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Some Came Running
By James Jones
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA Copyright © 1958 James Jones
All rights reserved.
OF COURSE, HE KNEW the town when the bus slowed coming into it. He had known it nineteen years ago when he left it, and he would know it again nineteen years from now, if he should ever happen to come back a second time. A man's hometown, the one where he was born and raised, was always special. It was as if secretly all those years your senses themselves had banded together on their own and memorized everything about it so thoroughly that they remembered them even when you didn't. Even with the things you did remember, your senses kept remembering them first a split second sooner and startling you. And it didn't matter whether you loved the thing or hated it. He shifted a little in his seat, suddenly self-conscious of the man beside him. Your senses didn't feel. They just remembered. He looked out again.
The long S curve wound across a little rise and then dropped to the little wooded creek and crossed a bridge, before it became a brick street and began to climb the long hill between the houses. He looked out upon the estate of the town's richest doctor, nestled in the arm of the first curve. Further west behind it were the well-treed grounds of the little denominational college. A mile off east were the thin stacks of the Sternutol Chemical. Then the bus went on around the second curve through the woods and crossed the bridge, still slowing.
"Parkman!" the driver called.
It had been visible off across the flat sand prairies of the southern Illinois landscape long before they ever got there. He had even known beforehand the exact spot where it would become visible. The last rise which when you topped it out onto the flat, suddenly there it was, miles away yet, its trees that hid the houses rising slowly up the sides of the hill that was crowned with the county courthouse, the whole an island in the middle of its gray sea of winter farmland, and on the left five miles away the thick woods of the Wabash River bottoms. Under the November sky, it had made him think of El Greco's View of Toledo, and he had had that same devilish weird unearthly feeling of foreboding. Suddenly, he had thought that the Greek must have really hated that town. Or else feared it.
The driver stopped using his brake and ground the bus on up the mile-long hill toward town, Dave watching the houses along North Main Street and remembering most of them. If he hadn't got drunk yesterday in Chicago with that bunch of guys he'd been discharged with, he would never have come back here. Sober now, he knew it was a damn fool thing to do. He never should have come back, not after the way he'd left, he felt bad, a deep depression.
When the bus stopped, he got his issue overcoat and canvas furlough satchel off the rack and followed the driver down into the cold air outside and set the furlough satchel on the wet bricks.
He was here, and he was staying. Across the square of the town with the courthouse of the county seat in its center a light November snow was falling and melting. It had wet everything, streets sidewalks lampposts, storefronts, and the echelon of parked cars with Illinois plates alongside of which the bus had pulled up in the street. At a distance under the low gray of the early afternoon sky, the wind blew the invisible snow in invisible patterns against the lighted windows of the courthouse offices.
Dave's heart knocked suddenly against the backs of his eyes and he wanted to laugh. No man his age had a right to be this excited over anything except a woman.
The immaculate bus driver had put on black gloves and was squatting in front of the baggage compartment in the side. Across the square two cars started up, exhaling their white winter exhausts, and backed out and pulled away.
Watching them, the whole feel of winter Illinois in a small town flooded back over Dave and he grinned like a man about to explode a stink bomb in a crowded hall of enemies. When he had left Parkman, Illinois, nineteen years ago, it had been under very unsavory circumstances: As a senior in high school, he got a girl from down in the country pregnant and ran off with a carnival upon the advice of his family. That had been in 1928, and he was seventeen. Now he was thirty-six, and it was 1947. A long loop of years ... a long loop of living ... lay scattered in between. None of his relatives knew he was coming. It wasn't hard to imagine the furor it was going to create.
"Hirsh, David L," the driver said, reading the stencil on the bulging B-4 bag he had dragged out to the edge of the baggage hole.
"That's me," Dave said. He turned back from the townscape, still savoring the malices he would activate, and hung the overcoat over his left arm carefully so the bottle in the pocket would not fall out.
The driver swung the big bag to the pavement. "I've only got four of these things this trip," he said with wry complaint.
"Lots of guys coming home," Dave grinned. He took the bag and set it with the furlough satchel. The driver, watching him, began to laugh.
"That was sure some little farewell speech you made those other soljerboys just before we left Chicago."
"Well, they came to see me off. I had to tell them something."
"You told them. I just wish my wife could of heard that little bit about kickin the 4-Fs out of their beds. That war was hard on us bus drivers, too."
"I bet it was also hard on bus drivers' wives," Dave said.
The driver laughed arrogantly and pushed back his cap with a thumb and put the backs of his palm soiled gloves immaculately on his hips. "You know, I was born and raised about fifteen miles from here myself," he said.
"West Lancaster." It was a muddy little community, weathering away on the riverbank beside a discontinued ferry.
"Sure. I know West Lancaster." Dave hadn't heard the words in years.
"You don't see me going back," the driver offered. He looked around him at the square of business houses and grinned. "I know these towns. No bars. No burlyque. No nightclubs. No racetracks." He bent down again at the luggage compartment in the side. "You can't even buy whiskey, except in a package. Gimme Chicago."
"They still sell beer," Dave said, looking at the sign over a tavern. He kept his face deadpan: "And there's always the church socials."
The driver looked up, his face pained. "Jesus God! You mean they still have those?" Dave laughed, looking again around the square with its business houses.
"Well, you can always learn to play golf," the driver said, bending his head again to the compartment. "Parkman's got a snazzy Country Club."
"My brother's a wheel in the Country Club," Dave said.
The driver didn't hear it. But then, Dave didn't really care. Perhaps he hadn't even said it to the driver, perhaps he'd said it to himself. Or to the town.
The driver had his head in the baggage compartment. Dave was still looking off across the town. It was curious, that association of golf and his brother Frank in his mind. Out on the West Coast where he had been living when he was drafted, there were almost as many golf courses as golfers; and he never passed one that it wasn't immediately Frank he thought of first. Dear Frank, Dear Brother Frank the little breadwinner, Brother Frank the family father. Brother Frank the jeweler. Across the square on the east side, he could see the building. He couldn't read the words painted on the two plate-glass windows, but he knew what they said, in their gold-and-black jeweler's script: Frank Hirsh, Jeweler, and Frank Hirsh's Jewelry Store. The building had not changed any in nineteen years, and neither had the business block it was a part of, and they would not be changed, either, the words, and the window displays would still be arranged carefully with that racial trait of Germanic thoroughness that was as natural to the Hirshes as their ball-like heads and blocky bodies. Only now there would be clerks, instead of just Frank and his wife, Agnes. Brother Frank would probably be in the back in the office, right now smooching around with his office girl. As he watched from across the square, a woman in a coat with a fur collar went inside. Dave had worked there all through high school. It was hard to believe.
The bus driver had pulled two big bundles of magazines to the lip of the opening. "Well, I had best get on with my chores," he said. "I've already got your checks. You're loose."
"It's too bad you don't get off duty here," Dave said suddenly. "You and me would throw a party. I've got plenty of money."
If his voice was harsh, the driver didn't notice. "Well, I ain't," he said. "And these people want to get on down the road." He pulled off his black gloves and touched up his tie. Then he put the gloves back on and picked up the bundles. "But you ever get back up to Chi look me up the Randolph Street Station. Name's O'Donnell." He carried the bundles across the sidewalk and inside where probably a woman worked, holding them carefully away from his slick lady-slaughterer's uniform.
Dave watched him go in under the sign over the storefront that read PARKMAN NEWS AGENCY; on the window was painted another sign BUS STATION PARKMAN ILLINOIS. The place was both. It had been both nineteen years ago, too.
He turned back to his bags, wishing momentarily that they could have gone on talking. But when he asked himself why or what about, there wasn't any answer. Why did he do it? things like that offer to the driver. He didn't know. But he always did. Half angry, he picked up his bags and started down the street to the hotel.
It would have ruined all his plans for a triumph that he had worked out so carefully on the way down and he would have gone right ahead and done it anyway just like that. All around him the town lay spread out seemingly quiet and peaceful under the winter sky. He grinned. He was not fooled. Behind this misleading facade telephones still lurked, bells poised and waiting. The whole town would know he was here before suppertime.
The Hotel Francis Parkman was Parkman's finest. There were two others. But the Parkman—named after the same historian and author of The Oregon Trail whom the founding fathers had chosen to name their town for in 1850—was the only one that had a kitchen and dining room. It was where all the corporation executives and other visiting dignitaries stayed when they came to town and Dave Hirsh was not going to stay anywhere else, either. The cold wind touched its tongue of melting snow grains to the storefronts as he passed.
In the lobby it was warm and easeful, after outside. A luxurious wood fire was burning brightly in the old-style marble fireplace, and three men in suits and ties and one carefully dressed woman sat in deep chairs near it. When the people talked, they didn't look at each other but stared out the big window at the weather as if fascinated by it.
Dave felt his chest swelling with excitement as he set his bags down. It was the first time in some months that he had been vain about his uniform. A uniform was like anything else, when you were around where everyone else had the same thing it didn't mean nearly as much to you.
The clerk left his work and came to the register. He was a chubby blond young man in a suit that looked too big for him. There was a Purple Heart button in his lapel and a glass eye in his face.
"Yes, sir?" With his good eye he scanned Dave's ribbons.
"I want the best room in the house," Dave said. He had been aware of the four loungers eyeing him. Now he could feel their gazes converge upon him like four columns of infantry.
"Yes, sir," the clerk said. "We have a corner suite of two rooms. That's our best."
"I'll take it," Dave said.
"Yes, sir. If you will just register, please." He turned the card holder and pushed it forward, while the glass eye continued to stare out of his chubby face like a bright blue marble pressed into a piepan of dough. "Price is ten dollars."
Dave printed his name carefully. He wanted to be sure everyone could read it. Under it he put his old address in North Hollywood.
Then he looked up and found himself staring into the cold reserve of the clerk's glass eye. Time seemed to hang. Then the clerk blinked. This seemingly unnatural act, a direct violation of the laws of motion of inanimate bodies, while freeing him, shocked him like a blow from a fist, he felt the eyelid should have clicked. Or at least made a grating noise. Momentarily, the soldier in him reasserted itself. Christ what a way to get it. In the eyes.
"Have the boy bring my bags up, will you?" he said.
"I'll bring them, sir," the clerk said. "Our bellboy isn't home from school yet." He turned the register and read the card. "Hirsh?" he said politely. "We have a Mr Frank Hirsh in our town. Who owns the jewelry store."
"Yes, I know," Dave said, again aware of the loungers. "I'm his brother."
It meant nothing to the clerk. But Dave was sure it meant something to the four loungers. You could almost feel it, in the air. He started for the back of the lobby, where the stairs were.
"Just a minute, Mr Hirsh, and I'll show you the way," the clerk said.
"I know the way," Dave said, not stopping, "I was born and raised here."
It was all just exactly like he had played it out in his mind. Except for that damned glass eye. It was almost occult, how like it was. Sometimes there had been just two loungers, sometimes six or seven. But there were always loungers. He had thought about it a lot, this homecoming, in a lot of different places—with the carnival and the circuses he worked for, later on on the bum, still later when he lived with his sister, Francine, who was Frank's twin, in North Hollywood.
At the top of the stairs, he looked back and saw the clerk struggling up with the heavy B-4 bag and the satchel. He had completely forgotten all about him. He ran back down the stairs and held out his hand for the small bag.
"Here, give me that."
"I can manage it," the clerk said coldly.
Dave took it anyway.
The clerk shrugged.
Again, Dave felt that reasonless fear for his own eyes. "I don't want you to strain yourself on that thing," he joked.
"A man can stuff everythin' but a ten-room house in one of these things," the clerk countered.
"This war has ruptured a lot of redcaps," Dave said. "What if the VA had to pay them compensation?"
"Do you want the country to go broke," the clerk countered, but he did not laugh. He was apparently used to this trick of people having to make conversation with him. He led the way on down the hall. "Here we go, Mr Hirsh," he said, opening the door. "The bedroom is on in here." He carted the big B-4 bag into it. Dave could hear him hanging it up on the closet door.
He disposed of his overcoat and got the bottle out of it. He had it open in his hand when the boy came back in, staring unconcernedly with the bright blue eye. It was the first undistracted look Dave had got at it and it made him want to wince. It was a botched-up job, even for the Army.
"How about a drink after all that exertion?" he said, holding it out. He tossed a half dollar on the daybed.
The clerk pocketed it. "I didn't hear you. Sure. I can awys use a drink."
When he spoke this time. Dave detected the accent he had been trying to put his finger on. He handed him the open bottle. "You're not from around here, are you? Where you from, Jersey?"
"Yeah, Jersey City." He did not quite say Joisey.
"We had a bunch of Jersey boys in my outfit," Dave said. "What's your name?"
"Barker. Freddy Barker. I was station down at George Field near Vincennes and married a girl from here. Came back out here after I got discharge."
He took a sparing drink from the bottle and made as if to hand it back, but Dave made a gesture for him to have another. Instead, the clerk set it gently on the end table.
"Thanks for the drink," he said. "Is there anything else I can get you right now, Mr Hirsh?"
"Yes, there is. As a matter of fact," Dave said. He opened his left blouse pocket. "I'd like to have some ice. And I've got a bank draft here for fifty-five hundred dollars that I'd like for you to take over to the Second National Bank and deposit for me."
There was just a second's pause. "Why you want me to deposit it for you?"
"Because I don't want to go over there myself," Dave said. "And while you're gone, pick me up a couple bottles of whiskey."
"Okay." The clerk was looking at him curiously with his good eye. The other, as always, was aloof and cold. "It's got to be signed, doesn't it?"
Excerpted from Some Came Running by James Jones. Copyright © 1958 James Jones. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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