It’s been six years since Lewis Jones moved into our neighbourhood, and I still don’t know what to make of him. ‘The strange man,’ they named him, because he always wore camouflage shirts, never shaved and kept to himself, except twice a month on Saturdays when people came to visit, but never anyone from our neighbourhood.
On Thursday mornings, if you happened to be awake around four or five you’d hear his old chevrolet cough and stutter to life, and the engine would stay running for another few minutes while he loaded the car; then he’d drive away.
When I was younger I sneaked out of bed several mornings and hid on the corner at the end of our street where I could see him drive by without being noticed, and that’s how I found out where he’d go to; fishing at the stream below the trail just a few miles up from here; I knew because he’d always have rods in the back seat, and I was certain because there’d always be fish on his barbeque grill when he got lucky.
I was eleven years old the first time he spoke to me, waving me down from his garage as I rode by on my bike.
„Hey, boy! Come here,“ he said. I was a little hesitant at first but he smiled real friendly and motioned me over.
„You wanna earn a few dollars?“
„Sure.“ I said. And he walked into his garage and came back with a brand new lawn mower, and gestured at the entire length of his lawn without saying anything. Then he gave me ten dollars before I even started, and told me there were garbage bags next to the car and I should fill them with the cut grass and leave it there with the mower when I was done. I earned ten dollars every six weeks, and after a year he paid me twenty and never changed the routine; money first, leave the cut grass and mower next to the car. I was the only person in the neighbourhood whom he ever spoke to.
The barbeque only happened when his visitors came, on those two Saturdays in the month. Mr Jones would spend the morning preparing. First, he’d bring out a long wooden table, then came long flat benches for each side, and long padded cushions for the benches. Next came a wooden pallet which he’d place near the table but in the direction of the garage, and he’d place a shiney steel wash-pan on that and fill it with two cases of beer and throw huge chunks of ice on them. After that was done he’d bring out the grill and bags of charcoal, which would always remain near to him at the end of the table. Then he’d go inside, wash his hands and change his clothes.
The visitors would show up around midday, always the same seven people in two cars. A blue Station-wagon brought two middle-aged balding men with beer bellies like Mr Jones, and a muscular woman with short dark hair and average face who liked wearing khaki jump-suits and army boots and laughed really hard while pounding on the table.
The other four came in a purple utility van: a black guy with full beard, small afro and big Elvis sunglasses which he never removed; the other two looked related, same hard features with scars and stringy blond hair with dry skin as if they lived near the beach. And a woman, very tall, good looking, with feathers stuck in her long brown hair, and even though I never saw her up close I knew she had great teeth because the sun would glisten off the enamel each time she smiled, which she did a lot for Mr Jones.
When they arrived, the men would immediately start on the beers and got the fire going, while the women always went inside and returned with things for the table, cloths and mats and utensils and glasses. And meat. Loads of it.
Shortly after the women finished, the Elvis guy would walk to the car and return with a green recliner which he’d set down next to the head of the table, and after that was done Mr Jones would go inside and always return with a brown leather arm-chair which he would place at the head of the table next to the recliner, where the good looking woman would sit until the end. I remember asking Mr Jones why he never puts a chair at the other end of the table, and he told me that’s where his dog sits. I pointed out to him that he doesn’t have a dog, and he looked at me real funny, so I never mentioned it again.
Mr Jones really comes alive at his barbeque, drinking and laughing and talking non-stop with his friends, and he’d show off the fish he caught on Thursdays, passing it around real proud before throwing it on the grill. There’s so much about him I wish to know, so much I wonder about, specially about the little girl on a photo in his kitchen who resembles the good looking woman, but he never talks about her, or anything else; Mr Jones never talks at all; only on Saturdays.
Copyright 2013©A.N Herbert