Eminent Domain: 8, Jack Stuckey

 

8 Jack Stuckey
Wednesday morning, Feb. 10, 1988

The dented blue and white pickup with a plow on its front was still pushing snow across the Mister Donut parking lot at a quarter-till-seven when Jack Stuckey slogged through the slush that was left behind. Inside the glass doors, he slipped on the wet floor and slid up to the counter. The cute little blonde that he always flirted with when he bought his morning coffee looked apologetic. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “We just can’t keep up with the slush this morning. We might as well not even have a rug there, it’s so saturated.”

On cue, the sullen teen-aged boy, who sometimes washed dishes and toted around buckets of donut filling, made his way out to the front with a mop and a bucket.

“Don’t put any more water on that floor,” shouted Vic from the back. “I’ve got a dry rug back here. Roll up that wet one, and toss it out front on the concrete.”

The teenager, who wore a spiky red Mohawk and a baggy black Metallica t-shirt, moved his head back and forth in mocking imitation of the boss’ voice. He looked up and saw Jack watching him and grinned sheepishly.

“A good attitude is everything on days like this,” Jack lectured him. “Hey, you’re doing great by even being here this early.” He looked at the girl behind the counter, who just yesterday had started wearing a name tag that identified her as Misty. “What am I doing here this early, Misty? Isn’t this a great day to sleep in?”

She smiled. “It wasn’t hard for me to get here, I just live down the street.”

“Yeah, also a good day to walk,” Jack agreed.

“And it wasn’t hard for him to get here — his dad drags him.” She glanced back at Vic.

“How about my usual coffee? And a half-dozen sugar-raised as a treat for a snowy morning? Get yourself and this hard-working young man here his choice too.”

Vic came out from the back, shouldering a new, dry rug. “Hey Jack,” he said. “No feeding my good-for-nothing help until he’s done his job.”

“This your boy, Vic? We’ve not been introduced.”

“He only works here when there’s no school. Josh, say hello to Jack, and then avoid him like the plague — he’s a lawyer and…”

“No lawyer jokes this morning, Vic. I’m not in the mood.”

“I s’pose you saw the headlines.” Vic had set down the dry rug, and he and his son were muscling the sopping rug out the door. He looked up. “Wouldn’t do to have a lawyer slip and fall in your establishment.”

In spite of himself, Jack grinned. “You got that right, Vic. You’d better get that dry rug down before the next customer comes in and falls right in front of me.”

Misty put the white donut bag and the coffee in front of him, and Jack pulled out a ten dollar bill. “Keep the change, Misty. Put it in your college fund.”

There was a folded up morning newspaper on the counter that someone had left behind. “Mind if I take this?” Jack asked.

“Didn’t you read it already?” Vic asked.

“Yeah, I did. But I’m feeling like I might need another copy of this today. You know, one for home and one for the office.”

Vic grunted. “Glad I never bought that house I was looking at on 592.”

“Well,” Jack said, “if you had, you might be out of a house soon.”

“Didn’t you grow up out there?” Vic asked.

“I did.” Jack said. “I sure did.”

#

He leaped over a pile of snow, jaywalked across the street, and headed over to his office, just a few blocks away in one of the stately Victorian houses on the opposite side of the town square from the courthouse. The location was great, but his office was upstairs and not easily accessible to anyone older or in a wheelchair. He sometimes had to meet clients somewhere other than his office. Compared to being so close to the courthouse it was a mild inconvenience, but the second floor location made the office more affordable for a young attorney who didn’t particularly like remembering that he had law school debt to pay.

He sat down at his desk and unfolded the paper to read between the lines of Clancey’s editorial for the third time while he drank his coffee. Not far into his coffee and donut, his attention wandered — to the house where he grew up — to his dad — to Mary and Rufe — to the road in question — to remembering that time before, when, as a six-year-old kid, he was terribly afraid of losing the only security he had. Twenty-five years later the memory of sitting at the top of the stairs listening to shouting in the room below, still brought a visceral clutch to his stomach.

He could hear Mary’s distraught voice, cutting high into the general male voices when she asked, “But, Allen, are they really goin’ to listen to us? Who are we? We’re mostly nobodies with no money and no clout.”

Rufe, her husband, had scolded her gently, “Hush, Mary. Allen here is the County Commissioner. And we have all three of them on our side.”

It was enlightening to six-year-old Jackie to know that others thought his dad had power too. The next day at Mary and Rufe’s for breakfast, he and Mary were alone as usual. His dad had walked him over before he left for work, and Rufe was long gone for work. Mary was fixing him a dippy egg and toast, and he was watching the steam droplets meander slowly down the windows. The windows were crying, and suddenly he was aware of his fear of losing her, losing Rufe, losing his dad. “Mary, where are we going to go if our houses get tooken?” he had asked. He cried then, and she turned to scoop him up to her. They sat at the kitchen table, and she held him tight, rocking him back and forth. “We aren’t goin’ anywhere, and no one is goin’ to take our houses,” she assured him. “Your Dad is fightin’ for us, and we know what a fighter he is, don’t we?”

Her other words of comfort were lost in the clouds of time, but the smell of the warm breakfast kitchen, her bacon-scented apron, her ample arms around him, the crying windows — it all spoke to him of home.

The phone startled him back to 1988.

“Jackie?” Mary’s voice was unforgettable.

Incredulous, he answered her, “Mary! I can’t believe it’s you. I was just here in a reverie about my days in your kitchen, and you interrupted it with this phone call! I can’t believe it, Mary,” he laughed. “You never call me.”

“Well, you never call me either,” she chided him. “Jackie, I’m sure you’ve read the papers.” Her voice was loud — as if she had never learned that shouting into modern phones wasn’t necessary.

He smiled to himself as he held the receiver away from his ear. “How about a visit, Mary?” he asked. “Can you still make dippy eggs?”

She snorted into the phone. “I guess I have to call you and beg you to visit me these days,” she complained. “You know you don’t have to ask. We’re always here. But Jackie, there’s a lot of snow. The boys are shoveling the driveway now, but be careful when you pull in.”

“Right, I’ll be out in about a half-hour,” he said. “Do you need anything?”

“No,” she said, and her loud voice trailed into something softer. “Jackie, you know about Rufe…”

“Yes, Mary, I know.”

“Well, he’s worse than the last time you saw him,” she said. “I’m just warnin’ you.”

“Would he like some store-bought doughnuts, do you think?”

He could feel her smile over the phone. “I reckon he would,” she said.

“Done,” Jack said. He hung up the phone with new energy. A visit with Mary was just what he needed on this bleak morning.

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