Today, Fern walked along the weedy side walks alone. She stopped some times to pick at the weeds and broken bits of sidewalk rubble. The sky was filled with clouds, but there were plenty of gaps that reassured her that the blue sky was still there. This made her feel happy, so she picked at the weeds a bit more enthusiastically than she usually did and threw that rubble harder and further.
This was probably how the stone landed atop the building roof of a store. “Hey!” Fern heard someone cry out.
Fern gasped and froze. She felt that petrifying feeling that children often felt when they knew that they had done something wrong to someone who could punish them. She looked up at the roof. The head of an old, bearded man peered over at her. He looked unusually red, which he couldn’t have gotten from sun bathing. There was no sun out today. “Little girl, did you chuck that stone at my face here?” he spoke like Fern’s Grandpa Maine. Grandpa Maine had a stroke a long time before Fern was born and now he spoke funny. Grandpa Maine also whipped Fern a lot more than her father or other grandparents. Fern stood frozen, looking guiltily at the old man, whose bald head was framed by a beard that matched the grey clouds.
“I…” Fern began but could not get the words out.
“I’m gonna ask you again, little girl. Did you, or did jer not, chuck this stone at me?” the old man said.
“I did. But I didn’t mean to!” Fern said. She held onto her notepad in her pocket, something she always did when she was frightened. She often did so when grandpa was angry, or when she found herself in a part of the city she didn’t recognize and was lost.
“Well, don’t keep on doin’ it, kay little girl?” said the old man. He smiled. “It’s ma day off and I don’t want to spend it getting rocks thrown at me.”
“Oh, Okay! I’ll stop,” Fern called out. The old man smiled and nodded, then waved goodbye and disappeared behind the roof. Fern turned to leave, but realized that she didn’t really have anywhere to go. It was Saturday and she did not need to be home until six o’clock for dinner. She looked at the building the old man was atop of. It was a shop of some sort that Fern had assumed to be closed down like all of the other shops in this neighborhood. She peered into the dark window and saw a lot of tables with tools on them. There were also many boxes in the room. Fern looked up and shouted, “Excuse me.”
The old man looked down at her. “What’s the trouble, little girl?”
“What do you do?” said Fern.
“What do you mean, what do I do? I normally work here, that’s what I do,” the old man said.
“Oh,” Fern said. “It’s just that, I’ve never seen one of these small stores opened before. I was wondering what this shop was?”
The old man peered at the little girl and then smiled. “Well, little lady, this here shop is what’s known as Old Man Jumper’s repair store.”
“Are you old man Jumper?” Fern asked.
“You’re darn right I am. My name is Theodore Jemmings, best and only repair man in the neighborhood,” the old man said. “What I do is fix anything people need me to fix!”
“Anything?” Fern said.
“Absolutely. But today I am on vacation,” he said. “Just like you, little girl. You’re not in school today, and I’m not working.”
“So you don’t have anything to fix?” Fern said,
“Oh, don’t say that. I have plenty of things to fix. Clothes hanger wheels, TVs, Pipes. I just take Saturdays off. A man has to take some time off, you know?” Mr Jemmings disappeared behind the rooftops. “And I do so up here, on the roof of my home.”
“You live here?”
Fern peered into the store. At the back of it was a door that Fern supposed lead to his living room and kitchen and bedrooms. He thought of her mom, keeping cages of rabbits in the garage. She supposed that it made sense to live where you worked. Fern had never before met anyone who owned a store. In fact, she had never before seen a store that could belong to anyone that was still opened. There was a supermarket several blocks away, but that was part of a chain. Fern knew that there was the same supermarket downtown of Hecate. If Fern owned a store she would not take days off. She would work in it everyday so that she could keep enough money to keep it open, especially if she also lived in it. After all, she would not want to lose her store and have nowhere to live.
“Why are you lying on the roof?” Fern asked. “I’m sorry if I’m being annoying.”
“Oh, don’t worry ’bout it. I lie up here because it’s the best spot in the neighborhood to lie down and watch the clouds,” Mister Jemmings said. Fern looked up at the clouds. She saw lots of clouds and very little sky. There were clouds underneath clouds. Fern had never noticed before that there were some clouds underneath other clouds, and she could see the shadows of the big clouds over the smaller ones.
She had never watched the clouds before. To her, it would be like watching the walls or the ceiling of her room. The sky just existed, there was no reason to look at it and see if it would do anything it hadn’t done before. But now she was enjoying it a little bit. Clouds were a little pretty, even if they did cover the beautiful blue sky and the sun.
“Do you watch the clouds on all of your Saturdays?” Fern asked.
“I do. There used to be a lot of time to just sit back and watch the clouds,” Mr. Jemmings said. “I used to be able to take more days off because my boys used to work with me.”
“Then what happened?” Fern asked.
“Oh, they all went and grew up and moved on to their own lives. They all have families now. Now I just sit here on the roof some days and watch the skies. I don’t see much blue skies nowadays, y’know? The sky used to be blue a lot more often. Now there’s nothing but smog and clouds.”
“You don’t like the clouds?” Fern said,
“Oh, clouds have their place in the heavens. But I don’t really like how many clouds there are nowadays. One thing I would really like to fix, if I could, is the sky. I’d love to fix this darn sky.”
“Is the sky broken?”
“I hope so, because it certainly don’t seem fixed,” Mr. Jemmings said.
Fern looked up at the sky for a little bit. She remembered a lot of summer days when the sky was blue. It didn’t seem that rare to her, but she supposed an adult would know better. She then looked into the shop and noticed all of the tools and bits of metal wires in a box.
“Mister Jemmings, do you fix rabbit cages?” Fern asked.
“I certainly can! I’ve fixed a number of good cages in my days,” Mr. Jemmings said.
“How about Televisions? Those must be hard to fix,” Fern said.
“I fix TVs all of the time, these days. Back then, people were too busy working to care whether their TVs were working or not. But now everyone’s got nothing to do but watch TV ’til their electricity shoots through the roof!”
“I have a TV. I don’t ever remembering turning it on, though,” Fern said. “Has my mommy ever asked you to fix a rabbit cage?”
The old man looked down and narrowed his eyes at Fern. “I’m sorry, little lady, but I don’t have my glasses on. Are you Mrs. Maine’s little girl?”
“Yes! I’m Fern Maine,” Fern said.
“Why, then yes! I know your mum. She brings me a cage or two every few months,” The old man said.
“That’s because the rabbits keep biting them!” Fern said.
“They must be strong rabbits,” The old man said. “Y’know, your ma never did tell me what she kept in those cages.”
“We keep rabbits to sell. Mommy says they never stop biting the cages and if our garage door was thinner it would keep me up at night,” Fern said.
“Hmm. With all them holes in the cages, I kept thinking that you kept rats of some sorts in them,” the old man said.
“Why would you eat a rat?” Fern said.
“I wouldn’t eat a rat,” Mister Jemmings said. “Say, would you like to see the shop?”
“I’d love to!” Fern said.