The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes: Love Field
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
"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
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
"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,
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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?"
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!"
"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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