Saturday 6 October 2018

The Sweeper

by James Bates 

hot chocolate

If Will Stevens cared what other people thought or even took the time to think about it, he'd probably figure that people would think he was nuts, spending his days sweeping the sidewalks of the little town he lived in. But he really didn't care about what the residents of Long Lake thought about him at all. He couldn't help what he did, he just did it. They should walk a mile in his shoes, was what he'd say, no pun intended, if any one asked. But they never did. They left him alone, and that was just fine with him.
            It all started a few weeks after his dear twin sister died, this sweeping compulsion. It just seemed like the right thing to do. After all, she liked to keep her room neat and tidy. Even when they were barely in kindergarten, it was little Sally who would have to straighten up her toys and dolls and clothes before they left for school. Will? Well, to put it mildly, he never was one for neatness. Not until she died, anyway.
            Oh, they were close, those twins were, everyone said so, even though Will was sometimes taken out of Mrs. Peterson's first grade class to have some "Extra help." It didn't bother Will or Sally that they were sometimes separated because there was something between them, something special. You see, their mother had died giving birth to them. In fact, she'd died moments after Sally was born. Will had to be surgically removed and seemed to struggle from the beginning, but he never had to worry about being alone. His sister was by his side from day one, and they lived their short life not just as siblings but as best of friends.
            Throughout grade school, Will fell a little further behind every year. "It's a learning disability," was what the professionals said, but that was okay with Will and Sally. Long Lake Elementary was close enough for them to walk, so they could be together and talk on the way to school, and they could catch up on the events of their school day as they walked home. And, a few years later, into junior high and high school, when boys became interested in Sally, and she in them, she still made time to be with Will: talking, watching television together and playing the latest video games, or going on weekend trips to the mall or to movies.
            They were as inseparable as could be, and if Sally's life was fuller than Will's, well, that was alright with him. He liked to read. He liked to build model airplanes. He liked to watch birds. All solitary activities which suited him just fine.
            So when seventeen year old Sally and her date were killed in an automobile accident out on country road six that summer, and his dad told him a few weeks after the funeral to clean out his sister's room, he did. He roused himself from his malaise, grabbed a broom and swept it. When he was finished, he did his room. Then he swept the stairs down to the first floor, and then he did the living room, the kitchen, his dad's bedroom and the bathroom and the spare bedroom. Then he swept the basement.
            When he was done with the house, he moved outside and he swept the brick walkway and the driveway. He didn't stop there. He swept the sidewalk to the corner, and then the next sidewalk and the next sidewalk, and he just kept on sweeping until it was dark and he was exhausted. Then he went home.
            He walked in the back door into the kitchen to the aroma of dinner cooking and set his broom against the wall. His father looked up from where he stood at the stove and asked, "What have you been doing, Will?"
            Will looked at the worn and withdrawn man who was his dad, shrugged his shoulders, and said, "Sweeping."
            His dad looked at him for a long moment and then said, "Well, you must be tired. I've got dinner ready. Meatloaf. Why don't you go sit down? Let's eat."
            So they had dinner and then Will went to bed. His dad didn't seem to mind that his son had spent most of the day sweeping. He had his own problems.
            The next day Will got up, fixed a bowl of cheerios for breakfast, and walked over to Leaf Street where he'd left off the day before and started sweeping again. He spent the entire day at his self appointed job, and, while he swept, he spent every moment thinking about Sally: how they would play together when they were young and talk to each other as they got older and what great times they had together; how much he missed her; and how, now that she was gone, the only time he could be with her was when he was sweeping, reliving all those times with his sister; all those good times when they were together.
That was twelve years ago, and Will is still at it, sweeping the town he and Sally grew up in; summer, fall, winter and spring. He still lives with his father and he only stops his work to eat and sleep. But not for long, because he's soon compelled to start again. After Sally was killed he had sunk in a depression so deep and numbing if seemed as though he might never recover. He was lost. But that was before he started sweeping. It was only when he picked up his broom that he found himself, and when he found himself, he found Sally. When he's sweeping his memories of his sister are clearest; she's still with him and he is not alone.
            But he does have one all encompassing fear and it is this: What happens if he stops sweeping and her memory fades? What if his memory of Sally goes away? He can't have that. She was the most important person in his life, and she still is. If her memory leaves him, then what will he have? Nothing. So he keeps sweeping, day in and day out, remembering Sally. They are together, then, and life is as it should be. It's the only way he can cope with the agony of her loss. He is both sad she is dead and happy he has found a way to keep her with him. He has his life's work cut out for him. He's a sweeper. There are a lot of sidewalks in his town, and with Sally by his side, he doesn't think he'll ever stop.

 About the author

Jim's stories can be found on his blog:

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