By the time Jesse spotted Geronimo it was way too late to outrun him, the big Chief was almost on top of the boy. It’s not as if Jesse didn’t try, he ran as fast anyone could in a ‘drip dry only, one size fits all, do not iron’ cowboy outfit but his enemy was catching up with him, and fast.
Jesse slid in behind a large rock, the space being just enough to allow the boy to squeeze through with little chance of Geronimo following. He squatted down for what seemed an eternity and tried to avoid breathing too heavily.
Suddenly Jesse felt the air move above his head and looking up he saw the massive fingers of his enemy feeling around for the boy’s head. There wasn’t much room to move in the cavity and this allowed Geronimo to grab Jesse’s hair with ease.
“Then come out little warrior and I will save you more pain.”
Jesse had no option but to come crawling out. He was then made to lie on his back as Geronimo lifted his tomahawk high into the air.
“I will make this quick little warrior and then you will join with your ancestors.”
Whack! The tomahawk came down on Jesse’s head.
Or rather it didn’t.
The teacher’s hand slapped Jesse’s desk right next to the boy's ear.
“Jesse! You’ve been sleeping in class again.”
Sure enough when he lifted his head the rest of the class were staring back at him, nothing unusual there. Some kid at the back shouted ‘don’t kill me Geronimo’ in a high pitched girl’s voice and all of the other kids started laughing.
Jesse was still feeling stupid when he met with his mother.
“What’s up, hun?”
He hated the way, even although he was eight years of the age, that his mother always took his hand in public.
“Stop struggling hun, I’m not letting you go and anyway we’re going to see someone.”
“It’s a surprise.”
All sorts of stuff went through his mind, like maybe she had seen sense and was going to get him that new game after all. Jesse and his mother stepped off the bus right outside of the ‘Golden Pastures Home of Serenity’.
To Jesse it looked like a prison and once he had been dragged inside, it smelt like one too. His father, his real father, was in prison and Jesse had been to visit him a couple of times and boy did the place smell.
“We’re here to meet someone special."
As Jesse and his mother were shown upstairs by an overweight man who confused Jesse by calling himself a nurse, Jesse’s mother held her son’s hand tighter and tighter which made the boy think maybe she was scared about something.
"I haven't been to see him in a very long time."
Pushing open a glass door, they entered what the big-nurse-man called the day room. In one corner, a young woman was trying to get those who occupied the chairs to exercise and stretch. Mostly they just stared out of the window. In another corner, two or three women were learning to arrange flowers in vases. Over by the library of unread books were two people sitting painting. A young guy called Steve was showing them how to put the water colours onto the paper.
The elder of the two, a woman called Sadie and proud that she was ninety two years old was enthusiastically throwing paint on the paper.
"Very good Sadie, very good indeed". The other budding artist was a man who looked as if he had been famous at one time, at least that’s the way it seemed to Jesse. He was concentrating on his painting but his eyes looked as if whoever was inside of his head had gone home.
“This is your grandfather, Jesse. Dad meet Jesse, Jesse meet my dad.” Jesse’s mother cleared a very nervous dry throat. "I know I haven't been to see you much and I'm sorry. We're both sorry."
Steve said “I’m sure he knows you’re there, don’t worry if he’s quiet.”
Jesse’s mother took her son over to a corner to have one of those ‘talks’ but this one seemed to make her more uncomfortable than usual.
“I’m going to leave you here for a while Jesse. Now stop looking like that. How often to I ask you to do anything? Eh? Don’t be selfish. You can help your grandfather to paint. Get to know him.”
And with that she was gone.
As Jesse’s mother walked back down stairs, she kept telling herself she had no choice, no choice at all but to leave the boy. Back home she had Jesse to look after as well as Ed, her boyfriend, who was in the process of being a professional musician. Ed slept most of the day and was sometimes out with his band in the evenings. To keep the house going she had to work double shifts, mostly back-to-back at the local Supervalue store. She seemed to have the uniform grafted on to her body to prove it.
Luckily Jesse had brought his hand held computer with him, it was an old one which he’d been given by his father, his real father, not that Ed guy who his mother let hang around. He knew when his dad came out of prison he’d buy him a new one and he’d get rid of Ed. His dad had made Jesse a promise, not about Ed but about the computer. Jesse looked at his grandfather who just kept painting without turning his head.
Jesse had just got to level fourteen of Empires of Saturn on his computer when suddenly Ed was standing by his side.
“Who’s the old guy?”
“I thought my Mum was coming.”
“Oh yeh, she called, she’s still at work.”
And with that, Ed yanked Jesse off the seat and out the door.
“Who did you say that old guy was?”
They bought one burger on the way home although Jesse suspected that Ed had kept most of the money in his pocket. When they got back home, Ed told Jesse to go up stairs and do his school work or something as Ed was busy with his guitar. And could he please keep the noise down as Ed had to concentrate.
Jesse tried to keep awake as long as possible. He didn’t like falling asleep when Ed was there because when he woke up, Ed had usually gone out to buy beer with the remainder of the burger money.
Jesse had only put his head on the pillow for a second when Geronimo turned up in his bedroom.
“We have unfinished business little warrior. Geronimo must complete what he started or his own ancestors will be angry.”
Jesse immediately jumped from his bedroom window and landed safely in the garden which struck him as strange as the jump was about fifteen feet. Geronimo had also managed the same and was once again on his case.
Jesse crossed Sinclair Street at the last minute,just as a bus was turning the corner, which meant that Geronimo had to wait. At least that’s what Jesse had thought but there was Geronimo on the roof of the bus beating his chest.
Jesse dived into Mrs Swanky’s garden and hid beneath the Rose Pagonias. He was sure that Geronimo had failed to see him and thought he heard the warrior passing on down Sinclair Street.
After a few minutes Jesse felt it was safe to crawl out from the bushes, still he had to make sure that Mrs Swanky wasn’t staring out of her window – something she seemed to spend hours doing. It felt safe enough and so he made a dash for the side gate. However just as he turned he saw that Geronimo now had a partner, someone he’d never seen him with before – it was Ed dressed, not as an Apache as he would have expected, but as a circus clown. Jesse hated clowns and Ed probably knew this.
Now Geronimo and the Clown were chasing him through Mrs Swanky’s vegetable garden. Jesse noticed that the door to the garden shed where Mr Swanky used to sit and smoke, was open. So he jumped in and slammed the door behind him, all in one glorious movement.
Through the window he could see Geronimo and the Clown discussing how to get Jesse out of the shed. It was just then that he spotted the flaming torch that Ed held in his right hand. They were going to smoke him out or worse still, burn the shed down.
Jesse started to shake a little, just nerves he thought, but it grew worse and worse until he was almost shaking out of his skin.
“Jesse, wake up or you won't sleep when it's time!”
It was his mother shaking him on the bed.
“Did Ed collect you okay and did you get something to eat?”
Jesse just nodded his head.
“Ed seems to have popped out for a moment. So you're all right then?”
Jesse’s mother didn’t wait for an answer. She ruffled his hair then left the room, switching off the light on the way out.
The next afternoon it was only Jesse and his grandfather in the painting corner. Sadie had been taken away and as far as Jesse could work out, it was something to do with the police coming to get her. He’d heard the big-nurse-man say that it had been a cardiac arrest. Jesse thought she must have done something really bad to get one of those.
Since it was just Jesse and his grandfather and since he’d forgotten his Empires of Saturn game, he thought he’d tell his grandfather about how things really were.
He told him about how he always tried to keep awake so that Ed wouldn't go to the bar, and how, when he did fall asleep, Geronimo and his friend the Clown were out to kill Jesse and that the Clown was really just Ed in disguise.
As Jesse had expected his grandfather didn’t say a word but just kept painting what looked like hills and trees. Thankfully it was his mother who came to get him that night.
This time, on the way home, they had burgers, fries, onion rings and chocolate pudding to finish which was just as well as the night turned out to be a bad one; not only did Geronimo appear in his bedroom but so did all the other kids in his class, including his teacher – each of them dressed as Apache warriors and all of them wanting to scalp Jesse.
This time he managed to outwit them all - they had expected Jesse to jump out of the window - but he ran down the stairs and out the front door. He was half way along Sinclair Street before they realised he was even gone.
He had only stopped to catch his breath for a moment when he saw not one, not two, but at least six clowns led by Ed heading towards him. He had to face it, it was all over for Jesse and that was that. At eight years of age he’d had a good life and now it was time to meet up with his posse.
There was nowhere to run, that was until someone grabbed him by the collar and threw him over their shoulder. They sprinted through all the gardens and didn't stop until they were safely on the main road out of town.
When no one seemed to be following them, his rescuer put him down by the side of the road and told Jesse to sit on the big rock by the tree. It was only when Jesse put his hand over his eyes to shade them from the sun, that he realised that the man was his grandfather.
“I couldn’t leave you in that tight spot Jesse, not now that you and I are friends.”
“I thought you couldn’t speak Granddad.”
“Nothing to say son, so I just keep quiet.”
And so they talked and talked. His grandfather told Jesse about all the dreams he'd had when he was Jesse’s age and how he’d had a good life. Jesse told his grandfather about how he tried to keep awake but ended up falling asleep in school and how the kids laughed at him.
His grandfather said that if ever Geronimo or the clowns came after Jesse again then they would have his Granddad to answer to. He would always be there for him and that was a promise.
Then his grandfather told him of the one thing that he’d wished he’d done.
“When I was a boy I always wanted to go the prairies and see the forked lightning. Don’t ask me why but you’ve got live your dreams Jesse no matter what. Now I’m stuck in a home just painting and waiting and no chance of ever seeing the lightning. Don’t be like that my lovely boy, always, always live your dreams”
For the first time that he could remember, Jesse slept the rest of the night without Geronimo or clowns coming to visit.
The following day an excited Jesse headed off with his mother to visit his grandfather but his mother saw by the look on the big-nurse-man's face that something was very wrong.
“Could you please step into the office for a moment, the boy can stay here.”
It wasn’t long before his mother came out of the office with red eyes - she had been crying.
“I’m so sorry” said the big-nurse-man.
Jesse’s mother held him very tightly but didn’t explain why, then she took him by the hand and led him down the corridor.
“Wait” said the big-nurse-man “he finished that painting, your father, before he died. Maybe you’d like to take it with you? You can collect the rest of his stuff later.”
The nurse came out of the office with her father’s painting. It still had the hills and trees but in the middle of it was Jesse with his Granddad's arm around him, both were looking out at the prairie as it was being struck by lightning.