By Steve Weddle
Dan O'Shea offered up this flash challenge recently. What I liked about the challenge is that he said he'd donate to the Red Cross five bucks for every entrant. That'll work for me.
One of the things I like about flash challenges is that they give you a good start on getting together a story. I had an idea that I wanted to work out, and this was a great opportunity to start that. I'm not done with the story, still have to work in some backstory and some layers and some tension and a couple of other ideas. But I think this works alright. And, besides, it's for a good cause.
Thanks to Dan for helping the Red Cross's relief efforts.
My Aunt Velma wiped the Red Man juice from her chin, put the coffee can back on the TV tray. “You just need to get yourself down there and fix her antenna is what you need to do.”
“I will, Aunt Vee, I will. Just gotta finish this up first,” I said.
I’d been staying with my aunt off and on for the past year, ever since I’d gotten laid off from the flooring place outside Magnolia. Price of gas these days. Wasn’t worth it anyway.
I’d finished a line of caulking on the inside of the leaky window and was cleaning it up with the edge of one of those credit cards they send you in the mail. Sign up and spend $5,000 and I’d get 5,000 points to take the family to Disney World. I don’t have a family. None that would want to go to Disney World, anyway.
So I dragged the edge of the card along the window frame, worked the caulking into the corners as best I could, then used a rag to wipe off all the excess. Heh. “Excess.” There’s a word I haven’t heard in a long damn time. I wiped the card off on the same rag, then slid the card into my pocket where I used to keep a wallet. “She say what was wrong with it?”
“Said it was broke. I don’t need her and her niece coming up here every damned day to watch my stories with me and eat up all my food. I swear I’ve never seen a girl put away so many gizzards in one sitting.”
Her stories. As the World Turns. Guiding Light. Her stories. Her world.
When I started staying here, she’d send me out on errands in the early afternoon so I wouldn’t get in her way. Most days I didn’t have anywhere else to go, so I just walked up and down the road picking up cans out of the ditches. Down to Mr. Tatum’s place and then back again was pretty close to long enough for me to stay away. Usually managed enough cans to make it worthwhile, too. After a while I stayed and kept my mouth shut. Little while after that, I’d say something about one of the characters. One day I said Blake Thorpe looks like Miss Angela down at the Texaco. Turns out my aunt doesn’t much care for Miss Angela. I didn’t say too much after that.
“I can see what I can do, but I’m not much of an electrician,” I said.
“Weren’t much of a plank layer before that, were you?”
“They laid me off. Wasn’t my fault the housing market went to Hell.”
She wiped a little more Red Man from her chin. “You watch your mouth, young man.”
“How’s about you fix that woman’s antenna right and that’ll be your rent check for the month? Think you can manage that?”
I walked to the back of the house to the couch where my pillow and radio were and scanned for any afternoon baseball games. On a good day, sometimes I could get a Texas Rangers game. I didn’t much care for any of them, but if they were playing the New York Yankees, at least I’d have someone to root against. Sometimes it just works out better to root against something.
The weather was pretty clear, which isn’t always the best for picking up games on the radio. But after the weather we’d had, I’d take clear and quiet. Last week we had some awful storms come through. Took out a church up near Emerson and a couple of old farm houses. Flooded most of the back roads around here. And other smaller problems. Like the antenna on Miss Delsie Crawford’s place.
So I took a couple of screwdrivers, a pair of pliers, a ballpeen hammer and half a roll of duct tape, dropped them in a green pillowcase and headed down to Miss Delsie’s house.
By the time I got down to her place, I had sweat and dirt grit on the back of my neck. I knocked at her door and she let me in. She offered me a glass of water and I sat down in the living room. Thick red and brown shag carpeting matched most of the furniture and made the couch look like a big rise in the floor. I sat down and she brought me a glass of lukewarm water and I downed it in a couple of swallows.
I started to tell her why I was there when she walked over to the television set and turned it off. I hadn’t even noticed the thing had been on. You get that way sometimes. You get something in your head that you have to do and you get focused on it so strong that you forget what you set out to do. You can get that way laying floors. You get so caught up in going one direction, then you look up and you’re caught in a corner and everything’s gone off kilter by a quarter-inch.
“Doyle, you know you don’t need an excuse to stop by, but I see you got a pillowcase full of something there.”
I looked down at the tools and felt like I’d just dragged a mess of wet squirrels into her house. “Aunt Vee said maybe you could use some help down here on your antenna,” I said because it’s the words I’d practiced on the way down and I hadn’t had time to think of anything else.
She looked puzzled, turned her head like my Aunt Vee did whenever something really weird would happen. Like if someone would say, “Today, the part of Alan-Michael Spaulding will be played by seventeen flaming armadillos.”
But then her niece started hollering from the back of the house somewhere. “I’m still hungry. I’m still hungry. I’m still hungry.” A chant almost, and she took that last “hungry” and let it linger out there like “hoooongreee” in some weird monster kind of rumbling. Then she was asking why can’t they ever have anything to eat and she knows it costs money and why can’t they ever get any money. She was walking and talking and by then she’d come to the end of the hall and could see that I was sitting there with a pillowcase between my feet. I started looking anywhere else. Over to the photographs on the fireplace mantle. Over to the shelves where Miss Delsie had all her collectible dolls. Shelves that were empty now except for the doll stands and the ghosting dust around the edges.
So Miss Delsie sat there for a second until I thought of something to say. “She said your TV was acting up. Maybe you weren’t getting all the channels and could I help she said.”
Her niece’s name was Constance, but she went by Connie. And Connie said how much she liked my aunt’s cooking and how sweet she was to have them both over.
I asked if they were having electrical problems after the storm.
Miss Delsie raised an eyebrow. “Why would you ask that?”
“Just noticed all the lights are off in the back is all,” I said.
“Oh,” she said.
“That’s environmental,” Connie said. “On account of the environment. We all have to pitch in and do our part.”
I nodded. “Yeah. We all have to do our part.”
We talked for a while longer about the weather. How hot it was going to get and how the weatherman said another big storm was coming that weekend.
Connie said she’d found a recipe in an old Southern Living she’d gotten from discard stack at the library in Magnolia. “I’m not much of a cook. But it’s for this thing called a Kentucky Hot Brown.”
“Connie,” Miss Delsie said. “Ain’t nobody got an inclination to cook for you. You can’t just go inviting yourself over and expecting people to spend all their time and money serving you.”
“People gotta eat. What’s it matter if it’s something good?”
Before Miss Delsie could fire back with anything, I stood up to go, thanked them for the drink and put the recipe in my pocket.
Then I walked back to my Aunt Vee’s to tell her I didn’t know how to fix the antenna.