Diana, Drain Queen

Diana rang the doorbell as Max rolled the snake unit up the cobblestoned walkway.

A pudgy red-nosed man in golfing attire opened the door. “What do you want? Damn it, I’m going to be late!”

Max pointed at the ‘Drain Queen’ logo embroidered on his jacket. “Sir, we’re the plumbers. Your wife called to say the upstairs bathroom sink had stopped up.”

“Damn near flooded the damned the bathroom and bedroom fooling around with the plunger.” He turned and yelled. “Margaret, the damned plumbers are here. Come see to it, damn it. If I miss tee time that bitch Lorelei will take my spot.” He charged between them, head down and muttering, the golf clubs sounding like yapping chihuahuas chasing after him.

A woman in pencil thin denim jeans and a silky white blouse with wet blotches came to the door. She looked at Max and said, “The guest bath sink upstairs clogged up because my daughter stays up there when she’s home from school and washes her sweaters in the sink. I told her to use a basin but she never listens to her mother. She learned that from her father, not me, I guarantee you.”

Diana leaned toward the woman. “I’m the master plumber, ma’am. Can you take us to the scene of the crime?”

That startled the old thing in the overstuffed jeans. “You? A girl?”

Diana had to stop staring at dear Margaret’s face; it looked like somebody had stretched plastic from ear to ear. She tapped her badge that stated ‘Master Plumber Lic. 5763PP82’ and smiled. “Yes, ma’am, I am fully qualified and would love to see that awful sink.”

Margaret snorted and led them upstairs, Max carrying the snake unit.

Back at the Drain Queen office, Diana flopped into her chair and swiveled to wake up the computer. “Why wouldn’t she pay up? Invoice! I hate writing up invoices; no pay for a month if then because the customer forgets how nasty that plugged toilet looked.”

“You’re upset about that ‘girl’ comment and being told to mop the floor.”

“I’m upset because we have four accounts over 60 days already and the rent on this dump is due. I need the cash, my friend.” She drummed her closely trimmed fingers on the desk. “I’ll have to change the name. Pete’s Plumbing , Butz and Sons, The Clog King, Walter the Water Master, Clog Killer. People would pay up then.”

“No they wouldn’t. They’re not stiffing you because you’re female, it’s because they can. Use the friendly dun letters I made up for you. I emphasize again that getting a signed contract first would make recovering payments owed much easier.”

“Nobody else does that, so please stop bringing it up. What name strikes you as manly and professional?”

“I’m going to Colorado.”drain-illusion

“That wasn’t a choice.” She slumped. “When?”

“Today is my last day, I left you a letter two weeks ago.”

“You did not!”

“See that unopened envelope under your coffee cup? It’s for a big pot grower. I can finally use my Plant Physiology degree.”

Deadpan, she replied, “Max, I’m deliriously happy for you. It’s lunch time, out you go so I can get some work done. Take the rest of the day paid as my gesture of appreciation for your kind assistance over the last few months.” Neither over them waved as he snagged his backpack and left.

She would have the money she would have been paying him, but no help. At a customer, she’d have no man standing there to convince him or her that at least one of the two would know what they were doing. Head in hands, she said, “Stop blaming everything on gender. Get off your ass and ask Mathieu’s Heating, Cooling and Plumbing for some work because you know they get more than they can handle. Do it. Off ass.” Tears. She hated crying, a sign of weakness. Looking up, she watched a tow truck drive on by; no repossession of their nice van today. Tomorrow?

Diana pulled open her desk drawer and picked the hankie off of the gleaming black revolver with the illegal ivory handle. It had been her Daddy’s. She had apprenticed with him after her eight years in the Navy as a Machinist’s Mate. He’d encouraged her to get that Master Plumber license as he battled emphysema. On the day she got it, he shot himself and left her the business with the stipulation she remove his name from it. About to touch it, an old man in a picnic-checkered shirt came in.

She shut the drawer. “Can I help you, sir?”

“I hear you looking for a plumber’s helper. Please consider me for that job. I got lots of experience.”

Her heart leapt and she felt foolish for it. Had Max spread the word?  “I can only pay $15 an hour to start. Do you have a resume?”

He hesitated, came to an internal decision, and handed it to her. “You’ll see I learned plumbing in prison. A long time ago I accidently killed my girlfriend while high as a kite. I got out back in May and cain’t find no job; nobody hire somebody with such a record.”

“Can you get around? I mean, sometimes we have to get into crawl spaces and into attics.”

“I look old, but I’m just 54. I can work hard and get anywhere I need to, I promise you.”

“If one customer after another assumes you can’t be as good as the fat white guy down the road, what would you do?”

“I wouldn’t take it to heart; I’d just do the job the best way I know how. You got to build up a good reputation, that’s solid gold it is. We build up that reputation, we up easy street.”

Why she felt such an instant kinship with this rail-thin man, this man that that apprenticed in prison, she could not say. This man would never give up; she saw it in his auburn eyes. He didn’t look for others to blame. The desk phone rang. “Drain Queen Plumbing, how can we help you?” She smiled. “Yes sir, we’ll be right there.” Hanging up, she looked over to Gregory Payne. “A water pipe broke at Jemison’s Art Supply. Let’s hustle over there and see what you can do.”


The Cave of Living Smoke

The grayness all around us appeared as ephemeral, wide wisps of varying chiaroscuro tones, as might fine smoke from a fire composed of a variety of combustible items seem on a clouded night. Darkness prevails, only a dim glow coming from the stuff guides our way. Pressing with force through any section of it leaves us on our knees, panting, in tears. Jenny holds up better than I in that regard, quicker recovery, yet she has a feral look about her.

The vertical striations of the dimly lit ribbons and sheets of the stuff mock me as I rock back on my heels. I don’t look twice and assume ‘twas an illusion as I did at first. Now with certainty I know the fibers, flush with the main material, are alive and usually move in exceedingly slow undulations. They had attacked in concert when once early on I attempted to use my saber to carve my way. They vibrated at an ear-piercing pitch that melted the fine steel blade while my hand felt frozen to the hilt. I needed many hours to recover.

Jenny hoisted the satchel to her lap and extracted another Chanticleer bar, passing it to me. What would I not give for plain water! “Jen, can you fetch up my bottle from there as well?” I waggled the so-called ‘energy bar’ at her. “Thanks so for this lavish feast, all I need is the wine to ease it down!” The endeavor to lighten the benighted atmosphere failed.

Silently, she passed the effervescent drink to me. Though clear to sight, it tasted cloyingly sweet. Still, it was wet. The jumbled skeletons we’d liberated the satchel from must have acquired some strange tastes to carry such goods. “Well my girl, let’s not take a holiday to any country that considers these to be normal fare, eh?” Her lack of propriety with the deceased had taken him aback until she told him she’d survived untold months here by harvesting thusly. The implication, what she must have endured, had stunned me.

Instead of either ignoring me or at least smiling, she focused her blue eyes on me with great severity. “Fall through the next barrier. Fighting is not only damned painful, but it’s the exact wrong thing to do. These things feed off of your manly exertion. Try to be less of a tasty treat for them for once!”

I’d found her on the far side of a particularly nasty section. I nearly fell across her as she sat Hindu-style and was inordinately pleased to not only find another person but for that person to be a pretty woman, a welcome bonus. Now she desired me to give myself up to the freak curtains? “I could be entrapped that way, not a preferred end.”

“I’ve seen lots of scattered bones and bet you monopoly money those guys fought so eerie-curtaindeliciously hard that the gray meanies held on and drained them. How do you think they get the energy for that low-watt radiance? So fight ever more heroically until the gruesome conclusion occurs or follow meek little me.” She rose in one fluid motion and shifted the satchel to her shoulder. “I have done it many, many times buckaroo. I have only tried to muscle through since I met your eminence because you are alive. I mean, I’m alive too, but I haven’t found a way out. I thought, since you were still alive, your way might lead us out of this accursed place. Not.” She walked up to a wavy wall, thick with those dangerous striations. She turned to face me, closed her eyes and fell backwards. She vanished.

I panicked. Not alone again, oh God please no, I beseech you! As I sensed my form starting to collapse in despair, a blazingly bright thought flamed through my berserk brain: She is from far into the future and knows about this! Perhaps these fiendish mazes are known and studied in her time! I would be an infinite fool to reject her lead!

I watched for her as I fell forward. She had learnt to stand aside, and better, caught my limp form. Once I achieved balance, I bowed in gratitude. “You, madam, are not from a far-off country as I ‘til recently supposed. Or you may be, whatever. The point being that you are a wise woman from the far future!”

Her outright hilarity for the notion rebounded from me. “I know I’m right. Did you not understand how to traverse these barriers with no harm?”

She sobered instantly. “I didn’t come in here knowing a damned thing. On Day One I observed a group of half a dozen Pygmies in feathers all jump in with spears at one time and get fried before my head even believed I was in a cave with Pygmies. Then two shogun-looking guys came at ‘em with some kind of karate crap and made the stuff pulse with light. A granny jabbed with her cane and cussed for way too long. I’ve heard thrashing children’s screaming abruptly stop.” She halted to calm herself. After a few deep breaths, she resumed less vehemently, “Mostly I have heard not one thing, not an echo, no hiss, not any noise but my own whimpering. Plan A doesn’t work, try Plan B; simple as that.” She sat on the cool stone floor in her odd manner, head hanging.

“Oh Jen, were I home I would call you Lady Genevieve and ply you with your every desire. As befalls many a feminine genius, you underrate yourself. Think, Lady Genevieve, what is the method to thwart our torment? What alchemic knowledge does your beautiful face hide?”

“Alchemic? I go around with you for a month or so and suddenly I’m a magical genius because I can fall. Okay renaissance man, I’ll play along.” She stood and spread her arms high and wide. “Oh mighty foe, we have wandered to and fro. We have paid a high cost and are tired of being lost. We each are not a lowly ape. Show us true light so we may escape! Abracadabra!”

She dropped her arms and stood agog. I turned toward her gaze and indeed, there beckoned a faint light on high. The smoky veils parted as the Red Sea did for Moses. Hand in hand, we walked to the strengthening luminosity though it hurt our tender eyes. ’Twas the dear sun we saw as a crown atop a vast forest! Freedom at last!

Cabin June 2015 029We clung together lest we be returned to our own times by some nefarious means. Who contrived that awful game? Why were we chosen? What demonic art could enable such a thing? She claims no act or invocation of hers played a part in our rescue though I protest to the contrary. Lady Genevieve bade me leave off the questions. We have made a life for ourselves in this hospitable paradise, not our cherished Earth. Others have made their way out and we have created a small hamlet where we share our skills and of course, always wonder. Our family thrives. We do not approach the Cave of Living Smoke.



The Co-Ax

Jorge hollered from the junk room, “Anna, you seen the co-ax cable?”

“No quiero co-ax, I’m sewing buttons on Freddy’s sweater. Mama knitted it and had no buttons…”

Jorge tuned much of that out; why’d he bother to ask her anything anyway? He lifted the corner of a flat box that covered a deep box, careful of hiding brown recluse spiders. He dropped it back as he did not care about stupid photo albums. The realtor had talked big and had given him a pest certificate for the house. Maybe these damn things were immune to poisons. Maybe they ate the co-ax.

He had to move two overstuffed trash bags out of the way; he could see Freddy’s Cleanup Mess Areaold baby clothes through the holes. Why drag all that here? Goodwill begs for stuff like that. Oh boy, a wicker basket full of mismatched dishes. He squeezed against giant stereo speakers from twenty years ago to get the heavy thing behind him. Okay, now he had access to the great stack of boxes stacked to the ceiling. He looked at the top box and frowned.

He could spit on the movers in part because Anna would throw out nothing so he had to pay for the bigger truck and they gouged him. Also in part because they jammed half the household into this back bedroom making it necessary to use a ladder to see anything with no place to set one down. The box of co-ax had come on the same order as the 4G antenna, supposedly powerful enough for them to use their phones and get Wi-Fi anywhere in the house. The antenna came here; they had no business touching it or the co-ax. Had they charged him for moving stuff already here? He would definitely complain.

He read the labels on the stacked boxes and almost screamed in frustration – all that work for nothing! He squeezed by the damned dish basket and leaned out the bedroom doorway. “Anna, did you brother come by here while I was at Lowe’s?” There she sat on her fat butt reading, not sewing at all. “He walked off with the box of co-ax.”

She dropped her book to her lap. “Rogelio is no thief. I wish you would stop accusing him of fantastico crimes. Are you sure your precious box really arrived? I only saw the one with the fancy antenna in it.”

“I ordered them together. You probably kept the collection of broken cat toys and gave my 50 foot of co-ax to your brother.”

“He has a name, Jorge. I heard you in there cursing the bags in there. Freddy needs a sister so I keep the clothes. You know Mama made many of them, they are for always keeping. As for the cat toys, I want little Cleo back; we should have brought her. And you know Rogelio is my brother’s name.”

“That cat is better off with Tio Benny, the pit bull breeder. Girls don’t wear blue and you better not get off your pills because I can’t afford another brat to feed. Rogelio took my jacket and when I got it back it had a big spot on the sleeve that had melted; that nice fleece jacket and I had to throw it out.”

“He had a jacket just like it. You blame him forever for an honest mistake.”

He sneered at her tears. “Sure, take his side.” He was winding up for more, with vitriol pumping through his heart, when she popped up and got in his face.

“You got devils in you, all you do is hate! I only agreed to move away from all my family and friends because you said you had this spectacular job. Okay, we’re here and I know nobody except Rogelio who you hate. You stay at work until night. I dread you being home on the weekends now.” She wiped her eyes roughly with the hem of her shirt. “Don’t do this to me so I will leave. If you are having an affair and want me to leave, tell me and stop with all the hate. I would go back to Idaho tonight.”

He stared at her anguished face and jumped when somebody rapped on the front door. He turned fast and yanked the door open. It was an old guy in a Post Office uniform. He carried a box.

“Sir, this just came back from Barbados.” He chuckled in a sad way. “I don’t know how we got something for the Carolinas sent to the Caribbean and I apologize on behalf of the U.S. Post Office for the error.” He held the scuffed box marked ‘Casey Co-axial Cables’ out at arm’s length.

Jorge stood dumfounded.

Anna elbowed him aside and took the box. “Thank you so much for personally delivering this. We’re new here and appreciate your kindness.”

The smiling Postman said, “De nada,” climbed into his little truck and drove away.

She stepped out onto the porch and about-faced with her arms wrapped around the box. “Jorge, you don’t get this until we get to the bottom of all this. You trying to get rid of Freddy and me or what?”

He went in to plop on the sofa, head in hands. After several unproductive minutes, he felt a cold metallic touch the nape of his neck and shivered hard. WWJD BearAnna peeled his right hand back and placed his rosary in it. He leaned back and fingered the rosary. He hadn’t seen it since the move. He rubbed his thumb on the beads, gently caressing them, remembering the words. He looked up at her. “Anna, corazón, I don’t want you to go, please. I don’t hate, I just am working too much, too hard, too long. Lo siento, mi corazón, verdad.”

She held out the box to him

He shook his head. “I don’t need that or the antenna. I already got the signal I need. I felt Dios touch my neck and you touch my heart.”

She sat very close and snuggled when he put his arm around her. “I am so happy. I prayed for you ten times a day.” She pulled away a bit and smiled impishly. “I would like that Wi-Fi, if it is no trouble now.”