“The Jungle”….a very short story.

Don’t count on Political Correctness in this story.

She first saw him walking up the street, the oaks and pecans with their shadowy branches waving over the pavement like brooms. The soft morning breeze was a blessing; the heat even during mid-spring would make itself known in a few hours.

He was an old man, a Negro, she could see by his naked forearms. He was thin, with a baseball cap on his greying nappy head. She would learn his name was Roosevelt Jackson, and later would be called “Mr. Roosevelt” by her family. He was walking on the sidewalk, something that only some of the more decent and older blacks did: around here their race walked in the street, sometimes taking up the whole width of it, challenging the cars with their collective girth. She couldn’t understand why they tempted fate with this behavior, but decided it was these long haired ponytailed lawyers who started their commercials on TV with: “Have you been hit? Call me for Justice!” Like the lottery, they enticed these people with some get- rich -schemes, though they were betting on the better drivers to see and avoid them. She always wondered. There were drunks enough on the road, some also doped up on whatever was their drug and it was like Russian Roulette on the streets of this city.

One of the local lowlife-crack-head living across the fields of kudzu and railroad tracks had again broken into her shed. He had stolen what he could get, or thrown stuff over the fence before she and the dogs heard him. She got the pistol from under the old, unstrung baby grand piano and went out to scare him, the bastard.

He had jumped the fence and was hiding behind a 100 year old oak. This had become an annoying game, played over and over. She called her dogs to sic him and he moved into view. She didn’t have the spirit to shoot him; plus he was over the fence. She knew the law, but he didn’t. Or he did but didn’t care. Stealing was a way of life for him, he didn’t care what he took, he could fence anything for some beer or crack. He jogged away in his curious zig-zagging gait, his hands full before him with her property, knowing that she ‘could’ shoot him, but also knowing she wouldn’t. He had left the shed a mess. his big black feet had stomped on china, lamps, books and vinyl records. It didn’t matter to him. Just something to plunder. This was why she was out on the sidewalk that morning, hauling broken now-junk from there. Whatever he stole, he missed a coin collection of her dead father in law. There were old silver dollars fallen out of a photo album. They lay glittering in the gutter.

The old man came walking up and tipped his cap, bidding her good morning. He was dark, thin, and had a rope for a belt. She remembered her husband once appeared with a rope around his waist because he couldn’t find a belt upstairs. Men were like that.

He asked her if she had a job for him. She took a long look at him before answering. She asked him a few questions, but thought he was harmless enough. He told her he worked for $3.00 a day cleaning up garbage at the gas station down the street and around the corner. When she was passing in her car, she saw the garbage people had dumped during the night. It was a favorite site for this. The people that worked at the gas station were Pakistani and not nice to him. He was old, black and they were young and pushed him around, thinking him not of any value. $3.00 a day. Lordy. She looked down and saw a silver dollar in the gutter. She stooped and gave it to him for some unknown reason. She wasn’t of a nature where she gave out charity, being burned before, but for some reason, this old man moved something in her. His eyes widened as he turned the coin over and over in his hand. She thought he might cry.

Over the months Mr. Roosevelt came for a few hours for $15.00 dollars a half-day and lunch. He moved the wood pile; he moved a brick pile, he buried a cat, but mostly he worked at odd jobs around the property and talked to her only child who she was homeschooling after a fashion. Mr. Roosevelt was a mentor to him, telling stories from decades before, a lifetime and a culture removed, showing him how to stack a wood pile so it didn’t fall over, being kind to a lonely child.

Mr. Roosevelt had one quirk. He would sit quietly outside on a stump for half an hour after eating his half sandwich. He would wrap up the other half for dinner in a handkerchief to take home with him. She tried to get him, skinny as he was, to eat the whole sandwich, but he never would. When he was asked why he sat idle for that half hour by her son, he said it was for digestion. That working immediately after eating was like swimming right after a meal. You could harm yourself.

Her husband decided to rip off a roof and start an addition on the house. He hired Mr. Roosevelt to help him. When he found out that she was only paying him $15.00 a half day, he yelled at her: Roosevelt was worth more than that and gave him a lot more for his labor. She countered she had never had a ‘yard man’ and she was trying to be economical. Mr. Roosevelt heard the argument between them, and just smiled. He knew he couldn’t lose in this one.

For about a year, Mr. Roosevelt showed up just about every week. One week he didn’t, and she went looking for him, driving up to his neighborhood, which was a few blocks from hers. Mr. Roosevelt had died of a heart attack. He had been robbed a few days before, these lowlife wanna- be gangster boys coming in his house as he watched tv and taking the tv and even the stewpot from his stove. He could survive that, but a few days later a pit bull that was loose bit him and it was too much for his old heart.

In a city that has devolved to outright crime and violence over the decades, no respect for property, no respect for life, stealing what you can from strangers or neighbors, Mr. Roosevelt was one of the few decent elements left. He taught by example. He was by nature as bright as that coin that first began their meeting. A man who can keep his nature as good as Mr. Roosevelt isn’t born every minute, to any race. He was a rarity in this age. Fifteen years later, she still missed and remembered him.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2013

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One Response to ““The Jungle”….a very short story.”

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