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The Absolution of Jack Ruby

By Jason M. Thornberry

It was a humid afternoon in June, and I was deep in the checkout line at Stater Brothers on 40th Street when the men in front of me suddenly began to talk history. Now I’m normally too busy to listen but I was trapped. When I turned my head, I saw the shining motorcade of shopping carts stretching behind me, customers shifting from foot to foot, quieting babies, etc. Thankfully, I have a good memory from my years as a court reporter and I did my best to recall the cadence and even the pauses of MAN #1, the one in front of me who did all of the talking. 


MAN #1: That reminds me—you remember the Baseline Bowl, don’t ya? No? Well, I guess you’re a little young. Big concert hall on Baseline. Closed down—just like everything else in this town. Anyways, I guess about thirty years ago, Jack Ruby and his band came through town on their concert tour. Oh, really? You like him? I hadn’t even heard of the guy before then. But it was a free concert and you know there ain’t shit to do around here. So, we all piled in my buddy’s car. 

     Anyway, we get there and it’s the middle of the show. Ruby’s right in the middle of a song when he stops singing and waves his hands at the rest of the band. 

     “Whoa! Whoa-whoa whoa-whoa-whoa! Cool it for a minute, fellas!” The band stops and the audience gets real quiet.

     Ruby undoes the bottom button of his suit jacket and then he squats down at the front of the stage.

     He lowers his voice—like this—and he says something about needing to make a confession. 

     “Listen: I’ve done a lot of ugly things in my life, people,” he says. 

     A ripple of applause floats through the room. The sound of it makes him stand up again—and he starts pacing back and forth, holding the microphone. He’s got a cigarette in the other hand and he’s kinda pointing at the audience. 

     Then he says: “I don’t think the mother of the man I killed in cold blood would appreciate you guys hollerin’ my name right now. Hey, I’m serious! Hey! I did stuff I regret. You dildos even know what that word means? I’m just trying to come clean—get it off my chest. It’s been there such a long time. Don’t you jerks understand anything?” 

     He’s waving his hand like someone in the front row farted. But the crowd keeps getting louder and louder, yelling and screaming his name.

     “Jack! Jack! Jack! Jack!”

     Ruby’s up there like a funeral director, in his black suit and tie. But you can tell he’s really pissed. He closes his eyes a moment—and then he lowers his voice again. He says: “I thought we were in the middle of some kind of exchange here. You know, a transaction. You buy my records and my t-shirts and crap. And in exchange, you get the God’s honest truth—from me. Isn’t that what this is supposed to be about? But you guys don’t care. I’m just a singer, supposed to keep his feelings and his past to himself? Is that it? Fine. Fuck it.”

     And he walks offstage.The guy never makes another record, never plays another concert. He disappears. From what I heard, he got plastic surgery, and he could be—he could be—he could be anybody.

     He could be this guy about to ring up my groceries.

Jason M. Thornberry: Survivor of a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic epilepsy, Seattle writer Jason M. Thornberry’s work appears in The Stranger, Praxis, Dissident Voice, Entropy, ALAN Review, Hash, and elsewhere. His work examines absurdity, disability, family, and social justice. Jason taught creative writing at Seattle Pacific University. He reads poetry for TAB.  

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