Ghosts walked around in the backyard. Old friends of his. Children laughed on a swingset. His father stole tomatoes. Mom sat on the back porch smoking a cigarette. A high school sweetheart. Some former co-worker stood by the wooden gate. Holding hands.
He popped open a beer and offered one to his mom. The can was sweating. Cold in the dark heat. Moonlight shined down on both of them. She took the Old Style and drank it in one gulp.
This is what killed me, she told him. Beer and cigarettes. Now I can have as much as I want without anybody questioning me, she said in a hoarse whisper. It no longer hurts, she stated. The pain has gone away, he nodded and took out a Marlboro for himself. Your father still won’t talk to me, she said. He wants nothing to do with me. But, we’re stuck together here. He does his thing and I do mine, she coughed. We never were in love I guess. Just married ’cause everybody else was, she confessed. The son got up and walked out in the yard.
Valerie stood with her lover at the gate by the rose bushes. His high school girlfriend and his friend from Piggly Wiggly waved at him as he walked past. They were killed in a car accident out on Lima Road on graduation night. The night she broke up with him. He always knew they were up to no good. Sneaking behind his back. What kind of a guy steals a friend’s girl? he thought. He kept walking.
The children on the swingset reached high in the sky with their feet touching the stars. They were kids he knew in grade school. The boy died of cancer at age eight. And, the girl passed on a year later. Shot in a drive-by. The news report said she wasn’t the intended victim. Cross fire on the Southside. Both of them were laughing. They would now be forever young.
And dad. Pop wouldn’t talk to him. Wanted nothing to do with his son. He didn’t want him to begin with. An accidental pregnancy. Forced to marry. The boy was blamed for his failures in life. He was going to live in Alaska and work on a fishing boat. Romantic dreams of the sea. He settled for a job on a used car lot. Selling Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge automobiles. Bored out of his mind. Some say that’s why he shot himself. Others said it was life in general. And there he sat eating tomatoes from his son’s garden. Didn’t say a word.
A train passed. Going out West. The old man wanted to jump on it. But, he couldn’t. Stuck in the backyard forever. Winter would come soon.