Doc didn’t bother with a last name either, or a first, for that matter. His birth name had been shrugged off long ago for a single syllable, though it suited him well. It was a novelty of no consequence that we happened to know his real name and for once that we also knew his address. He’d bummed around the lake since the last flood took out his trailer down by the river. The lone bartender at the beer-and-whiskey dive in town was the only soul who saw him regularly and was kind enough to transmit phone messages to him when he remembered.
The dark, even brown of Doc’s skin was less indicative of his Mexican blood than the years of sun and weather that had leathered his hide. He chain smoked Marlboro Reds, those heavy old-man cigarettes that infuse a sour smell into everything their smoke brushes against. He had that characteristic gap seen in people who live as he does, where missing teeth form the perfect resting place for a cigarette against the gums. He resided now in his mother’s old house. Years of habit seemed to keep him from enjoying the indoors; while he presumably slept in the house, he whiled away his days in the yard. Cracked flower pots, cigarette butts, broken lawn chairs, and rusted coffee cans half-filled with rainwater littered the porch with the leaking roof. A handful of dogs and a few feral cats skittered around the edges of the fence, fighting for a coveted spot in the shade provided by a few old oaks leaning away from the neglected homestead.
“His name’s Festus Haggen,” he drawled, formally introducing his favorite of the beasts in the yard. He hardly resembled his endearingly foolish namesake; slinking away from the attention, the dog hunkered in the afternoon heat, the rusty fur on his back rising. “Rhodesian ridgeback. Walks like a lion. Watch him walk.” He followed this with a dry cough and a hard stare.
C and I exchanged glances. “Daddy,” she said. “You don’t know Jimmy’s last name?”
“Don’t nobody know his name. It’s just Jimmy.” He turned away, gumming the inside of his lips, and reached for the mostly empty, most warm beer leaning against his foot.
We’d recently seen Jimmy for the first time since Rex’s “funeral fiesta,” as he dubbed it. He was holed up in a shady motel in Austin with a well-worn woman who quickly took her leave when we arrived, but not before casting an unfriendly side eye in our direction. We’d brought food, in an effort to check up on him after his best friend’s death and get him to consume something besides the meth and pot brownies he somehow typically subsided on.
“It’s got vitamin D,” he insisted, pushing the bag toward me.
“It doesn’t.” I responded. “Eat this.”
“No, I’m alright. I got this. It has vitamins.”
“Jimmy, meth doesn’t have vitamins. You need real food.”
“That woman. She promised if I bought her a bed she’d tie me up in it.”
We both let that one pass. We knew what was coming next. Jimmy had been impotent for some years.
“The day I got outta prison, I went to see these friends of mine. Their daughter she was just a little thing when I went away. She was so happy to see me when I came back. She knocked over test tubes on me when I walked in.”
He babbled incoherently but appreciatively for a time about women, especially young women, and their bodies. His train of thought never lasted for more than a couple minutes at a time, except in this particular story. Eventually he would circle back to coming to in the hospital, but the cast of characters changed every time he told it. Sometimes it was Rex sitting by the bed when he awoke, sometimes other old friends. Jimmy’s head was full of ghosts. Always they exclaimed something different about the look of his penis after the meth lab spill. Today, it was Rex’s wife Magnolia exclaiming
“Goddamn, that looks like an inside-out grubworm.”
Without pausing for effect, Jimmy picked up an out-of-tune acoustic guitar and started strumming. Instead of singing, he just kept babbling. Exasperated, C and I continued to negotiate bites of food endowed with real nutritional value, surreptitiously moving the drugs out of sight when he looked away so he’d be less likely to reject our offerings.
“Fuckin’ Jimmy probably doesn’t know his own name,” muttered C as we walked out to the parking lot later. We spent most of the ride home trying to work out his age based on the rare consistent details of his many stories, repeated time and time again with endless variations. Knock-kneed, stringbean skinny Jimmy, with his shock of white-blonde hair and paper-dry skin (more embalmed from within due to chemical consumption than exposure to the elements), was of indeterminable years. We uncertainly concluded that he was probably around 56 or 57. Old enough and used up enough that, when he disappeared for good a few years later, our first guess was that he had died, rather than been rearrested.
As I got out of the car that night, C pulled something out of her bag. “Oh, by the way, I thought you’d want this back.” She handed me a photograph of myself from Rex’s funeral.
“Want it back? I’ve never seen it before.”
“Jimmy had it. He’s been carrying it around telling people you’re his wife.”