Tommy’s Rocking Chair

NYC Midnight Challenge One Story

Prompt – Historical Fiction – At a race track – With a rocking chair

Synopsis: Tommy tries to build a rocking chair for his grandmother without getting distracted by the horses at the track. This all happens the day JFK was shot.


He heard the hooves stomp in time with his hammer pounding the nails into the wood. He longed to abandon the project and go see the horses. Surely his uncle wouldn’t mind if he watched. Maybe he could help out the stable hands.  He could clean the horses and brush them down.
His hammer had stopped in mid-air as he drifted into a day dream. He stared down at the woodpile. His momma would be so disappointed if he didn’t finish. His uncle might get mad at him for letting her down too. It was still early if he hurried he could finish building the rocking chair in no time.
His Granma at home was sick and momma kept saying she was going to die, but it didn’t seem like she was going anywhere anytime soon. She was always trying to get him to sit and listen to stories when he wanted to run outside. Sometimes her stories weren’t so bad. He liked the stories about his grandfather racing horses, those were interesting.
But sometimes her stories would be about making jam or some nonsense he couldn’t care less about. His momma got mad at him for being rude. He had walked away from his Granma while she was telling a boring story. She yelled at him said how she was ashamed of him and he was lucky his Granma was around to talk to him and he should listen to everything she had to say before she was gone.
His Granma wanted to sit out on the porch now days and watch everything. She sat on an old bench seat which his Momma said wasn’t very comfortable. So he had to be a good grandson and build her a rocking chair. He didn’t know how to build one, but his uncle had let him come to the stables and had given him the things he needed; wood, nails, a hammer.
Tommy furiously began hammering nails into the boards of the chair. A few times he smashed a finger in his rush and a cuss word slipped out. If his momma heard she would’ve scolded him. But he was alone in an old shed the stable hands hardly used.
Not an hour later he finished and was running out towards the main stables. There weren’t any races today; the horses were all with their trainers. His uncle was in charge of the stable hands. He had to make sure they kept the stalls clean and the horses fed.
Some of the owners got kind of persnickety about how their horses were taken care of. He’d have to talk to them, make them believe he was personally taking care of their horse. When really he had good hands he trusted to do the work.
All of his uncle’s hands knew Tommy. He came to the track whenever he could to see the horses. Sometimes they’d let him help out. Tommy saw Manny rubbing down Wonder. Manny waved when he saw him running.
“Hey, what are you running from?” Manny asked.
“Nothing, can I help?”
“I suppose so. Does your uncle know where you’re at?”
“Sure he does.” Tommy insisted. He blushed and looked down lying threw his teeth. Manny chuckled handing him a brush.
Another stable hand walked up with Wonder’s owner and they began talking. It was boring grownup conversation. Tommy wasn’t listening. He was much too concerned with the horse who thought it was funny to push Tommy with his head. It didn’t help that Tommy was a skinny kid.
The Owner mentioned JFK’s drive through Dallas. After he left Tommy heard the hands muttering.
“I don’t have time to go see him. I got work that needs to get done.”
“Manny, who’s JFK” Tommy interrupted.
“He’s the president. Don’t you know that?”
“I don’t know? Momma and Granma don’t much talk about him. I don’t think uncle does either, at least not with them and not with me.” He said.
“Thomas!” His uncle bellowed when he saw him. Tommy flinched. He was busted. “Thomas what do you think you’re doing.”
“Helping.” He offered his excuse.
“Thomas I saw that rocking chair you put together, more like slapped together. You’re Granma deserves better than that. You get back there and do it right. I don’t want to see you out here till it’s done.” His uncle pointed back towards the shed.
Tommy sulked off. He thought it would’ve taken longer before his uncle caught him. Once he got back to the shed Tommy had to pull nails out and rip the whole thing apart so he could start over. His uncle was fair no one ever complained about him, but if he messed up again he’d for sure be in deep trouble.
Tommy pushed the horses out of his head and focused on the task at hand. He lined up the boards just right before he pounded the nails into place. A few times he pulled a nail out to redo it, but he didn’t smash a finger once. When he was sure he had put it together right he sat down to test it.
He rocked back and forth, back and forth. Ow. Sure enough he had forgotten to sand the chair. He got a splinter in his leg. His momma would want to take it out with a needle tonight. That would be fun. He grabbed the sandpaper off a shelf. If his Granma got a splinter his momma would kill him.
Job completed Tommy poked his head out of the shed. He didn’t see anyone. He went off to find his uncle. It was eerily quiet. The horses were in their stalls or tied to fences unattended. The stable hands were gone.
He headed to his uncle’s office. He was getting jumpy. The hands never left the horses like this. They were all jammed in the office around the television set. Tommy grabbed Manny’s arm.
“What’s going on?”
“The President’s been shot.”