Back to the World
by James Shaffer
Table of Contents|
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10,
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19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25
Johnnie Rae Piper is born in a tarpaper house outside Amarillo, in the Texas Panhandle, in 1950. His mom raises and home-schools Johnnie while his father, Tom, is off fighting in the Korean War. When Tom comes home, he’s changed: he has drinking and gambling addictions.
In 1969, an unlucky number in the draft lottery sends Johnnie to Vietnam. When he returns home, a year and half later, he finds he has exchanged one set of problems for another. A local loan shark is putting the muscle on Tom, and the criminal organization is widespread. Johnnie tries to help his father, with the aid of three cowgirls: Darlene, Jamie Sue and Kelly Jo. All of them are in for a wild ride.
My daddy, Tom Piper, was wounded in the war. He returned in 1953 but spent some time in a veterans’ hospital in Virginia. The Army checks he sent us came from there. We didn’t have enough money to go see him, but we wrote him every week.
I felt as I got older, and as Mama read his letters, he didn’t want us to go see him. He’d find us again in his own time was what Mama said. I got the feeling that he was not and maybe never would be the same man who’d left in 1950. I think Mama felt the same way. She could wait. She was in no hurry.
But, in 1955, he suddenly appeared. He even knocked on the front door. I opened it to a man who was holding a duffel bag over his shoulder. One side of his face was puckered with scars as if he’d been burned or dragged on a hard road. I didn’t know him but, strangely, I wasn’t afraid.
He peered down at me. “Johnnie?” His voice rose at the end. It was a question.
“John Rae Piper,” I said with childlike confidence.
His smile was crooked. The side with the puckered skin didn’t move, as if only half his face was alive. “Your mama home, boy?”
I left the door open and ran to the back of the house where my mama was hanging clothes on the line in the backyard. On the way I sensed the connection. I cried out in the wilderness from the back door. “Mama! Mama! Daddy’s home!”
She looked my way then clicked the last clothespin on a white sheet that snapped at her in the cool breeze. Her eyes, wide and bright against her suntanned face, looked like stars or suns bursting with light.
My daddy had crossed the space from the front door to the back and was standing behind me. Mama looked above and beyond me. I turned and looked up at the man standing there and moved in close to him. His trousers smelled fresh like sun and sand, like a long, dusty road that stretched cleanly through empty flatlands. He ruffled my hair and pulled me close. “Good to see you, Johnnie.” He spoke with a clear West Texas cadence.
Mama fainted before she got to the back door. I didn’t know it then, but waiting is the hardest part.
Copyright © 2015 by James Shaffer