Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Excerpt: "Saving Grace"

I banged out a 55, 000-word novel last November, for NaNoWriMo, and then promptly edited away half of it. I plan to get back to it eventually, if only because I like Sam and don't want to leave the poor guy hanging.

I ran the article through the spell checker, reflexively hit CTRL-S and attached the document to an e-mail. In the subject line I typed, “Music Story.”
“Phyllis, here is the story you asked for. I believe I finished it in time for the Senior Center’s next newsletter deadline. Jan (LeCasse) took some pictures at the event. Let me know if you need anything else. Yours, Sam.”
I clicked “send” and leaned back in my chair. It was 50-year-old government surplus, with dark, solid-wood arms, creaky springs and cracked green leather. There was a plate on the back that declared it property of the IRS. Their loss.
 They don't make chairs like that anymore. They don't make women like Phyllis, either. I'd known her since she was a teenager, although she hadn't known me nearly that long. She was 84 now; I probably wouldn't know her much longer.
I put the computer on standby and stood up. Without bothering with a light I walked the worn green carpet tracing the hallway between my office and the kitchen. I made a quick ham-and-cheese sandwich and ate it with a glass of milk. I rinsed out the glass and swept the crumbs into the wastebasket. Then I went in to check on Lem.
 He was right where I left him. I leaned in close and ran a deep breath through my nose.
It wasn’t too bad. He smelled a little like a mummified mouse, which was quite an accomplishment for a 6-month-old corpse.
Lem, a nickname I usually used rather than his preferred title, “Lord and Master,” died six months ago, stretched out in his recliner in front of one of his three “Girls Gone Wild” DVDs. The first thing I did when I found him was to turn off the television. Twenty minutes after that, I turned the air conditioning up full blast, then moved all the boxes of baking soda from the refrigerator and used them to form a circle around the chair. Finally, I booted up the computer and did a quick search in the database for preservation charms.
One or all of these things must have worked. He didn't look much different from the last time I saw him alive. He was a little more wizened, maybe, but the tight smirk he usually wore while watching something from his “Busty Babe” collection was still twisted into his mouth.
His death had caught me by surprise, and that was a surprise in itself. I have no idea how old he was, even though I'd been living with him for the better part of 70 years. In that time he'd gone from looking skinny, balding and middle-aged to scrawny, bald and old.
When Lem died, I spent all of two minutes wondering whether or not to call the police. He’d left me no instructions about what to do in the situation, and I had no idea what his death would mean to my own existence. Frankly, when I found him, I was shocked that I was still here. It had been him and me and me and him in the brownstone for the better part of the century and I had no idea what would happen if it were just me. The few times I’d thought about it, I’d always assumed that his death would herald my end, too. So, when I found him gone and me still breathing, I decided to maintain the partnership—me and my Lord and Master, Lem and his little buddy, Sam.
I was staring into his face for probably the tenth time that day when the doorbell blatted.
I jumped and knocked over a box of baking soda. About 10 years ago Lem had me switch the harsh buzz of the original doorbell with a trick car horn that played “Dixie” like the car from “The Dukes of Hazard.” Every time it would announce a caller, Lem would cackle and mumble something inappropriate about Daisy Duke.
 “Dixie” blared again.
I took a deep breath and ducked into the small bathroom to make sure my face looked OK. The mirror showed me as it usually did on such occasions, a smallish gray man in a gray sweater, with gray hair, a tidy gray goatee and round steel-rimmed spectacles. Satisfied that everything was in place, I strode down the hallway, checked the chain lock was in place and opened the door. “Who's calling?”
 The man at the door was my equal in unobtrusiveness, brown where I am gray and maybe a little on the heavy side.
 “Mr Downing?” he said. “Are you Roger Downing?”
 It was Lem’s real name, and I'd heard it and read it enough on correspondence over the past near century not to be surprised. Still, I was unprepared for the question. I undid the chain lock to stall for time.
“Mr. Downing is indisposed at the moment,” I said. “I am his personal assistant, Sam Summoning, and I can sign for any delivery you might have.”
“I do have a delivery for Mr. Downing,” the brown man said, with a self-satisfied smile. “I am a process server for the city of Boston and I am here with an eviction notice. The notice states Mr. Downing must pay his back rent immediately or quit this place of residence within the next 30 days.”
 The stocky brown man reached into his mud-colored satchel and pulled out a manila envelope, which he handed to me. He then presented me with a clipboard. I signed; he tore off a receipt and bid me a good day. I closed and bolted the door then stood shaking as he strolled off down the hallway.
 I let my face fall and wiped my now turtle green brow with the back of an equally green hand and felt my hairless tail brush the door frame.

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