The Handyman

Driving along the lonely road, he considered the conversation earlier in the cafe.

Daisy- the waitress working the breakfast shift mentioned- as she does almost every day- that their eggs were the freshest in town. He hated eggs, they came out of the butts of chickens, like calcified turds.

He shared this opinion with her.

“They don’t come out of their butts you silly! Hens lay eggs from their ladyparts, like women having babies.”

“Is that supposed to make me want to indulge in egg eating more?” The whole concept made him a bit queasy. “is it too early for a beer?”

“You want a beer with your danish?” She made an icky face.

“Naw, I suppose not, it’ll cancel out the coffee.” The icky face vanished, she turned as if relieved to be back in her comfort zone and lifted the coffee pot from its cradle, topping up his cup.

“Where ya headed today?”

“Oh, Maggie Winchell’s new washer/dryer is blowing the fuse when she tries to use it. The dopes that delivered it didn’t bother to check that she had enough juice in her carport to run the thing.” (They were happy to sell the over-priced appliance to her sure enough)

“What can you do to help her out now?”

“Should be able to run new wiring, replace the circuit breaker to accommodate.” (That’s if there’s enough juice supplied to her unit as it is. These mobile home parks can be stingy with electricity)

“Aww, you’re her white knight for sure!”

“Yeah, knight in shining armor…” He glanced out at his somewhat rusty, mostly reliable truck with his logo on the door: Need it done? DOUG DOES IT Handyman Service.

He would get an hour or so worth of work but couldn’t charge her for the almost two hour round trip so this job barely pays for gas and supplies. If he didn’t score a real gig soon things would get dicey with the bills. Everything was already trimmed to the bone- pack lunches, dinners at home, he even stopped smoking cigs. Well, stopped buying them anyway, he’d never turn down a smoke if someone offered. (Although the offers kinda stopped of late as folks noticed he never pulled out a pack of his own to reciprocate. Oh well) He liked a cig best when he was out drinking and he didn’t do much of that lately either. He knew that drinking led to more drinking then all kinds of horseshit he didn’t need in his life right now. With Ramona finally out of the picture there was time to figure it out and get his life back of track, starting with finances.

“I better get rolling, what do I owe you.” He knew what he owed her, just signaling it was check time. He slid a five from his mangy wallet and – crimping it to stay flat he set it on the counter. He would take the coins back but leave the dollar. Money was tight but he would never be thought of as a cheapskate, not to her anyway. He liked when she smiled at him.

With a last sip of coffee, he bid Daisy a nice day and headed out to meet the sunny morning, grabbing a local trader from the newspaper rack on the way out. (Something to read while he ate his lunch). Really he grabbed the new issue every week to see his handyman ad and make sure everything was right with it, and whether there were any new competitors in the area. That would truly suck. He’d seen how these big outfits could take over with their shiny new vans and uniforms. That’s why he ended up driving almost half a day for one small job. He couldn’t afford to say no to work.

He resisted the feeling coming over him- the ‘doom and gloom’ he called it. The SOON-I’LL-BE-LIVING-IN-A-GODDAMNED-TENT feeling. Today was bright and full of promise. He had coffee, breakfast of sorts and a chat with a pretty girl. Things could be worse, much worse. He climbed into his truck, tossing the paper onto the growing mess on the passenger seat, and started the engine.

Margaret (Maggie) Winchell lived in a mobile home park on the other side of town. It wasn’t a trashy one, however. (You had to have some dough to live here) Mostly seniors and older couples who downsized once the kids were grown. At first glance it looked like any suburban cul de sac full of small ranch homes. The only difference was these houses weren’t built here, they were hauled in on wheels.

He pulled up behind Maggie’s car- a Crown Vic that her late husband left behind. It was a “Police Special” she told him once. “If I wanted to, I could outrun the cops!” This made her smile, and he believed she smiled because the car was a powerful connection to her husband. She felt safe in it, as if still embraced by him. He hoped the car would last her a long time, long enough anyway.

The side door opened and Maggie waved to him. He got out, went to the back and grabbed his toolbox. She was already standing in front of the new appliance as he walked up.

“I’m so glad you could make it out here to help me. The salesman told me this would work just fine in my unit.” She was shaking her head while she said it.

“It WILL work fine once we get the wiring upgraded, that’s what I’m here for.” He smiled to let her know everything would be alright. Something about an old woman on her own in a world full of hucksters and bullshit artists really annoyed him.

If he could do this one thing to help her out and make her feel better it was worth the trip.

He already knew what the problem was – her old washer and dryer were gas units and didn’t require the electrical power of these new ones. She came out and smelled gas leaking last week and it scared her so much she had the old appliances hauled away by a neighbor and shut the propane off at the tank.

She had told him the story at least twice and was about to tell him a third time. “I bought these to replace some horrible gas powered ones, I was afraid they were going to blow the place up…”

“I understand” he gently interceded. “All we need to do is change out your circuit breaker and run some new wires to the outlet. Then you’ll be good to go.”

Her face softened. “Oh thank you, I just didn’t know what I was going to do when the fuse kept tripping! I’m tired of resetting all the clocks.” She stood there with one hand on her hip and the other palm up. Like a teapot he thought.

“I’ll have to cut the juice for a few minutes, so one more round of clock setting I’m afraid.”

She nodded, relieved to be nearing the end of this disruption to her normal life.

Turning back toward his truck, “I’ll let you know when I have to cut the power, won’t be for a bit.”

He planned to have everything laid out so he only needed to quickly shut off the electricity, install the new wiring, and attach the breaker. Then he’d be finished in under an hour. Sure, he could milk the job for two or three hours but why take advantage of an old widow? One of the few things he had left was pride in his work and integrity. He didn’t screw people over for profit like it seemed everyone did nowadays. He thought that’s probably why he wasn’t further ahead in life.

He heard the screen door click shut behind him as he went to gather what he needed. The television was on inside – a woman bitching about her man, audience cheering and applauding. He imagined Margaret’s life: Pot of coffee and daytime tv. Make some dinner and evening tv. That box was most likely her only companion now. Is that what he had in store? As much as he hoped, the thought of a woman coming into his life seemed less likely every year. Not one that would last anyway.

Ramona seemed a keeper. But who was he kidding, deep down he knew that wasn’t sustainable; thinking with his dick as usual. Sure the sex was good but she needed a bottle of wine or two before she was in the mood. He was more than happy to supply, but that investment yielded diminishing returns for the both of them. In the end the drinking won.

Oh well good riddance to bad rubbish, as his mother used to say.

Now he was free to concentrate on his work and his life i.e. getting it together. Sure, for the thousandth time but what the hell else was he gonna do? Pick up the pieces and try to put ’em back together so they work for a change.

After switching off the circuit breaker leading to the appliance outlet and making sure there was no current he removed the outlet and disconnected the inadequate wiring. After that, unrolling the new wiring until he had a length that would reach from the service panel to the outlet with a little to spare. Nothing worse than ending up an inch short and having to cut another length from his dwindling roll of cable. He wanted to make a little money from this job, not lose it.

This was the best part, just doing the work alone. Working for someone else just didn’t sit with him outside of the steady paycheck. However, getting up at the asscrack of dawn and rushing to this or that jobsite to keep ahead of the contractor’s insane timeline – all for an hourly wage that got taxed to shit, then get laid off while the builder walked away with a fat check and a bonus for finishing ahead of schedule – forget it.

He didn’t begrudge anyone for running a business and making money, it’s just that he hadn’t ever cracked the code for making a profitable go at it. Couple of jobs he had hired on help – young guys from town – but shit, it was like running a daycare. Showing up late, leaving early and doing half-ass work while they were there. Always seemed he was staying to finish their job and clean up after them anyways so what was the point? He shook his head thinking about it.

At that same moment Margaret was at her screen door peeking from the kitchen, wondering if she needed to move anything out of the way for him – seeing him shake his head as if in answer made her smile.

She liked Doug, trusted him. Ever since Roger died… (“passed” Why do folks insist on saying passed when they mean died for heaven’s sake? Was that supposed to fool her? Spare her feelings in some way? Oh it’s alright – he didn’t have a massive coronary and die in our bed – turning purple and choking on his last breath while I held him and screamed his name – he just passed)

She shuddered at the recollection.

…Ever since he died, she felt so alone and vulnerable. (She always had someone to turn to, she really never considered life without him. Not that it would’ve done any good, the considering. One day everything is rosy, you go about your business like normal… Normal, normal, normal! She had come to detest that word. Normal would be her and Roger, forever, taking that trip they talked about so often to the Greek islands. Normal would be her clucking her tongue at his coffee mug in the sink not rinsed out like she asked him a million times. Normal was her lying awake in bed again, wishing he would stop snoring and touch her, just touch her for once. Now she wished, every single night with all her heart that she could go to bed and hear him snore again. That would be normal.)

Doug was someone she could count on. It seemed men these days like to prey on old women, they all wanted to sell her something for Pete’s sakes! He struck her as an honest man. Always returned her calls, charged a fair price for the work he did. She was glad when she had a job for him, he seemed a bit of a lost soul. No family that she knew of, obviously no career besides handyman. She wondered if it was something in his character that kept him so alone or something in the world that made him keep his distance from it. He seemed to be fine out there in the carport, working away.

She turned back to her kitchen, her little television and her busy but aimless life. What WAS she going to do with herself? Roger had been gone almost six months and she still hadn’t figured out how to move on, or even what that meant. She no longer had to clean up after him, slowly realizing that had become the core of their relationship together. How had things become so mundane between them? It was just last year that they discussed taking a roadtrip to the coast- stay in a bed & breakfast, sip coffee on the veranda to the music of a crashing surf…She realized suddenly that discussion had occurred soon after his retirement some ten years ago. Her breath left her, her legs went weak, she had to grip the counter to steady herself then sat down hard in her chair.

WHAT HAPPENED TO TIME? How could TEN years have passed just like that? She clutched her coffee cup with both hands shaking and took a distracted sip, her eyes trying inwardly to focus on a past that seemed to have run by her like a speeding train. What was she to do now? What was left besides memories fading to blackness behind her? The children were grown and living out of state with their families. They were too busy to care much for her outside of the holidays (and her gifts).

Good Lord – how many Christmases did she have left? How many birthdays? Ten? Five?

All of a sudden the very concept of living any longer seemed meaningless. She was a hollow empty thing, having her strings jerked in a useless semblance of what she used to be. She fought tears.

“Knock knock!” The voice startled her from her thoughts and for a precious fleeting moment she thought it was Roger, come back for her, back to escort her into eternity by his side…

But no, it was Doug. “Yes dear?” She didn’t rise from her chair, she was afraid her legs weren’t ready to support her, besides that her eyes were red and wet with tears.

“I have to cut the power for a few minutes to finish hooking everything up. Just wanted to let you know in case you were in the middle of anything.”

“Oh that’s fine. Just sitting here with my coffee.” She slowly got up to turn off the television.

There wasn’t anything good on anyway.

Posted in fiction, Story | Leave a comment

The Garden

The lizards were gathered outside their door. What had they done to upset them? Was it her? Did she fail to heed his warnings? Over and over he explained how things work here; it wasn’t like at home.

We must follow the rules of this new place.

He shouted her name, she came in from the other room.

“What is it dear?”

“What did I tell you about provoking our hosts?”

She looked perplexed. “Why, what do you mean? I leave the offerings every evening, …I…I…” she glanced out the window at the creatures surrounding their home. “Oh what is it now?” Her voice rose out of frustration and outright terror. “We do all that you ask! What more do you want!?” She collapsed onto the sofa, burying her face in the threadbare pillow, sobbing.

Just then the scratching began. First at the door, then along the thin wooden walls. They were doing it with their wretched claws. Sighing, with a look to his wife he went to the door, opened it and greeted the largest of the lizards, who was already regarding him with a sideways stare.

He half expected the creature to say something, to make a bold pronouncement in a regal voice. But no, it continued to watch him while its tiny snakelike tongue darted out intermittently.

He dropped to his knees and clasped his hands together in supplication.

“What can I do for you oh great lizard king?

The reptile sat there, its great tail slowly thrashing back and forth on the sandy ground.

He wracked his brain trying to recall if anything out of the ordinary occurred in the last few days. Anything that could be seen as a threat or insult to these scaly masters. There was just that one thing two days ago, it was really nothing. He had been out tending the garden when one of the smaller lizards ambled over by his vegetables just picked. “Hold on there!” He grabbed up the basket to keep the creature from knocking it over. It hissed at him as he pulled it out of reach. Startled, he grabbed a small zucchini out and dropped in front of the beast, who snatched it quickly with its powerful jaws, chomping. When it looked up at him as if asking for more he walked around and past it.

“We need to eat too.” The lizard hissed again at him. The young ones have no respect, he thought. Always getting underfoot.

That’s really how this damn thing began. He and his wife had arrived here some years ago via ship. They found the perfect place to retire, spend the rest of their days in peaceful contemplation. Gardening and watching the sun rise and set. Living simply, away from people, noise and all the complications of the city. The first year was a challenge. Starting the garden and weatherproofing the little house against the torrential rains that came every winter.

Then they came. At first it was only one or two at a time. Watching them from the forest. Those damn tongues always darting in and out. It didn’t frighten them at first but they became vigilant to the curious visitors. How could they have known.

First it was two, then four. One day Helga came in from the garden. “Good lord! Theres’ so many! Come look!” He followed her outside. There were seven or eight that he could see, at the woods edge, watching them. How many more were back there that he couldn’t see? He became nervous then.

If it came down to it he felt he could fend off two or three of the creatures, but eight? He didn’t know if these things were meat eaters but he knew if they decided to attack it would get nasty.

He pushed those thoughts away, Helga didn’t need to become more alarmed than she already was.

“What are they doing?” “It appears they are watching us.”

“I don’t like it. We haven’t done anything to them.”

“Well, we did move into their backyard as it were. Tore up the land, built a house. You can’t blame them for being curious.” He tried to sound empathetic, while really he was starting to feel paranoid. For a moment he felt outrage at these ‘things’ spoiling his sense of well being in their otherwise blissful life here. He considered a hike into the woods, a show of bravery… Then shuddered at the thought of finding himself surrounded by scaly lizards and god knows what else.

Helga stirred him from his thoughts just in time. “Maybe they want some food?”

The garden was finally producing this year after a lousy winter with too much rain. It kept drowning the seedlings and washing away the dirt in the garden beds. When things eventually dried out in the spring he investigated the local terrain and noticed it was the chunky volcanic rock that held soil in place so the rain didn’t carry it off. His project then was to replicate the natural conditions in the garden by hauling buckets and buckets of the black gravel from nearby to mix with the soil they used for the garden beds. Once that was done and the garden replanted, they waited.

The seedlings came up with regular watering, so far so good. They really needed this to work as their canned and dry supplies wouldn’t last forever. Besides, lack of fresh food was making them crabby and listless. There was some sort of fruit growing in trees nearby but it was exceedingly sour, suitable only for squeezing over a bland meal of canned beans and such.

They tended the garden. It seemed this place had only two seasons, dry and wet. They had fashioned a catchment system that collected barrels of water from the roof when it rained. When that was gone it meant hauling water from a stream a considerable distance away.

The seedlings grew in the rocky soil mix. Then the rains came. They had rigged up protection of sorts- plastic sheeting draped over posts to keep the brunt of the powerful rain from blasting down on the fragile plants. The water still pooled around the garden turning the whole area into a vast mud pit. They sipped tea in the house and watched the rain pour down. During a brief respite from the showers he trudged out through the muddy yard and checked the garden. The crops looked droopy and sad but they were still there! In fact the garden as a whole was intact. The new soil mix allowed the water to percolate through without washing it away. He knew once the roots grew down some they would tap into ground moisture and watering would be less of a chore. He felt hopeful again.

By summer the garden was flourishing. The tomatoes were bursting with fruit while the zucchini plants were covered in adorable pickle-sized product. When harvest time came they had much more than they could eat or preserve. They began leaving fruit at the woods edge for the lizards who ate ravenously once they discovered it. Soon the creatures were venturing into the yard prompting him to erect a fence around the garden. The chicken wire he was using to keep birds at bay would not be much defense against the claws of these spiny things. They weren’t able to jump so his low wooden ‘wall’ sufficiently kept them away from the growing vegetables.

The months went on, the garden grew. The couple tended and harvested while sharing their bounty with the scaly denizens of this place. But, like children after a taste of candy the lizards became greedy. They loitered in the yard, dropping their noxious turds everywhere and clawing up the ground. He wished he could fence the whole place but lacked the resources for any more fence building.

Over time they went from sharing a bit of their vegetables to passing out most of them just to keep the creatures from constantly bothering them. It didn’t help, more and more kept coming. The only let up was the rainy season, when the loathsome things must shelter somewhere.

They began to feel as prisoners in their own home. Going outside was no longer relaxing as the lizards followed them about incessantly, like stray dogs after table scraps. He regretted ever feeding them.

She began to regret their decision to settle here. Whenever they spoke they quarreled so for the most part they stopped talking to each other, maintaining a sullen silence as they went about their day.

The garden, once a joyous celebration of hard work and nature’s reward, was now a chore divorced from any pleasure. They were simply growing crops to feed their jailers.

He was drinking now, to dull his senses. The ‘special occasion’ liquor was unlikely to last until the next occasion. They had both more or less stopped making meals together and subsisted on the odd snack from the pantry. She used to paint watercolors, her last work was a still life with lizards she couldn’t bear to look at now. It sat turned around on the easel.

And now they are surrounded by the filthy things.

The food they grow just isn’t enough apparently, they can grow no more. In a fit of rage and exasperation he runs out among them, between them to the garden and begins knocking down the low wooden fence. “HERE! YOU WANT IT ALL?! TAKE IT! TAKE WHAT WE HAVE AND LEAVE US ALONE!” The reptiles move back from this violent display, slithering out of the way of the flying dirt and slats of wood. Broken, he returns to the dwelling where he collapses into a chair, head in hands.

She watched this display from the window. Now she turns to him, her eyes wide. “Now you’ve done it, you’ve finished us. Why in god’s name would you do that!?”

He doesn’t respond. She continues. “You’re a fool. You’ve always been a miserable excuse for a man and now you’ve done that.” He slowly looked up at her. Realizing that this was all her doing. If she hadn’t put out food for the beasts in the first place none of this would have occurred.

The rage that filled him him burst forth and with a savage yell he lunged at her. His large dirty hands grabbing hold of her throat. “GOD DAMN YOU!” Her eyes bulged as he squeezed tighter around her neck. “GOD DAMN YOU.” All his fury, all his hate for her and this wretched place poured out through his hands as he choked the miserable life from her.

Then it was over. He realized he was holding a dead woman by the throat. With a gasp he let go, her body thudding to the floor. He cried out. Falling to his knees, suddenly aware of the enormity of what he had just done. She was gone. Gone forever because of him. She was right, oh god she was right!

He was no kind of man! Killing, MURDERING the only woman he had ever loved! Why!? Oh WHY!?

He got up and stumbled into the bedroom, careening off furniture all the way. Reaching the footlocker in the corner he threw open the lid, yanking out the tray and rummaging until he found what he needed. The old revolver was wrapped in oilcloth, unused since his service days. It was still loaded of course.

Must act quickly, must get this thing done. Now before I change my mind, lose my resolve. Gun loaded, cock gun. Point just under chin…

BAM. His dead body slumped to the bedroom floor, minus the part of his head that landed on the bed.

The noise barely registered to the lizards gathered outside, who had mostly shuffled off after the garden outburst. The newly revealed garden itself was unimpressive as all the ripe produce had been picked, what remained was small, withered and sour.

It would hardly matter in time, for there were now small tomato and zucchini plants growing all over the forest. The lizards, carrying plant seeds in their gut had been propagating the plants through their noxious turds. Noxious due to the high nitrogen content that caused the plants to thrive.

Posted in Story | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Room

He woke. Watched the dancing lights on wall.

Screen was on. Screen was always on.

He sat up. “Black. Warm.” A warm cup of Black appeared on the table beside him.

He sipped. He did not ponder, nor contemplate. He sipped and sat, eyes vacant.

Soon, as the Black took effect he turned toward screen.

Images. Lively pictures telling what was good, what was not good. He watched.

His stomach murmured. BEEP BEEP. A morning meal appeared before him.

He ate. Ate and watched screen.

Screen told him stories, the same stories. Why he must stay inside. How he can help.

What he must never do. When to call central. What is a “crisis”.

BEEP BEEP BEEP (You must finish your meal)
He finished his meal. The plate vanished.

He got up, went and relieved himself. When he returned bed had become chair.

He sat down in chair. Chair enveloped him. Sensors connected, his body tingled.

This was exercise. His muscles were being stimulated.

Arms, legs and back jerked slightly in rhythm, over and over. Contract, relax. Contract, relax.

Before, people had to move the body, do things, LIFT things, RUN OUTSIDE.

The thought gave him a shudder unconnected to the electrical stimulation.

Chair finished exercise. He was lightly filmed in perspiration. Climbing from chair he went and got cloth from dispenser. Cloth smelled pleasant. He wiped down his naked body until he smelled pleasant like cloth. He dropped cloth in bin. It vanished. Then he went back to chair and screen.

More stories. Stories about how good everything is, how peaceful. He has all he needs, doesn’t he?

Black has been improved, so now it’s better. He was only allowed two cups of Black per day.

(Screen didn’t tell him that some people drank five, six cups of Black per day and went blind).

There were new styles of clothing. He had clothes, but only dressed when he had to go out, which was seldom. Mostly he’s nude. Home was warm, comfortable. He could not recall the last time he went out, or had a reason to. Why go out?

BEEP BEEP. An afternoon meal appeared beside him. He ate. Ate and watched screen.

And so on. Every day.

Every day, until he served out the life sentence he received for savagely murdering his family.

A crime he had no recollection of committing, thanks to the pacification treatment,

and the medication he received in the food and drink.

He had ambition for nothing more than watching the screen.

Posted in Story | Tagged | Leave a comment