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The International Writers Magazine
: Dreamscapes: Love Field and Ruby

Jack Ruby
Jim Parks

"They're not sure he's dead yet," the football coach said. You could hear him through the little vent windows over the partition between the classroom and the corridor. "But somebody definitely shot the president."
"Where were they?" the science teacher asked him in a hushed voice that carried as if through fog, even though the day was washed in the brilliant sunshine of an Indian summer November noon hour.

"They were in the car coming through downtown, headed for the Trademart on Stemmons Expressway to have lunch. They were in Dealey Plaza, coming from Love Field. I think they were right in front of the courthouse right at Elm and Houston just before the road goes under the triple underpass, you know, the way KRLD is explaining it - right at the railroad bridge. They're saying somebody shot from one of the upper floors of a building down there," the football coach said.

He had been sitting in a chair outside the boys' room door monitoring who came and went during the lunch hour. Cigarette smoking in there was a problem to the school officials. He had a tiny transistor radio up to his ear.
"Lord have mercy," the science teacher said. You could hear a chill in his voice, though the temperature was in the upper seventies. He was a beetle-browed, wiry black Irishman that wore thick bifocal glasses and always had a pocket protector with a dozen pens and mechanical pencils in it, and he even had a little chrome extendable pointer he used constantly when lecturing. The football coach was a sandy-haired Marine veteran of the Korean war with a dagger tattooed on the calf of his leg and a bulldog wearing a campaign hat faded blue and dirty-looking on his forearm.

He had the brutal, bronzed aspect of a bullet-headed warrior in a crewcut. His features were always harsh, tight lipped, unreadable; his overall affect screamed that he'd hurt you at the drop of a hat if he had half a chance.
"Connally is shot, too," he added, and his voice carried over the quick rising buzz of the kids sitting in the English class staring at the very prim lady teacher with the suddenly pale face and the shocked expression on her face. She sat stiff and trembling behind her desk under big hair dyed coal black, tugging at her sweater, saying nothing, her eyes wide. Her makeup showed badly, clownish over the face that had turned so pallid so quickly.

"They say Lyndon Johnson is okay," the coach said, still listening to his radio. They're saying that he is back in Air Force One with Lady Bird. The President's at Parkland Hospital now. He's still alive, but it doesn't look good. He took a round in the head."
An olive-complexioned wiseass football jock named Flaherty said "You know what Johnson did right before the gun went off, don't you? He held his hands over his ears." The kids laughed, nervous, almost hysterical. It definitely wasn't funny, but Flaherty the bully never was very funny, anyway.
The football coach shot through the door, shoving his transistor into the pocket of his shorts. "Who said that?" he said, outraged. Every eye in the room was on Flaherty. He looked a little bit sick, like he'd swallowed some chewing tobacco or a worm. His ears were turning pink.
Coach grabbed him by the arm and frog marched him out of the room, muttering in his ear.
"Thank you, Coach," the English teacher said. She burst into tears. "This is so scary," she said. "I'm sorry, class; I can't help it." Everyone looked somewhere else except at her and each other.

"Teachers and students please pardon this announcement," the principal said over the public address system. "At this time, the President of the United States has been shot, perhaps fatally. He is being treated at Parkland Hospital, and so is Governor Connally. Everyone will remain in their classrooms until we find out more. I want you to keep them both in your prayers. Remember, the world will be watching what we here in Dallas are doing this afternoon, and I want everyone to be on their best behavior."

You could hear a swelling roar through all the open windows. Kids throughout the school began to talk loudly.
"Class, you will sit at your at your desks and stay quiet," the English teacher said, sobbing. "I want to be able to hear what is said when it is said. If you don't, I promise you, you will be sent to the Principal's office on a misconduct report." She kissed the crucifix on a little chain she had fished out from under her blouse. She was still crying, starting to hiccup. A lot of the girls began to cry, too.

The speaker hanging over her desk gave a loud click and filled the room with vaporous iron electronic noise as the Principal keyed the mike in his office. "Teachers and students, I regret to inform you that a few minutes ago, doctors at Parkland Hospital pronounced President Kennedy dead of a massive gunshot wound to his head. Governor Connally is reported in very serious, critical condition; doctors treating him are fighting to save his life. Judge Sarah T. Hughes has sworn in Vice President Johnson as the President. God help him. At this time, all students are dismissed from their classes for the day. Everyone is to go straight home. The school buses are ready to board as usual at the end of the school day. We will have order; everyone is to remain calm and conduct themselves as befits a time of national tragedy. That is all."

A low, moaning, crackling sound started to swell, then roar with the sound of clapping and cheering up and down the corridors of the school building. The English teacher was quickly jotting down the names of the kids that were cheering in the room, saying "Y'all quit that. Your mamas would be very ashamed of you if they could see you. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. When you come back to school, you're going to see the Principal. Now, y'all git!"
It sounded like she was saying yawl kwee-it and gee-it. Spit was flying out of her mouth. Her features were twisted, flushed red, ugly.
A girl, a black-haired Mediterranean beauty with a very mature figure, luminous skin that glowed from the sun, and smoldering, fiery black eyes said, "Miz Thatcher, they're clapping because they're getting to go home. They want to get home and find out what's happening, don't you see?"
She didn't sound like a girl; she sounded like a woman explaining the actions of a baby.
For a chilling moment, the two women glared at each other, staring each other down. Finally, the young girl lost her nerve and looked out the window.
"Ah don't care why they're a'doin' it, Lizbeth Rossi. It's a sorry stunt to pull, and I'm not goin' to put up with it."
She chewed each word up and spit it out with venom. It was a no shit moment, woman to woman. There was but one dominant female in the room, as it turned out, only one babysitter.
Outdoors, the calm air carried hints of a sweet potpourri of prairie pollen, of wildflowers and juniper and cedar. It was fairly cool weather for Texas; you could feel the sun beating down through the cool air without punishing you, the way it does in the torrid, humid Texas summer.

Sunday morning, gray overcast skies signaled a norther coming. Daddy and Hat Parsons had been sitting up all night playing dominoes, drinking whiskey, banging the dominoes down on the table and laughing loudly at times. All through the night, you could hear them discussing things in low voices, mumbling. Words like communists and Bay of Pigs and Bobby and Hoffa, or well, you know, the old man, old Joe, kept coming up in their conversation, half overheard by the half sleeping household. Hat and Irene had come up from Galveston to visit for the weekend. They had brought a bushel sack of oysters and a bottle of bourbon with them. You could hear them opening the oysters, the shells clattering into a galvanized bucket on the kitchen floor, and from time to time you could hear them ask "How you like them oysters, podnuh?"
You could hear the phrase play hell coming up in the conversation over and over as the dominoes slapped down on the table. Phrases such as Play, dog, and ` play that six-four and get it over with mingled with the discussion of who must have been behind the killing.

All night long, the Victrola played Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller; you could hear Count Basie backing Ella Fitzgerald on "A Tisket, A Tasket," and Big Joe Williams shouting "Every Day I Have the Blues." Louie "Satchmo" Armstrong performed a scratchy recording of "St. James Infirmary Blues" repeatedly.
They would hoist their glasses and solemnly say, "In the Court of St. James's" each time Satch would get finished with the part about giving him the six, six crap-shootin' pallbearers and the red hot jazz band at the top of his head, the twenty dollar gold piece on his watch chain, box back coat and the stetson hat, the chorus girl sending him off with a song. Slow, bitter tears were shed in the whiskey haze of the hours past midnight.
They were through with mixing their bourbon with branch water; they had gotten to swigging right out of the bottle when their wives went on to bed a little after midnight. The two couples were high school buddies from way back; the weekend had been planned as a little reunion, a chance to play "Forty-Two" and "Shoot the Moon," have drinks, catch up on gossip.
Sunday morning, and they'd reached the bottom of the bottle.

The wake, as ancient a rite as any other, was in full swing, reaching its apex. You could feel it; it was a moment, and everyone in the house tiptoed around them very carefully, as if they were wounded lions.
It was a definite time of mourning, a long weekend to get used to the fact that things would never be quite the same any more. President Kennedy was just their age, and a heroic veteran of their war.
"I think I know this old place where we can get us a jug, this old bootlegger with a good understanding on his ass, just a little demijohn, maybe two, good buddy," Daddy said.
"Let me get my hat," Hat said, jumping to his feet and rattling his car keys in his pocket.

They strolled out the door and got in Hat's big old Dynaflow Buick with the four fake Roadmaster exhaust ports in the fenders and the massive heavy metal Detroit chrome smile over the radiator. Both of them had the brims of their fedoras turned up all the way around; they needed to shave, and their clothes were wrinkled. They had dark circles under their eyes, and their faces were whitened from the whiskey sick morning blues.
All the kids were reclining on the floor, watching the black and white television coverage of nothing in particular as the tail end of the horrible weekend unfolded, watching the unblinking eye of the camera as it just waited for something, anything, to happen.

The kid had experienced a terrible nightmare during the night that there was a huge vulture with a television camera for a head staring at the world with a snake in its claws, something like the eagle on the Mexican flag. He'd dreamed he was floundering in waves in a gray video ocean, trying desperately to stay afloat while the vulture with the camera eye watched. He'd awakened in a cold sweat, fear and shame oozing out of his pores, his mouth dry, needing to pee, very thankful he hadn't wet the bed at a time like this.

They kept showing an armored car standing by in the basement of the city jail downtown, waiting for the detectives to bring Lee Harvey Oswald, the dishonorably discharged Marine accused of the killing, down to the garage to transport him to the county jail on Dealey Plaza across the street from where "shots rang out." They kept replaying the footage from the day before of him being led down the hallway outside the homicide office upstairs in a dirty t-shirt, a smoky corridor packed with loud, aggressive reporters shouting questions, his eye blackened and his lip swollen, his hair all messed up. It was a broken record from hell.

"I'm being held in an investigation about the shooting of a policeman," he kept saying when they would ask him if he had shot the President. "I'm waiting for someone to come forward and assist me," he had said, adding, in his New Orleans brogue, that they hadn't aksed him about that.
"That old boy done played hell when he shot that cop," Hat said, stopping to watch on his way out the door.
"He played hell when he got shitcanned out the Corps on bad paper," Daddy had said, repeatedly, through the night. "You let that go down, you're dead, man. They got something for your ass."
"Ah hope to shit in yo' flat hat," Hat said, over and over again.
"You ain't said shit," Daddy would add. "From my time in the Corps, I learned that you really got to work at gettin' yourself a dishonorable discharge out of that outfit. It's gotta be some kinda struggle, y'unnerstand?"
"You reckon that fool done all this here by hisself?" Hat had asked a couple of times. "You don't reckon he had a little h'ep, would ya'?"
"I'd hate to think I had to figure it out," Daddy would say. They would both laugh, even though it wasn't really funny. It was a sick kind of laughing. It filled the air with yellow smoke and angry little red darts you couldn't really see unless you were looking for them.

On the television screen, the flickering video image showed the elevator doors opening and two big old cops in suits and big hats towering over the little nut, leading him out into the middle of the crowd and the circle of television lights, handcuffed to their wrists. They had changed his clothes; now, he was wearing a black jersey that contrasted with the background very starkly under the hot lights. A short, fat man in a black fedora and a sport coat as gray as the televison screen plunged through the crowd, shoved a pistol in his gut, and shot him.
It almost looked like a trap play in a professional football game. It was that sudden and that precise.
Oswald yelled "Ow!" and tried to cover his wound with his arm, but couldn't because of the handcuffs on his wrists and the rigid cops holding him. They laid him down on the floor, and the crowd closed in.
The shot made a loud, nasty cracking sound, and the television correspondent's voice raised in pitch and went crazy as the men in the crowd fought to wrestle the fat man with the gun to the floor and take the pistol away. Their voices roared. You could hear the sound of fists smacking flesh and hard leather shoe soles slapping concrete.

They started to show it over and over again, rolling the tape in a loop; in a very short time, the television reporter began to rave that the man that shot Oswald had been identified as Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner.
Just then, Hat and Daddy pulled up to the curb in the Buick with the manic chrome smile. The kid ran into the front yard shouting "Daddy, guess what. That guy Jack Ruby you used to talk about - he just shot Oswald."
Daddy stopped, startled, looking all around, then glaring at Hat over the top of the Buick, looking over his shoulder. You could see he was about half spooked.
"Say what?" he asked with a vague tone of voice.
"Ruby, Jack Ruby SHOT Oswald," the kid said, his diction expletive and insistent. "They were taking him off the elevator in the basement at City Hall to put him in this big old armored car and take him to the County Jail, and all of a sudden Jack Ruby stepped out of the crowd and plugged him in the belly. Old boy's dead, they say. They had him handcuffed between two big old cops, one on each side, and by the time Ruby got to him, it was too late. They're showing it over and over again on a videotape. It's on TV."

"Who?" Daddy asked, his lips pursed, glaring down at the kid from under the brim of that dove gray fedora with the brim turned up all the way around, his face going whiter and whiter with every whisker of a second. He looked positively sick and getting sicker. He looked like one pissed off lanky Marine with a horse face and a lantern jaw, glaring out of hooded eyes gone wide. You could tell he was shocked, very frightened, trying to process what the kid was telling him, make some sense out of it.
"Ruby. You know, that guy with the strip club next to the bus station you were telling those guys about out at the golf course that time. You know, that Jewish hood from Chicago."
Hood. Jewish. Chicago. Strip club.
The words parroted from the kid's mouth came back at him in a rush. He started to shake his head, snapped his shoulders back, and jutted his jaw. Daddy looked all around again, up and down the block and across the street, and said "I got no idea who you're talkin' about, boy. I don't know any Jack Ruby, never heard of him."
The kid knew he was on shaky ground, but couldn't stop himself. It almost seemed he was in a slow motion dream and couldn't keep reality from rushing along, gathering steam, accelerating.
"I thought you said he..."
"Shut your mouth, boy," Daddy said, looking back at Hat again, handing him the bottle in the long, narrow brown paper sack. Hat looked at him grimly and nodded, as if to say "That's it, old boy, you're telling him the right thing."
"Look here, I don't know what you're trying to say here, but I don't know anybody named Jack Ruby and I never said his name to anyone at the golf course or anywhere else. Is that clear?"
"Yeah, you did; you told Jim Barber and them that this old boy is crazy, he's a gorilla, you said; he'll turn over a can of kickass any old time; he ain't got sense enough to pour piss out of boot, and he..."
"Come on and go with me, boy," Daddy said. He led the kid around the side of the house behind the garage in the Oak Cliff neighborhood on top of the rugged old limestone cedar hill.

When they were out of sight of the neighbors and the rest of the family, he grabbed the kid by the trapezoid tendon over his shoulder, digging into the meat and finding the big sensory nerve. Blue fire pain shot down the kid's arm and chest and up his neck. He nearly went to his knees.
"Look here, son. It's like this. Right now, everybody in the country is scared to death. We don't have any idea what's going on. Somebody shot the President down like a dog. They say this shitbird Oswald did it. They've got eyeball witnesses that saw him shoot this cop over there off Jefferson Avenue, and they caught him trying to hide out in the picture show. They whipped his ass all weekend long, and he ain't talkin', y' hear me?. Now, this here Ruby shot him. Ruby is bad news, he's bad luck; everybody knows it. It looks like they're just right for each other, y' understand?"
"Yes, sir," the kid said, looking down at the toes of his daddy's highly polished two-tone cordovan wingtips and cringing from the pain.
"You know who's listening to you? Do you?"
"No, sir," the kid said.
Daddy kicked at his ankles and gave him a tight, dry little smile.
"How you know some of these people won't pick up the phone and call the cops or the FBI or somebody and tell them about what you're saying? You want to try to explain something like that?"
"No, sir."
Daddy gave the kid's shoulder another shake and said, "I don't think you can explain it, can you? Huh?"

He kept the same dry little smile, and his tone of voice was entirely reasonable. He was the kind of man with experience in the use of hard shoe soles on shins and the action of the edges of hands, elbows and knees on soft flesh.
"No, sir, I can't," the kid said, cringing, raising his hand to try to make him let go of his shoulder and stop the pain.
"Don't you raise your hand up to me, boy," Daddy said, shaking him again like a pup. He had him, and he had him good.
"Well, let me tell you, people get as scared as they are right now, they're about as dangerous as they can be; they turn into a big, angry animal called mob, and they don't need no loud mouth kid running his head about anything. Lyndon Johnson is the President now, and Lyndon will handle it or I'm a monkey's uncle. Now, get your ass back in that house and don't say another word about this here, you understand me? Or anything else. I don't want to hear anything from you for rest of the day but Yes, sir, No, sir, and Do tell!"
"Yes, sir."
"Out-damn-standing! And, hey, get this straight. I ain't never heard of no Jack Ruby, never said a word about him, ever, and I just don't know anything about all this."

He released his grasp on the kid's shoulder with an angry snap that propelled him around the side of the building toward the back yard and uphill on the smooth Bermuda grass lawn to the back door.
In the kitchen, Hat was mixing drinks. He turned an angry, reproachful sneer on the kid when he came into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator to get a Coke.
"I don't think anybody else around here knows nothin' about all this, either, kid. Ain't nobody here said a damn thing. You got me?"
"Yes, sir, Mr. Hat. I understand," the kid said. In that instant, Hat's face turned into a sunny smile when he saw the kid got it, and there was no back chat to listen to. All was forgiven.
In the living room, the television kept playing the grainy gray few seconds of bedrock reality over and over, an unexplained nightmare played out in the broad daylight that kept repeating itself as if it was some white hot, throbbing pain. The kid went in his room and closed the door.

© James Parks Oct 20th 2004

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