Sunday, November 22, 2009

“Beans” by Janice S. Waters


It was the kind of storm that you feel first. You feel it in your bones. We were outside, Tyler and I. Tyler was digging in the dirt with his trucks. I was swinging in my red button-down sweater. I liked the way it flapped in the wind behind me as I pumped the swing higher, like Underdog’s cape.

The wind was dizzying, rushing at us from all directions at once, and the sky had taken on a sickly green hue. Tyler stood, dirt swirling about him and getting in his face. “We should go in,” he said. “It’s going to rain.”

My body thrilled with excitement. Everything sharpened. The grass was a deeper green. The bars of the swing set were colder and more vivid. The trees came to life, dancing furiously in the bursts of wind. The whole world around me pulsed with dangerous excitement. It wasn’t going to rain. It was going to storm.

I kicked my legs harder to swing higher, joining in the fray, thrilled by the disturbance and drama in the air. Tyler sauntered across the lawn calling back to me, “You have to come in, you know. Mom’s going to make you come in. You can’t stay outside. You’re going to get into trouble.”

From my swing, I saw the clouds amassing. Towering storm clouds muscled wispy gray clouds from the sky. Lightning dashed furiously about high up in the gray interior. The storm moved at a furious pace towards me, grumbling angrily. An occasional crash blasted out. The wind came in mighty bursts, sending furniture flip-flopping across the lawn. Giant drops of water pelted me like little water balloons. Drops exploded about me making craters in the dirt.

Mother appeared at the sliding glass door. Pulling her sweater tight around her lean torso, she shouted. I knew she shouted. I could see her. I could hear her voice screech across the lawn. The shrill of her voice blended into the wild orchestration of the storm and I pumped harder and went higher still. I heard more yelling ending in, “THIS INSTANT!” and I knew she was serious. I jumped out of the swing and attempted to run across the lawn. The wind was so strong that it held me back. I had to fight with each step. I was a great explorer fighting my way to the summit, gasping for air, struggling, but overcoming all obstacles.

I stepped in the house just as the waves of rain exploded upon it. My body floated in the kitchen, an airy balloon after the work of walking across the lawn. I pranced excitedly about while Mother spat dire warnings at me. “If you know what’s good for you ... Come immediately when I call ... You could have been killed!”

Tyler watched from the couch in the living room, arms folded, looking smug. The house felt solid and safe as it was pelted by sheets of rain. Mother’s tirade calmed as did my body and my excitement.

Now what to do? I circled out of the kitchen, purposefully taking the long way to my room so that I could pass by Tyler and prove that I wasn’t talking to him. I traipsed down the hallway to my room, the last one on the left. My window framed the mayhem which continued outside.

I went back to the kitchen. “I’m bored,” I announced. “There’s nothing to do.”

Mother placed a tomato on the counter, washed off a spoon, turned off the water, dried the spoon, put it away, and opened the refrigerator as she turned to address me.

“Why don’t you play a game with Tyler?”

Mother pulled some eggs out of the refrigerator, placed them on the counter, and shut the door.

“I don’t wanna. He’s boring. Besides, he cheats.”

“Do not!” Tyler exclaimed from the other room.

“All right, then, why don’t you play in the kitchen? Just don’t go near the stove. I have to go change the laundry.”

Somehow, a laundry basket had materialized under Mother’s arm and she disappeared down the basement stairs.

The storm still raged outside. Rain sprayed across the windows. The trees were dark silhouettes, labouring under the intense wind, fighting not to lie down. But that was outside. I looked in the cupboard with the pots and pans. I didn’t really have a play theme in mind until I saw a can of beans Mom had left on the counter. The play plan developed. I was a great chef cooking a fancy meal for a famous movie star. I thought we would start with the beans. I grabbed the beans and grabbed the oven handle. I pulled my hand away in a start. The handle was hot. That was strange. I pulled on the door. It didn’t move. Great chefs probably don’t have such trouble. I put the can down on the floor and pulled on the door with both hands. It resisted at first and then banged down loudly. Startled, thinking I was probably doing something wrong, I waited for discovery. When discovery didn’t come, I returned to my chef work. I placed the can on the oven rack. It was hot. I stepped back and pulled the door up. Again, it resisted for a moment and then slammed shut.

Beans cooking! I turned and pulled some pans out of the cupboard. Now, for the main course I’d make spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread. I pulled all the pans out of the cupboard and rattled them onto the floor. I thought I heard a pop and then a hissing sound. I stopped what I was doing and listened. I heard the steady drumming of the rain. I heard Tyler in the other room turning the pages of a magazine. I heard the scraping of tree limbs on the roof. I heard the washing machine churning downstairs. I heard the wind blowing fiercely against the house. I heard thunder, now distant and innocent. And, I heard a funny hissing. Then, BLAM!!!!! The world exploded.

The oven door slammed open and the kitchen was showered with hot, slimy beans. Beans sprayed all over the kitchen floor. Beans splattered across the white, Formica kitchen table, across the plastic bucket seat chairs, and all over the tan rug in front of the sink. Sticky, hot beans covered the left side of my body. Beans were all over my clothes, the side of my face, and in my hair. Beans splattered in my pans. I sat, staring at the mouth of the stove, bewildered.

Mother appeared. “What happened? What did you do? What a mess! I think I smell gas!”

With that, the phone appeared in her hands. Tyler crept quietly up to the kitchen doorway. His big brown eyes surveyed the situation. I sat in a puddle of beans, gazing into the mouth of the oven. It seemed to be calling me into its dark abyss. Outside, the storm persisted. Rain swept across the roof in an intermittent rhythm. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the tops of the trees still dancing furiously about.

Mother hung up the phone. The lights flickered. Mother groaned. Outside, there was a sudden loud CRACK. We lost power. The house took on the eerie light of the storm. All the hums and whirrs went silent: the lights, the air conditioner, the washer, the dryer. The house sat in respectful silence to the rage and power of the storm.

Then, we heard a distant wail. First, a mournful cry from far away, lost in the wind. As it came closer, it took on a more distinctive pattern. Tyler perked up. “Fire trucks!” he exclaimed. He ran into the living room and leapt onto the couch. Grasping the back of the couch, he bounced frantically and gazed gleefully out the big picture window. “Fire trucks! Fire trucks!”

They came. They all came. The entire Sherberville fire department converged upon our tiny house. I ran in to join Tyler on the couch, leaving a path of sticky bean footprints behind me. We watched them roar up our little street, seven trucks in all. They brought the paramedics and the fire chief and a monstrous hook and ladder pulled right up in front, casting a giant shadow over our little house. They parked all down our street and around the circle.

A spectacle of lights danced madly through the gloomy living room, keeping the beat as Tyler and I bounced on the couch. All up and down the quiet little street, Firemen swung out of their trucks and in their great big fire boots and raincoats and their battered old fire hats, they all sloshed through the saturated front lawns towards our house.

When we heard them stomp onto our front porch, Tyler and I jumped off the couch and ran for the hallway. Mother slid into her slippers and tugged on her sweater, her skirt, a tuft of hair. She stood for a moment, straightening and breathing. The world paused and the doorbell rang.

Mother stepped forward and opened the door. The wind slapped the screen door back against the house with a loud crack. The fireman army marched into our house. They marched, in their muddy boots, through the hallway and into the kitchen. Two firemen came into the living room to befriend Tyler and me. They pulled off their helmets, rainwater spilling on Mother’s carpet, and set them on our heads. Tyler and I ran back to the couch and started jumping again. We jumped and giggled and spun about, arms flailing wildly, helmets slapping against our heads falling this way and that.

The other firemen trod into the kitchen leaving mud droppings along the way. They walked through the beans and assessed the situation. Two of them bent sideways in front of the stove and looked into the mouth of the oven. Rainwater spilled off their helmets and coats and splashed into the beans on the floor.

“Smells like gas,” they said. “Did you call the gas company?”

As my mother responded, two of the firemen surveyed the slop scattered about the floor. They looked at one another, nodded, and disappeared into the wind and the storm. They returned with giant plastic runners and smug expressions. “We wouldn’t want to dirty up your house, ma’am,” they said to Mother as they proudly dragged the plastic runners over the mud and the beans and the rainwater until they covered the hallway and the kitchen floors.

The entire Sherberville fire department milled about on the wet plastic runners, smearing the beans and mud beneath, cracking fireman jokes that we didn’t understand and talking to my mother about calling the gas company. Tyler and I stood on the couch and watched with big, brown eyes from under giant, black fire helmets.

Then, they left.

They pulled up the plastic runners and snatched back the helmets and tramped out the door in their boots and gear. On the way out they winked at me and tousled Tyler’s hair and said the pointless things grown-ups say when they want to make you seem closer than you really are like, “Be good, sport.” And “Keep smiling, sweetie.” The wind had tamed by now. A steady, heavy rain covered them as they ducked under their fire helmets and returned to their trucks. Tyler and I watched them as they all climbed up into their shiny rain-washed rigs. Up and down the block, giant engines roared back to life in the drumming of the rain. The strobing lights were extinguished yet I could still see their shadows each time I blinked. Then the great parade edged its way from the curve, snaked around the cul-de-sac and ground off into the distance.

Mother wasted no time. Before we had finished watching the last of the fire trucks disappear behind the gray curtain of rain, she had mopped the hallway and was well into the kitchen. She was firing off orders: “Tyler, take this rag and wipe off the kitchen chairs. Jan, get out of those dirty clothes and bring them down to the basement. You two know better than to jump on the couch!”

We worked together, an efficient crew, cleaning and straightening. Tyler and I, energized by the excitement of the day, poured our enthusiasm into helping. Before we knew it, the house was restored to cleanliness and order. The kitchen was clean. The hallway was clean. The living room was straightened. Supper was on the stove. And, the storm outside had faded away to a fragile, pale rainbow.

The lights came on. The heartbeat of the house returned. I could once again hear the hum of the refrigerator, the churn of the washing machine, and the drone of the air conditioner.

We settled into cozy activities. Tyler played GI Joes in the living room. I curled up on the kitchen floor and coloured. Mother, towel over her shoulder, gazed out the kitchen window and sighed. Our reverie was interrupted by a click and the opening of the door. Father leaned into the house as he kicked off his wet shoes behind him. He sniffed the air and looked up. Disappointment shadowed his face. “Beans for dinner, again?” he asked.
*
Jan Waters is from Northern Illinois, USA, and recently moved to Lindsay, Ontario for work. She has recently started attending writer's workshops and pursuing a life long interest in writing. Jan enjoys writing poetry and short stories and hopes to write a novel one day.

Note: For information about Brian Henry's writing worskhops and creative writing courses, see here.

1 comment:

  1. Fun story, Jan! I especially enjoyed the sharpened senses as the storm descended.
    sherryisaac.com

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