Step On A Crack

Step On A Crack

A Story by felioness
"

A weird little story.

"


Day after day Mr. Gardner's withered a*s wore a little more corduroy off the seat of his favorite easy chair. He spent a lot of time on that stained old chair, staring through the part in his dusty turquoise curtains and closing himself off from the rest of the world. His wartime house was small and cluttered. It smelled dank and musty with age and neglect. Keeping all the windows shut tight didn't help the situation either but that was the way Mr. Gardner did things. His wife Gracie, God rest her soul, had been dead for several years now. They had been a childless couple. Mr. Gardner had no family to speak of or, at any rate, any he chose to speak to, and he liked it that way, just as he liked his house cordoned off from the street and the sounds of the living. Their noise interfered with his thoughts and intruded upon his reveries. Still, he knew almost everything that went on in the neighbourhood. Everything that is, visible from his window. Although he'd never admit it, deep inside Mr. Gardner felt it was him against a world he rejected.


Mr. Gardner diligently kept tabs on a man who rode the 7:18 to work during the week. He'd peer restlessly until he saw him walking north from Hastings onto Elmwood Avenue. As usual the man smoked a cigarette while he waited, crushing it beneath his heel as the bus slowed to a stop. Mr. Gardner noticed that this man was often absent Friday evenings and suspiciously absent the following Monday morning. He suspected the man was a drinker. "Yeah, he's got the face," he'd smirk self-righteously as he sipped his Red Rose tea, "yeah, that's a drinker's face if I ever saw one. It's as red as a beet and his cheap suits look like Bargain Shop specials. I bet he spends all his money on booze! Yeah, he's probably a salesman, they all drink!"


Mr. Gardner hated salesmen. "Damn fools always trying to push people into buying something they don't need, don't want and can't afford," he'd sneer loudly to no one in particular. "If I need something I just go get it! I don't need no fast talking, snake-oil pushing salesman to try to change my mind. Salesmen ain't nothin but a waste of skin." Mr. Gardner had only one bad habit that he would admit to and that was talking out loud to himself, "and if I wanna do it I'll do it", he'd fret, "it's my goddamned house anyways so who does it bother?."


Shaking his head in disgust Mr. Gardner would lament loudly and at length about the decline of morality in modern society. He longed for the good old days when life was respectable and simple. When people knew their place and were the happier for it. When men were men and women were women and they all prayed to the same goddamned God! "Now everything has gone nuts!" he'd shout to an empty, echoing room.

Mr Gardner also kept a close watch on the activities of a young blue-jeaned, single mother struggling to raise two small kids. She made frequent forays to Harper's Grocery on the corner of Bismarck and Bennington. "That boy's a spoiled brat!" he'd rant, "always got something with him ...candy, toys, you name it he's got it . And just look at that little girl's stroller ...musta cost a fortune! Betcha the welfare bought it for that useless little hippy strumpet, and why isn't that girl of hers walking anyway? She's gotta be two by now! By gawd when I was two I was working in the garden picking stones for my mama beneath a blistering hot sun!"


Mr Gardner also raged over the recent activities of his long time neighbour, Mrs. Francis. She had been widowed for the last five years but recently met a man at church who put pink roses on her previously pale and grief-lined lonely cheeks. This infuriated Mr. Gardener and he'd snort "cheap hussy!" under his breath every time he saw her.


And so it went on ...day after day, week after week, month after month, year after bitter year. Mr Gardner's tirades were without boundaries. His self righteousness without end. Secure in his self-made, sanctimonious cocoon he remained stubbornly ignorant of the world beyond his window. Mr. Gardner arranged it so his groceries were delivered and his pension cheques were automatically deposited into his bank account. He often employed the paperboy, who lived down the street, to run errands or do odd jobs for him, grumbling bitterly over the pittance he paid the poor lad.


Then, one cold late August afternoon, a little girl passed by his window. He didn't recognize her but soon observed that she was walking by his window almost everyday. Something about the girl disturbed him. She was a strange looking little thing. Too skinny and sort of woebegone looking with baby-fine, almost colourless ash blond hair hanging to the middle of her bony back. He imagined her eyes were green, but for the life of him could not explain why. They were very large eyes and rather hollow looking. They tilted up at each corner filling a small, pinched and decidedly pale, triangular face. Mr. Gardner was irked by the way she walked. She nervously glance over her shoulders as if someone, or something, were lurking behind her. If she wasn't peering over her shoulders she was staring at the ground. In his mind Mr. Gardner would hear ..."step on a crack, break yer momma's back, step on a crack break yer momma's back." He always heard it twice.


Unsurprisingly Mr. Gardner didn't like her. She irritated him. Reminded him of someone or something he couldn't quite put his finger on it and it bugged him. Maybe it was the sadness that cloaked her like a shroud but at the same time he wondered why he used such uncharacteristically fanciful words, perhaps it was that haunted look that made her appear vulnerable and unprotected. He wasn't sure of the reason but he knew this... she upset his tidy little world. His comfortable routine was going awry. He found himself thinking about her at night and it made him toss and turn restlessly in his bed. This had never happened before. Mr. Gardner did not like things that had never happened before. Change was another nuisance he could live without.


The small industrial city of Burlington Iowa where Mr. Gardner had lived for over 75 years, was prettier than most factory towns, but had a depressing air of reserve that had always prevented it from being cozy. It was a place where the credo "pride goeth before a fall" held a lot more credence than "love thy neighbour". But things were changing. An influx of workers were filling positions being vacated by an aging population, at, in Mr. Gardner's opinion, an alarming rate. There were young families looking for jobs and they were changing the fabric of the old conservative town that he knew and relied on. Yes, "the times they were a-changin..." and not in a good way thought Mr. Gardner, no,  not in a good way at all.


"Why foreigners have even moved in!" he'd fret aloud. Restaurants with names he never heard of were advertising foods in the local newspaper that he couldn't pronounce. He was beside himself. "Where will it end!" he'd yell. Mr Gardner's once familiar hometown was becoming both bewildering and alien to him.


One evening while waiting for 'that girl' as he began to call her, Mr. Gardner suddenly remembered an emaciated half grown cat that yowled around his door one horribly cold winter. Mr Gardner was surprised he remembered it at all. He had tried everything he could think of to shut the wretched thing up and in the process littered his backyard with old pots, and pans, empty cans and worn out boots and shoes, but nothing worked. The ever growing mess in his yard pissed him off even more, so one night in a fit of rage, Mr. Gardener brought out his old service revolver. The damn thing still worked but what surprised him even more was how he dropped that squalling little nuisance with one shot! He still had the touch! Mr. Gardener congratulated himself on his marksmanship despite not having shot a gun in years. What did rankle him however was how much it cost to have the yard cleaned up and the visit by the local police department, which was an outrageous waste of taxpayers money. He told them that, after explaining he merely had been cleaning the gun without realizing it was loaded. The police confiscated his revolver and bullets, after giving him a lecture on gun safety and a firm warning about the law in regard to firing weapons within the city limits. "Fascists! he raged after they had left. But he really didn't need the gun anymore anyway so, "what the hell, let the b******s have it!" he shouted to an empty room, "just let them take the damn thing from a defenseless old man, I don't give a rat's a*s what those buggers do!"


Mr. Gardner was jerked out of his reverie by the appearance of the girl. "She's skin and bone!" he ranted. His loud, angry words shattered the silence of the the dark, dusty emptiness that was his home.The girl's thinness offended him. "Why the hell can't she eat, he fussed.  Then, noticing her feet were bare, he got so bothered he felt dizzy. "Why can't she wear shoes for chrissake! And why won't she stand up straight? What in the world is wrong with that stupid little b***h anyway?" His anger echoed randomly throughout his cheerless rooms; spittle coating his thin and disapproving lips.


A flood of self-righteous anger stirred the sluggish blood that pooled within his narrow, clogged veins, making his heart thump loudly in his ears. Suddenly a memory came to mind ... he saw the paperboy cleaning up his yard the day after he shot the little cat.  He remembered how the boy cried while tenderly gathering up it's lifeless little body and gently placing it into a cardboard box. "Screw it!" Gardner exploded, scowling at the memory. Consumed with rage his eyes followed the girl as she made her way toward the corner and just before she turned out of sight he saw her look over her shoulder. He could have sworn her parting glance was directed at the slit in his curtains. Mr. Gardner's cheeks reddened. Then feeling slightly sick and out of breath, he got up and went into the kitchen for a glass of water. His hatred for the girl burned like a physical illness eating at his very essence.


One overcast evening that hovered on the cusp of twilight, he sat at his usual spot waiting for her. That's all he did lately... sit there on his old easy chair angrily waiting for her to walk by. As time passed and 'that girl' did not show, his agitation intensified. His tea grew cold and his hands shook. A sudden crack of lightning nearly made him jump out of his skin. Clutching his chest he felt his heart thumping in tandem to the subsequent loud and rolling thunder. "Why I'm as jumpy as a cat on a hot tin roof!" he whispered, to no one in particular. The ensuing downpour was immediate and heavy.


That night shadows in the old house seemed darker ...heavier. A subtle change in the atmosphere tugged at his conscience, niggling at the back of his mind. He felt edgy and bothered, the house damper, mustier and hotter than usual. There was a sense of foreboding weighing heavily down, almost smothering him. Mr Gardener couldn't get "that girl" out of his mind. His head was throbbing with every beat of his heart. Mr. Gardener rarely got headaches but he sure the hell had one now. Finally he saw her. She was walking her peculiar walk, barefoot, head down, soaked to the skin.

Step on a crack break yer mommas back, step on a crack break yer mommas back.... a towering rage overcame him; swelling his heart like a tidal wave. "That damn girl looks like a cat in the rain!' he shrieked. Mr. Gardener hated cats. When she was directly in front of the house she stopped. Standing stock still for a moment she turned to face the window. For a split second his heart froze, then began to beat painfully against his rib-cage. Incredibly, the girl walked straight toward him, staring through the slit in his curtains. Perspiring, he drew back but could not stop watching as she drew ever closer to the window. He'd been right, her eyes were green. Seeing her up close for the first time, she seemed familiar, in an weird and indescribable way. Frozen with fascination he watched as she slowly leaned forward, green eyes staring straight into Mr. Gardner's astonished, rheumy, baby blues. Then opening her mouth she softly hissed, "meow". Stiffening in shock, Mr. Gardner dropped to the floor, deader than a door knob.

        


© 2016 felioness



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Reviews

I loved this story! The build up, the character and the setting were all really well written. The twist at the end was both chilling and darkly humorous, and it was an engaging read throughout. Very original and imaginative. :)

Posted 11 Months Ago


felioness

11 Months Ago

Thank you so much! Such an encouraging comment!
I was intrigued by the banality of him.
I had to see where it went.

Posted 11 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Excellent. You take your time giving the reader a solid grasp of your main character and the setting. Then the disturbance to his normal routine and what that does to him. Then you start to give the feeling that something supernatural is at play.

I like it. Well done. Could you review some of mine.

Posted 1 Year Ago


felioness

1 Year Ago

thank you so much! i will very soon!
I really loved this. I could easily imagine it being read out loud. A wonderfully creepy tale of the unexpected.

If I had to pick a hole it would be of the description of the house. I had to read it twice to get the sense of it. I guess there is nothing wrong with that but the standard is so high elsewhere you might want to consider polishing that section a little bit to make it as silky smooth as the rest.

Posted 1 Year Ago


felioness

1 Year Ago

Great suggestions...thanks...I will work on it. I also felt it was not quite right.
good storytelling, great choice of vocabulary, very good descriptions. a gripping tale and an excellent ending. I enjoyed the read.

Posted 2 Years Ago


felioness

2 Years Ago

A very big thank you from my heart to you!
wow, i'm surprised none has commented on this story, it is excellent! you really brought the character to life, it is immersive, interesting, funny and surprising with a really good twist at the end, and really well written at that. I'll be looking out for more of your stories.

Posted 3 Years Ago


felioness

3 Years Ago

YOU JUST MADE MY DAY! Thanks :)
Joiedevivre

3 Years Ago

truly, the pleasure was mine XX

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Added on November 3, 2013
Last Updated on November 1, 2016
Tags: story, cat, weird, old man, prejudice, bigotry

Author

felioness
felioness

Saskatchewan, Canada



About
I live in Saskatchewan, Canada. I am a daydreamer who lives to write. I live quietly sharing my home with two dogs and three cats. more..

Writing