“Old man Jefferson is up on that staging again, working away all by his lonesome,” said Mrs. Audibert to her husband. “I’d bet he could use a hand. Why don’t you go on over and help for a bit, Paul?”
For once, her approach was direct, and Paul appreciated the absence of passive-aggressive hints which normally persisted like a trapped cat in heat. He steps next to his wife, peering beyond the pane and fine mist of an afternoon Sun shower to their neighbor’s Neo-French style home across the road, and Paul sighs in heavy resentment.
“Alright, alright. I’ll see if the old curmudgeon needs a hand, then I’m coming back for kickoff either way, dammit.”
“That’s my Paul.”
She steps on her tippy-toes and pecks Paul’s cheek before he leaves with a disgruntled stride to their garage.
Blessings come in all forms, and the fact that the bed of his rusted Ford work truck contained the required tools necessary to mend an ailing home brought little solace to Paul. Every neighborhood has a grouch, and Kurt Jefferson held that position since 84’. He fires-up the Ford and backs out. Tires splash through dirty remnants of the early morning downpour and he lurches across the road and into Mr. Jefferson’s driveway.
Paul doesn’t get right out. He keeps the engine idling beside the staging and formulates a plan while that grouch climbs on all fours up the slopped pitch of his lower roof.
I ain’t getting out. He’s a nasty dickhead and I’m gonna just roll down the window and see what’s up.
“Hey,” Paul yells over the banging of metal on metal. “Mr. Jefferson, you hear me?”
The clawed end of the framing hammer clangs at the roof’s seams with a patang, tang-tang sound over and over. Paul steps out of the vehicle and reaches in with his hand, giving the horn a quick honk. Mr. Jefferson responds with a look of alarm; far cry to what Paul expected and this sends shivers over his fresh and unwarranted goosebumps that crawled like Kudzu injected with a cocktail of growth hormones, steroids, and high-grade fertilizer.
“Jesus, you jumped me,” said Mr. Jefferson as he slowly rests the hammer by his knee. “What can I do for you?”
Paul hesitates to answers. He knows the weary man atop that roof is Mr. Jefferson, or at least a grim specter-like version of the normally wiry and tough-as-nails older man who would greet folks with inhospitable finger profanities and shrewd, degrading remarks. Clouds parted above and the greyness of the late morning sky nearly dissipated in full, revealing more of the Sun and less of the it’s now fleeting shower. Paul gets a better look at Mr. Jefferson and notices that he is soaked, and guesses that it is from his strenuous labor.
“I came to see if you needed a hand, that’s all.”
“What I need is for the rain to stop. Can you do that?”
“I believe it already has, Mr. Jefferson.”
“Maybe from where you’re standing, but up here and in there,” he picks up his hammer and points inside with its head. “It is downpouring; always raining and raining and raining. Shit—everywhere I go it is the same. Can you make it stop? If not, then I don’t think there is no need for you to be here.”
I’d trade this crazy version of Mr. Jefferson for that old asshole any day. Oh well, can’t say that I didn’t offer. Time to get out of here before I catch whatever nonsense this old grouch has.
But Mr. Jefferson wasn’t done.
“And do you know what the worst of it is?”
“No I don’t think I do, but I’d best be—
“It’s the suffocating sound made from this roof. That’s all I hear; even in my sleep. Sure, it was pleasant—and had been for a time since I built this home with my own two-hands,” he raises those weathered and pruned hands to his face, then shakes his head and erupts in a low, cynical chortle. “But the rain never stops! I’ve been listening to the deafening madness for the past three months now. I even took my hearing aids out, thinking that would bring about some audible reprieve; only made it worse, I tell ‘ya. I’ve got a plan, though. Won’t be long now.”
Paul turns his head to the bulge covered by blue tarp adjacent to the staging and spies a bundle of shingles protruding from the bottom.
I can’t believe I am about to do this… shit.
“Hey I tell you what: come on down from there, take a break for the rest of the day, and I’ll replace that roof for you this week. You can help if you want, but I can get one of my boys to help. We’ll figure out the cost and I promise to do you right, Mr. Jefferson.”
He ponders the offer for a moment, and says, “I haven’t asked for any help in sixty years now and I don’t reckon I’m about to start. I appreciate the offer Paul, but you’d be smart to get on home now. Rain’s picking up again and I want to get as much done today as I can.”
Mr. Jefferson returns to his ceaseless patang, tang-tang and Paul goes home.
“Well, did you help him or not?” asks Mrs. Audibert.
“Nah, old fool’s stubborn as a tree stump. Can’t say I didn’t try, though.”
Nightfall engulfs the land, and the insufferable patang, tang-tang resonates throughout the neighborhood while the EMT’s load Mr. Jefferson’s body onto the stretcher, and into the ambulance. Newspaper calls it a heart attack brought on by over-exertion, and Paul can’t shake the idea of Mr. Jefferson drowning in rains gifted from the grave or those dark, otherworldly places that whisper nothing but ill tidings to mortals across the land.
Paul rips the tin sections of his own roof and begins to lay new shingling.
© Copyright John Potts Jr. All rights reserved.
I’ve had the pleasure of living in homes with metal roofs. Tranquility pulses in silent ripples with every rain droplet and I always look forward to that soothing cadence. My office has one above and one right outside the window, so I am embraced by surround-sound awesomeness when it rains.
Poor old Mr. Jefferson, though, couldn’t find his happy-medium.
Fact is stranger—if not more powerful—than fiction.
My father-in-law is hands-down the strongest man I’ve known, and I would be surprised to meet another like him. He is traditional, fierce, and as tough as they come. Above all else he is a dedicated family man who has more love than you would expect behind that grizzled visage and harsh tone of his; he doesn’t mean either to be offensive, as that is just how he is.
When he was sixteen, he worked construction, and had an accident that would change him forever. He stepped into an open gearbox of a running excavator, and needed to have half of his foot amputated. That never stopped him, and I honestly don’t know what could.
With his foot-and-a-half, my father-in-law erected houses from start to finish, (he finished roofs, that’s for sure) built boats, and even when times became stressful and money slim, he’d hitchhike to town to shuck shrimp for a seafood company. He once told me—and this is not an alternative fact, either—that he fell from a roof, shattered his hip, and drove home first to burn one before going into the hospital. I guess it is a rite of passage to be a carpenter of his skills, as I have yet to meet his equal.
I asked his permission to merry my wife years ago, and I can honestly say that moment still reigns as the scariest five minutes of my life. His granite slate never waned and I for sure thought an ass-whoppin would’ve happened as I stammered in fear the entire time. He simply crushed my hand with his vice-grip handshake and I nearly fell to my knees in pain as I left with his blessing, and my life.
He cracks a smile ever now and again, and I bet I’ll see him up on a roof or splitting his own firewood at some point soon.
I have been busy with my short stories for publication. I am writing a piece called “That New Game Hype” for a horror podcast that I listen to and I hope they accept it. It deals with video game addiction and of course, monsters.
“A Good Thing” is in second draft and deals with a character who willingly broke the rules for his own advantage, and a dark stranger (who you’ve recently been introduced to) won’t leave until he hears why.
There will also be a new Ghoul Flash Fiction post tonight. I may get around to finishing why he gets his palm read, or I may not. Either way, look for that nonsense later on.
I talked about a free eBook containing “The Storm Within” and other tales posted here. That is soon to come, I swear. I am focusing on wrapping up the two short stories first, and I am shooting to have that released in a couple of weeks. I wanted to get it done this weekend, but I totally lapsed on the short window Psuedopod has for submissions and that is priority number one.
Until next time,
John Potts Jr