Saturday, June 6, 2009

STORMY WEATHER Part 5 - Short Fiction

This short story is in response to
Click on the above link to join in or read other entries.

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.

Ten-word challenge:
swashbuckler, heads-up, dry martini, recovery, jungle gym, whiskers, bathing suit, spade, circular reasoning, abrasive
(Words from the challenge are in bold face in the story.)

This is a continuation of previous entries:
  STORMY WEATHER Part 1, Part 2, Part 3and Part 4


        When I returned to Miss Cowpepper’s the next day, she seemed happy to see me. Only the day before she didn’t want to let me in.
        The days after the flood had been cool, but it was finally as hot as one expects in June. I would rather have had a glass of cold lemonade, but I accepted the hot tea Miss Cowpepper offered me.
        As the small albino woman heated water, I noticed a very old TV on the counter airing a black and white swashbuckler film.
        I sat at the kitchen table. “Do you like old movies?” I asked, just to start a conversation.
        “Oh my, yes,” she said. “I like those channels that show classic movies.”
        Remembering all the military memorabilia on her walls, I asked, “Do you like war movies?”
        “Oh, no. I don’t like to see all that killing.”
        “But you have so many military photos on the wall, I thought...”
        “Those were my father’s. His grandfather was a captain in the Civil War and he just loved that old stuff. My mother hated it. Once she threatened to throw it all away. My father had a heart attack the next day. After his recovery, my mother never mentioned it again. And now, I don’t have the heart to get rid of it either.”
        “How long have you lived here?” I asked.
        “I was born in this house. I lived here when I was little, but the neighbor children made fun of me. When I was old enough, my parents sent me to a special school. Everyone there was in a wheel chair, or lame, or had one arm, so no one was nasty like the neighbors. I came home just for holidays.
        “I was supposed to leave after I finished school,” she continued. “But I stayed on to be an assistant. I had to come home when my father died. I was about thirty then. My mother was devastated, so I stayed with her, but I remembered how everyone treated me when I was little, so I always stayed in the house. When she wasn’t well enough to shop, I called a neighbor who had a teenage son to ask if he would deliver groceries? Each Wednesday, I left a list inside the back door. He left the bags and a receipt. I left him a check for the groceries plus ten dollars. And do you know who that boy was?” she asked.
        I shook my head.
        “Bobby Jennings. He and his wife still buy groceries for me. But I give them thirty dollars now. Do you think that’s enough?”
        I told her I thought that was fine. I picked up my tea cup and Miss Cowpepper’s. I washed them at the sink and placed them in the dish rack while Miss Cowpepper told me about her mother’s death forty-five years ago.
        As I wiped the sink, Miss Cowpepper asked, “Honey, could you get that spade from the back porch and return it to Mr. Jennings?”
        I wondered to the closed-in porch at the back. I moved a curtain aside. In the yard next door, three children ran through a sprinkler and climbed on a jungle gym in their bathing suits. One of them looked my way. He stopped in mid-slide to point at me. “I saw her. I saw her,” he yelled, running toward the house. I quickly dropped the curtain over the window, deciding the boy was the abrasive type who would make fun of Miss Cowpepper if he had the chance.
        I placed the spade near the front door while Miss Cowpepper explained that she had borrowed it to bury Whiskers, her cat.
        “I buried him late at night so no one could see me,” she explained. Her voice shook when she talked about the cat who had died of old age a few weeks earlier.
        I helped Miss Cowpepper replace things where they belonged in the living room. I started to make a list of items she needed and offered to buy them for her. She told me that price was no problem because her father had been a successful banker and had set up a trust fund for her. Apparently she hadn’t spent even half of what was allotted to her each year.
        In the dining room, I stopped in front of the buffet to look again at the strange object hanging there. Miss Cowpepper had called it “the key thing” and had told me it was the most valuable thing she owned.
        “What is that?” I asked.
        “I don’t know.”
        I raised my eyebrows. “Then why is it so valuable?”
        Miss Cowpepper motioned me to the living room. She pointed to the huge family Bible on the mantle. I pulled it down and set it on the coffee table. We sat side-by-side on the couch. Miss Cowpepper slowly opened the book to the front page. “My father wrote that when I was a girl.”
        In careful longhand, in blue ink, it said:
               “The key thing in life is that it is the most valuable thing you own.”
        I nodded my head. Poor woman, she thought he was referring to an object.
        “The key thing is valuable because it’s worth more than anything else I have,” Miss Cowpepper said proudly.
        I ignored her circular reasoning. “But what is it for? Is it really a key?”
        “The only thing I found that looked like a key was that. It was taped to the bottom of my father’s desk. So it must be valuable. But I don’t know what it will open.”
        Soon workmen arrived to pressure wash the basement and Miss Cowpepper headed upstairs to hide. I watched TV in the kitchen while waiting for the workers to finish. Finally one of them called me to the basement.
        “Heads-up,” he said. “The ceiling is low down here.”
        Where pipes ran under the ceiling, I had to bend to prevent banging my head.
        “We cleaned everything, but look at this wood here. It’s all rotted. We ought to remove it.”
        I told them to go ahead. The wood was about four feet wide and covered a section of wall from floor to ceiling. I figured I would measure the opening and then Parker and I could buy a piece of plywood and install it ourselves. I waited as the men pried it loose with crowbars.
        Finally, it fell free, revealing the door of a huge safe, the kind one expects to find in a bank. It didn’t have a combination lock on it, but it had a huge hole that a very strange key just might fit. “Could it be....?” I asked myself.
        I waited for the workmen to finish, then ushered them out the back door.
        I ran upstairs to find Miss Cowpepper, but she was snoring under a colorful quilt while a wildlife program ran on her TV.  I left a note to say I would be back the next morning and quietly left the house, leaving a few lights on for the elderly woman and carefully locking the doors behind me.
        When I arrived home, I made myself a very dry martini while I waited impatiently for Parker.
(to be continued)

(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)


Dr.John said...

You are such a good writer. You have taken the worst words I have seen in a long time and weaved them into the story so that they just seemed to belong. Well done.

bettygram said...

I am so interested in the story.

Fandango said...

We dragons could have burned off that mold . We are good at that.
You write so well for a human.

Raven said...

I'm just loving this story. Can't wait to find out what's in the safe.

the watercats said...

oooohhhhhh........ I want more!!!.... *jigs up and down on seat and stamps feet in girlish manner..... :-D

ForestJane said...

Very nice use of the words!

And excellent writing too. ;)

I'm going to have to continue coming back to discover what's in the safe. Do you have any idea how many parts this story will be?

Dianne said...

I love how endearing and real you have made MissCowpepper

wonderful writing

CJ said...

To answer your question: no, I have no idea how many parts the story will be. At first, I thought three. I've just submitted number 5.

When I submit my story for the week, I immediately write the story for the next week and start on an illustration (sometimes it takes as long to do that as to write.) Next week's is written, so I know it will not end next week. There will be at least 7 parts, but we will see how it goes.

My first entry featured Rosemary and Parker, but noting to do with a stormy or flooding. I am thinking of continuing with Rosemary and her husband indefinitely. She is a freelance graphic artist and Parker seems to have a good job, so conceivably, Rosemary can be free to travel or get into all kinds of situations or trouble, have all manner of weird clients, and although I haven't touched on it much so far, I already know she comes from a bizarre family.

But then, it might be fun to do something with very different characters for a while, too.

I don't plan ahead much. In some ways the word choices restrict me, but on the other hand, they make me think of new ways to use them and unusual ways of describing something or someone. Sometimes they lead me in new directions, but sometimes I just have to figure out how to use them to go where I wanted to go anyway.

Richie's 2ts Inspires said...

You rock, CJ! your words and your photo tells me all.

Interested me so much.

Keep up the good work!

Stephen said...

I liked your story. I'm glad they found the safe. Maybe the key thing will turn out to be really important after all, even though Miss Cowpepper misunderstood what her father was trying to say.

Stephen from Scottsdale, Arizona, USA