Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Seeking Shelter

Clearly, someone had been living here, Devyn realized, staring at dirty dishes piled haphazardly in the sink. The fossilized remnants of canned pasta and beans were evident, even from where he stood in the doorway. A wide ray of afternoon sunshine beamed like a spotlight through the grimy window above the counter, illuminating the disarray left behind by the cottage’s mysterious inhabitant.

There was an odor as well, Devyn noticed as he stepped further into the room, the pungent odor of unwashed skin, the sour, musty aroma of damp towels left to dry in humid lake breezes. His mother had despised that smell, warned them against it every time they returned from the lake. “Hang those towels out on the line!” she’d cry, usually from her vantage point in front of this very sink, where she was likely washing dishes, or preparing one of the many fruits and vegetables their father might have gathered in from his garden that morning. “They’ll get to smelling if you bring them in the house.”

Devyn grimaced, thinking how much she would hate the smell of this place right now, her constant battle against dirt and dampness over the years of summers gone for naught. While he and his brother had scampered through the woods behind the cottage, relishing their seemingly innocent games of war and private eye, she had remained inside working furiously at her cleanliness project for the day– sweeping sand from the floors, cleaning foggy lake breeze residue from windows, removing ceiling light fixtures that became the final resting place for tiny black bugs and moths.

Gingerly, he picked an orange plastic coffee cup out of the sink, -melamine, he thought it was called. “Perfect for cottage use,” his mother had said with satisfaction, purchasing a set of six at the local Ben Franklin. Now grimy and discolored inside, a gritty residue of instant coffee granules cemented to the bottom, Devyn let it fall from his fingertips, and clatter back into the sink. He could recall his mother quickly downing a half cup of instant coffee from this cup every morning, then hurrying off to her "chores." Why did she never take the time to sit comfortably on the back porch, watching the sun rise over the lake, sipping a cup of freshly brewed coffee? It seemed to Devyn as if his mother and father had never really lived here - between his mother's cleaning and his father's gardening, the cottage was a workplace, rather than a place to enjoy life.

Five summers had passed since his mother had been here, the cottage carefully closed and locked that last autumn morning. Devyn could picture his father, walking through the rooms with his tattered checklist in hand, carefully consulting the list of duties that must be performed before closing the place for the winter, not knowing he would sicken and die before spring's arrival. Almost immediately after, Devyn's mother had begun her descent into the neverland of dementia that had by now claimed all memory of this summer cottage and the times she had spent there.

Devyn knew they should have rented the place out, not let it sit empty all these summers. The local sheriff had warned him about “squatters”. “Folks ‘round here are hurtin’ these days,” he’d said when Devyn had called and asked him to keep an eye out. “And some are desperate enough to seek shelter anywhere, even if it don’t belong to ‘em.”

Whoever was living here must be desperate indeed, Devyn thought, turning his back on the sink filled with crusty dishes and focusing his eyes on the door in front of him. He didn’t bother to lock it behind him – after all, someone was clearly living here now.

~written in response to this short story contest


Julie said...

I can see in my mind (even without the photo provided for inspiration) everything you've described. Your imagination takes me places I never have the creativity to think of myself.

I'm glad you found (made) time to get some words down. I didn't see your name in the listing on 'The Clarity of Night' contest list, so I assume this was written after the deadline or you simply chose not to submit it. Regardless, you have conveyed past, present, and future in less than 250 words and made the reader feel Devyn's emotions right along with him. Truly a little gem.

Tammy Brierly said...

This was a nifty little contest and I read yours before I saw the picture. You did a wonderful job and the ending line was unexpected. I felt the nostalgia and could see that kitchen. XXOO