At the moment, Wayne Jameson had a very weird, almost out-of-body sense of relief that he no longer cared. He really didn't care that the TV hanging over the bar was much too loud for his liking. He didn't care that he was sitting here much too early for any of the regulars to be around, not that he was best friends with any of them, anyway. And he didn't care that he'd made it out of his house that morning, all the way to work, and from work onto one of these rickety stools of the Aces Club, carrying an old .38 special, without the stupid thing going off in his pocket.
What Wayne did know, but probably couldn't articulate to anyone, was that his life seemed to have gradually become a complete withdrawal from anything and everyone around him. Inside him was a vague "disconnected-ness" that made everyone around him more and more superficial, shallow. And the more disconnected he got, the more of a sense of relief he felt.
Wayne let his thoughts run. He felt focused in one moment, and in a fog the next.
He focused: "Okay, if I had to ask myself right now if there was anything I really cared about, it'd have to be Michael."
11-year-old Michael Jamison was the only child of Wayne and Michele, a kid who was growing up way too fast in a slowly-decaying neighborhood just a few blocks from the French Quarter, New Orleans.
Wayne's current job was the best he'd had, yet, as far as longevity goes. Wayne's father had worked for years in the ship-building business in New Orleans. Two of his three sons had moved out of the area years ago, taking decent, medium-paying jobs in Houston and Mobile. But the best Wayne had managed was alternating between landscaping and construction until Katrina hit. In the weeks following Katrina, Wayne found himself in the right place at the right time, working with one clean up crew after another. Not glamorous work, but decent enough work to pay off the bills. Michael was a beautiful boy that would have a bright future, Wayne and Michele thought.
But the downside of living in the area of New Orleans known as "Mid-City", especially post-Katrina Mid-City, was the lack of things to do for an 11-year-old. Too much time, and too many rough neighborhood kids.
"The best thing I got goin', but he's got nowhere to go," Wayne muttered to himself on the stool. "And I got no answers for him," he thought.
Wayne wondered if it would be better for Michael if his Daddy wasn't even around at all. He could think of nothing that he could offer Michael now. He felt like an empty shell, and he felt conflicted when he thought about Michael. He wanted more relief; he wanted out of life altogether, but he couldn't deny his frustration about what would happen to his boy. Michele would be alright - she had put up well enough with Wayne. More than that, she'd really supported him in his different jobs and odd work hours ; but slowly over the past year he'd felt a restless dis-connection with Michele, as well. A sliver of a sub-conscious thought that had been nagging Wayne bubbled up again to the surface for a moment: Had Michele become way too comfortable in the company of some other man?
"I lost her. She's with some other guy. Aw man, how'd I screw that up?" Wayne was looking down at the scratches on the bar in front of him; he was whispering to himself now.
"Oh, man, I'm a schizo like one of them crazies walkin' down the street, sittin' here talkin' to myself!" He chuckled out loud.
He decided he really didn't want to know the answer to the question about Michele, and he didn't want to hear her lie about it, either, if his suspicions were justified. Regardless, Michele was perfectly fine without Wayne, in his estimation.
Wayne's mind darted to the incident with the car. Just three weeks ago, Michael was with a group of boys not far from home, around Canal and Jeff Davis. One of them, for some stupid reason that only a pre-teen boy might understand, had decided to "key" a car parked curbside on the same block where an old church building had been situated for the past century-and-a-half. In mischief, or playing around, or maybe from just sheer boredom, the boy picked up, not a key, but a piece of sharp metal and ran it down the side of a silver 2009 Toyota Camry, leaving the zig zag of a whitish streak from the panel above the left rear wheel forward to the middle of the front door.
Pastor William Denney had come into the church office that day with a number of important errands on his mind that needed done, only a couple of which were actually church-related. He had been on his cell, making some arrangements, walking back and forth between his own office and his assistant's area.
"Hey, wha--?" the pastor stopped in the middle of a call and was looking out one of the church office windows.
"Somebody's messin' aroun' my car! Just what I need today..."
His assistant just rolled her eyes before he could turn around to face her after hanging up his jacket. She'd been his third administrative assistant in as many years, and she was beginning to understand why. Every day was an ordeal for Pastor Will, or "Doctor Denney," as he'd insisted that she address him. Every day seemed to bring about a new crisis that set Pastor Will off for the rest of the day.
"Hey I know that one right there!" he said, tapping his index finger hard against the window and quickly finishing up his phone call.
Julie stood up and peered through the window with the pastor just in time to see the blond-headed figure of Michael Jameson rounding the corner of the church building, scared and almost tripping over his own legs trying to keep up with his the other boys, who were laughing and whooping in excitement.
"That one kid's in our Sunday School! Julie, get me the Jameson's address."
His assistant dutifully pecked on her keyboard the name, "Jameson," and found Michael's contact information on the church's Sunday School membership roll.
"He's another one of 'em whose mom & daddy never come. Guess they think we're runnin' a daycare 'roun here or somethin'" he trailed off outside, mumbling to himself.
Julie had learned to keep quiet and stay on task, because she had found that any amount of consoling she tried to do for Dr. Denney usually ended in a lengthy diatribe from him about how she had no idea how hard it was to be a pastor in an inner-city neighborhood and how she had no right to say anything about it until she was a pastor, which she never would be because she was a woman - which was another one of his many in-office homilies she'd heard more than once.
The events of that day had swiftly set into motion a new, personal mission for William Denney to ensure that the Jameson boy would never be able to vandalize his property again. The Jameson folks needed to learn how to control their son if they ever wanted him to set foot in the Jefferson Davis Parkway Church again.
Pastor Denney finished his day's agenda with a personal home visit to Wayne that evening, who was unable to get in a word, standing in his own living room, listening to the minister give very clear, Biblical reasons - with chapters and verses - why it was not possible for light to have fellowship with darkness, and why, apart from complete repentance, a total change of behavior, and $180 cash to cover the cost of fixing up his Camry, it would be impossible for the Jamesons to enjoy the sweet fellowship of Jeff Davis Church.
So now Wayne found himself on his bar stool, wondering - among other things - how he ever could have imagined that the church might make a difference in anything that ever really mattered to him. He wondered if Michael would ever have a chance at the life that Wayne's brothers were now living.
He ran his right thumb and forefinger back-and-forth over the front sight, the barrel and cylinder of the .38 in his jacket pocket. He felt frozen, paralyzed with inaction. He caught himself half-consciously glancing right and left, trying to notice if there were anything or anyone nearby that could possibly offer him some kind of help.
Wayne shook his head a bit, as if to rouse himself from a deep daydream. He noticed the constant dripping of the faucet over the sink behind the bar, just to the left.
"I gotta get back," Wayne whispered to himself. His next-door neighbor, Mrs. Hart, had made him promise to water her flower beds every day while she was in Baton Rouge visiting her sister for the next two weeks.
Wayne shoved some some bills out onto the bar and walked out, glad he felt like he could be of some use to somebody.
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