Old man Jackie had a dry, tacky mouth; made it hard for him to swallow. He worked in a hot shop — you know the name? Hot shop, a name used in the days, call a place a hot shop to say the place makes irons, see? Iron drills, iron arms, and bits, see? Well, Jackie, this man was a hot man with a tacky mouth and not a hair on his head. The heat from his torch burn it straight off. The skin it left there was like wax paper; leave your hand feeling slick with sweat. He had a very unfortunate aspect I tell you, but that’s none his fault. Sure there are other jobs, but poor Jackie couldn’t have been good at much else; he couldn’t read nor write, and he drank more than any man should; but so what? Jackie wasn’t a bad guy, and he sure didn’t deserve what he got.
It was Jackie’s wife, what was his undoing. She chaffed that man like grit on wet tissue paper, and damned if it wasn’t chafing to watch too. Get this; Jackie had these pair of hot shop overalls with these cankerous black chemical burns on them that she can’t stand so every time she come in the shop when me and the boys was around, she’d have him take them off! and meanwhile we’d all be looking at each other dying trying not to laugh — because — God forbid boys you laugh — God forbid! And poor old Jackie just standing their like a made goose at Christ’s eve and that woman of his looking proud as the chef that done prepared him.
I mean, Jackie wasn’t exactly a Summer wind all the time either. I remember he had these thick metal-palmed gloves that he was always tearing his cheek open with, swatting at flies that he used for some innocent humor. One night he takes these in bed with him and just as him and the wife are getting cozy, he slips those bad boys on and hi-ho, gives her a couple of hel-los! . . . But those were all just jokes then.
I don’t know when things really went bad, but they must have fast. We stopped hanging out with Jackie so much. Then he come and tell us he was going on vacation for a month. Two weeks later he’s back alone. He told us his wife was leaving him and he got drunk and he hit her and he left. We were all shocked and I tried to do what I thought was right; I told him he did the right thing. Some of our friends suggested Jackie find out if his wife was okay, but he replied that his wife was fine. That she said she was never coming back. That she said, ‘I’ll never come back to America as long as you live.’
At the time, we all took this to be rather positive news. Jackie was free from his tormenting wife, and after hot, back-breaking labor in the hot shop, Jackie could return to his cool, quiet home and enjoy a glass of chilled water in peace. But Jackie felt ill at ease in his quiet home and he spent more time at the hot shop the week after his strange vacation. One day me and the boys saw that Jackie had gotten thinner, and the cracks in his eyes had darkened and his dry head seemed to have split. When we asked him what was wrong, he only said, “No, no, I’m fine. Just a bit alone is all. Work’s . . .” Then he would fall silent for several seconds and me and the boys would have a good smirk until he would start up again. “Work’s good.”
“Welp,” I’d say, “that’s swell Jackie, but tell us when your coming to the bar again next will you? You give us a hell of a laugh.”
“Right.” He’d say, and shuffle off while we’d have a laugh.
Years later we heard news of a terrible accident in the hot shop where Jackie worked. Me and the boys made our way down to Industry to see what’s to see and hear the tale. The police figure that Jackie had been welding a gate for the new mayor when he suddenly dropped his welder at his feet, without shutting off the flame, then took the emergency hatchet from the glass case, burst all gas pipes that lined the ceilings, removed his helmet, and stood in the middle of the workshop until the place caught. Then, all was all for old Jackie.
I tell you, when we heard this, we were pretty near torn up. Anyway, it’s too bad, you know? He gave us a hell of a laugh.