Melvin stood before the display.
His stubby, sausage like fingers darted outwards, only to retreat as he changed his mind on which tape to buy.
“Melvin, you planning on getting under the feet of my customers all morning?” The owner asked.
Melvin looked down at his scuffed boots and did himself a little mumbling.
“What was that Melvin?”
Melvin kept his interest on the floor. “I’m a customer too, Mr. Handley.”
“Yes Melvin, yes you are. Come rain or shine, once a week you clomp on into my store and fill up my register to the tune of two rolls of sticky tape after an hour of manhandling each and every roll.”
Melvin reached and grabbed his favourite brand of sticking tape; any thoughts of trying a different kind were gone, it’d only been a fanciful idea anyhow. His cheeks were reddening just like they always did when he knew people were staring. He knew they’d be guffawing at him.
He planted a hand into the bib pocket of his dungarees, his fingers ignoring the touch of the ridged shell that at one time or another used to be the home of a snail. The snail had gone, Melvin had no idea where to, but he was holding on to the shell just in case he came across a snail that needed a roof over its head.
Melvin didn’t count the money, didn’t need to. All he had was enough shrapnel to buy the usual two rolls of tape.
The sunshine spread itself over his face, burning away his fretting over the bad folks inside Mr. Handley’s hardware store.
His purposeful strides soon had him away from Main Street. His smile widened the further from town he got. He always looked forward to seeing his tree, he had a feeling that the tree looked forward to his visits too.
Melvin sang a song he’d made up, when? He couldn’t quite remember, but that didn’t matter as the words were regularly substituted when he couldn’t remember them.
He saw his tree across the field and stopped. It was different from how he had left it the previous day. Someone had come along and hung a swing from one of the branches; he wondered if it was the same person that was playing on it. Melvin started to run to his tree. He didn’t mind sharing, not that many folks wanted to share things with him.
It was the tree, he was worried the rope from the swing and the weight from the girl was hurting and damaging it.
The girl stopped swinging when she saw him running.
Her eyes widened, startled. She looked about six-years old and on the verge of screaming. She stayed the scream when Melvin didn’t grab at her and just climbed up to look at where the ropes had been tied about the thick branch.
“What’re you doing?” She asked.
Melvin was biting his lip as he studied the branch for damage. The damage was minimal, a little rubbing of the bark, the girl didn’t weigh that much.
“It’s okay,” Melvin said. “It’s nothing that can’t be mended, you can keep swinging if you like.”
He climbed down.
With both feet on the ground he buried his hands in his pockets, stared at the dirt and kicked it a little with the toe of a boot.
The girl drew shapes with the tips of her own shoes, delicate little inscriptions as her legs were dangling and barely made it to the ground. “I’m Abigail Miller and I'm six and a half.”
“Nice swing. You put it up?”
“My brother did.”
“What’s his name?”
“Where’s he gone?”
“He had to go help daddy. We just moved in.” She stopped and pointed over at a house at the far end of the field. “We just moved in there.”
Melvin knew it as the Masterson’s place. Though no one had been living there in... Melvin looked to the tree and worked it out by remembering the leaves and the turning of their colours. Three years was his reckoning.
Melvin sank down, his back up against the bark.
The girl watched him, not quite sure what to make of him. “Do you know why there’s lots of tape on the tree, Melvin?”
Melvin smiled at the ground, his face proud. “Because I mended it.”
Abigail kept on swinging. “You mended it?”
Melvin said a big, “Yup.”
"Why?" She asked, craning her neck to look at all the stuck on leaves that were long past dead and moving swiftly into decay.
"I don't like broken things, folks say I'm broken and it's not nice, so I keep my tree mended, and other things if I find them broke."
"What other things?"
Melvin pointed up to one of the branches. Abigail followed the direction of his finger-tip and saw what looked like a bird. She decided it was definitely a bird, though she had no idea what kind, it looked as if it was made up of half of a blackbird and the rest a raven, all taped together and fastened to the branch in the same manner.
"I mended that when it was broke." He pointed to a different branch. Abigail saw a squirrel cocooned in sticky tape. The more she looked the more mended things she saw.
"You sure have fixed a lot of things Melvin," Abigail said, starting to swing again.
"Yup, seems there's always something that needs to be mended." He got up and started to climb the tree.
"What'cha doing?" Abigail asked.
Melvin stopped climbing, looked down and smiled. "I keep the things that need fixing up here, but you're not to tell anyone, it's my secret, yours now too, that is, if you're my friend."
Abigail smiled. "Then we're friends."
"Friends," Melvin repeated as though he could taste the word in his mouth, it tasted nice, like chocolate ice-cream.
Abigail went back to swinging as Melvin reached his little hidey-hole.
He took the large shoebox from the plastic bag and opened it. He smiled at the medley of bones and such, all things waiting their turn to be mended.
"How do you mend them?" Her curiosity had finally gotten the better of her.
"My poppa taught me how, but with automobiles. He had lots of broken automobiles, he'd take from one to fix another, then fix the other when more parts came along."
Abigail nodded as though it all made perfect sense and continued to swing.
Melvin delved through the bones. His fingers traipsing over the small skull and what he thought was maybe an arm bone. After finding the small skull in Merewether's back-yard he'd gone back and dug a bit deeper and struck gold in the shape of more bones. It was good to find things that needed mending. He'd only trespassed and done the excavation because Mr. Merewether had kept dogs and Melvin had hoped to get some dog parts as Mrs. Jackson's pooch had been hit by a car and had lost a hind-leg, he was sure the bits he'd found weren't dog-kind, but he'd kept them because they needed mending too.
Melvin looked down at the human pendulum.
He smiled. "Yup?"
"Do you have a girlfriend?"
"Naw." Melvin blushed, from pale to beetroot in the space of a heartbeat.
"Tom has, he's real mad that he had to leave her when we moved. Have you ever had a girlfriend?"
"Naw!" Melvin looked every which way but at little Abigail. "Nurse Betty once cupped my jangleys and asked me to cough, and nana Jenkins gave me a kiss on her deathbed, that count?"
"I guess," Abigail said, sorrow in her voice. She looked up, her eyes wide. "I've never had a boyfriend, you want to be it?"
Melvin's words came quick. "I'd make a good boyfriend, I'd bring you ribbons for your hair, and chocolates when I have money enough."
That made her smile.
Melvin went back to his calcium treasures.
"Watch me Melvin!" Abigail called as she worked to get the swing higher and higher.
Melvin looked from the box and grinned. "You go getting much higher and you'll be on the moon! It's made of cream cheese, did you know that?"
"No it's not!"
Melvin didn't like arguments and shouting so he just whispered to himself, "Is too." And went back to his box.
A scream made Melvin jump. He looked down. The old rope had rubbed past being frayed and had given up and broke. Abigail was thrown like she weighed nothing more than wishes off the plank-seat and tossed a good dozen yards.
Her scream stopped when she landed.
"You okay, Abigail?" Melvin asked, starting down the tree as fast as he could.
He got over to her, fell to his knees and rolled her over.
Her eyes were closed and blood ran from a deep gash in her brow, so deep he could see bone.
"Aww, naw...Abigail, you okay?" He gave her a gentle shake.
Abigail didn't stir.
"You broken Abigail, you need to be mended." He looked up at the tree, at the box, the box filled with the things that needed mending too. His poppa's voice echoed through the hallways of his head. He listened to the words, having heard them so often he reckoned he could recite them if the need arose.
"I'll mend you Abigail, I'm supposed to be fair and mend the things that have been waiting the longest, but you're my gal, so I'll get you mended up, cross my heart and hope to die, can't get much more of an oath than that." He stood up, a heavy sigh bled from his mouth as he returned to his tree and began to climb it to fetch the box and do some mending.
Marybeth Miller smiled as her husband and son came into the kitchen burdened with tools and such from the hardware store. The house was her perfect dream, but even perfect dreams still needed work, the kind that went hand in glove with wallpaper.
"I'll start fixing lunch in a little while," she said.
"Want me to go fetch Abigail, Mom?" Tom asked, setting down his armload of wallpaper.
Marybeth smiled. "I'll go get her, you give your dad a hand."
She headed out the door. She stood taking in the new surroundings. After so long in the city the quietness felt strange, like it was only borrowed, but she was sure she didn't want to give it back. She headed across the field towards the tree where Tom had said he'd made the swing.
Her eyes narrowed. She could see the swing arcing back and forth. Little Abigail in the seat. It was the man pushing it that caused her concern. In this day and age there was no telling what horrors could happen, even if just imagined. She hastened her stride.
The man was wearing dungarees like a yahoo and grinning as he pushed the swing.
Marybeth looked at Abigail, there was something different, something stiff like she wasn't riding the swing but fastened to it.
She was no more than thirty yards away when she could make out the blood on the Yahoo's clothes.
He wore an idiot grin as he said, "It's okay, I mended Abigail."
Lee's fiction has appeared on numerous eZines such as A Twist of Noir, Powder Burn Flash, MicroHorror, FlashShots etc, and in such anthologies as Cern Zoo: Nemonymous 9, Howl: Dark Tales of the Feral and Infernal and upcoming in No One Can Hear You Scream, Don't Tread on Me, Flash, and Flash Fiction: 365 Days of Flash. You can find out more and read some of his work at www.leehughes.net