Editor’s Note: In honor of Johnny Cash’s 80th birthday today, I wanted to share this short story I penned a while back involving one of my favorite songs from the departed legend. Hope you enjoy!
Chris jogged down the connection of alleyways off the main streets full of shops and restaurants on his way for his weekly fix. He knew he would have to give it up one day, but today was not that day. The scorching temperatures of summer had finally cooled off to a bearable, light jacket feel and the rush of chilled air through his wavy, brown hair calmed his nerves as he approached the meeting spot. He took the turn around the final corner when the sounds of a voice near the edge of panic rang in his ears. Taking a few steps backwards, Chris idly watched a young woman engaged with a young man in the tug of war common in a mugging over a purse. It was these types of situations Chris had seen in movies that defined a character forever. The idea of putting off one illegal activity to stop another illegal activity nearly made Chris laugh. He could see the poster now with the “Junkie Has Selfless Moment in an Otherwise Selfish Lifestyle” tagline scrawled across the glossy paper. Not believing he was actually part of this movie script cliché and wondering where the cameras were, he began jogging towards the distressed young woman and her assailant.
“HEY. Get away from her!” Chris shouted, and then adding more movie hero stoicism with a calmer, “I said, get away from her.”
The mugger’s eyes were as huge as Bambi’s probably were as the realization of what was happening to the doe set in as he first turned to see Chris and then scampered off. The plan was to make this little stunt a mere detour. Chris could still meet the dealer in time by rounding the corner at the end of this street instead, but the flash of recognition across the young woman’s face he had just saved struck the chord inside all of us that only plays when we have seen a ghost of a life past.
“Chris?” Jennifer asked to the back of her hero.
“Uhhhh,” he hesitated as he turned around eyeing her shoulder length, almost black hair and small frame, “Yeah. Hi, Jenn. You alright?”
“I’m fine. I just, I mean, it’s you.”
“Yeah, I gotta get going. I’m glad you’re alright. Good to see you or something, yeah, bye.”
Jennifer reached out to grab his forearm, “Chris, hold on. You don’t have to run away again.”
Chris winced at her use of again knowing she meant, like when you disappeared from my life. He didn’t have time for a guilt trip. Today was meant to meet the dealer and go home to pretend to work. He began to make more excuses when Jennifer simply crossed her arms and declared she deserved an explanation. She was right; after all, Chris had up and left her out of nowhere two years ago. So, after a hurried call to his dealer stating they’d have to do it tomorrow, Chris led the way to his spacious apartment with a view of the river. No sooner did they step inside, Jennifer began the Spanish Inquisition.
“You live here? What have you been doing? Where did you get this art?”
“Yes, I live here, I’ve been writing copy at different ad agencies, and I don’t know,” Chris answered with a sigh.
He watched her make the rounds of her apartment as if she were his mother, approving of how he chose to arrange the love seat to the coffee table. Finally, she sat down on the love seat.
“Well, it looks like you’ve been doing well for yourself. I found a job at an advertising firm myself since we talked last. I’m in line for a big promotion.”
Chris nodded his congratulations. He didn’t know what to say to her. They hadn’t spoken in two years, not even Christmas cards. He still had a fondness for her, the kind of sentiment you have for someone who pushed you to the brink of insanity yet still knew how to make your favorite dinner and get you off at night. Jennifer continued the customary ex lover discourse while he gazed out of the giant living room window with a view of the river.
“You look thinner, too. Working out?” she pried.
“Something like that,” Chris answered too quickly.
The silence told him she knew.
“Really, Chris? Still with the cocaine?”
He turned to her and sighed, “Look, it’s not a problem. It gets me through the day. Without it, I’d still be too sad to go to work, pining over your overbearing ass, and I wouldn’t have this apartment, any of the things I have now.”
Jennifer stared at him the way mother hawks stare at trespassers too close to the nest, “You’re the one who left me. I don’t know why I even came here. I saw you and how you helped me and I thought I could get some answers.”
“Yeah, you’re right, and it was because I was sick of this. Sick of having to explain every bit of what I did, how I did it, why I did it. There were so many questions every day, I started to hide things from you. The coke was the only thing that blocked out your nagging. I decided I didn’t want to pretend to hide the coke anymore, so I left. I knew you knew about it even if you refused to say it. I only stayed as long as I did because I loved you.”
It was true. Jennifer knew about the cocaine all along. She didn’t make a big deal out of it because it made Chris more likely to agree to whatever she wanted when he was high. The coke bought Jennifer countless dresses, jewelry, a car, and the final installment of her tuition in graduate school. A part of her felt bad for taking advantage of Chris, but she wasn’t going to say no to free stuff. Besides, he owed her for all the times he came home late, protesting he needed time to himself, whatever that meant. The most annoying Chris ever became was when he played his Johnny Cash records too loud. She would usually just leave for her own night out with the girls. Now, Chris had moved in front of his big screen TV, with his palms resting on either side of his head.
“I was just trying to help someone, not enter a therapy hour. Look, I’m not going to stop. I don’t want to stop,” he struggled to keep from shouting.
Jennifer could see this conversation was taking a turn too far down memory lane. Watching Chris destroy himself for any other reason except her happiness was too much to bear. She wasn’t a part of his life, so there wasn’t anything to gain. There was one question she still had, even after all this time.
“When did you decide to leave?”
Chris smirked, and began to reply with Sunday Morning Coming Down in his best sing-song voice, “Well, I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt.”
As he was about to pick up the rest of the verse, Jennifer stood up and stormed out of his apartment. When the door slammed, his neighbors could hear the howling laughter through the walls.
Jennifer always hated Johnny Cash.
Lauren Mack: Co-founder of The Well Written Woman is an aspiring writer, blogger, and overall enthusiast of brainstorms. She is currently attending Flagler College as an English major with no intentions to teach. Lauren spends a lot of time reading novels and hoping she can one day finish her own. She often wonders how they made blue cheese so delicious. Really, she is just imposing her elitist attitude on everyone. You can find her pennings at her blog and follow her on Twitter.