More InfoYou ask around enough in the right small town in Texas, and someone will be able to tell you about the James family. Some folks get stuck on one, on the mother or the old lady, or the boy or his boy, but it's the sum of them that makes people remember. It's the drama. It's the love story, the deception, the comeback that everyone roots for.
Once upon a time on a sticky night in August, you could hear Freddy James from anywhere in town if you listened hard enough, just on account of the girls that got to whispering loudly and the boys that took to puffing their chests out like a million balloons inflating all at once. About Freddy James, the old woman would say: "He's asking for trouble, with hair like that. He's got a mouth on him just made for it. Trouble."
Whatever her real name might have been, it was lost when someone first called her Pixie. Hell, maybe that was her real name. About her name, the old woman would say: "Don't you have some cleanin' to go do, boy?"
In a town full of dust and dying grass, yellow as the teeth on the old men who chew tobacco who used to be handsome boys who chew tobacco, Pixie had a mean streak in her that could have cowed any one of those beaten up dogs that got tied up and forgotten on front porches. A favorite story: when she caught wind that her daughter Lily finally got to getting mixed up with Freddy James, her hollering damn near shook the aluminum siding off a whole block of houses. It wouldn't be the last time their love nearly brought the town down.
Time moves slow in a small town, and then all at once, in a blur of illegal fireworks and the sounds of crickets struggling over old rock n' roll music pouring out of tiny houses, sticky in the heat or dried up in the cold. About her daughter getting pregnant, the old woman would say: "Don't you think you're getting away with this, Freddy James, not for a second."
Lily used to talk about getting in the movies, people say, but no knocked-up trailer park Texas girl was ever getting too far from her momma. You ask around in the right small town in Texas, and people will tell you that Lily showing up round as a full moon and glowing twice as bright wasn't rightly a surprise to anybody.
Lily and Freddy James were their Bonnie & Clyde, only most folk still say Freddy had twice the looks of Clyde and about three times the charm.
About her grandson, Sidney James, the old woman would say: "'Least he's not got his father's kicked-by-a-horse looks." Most folk would disagree. The spitting image of the town's celebrity lovers, Sidney James was all dark eyes and dark hair and that's not all, either. Even Freddy's brother, local troublemaker and rumored fruit, Art, couldn't help but wax on about what a family the three made.
On a sticky night in August, you could hear sad little two-week-old Sidney James from anywhere in town if you listened hard enough. About Freddy skipping town, the old woman would say:"Never was any good, that boy. And he broke up her heart, just provin' it." But anyone would swear she was talking about herself, when she said it.
After that, there wasn't much to hold them: the old lady, the mother, and her boy. Dirt and dying grass, the sound of lonely cats and lonelier guitars just couldn't drown out the roar of Freddy James's engine when he drove out of town without a word that August in his old beater car.
Local burnout and rumored junkie, Art, couldn't help but wax on about what was going to happen when his brother finally called, finally wrote, finally came home. You ask around in the right small town in Texas, and you'll find that lots of folk have theories about what happened to Freddy James: he hitched across the United States and was holed up out in the mid-west with a new name growing wheat for some GMO company, or maybe that he'd gotten in trouble with some Mexican drug cartel and was laying low out in Lousiana, trying to drum up rapport so he could run for mayor and secure a new life. The only thing people are certain about, is what happened to Lily James and her boy.
About her daughter moving to Los Angeles, the old woman would say: "She's meant for better things, that girl. Better than this town could ever give her." Anyone would agree that Los Angeles isn't any kind of place to raise a boy, and Pixie didn't mind helping out after a time, no matter what she liked to tell the neighbors on her way into town. Art told stories to the boy about his daddy, just the same as Pixie, and the three of them would read letters from Lily and pass the phone through the house on weekends even when Sidney hadn't learned to say much yet. And every once in a while they'd get a package in the mail from the west coast, a VHS they could put in the T.V. and watch dark-haired Lily James say some poorly written lines, as somebody else.
Once the boy entered school, Lily came home. There's not much talk about Lily James coming home, not in the right small town in Texas or anywhere else. Homecomings are never as special for anyone else, as they are for the people who waited up for it, hoping, Lily liked to tell her boy. But she was sure glad to see his face, anyhow.
About the boy asking for a guitar when he was nine, the old woman would say: "Nothin' more suspicious in children than silence, after all. Boy's not half bad, once you learn to tune it out." Local washed-up rockstar wanna be and rumored good-for-nothing, Art, was a good guitar teacher, and the records he gifted Sidney were only that much better. On a sticky night in August, you could hear Sidney and Art trying to bring that old beater car back to life from anywhere in town, if you listened at all. Couple years gone by, and the girls were set to whispering and the boys were set to puffing all over again.
Sidney James, however, wasn't anything like his daddy, once you saw through those dark eyes and dark hair and that's not all, either. About her grandson, the old woman would say: "He's dumber than a box-of-rocks but Lord if he isn't sweet - when he's not makin' a sour face at least."
Sidney James kept to the girls, but Sidney James kept his distance where it counted all the same, his head full of choice words from his momma and grandmomma at all the wrong moments. You have some pretty thing pressed against you close in the back of the car you and your uncle only just fixed up, and she's pulling your hand under her shirt, last thing you want to hear is the sound of your momma's voice asking you just what in the hell you think you're doing.
Come time for the boy to grow up, and he'd only just barely graduated high school. Local homosexual slacker and rumored drug addict, Art, was the closest he got to a male role model and while Sidney's uncle had a heart as kind and good as any you'd ever seen, heart didn't do much outside the little shack of a dance hall Uncle Art played at every weekend. Sidney couldn't know to want for much more, not until the Army recruiters came to town the last week of school. Duty, honor, seeing the world and being a hero sounded like the best chance Sidney had any sort of a future outside the right small town in Texas.
About the boy joining up, the old woman would say: "Like I said. Dumber'n' a box-of-rocks." And she wouldn't say much else about it, not for a long while.
War changes a man, but Sidney James didn't know that. Women can change a man, too, but it took a time for the words of his mother to stop ringing at all the wrong moments. Either way, nobody saw either war or her on the horizon for Sidney James. Problem was that war is never over for the soldiers, but she just walked away.
First came war.
Sidney may have been First Lieutenant by the time he shipped out to battle, but there isn't a title in the whole force that protects a man against pain, against heartbreak, against losing his mind after he's lost all else. About Sidney being shipped home on honorable discharge after hijacking a tank to drive back to The States and rescue his dyin' grandmomma, the old woman couldn't say much. Buried under six feet of dirt, there's not much anyone can say on the subject, Sidney James least of all.
Then she came.
You spend a while doing odd jobs, drifting through the country on the run from a collection of ghosts while wearing a face too much like the one on Freddy James, and you're bound to meet a couple of slippery women. You play guitar the way Sidney James could, and you're bound to meet your undoing. You have some pretty, dark-eyed thing pressed against you close in the back of the car you and your uncle fixed up over a decade ago, and she's pulling your hand under her shirt, you better pray to God you hear the sound of your momma's voice asking you just what in the hell you think you're doing. About getting the woman pregnant, your momma would say: "Don't you think you're getting away with this, Sidney Montgomery James, not for a second." And you don't want to get away with it, but she does. And she did.
Then she left.
For a little boy, Clayton James handled the demons that lurked in his daddy's head and the ghost of his disappeared momma like it was Sunday brunch and right then and there Lily knew there wasn't a thing alive or dead that could take down this family. You ask around in the right small town in Texas, and every person you meet has a story about what happened to the James boy: killed in combat, every part of him a war hero, or run AWOL to Canada, living under a false name and looking for his runaway daddy whom he blamed for all his hardships in life.
You could easily find them, the two of them, Clay and Sidney, on some interstate between jobs or schools, Clay telling his daddy all about how and why he'd gotten kicked from middle school, high school, boy scouts, band practice, this time. And Clay just kept that beaten up guitar that Sidney couldn't bring himself to sell, and just kept playing it, and just kept getting better, and just kept rubbing it in Sidney's face on those long drives together.
Local bag-of-bones and rumored bleeding heart, Art, had skipped town to head west, some little place called Kalopsia where the trailer felt like home but everything else was a little less sticky come August. About the James boys rolling into town sometime afterward, no one said a word, all dark-eyed and dark-haired and that's not all, either.