Sunday, March 15, 2009

"Assisted Living" by John Desjarlais, Part One

Shoulda wore gloves. Oziel rubbed his leathery hands, blew on them. Icicles sparkled in a glass fringe along the gutters. He flexed his blue fingers and slid the garage door aside. Needs oilin’.

He scratched a cardboard match to start the kerosene stove. The last match. That’s all he needed. When the burner hissed into life, he warmed his palms. He had good gloves when he worked at the mill.

Oziel wound his way through bins, barrels of 2X4’s, leftover paneling, discontinued aluminum windows, boxes of tile, discarded doors. Leaning on the ice-box, he flipped through yellowed issues of Popular Mechanics stacked on the floor. It all had to go. There’s no room for it at Assisted Living, the admission director said. His daughter Lorraine insisted. She knew about such things. A house hunter wants to imagine her own stuff there. Clear everything out; buyers love space. The lathe, too? The mitre saw?


He promised Lorraine the old henhouse attic would be cleared by her next visit. Time to get to it.

He pulled a chain; a bare bulb blinked on. He pat his pocket for the penlight. He didn’t remember installing electricity upstairs. His wife Jean put things up there. She couldn’t bear to throw nothing out, neither. Lorraine said most of it went in the yard sale. Five dollars for all the Readers Digest Condensed Books. Unbelievable.

He climbed the ladder and pushed up the trapdoor. A shower of droppings and dust made him cough. He shoved the door aside. Lint-filled light from a forgotten skylight filled the attic. Oziel stood on the planks, fanning dust from his face. The attic ran the length of the building, near 140 feet. He expected to see old coops and fencing. Nothin’. He faced the attic’s far end, echoing like a new house before the furniture arrives. At the east wall was the aluminum-leg dining table with the Formica top they got for a wedding present. It was fashionable after the war. He scuffed to it, his heart lifted like seeing an old friend at church. He wiped away cobwebs. How many dinners they’d shared there, how many school projects before Lorraine left, like that plaster map of Africa on scrap plywood.

The table wasn’t empty. No, a pile of linens sat beside a rod with stained curtains and a pilled blanket – things that didn’t sell at the yard sale? A yellow towel poked from beneath the pile. Oziel tugged it out. A glove. It pulled free with another clipped to it. “Simon Paper,” said the logo on each wristband. They been up here all along? He shook off the dust and pulled them on. My God, they still fit. A little stiff. He clapped his hands. Nice and warm. Just what he needed. Now he could start loading things for the junkyard in the truck.

John's new mystery novel, "Bleeder," will be released by Sophia Institute Press in August 2009 and will be available at as well as in bookstores.

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