June 22, 2011
Cleaning the Basement
Willard sits in the oak breakfast nook trying to sink the few remaining Oateeos floating mockingly in his bowl.
“Damn dinghies got a hole in ‘em,” he thinks as the clacking of his spoon gets louder.
“Willard!” comes the nails on a blackboard screech of his wife’s holler floating down the stairs from the bedroom above, “Willard!”
“You promised to clean the basement today!”
“Yes, yes, the basement.”
“Clean it out!”
“You’re cleaning the basement?”
“I’m cleaning the basement!” Willard enjoys shouting back at his wife and takes every opportunity he can to do it.
Pushing his Oateeos aside with a promise to come back later “and teach you a few goddamn things about dinghies,” Willard makes his way to the stairs of the basement.
His slat crusted work boots hit each riser hard letting out a little parrot squawk echoed by Willard’s own hollow thoughts about his descent and the sea. Clicking on the light, he takes an initial survey: broken oars, moldy lifevests, tangled fishing gear, empty scuba tanks, jammed harpoon guns, rotten chunks of old rowboats and kayaks, welding torches, half eaten sandwiches -- the plunder of Willard’s passion unfulfilled. He sits down on one of the lifevests, starts poking through a cracked tackle box, and sighs.
“Willard!” A rat caught in a glue trap sounding shrill this time.
“Yes, yes, I’m cleaning the basement. I’m cleaning!” Willard chuckles to himself, proud of how loud he can shout.
He thinks, “Piles are the key,” if he can just get everything into piles, then that would be enough. Plan settled, task at hand, Willard sets to work.
“Fins with snorkels, oars together, sandwiches with the dinghies...” For thirty minutes or so, Willard picks up his treasures and moves them from side to side.
“I’m still working!” Willard shouts because he can, because it feels good, “I’m cleaning the basement!”
By now, Willard has cleared a path to the far side of the basement where a pitted, rotten rowboat leans against the wall.
“May have to cut this in two to fit it on the pile,” Willard thinks as he blows the dust off the hull. He grabs it and tugs but it seems to be stuck in place. He strains and he pulls but it won’t budge.
“I’ll use an oar as a lever!” he yells.
“What?” comes the screech from above.
“What are you talking about, Willard?”
“I’m cleaning the basement!”
Flush with the pleasure of having shouted once again, Willard does as he said he would and grabs one of the least rotten oars he can find. He jams it behind the boat and with all of his strength he pulls back on it. With a grinding “SQUANK” the boat shudders from the wall and Willard falls flat on his back.
“What was that?” the screech yells.
“The dinghy...” a breathless Willard mumbles, staring at the cobwebs on the ceiling.
“Willard, what was that?” comes the screech again.
“I’m cleaning!” Willard shouts and climbs back on his feet.
“Don’t hurt yourself.”
“I’m cleaning the goddamn basement!”
Invigorated from shouting but winded from the work, Willard looks at the wall where the boat had been resting.
“Where the hell did that come from?” It looks like it was made of old pine and has a tarnished copper knob shaped like a donut or an Oateeo.
“A door!” he screams as loudly as he can.
“Throw it out!” is the screech’s reply.
“Throw it out?” Willard screams.
“We have enough doors!”
“Aaaaaaaah -- shut yer pie-hole!”
“I’m cleaning!” Willard giggles from the screaming and looks at the door. “Hmmmmm,” he thinks, “might make a good raft...” and Willard sees himself astride the door, shirtless and strong, a patch over his left eye, a saber clenched between his teeth -- the scourge of the seven seas -- avast ye hearties, avast -- and he reaches for the Oateeo shaped knob.
There is a sudden sucking sound, like when you lift the vacuum from the carpet and the engine revs. Willard feels himself being pulled forward, helpless against the force. “Hey now...”
What is it -- seconds, minutes, hours, days -- alone in the darkness, Willard feels himself pulled further and further in, heading towards a light up ahead.
Into the light and out, Willard quickly tries to get his bearing on where he has ended up. From all accounts of his senses, he is high above an ocean -- high above and ocean and falling -- high above an ocean and falling fast.
“Shoulda grabbed me a dinghy!” Willard shouts with all his might as he plunges headfirst towards the briny deep and an uncertain landing for sure.
Labels: Short Story