Tonight, part II of my short story "Things Were Better Then."
Earlier that week, Jojo seemed to get in everybody’s way. No matter where he went or what he did, somebody always had a reason to frown and talk sharply at him. Not that this was unusual. It just seemed to be that this was the way everyone always was with him. He would listen when someone was talking sternly to him, he would smile, and after they were done he would nod his head enthusiastically and move on his way. But this seemed to make people even more mad. They said he wasn't listening.
It was Wednesday morning, in the summertime, and Jojo had been wandering around the house not knowing what to do. He might have watched television, but his father forbade that. Jojo’s father thought Jojo was overly active and that it was because he watched “so much damned teevee.” He might have gone outside, but his Father forbade that too, because he kept finding ways to get in trouble with the neighbors. This particular morning, Jojo was grounded for something he did the day before, a something he could not remember much about.
Jojo’s father loved reading the paper every day. He did not go to work because he had hurt his back, and was getting compensation. Jojo’s mother was accountant for Z’s, the biggest store chain in the country. Most Moms didn’t work, but ever since the war, as she would say to Jojo, she had been a career woman, and people could deal with it or go away. Her job kept her out and about far more often than she was in and around, which meant that Jojo got to spend a lot of time with his Dad. To Jojo, this meant there was a whole lot of opportunity for fun. Jojo loved playing with his Dad, and always found his reactions to be funny.
For something to do, Jojo went into the washroom and stared into the mirror. He looked at his big head and small neck. He opened and squinted his brown eyes at his reflection. He put his hands in different holes and tugged and pushed to see what his face would look like. Then he took colorful ribbons and hair ties out of his mom’s basket, and tied his long brown hair up in different ways. Some lipstick was lying around, so he tried some of that on as well. Then he grabbed his big ears and flapped them up and down, while making different animal noises. When he was flapping his ears and snorting like a pig, he couldn’t help but start laughing and fall off the toilet seat lid.
Next was the hall closet, where his mother kept all her different coats, shoes, hats, scarves, gloves, and boxes of old clothes. He put on the huge brown fur coat, and had to pull with both arms to get it into the hallway. Then he grabbed different winter coats and piled them on top, until the pile was as tall as himself. Moving away from the closet, he grabbed a chair, brought it over, climbed on top of it, spread his arms, and jumped into the pile of coats.
After the closet, he moved to the kitchen and began rifling through the drawers. He picked up and threw away some knives, some scissors, cloths, bowls, and many other things. He was holding a large glue bottle in his hand, which he had found in his father’s utility drawer, when he heard the loud thump of the morning paper hitting the front door. Jojo smiled, giggled, and ran to get the paper.
The first thing Jojo’s father does every morning is to walk into the kitchen, put on a pot of coffee, and read the paper while waiting for the coffee to brew. Jojo heard the thump of feet hitting the floor upstairs, and heard the shuffling steps approach the hall and walk down. He figured it would be a good time to leave, so he scampered out of the kitchen and into the basement, where he found his box of giant stuffed toys to hide in.
From the basement, Jojo giggled when he heard his father curse after tripping on the coats he’d left in the hall. Some more curses as his father found the kitchen drawer open and all the utensils on the kitchen floor. Then there was the bang of a cupboard door opening, and the sound of a running tap, and a minute after that, the feet shuffling again. Jojo tensed as he heard the chair scrape a bit on the floor as his father sat down.
Jojo’s father didn’t seem to think that finding the newspaper with all its pages glued together was funny in the least. He was, in fact, about as humorless about it as one can get, and straight away walked down into the basement, over to the pile of giant stuffed , and stuck his hand past a giant elephant, pulling his son out with an iron grip on the front of his pyjamas.
Jojo’s father didn’t give him a lecture, just dragged him upstairs and stood over Jojo while he put back every little thing he had dropped or thrown about. He made Jojo scrape the glue off the cutlery he had glued to the table, and then he walked Jojo up to his bedroom, and watched quietly while Jojo went and took out his piggy bank, and shook fifty cents into his palm.
Jojo was told to go straight to the store to get a paper and bring it back, which he went and did. When he got back, his father grabbed the paper, grunted, and told Jojo to go to his room and read for a couple of hours. Every once in a while Jojo would hear his father call out, asking him what he was doing, and Jojo would always tell him he was reading. His father would yell back that he was going to go to hell for his lies, and that his mother was at fault for raising him as a damned Catholic.
* * *
I remember the Police Chief , Ronald Brown, being a fair minded fellow as I saw it, for his force was half Catholic and half Protestant. The Chief himself was Protestant, but he was a true Christian, and didn’t fault any of the papists for being what they were. He was also a real stickler for unity, and always made sure his boys stuck together. Whether they were an Officer Smith or an Officer O’Malley, they all went together over to St. John’s Presbyterian Church every Sunday. Indeed, not a single Officer attended Mass in the fifteen years Brown was Chief. It wasn’t because he had anything against them Catholics, just that he wanted his boys all to stick together.
Today the Police don’t go to Church for the most part, and most of them don’t even live here in Norton, ever since the town scrapped its force and brought in the OPP. Used to be you could call an Officer by name and know the man, just as he would know you. Now it’s just Constable Whozzit and Staff Sergeant Wossname, and when they stop you, they wouldn’t know you from a Chinaman off the boat.
Now, Saturday night was when the lottery numbers were drawn. Most people in Norton bought tickets, stayed up for the draw, and went to bed saying that next time would be the one. This one Saturday in particular, I can’t quite recall the exact date, was that next time for Chief Brown. The ironic part about it was that to him playing the lottery was perilously close to being a sin. Close enough as made no difference to him, at least. But when the prize is high enough, and you have recently gone and made your wife mad, there is not much a man can do or say to keep said wife from marching off to buy a ticket just to spite you.
Well fate and the Lord work in mysterious ways, and when Chief Brown finally went to bed that night, it was because he was too drunk and too happy and too exhausted from celebrating luck and the Lord to stay awake any longer. When he awoke, it was to phone the Station and talk to his deputy to tell him he had just got himself a promotion. Chief Brown was now just Ronald, and he wasn’t going to waste a single moment longer dealing with papists, vagrants and other miscreants. He and his wife were going away, and t’hell with the rest.