He sat at the bar cradling his beer and wondering why the jukebox had more friends than he did.
If he was really being honest with himself, he was never, what you’d call, a popular guy; an acquaintance here or a guy you nodded to there, was probably the best way to describe his socialising strengths.
People respected him, he didn’t doubt that fact, but he couldn’t see respect bringing that many to his funeral, not that he planned on dying, no sir, not for a very long time, but still the hurt did go deep.
When did all this other craziness start?
He had been going over that thought again and again until he was beginning to drive himself crazy. Had there been signs sitting right out there in plain sight with no one even seeing them?
He could feel through the beer glass it all starting again, the vibrations; small waves on top of the beer causing it to foam up, as if a half mile long train full of cargo was passing just outside the bar. But there wasn’t a rail track for miles and the road only saw one or two cars an hour, if that.
So he held the glass tight.
“Jeez, Jethro are you okay? You’re gripping that beer like your life depended on it.”
Jethro loosened his grip and smiled back at the barman.
“Guess you’re right Dan. Just thinking, that’s all.”
He left a tip on the counter, threw his jacket over his shoulder and walked out into the evening heat. It was growing dark as he drove onto his driveway where he failed to notice the flickering street light swinging above him. When Jethro entered the house, all the commotion stopped.
He walked down the hallway just as the telephone started ringing but something told him it was a cold call from an east coast building company, so he just plain ignored it. The little thoughts helped him at times. Like last Easter when he was driving through that blind junction on Madison Street and something told him to press the brake. He had no idea why he stopped but just then some old Chevy came blasting out of Jefferson Lane and it would have split Jethro’s car in two if had he driven straight on.
Now Jethro was never a religious creature you understand, but he always had a hankering that there was
something else out there, some truth to the whole universe that kept folks in check.But all these things that were happening to him were unsettling, especially since he didn't go out looking for them. “Just getting by” was his way in life and had anyone bothered to be his friend, well they would have known that too.
These days he had trouble sleeping and not just with the usual bad thoughts that crawled around in most men’s minds. Things happened to him in the night, strange things, like at 1am every morning the telephone would ring and when he answered it, no one would be there. Right after he put the ‘phone down , the smoke detector, that lay on the floor, would start beeping until he picked it up. The thing didn't have any power for crying out loud.
Now don’t get him wrong, these weren't ghosts or any kind of haunting. Jethro didn’t believe in such things. No, if someone worked that hard at life ( and Jethro felt everyone should get an award for just getting through a single day) then they weren’t going to hang around afterwards, not when they’d just been promoted - so ghosts were definitely out of the question.
One night he had this thought about an airport and so he switched on his computer. He looked at the flight arrivals and noticed that one of them from South America was delayed and he knew right there and then that the flight was never going to land. Not ever. Some technical fault over Brazil had been the reason for the crash.
On Saturday nights if he didn't go down to the bar, he’d sit and watch the lottery show on the television. Without thinking he’d say a number out loud and what do you know? That number would be chosen. If he tried to concentrate on it, it never happened.
So one Saturday towards the end of the month, when his funds were getting real low, he put on a lottery ticket - he chose only four of the numbers he could hear in his head - well he didn’t want to peak too early, you know how it is?
He won a couple of hundred, just enough to pay one or two bills and get by until his next pay day. At least that was the plan, but by Wednesday he was already thinking about the next lottery draw. So even although he still had money in the house, he put on five winning numbers and this time it was several hundred thousand he won. He called the lottery people direct so that no one local would find out.
He drove into the big city to pick up the money but somewhere at the back of his mind he was wishing that he had got the numbers wrong. Jethro decided that the money wasn’t his to keep, it had only been an experiment after all, a successful one nonetheless, but he’d proved a point.
He got the bank clerk to put the cash into two bags – half the amount in each – and decided the first place to start was the Church half way along Main Street.
A pleasant middle-aged woman let him in.
“I’ll just tell the Reverend you're here. Have a seat please. Can I get you something to drink? Coffee? Tea?”
“Coffee is good.” Jethro was slightly nervous.
The woman smiled and left Jethro with the thought that this was probably the Reverend's wife. The room was in the process of being dragged from one century to another. There was garish pink flock wallpaper in a room of furniture that spoke of a more modern taste.
So two things startled Jethro that afternoon, the woman brought a large pot of coffee, two cups and a plate of cakes. She placed them on the table and sat beside him.
“So how can I help you?”
“I’d rather wait for the Reverend, if it’s all the same.”
“I’m she, the Reverend.”
“But you said....”
“That I’d tell the Reverend you were here? I was just trying to stop you running.”
“A lot do that?” asked Jethro.
So they talked, in fact they talked for a good two hours and Jethro told Maureen, the Reverend’s name, all about the strange things that were happening to him.
“You’re not stressed in anyway?” she asked.
He wasn’t and the question annoyed him. How could she dismiss his strangeness, yet spend her life promoting a strangeness of her own. He was sure his experiences were nearer to religion than she was willing to accept.
He left her the money but she needed convincing that he wasn’t a dealer, or a robber or insane. This he did.
“It could be lots of things causing this” said Maureen. “It could be weather conditions or it could be something electrical in you. It might even be God working in a mysterious way as he’s want to do. It could be a million other things as well.”
And that was really all she had to say on the subject. Except when Jethro mentioned that she might use some of the money to fix the room up. She said the money would be put to good use as the flock wallpaper was expensive and so she was decorating real slowly. She couldn’t wait to get rid of all that modern furniture. That was the second thing that surprised him that day, she was transforming the room back the way. His power, whatever it was, wasn’t infallible.
He walked along University Street with the second bag of cash but was hesitant about who he should talk to. He read off the different faculties, some he dismissed immediately, some he played with in his head for a while. In the end it came down to Philosophy, Physics or Mathematics and as the first department that he approached was Mathematics, he settled on them.
He told the receptionist that he wanted to make a donation and within five minutes he had been whisked into the Dean’s office and another cup of coffee pushed in front of his face. He explained that although he was happy to donate to the faculty, he wanted to talk to someone about a problem he had.
As the Dean removed the bag and the cash and placed it in a safe, he called in his secretary to contact whomever Jethro wanted to talk to. It made Jethro smile that in the university no one was bothered if he was a robber or a dealer.
In the end he was given time with a Nobel Prize winning professor who seemed a kindly man and who asked Jethro straight away how he could help him.
When Jethro had told him of the flickering and the vibrations and the lottery numbers, he seemed bemused.
“So you think that you have some extraordinary powers, am I correct?”
And Jethro had to agree that he’d got the problem down in one. The kindly man suggested that Jethro take some notes as the professor tended to ramble on and it might be a bit difficult for him to follow. So Jethro took a pad from the professor’s desk and started writing. Words like ‘Chaos Theory’ kept coming up again and again.
“So if I get this" said Jethro "and I’m still not sure that I have, you are saying Prof, that in the universe, no matter how sure that something is meant to happen or is due to happen, it might not happen because of Chaos Theory? And that means that anything could happen?”
“Exactly my boy, wonderfully put.”
“So I’m a chaotic interruption in an otherwise ordered universe?”
“Doesn’t that make me a freak?”
“Never young man. Now, I really must dash.”
Jethro drove home after spending a large amount of money on advice that he could have got off of a television talk show, but he felt that they had both meant well.
As he approached his house, several of the street lights began to flicker and swing and as he said out loud “this problem isn’t getting any better”.
He stayed in all weekend and drank a few beers and this seemed to keep the thoughts at bay for a while - it even managed to stop the lights flickering in the house.
By the Tuesday he took a walk into town and as he rounded the corner he literally bumped into a neighbour, Tomas Saltz.
“I’m sorry to hear about your wife's passing” he said sympathetically to Tomas.
“How did you know? I have only come from the hospital, she died this afternoon. Who told you?”
Jethro left the poor man crying in the street as he ran off into Center City. The rules had changed again, this chaos, whatever it was, had surprised him once again.
So Jethro sat in the bar with his hands clasped around a glass of beer and purposely ignoring the vibrations on top of his drink. Danny the barman gave him his usual look.
“You alright, Jethro?”
Danny went back to cleaning the glasses.
“Can I tell you something?”
And Jethro told Danny about all the strange things that had been happening to him and how it might be one of a million other things, but then again he might just be a freak.
Danny assured Jethro that there was no such thing as a freak and that we all fitted into the universe in our own way. He also hoped that Jethro didn’t think Danny was a hippy or anything, but if Jethro was made the way the universe wanted him to be, then that was all there was to it.
Jethro said he was sorry that he didn’t have any money to give him right there and then, but come Saturday he could give Danny as much as he wanted.
Danny said he wasn’t interested in Jethro’s money. Wasn’t he a friend and wasn’t that what friends did for one another? Friends listened and they helped each other, they cared.
Danny handed Jethro a fresh beer. “On the house pal”
And then they shook hands and that was when Jethro knew everything was going to be alright. In an instance, he saw Danny in the years ahead with a wife, kids and in a poor but happy life. He also saw a photo with
Jethro as a godparent holding one of Danny’s children.
And he knew things were going to be alright for him too. So what if he was the exception, so what if he didn’t have too many friends? He had one and that was enough for him, and he had a gift that not too many people had and he knew that he had to use it for better things than lottery wins.
After all, this was a big, big universe and everything and anything was possible.