Saturday, May 23, 2009

STORMY WEATHER Part 3 - Short Fiction

This short story is in response to

How it works: Raven supplies two sets of words (or phrases) to use in a piece of writing. One can choose the ten- or five-word challenge ---or combine both into a fifteen word challenge. Click on the link to join the fun or to read others' entries.

Mega challenge - all fifteen words:
albino, trench, marble, assistant, Indian, What's that supposed to mean?, sound first principles, the key thing, moat, curtain, under the surface, doomed, grand design, temple, aspirin (Challenge words appear in bold face in the text.)

This is a continuation of previous entries:  STORMY WEATHER Part 1 and Part 2


        The day after Maple Creek overflowed, the water had receded but it was still a foot deep at our end of the street, deeper toward the creek, as if we were surrounded by a moat.
        Our house sat on a small rise, but our lower neighbors had gotten the worst of the flood. I hoped their homes would not be doomed to a wrecking ball. From our windows they looked fine, but who knew what damage was hidden under the surface.
        In my basement office, Parker helped me set up the computer equipment I had moved from harm’s way. After the electricity came on midmorning, I completed my grand design for Clarence Bubbler, the bubble gum king. He was an annoying man who had turned The Big Bubbler into a small fortune. After making back up copies and preparing a priority mail folder for him, I popped two aspirin tablets.
        That evening, pulling back the curtain, I saw that the street was finally free of water. Parker and I walked to the car two blocks away, dropped Bubbler’s package in the mail, and drove to a megamarket where we purchased a ton of cleaning products, cases of bottled water and cartons of protein bars. We spent half of Bubbler’s expected fee, but we were happy our home had been spared and felt empathy for neighbors with damaged homes.
        The next morning we drove to the corner of Aurora and Washington to donate supplies and offer our services.
        The police chief gave us an overview of our duties. “We have several sound first principles for such a situation,” he said. “Protect yourself, clean everything thoroughly, and clean yourself when you are done for the day. Wear masks and rubber gloves. Use bleach where you can. Go home and take a hot shower.”
        Parker headed toward the Jennings, a delightful retired couple to whom he had been assigned.
        The police chief called me aside. “I hope Miss Cowpepper will let you in. I talked to her through the door this morning. She said she might talk to a woman.”
        “What’s wrong with her, I asked?” It was a question the neighbors speculated upon constantly.
        “I hope you’re going to find out.”
        With a face mask hanging around my neck and a dozen pair of rubber gloves in my pockets, I climbed ten steps onto Miss Cowpepper’s porch. It was damp and muddy, so the water had probably reached her first floor. I knocked lightly and called, “Miss Cowpepper? Are you there?”
        Of course she was. The chief told me she hadn’t left home, nor had anyone laid eyes on her, in fifty years.
        “Who’re you?” asked a shaky voice from the other side of the closed door.
        “I’m Rosemary, from the last house at the dead end. I’ve been assigned to be your cleanup assistant.”
        “What's that supposed to mean?” she asked.
       “I will see what kind of damage you have and help you clean.”
        “It’ll dry,” she said.
        “The sewers overflowed, so the water was full of microbes. We have to clean everything so you don’t get ill. You might have to go to the hospital if you get infected by the water.”
        She didn’t respond to that.
        “Please, can I just come in to see what needs to be done?”
        The door creaked on its hinges and I saw an eye, barely at the level of my waist, peeking through the tiny slit.
        “You won’t look at me, will you?”
        “Not if you don’t want me to,” I said.
        Hiding behind the door, she opened it. I stepped into what looked like the dusty storage room of a museum. I think it always looked that way, but Miss Cowpepper had obviously moved everything she could from the floor to the tops of furniture and the marble mantle in her living room. Almost every square inch of wall space was covered with sepia photos. In the corner stood a cigar store Indian. Floor lamps with stained glass shades sat on a table. End tables were stacked on a worn couch. The rugs were soaked and smelled like sewer water but it looked like the water had been only an inch deep.
        “What about the basement? What’s down there?”
        “Nothing?” I asked.
        “Just water, I guess. Once when it flooded, my nephew closed in the back porch and put a new furnace and water heater there and a washing machine in the kitchen. I haven’t been in the basement for years.”
        I nodded. We’d still have to inspect it and pressure wash it with a disinfectant. “Can your nephew or anyone else help?”
       “My nephew’s been dead for years. There’s no one else.”
        “Oh. I’m sorry.” It felt odd, not looking at her when I spoke. “We’re going to have to bring a crew in here to pump out your basement and move your furniture so we can remove your rugs,” I said.
        “No one can see me.”
        With my back toward her, I suggested, “How about, when they come in, you go upstairs and they can work down here?”
        “They’ll take my things.”
        “I’ll make sure they don’t take anything,” I assured her. “Miss Cowpepper, I dislike talking to you when you are behind me. Can I turn around?”
        “If you promise not to laugh,” she said.
        I promised. I didn’t know what to expect. I steeled myself to show no expression of horror. I turned slowly. Miss Cowpepper slowly moved from behind the door.
        When I saw her, I smiled. Miss Cowpepper had the palest skin I had even seen. Her hair was white, her eyes light blue with pink rims. I realized she was an albino and not more than four feet tall. She must have been in her eighties, yet she was an oddly cute little person, like a chubby china doll. She wore a gray sweater over a brown dress and leaned on a cane.

        I removed my trench coat and hung it on an empty clothes tree.
        I stepped into the dining room, which too was filled with junk. On a low buffet, Miss Cowpepper had set up what looked like a temple shrine with candles which gave the room a golden glow. A brass object, circular at the top with a cylinder at least two feet long with short rods sticking out of the bottom, hung on the wall above the flames. Miss Cowpepper saw me staring at it.
        “Don’t let them take the key thing,” she said. “It’s the most valuable object I own.”

(To be continued.)

(Text ©2009, C.J. Peiffer)


Dr.John said...

Remarkable. Absolutely remarkable. One might think the words were made for this story. You are one great writer.

Fandango said...

We dragons know enough to put our caves out of reach of the water. We do feel sorry for the little old lady. The water has taken away her privacy and given us your readers a mystery.
Well written.

Dianne said...

the story is so interesting and genuine, I love the little lady and the photo you pulled together is perfect

ForestJane said...

Very nice writing! With such a build-up, I was expecting her to be more than a short albino. :)

I'll be eagerly anticipating next week's installment.

Raven said...

Wonderful! Beautifully written with the words woven in so seamlessly. I can't wait to learn more about Mrs. Cowpepper. I'm looking forward to next week's installment.

gabrielle said...

I love the character of the reclusive albino woman. Reminds me a little of Boo Radly in To Kill a Mockingbird.
You have the ability to take an ordinary situation and infuse it with magic.
Looking forward to your next story!

gabrielle said...

The reclusive albino woman reminded me of Boo Radley, one of my favorite characters.
You write so well and have such a flair for finding magic in the “ordinary”.

Stephen said...

I liked your story. Miss Cowpepper's condition at the end was a surprise. She seems like a sweet little old lady. What is that mysterious valuable object that she has? Maybe we'll found out in the next installment.

Stephen from Scottsdale, Arizona, USA

CJ said...

Several people commented that my reclusive albino lady reminds them of Boo in To Kill a Mockingbird. I admit the minute I saw the challenge word "albino" that's the character I thought of. At first Miss Cowpepper was going to have a huge white albino cat very similar to a white (but not albino) cat we once had, but then I started writing I forgot about the cat.