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Work in Progress: Sept. 15, 2022

Locations: Fiction, Opinion Published

Notes in The Pocket
By Tom Mercer

Zachary Gene Smithson led a solitary sort of life in a very small town in Central Illinois. Zachary was born there, just as his parents had been, and he knew nearly everybody in town by name. That was no major feat, as the population of Farland was a meager 123 souls. 

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The town had one grocery store, one hardware store and one gas station. There had been a bank, but it closed long ago. There wasn’t even a school in Farland, so students had to be bussed or driven to a district school miles away.

Most folks in Farland led an uneventful life, and Zachary Gene Smithson was no exception. He worked as a clerk in the town’s small hardware store. The store owner, Walt Jones, was a kind man who was soft-spoken and tended to keep to himself.  The two men did not engage in the town’s primary social activity which consisted of gossip and idle speculation about their neighbor’s private lives. Privacy was a rare commodity in Farland.

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It was a Thursday in the month of May when Zachary’s life unexpectedly changed.

 He had awakened at 6:00 a.m., just as he did on every workday. He got out of bed, had a light breakfast and looked out the window of his home to check on the day’s weather. 

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At 7:15 a.m. Zachary started his walk to the hardware store. It was chilly that day, so Zachary put his hands into the pockets of the light jacket he had recently purchased at a second-hand store; and that was when his simple life took an unexpected step into a great mystery. His left hand felt a piece of paper within his jacket pocket. He didn’t recall leaving anything in there, so he pulled the paper out and found a hand-printed note. The note read as follows:

“Good morning, Zachary. Don’t take your usual route to work today. Instead, go by the grocery store and buy yourself a nice doughnut.” 

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Zachary was dumbfounded. He wondered who might have written the note. But, rather than questioning a good idea, he stopped by the grocery store and bought a doughnut with maple icing. 

Later that morning, after some thought, he decided that his employer Walt had to have left the note in his jacket, so he later thanked him for it. However, Walt replied, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Zachary. I didn’t put anything in the pocket of your jacket.” 

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Zachary was puzzled but elected not to question his employer’s denial. There just weren’t many jobs to be had in Farland. So, the doughnut mystery was set aside and not revisited for the remainder of the day.

Zachary woke the next day, had breakfast and looked out the window to check the weather. It was autumn and there was a chill in the air, so he donned his jacket and began the short walk to the hardware store.  He hadn’t taken 10 steps when he put his chilled hands into his jacket pockets and found a second note, which read as follows:

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“Good morning, Zachary. Be kind to animals today. They give us so much, and ask for so little in return.”

Zachary was still pondering the note when a Labrador retriever crossed the street and approached him. It was Sid Phillips’ dog, and, knowing that Sid would never have let his beloved dog run loose, Zachary gently led the dog back to its owner’s house. Zachary rang Sid’s doorbell, and within seconds he answered the door. Sid instantly displayed a huge smile of relief and thanked Zachary for returning the dog. Zachary then continued his walk to work, silently wondering what the next day might bring.

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The following morning, Zachary checked the pockets of his jacket within minutes of getting out of bed and, just as he had hoped, there was another note in the pocket. The note said,

“Good morning, Zachary. One of the most fulfilling opportunities in life is simply to help someone in need.”

It was Zachary’s day off, so after a quick breakfast he put on his jacket and headed out the door in search of someone that he could help. It was a small town, and it wasn’t long before Zachary spotted Wally Smithson digging a hole in his front yard. Wally was going to plant a new tree in the yard and Zachary was determined to assist him. So, Zachary draped his jacket over Wally’s white picket fence and the men took turns digging a hole big enough to accommodate the tree’s root ball.

It took less than an hour to complete the job, and Wally expressed his appreciation for Zachary’s help. They exchanged goodbyes and Zachary turned to retrieve his jacket from the fence, but it was gone. 

Jerry Clark was a troubled teen. He despised his life in the little town of Farland. There was nothing to do in town, and he had very few friends — two, to be exact — and they were not known for contributing to the community in any way, shape or form.

Jerry thought it was a good day when he found a jacket draped across a fence where two men were planting a tree. He snagged the jacket and briskly walked away from the scene of the crime. Jerry hoped to find a wallet in the jacket, but instead — when he had an opportunity to go through its pockets — he found this note:

“This jacket will never fit you. It will never protect you against a cold wind, and the only thing you will ever find in the pocket after today is regret, fear, and the knowledge that you could have been so much more than you have become.”

And so, Jerry’s worst expectations were verified by a stolen article of clothing. The jacket never kept him warm, it stained easily and each day the pocket contained messages that addressed the negative aspects of Jerry’s character. Perhaps clothes do make the man…or could it be the other way around?

Tags: #The Sopris Sun #Tom Mercer #Work in Progress
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