He was happy today with the coins in his pocket he got from Mister Robinson after he finished the sweeping. He felt them in his pocket and could tell the difference between the two quarters and the two dimes and the nickel. He felt like a regular grown man to make his own money like this. Before she went away, he remembered, if I got a little money like this I would bring Momma something from town, even just a piece of ribbon they would cut for me at the ten cents store. She said she was proud of me to work every day. I never did know how she went away with all those people in the white church on the hill. They did not tell me.
The snow was blowing harder now and drifting near his knees. He felt tired and wanted to rest but knew he only had one more mile, past the store where the post office used to be and then the road up the hill. He looked up at the abandoned mail bag stand beside the tracks and remembered how much fun it was to see the mail train come by the black iron bracket beside the tracks with the arm coming out of the train to grab the bag of mail that the post office lady put in the holder and throw out the incoming mail bag on the ground without even slowing down the train. Sometimes you could see the mail car men inside as they got the mailbag in and threw the new mail out. They don’t do that any more, he thought, and it is no fun to just see the trucks come in to the post office now. He stood there for a minute and looked at the mail stand, and turned to go.
He could not tell he was falling, only that his face hit something hard, maybe a rail deep in the snow. He felt a pain on the side of his head, and wished he had a hat but he did not have a hat. His foot felt tight in a crack in the crossties and he could not move it. Then he knew something was wrong with the money in his pocket. He could tell he did not have all the coins like before. He could feel the quarters but not the dimes or the nickel.
He put his hands in the snow to feel for the coins he was missing. From the knee down his leg felt bad. He continued searching, now digging with his hands, feeling the cracks between the ties and spikes and rails. He felt tired and wondered when he could rest. But I can’t stop without finding it. I have to find it. He felt very tired and thought more about how good it is to have a job with Mister Robinson. How Mister Robinson showed him every day how to do the sweeping, spreading the sawdust to start him off, then handing him the broom, just like he had done every day for thirty years since he was a little boy, with men in the town sitting on the bench outside the store looking in and pointing like they were laughing. But I did not care about them because Mister Robinson cared about me they didn’t.
He thought about the special times when the hunting season came on and all the stuffed animals would come down from the attic, the fox, deer, and rabbit, and pheasant, and the bobcat, in the window to the street like they were real. It was hard to clean around them but it was good to see them. And at Christmas time all the toys on the floor and stacked in boxes. It was hard to sweep around them. I never got a toy at home except for what the old people in the next house on the hill brought me, the wood toy car with the carved wheels that did not turn but I liked it. In the store I could see all the toys and it was like my own toys.
He felt very tired, and felt a warmth come over him. He did not understand that and thought maybe it is time to rest.
Over the snow he saw a white cloud drifting toward him. He saw her face, and called out “Mama. Mama, is that you?”
“I have come to help you rest”, she said. “You will be alright and maybe you will be with me. I loved you always and I know nobody in town understood you but I understood you and loved you as my special boy. So now you can just rest. You have done well in your life.”
They found him as the drifted snow melted, just below the old mail platform south of town, with one hand curiously thrust into a crack between a crosstie and the rail. Carrying him away, one of the men said “He was simple, not much count to anybody. Working in that dusty old store with stuff on the shelf for 25 years nobody ever bought. People did not like to see him on the street in town, he scared people.” Another said, “Maybe so. But he never hurt anybody.”
Copyright © 2014 Jerry Mullins
Jerry Mullins grew up in central West Virginia, and has lived in the Washington, DC suburbs in recent years. His work has recently been published in or is forthcoming from Columbia University Journal-Catch and Release, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Broadkill Review, and New Plains Review.