Fig Street is Copyright © Wendell Sweet 2018.
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Cover Art © Copyright 2018 Wendell Sweet
Some text copyright 1984, 2010, 2014, 2015 W. G. Sweet
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This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons places, situations or events is purely coincidental.
This novel is Copyright © 2018 Wendell G. Sweet. Dell Sweet, W. G. Sweet and Geo Dell are publishing constructs owned by Wendell G. Sweet. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission.
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June: Jimmy Chang’s
“So, listen, it’s like this. When I die… No… It has nothing to do with when I die. Okay, when the people in my life who have screwed me over die? They will have to pay for what they did to me,” Bobby Weston said.
“Oh. Oh, okay. I got it. The eventual retribution deal. In other words, okay, screw me over right now, but when I die you are so done,” John said.
“Okay. Yes, but not totally. I won’t get them back, God will do it for me.”
Johnny chuckled. “So God, the God, will personally pay these low rent bastards back for you… Sweet. Very sweet.”
Bobby nodded. “And it’s all biblical too. I mean completely. God says he’ll take care of it. Don’t worry about it. I got you.”
“I would like to hear God say I got you somewhere, because to be honest I have never heard him say it here. It seems kind of like a scam though that you got to wait until you’re dead to hear it. I mean what the hell is that? Who can say if that’s the deal, whether it’s real or not? I mean that is kind of a perfect con job. That’s like… That’s like those bank account scams. You know, the guy approaches you and says: “Hey! I got a million dollars in this account, but those bastards won’t let me have it. Talking about some sort of transfer fee. That’s messed up too because I don’t have no transfer fee. I mean, that’s messed up isn’t it? I can’t get the money… My own goddamned money, it’s my money, without paying this transfer fee.”
“Jesus Christ, you make me wanna give you the money, Johnny.”
“Exactly, and that is the scam. You give me my money for the transfer fee. We set it all up legal too, and bam. I got you. I’m gone. Your money’s gone. It’s a wrap, and you never see that money back or whatever I promised extra to you to get you to do it. So… So this thing is the same. You’re dead, how do you know?”
The crowd in the bar was quiet. It was early yet, the noisy younger crowd wasn’t in yet.
Jimmy Chang’s was a neighborhood bar. You wouldn’t think so in East Glennville which seemed predominantly white, but the Asians had been here far longer than some of the prominent white families. Jimmy Chang’s grandfather had come for the railroad work out west back in the 1800’s. When the work died out he had brought his family north and settled in Glennville. There were three branches of the family now: Jimmy, who ran the bar the old man had built first and saw through the dry years of prohibition. His sister Alice who ran Chang’s which was about the closest thing that Glennville had to a Coat and Tie restaurant. And Jimmy’s uncle Billy who owned a truck stop just outside of the city. The truck stop was known across the U.S. by truckers who had spread the word. Bobby had eaten there more than once. It was better food than any of the other nearby diners, and more of it too.
Bobby smiled, ignoring the pain in his side. It had been there a few days now. Maybe a little too much jogging, that stitch in your side that didn’t want to go away. Maybe he had pulled or sprained something: Who could tell. He’d had it before, or something like it, and it had passed. This would too. “Listen, Johnny… It won’t be like that for me because I’ll be right there… I’ll know… I’ll see it.”
“No… No… I mean, like… You are alive now… I’m alive now. Two seconds from now I drop dead, how do you know what I see or don’t see? How can you know even? I mean you have to die to collect, that’s pretty suspect to me, man. No die. No know,” Johnny shrugged his shoulders.
Bobby nodded. “I know. I see. But I…”
“… Been dead before… I know…” He shook his head. “It’s about the only thing that makes me believe.”
“Yep. I mean, I believe you. I don’t think you made it up. I’ve known you all of your life. I believe it.”
“Me too,” Bobby agreed. They both laughed.
Johnny hadn’t moved to Glennville and become friends with Bobby until his early teens, but he had heard the story. Back in the fourth grade Bobby had gone fishing alone. He had crossed the Black while the dam wasn’t running, and crossed over to Saints Island to fish. He had been to that island before as a younger kid with his dad. It was an easy cross, but Bobby hadn’t known anything about the dam and the levels of water in the Black. How they could change in a matter of a minute or two. When he had started back across the top of the dam to cross the Black to get back to the main road he had slipped and gone under. A fisherman had just happened to see his head as he went under. He had managed to snag Bobby and get him to shore, but he had stopped breathing, his lungs full of water.
Bobby had been in the hospital for a month in a coma. Then one day he had awakened. The same old Bobby: Like nothing had ever happened. Except he swore that he had not been dead that whole time, or gone away from his body even when he had been dead on the river bank. He claimed to remember every part of it; all of it, right down to the fisherman’s thoughts as he had hauled Bobby out. “This kids a goner,” he had thought. “Ain’t no hope for him at all.”
Still he had gone to work, picking up his arms, flushing out his lungs, pounding his back, compressing his chest to empty the lungs. If you lived near the river things happened more often than people thought that they did. A truck had stopped on the road above the river and a power company employee had scrambled down the bank to the river. He had taken over and begun CPR; the training was required. He had never used it until then.
He had even turned Bobby upside down and wailed his back hard enough to leave bruises. He had been as surprised as anyone else had been later when Bobby had coughed, sputtered, and then began to breathe once more. Between the two of them they had laid him out on the seat of the power company truck and the man had driven him the three miles to the Glennville Community hospital.
Johnny had never forgotten Bobby relating that experience to him. He had tried to tell his parents but they had dismissed it. Johnny hadn’t. Over the years the story had never changed and Johnny had come to believe it.
He sighed and looked around the bar. The day was growing old, already a few of the younger crowd had wandered in. Looking to nail down a stool or a booth for the evening.
“Coming in earlier and earlier every day, huh?” Bobby said.
“Exactly what I was thinking… Pretty soon it won’t be our place anymore at all.” Johnny sighed again.
“Hey, let’s go to Billy’s. They got those tables right outside. The night is nice. Shit, summer will be gone before we know it. I’ll buy steaks, what do you say?” Bobby asked.
“I say that sounds goddamn good to me, that’s what I say,” Johnny agreed. He threw a ten on the bar and then followed Bobby out of the bar.
July: Jimmy Chang’s
The bar was beginning to fill up. A young guy with a shaved head and a couple pounds of metal in his face slid in next to Bobby and eyeballed him hard. Bobby turned away. He looked over at Johnny and Johnny raised his eyebrows in a What the hell gesture.
Bobby had swung by Johnny’s work place at the Ford dealership and picked him up after work. Johnny’s car was in the shop. He could have gotten a rental right through the dealership, cheaply too, but that went against Johnny’s principle of paying for something he could get for free. A ride from Bobby was free. Always had been since they had been in high school driving clunkers that would have been better off in the junkyard. Johnny had always joked that somehow Bobby always seemed to get the better junker. It broke down less, ran better, was more reliable. He didn’t know how that could be, but it had always worked out that way.
“Time moves on. It all becomes relative,” Bobby said picking up a conversation on politics that Bobby himself had started. The kid’s cologne drifted across to him. Something from back in high school. Patchouli maybe, heavy and cloying. He picked up his beer and took a deep drink. His usual smile was not in evidence.
“Yeah…” Johnny cleared his throat and took a sip of his own drink. “I just hate those bastards. Relative or not, and I ain’t saying it isn’t relative to the way we vote, live, whatever, but the politicians seem to stay the same. No good, broke down lying bastards that would gladly swipe a lollipop from a little kid and then sell it back to them in the guise of some public work project. And!” He smiled widely. “Make the kid think he had gotten something in the deal.”
That bought a ghost of a smile to Bobby’s lips. “Hey, let’s take this out back,” Bobby suddenly suggested.
“Uh… Sure,“ Johnny agreed. “You gonna pound my ass or what? Sorry I called the politicians all broke down bastards, I know Ruth’s brother Don is one.” Ruth was Bobby’s wife of twenty five years.
Bobby laughed. “No ass pounding, just need a little fresh air.” He shot a hard look at the young guy who looked away and nursed his flavored vodka. “Besides, Donnie is the worst of the worst.” He laughed and Johnny joined in. He caught Jimmy’s eye and motioned toward the back door; Jimmy nodded. He didn’t like his bottles walking out. He owed the deposit on them. And he was one tight bastard, but he knew that Bobby would be bringing his bottle back.
They stepped out into the bright moonlight of early evening. The air was cooler. For the last several days it had been super hot. Global warming they said, global holy shit it’s hot, he thought.
“So what’s up with you? … You putting your garage addition on this year,” Johnny asked, fishing for the subject that had bought them outside.
“Oh yeah. Yeah it’s going up. Got the loan. It’s in the bank account. Hired Jeremy Jefferson. Starts in two weeks.”
“Shit. I’m hanging out over there every night after it’s done.”
“Me too,” Bobby agreed. They both laughed again. Bobby sighed heavily. “Cancer, man, the big C.” He sipped at his beer. “All through me… Nothing to do for it.”
Johnny was struck silent. “I don’t even know what to say,” he said at last.
“Well there’s nothing to say,” Bobby agreed.
“But you’re still gonna build that addition?”
“Yeah… Hell yeah… I’ve waited for that forever. Besides. I’ve known men that had a few months left to live that far outlived that.”
“That what they said? A few months.”
“At the outside,” Bobby said quietly.”
The silence spun out. A small group of bats left the tall chimney which was all that remained of an old plant across the tracks and flew across the moon.
“Damn Indiana Brown Bats,” Johnny said.
“Yep. Had to tear the factory down, but they couldn’t touch the stack. Had to fix it up instead… Preserve it… Christ they’ll be sticking money into that stack for the next several centuries to keep it up. Can’t let it fall it’s their natural home now.”
“Yeah… I was shocked when the EPA decided to do that.” The bats flew off and the silence returned.
“So… What you gonna do… I mean really… What are you going to do? What can I do?” Johnny turned to Bobby.
“Really nothing… Come on over and hang out. Watch the garage go up. I’m positive I’ll beat this shit. I don’t really even feel bad… Sick.”
“Sounds like you don’t believe it,” Johnny said.
“You know what? That’s right. This ain’t like being dead… I don’t feel it. I feel like it isn’t real. Just a phase in my life someone got wrong is all…” He made eye contact and winked. “Did you know that once Donnie tried to talk me into some land deal? Swamp land!”
“Yeah… I remember you telling me. Real swamp land too,” Johnny laughed.
“Bastard sold it all and him and his partners made a few million on the down low. Who would think you could sell swampland? Not me.”
Their laughter rose up into the moonlit summer sky. Bobby tipped his beer bottle, drained it, looked at Johnny, “Another?”
“Yeah… One more,” Johnny agreed and laughed.
October: Bobby’s House
Johnny Miller stood at the edge of the sidewalk and stared at the half finished garage. His German Shepherd Tank beside him. Ruth, Bobby’s wife, had stopped the construction as soon as he had died. The garage had sat there unfinished all through the balance of the summer and into early fall. He had heard the new owners intended to finish it before winter. He thought about that. Bobby Johnson was barely cold in his grave and some other guy was going to finish his garage and sit down and have himself a beer. A beer Johnny and Bobby had planned to have once it was done and never had. Never had, had the time for. Two weeks after their night at Jimmy Chang’s when Bobby had told him about his cancer; he had dropped dead of a massive heart attack. Forty three. Healthy. Worked out twice a week. Jogged. Bang: Out of the blue. And Ruth had already sold the house and been gone for three weeks. Gone for three weeks. Back to her people in Minnesota. Jesus please us.
Tank’s nails clicked on the pavement and Johnny looked back at the sidewalk from the garage. The German Shepherd wagged his bushy tail and cocked his head. Johnny smiled. So the big C hadn’t taken him. How was that for ironic? He wondered briefly about the life after death conversation they had, had. Well, he decided now, if there was some kind of life after death Bobby was right there. He lifted his head and looked around. Maybe even watching him right now. He wondered about that for a few moments and then the big dog whined, breaking into his thoughts.
“Yeah… Let’s go, Tank. Let’s finish this walk, buddy.”
Tank needed no further urging, eagerly examining both sides of the walk as he began padding down the sidewalk once more, tugging lightly at his leash. Tank crossed the short expanse of leaf strewn berm, stopped suddenly causing Johnny to plow into him, and then took off into the street dragging Johnny with him. The end of the nylon leash burned his palm as it Tank yanked it from him and broke into a gallop. Johnny lunged off the berm and into the roadway trying to catch it, but he was too late. Tank was already across the street as he straightened, chasing after whatever had caught his attention.
He began to straighten from the crouch he had found himself in when the entire world suddenly burst into bright light.
Sisters of Mercy Hospital: Room 357
Becky Miller smoothed the sheets that covered Johnny, careful not to disturb all the wires and tubes that were a part of who Johnny was now. Her brother spoke from the doorway behind her and she turned and gave him a strained smile.
“Sorry,” Dell Anders said. “I thought I would offer to sit for a while… Let you get a break… Some sleep.” He moved from the doorway and hugged her to his chest. He felt her chest hitch, once, twice and then she began to sob. He eased her over to the chairs and sat her down, pulled another close and held her as she cried…
…Johnny was walking the tracks that split the neighborhood behind Fig Street: It was night… Silent and he was not alone, a young boy walked beside him. Talking quietly as Johnny listened: leading him forward; guiding him through the darkness…
“…It’s me, Bobby,” the dream boy told Johnny Miller.
Johnny stared at the kid as they walked the tracks. He had noticed something was familiar but he hadn’t been able to place what that was. He looked down at himself. He was the same. An old man following along as a little kid walked the tracks, balancing on the rails. He stopped, lost for a second.
“You okay?” Bobby asked as he stopped and turned back to face him.
“Yeah… I think, but why are you in my dream? I didn’t know you then… This place… Did I?” Johnny asked.
“Yes and no. We share certain things.” He walked back and looked up at Johnny; his face serious.
“Will you come with me?” Bobby asked urgently.
This is the strangest dream I’ve ever had, Johnny thought. He stared around at the dark trees; the cold moonlight glinting off the steel rails. The young boy faced Johnny where he stood in the road.
“It’s no dream, Johnny, no dream at all, honestly. You can’t think of it as a dream either. If you do it’ll kill you, man. For real, I swear… Will you come?” Bobby asked again. His bright blue eyes seemed to glow as they locked on Johnny’s own.
“Where?” Johnny asked. The sound of his own voice startled him. It had changed. Become a child’s voice. A voice locked on the edge of change. A voice in between man and boy. He glanced down at his body and was not surprised to see that it had also changed. What he saw was a child’s body. And not just any child, but the same child he himself had been so many years before. The same wash faded jeans, with the same patched knees. He clearly remembered those jeans. Clearly remembered his mother carefully mending the knees. The same scuffed high top sneakers, with the same knotted laces. He raised his eyes and stared back at the small boy.
Bobby moved closer, seeming to float above the surface of the road. “Now. We need to go now. There isn’t much time,” Bobby told him.
The darkness split apart, and gray rock walls sprung up where the trees had been. In the distance Johnny could hear the laughter of children echoing against the cold stone walls. The laughter turned to screams. Shrill, panicked and growing closer, the low bass growl of a wolf mixed in with the screaming. Johnny started to move towards the sound.
“No! Bobby told him. “You’ll die. Not yet. We have to be first, see? We ain’t yet. It’s too early, man. Too early. you’ll die if you try to stop it now.”
“But?” Johnny asked aloud in his child’s voice.
“Home, man,” Bobby told him. “Home first, then here, after.”
The rock walls suddenly faded, replaced by a night darkened and quiet street. Houses lined one side of the street, a huge gravel lot filled the other side. Beyond the edge of the gravel lot long rows of leaning, crumbled buildings stood outlined in pale moonlight. The remnants of a chain-link fence ran partway down the street, still enclosing the buildings in places, overgrown and fallen in others. Johnny turned toward the houses and began to walk
“Here. Right here,” Bobby told him as they walked towards one particular house.
Johnny skirted the dirt front yard of the run-down old house behind Bobby. Peeling gray paint clung to the weathered clapboard, glass from the shattered windows lay glittering in the darkness. The few that remained were filthy yellowed panes set in crumbling frames, impossible to see through. Flecks of gray littered the hard-packed dirt yard. He rounded the side of the house and stopped. A long rope dangled from a broken second floor window. “Here?” Johnny asked.
“Here,” Bobby agreed. He began to climb the rope to the window that stood open above it. He paused part way up and stared back at Johnny where he stood watching. “Climb it, man. That’s my room up there.”
The rope was not nearly as hard to climb as Johnny had thought it would be. He made his way quickly to the top, and eased over the sill into the small room. The room was dark and quiet. He made his way to a narrow cot in one corner and sat down next to Bobby. “And?” he whispered.
“Morning. We gotta wait for morning. Then we can start. Then we can do something, see?”
“No,” Johnny whispered, “I don’t see… Start what? Do What?”
“We all gotta meet,” Bobby told him. “It’s hard to explain. You see, I was here. I lived here, and there are two other kids here. They live close by. We gotta do something important, see? And we need you. We need your help, man, get it?
“No,” Johnny replied honestly, “I don’t.”
“You will. Go to sleep, man. In the morning we’ll start. In the morning. It’ll be different this time. It will.”
Johnny laid down on the narrow cot and closed his eyes.
Sleeping in a dream, he thought. A dream about sleeping. Weird.
“Not a dream,” Bobby reminded him as he spiraled away into darkness. “Not a dream.” …
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