People say tattoos tell stories. For Jimmy, some were of his family, while others covered scars from bullet holes and stab wounds, and the one on his neck from the time a group tried to lynch him. He got lucky that day. The clouds went gray, and the winds blew hard, and the hail came large and fast. “We’ll be back,” they yelled.
He didn’t stay to let them. Hail was rare, and this was Mississippi; luck meant the time had come to leave. He kissed his mother and father goodbye that night. “I’ll write from Boston,” he told them. Then he walked to the bus station and left. The year was 1926. He had just turned seventeen.
Jimmy had a knack for fighting. Part may have been genetic, one could say, as his father was a local boxing champion in youth. Part certainly had to be practice. Pop and Jimmy spent most nights training on the dirt patch in front of their home. They had been doing so from before Jimmy could even remember. “You have to know how to defend yourself,” Pops would say. But as Jimmy grew into a teenager of nearly six foot five and a muscular two twenty, it was others whom he defended. People always called on him when trouble brewed. That’s what led to the bullet holes and stab wounds and the attempted lynching.
In Mississippi, boxing earned him a reputation and some awards. In Boston, his fighting ability paid the bills. He boxed in underground matches, earning enough to pay rent for a small apartment in Dorchester and free time during the day to do what he loved most, reading and writing. But when he broke his left hand in a fight, the money dried up, and his home became a small tent on a side alley of town.
It was his girlfriend Maria who drew his tattoos. She had many herself. However, hers told a different story. Maria was born in London, where she became an orphan at eight years old after a bomb from a Zeppelin hit the family home during the Great War. She moved in with some relatives, who didn’t have patience for her. Though in fairness, she didn’t have an interest in following rules with them. After many arguments, at ten years old, she walked out of the house late one evening and began learning how to survive living in the streets.
Ten years later, after being homeless, then moving in with a friend’s family, then a brief marriage, wearing her only dress and coat, with a small suitcase of books, she moved to the U.S. for a fresh start in life. She arrived at Ellis Island, made her way to Boston, because her favorite writer had lived nearby, and began working at a small restaurant.
Art brought Jimmy and Maria together. It was on a splendid Boston summer day, the first Boston summer for them both, and a perfect day for a love story to begin. Laying out in the commons a few feet apart, on a grassy knoll under a tree, and as fate would have, reading the same Ralph Waldo Emerson book.
“How are you liking it?” Jimmy started the conversation.
They talked all day and walked to her home at night. She lived in a ground-level unit in Allston. Small and during winter, cold, rat-infested, and lonely, but entirely her own. There were nature paintings all over the walls and books scattered on the floor, with a small bookshelf for the special ones. After making them hot soup and buttered bread, they settled on the floor and talked. At eight in the morning, they went to sleep. She on the bed, he on the floor.
That was the beginning of their love story, and it was only a matter of time before her home became his as well.
“Will you marry me?”
“Of course, Jimmy.”
They both had that sheepish I’m in love with you smile, the soft sparkle in their eyes. “But how, you know we can’t marry in the states?”
“I hear Paris is nice. Maybe we can move there?”
“Paris is majestic. But are you serious?”
“I am. I want us to be husband and wife, even if it’s just legal documents and titles to the world.”
“I never imagined moving back to Europe. But to be husband and wife with you, I would go anywhere.”
Note: “The Love Story of Jimmy and Maria” is a work of historical fiction. The story, characters, and incidents are fictitious.
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