Friday, December 9, 2011

Fiction: Snowless

The doorbell rang. Something I always imagined to be a 1950s middle class simulation of opulence; two long brass tubes hanging from an art deco style box on the wall, reminiscent of the Empire State Building, but in a tiny room in a tiny cape cod. The bell sang out the first chime. The "Ding". But never a "Dong". The "Dong" vanished long ago. Or maybe never existed at all. But it delivered exactly the same incomplete sensation of hearing the beginning but never the "Two Bits" resolution of "Shave And a Hair Cut..."

It helped that my kids enjoyed the doorbell, at least. Somehow a doorbell ring for them was an exotic treat. They would speculate on which one of their friends it might be at the door.

But mostly, I hated it. The door bell.

I hated it because it usually served as a lonely, punch in the gut reminder that I was still home in the afternoon, filling up space.

I hated it because, really, who rings the doorbell anyway? Nobody I know. Few dared, really. It looked like an electrocution hazard. The plastic covering on the button had become brittle with weather and age and had crumbled in revealing just a tiny light bulb presumably lit by the same current and ancient wiring that half rang the half doorbell.

I hated it because it meant somebody I didn't know was at the door. And that usually meant I would end up buying some school funding chocolate or expensive half cup of popcorn in a decorative Christmas tin from a very adorable neighbor kid that I couldn't afford to spend money on. Or worse...I'd end up saying No to the cute little neighbor kid my son plays with in the summer because I don't have any money or anticipate having cash on hand and I end up feeling guilty and then depressed about not being able to afford some $8 half cup of popcorn in a decorative Christmas tin.

I answered the door to a blast of fresh chilled December air, and the constant white noise in the distance, the low, almost subliminal roar of Lake Michigan just down the street and beyond the dunes. Late December, three days before Christmas, and not a flake of snow, though. Not one. My wife particularly brooded over that. She owned a small store. Our only tenuous source of income and snow, it seemed, had magical properties in the retail world. Dry roads, clear skies and people just don't go shopping. Dump snow and ice all over the roads, and suddenly people remember they have to be at the store right away to buy stuff.

I opened the door to a cold, snowless day full of browns and naked trees and freeze dried greens of plants that kept the photosynthesis right up until the frost and dried into stasis.

Some middle aged guy in a knit snow hat in a brown paint and grease stained Carhardt coat stood on the porch.

"Hey!" He said and held out a deeply calloused hand.

I shook it and said "Hey...what's up?"

"Hey, uh...need your lawn mowed?"

"My lawn?" I stepped out onto my porch with him into the cold and looked out over my dead, brown lawn through wisps of freezing water vapor coming from my breath. The man's old, matte black F-150 seemed to rust away right there before my very eyes right there in my driveway, a snow blower and a lawn mower in the back. In the cab a young boy looked out the passenger side window. "Well..." I paused.

They man said nothing.

I looked out at my lawn again. A lump started rolling up in my throat. Little synapses duked it out in my head between just saying "yes, of course, it's Christmas!" and saying "no, are you crazy? we're broke and the lawn is dead." while another part of my brain calculated if I had actually had enough cash in the house to even pay for a mowing of a non-existent lawn. And how much would my wife be annoyed if that money was suddenly gone?

"My lawn, eh.....? It's sort of...." I slowly started while the parts of my brain duked it out, trying to come to a happy resolution.

"Yeah..." the man said, with a distant chuckle, his hands now stuffed into his pockets.

"Yeah..." I said with a matching tone. Then, "I.......don't have a snow blower. And I have this huge driveway. Maybe.......maybe when it snows..."

The man nodded and smiled "...IF it snows..." he chuckled again....

"Right? Yeah, IF it snows. I'll need that. And you might want to talk to my neighbor here, she's
in her 90s and her nephew just moved away and he usually did the driveway for her in the winter. So...what are ya looking for to plow something like that driveway?"

"Oh, whatever. I don't care. I gotta cover gas, of course."

"Okay. Crazy times, eh?"

"Ya got that, right......well....Merry Christmas" He smiled broadly and shook my hand again, and turned down the steps of my porch. His son watched him return to the truck.

And suddenly, the snow began to fall.


Betsy said...

Oh, great story! You totally tugged at my heartstrings... I'm so glad it started snowing for that poor guy! I liked how you lead up to the door being answered-- a bit perturbed about the whole thing (the doorbell, the reminder of being home when you want to be at work, the reminder of being broke). But seeing someone else's plight makes you perceive things a bit differently.

I also love the descriptive words. Especially-- "I opened the door to a cold, snowless day full of browns and naked trees and freeze dried greens of plants that kept the photosynthesis right up until the frost and dried into stasis." I don't live in the north but I could feel and see this view from the front door.

Nicole Rivera said...

A beautifully relevant Christmas tale in these trying times. I actually teared up when the snow began to fall, even though I knew it was coming! Nice job.

By the way, you had me hooked from the beginning on a personal level with the broken doorbell! It seems like such a little thing, but it speaks volumes...

angela said...

I really felt the conflict within the main character, wanting to help but being in a rough financial position himself.

You use a lot of rich, descriptive language, which is lovely to read, especially being from Michigan myself.

I don't mean to be a pain, but this is way over the word limit for the prompt :)

Muskegon Critic said...

Oh dear...there was a word limit? What's the word limit usually?

Cameron said...

I love the connection you make between hearing the doorbell and examining why the narrator is home, but I feel like, in such a short format, that the lengthly description of the physical bell and who might be ringing it distracts from the later events, which are the real meat of the story.

Run on sentence there much? Sorry.

Your dialogue is strong, and I like the son waiting in the pickup. That lends a less shady air to a random lawn-mowing solicitation on a December day.