I wrote this story very early on in my writing career. (I'm talking several decades ago.) I don't recall if I ever sold it anywhere, but it did win a writing contest in which it was entered. It was inspired by my memories of chasing the chemical mosquito fogger trucks down the street when I was a kid in Brunswick, Georgia.
James Robert Smith
Fred was forgetting something again. He rubbed at his forehead and reached for his shirt pocket where he kept his little notepad.
"Fred? Fred, are you listening to me?"
The voice crackled at him through the receiver he held pressed to his ear, black plastic mashing cartilage. (‘Damn!' He'd almost forgotten he was talking on the phone!) His mind wandered too much, sometimes. "Yes, Will. I'm listening. Just got distracted for a second. That's all." It was Will Hampton, old friend, bothering him about PennCo again.
"Well, you'd better listen to me. This means as much to you as it does to the rest of us."
Fred plucked the small notepad from his pocket, (Yes, he was definitely forgetting something), flipping past the first page which was covered in his chicken scratch. He tossed it to the desktop, whipped a pen from the Georgia Bulldogs coffee mug that was stationed nearby; and he began to scribble. "Yes, Will. Important. That's what you keep saying." He voice betrayed his disinterest and boredom.
"I'm telling you this is bad news! For all of us. My doctor—Sean Seagraves over at Memorial—he got the report back from my examination last month. There's been chromosome damage. Do you understand what I'm saying? Do you?" Fred Dorman could hear the anger lurking just beneath the surface of his old chum's voice.
Fred scribbled. Segrv, dctr, Mem Hos. "Seagraves, you say?"
A sigh of frustration. "Yes. Seagraves. Sean Eugene Seagraves."
Dorman's pen jotted its way across the narrow page, dancing just beneath the warped binder that held the pages as one. "Chromosome damage. I don't understand. You seemed okay when I saw you last week. What does this mean, 'chromosome damage'?"
"Christ, Fred! What the hell is wrong with you? I told you! I told you last week what all this means! I told you yesterday! This is serious shit!"
Fred sighed; tapping the butt of his pen against the desktop, looking down across at Uga the Bulldog scowling back at him from his coffee cup turned penholder. The pen leaped up again, jabbing angrily at lined paper. 'Chrmsm dmg, Wl Hmtn'. "Look, Will. I don't see where this has anything to do with me. What do you want me to do about it? I mean, if you're having medical problems, I can sympathize with that, but what can I do?"
There was a moment of silence from the other end. Will Hampton bit his lower lip to keep from screaming at his boyhood pal. He breathed out; Fred Dorman heard it—a long, even exhalation. "It's like this, Fred: PennCo made the stuff, the DB9. They made it to kill mosquitoes. Remember the foggers that used to ride through the neighborhood when we were kids?"
Yes. Yes, he did remember that. That was one memory he had no problem with, at all. Not at all. Fred Dorman, five years old (Will Hampton, too). Along about dusk on a summer's day in Port City, Georgia. It was 1963, and the call went up. 'Whoop!' The rumble of an approaching motor, growling. The voice of a child, 'Here it comes! The mosquito truck! Yahoo!' There it was, rattling down Trade Street, coming into view. 'Here it comes!' Turning down M Street. 'Our street!' The rumble grew into a machine roar. Loud. Loud. Doors opened wide, spitting out barelegged children. The kids poured out of yards, out of the trees into which they had climbed. The truck came rolling slowly on, creeping toward them at a patient ten miles per. It rode low on its carriage, loaded down as it was by the huge contraption on its back: the fogger. 'It's here! It's here!' The call went out to every kid who had not heard it. More bare legs, bare feet, screeching mouths. The truck rolled on. Behind it, thick plumes of billowing white. A child darted in, disappeared. The acrid stuff swallowed him up. Others joined him. Fred did. Will did. They all did. All the children of Port City, Georgia who resided on M Street and every other street. There they went, diving into the masking, smelly fog. They had no hills to race down. And it never snows in Port City. But they had the mosquito truck once a week in summertime.
"Fred! Are you listening to what I'm saying? Goddamn it!"
The other man snapped back to attention. (Damn! What was he forgetting? Something this morning. Something at home? The keys?) His pocket jingled beneath his slapping palm. (No. Got the keys.) "Don't lose your temper, Will. I just don't see where any of this has anything to do with me."
"Damn you, Fred. Don't you pull any shit on me! I voted for you! I expect you to do something about this!"
"It's not just me, Fred! You! You, too! All of us! We all used to run through that crap like it was rain or something! DB9! They don't fog it all over the streets any more, but they still make it. PennCo is still making that shit at their plant at the edge of our town! Don't you see?"
Fred cleared his throat. (Something he forgot to do this morning? Some chore? He'd taken out the trash. No. That's not it.) "I don't know everything that PennCo makes out at the plant, Will. But I know that they employ 2,000 people in this town. I know that they pay a goodly percentage of this city's tax monies. What is it that you want me to see?"
"What do I want you to see." Will's voice was low and even, the raw edge gone out of it. "My little boy died last month, Fred. There's something wrong with me, too. Can you at least see that far?" Pause. "Can you?"
"Yes, Will." (If not his keys, the trash; then what?) He flipped his notes back a page.
"And you, Fred. You seem to be off in space half the time. You didn't used to be like that. You didn't used to have to keep a pad and pencil to help you remember."
Fred glanced at the first page of the day. Each task was marked off as he had accomplished them. Stb Mry, Stb Chp, Stb Brb, Scr bld: all were lined through. (Maybe if he ran it all through his mind, he could remember what he'd forgotten.)
"Yes?" The line crackled. (He'd gotten up, done those four things. Then what?)
"We're going to the State with this. Dr. Seagraves and I are going to a lawyer, a firm from Atlanta; and we're going to bring a suit against PennCo. Are you going to help us, or not?"
"You know, Will, I've got a lot of friends at PennCo. They mean a lot to this town. They're your friends, too." He stared at the pad. It was coming back to him. (He'd gotten up, seeing Mary as she'd climbed from the shower, her skin glistening with the wet. Her skin. He'd gone into the kitchen, gotten a knife; and he had stabbed her. Six times. There it was in his notes: Stb Mry)
"Save it, Fred. Save it for your speeches in front of the Chamber of Commerce. I don't want to hear it. But I just hoped that we could count on you on this."
"Well, Will (And then, he'd seen it in the kids, in their skin, screaming at him. So he'd stabbed Chip first, and then Barbara; the notes reminded him), I wish that you'd reconsider. At least go to the guys at PennCo and talk it over with them." (And the blood. He'd cleaned it all, scrubbed it right off the linoleum. Yes. Scr bld. He’d marked through it.)
"Christ, Fred. Go fuck yourself." Will hung up.
After a while, Fred remembered to hang up the phone. He lifted the little pad, placed it in front of himself and jotted down what he'd forgotten to do.
Bry thm. He was pretty sure he could remember where he'd stored his shovel.