tom and jimmy

Tom and Jimmy, Jimmy and Tom, Tom and Jimmy, Jimmy and Tom. The mindless jig of their names spun in Tom’s inner ear. Cold sand filtered into his shoe as he walked and then ran to the shore, pushing against the slipping surface of the beach, the treadmill of bad dreams come real.

Typical, so typical, Tom thought, angry as if Jimmy had known he would be there on the deserted beach, had concocted this impossible-to-walk-away-from moment between them. Yet another trap he was made to walk into out of pity and concern. It had been four months since they had last seen each other.

In the car, the dry heat coming up their legs, a bead of snot water was suspended off the high curve of Jimmy’s nostril. A liver spot sprouted on his forehead, the curve of his skull shining through the thin stand of dark and flecked hair left on his head. There was an old man here, who had taken Jimmy’s place, who saw and said nothing, except a weak ‘No’ when Tom suggested the hospital. Tom didn’t recognize the car, a busted white sedan with gray velour seats, the inside of the door carved out into pure frame, internal cabling worryingly exposed. But the mess was familiar. The unrelenting hoard that followed in Jimmy’s wake, yellow carbon paper, piles of rusted tools. The green wrappers of oat bars, a fly swatter with a child’s sandal soldered on at the end. A plastic gecko that lived behind the steering wheel, crap that pooled around Tom’s wet shoes, inducing a claustrophobic itch.

As they sat in silence, Tom kept seeing it. A body in that black flag sea, a head pushed under the waves. That bathing cap the color of a robin’s egg, knowing it was Jimmy. Jimmy, clawing out of the break line. Jimmy, holding himself by the elbows, his skin sagging in heavy ripples, seeing nothing as he lifted his legs high over the surf that slapped and pushed him around, a rough partner. Jimmy, too white fingers gripping Tom’s coat, the rest of him bright red.

Eventually, the old man receded as he began to thaw out, and Jimmy, by degrees, molted into being. This almost mechanical, toy-like activation disturbed Tom. The personality—a spasm in a fickle body. But Jimmy was old and these vulnerabilities lay in a far, far away land, this assurance ran in the back of Tom’s mind, reflexive and nearly unheard.

Now, why had Jimmy gotten into the March sea?

Because of the Russians, hale and hearty, as they dipped into frozen lakes, Jimmy had seen videos on his phone. Because Jimmy was fire type, according to the ayurvedic system––strong, lithe. “Not like you, you’re wind, I can see that.” Yes, Jimmy had said it many times before. An undeveloped body, formless as the wind. Wavering like a houseplant, crooked, tall, leaves sparse on the vine. It all covered up nicely in a sweater, though.

Because he had been practicing breathing with his new friends. Breath was the portal to any way of feeling, it could elevate your ethereal self, it could make you warm. Jimmy demonstrated, taking sips of air through his nose, expelling a hot, gut breath in a throaty hiss.

“So did it work?”

“No, I don't think so. Think it’s meant for ice holes, more.”


“But it can get you high,” Jimmy said, pointing a finger and cocking his head. “Almost.”

Jimmy talked on, his adventures and petty grievances of the past months washed over Tom, and he let the key words stick to his evolving, internal tally. Was Jimmy interesting or was he a loser? Was he worth dealing with or was he a waste of time? Waste of time, it had been decided, because Jimmy demanded so much of it. He was needy. If Tom forgot to lock his door he would find Jimmy inside his home doing laundry. If he remembered he’d get a mouthful, a hurt look, a roll of the eyes. If Tom wasn’t inside his house, if he wasn’t using it, what was the problem with Jimmy using it, what was the problem with helping out a friend? That kind of logic, Jimmy wrapped people up in it not because it made sense but because it required too much of another person––being mean. Would require, “I don’t want to see you when I get home, I don’t want to see you at all. In fact, I don’t want to help you out because you ask for help too much.” Sensible talk and pointed silence bounced off of Jimmy, innocent and manipulative as a child who could understand nothing but “Yes.” So people made excuses. Tom blamed it on his wife Paloma. She had been so pregnant then, he could say “Jimmy I get it but it’s up to her right now” and Jimmy could accept that a pregnant woman might make no sense.

Still, that old affection for Jimmy bloomed a bit as Tom listened. When Jimmy was good he could be so entertaining, so funny and even wise. But it wouldn’t last. Tom gazed out of the window, across the parking lot to his own car, with his groceries in it that represented the girls waiting for him at home, already so late. Jimmy tapped him on his knee, noting that Tom had become disengaged.

“I got to go Jimmy, I got to go to the baby. I’ve got ice cream in the car.”

“It’s cold out, are you kidding, it’s colder in that car than in your freezer.”

“You’re right but I still gotta go.”

“One more thing, because didn’t I tell you yet? About that spring?”

Someone on the reservation had told Jimmy about a spring in the forest where their people used to harvest healing water. The ground still gave it up, it could be found. Tomorrow, by the light of the full moon. Tomorrow? Oh, tomorrow would be hard, said Tom. But another time.

“Well I don’t know if I’ll be able to find it another time,” Jimmy said, gambling, pushing, because he couldn’t help it. “Come on Tom, I know you’ll like it.”

Tom was about to say fuck no, as in, some version of I can’t and it’s not my fault. But Jimmy, hopeful and vulnerable, looked an old man again.

It was with a promise that he would accompany Jimmy into the forest that he was let free, into the wild wind.


Tom and Jimmy met on the road, late spring of last year. He and Paloma had moved out East just a month before. The moment the weather turned he left pregnant Paloma behind, napping on the couch with the sliding door ajar and the screen door shut, wind chime sound coming in. A sound that only came with the warm weather, Tom didn’t know why.That chime, the bit of light on Paloma’s sleeping face played and mingled with the light dappling on the asphalt, the rushing white line, the thicket that evolved as he biked past, widening out into branching roads and narrowed back down into leaf litter.

At a red light, unshaded, Tom had one foot on the pavement, close to a hot and rattling truck, spewing out its garbage. Tom was looking at the shadowed faces of the young migrant workers inside, listening to their music, swigging a bottle of Gatorade when a bike ripped by. Before getting trampled in the oncoming traffic the biker, an older man, made a tight loop, getting into between the cars before turning towards the field, off the road into the weeds and grass and back again. The biker made his circuit a couple more times and was off across the road a beat before the light changed.

Tom spent the last two miles to the ocean looking at the biker, his sloped, thick torso, the powerful pump of his legs. There was no other view to be had because Tom couldn’t pass him. But he made a pact with himself that he should at the very least keep up with this man who was probably twenty years his senior.

They met panting, leaning their bikes against a high, tight hedge that bordered someone’s ocean view mansion, merry pale shingles and a brick chimney coming through the shrub’s woody gaps, a gravel path and shiny car. They shook hands, Jimmy introduced himself. Tom noticed he was handsome for his age, with dark, hooded eyes, made longer by crows feet, a powerful body.

“I saw you trying to keep up, man, but you can’t,” Jimmy said, they laughed. “But it’s not your fault.”

Jimmy propped his foot up on his knee and knocked on his glossy and hard shoe, with something on the end that could clip into the pedal. “So everytime I pull up my leg it’s working double for me.” Tom said he knew all about them but was too chicken to try it.

“I want to be able to bail, you know? If something happens.”

“No, no, you’re a young man,” Jimmy said. “How big is your foot?”

Jimmy took Tom to a side road and watched him make wobbly circles. At one point the bike started keeling and Jimmy shouted, “Toward the grass!” It had been a long time since he had fallen, and he felt like a kid, shocked to be hurt, to be scraped up. Jimmy hustled over and got him right again. Tom made a move, made a sound, suggesting he had had enough of this. He reached for the shoes and Jimmy brushed his hands away, “No, no, no, come on man, stop it.” Jimmy’s mocking encouragement had become just a degree too insistent.

Who was this stranger to touch him, to tell him what to do? Tom looked at Jimmy hanging above him, the sun just behind him. He felt foolish and angry for a moment, then the fear came, the fear that comes with realizing you’ve been left alone with somebody who might not be normal. He could’ve walked away at that moment, taken a slow, careful moment to extricate himself out of the shoes. But he let Jimmy set him right, and Tom pushed forcefully on the pedals, one, two, three, setting off on the road. Jimmy cupped his hands over his mouth.

“Alright, now take it over to your bike, park it there, I’ll catch up!” Tom looked back, and saw the old man chasing him, smiling.


Tom liked Jimmy a lot, delighted at first by the endless barrage of Jimmy’s insults, doled out under the guise of helpful advice. Delighted by his strength, the wild strength of a child’s grip, his constant movement. Jimmy wished to live like Native Americans, and said that his family was native of a different kind, and that it all made sense. Everything did. Life was a coat that you shrugged off at the end, and Jimmy could cry at the sight of a tree. He found his work as a landscaper endlessly engaging, and loved to pet the earth. Jimmy was something like a playmate, and they spent a summer picking ticks off the back of each other’s knees. Paloma thought it was something to do with his father, with masculinity, something to prove about his newfound wealth, that he wouldn’t just chuckle on golf greens like an asshole forevermore.

Nothing was so good as those first couple of weeks, getting taught clamming with his toes and shucking scallops, sifting through goose shit marsh water up the estuaries to see all the beautiful things Jimmy had to show off. Nothing was so good as Jimmy generous, but his stamina existed in direct relation to its intensity, and soon he became demanding, stingy. He asked for favors all the time, and Tom found that if he got in his truck he might not escape Jimmy’s clutches even if he asked, even if it was Paloma calling, work, how much reaming he’d gotten waiting in the cab of Jimmy’s truck, waiting to be dropped off back home, always imminent but in the end hours late. Tom’s basement became overflow for Jimmy’s things, and his driveway held one of Jimmy’s trailers. If there was space in the basement why couldn’t Jimmy use it, if there was space in driveway? If there was a seat at his table? In the backseat? If Tom had a few hours in the day why couldn’t they be Jimmy’s? Just a ride to Costco and back because someone had his truck today, help with his computer, because Tom was a computer wizard. Watch some tapes he had found about how to write a will. Why not split wood if he was really a friend? If he wasn’t like everyone else in this town? Because didn’t Jimmy work hard all day long in the dirt and no one thanked him, no one looked him in the eye? Didn’t he chase millionaires down with invoices and sit in their nice cars while they counted each hour? And didn’t they only like him in their house to fix the toilet and clean out the gutter?

Paloma said blame it on me. Tell him I’m crazy and I’m a bitch and I don’t want to find him in my house and I don’t even want to be alone with him, honestly. Tell him I need space, that maybe after the baby comes he can stop by and he can say hello. Tom tried. Jimmy said I just need one more favor. He was hurt and he needed help right now.

Jimmy lived in a shaded and tangled spot in between two oversized, cottage style mansions. The property was ringed by a hedge of half-dead trees that Jimmy had rescued, and coming up the dirt driveway, Tom took in the junk that dotted the yard and became more concentrated around the house. There was a nest of broken rakes next to the woodpile, a cracked sink with a bit of green water in it, old farming equipment, and small appliances. There were whole tables of things, covered in blue tarp. If anything there had once been worth saving it was all ruined now. Jimmy should clear it out, all of it. The house itself was one story, tiny, covered all over in damp, dark shingles, nearly black now, with the rain coming down in earnest. Jimmy’d told him once that he had lived there with his mother for a long time, and Tom believed it from the smell of old woman and doilies. Just the two of them in the dark, it must have been torture.

Tom saw Jimmy through his windshield, tugging the tarp off the back of his truck’s bed with one arm, giving Tom a big, familiar smile when he noticed him.

“Check it out,” Jimmy said, unfurling some of the gauze that was taped to his forearm. It was bright and deep, immediately making Tom nauseous.

“Oh, Jesus.”

“A nail, yep, just caught me, shwip, up my arm.”

“You went to the hospital right, you got a tetanus shot?”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s fine,” Jimmy said, flapping his hand. “Okay lookey here,” and with a clang, the back of his truck opened up, the tarp unfolded.

“Jimmy, you’ve got to be kidding me. This is worse than barbed wire.” The fence was cracked and jumbled, full of nails and threaded through with rusted metal wire, like an angry giant had taken the whole thing into his hand and gently pulverized it before depositing it into the truck.

“We’ll put on some gloves, 20 minutes it’ll all be over.” But Jimmy kept getting distracted. He went to hunt down the gloves and ended up rooting around in his garage, dragging things out into the yard and making strange piles. “What a fricken mess!”

It was dark when they got the last of the fence into the wood that bordered the house, working in the headlights of the truck. Tom shuffled in Jimmy’s rain boots, too big, and wet on the inside anyway. His hands were scratched up and his pants, his shirt, everything was covered in mud. He vowed not to get caught in one of Jimmy’s chores again, it always turned out the same way, it always took too long, painstaking, overly difficult. And he’d missed about five calls from Paloma.

“I’d invite you to kick up your feet here but I can tell you don’t got much left in you, huh?”

“Well, wait, don’t we need to cover this up?”


“Jimmy, it’s gonna get all wet.”

“This isn’t for fire, Tom, no, it’s all wet and rotted through. I’m just gonna let the bugs take care of this one.”

“Oh my god. Why didn’t you just leave it where you found it then?”

“You gotta be a little crazy to be sane in a crazy world, brother,” Jimmy said, guiding Tom back to his car. “You know what a landfill is? Imagine five, ten football fields worth of dug up earth, and the whole thing is lined with plastic, and we fill 'em up and close it tight. And the whole thing is guarded like a prison, and they got these little sprayers so no one smells how bad it is. And meanwhile, in that pit there’s no air, no bugs, it turns back on itself. It’s like the most evil thing, instead of garbage turning into dirt it turns into poison, it’s pretty literal. Ever heard of leachate? It’s evil. It hurts me, I see something that wants to fade back into the earth and be good, and that its soul is going to be so warped, it hurts me, I can’t look away man, I can’t.”

Tom thought the world would be better off if everyone was like Jimmy. But that as much as he wanted to be, he wasn’t cut out for the better world.


They met at the sandy edge of the reserve, the air balmy and out of season. It was almost night. They entered at the trail opening and Jimmy quickly led them off the path. It was the last hour of twilight, when the sky is bright and dark and blue, the trees black and tall. It had been a night like this when they brought the baby home. As Jimmy led them deeper into the wood, the memory of that night came back.

That blue was all inside the house. The baby was in her crib. Tom and Paloma were holding hands, sitting on the couch, resting, when they heard someone coming up the basement stairs. They turned around and saw the knob turning from the inside. The basement where Jimmy’s hoard was, his second or third hoard, who knew how many he had? But in this one, in Tom’s home, it was five bikes, all broken, that Jimmy insisted he could fix and more crap like that, one day things. Of course it was him coming up the stairs but they didn’t know it at first, Paloma torn up and weak and running to the baby’s room. Ruining their first night together.

Tom threw it out, all on the lawn, he gave Jimmy a two palmed nudge to the chest and he landed next to a bike with its wheel spinning. “How many times do I have to tell you? To leave me the fuck alone?”

Tom had felt bad about it, and Jimmy had gone around all over town telling people Tom had anger issues, that he felt bad for him and that of course, being a pacifist, seeing Paloma and the baby, he’d not retaliated to the shove that in the retelling became something more. It was daddy bear instincts, Jimmy told people, but he should resolve those issues now because his baby daughter wouldn’t be so understanding like Jimmy was, if Tom didn’t get it checked out.

These were the bits and pieces Tom heard and everyone sided with him, everyone knew what a piece of work Jimmy was. Tom felt back in civilization after that, and he hadn’t spoken to Jimmy again until that day on the beach. Now here they were together again and he was regretting it.

“Mud,” Jimmy said, tapping Tom. “Let’s follow the mud.”

The mud got wetter, deeper, ringed with plant life. Then it was less mud and more water. Tom had never seen a spring, had never seen the place where water came out of the ground. It seemed ridiculous, but eventually, there it was, by stone and jeweled moss, burbling. They knelt at its edge. Jimmy held back Tom’s hand.

“No brother, not with your hands.” Jimmy bent to drink with his mouth, and Tom did the same. They sat up, looked at eachother.

“It doesn’t taste like anything.”

“Isn’t that amazing?” It was. It was pure and cold and he felt cleaner for having drank from it. Jimmy stretched his hands to the darkening sky. “Thank you god!”

They ran and were happy. They ran like horses up the hills and like goats chittering over rock and tripping root. Then it was enough, just breathing deeply and listening to the ocean, which was close but not visible. Tom noticed before Jimmy, a stone in his heart growing and growing, that perhaps they were lost. Jimmy told him not to worry, that in the worst case they could go toward the beach and find the trail from there. But the light that had guided them, the fat yellow moon, seemed to fade in rapid clicks.

Tom was stumbling more and more but Jimmy seemed so sure-footed. And then Tom stepped into something that was quite deep, his foot sunk, and then another. Very quickly, he was up to his calves, and then his knees, like a horse with a broken leg he thrashed, panicked, tried to get up and made things worse. He called out to Jimmy, who had pressed on, not noticing. Now Jimmy walked back, calm, with his hands in his pockets, then squatted down next to Tom.

“What’s this?” Jimmy said, “Whoa, looks like quicksand.”

“Since when, I mean, is that real?” Tom said, lifting his arms high, not moving. “We have that here?”

“You’re in it man, that’s pretty real.”

“Give me a hand, Jimmy, I think when I move it gets worse.”


Tom looked over at Jimmy.


“What what? Oh, it’s not so nice when someone thinks twice about helping you, right, that’s not nice?”

“Jimmy, come on…”

“Now you’re in my house and you want a little help. You really hurt me, brother, When you locked me out of your house. I thought we were closer than that. You think–”

“I’m sorry–”

“You judged me. But you don’t know anything. You don’t know anything at all,” Jimmy said, hanging over him, just something darker, close, with a breath that hit Tom’s face. “It takes taking to live with the takers, Tommy, it takes taking.”

Shanti Escalante De Mattei is a staff writer for ARTnews and soon to be doctoral candidate at NYU.
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