Monday, February 6, 2017

Jack Skunk Fils And The Ghost Of Hope

Yeah, I see you...

"It's too cloudy. I don't think we'd be able to see the dawn, even if there were three suns. I'm going to sleep," Tommy Lice-Comb muttered. "And my scalp itches."

"I think I can see a couple of stars peeking through, over that way," Jack Skunk Fils said, gesturing by way of dipping his right shoulder toward the west, "and of course your scalp itches. You're pretty much just lice, from the neck up."

"You makin' fun of my condition?"

Jack held up a defensive hand. "Now, don't get sore, fella. You know what I mean."

"And you know that lice killed my mother."

"Yes, I know. Everyone's mother was killed by something awful and strange. I'm sorry to know about your mum's passing - and the lice that done it."

"I appreciate that," Tommy said. "Now, tell me again why we had to hoof it all the way to Maine in the middle of winter - no food or jobs or friendly folks in sight for miles?"

Jack Skunk Fils, son of the late, smelly, optimistic hobo Jack Skunk, re-explained his mission. They had made their way as far east as the railroads of America would allow, so that they could resurrect Jack's father's tradition of being the first hoboes to see the dawn of the new year on the morning of January first. Hearing himself recite it aloud, Jack suddenly felt that he'd been rather officious in his insistence that poor Tommy Lice-Comb accompany him, but what was done was done. "Pop died ten years ago tonight," he added. "It's only fitting."

Tommy sighed and poked at their struggling campfire, which had begun to hiss irritably as icy raindrops fell into it. "Your old man sure loved that New Year, new hope jazz. He ever lose that?"

"Nope. The sicker he got, the more broken the world became, the uglier people grew, the more hope he had. It was downright bizarre, to me. Still is, really."

"You don't feel that same hope in the first light, then?" Tommy said.

"Not for years now. I'm just doing it to honor Pop's memory, at this point."

"That's sad, man. Just give it up. Maybe visit his grave once a year, and say a little prayer for him on New Year's - which you can do from, you know, someplace warmer - where the smart hoboes are. Somewhere like Jacksonville, maybe?"

Jack stood up and stomped an angry foot in a ratty shoe. "I am NOT going to spend another night in Florida! Not after what happened in Baldwin!"

"Oh, shut up about Baldwin," Tommy groaned. You know as well as I do that that wasn't a turkey. It was a groundhog, and probably rabid. Those kids did us a favor, stealing it."

"I don't care. It was rude. I'm gonna stop talking for a bit, and just get drunk."

"Good idea," Tommy said. "Me too."

The first of January slogged its way from midnight to one, then to two, skipped three, four and five, and lurched unsoberly toward six-thirty. The rain got bored and wandered northeast from Portland, and ever so grudgingly, the clouds thinned and eventually parted - sliced open by a blade of golden dawn.

Jack Skunk Fils stood and stared, as his traveling companion and only friend, wrapped in an old burlap sack, snored his way toward his traditional New Year's hangover. Jack had expected to feel a renewal of grief, a fresh sense of the loss of his father, ten New Year's sunrises ago. On cue, it washed over him in a cold wave. "I miss you, Pop," he whispered.

Gazing at the first light of 1952, what he hadn't expected was the hope. It felt like a physical presence, as if his father were suddenly standing there next to him, and it made no sense whatsoever. The world was still an alien place to which an old (32 whole years old) hobo could not return. For over a year, trains full of tanks and trucks had been rumbling west to feed the war in Korea. The hobo code was beginning to lose its meaning, and the dwindling population of hoboes was increasingly drunk, lazy, and hostile. Jack had pains a healthy man shouldn't have. Nothing was looking remotely hopeful.

But there it was again, standing with him and imploring him not to give up. Jack marveled at its persistence, its ridiculous resilience. It just didn't know when to quit.

He closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, and sighed, "Anything is possible, Pop. Anything."

Okay, so this was supposed to be a New Year's post, but the world has really gotten in the way, lately. Then I saw the "Two for Tuesday" prompt (Officious) last week at Our Write Side, and I just had to push on through. Thanks for bearing with me whilst I work thought this bleakness... 


  1. I like their (your) hopeful message. We need it now more than ever!

    1. Thanks Katy!

      It is even more difficult than I had expected it to be, and believe me when I tell you than I had very bleak expectations.

      Here's to those who cling tenaciously to whatever hope they can find.

  2. A sentimental tug on the heart. Nicely done.

    1. Thanks Tara!

      Still struggling to find words, thanks in large part to Premier Saddam Twitler, but I keep trying...