West Club Boulevard / Walltown
Lincoln was in loss prevention. At age seventeen, he was the youngest ever Loss Prevention Manager in the store where he worked and according to his mother this was something to be proud of. She often bragged to her friends and extended family about how Lincoln had saved enough to cover his first year of college. “With his father gone now,” she would say, “he’s really become the man of the house.”
Lincoln was proud. But as he stood in front of his mirror that July morning, he was not entirely sure that college was in his future after all. Perhaps, he thought as he straightened his name tag and tucked in his shirt, he could become a Loss Prevention Specialist – give seminars, hold conferences for large retailers, write a book, even. Lincoln drew a comb through his short blonde hair and pictured himself on a stage in front of hundreds of corporate executives and their hourly employees. “The girls who come in groups are the most dangerous,” he would tell them, pacing across the stage. “They’ll go into the dressing rooms together to disorient you. And then,” he’ll pause here for dramatic effect, “they put clothes on underneath their own clothes and walk right out of the store in them. Some will even have a getaway car waiting at the curb!” Lincoln had one time caught a girl from his own school wearing seven pairs of underwear and three bras underneath her dress. While they waited for the police to arrive, she’d stared at him viciously and when he made the mistake of eye contact, she’d hissed, “You are such a loser.”
This would be part of the seminar, too, Lincoln thought. Learning to be unpopular with your peers, to whom stealing is a game, an art even. You just have to learn to be better than they are, Lincoln would tell them. “Get inside the mind of the thief,” he said aloud to his bedroom mirror. Then, his mother appeared behind him in the doorway, still in her nightgown. “Better get going,” she said, “Don’t want to be late for work!”
No, Lincoln did not want to be late to work. He had, in fact, never been late, and why ruin a perfect track record? That particular day at work was relatively uneventful – a middle aged woman with a baby slipping a tube of lipstick into her diaper bag. Some people would let it go, but not Lincoln. The woman’s shame did not embarrass him or inspire pity, as he knew it did in some of his team members. Lincoln was manager and knew how to handle these kinds of situations. He remained stoic on the outside, though on the inside, he relished the scarlet hue of the woman’s face, her shaking hands. “Was it worth it?” he always wanted to ask, but never did.
The next day was Lincoln’s day off. With school out for the summer, Lincoln never felt comfortable on his off days, with the house quiet, his mother off shopping or at work. His brain roved, searching for a focus. He didn’t enjoy reading, television made him feel disoriented and ineffectual. Though he did not particularly enjoy interacting with people, he did enjoy watching them, which is what led him out to the front porch, to sit in his mother’s rocking chair and watch the passers-by. Lincoln’s house faced a relatively quiet street, but was on the corner of a much busier thoroughfare, with a fair amount of traffic, a bus line, and on the corner just two blocks up, a gas station and a Dollar General. Lincoln watched as a woman exited the Dollar General – an employee, by the looks of her button-down shirt and name tag – and walked up the sidewalk towards Lincoln’s house and the bus stop. Alongside Lincoln’s house, on the corner of the quiet street and the busy one, was a fig tree his father had planted the year Lincoln was born. The fig tree was large now, and being mid-July, heavy with fruit. No one in the family except Lincoln’s father enjoyed figs, and even Lincoln’s father had eaten them only occasionally, reaching into the boughs from the edge of the porch and plucking a single fig from a branch, popping it into his mouth before heading off to work or out for a run.
Now, Lincoln realized with a start, the woman from the Dollar General had stopped on the sidewalk beside the porch and was standing beneath the fig tree. Lincoln’s fig tree. Now she was pushing the branches aside and now Lincoln saw her small, dark hand reach into the tree and pick a fig. Lincoln stood up from the rocking chair and peered over the edge of the porch. The woman did not stop at just one fig. She reached into her purse, pulled out a plastic Dollar General bag and began filling it – filling it! – with figs from Lincoln’s tree.
It took Lincoln a moment to get ahold of himself. He trotted down the stairs of the porch and rounded the corner until he was standing beside her. When she saw him standing there, she peered out at him from behind a fig leaf larger than her face and smiled. “Hello,” she said, as benignly as if the tree were her own.
“This is my tree,” Lincoln told her.
“Is it?” she said, her voice dreamy, removed. “How lucky you are to have such a lovely tree!” To Lincoln’s astonishment, the woman went right on picking the figs, laying them gently, one on top of the other, in her yellow plastic bag.
“I’m in loss prevention,” Lincoln exclaimed, almost hysterical at this point, though he was still standing there motionless, allowing this woman to steal his figs. In his head, Lincoln ran through the strategies he used to train his team. “Remain impersonal,” he whispered to himself, “Be assertive.”
“I’m sorry?” the woman said, still picking. “I can’t hear you.”
“I said,” Lincoln began. “I said I’m in loss prevention, and this is my tree.”
“Loss prevention,” the woman murmured. Finally, she stopped picking and turned to face him. Lincoln felt a touch more calm, felt his confidence returning. “How do you do that, exactly?” she asked him. “Prevent loss?”
Now Lincoln was out of his element again. “Well, we … we prevent people from stealing. Like you. You’re stealing my figs and I am here to prevent you.”
“Do you like figs?” the woman asked.
“That’s not exactly the point,” Lincoln answered.
“Isn’t it?” the woman took a fig from the bag and bit into it. The fleshy, pink inside embarrassed Lincoln somehow, and he looked away. “I can think of some losses I would like to prevent,” the woman said.
Now it was Lincoln who was confused. “I’m sorry, what are you talking about?”
“Like, my daughter, who died last year of cancer,” she said. “She was thirty-one. I would have liked to have prevented that loss.”
Lincoln stared at her. He realized suddenly that it was a very hot day and he was wearing long pants and a long sleeved shirt.
“Or my brother being in prison, that was a loss I’d rather not have experienced.” Now the woman was picking figs again. “Two miscarriages,” she said, picking a fig, “a bad break-up,” she said, removing another one. “My mother and my father both.” Two more figs, gone. “The country where I was born.”
“How do you lose a country?” Lincoln asked her, annoyed now, and sweating.
The woman laughed and stepped out, finally, from under the fig tree. “I though you were the expert in loss prevention,” she said. “You tell me.” And then she was walking down the sidewalk again, past Lincoln, past his house, swinging the bag of figs as she walked.
Lincoln watched her until she turned a corner four blocks up and then he trudged back up the porch steps and collapsed into the rocking chair. He removed his shirt, which was now soaked all the way through with sweat, and hung it over the porch railing, where it brushed the branches of the fig tree. Lincoln stood and picked one of the figs. The city bus roared by, kicking up dust and a wave of diesel heat. Lincoln bit into the fig. It was so sweet, it shocked him. His mouth filled with saliva and, inexplicably, his eyes filled with tears. Lincoln sat down in the rocking chair and began to cry.