Lucy and the Basement

cat

“I can’t find Rudy!” Lucy whined.

“Where’d you leave him?” I asked, barely paying attention.

“Right here!”

“Well is he there?”

“No, but…”

“Then you didn’t leave him there, Luce.”

“But…”

“Go look for Rudy, hon. Your Dad’s busy.”

Lucy sulked out of the room. I wondered if it’d be a “good dad” thing to help her look, but I figured at some point the kid would have to learn not to leave her things laying around. Self reliance and all that. Like Thoreau talked about, but with more indoor plumbing.

“Found him!” Lucy shrieked from somewhere upstairs.

“Atta girl,” I called back. “Now c’mon down and finish Moana, then we’ll have some dinner.

“I don’t like Moana!” Lucy pouted. “She’s boring.”

“How do you know that if you’ve only seen the first twenty minutes?”

“I just do.”

Lucy stomped down the stairs with Rudy under her arm. I glanced at him. He definitely needed to go through the washing machine. Lucy’s a sleep drooler, just like her mom was. In the time Lucy’d had him, he’d built up quite a rind.

“I think it’s time Rudy gets a bath, Luce.”

She held him at arm’s length, studying him.

“No,” she declared. “He’s fine.”

“Bring him over and let me sniff.”

Lucy rolled her eyes and walked over. I still didn’t know where she learned that. I figured she’d be at least twelve before the eye-rolling phase. Lucky me.

I took Rudy and put him under my nose. He reeked.

“Yeah, no, sorry hon, he’s going in the washing machine. C’mon, let’s go downstairs.”

Lucy’s face darkened.

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The First First Responders

first

“It’s going to take forever to get there in this snow.”

That was the first remark I heard about the event, aside from the basics: place, fire type, and potential casualty estimate.

For those interested, the answers were “Silver Stream Forest off RR7, unknown, and unknown.”

We were in the middle of a once-in-a-century snowstorm. Those once-in-a-century storms that seem to come every five years nowadays. Doesn’t mean much to some, but for those of us who have to work and drive in them to save lives, it matters.

That night, it mattered.

Our station is the only one in the area. Under ideal conditions, the rural route seven connection to the forest would be a 35 minute drive. We’d be lucky to get there in 90.

An hour into the drive, we saw the aurorae, despite the howling wind blowing heaps of snow through the air. I’d guess the visibility was less than ten feet. But the aurorae were clear.

“Electrical?” John posited.

“Not sure how that’d work,” someone answered — sounded like Lloyd.

“No.” John agreed. “Me neither.”

I looked out the side window toward the direction of the lightshow. It wasn’t like the kind I’d seen when I spent time in Iceland after college. Nothing like that. These ribbons of light were thin and fast moving. And red, too. All shades of red, from deep crimson to something that neared orange.

“Definitely not the borealis,” I said, mostly to myself.

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Erasure

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Perhaps this can serve as a eulogy for my beloved friend and roommate, Maya. She didn’t deserve what happened to her. No one does.

I guess it started with a lecture on the first day of classes that semester. Everything just seemed to go south after that.

The professor’s name is Laura Oxley-Vereen. Remember that. She’s taught here for thirty years, is tenured, and is politically connected. She is untouchable.

Her course is mandatory.

“It’s important to remember who are and who are not your allies,” Oxley-Vereen lectured. “It’s simple, really. Only women are your allies. Real women. Not crossdressers, or ‘transgenders’ as they like to be called. They’re gay men in costumes. Don’t let them convince you they’re anything more than that. They will never experience the issues women endure, no matter how they dress or what they change their names to.”

Low murmurs circled the lecture hall. Maya sank into her chair. Even I could feel the eyes on her. I seethed.

“I know this isn’t a popular opinion nowadays,” the professor continued, undeterred, “but it is a fact of biology. They will never menstruate. They will never be raped and forced to carry the rapist’s baby. And hell, if they worry they’re making less money than their male-presenting coworkers, they can just take off their wigs and scrub away their makeup for a quick raise.”

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Conversations With a Mouth

teethblood

I’m in pain.

Truth be told, I want to hurt. I like the idea of hurting. Of suffering. Of retribution. It’s my cross to bear. I should carry it with a smile.

But God, that smile. The one in the mirror. That gaping gash of a grin. Blood-tipped canines and gore-caked molars. Evidence of violence; evidence of depravity — all exposed in a smile of the purest, truest joy.

“Do you remember how she tasted?” my teeth ask. “Do you remember the texture and consistency? The chew?”

I do my best to ignore them, but they bite my tongue. I taste blood. Again.

“Stop,” I demand. “I can’t.”

My tongue, wounded, chimes in. Its voice is wet and heavy. “She tasted sour. And sharp, depending on the parts. But unique. Unique Monique.”

My tonsils giggle. A rush of saliva trickles down my throat.

“I loved her,” I whimper. Tears carve paths down my cheeks — hotter than the saliva in my throat, but cooler than the blood on my tongue.

“You still can,” my lips insist. “She’s still here.”

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A Boy Scout’s Secret

Scout

I’d spoken to Nate’s psychologist about the times he’d claim to speak with the ghost of his dead father. The doctor would nod his head and say my son had hold him the same thing.

“Just part of the grieving process, Mrs. Hammond. These things take time. But thank you for bringing it to my attention. I never want you to feel like any detail is too small or unimportant to tell me. If Nate feels like he needs to imagine his father and relive some of their moments together in his own context, you should let him.”

It all made sense to me, but it seemed to happen a whole lot. One morning over breakfast, about a year after his father’s death, Nate told me about how he’d been speaking with him just a few minutes before he’d come downstairs.

“What did he tell you?” I asked, mentally taking notes I’d be sharing with his shrink.

“Just the normal stuff,” Nate replied. “Advice and all that.”

“What kind of advice?”

Nate paused. “Things he’d tell me when he was, you know, still with us.”

He started to get teary eyed. I followed suit.

“He talked about Boy Scout stuff.”

I grinned. Ted had been a beloved scout leader for as long as I’d known him. He got along so well with those kids. All kids, really. He had a way about him that was both disarming and assertive – qualities I’ve found all the best teachers have.

“What kind of scout stuff, Nate?”

Nate shook his head. “He didn’t want me to say too much. He said you might get mad.”

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That Shaky Fellow

sf

Leaves don’t grow on the trees in this town. Birds won’t nest in them, either. I can’t remember the last time I saw a squirrel, let alone heard one chittering in the branches overhead. Everything’s just dead or dying around here. Been that way since that shaky fellow started showing up.

I think it was 1966 when I realized he might really exist. I guess that means I was around ten or eleven. Hard to trust the memory of a kid that age, I know. Still, all these years later, it’s as clear as anything. Clear as the screen I’m typing this on. And I just cleaned my glasses.

I was coming back from a sleepover at Davy Egan’s place. Kids were allowed to walk around town by themselves back then. We weren’t afraid of getting kidnapped or fondled or anything like that, although it probably happened a lot. Not to me, though. Not to anyone I know. But that doesn’t mean much in the scope of where I’m going with this.

To get from Davy’s place to mine, I liked to cut through the Wilhelm Country Club golf course. Saved me from having to go around. The groundskeepers would chew you out if they caught you walking on the greens, but they wouldn’t chase you if you ran.

I’d always been a good runner.

It was an early morning in late July. Davy had kicked me out before dawn because he had something to do that morning. I didn’t mind. We hadn’t gotten any sleep that night, so I wasn’t groggy.

It was raining a little. That meant groundskeepers wouldn’t be out and about. That’s what I told myself, at least. Made sense to my eleven-year-old mind.

Turned out I was right. I was all alone out there.

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