Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Short End of the Libman

For Karen. Slow but steady wins the race, right?

Then I'm in.

This short story is part of a collection called The World May Deem You Failures, which was my senior final project before graduating from the fiction class in the Creative Writing.

I first wrote it in my junior year. The assignment was to copy the style of one of your favorite authors. I chose Flannery O'Connor not only because I like her short stories, but I also thought she'd be easy for me to copy.

I later revised it to fit in with the collection a semester later. Maybe you'll like it.



1 of 2

She wasn’t fanatical. Randi pulled the cart using the weight of her good side to do most of the work. When she came across an aluminum can, she used her broom to sweep it up into a dustbin. The dustbin had a long tubular aluminum handle on it. She used aluminum to pick up aluminum. She also used the tool to sweep up cigarette butts, banana peels and pigeon feathers. On Mondays, she swept up beer bottles. Most of them empty. She picked up plastic bags if she could get to them quick enough, but usually the wind caught those and blew them away before she could bend down. This worried her some, but she tried to let it go.

No, she wasn’t fanatical. Her mother. Now there’s a different story. Randi’s mother was a fanatic. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses usually ended up backing out Mrs. Gentry’s door. She’d just keep talking to them, using her nicotine stained finger, pointing out verses and versing her point of view. The Jehovah’s Witness group was serious, though. They always came back for more. A well-armed group they were, but they never stood a chance with Mrs. Gentry.

While Randi was working, the school bus pulled up and dropped off a little girl. She liked the little girl, even though they’d never had a real conversation. Not one with words, anyway. Some afternoons, after the bus would drop the little girl off, and after the little girl’s daddy had come to meet her, Randi would look their way. The man would raise his hat toward her and nod. The little girl would smile, kind of shy like, and make a little wave, while she struggled with papers and, maybe, the current Weekly Reader that her daddy would soon rescue from her small hands. It was nice, watching them that way.

Randi looked around the complex. She really liked the straight lines. Straight lines next to the curb. Straight lines next to the lawn. She hated it when people did their laundry, leaving lint all around. But usually she found a penny every day. Some days a nickel or dime. These were days she would really smile. She thought she’d throw all the money in an old burned out candle vase she had, and at the end of the year see how much money she’d made for free. Mrs. Gentry said nothing was for free. But Mrs. Gentry did believe in omens.

“The Good Lord may have shorted you on a leg, Randi girl, but he’s going to bring something good into your life. Just you wait and see. You keep on working hard like you do girl, finding all your little money. That’s okay. Just when you’re expecting it least, something good will come your way. Mark my words, girl. Especially you being born with one leg shorter than the other, shuffling the way you do, picking up other people’s trash. No, something good is going to come out all this. You’ll see.” Mrs. Gentry would say all this, fire up another Camel and tell Randi to fix her a glass of tea. “It’s getting hot out. Think I’ll just take me a glass of tea into the bedroom and read for a while. In Jonah maybe. Now there’s a man who had trouble listening to the Lord. Pay attention to that story, girl. The Lord’s bound to get your attention one way or another. He likes a good and obedient servant. You coming with that tea, girl? My, oh my, it’s hot today.”

So Randi just kept on sweeping up other people’s trash, picking up other people’s dropped-out-of-their-purse-or-fell-out-of-their-jeans-pocket-don’t-care-not-worth-the-trouble of picking it up money. By the end of the first year, Randi had collected four dollars and sixty-five cents. And she’d buried a dead duck.

Randi had been pushing her Libman Broom harder than usual that day. The wind was blowing ninety to nothing, bits of trash swirling in the air. Her straight lines were blurred with leaves. Leaves next to the curb, leaves under every stairwell and fine dust poured out like dirty talcum powder on every walkway. Just when she thought she was through for the day, she saw a mass of white, lying between the pond and the access road. Randi spent some time trying to stoop over in all the wind and saw the poor duck must have been hit by a car. It wasn’t bleeding or anything, but, looking around, she saw no other explanation for it. There was the road and there was the duck. She didn’t use her Libman Broom to scoop it up, but instead pushed the heavy trash out to the dumpster, went and got a box out of the storage room, and, as tenderly as possible, bundled the duck into the box, then spent a great deal of time digging a hole next to the pond, under a tree, and laid the poor duck to rest.

On her way back across the complex, Randi saw that someone had shaken a purple bath mat or some kind of linty fabric out. Long threads of purple scattered the grass, leaving an ugly mess. After she picked up the lint, she trudged the block to her house. Making the journey, she noticed the man she sometimes watched, picking up his daughter from the school bus.

She had mixed feelings watching the two. The picture of a daddy and a young girl reminded her of all she’d missed as a young girl—and now, a woman well on her way to aging. She wasn’t as slow as some people might think. And she could remember her own daddy, although he’d never met her at the school bus. He’d usually be well on his way to being good and drunk way before sundown. One thing she couldn’t get straight in her mind though, did her daddy’s drinking make Mama so hell-bent on heaven and hell or did Mama’s sermons push her daddy to drinking? Well, it really didn’t matter so much. Daddy was gone, no matter what. Straight to hell, if Mama had her way.

She didn’t let these thoughts weigh her down much. She liked watching the ducks, listening to their duck-talk. She thought about them a lot, especially when she’d carry her trash to the dumpster and see a mallard setting on a nest. After that happened a few times, she was more careful as she stumped around, picking up the orange peels and beer cans. Nests were everywhere.

She liked looking at the eggs the nests warmed, stopping by only after the parents were gone of course. Careful never to touch or bump, she wondered what made the eggs’ color different. Some were nearly gray, others a little paler. Why did they leave the nest for a while and what made them come back? The only thing she knew for sure, sometimes there were mallards that warmed the unborn and other times the mama duck sat on the nest.

cont'd. below

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