Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Assisted Living", Part Seven

He had to see for sure. Not that he doubted. But like old Gideon, Oziel needed a little more fleece. He’d try the garage again.

Oziel snapped on the rubbers. He buttoned his coat. Naw, this was foolish. He unbuttoned the coat. Just coincidences. He started to peel off the rubbers. He stared at them. Who left them in the tub? The septic man? When did he come out last? But still – before the snow gets bad – he slipped into the coat. He put on the gloves and turned them this way and that. Unbelievable.

What should he ask for? Something ordinary. Something he really needed. Like the other things. A new coffeepot? He and Jean got the stainless steel percolator for their 35th and he hadn’t touched instant since. But it still worked. He didn’t need another. A microwave? At Assisted Living, everyone had one. Living alone, it made sense. All those single-serving frozen dinners they sold now. Baked potato in seven minutes and a pot pie in three, Artie said at coffee fellowship. Finally, though, he said: Surprise me.

He fit the Red Sox cap to his head to keep the snow out of his eyes. He considered using the umbrella but the wind was too brisk. He left the umbrella where it hung. He felt for his garage key, flipped on the outside light, and stepped out.
The “sneet” had turned to a slanting snow that stung his cheek. An old Yankee, he knew it would accumulate quickly. He’d just be a minute.

The ice cracked away from the lock like hard cellophane. He heaved aside the door.
Once inside, he hauled the door shut. It jammed in the icy runners, but he managed to close it almost the whole way.

Don’t you be in there all day putzing, Jean said. You said you’d clean the cellar.

Do you really need these things?
Lorraine asked.

Oziel elbowed past the bins to the ladder. At the top, he clicked on the penlight.
The table at the far end, like an altar at the head of the church aisle, lay in shadow. He approached it, rubber soles squeaking. The wind rushed as it might have done in another, more ancient upper room. There were the linens. Hanging behind them to the floor, swinging in the draft, was a black power cord. His heart skittered. He lifted the light to reveal an old iron. Almost, he said. Something that heats up, only slow. Funny. Lorraine musta used it to smooth the linens for the yard sale.
Foolish old man. All coincidences. Things you had laying around all the time and just never noticed. He returned to the trapdoor, where he knelt and felt with his foot for the top rung.

It cracked.

His foot plunged.

His body followed.

He crumpled in a heap, his leg pretzeled underneath. He shook off a daze; his cap rolled away. When he reached for it, his leg shrieked. He winced. Something not right there, he thought, not right at all. When he lifted up on an elbow, his leg turned to flame. He sucked in his breath. The wind whistled in the unclosed door, and a spray of snow wet his cheek.

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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