Saturday, June 20, 2009

STORMY WEATHER Part 7 - Short Fiction

(click on images for larger views)

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 mega-challenge.

Mega challenge:
sow, close, console, lives, minute, polish, bass, pussy, complex, resume, bow, sewer, house, import, intern
(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 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6

(the final episode)

The vault was dark inside. While Parker ran to our house for flashlights and other tools, Miss Cowpepper and I looked on the shelf close to the left of the door. We found a crossbow. Next to it, an antique rifle and several swords. I lifted one sword from the shelf and pulled the blade from the scabbard. It was shiny, as if it had been polished recently. I surmised that if the safe were airtight, metal might not tarnish.
“So this is where my father hid the rest of of his military memorabilia,” she said. “I thought there had been more when I was a child.”
I pulled a box that sat on the floor of the safe into the basement. A grate over a sewer drain clanked as I dragged the box away from the safe’s entrance.
When I heard Parker return, I called to him to request he bring a kitchen chair for Miss Cowpepper. Inventoring the vault might take hours, possibly days.
With the flashlights, we saw stacks of frames, dozens of old books, and what looked like a bass fiddle at the very back of the safe.
Parker went upstairs. He returned with a floor lamp from the living room and an extension cord he had brought from home. He returned to the first floor to clean up the lunch dishes and install window locks and dead bolts.
While I pulled more boxes from the safe, Miss Cowpepper sat near the first box, sorting through old photos. She gasped, holding up a picture.
“What?” I asked.
She showed me the photo of a small pale girl holding a white cat. “I thought this photo had been lost. It’s me and my first pussycat named Whiskers.”
“That’s the name of the one that just died, isn’t it?”
“I name all my cats Whiskers. Too bad cats don’t really have nine lives. I do miss him. He was a sweet boy and looked almost exactly like my first Whiskers.” She sighed and set the photo on the lid of one of the other boxes.
I patted Miss Cowpepper’s arm to console her while I looked at the small black and white snapshot. “Would you like me to make you a larger version of this. I can do it on my computer?”
Miss Cowpepper decided that would be wonderful.
We found boxes of imported figurines, mostly stamped “Occupied Japan” wrapped in yellowed newspapers from the 1940s. I knew some of those might be in demand on eBay.
There were stacks of papers, mostly complex legal documents neither of us understood. Miss Cowpepper told me the grandson of her father’s lawyer was her attorney who handled the trust her father had left her. She’d have him look at them.
Parker called down, asking if we’d like to take a break for tea. Miss Cowpepper nodded.
I answered, “Start the water boiling, we’ll be up in a minute.”
After bathroom breaks and tea, I had to tear Miss Cowpepper away from another detailed discussion with Parker about old films to convince her to resume our inventory.
We found lots of military books. One was written by a Union soldier who had been interned at Andersonville during the Civil War. The only books I thought might be of monetary value were two volumes of The Personal Memoirs of General Ulysses S. Grant*. A handwritten note inside one cover, which Miss Cowpepper verified was in her father’s writing, said simply “First Edition, 1885.”
It took us a few more days to go through everything. We contacted Miss Cowpepper’s lawyer to help with the legal papers and stock certificates we found. I called my friend Kathy who was an antique collector to help us decide what, if anything, might be of value.
The next day Miss Cowpepper allowed Kathy, her attorney, and me into her house. Miss Cowpepper didn’t care if anything was valuable. She was simply glad to have the old family photographs. She had decided what she wanted to keep and asked us to give anything that might be valuable to a museum or sell it and give the money to an animal shelter. She requested that her will be updated to do the same with the rest of her belongings after her death.
Then she asked us to go away and leave her alone for a few days. She had seen more people in a week than she had in fifty years and had had enough of other people for a while. My sister Marigold would be arriving the next day to help me sow seeds for my first herb garden, so I needed to take a break from Miss Cowpepper anyway.
A week later, the garden had been planted and Marigold had returned home. One morning, I carried a wrapped package and a picnic basket to Miss Cowpepper’s porch. After several knocks, she answered the door.
“I have something for you,” I said.
The tiny woman invited me to the kitchen for a cup of tea.
I asked her if I could visit her once in a while. She didn’t answer while she concentrated on pouring hot water into china cups.
When she turned back to the stove to return the tea kettle, I set my basket on her table and opened the lid. When she was ready to sit down, she stopped when she saw what was in the basket. Miss Cowpepper’s pale eyes shone as she gently lifted the six-month-old white cat I had found at an animal shelter.
“He has all his shots, is litter trained, and has been neutered. Here are his papers,” I said placing an envelope on the table. “Parker will leave a bag of cat food on the back porch this evening. I saw you still have a a bag of litter and a box. Do you need anything else?”
She shook her head, then placed the small cat on the floor to explore his new home.
I tore the brown paper off the package and showed her the photo of her and her first cat which I had enlarged and enhanced on my computer. I had placed it in one of the empty frames we had found in her vault.
“Oh, Rosemary. Thank you. These are far better than ten vaults full of old papers,” she said stroking the fur of the kitten which was rubbing his face on her ankle. She reached across the table to grab my hand. “You’re welcome to visit Whiskers and me anytime.”

(This is the end of this long story, but
Miss Cowpepper, Rosemary and
Parker will appear in future stories.)

(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)

*Historical note: In 1884, Ulysses Grant was broke after being swindled by his investment partner. (Former presidents were not granted pensions until 1958.) He was dying of cancer and distraught about his family’s future. Mark Twain convinced him to write his memoirs and to allow the book to be published by Twain’s own publishing company, promising 75% of the book’s proceeds as royalties. Grant completed his autobiography in June, less than one month before his death on July 23, 1885.
The first volume was published in December 1885. Within three months, the first check sent to Mrs. Grant was the largest royalty paid on a book up to that time, over $200,000. Additional royalties paid over the next few years brought the total earned for Grant’s family to almost $450,000.
Grant’s autobiography has been compared to Caesar’s Commentaries and described as the finest writing produced by a participant in the Civil War.
The final words of Grant’s memoir are, “Let us have peace.”


Akelamalu said...

Sounds like a veritable treasure trove - I would be in my element searching through that lot!

Great use of all the words, very impressive and a great story.

I just wasn't inspired at all this week. :(

Dr.John said...

What a great ending to a great story. I think it would be a good idea to use the characters in a future story.
You are a very special kind of wroiter.

Raven said...

I'm glad you're going to bring Mrs. Cowpepper and Co. back in future stories. I have loved this one. Love the kitty picture too and thanks for the Pres. Grant info. I sort of knew it in some vague corner of my brain but it's always good to have refresher courses.

the watercats said...

I'm a bit sad to be saying goodbye to everyone. I love the fact that the vault had meaningful treasure inside, especially photos.. ou maaged to blend the words seamlessly too.. perfect ending! cheers!

gabrielle said...

Aren’t treasure hunts wonderful, especially when they tell the story of a life.

I don’t know if the historical note is fact or fiction, but it is fascinating, especially regarding its implications for the story.

CJ said...

To all: The historical info on U.S. Grant is indeed true. I knew most of this previously, but double checked the facts in "Grant and Twain" by Mark Perry and online.

Stephen said...

The story had a good ending, and the vault did have lots of good stuff in it. I liked both the pictures, too. I also liked the information about Grant that was included at the end, and I'm glad we're going to see everybody again in other stories.

Stephen from Scottsdale, Arizona, USA

bettygram said...

I liked the ending. I am glad we will wee them again.

Jenners said...

Fantastic job! I love the sweet ending ... and I suspect that she might end up being a millionaire when all is said and done!