Tommy Explained: Album One, Side One, Track Three
Tommy's father, Captain Walker, his wife three months dead, takes a
six-hour train ride to Atlantic City to serve as one of the five judges
for the Atlantic City Pageant. He has no idea how he came to be
involved with the pageant and he has received almost no information on
what he's supposed to do in his capacity as judge. His arms, from wrist
to shoulder, are wrapped in tin foil.
He sits at the end of the table and watches women, each one more
beautiful than his beloved wife, smile at him before ducking beneath
the curtain. He eats so much salt-water taffy, provided free for each
judge, that his jaw aches with the effort of chewing. He fishes a piece
of taffy from his mouth and molds it into the shape of a baby, its arms
outstretched, reeking of peppermint.
Without understanding how or why, he watches as a woman, gowned and
pale, is declared the winner. She receives a golden mermaid, dying on a
rock, the trophy too heavy for the woman to even hold. Captain Walker,
clicking his teeth, thinks the statue should be melted down and recast
so the breasts are smaller. The winner, only sixteen years old, is what
Captain Walker wants so badly that he meets her as she walks off the
stage. As he moves, his arms rumble like thunder.
Her name is Margaret, a beautiful bathing girl, a double for Mary
Pickford. He explains: the dead wife, the baby, the tin foil on his
arms to make him strong. He tells her she is beautiful and she says
that she lives a charmed life. He asks her to marry him and she looks
over at the golden mermaid as if to ask for advice. He is over
optimistic. Someone takes him by his coat and pulls him away from
Margaret, pushes him past the crowd of people and onto the boardwalk.
On the train, he dispenses a dropper full of whiskey into both eyes and
does not wake until he has reached his destination.
Oh how absurd it all seems to him, nearly blind, crackling like static,
pushing open the door to his apartment. He finds his son, Tommy,
exactly where he left him, wrapped in a blanket, smiling, able to brave
bad weather, impervious to the needs of babies. Captain Walker brings
the baby to his chest and the two of them, their eyes unfocused, their
voices muted, unable to hear a single sound, readjust to each other's
presence in a room that could, at any moment, burst into flames.
Kevin Wilson's stories have appeared in Ploughshares, One Story, Juked,
and elsewhere. A collection, Tunneling to the Center of
the Earth, is forthcoming in 2009 from Ecco/HarperCollins.
To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/200811tommy.htm
Photo detail on main page courtesy
of The Germ.
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