A Story by Prodigo

The story of a man who recently died


"Jim Farrell was seventeen when he was shot in the head. He drove a hatchback, a green one with a synthetic wooden trim and a bike rack on top. He never put any bikes up there, but he wanted to appear adventurous to girls. I drove it into the swamp the night he was shot and I do not know why I did that. He had a sister, and I’m sure she would have liked the car very much.


He spent two summers in the wine country of California harvesting grapes. I liked him better when he came back. He was much more pleasant to be around and he seemed taller, even. His great aunt owned the vineyard and didn’t care for money much so he was largely overpaid. He paid for the car with what he earned during those two summers and had more than half left after he bought it. He was frivolous with his money, offering to take a few friends out nearly every night. I will be frank, I took his charity as often as he was willing to give it. This doesn’t speak well of me, or of him, but I was only beginning to truly know him then and he reminded me a lot of Jay Gatsby. He was my most charming acquaintance and he still is. There is no one else like Jim in the whole of the world, most especially mine.


Most people confided in Jim without really understanding why. I would suppose that it could never be plainly told as to how he came to be this way. Jim’s parents were nothing like him, save being a little eccentric, but they mostly had nothing in common. His mother was a hippie for a long while, and his father traveled Europe for five years on no money and an expired visa. He had no possessions and the only thing he returned with was two false teeth and an alcohol addiction. They both became nurses, which was an unusual career path for his father because he is one of the least nurturing people I have ever met. His mother gardens and experiments with recipes, both end in disaster a good amount of the time. She wore thin reading glasses, flipping through cook books beside the garden window listening to world music. His father, though, sat in the dark with the computer screen where he researched conspiracy theories, also wearing thin reading glasses that probably belonged to Jim’s mother.  He talked fast, and was very animated when he spoke, and he tightened his ponytail a lot, now that I remember. I always thought that was a strange nervous habit. It made his hair very oily but his mustache was dry because he seldom trimmed it or cared for it. They were strangely likeable people, though, and this is, perhaps, why Jim became who he was.


He had solid ambition and when he bought a drum set with what little money he had left, I took his intention to play seriously. It was the most serious thing about our relationship. I was writing, and he was playing all the time and I liked that we had something new to talk about. It was getting dry; talking about my own writing and other writers we had read or heard about. He spent a lot of his time transcribing music. After we felt that we had done good work, we would walk along the road in the dark and talk about something other than what we had done that day. This is something I will miss furiously because it was our most beloved ritual. Sometimes, we would catch the train as it flew by, playfully blowing its magnificent horn and scaring the birds from the grove of trees lining the tracks. As obnoxious as the train was, it was a welcomed addition to our evening.


What I thought was curious about our friendship was what I came to realize after a few outings with friends. He never appeared to be connecting with anyone. He policed himself and I always thought that was unusual. I believe I feel that way because I am obnoxious and opinionated and coarse to people I don’t like, but you only really knew Jim if you spent time with him alone. He always talked about his music objectively, as though it didn’t belong to him. He reminded me of a museum tour guide when he talked about it. He wasn’t conceited and I feared that perhaps he did not think he was very good. But he was good and that made me even more fearful.


His father never mentioned being agreeable with Jim playing music. He only tolerated the playing because his mother wouldn’t entertain the thought of suppressing it. It is not because his father was disinterested in what his son was doing, I believe it stemmed from jealousy and this is a vile thing because love will not endure the company of jealousy. He was angry, but he was still sad and though Jim detected his father’s anger, I believe he pitied him. He pitied him like a great champion would the retired champions forced to watch from the stands. His pity was seemingly perpetual and he did his very best to never appear disappointed when it came to his father. His mother explained that he played music for a good while but had to stop it all and start a family instead. I cannot empathize with his father but I knew Jim could so I never got angry with his father for being the way he was.


I started a story once and realized that I was being much too honest and I might have hurt his feelings with it. He knew I had based one of the characters off of him because I told him I would but I never thought he wouldn’t find it flattering. I had never seen him cry before but he did and I was much more aware about whom my characters reminded me of and the sort of person I would write them to be. I tried to explain that it’s not really the characters fault, it’s the story that motivates the bad things and the good things they did happened all on their own. “But you could write it so much better, Matt.” He said, earning his composure again and dusting off his dignity.


“It’s not finished, yet, Jim.” I said, trying to remember that he might still be affected by the story.

He pleaded with me to give him a good ending and I told him I would think hard on it. I told him the story writes itself, really, but I assured him when I said that, that I thought things were looking up for his character. This cheered him up a bit, but for a long time after he read the story, I believe he thought differently of how I saw him. It was strange to think that with all the things we hide from one another, that he knew the absolute truth of what I thought about him. I regretted how the story turned out and he was disappointed too, but he didn’t cry a second time and I worried because I was afraid he might not really care what I thought of him.


I became good friends with a man from Dallas, and he had a nice car (I didn’t have one at the time) and plenty of money so we visited the city often and I became friends with all of his friends and Jim and I didn’t talk for weeks at a time. He had two other friends but he never invited me to join them when they went out because I thought they were unusual and not in an interesting way. One of them graduated high school at fifteen and though I applaud him for it, I still thought he was strange and I had a difficult time thinking of him as an adult. He had a chili bowl haircut and it reminded me of much younger days, of mocking the sort of hair we all used to wear once. He was brilliant, though and very easy to talk to. I believe I would like him now that he’s older, but back then I didn’t.


His other friend was compulsive and he smelled bad and I do not remember a time where he said anything very interesting or did anything worth noticing or like anything worth investigating. He was exactly the sort of chap that I avoided at parties because I was embarrassed for him. They both believed Jim was their best friend and this made it all the worse because I knew Jim had an equally difficult time getting along around them. He had a difficult time making real friends, though and I suspect it is because anyone who knew him thought of him as something like a priest. It wasn’t appropriate to be so close to him because of how he was but you never let him go either. Having him as a friend was like owning a rabbit’s foot, you kept it around because it brought you luck and you would never think of letting it go for fear of losing it and never having it again.  


Jim and I went to a café at the square. It was a Saturday morning, I think because we lived near a University and most of the students were still recovering from the night before so it was quiet and when we ordered, the man behind the counter was wafting a cup of coffee and writing notes about it in a blue notebook. We ordered two black coffees and found a table beside a very bad painting with an obscene price tag beneath it. “What do you think of the painting?” I said

“It reminds me of my music.” He replied, but I knew he might really believe that.

I took a drink and held it there and it was bold and earthy and I wondered where it was from. “What do you think of the coffee?”


“It’s an African blend. I’ve never really cared for it.”

I thought about Africa and then I thought about Hemingway and the Old man from one of his books dreaming about the lions playing in the moonlight on the beach while the merchant ships sail by watching them. And then I looked over at the painting and it was ruined and I asked him again what he thought of the painting.


“I told you it was bad.” He said, glancing at it once more then turning away from it


Across the café, a couple was seated a table in the center of all the others. They were staring, for long spaces at a time, away from each other and I had never seen anyone look so unhappy in my entire life. I wondered what they had talked about that made them so sad. The woman looked desperate with the want to cry and the man seemed ashamed.  The man was leaning in close, perhaps to comfort her but they looked defeated. I realized after some time of trying to make out what they were saying, that Jim had been watching them, too. The couple stood up without a word, nor a smile and left the café.


“Something terrible must have happened.” I said, “What were they talking about?”

Jim watched them walk up the street, then out of view and he said, “They’re getting married.”

He was not hopeful for those two, but I hope they are very happy and that Jim had been wrong. It was always very easy to disappoint Jim when you confided in him about love. He was rational, logical and calculative and perhaps he was more intimate with love than we all were and he understood it. Like a wise man understands the horrors of war, so did Jim understand love.


There was an antique store on the square, two actually, right beside one another. There, Jim and I met another friend who was drinking something hot and trying to haggle the lady working behind the counter. He wanted to buy a typewriter missing a few keys and an old book. He left without either of them but he explained he would be back in a week and he boasted that it would still be there. It was the first time I had ever seen him talk to anyone so intensely that he didn’t like. His name was Hunt and he was a painter.


He attended class when he wanted but for a man who cared so little for school he did a lot of self educating. He studied writers more than painters but he gravitated towards painting in the end and he’s better for it. Though, he would have made a fine writer. Jim agreed that his work was fine and he was as hard working as we both were and worth keeping up with. We knew a lot of artists when we started but most of them didn’t stay that way and this was a shame because some of them were very good but also very lazy. Hunt and I had similar tastes in artists so it never got sore talking about it. I recall a time we were bowling once. Outside, it was very cold and it was the sort of cold that most people don’t enjoy even if they like the winter. The roads were bare and in some places icy and dangerous and we decided to stay away from the square.  A good friend of Hunt’s said something about the nature of women. Before that, it was awkward but casual enough to try to make something of it. This friend had just enlisted and was ready to leave a few weeks later and wanted to spend time with people who wouldn’t mind his company. I felt bad for inviting Hunt because I realize that I perhaps ruined the enlisted man’s plans. I tried to be good company but the conversation turned to something fierce and I tried to dispel the anger but anger lingers like the smell of a bad cigar and we left that night wondering why Hunt reacted the way he did to his friend. For an enlisted man, he didn’t fight very well.


This happened only once, but it happened and I won’t ever forget it and I get sad thinking about it because it was the day Jim decided he would not be happy for me. I won a decent amount of money for a writing contest and after the ceremony, Jim scoffed at me and said that the other writers were terrible and it wasn’t that grand of a win. I wanted to punch him in the nose. I wanted him to fly head first into a moving bus. I had never heard him say anything like that to anyone and I was disturbed by it. I had no idea he’d act that way and I felt terrible for a good while because he had never gotten any real success from his music. He had no affirmation except for me and anyone else who had heard him play. Hunt congratulated me and James bought us all dinner. The meal was fine and so was the company, except for Jim who stared at his food and didn’t say much and smiled even less. It was the first and very last time that Jim would ever be envious of me.


We had both hit a streak of luck and our work had been going well and he asked me, “Should we go to Europe?”

I looked at him and I saw that he was happy. He was happy with how he was coming along as a musician. He was happy in the best ways and this is the nicest memory I have of him. I told him that I thought it would be good for us to go.


“To really go, Matt. I think we should start saving.”


“We should ask your dad where we could go.”


“I’d rather not. He ate poorly and was in poorer company. What do you think of Paris?”


“Last I think. I don’t want to go there first for fear of forgetting anything and nowhere in between.”


“Spain first, then? We should go to Valencia like Hemingway. We can go fishing.”


“We’d need a guide. You can’t work the rivers without one.”


“We can pretend fish, then. How is the pretend fishing in Valencia?”


I thought about Jim meeting one of the Spanish girls there and marrying her and bringing her home to help him become the musician he ought to be.


“You should learn Spanish. It won’t do you any good without it.”


He shook his head and said, “No, you already speak Spanish. I’ll learn French or one of the other ones.”


'German?' I said


'No, too guttural. What do you think of Russian?'


'We’re not going anywhere near Russia.'


'You’ve never met a Russian outside of Russia?'


'Not that I remember. A Serbian and a Turk, but not a Russian.' I said


'You really want to go to Europe?' I added.


And I expected something half hearted to finish the topic, but then he said, “I’d like to think so. We’ve been doing good work, lately. I believe we deserve it.”


'It wouldn’t hurt. Sure, we’ll start saving.'


Jim planned for us to leave at the beginning of this coming summer. We would have nearly made all the money we needed. He should have saved some from the work he had done at his Aunt’s vineyard. He spent it all though, on Hunt and I and his other friends and I’m glad he had. I do not think anyone knew he had already decided to kill himself. I’ve kept his music and I think you all would enjoy it as much as I have. Thank you for your time."



I left the podium and the church and visited Spain first. I went pretend fishing with two pretend poles and learned Russian and decided that I would leave Jim in Paris.  

© 2012 Prodigo

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Added on January 16, 2012
Last Updated on January 16, 2012



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