​​Short Story by: Patrick W. Emmett

Tree Oh Seven

Tree…. Tree..Oh..Seven.” Then there was a final escape of air and that was the end.
The knot of people around the man who had just uttered his final words stood there in open mouthed silence, before one of them said, “What did he say?”
“I don’t know. I couldn’t hear him.”
“He said something about tree or three or thirty three one seven.”
“He said what?”
“Three Three Oh Seven.”
“Three, like in three little pigs?”
“Yah I think so.”
“You sure that’s all he said?”
“He just woke up for a minute looked around at each of us then saw young Joey over there and said “Three three oh seven.”
“What does it mean Joey?”
They all looked at him with intense interest.  Joey shook his head and said, “I don’t know?”

“You don’t know? What the hell you talking about boy. You don’t know or you won’t tell us?”
“Yah, which is it?” Another one asked.
“You spent a lot of time out there with him. We heard about how you would take him groceries and buy him his corn liquor all the time.”
“Devils work!” One of the women intoned. “Only those doomed to hell partake in that dreadful sin.” 
“We had this discussion before Joey. Did he ever tell you where he had all that money stashed? Now don’t you lie to us boy.”
“No! Honestly. He never said a word to me or my Mom.”
“You better not be lying boy.”
“Did he have a will filed with the county?” Someone asked.
“No. I checked, nothing at the courthouse.” said another.
We’d better go out there to look around. There may be some documents in the house.”
“Or the barn.” Someone else added.
“Hell, he could have buried it along with all of his cash. That’s just the way he was, always secretive about everything.”
“Joey here and his Mom are the next of kin, you know”
“We don’t know that. We don’t have no proof that Joey or his Mother are even related to old Jack.”
“He was a loner. He came back here years ago. Old stories float around about him going off to some foreign land. Some folks say that he hit it big in the oil business, cashed in and came back here. He had that Filipino woman that lived with him. What was her name?”
“Angelina.” One woman said.
“Yah, that’s it! What ever happened to her anyway?”
They looked around to each other and eventually their looks landed on Joey. “She died sometime back. She’s buried in St Bridget’s Cemetery.” He said.
“They have any kids?”
“No. Not that I am aware of. Mom never spoke of any.”
“What about Filipino woman? Did she have any other family, someplace else?”
“I, I don’t think so.” Joey said.
“Good. As concerned citizens and neighbors, we need to take it upon ourselves to see to it that Jack’s property is properly looked after.”
“The house on the hill and barn are old. I agree that we really need to go out there to see if the property needs to be condemned.”
Joey stood there among the group of people talking about his late uncle and his property. Not one of them, other than Joey was even remotely related to him. Joey’s mother would have been here today, to be with her only surviving brother but she was home sick, with terminal diabetes.
At first, Joey thought that all of the people in the room were friends of his uncle Jack, people that he had known, people who had cared about him during his lifetime. But as he surveyed the room all he saw was Jack’s neighbors from down the road, the town Mayor, a woman who sat on the County Commission and two or three church ladies as Jack liked to call them.
Jack would say ”Yah, them church ladies are always comin around, leaving me food then looking around, curious like. They weren’t here to deliver the word of the lord or the food. They were here because they were looking for the fortune that they thought I had on my property. They were just like everyone else who came out here Joey, except you and my sis.”
Joey stood in a corner of the room as the men and women discussed Jack and his property. A tear slid down his cheek. He would genuinely miss old Jack. He already had Jack’s dog Bingo, at his Mom’s house. The guard goat, Moses was still out at Jack’s but he could take care of himself, always did anyway.

He thought about all of this talk for a moment. Jack’s place wasn’t in town. How did the Mayor think he had any authority to go out there? He listened more intently for more clues. All he could make out, was that it would be in the best interest of the community if they, as a committee of concerned citizens went out there to make sure everything was all right.
Joey spoke up, “I don’t think my Uncle Jack would want y’all out there on his land like that.”

They stopped talking. Everyone turned to face Joey. Apparently, they saw no threat because the biggest man, a man who was with the lady from the county commission said, “We don’t want no trouble from you Joey. Just step aside and let us do our duty for the community.”
One of the church ladies spoke up and said, “Lord, Lord, heaven only knows what sinful practices took place out on that property with that foreign woman, Angelina. They were probably worshiping the devil.”
A skinny man who had not said much to this point stepped forward and said, “You know me Joey?”
“Yes Reverend Martin. You are the preacher over at the Avenging Angel Tabernacle, down the road from my Uncle Jack.”
“Joey, if there have been sinful practices out at old Jack’s place then we need to go out and sanctify the land, purify it of any sinful deeds that may have taken place.” He looked at Joey intently then said, “You understand that, don’t cha boy? You don’t want you or your Mom to burn in hell for all eternity, do you?”
“No.” Joey said weakly. “But.”
“But what? It is our duty to go out there on your behalf, and the behalf of our entire community.” He said this as he raised both hands palm up as if to appeal to the heavens. Then he looked down at Joey then at the others and said, “Let’s go.”
Every man and woman who had crowded into Jack’s room for his passing scurried out through the hospital door into the dimly lit hall. Jack heard one man say, “Better check the town cemetery, lots 307 and 3307, just in case.”
Joey looked down at his dead uncle. He reached over and touched his hand. Cold already. Jack was gone. Joey felt a deep sense of loss. He sighed, sniffled and wiped another tear from his eye and said, “Goodbye Uncle Jack. You were cranky sometimes but I liked hearing your stories, some of them over and over again but I never got tired of hearing them.”
The next day Joey got up and put the coffee on as usual. He checked on his mother who was awake and moving around slowly in her room.
“Morning Ma.”
She sat on the edge of her bed exhausted from just having gotten dressed and said, “Morning Joey.”
He could see that she had been crying and he asked, “You all right?”
“You know, when Jack and I were young we were pretty close. We would play together as kids but we both went our separate ways. I married your dad who worked hard hauling timber. I had your brother Robert then you. Jack moved away and we lost touch. I heard he went into the service, Navy I think. He got out and travelled the world. Then things got bad around here. Your brother died of the Meningitis. Your father never accepted his death. He left you and me and then I heard that he was killed down in Louisiana on one of them oil rigs.  Jack came home a few years after that. He came back with Angelina and the two of them bought that place out there in the hills. They came into town only rarely but he made sure that you and I were always taken care of. Every month he mailed a letter to me with money to cover our rent and food.”
“I know Ma that’s why I went out there. He had been living out there alone for a lot of years, no one to talk to. I liked his company.”
“He was a smart man. Some people said he made a lot of money. I don’t know if it’s true or not, we never talked about money.”
“He never mentioned anything about a will or a bank account?”
“He didn’t believe in banks. He said they were the most evil institution invented by man. As far as a will, he never mentioned one.”
“Well, as his only living relative you will probably will inherit his land.” Joey said.
“Ain’t worth much. It’s not good for farming, may be some timber on it, but really, the land is just too far from any main roads to make it worthwhile.”
“I like the place. Besides his house there is an old barn on the property and a creek, way back behind the house. He said all of that was his."
“Too remote for me. I never liked the place.”
“Good for deer hunting though.” Joey added.
“I suppose you are right about that. I know that he and Angelina would drive all the way over to the other county on the other side of the ridge to go shopping. I would always ask, why don’t you come down here, and buy your things? His answer to me was always the same, “Don’t like them self-righteous bastards.”
“Yah, when I would take him his whiskey he would always take care to open the bottle slowly, kind of like a ritual. He would pour a shot in a glass, replace the lid, then set the bottle on the table before he sipped the whiskey.”
“You ever drink some out there?”
“Fraid so Ma. You didn’t say no to Uncle Jack.”
“One time he told me that those holly rollers, you know them tabernacle folks down the road from him? He said every week-end they would begin to hooting and hollering and singing. He would laugh and say, 'And that was always a good time for me and Bingo to do a little shotgun practice.'  He said it worked every time.”
“He told me that they would come up and complain about his shotgun shootin’ on the Lords Day. He told them every day was the Lords Day. They offered to buy him out several times, wanted to make a retreat out of his property or something. They were there at the hospital when he died.”

“What did they want?”
“They think he buried some treasure out there on his property. They want the money and they want his land. I think they are going to try to take your rightful inheritance.”
“There ain’t much to inherit I’m afraid. If we got the land we would have to figure out how to pay the taxes on it.”
“Mom, you need better care for your diabetes than you are getting from your doctor here. If we can sell that land, we might be able to keep you from losing your foot.”
“I ain’t long for this world sweetheart. The diabetes has done got me. It’s painful and I can barely get around any longer. If there is anything, if you can get anything at all from the land, take it, get out and make a better life for yourself. Their ain’t nothing around here but misery.”
Joey knew that he could never leave his Mother while she lived. He would do everything to make sure she was as comfortable as possible in her final years.
Joey’s 23 years had not been kind to him. First he lost his brother when he was 10 then his father shortly thereafter. His mother worked hard at a local laundry, washing clothes for the lumbermen and coal miners around town. Joey was sickly as a child and grew up small. He never participated in sports and only made passable grades in school. He took care of his mother and made extra money cleaning up chip around the lumber processing yard. He was not considered a marriage prospect by the local girls who were looking for ways out of their own poverty so he did not have a girlfriend. He contented himself to care for his mother and his Uncle Jack as long as he could. Now with Jack gone, it was just his mother.
Joey called the funeral director to ask him what to do with his Uncle Jack. Joey and his Mother didn’t have much money but they would do what they could to make sure that Jack got a decent burial.
“Already taken care of.”
“Taken care of, what do you mean, by who?”
“All paid for. His coffin, embalming, interment, all of it. No service or formal funeral, Jack’s specific wishes.”
“When, I mean how?”
“Jack came in here years ago when his wife Angelina died and made plans for himself. Made plans for your Mother too.”
“I didn’t know he had the money to do that.”
“He paid cash. All I know is that he took care of everything. We'll pick him up at the hospital today and  bury him tomorrow. He wanted to be buried as soon as possible after his death.”
“What time? I want to be there.”
“Ten o’clock in the morning. He left a last wish for you.”
“Well, kind of. He left an old bottle of whisky. Said to give it to you when the time came, and I guess that time is now.”
Joey went to work and told his supervisor that he would need the next day off because his uncle had died.
“Your Uncle?”
“Yes sir, my Uncle Jack.”
“Not your Father or your Mother?”
“No sir.”
“Not your wife or one of your kids?”
“No sir?”
“Then I will expect to see you here tomorrow, as usual.”
Joey tilted his head to one side and said, “Sir?”
“Plain and simple, if it ain’t your immediate relative you gotta work.”
Joey needed the job. This guy had been a thorn in his side since day one, but Joey was not a person to face a situation head on. He said, “Goodbye.” He turned and left the man to wonder if Joey meant Goodbye for the day or Goodbye I won’t be back.
Joey stopped by the local grocery and picked up some food to prepare for dinner. The young grocery check out girl was always very friendly to him and she greeted him with a welcome smile. Joey never thought much about her because he knew that he had nothing to offer the desperate girls of his town. Most of the available girls would hang out at the local tavern or at that Tabernacle, trolling for suitable mates. He didn’t know where the grocery clerk hung out. He thought she had a small child though.
“Hi Joey! Sorry to hear about your Uncle Jack.”
“Thanks” He had to check her name badge, “Mandy”
“Most folks around here didn’t know too much about him. Said he was hard to get to know.”
“Yah, I know. They said he had a fortune hid on his land.”
“You don’t believe that, do you?  Do I look like I have a bunch of money?”
She laughed and said, “As much as any of the rest of us, I guess.”
She finished checking out the items that he had purchased and she said, “I know that you will want some time to grieve about your Uncle but, would you want to go to the movies over in Clarkston County on Friday?”
Joey made a kind of shuffling gesture. He didn’t have much cash and might not even have a job after tomorrow, so he didn’t respond right away. Mandy boldly spoke up and said, “My treat! You drive. What do you say?”
People were standing in line behind him. Embarrassed he said, “I have this funeral I have to go to...”
“I understand, perhaps another time.” Mandy quickly added. “I just thought...”
“No, no, I really would like to go, it’s just...”
“I understand”
“Would you two lovebirds mind? I need to get home." the man standing behind Joey said with some irritation.
Joey left in a hurry, leaving one of his bags on the counter.
The next day the wind, the clouds, the drizzling rain and the temperature all combined to make for a miserable day. Joey managed to get his mother transferred from the wheelchair into the front seat of his pick-up truck. At the cemetery, they drove down a muddy track to the gravesite and parked. One other vehicle was already there when they pulled up.
“You stay here out of the rain Mama. I’ll go make sure he’s properly laid to rest.”
“I’m just sorry we didn’t have no preacher out to say some words over him.” She said, dabbing a tear from her eye with a handkerchief.
“That’s alright Ma, I have a poem right here that Jack gave to me.” Joey said touching his jacket pocket.
Joey slid out of the pick-up and adjusted his ball cap lower over his eyes to keep the rain off of his face. He shoved his hands deep into his pockets and walked past the backhoe to the tent where the funeral director stood waiting for him.
“I hope we’re not late.” Joey said.
The funeral director shook his head and said, “No, take your time. Will there be anyone else.”
Standing under the tent Joey pulled his coat collar up to ward off the biting cold wind. “No it’s just Ma and me.”
“I have an umbrella; do you want me to help her to graveside?”
“No, that’s alright. The cold would do her no good.”
Joey looked at the coffin straddling the webbing that would eventually lower Jack into his final resting place.
After a moment the funeral director said, “I have some final words, if you would like.”
That brought Joey out of his thoughts. He sighed and said, “That’s alright, I have something here.”
He dug into his jacket pocket and unfolded a piece of paper and read aloud;
"I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born."
“That’s very moving.” The funeral director said, “Shakespeare?”
“Yates. He always said to read this if anything happened to him.” Joey said this has he refolded the paper and replaced it in his pocket. 
He stood there for a moment then said, “Thank you” and turned to walk off.
“Oh, I almost forgot. It’s in the car. I’ll follow you to your truck.”
Joey got into the truck and waited. The funeral director quickly returned with a leather pouch. Joey rolled down the window and the director handed the bag to him. “He said to give this to you.”
Joey opened the bag and saw a bottle of whiskey inside. “Yah, that’s something Uncle Jack would do. “Thank you for everything.” Joey said shaking the funeral directors hand.
When Joey got home he turned up the heat to make his mother more comfortable.
“You going to be alright Ma?” He yelled out.
“I’m fine, if you have to go somewhere.”
“I think I’ll go see if I still have a job.”
“Pick up some of that Mexican food on your way home, would you? I have a taste for that tonight.” She yelled back from the back of the house. There’s some money on the dining room table. Use that.”
Joey knew that this was the last of the money that his uncle Jack had sent at the first of the month. That money would be gone soon and they would have to start wondering where their next meal would be coming from. He scooped up a twenty and pulled his truck key out of his pocket and headed outside. The rain had let up.
Joey drove to the lumber processing plant and went to the time clock. He did not find his card. He went inside and asked the office lady where his timecard was and she said that his boss had picked it up and turned it in, saying that Joey would no longer be working at the lumber yard. The lady said he would receive a paycheck for time earned at the end of the month.
Joey shook his head and walked back out to his truck. He sat there and studied the raindrops on his windshield. Finally he said, “It’s not like he didn’t warn me. Oh well!” He slipped the keys into the ignition and started his truck.
Joey pulled into the parking lot of la Cocina Mexican restaurant and went inside. He was just leaving the restaurant when a car pulled up next to him. He turned around and saw Mandy looking at him through the rolled down window of her car.”
“How did it go with your Uncle?”
“Everything went fine. He'll rest in peace now.”
“Look, I hope I didn’t embarrass you yesterday. I really would like to go to a movie with you.”
The wind was wet cold and froze on Joey’s cheeks. “I would like that too. It’s just that...”
“It’s about my little boy isn’t it? You don’t want to go out with me because I have a kid. I understand.”
Joey frozen face suddenly flushed, “No! Not that. I didn’t even know, I mean it doesn’t matter to me. What I’m trying to say is I lost my job today because I went to my uncle’s funeral. I can’t afford to take you.” He said with abject humility.
“Oh, I am so sorry. What will you do?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“Look, they are always looking for stockers at the grocery. I’ll talk to the manager. I’m sure he’ll put you on.”
“You’d do that for me?”
“Sure." She looked at him, the drizzle dripping off of his ball cap. She smiled and said,  "I still want to go to that movie with you, and besides, I think you’re cute.”
No girl or woman had ever called Joey cute before. He didn’t know what to say and he said so. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Say yes.”
Still confused by the conversation Joey said, “Can I think about it and let you know tomorrow?”
Mandy frowned and then laughed and said, “Sure.”
Joey started to turn to get into his car and she spoke up again and she said, “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
Feeling stupid and not knowing what she was talking about he said, “Forgetting something?”
“Yah, like my phone number, and this.” She handed him the bag of groceries, through the car window that he had left at the store.
“Oh yes!”
She wrote out her phone number on a napkin that Joey handed to her from his bag of Mexican food, now getting cold.
The next morning Joey got up like he did every morning only this time, he had no work to go to. That saddened him. His mother was having a tough time breathing and was coughing a lot. He told her about meeting Mandy. He thought that she might be jealous but she was very happy and asked a lot of questions. He told her that he thought she had a child.
“That’s alright. If she is nice, her child will be nice too. Don’t let that get in your way. Look to her heart. It would make me very happy if you had someone, especially after I’m gone.”
He told her that he wanted to go out to uncle Jacks. He wanted to see if any of those well-meaning, community minded people were still there. He called for Bingo, Jack’s dog and said, “Hey Bingo, you want to go out to visit your home?” The dog barked an enthusiastic yes.
When Joey arrived at his Uncle Jacks property he could not believe his eyes. It looked like world war three had taken place. Holes had been dug everywhere. Two concrete statues that had served as yard art were broken into pieces and the gravel road that led to his uncle’s house was a muddy track from the cars and trucks that had moved up the lane during the rain.
The destruction to the front yard was nothing compared to the pillage that had taken place both on and in the house. Joey stepped gingerly around holes and pieces of two by four with nails protruding from them. Large sections of the exterior siding had been ripped off. The front porch had been smashed to pieces and the decorative shrubs had all been pulled out to reveal their root balls.
Joey stepped through the wide open front door into a mess. Uncle Jack’s furniture was missing, looted off the premises. Floor boards had been ripped up here and there, no wall was spared, no board unturned and the rubble was left piled in the middle of each room. His uncles back porch was missing. This was the porch he and his uncle would sit on to look out over the valley to the creek far below.
The carnage was just too much. Joey could not take the total disappointment of first losing his uncle and now losing everything that had been his uncles. He couldn’t fight back the tears any longer. He walked to his pick-up and sat there with the door open scanning the landscape, looking at the muddy holes in the ground and destruction to the barn.
Bingo came running up and jumped into the cab with him. He whined and then lay down on the seat looking up at Joey. That was when Joey noticed the bag. He had forgotten all about it. His uncle had left it for him with the funeral director.
Joey checked the bag, just the bottle. He took his time opening the bottle. He didn’t have a glass so he took a swig straight out of the bottle. The jolt of whiskey made his eyes smart and he coughed. He was not much of a drinker but he always enjoyed imbibing a shot with his uncle Jack on the back porch, listening with interest to his stories.
This time, of course, there would be no stories. Joey took another swig and then another. He looked down at Bingo. “You miss him, don’t you Bingo old boy. I miss him too.”
Joey stared through the hazy, dirty glass of his truck’s windshield. He looked off to the ridge on the far side of the valley. Down below, he saw the creek that flowed through Jack’s land. Something moved and light reflected. Straining to see Joey tried to wipe the windshield. Failing to comprehend what he was looking at he said, “Common boy, let’s go down there and see what’s up.”
Bingo didn’t have to be asked twice. He was immediately up on all fours, his tail wagging. Bingo bounded in and around the holes and piles of dirt and debris left by the would-be fortune hunters. Finally, near the creek Joey focused on what had been the center of his attention. The clinking sound of bottles tied on strings were banging into each other by the slight breeze and reflecting sunlight.
Suddenly, Joey was startled when there was a sudden movement from behind the tree. It was the guard goat that Jack had on his property. The goat was eating the labels off of the bottles.
Something about the bottles looked familiar. Then it hit him. Joey was holding the same bottle in his hand. He inspected it and sure enough, they were all the same size. The bottles had been tied to the tree like Christmas ornaments. The tree was like one huge wind chime.
It was pretty. Then, suddenly, Joey knew what his uncle was trying to tell him, the old tree with the bottles on it. He rushed over to the tree and looked it all over. The tree really looked like two trees that had grown together. He walked around to the side facing the creek and saw a cavity where indeed, two trees had fused together to form one trunk.
Excited now, he got on his hands and knees and looked into the hole. He couldn’t see anything. He looked around and found a stick. He poked at the hole pulling piles of leaves out. Using the stick he probed and the stick hit something solid. A box maybe?
Joey dropped the stick and reached in with his hand and found a metal box wrapped in plastic. He pulled the box out. The box was heavy but not especially large. He carefully opened it.
Joey separated the items. There were several pieces of paper, some bags of coins a gold watch and a letter addressed to Joey.
Joey sat down with his back to the tree and took another swig from the bottle of Jack Daniels. He opened the envelope with his name on it and began to read.
"If anyone else finds this, may your ass rot in hell. Joey, this letter is to you and if you are reading it, I am no longer of this world. I want you to know that I always enjoyed the time you spent out here at my place. I have to tell you that after Angelina died it got pretty lonely out here. Bingo and I always looked forward to your visits."
"In this box you will find a copy of my will. I filed it in Clarkston County because all of my land except the front yard and barn are in that county. I love my Sis but Joey, I left everything to you; my dog Bingo, Moses the goat, the farm, your Grandfather’s gold railroad watch, a few gold coins that I collected years ago and a stack of bearer’s bonds. Don’t know what they are worth now, but I think you’ll do alright. One thing about the land, a fella came by a few times and told me what I already knew, that the land sits on top of a thick seam of hard rock coal. He wanted to buy me out and level the hill top. Angelina and I had sat on that porch and watched the far valley for so many years I just couldn’t make myself sell. Once you get the land, do what you like, I have no use for it now."
"Those crazy coots in town and those holy rollers across the road and down the hill all believed that I had buried a fortune in gold out here on my land. Bingo, Moses and I was always chasing one of them off. They were just stupid about it. I may have been a little eccentric but I wasn’t that crazy, till now anyway."
"When you get a chance, open a bottle of Jack Daniels and give me a toast."
Tearful, Joey replaced the letter in its envelope. He hefted the bag of gold coins and guessed its weight between twelve and fourteen pounds. He inspected his Grandfathers watch. It still ran and kept time. Bingo came up and nudged him and Joey scratched him behind his ears.
“I don’t know what to say Bingo.” Then it occurred to him, he reached over picked up the bottle, saluted the sky and said, “Here’s to you Uncle Jack. I’ll try to make you proud.”
Joey walked back to his truck with the metal box under his arm. Bingo jumped in, he slid into the truck and they drove to town. He showed the items from the box to his mother and they cried together. Joey said, “Mom, first thing tomorrow, we’re going over to that doctor in Clarkston County. We will find the best care for you we can get.”
 “I gotta make a phone call Ma, if you don’t mind.”
“How did you know? How did you find the box?”
“Easy. I saw the tree then the bottles just floating in the breeze on string. They were all the same as the one I had in my hand, Jack Daniels Number 7. Tree, Old Number 7. That’s what he was telling me when he died.”
“Well, Jack always liked his Jack.” His mother said.
Joey dialed the number on the napkin and said, “Hello Mandy? How about us going out to a movie this week-end, over in Clarkston County?”