal fashion, Jerry answered, “Both of us would have ended up in the hospital.”
Surprised at the answer, Martin turned and stared at Jerry. He couldn’t believe the factual tone of voice used by Jerry in giving the answer. Looking across the street, the crowd had dispersed. “Looks like everyone is gone now that the show is over.”
“Yeah, nothing like the possibility of a fight to bring out an audience.”
A silence settled on the three. Bill handed Martin a soft drink and opened one for himself. Jerry had already finished his, so he waited for the other two to finish theirs. Martin said, “You were lucky. If Henry hadn’t been satisfied, the whole neighborhood would have turned against you.”
Jerry shook his head acknowledging that there were things about living in this neighborhood that he hadn’t figured out and doubted that he would ever figure out. It seemed strange to him that he would have to explain throwing a thief out of his house. Turning to Bill, he said, “School starts tomorrow. Are you ready for it?”
“I guess so. I’m still not so sure how that idea we talked about is going to work out,” answered Bill. He was worried about getting into a fight and not fighting back.
Jerry slapped his leg, wanting to improve the general mood of everyone. It was time for him to start taking a more active and positive role in his son’s education. This was a responsibility that he had not met for a long time having let his wife run everything dealing with the kids. He said, “I tell you what. You keep a journal of how many hours you study each marking period and I’ll pay you for your grades.”
“Pay?” asked Bill very interested in the possibility of getting money.
“Yes. I’ll pay you a dollar an hour that you study for each A, fifty cents an hour for each B. If you make a D, you get a dollar deducted from the total,” answered Jerry.
“Let me get this straight. I write down in a journal how many hours I spend studying and then you’ll pay me a dollar an hour for each A and fifty cents an hour for each B. What about for a C?”
“Nothing. You can do better than a C, and we both know that,” replied Jerry. His son wasn’t going to end up as a B and C student facing a dead end future. Maybe a little money would motivate him. His mother wasn’t going to motivate the kid.
“Okay. So what do you want in the journal?”
“How about the time and subject studied. If you spend an hour on a history report, just write one hour and history report.”
Martin listened rather amazed that Jerry would spend that kind of money. He asked, “What about you, Jerry?”
“You are trying to better his grades and future. What are you doing for your future?”
The question stunned Jerry. Going back to school at his age didn’t seem like a realistic thing to do. He was still searching for an anger management therapist, but he wasn’t having much luck. Tomorrow he was going to call his doctor and see what he could recommend. Was that enough? Perhaps it was time for him to learn how to use a computer.
A nudge from Bill brought Jerry back to the present. Looking over at his son, he asked, “What?”
“Martin is ready to get back to work on the car.”
The three of them returned to work on the engine. It took time, but they reassembled it replacing all of the parts that needed changing. When the engine had been replaced and Jerry had finished tightening the motor mounts, it was nearly dinnertime. They stood around the front of the Caddy looking at the engine pleased with a job well done.
They had attracted an audience by the time they had finished. It seemed that there wasn’t enough to do around the neighborhood so that watching them work on the car was the best entertainment around despite the misgivings about the evening before. It shocked him to think that watching other people fix things was unique and novel in the area.
Martin left to return home and clean up. He was going to eat and get some rest so that he would be ready for work the next day. Jerry and Bill made the trips necessary to bring all of the tools back into the house. Scrubbing their hands over the kitchen sink to remove all traces of grease and oil, they shared a friendly silence. Once the hands were clean, Jerry said, “Take a shower and put on your new clothes. I’ll keep these here in case we work on a car together again.”
The day had been a revelation for Bill. In the course of the afternoon, he had learned what all of the tools in the toolbox were for. He’d never been exposed to tools before, and it felt like a manly thing to know. It was as if he had gone through some minor rite of passage, led through it by his father as fathers had always done for their sons.
Jerry went to the mini-fridge and removed two soft drinks. He opened one and handed the other to his son. Bill accepted his and drank it down, replenishing the fluids that had been sweated out over the course of the afternoon. With a parting belch, he headed to the front of the house to get his clothes. Carrying them in the bag in which they had been purchased, he went into the bathroom to shower.
Removing his shirt and pants, Jerry went into the living room and sat down on the floor. The sound of the water in the shower reminded him that he wasn’t alone in the house, even if was for just another hour or so. It felt good to have company. He wondered what to do about dinner and decided to take the kid to an all you can eat buffet. It was about that time that he realized they had skipped lunch.
Bill came out of the shower, dressed in his new clothes and stopped at the bedroom where his scooter was stored. Only a month more and he would be driving it around. Looking at it, he knew that as soon as he showed up at home with it, his sister would be getting a new one and a better one just to put him in his place. He didn’t really care, it was enough to be the first to get one.
Going into the bathroom, Jerry showered. He laughed as he stood under the cold water knowing that he couldn’t blame Bill for using all the hot water. He lathered up and rinsed off as fast as he could. There was nothing worse than a cold shower and he was going to have plenty of them over the next few months. Jerry came out dressed and feeling fresh.
Bill was slouched down on the Futon with his legs crossed at the ankles and his hands laced behind his head. As far as he was concerned, this was a great place and was much better than home. At least here he was accepted for who he was.
“Are you up to Chinese Buffet?”
“You bet,” answered Bill as his stomach growled at the reminder of food.
“We’re going to put a real dent in their profit tonight, my son,” quipped Jerry relaxed and ready to go eat.
“I’m hungry enough to eat a horse.”
“After tonight, they just might have to serve horse.”
The two of them laughed as they made their way to the truck. Climbing in, they drove off with Jerry taking care not to hit any potholes. Coming in their general direction was Abe on his scooter. Jerry slowed down and stopped to wait for Abe to pull up. Abe stopped and grinned over at Jerry. He said, “I heard that you met Henry today.”
“He was that little feller that came by?” asked Jerry with a grin.
“Oh, that’s a good one,” replied Abe as he wondered how Henry would react to that characterization of him. He said, “I better get home for dinner before my Mom sets the table. She’ll tear me a new one if I’m not there.”
As Abe rode off, Jerry turned to Bill with a smile and said, “I like Abe. He’s a good kid.”
The statement bothered Bill more than he would admit. It seemed to him that his father preferred Abe to him. It was obvious that he spent more time around Abe than they could spend together. Jerry started the truck as he said, “This is great. Me and my son are going out to eat dinner together.”
The words reassured Bill as he looked over at his father. The smile on his face was genuine and that meant a lot to the boy. Sitting in the truck, he looked over at his father watching him drive.