I am proud to introduce one of the top three winning short stories from the recent LongShortStories “PAY IT FORWARD” Challenge short story contest.
Archive for September, 2008
Mr. Lipschitz stared at his sock drawer in utter contempt. Somehow in the past three days, it had become completely disorganized and that would not do. No, that simply would not do.
He slammed the drawer closed in anger. The resulting bang caused him to examine it and the surrounding polished wood for damage. How unlike him to lose his temper like that, he chastened himself. He didn’t usually show his displeasure except to the recently vanished Mrs. Lipschitz. Going out for groceries, indeed. His sainted mother had been right; deny his wife money and she’d be gone.
His mother’s cherry wood gentleman’s dresser, with its elegant silver and onyx inlay, gleamed back at him, unharmed. He ran a bony finger over the surface checking for dust and found none. Standing back, the lanky man admired once again the lines of the art deco piece that many a private collector coveted.
“My apologies, my friend, for losing my temper,” he said with a slight bow. “It won’t happen again.”
Glancing at his wristwatch, he crossed the room appreciating the thick, Persian carpet beneath his feet. He relished the memory of how he’d garnered it for a ridiculously low price at auction several years before. He went down the stairs of his newly installed eighteenth century, carved mahogany staircase, his most expensive acquisition to date.
Being a Certified Public Accountant may have been his livelihood, but his life’s work was acquiring treasures at discounted prices. He made it his business to find out who needed money, was declaring bankruptcy, going out of business, or had “passed over,” as his own sainted mother had done three years before.
Of course, it did help that his mother had left him quite a legacy upon her passing, as the now vanished Mrs. Lipschitz had ceaselessly reminded him. But he’d added to that legacy with his exquisite taste and acquisitional habits.
He stepped into the living room and surveyed it with immense satisfaction. His eyes beheld his only friends, the sparkling amethyst and lead crystal chandelier, fine paintings, porcelain figurines, museum quality furniture, and rare Oriental rugs, all obtained for a fraction of their value by his cunning negotiating and bidding skills.
Show me a person in a perilous position, he would say, and I will show you an anxious seller. Therefore, wherever there was a venue for the luckless or needy, Mr. Lipschitz would be there, checkbook in hand.
He stopped before the marble mantel of his fireplace and looked again at his platinum watch, another fabulous buy from a desperate stockbroker. It was nearly quarter to the hour. Focusing his attention upon the antique Swiss clock, he grasped his restless hands behind his back and waited.
He had procured this fine example of a cuckoo clock eight-months previously. Over two hundred years old, it contained three sets of elaborate, moving figures, each announcing the hour, half-hour or quarter-hour, accompanied by intricate, musical chimes.
For the quarter-hour, a yellow-haired maiden would appear carrying two milk buckets, a bluebird resting on one of them. As the girl glided in her arc across the façade of the clock from left to right, a small, brown dog followed her. It was the dog that concerned Mr. Lipschitz. The dog was supposed to wag its tail in its passage but did not. That was unacceptable.
Since obtaining the clock, Mr. Lipschitz labored over it in his basement workshop every evening from seven forty-five until nine-thirty p.m. With the aid of manuals, obscure springs, complex parts and lengthy conversations with experts, Mr. Lipschitz had achieved his goal and reconnected all working parts the previous evening. Now was the supreme test. Would the dog repeat his performance on the mantle piece, thereby promising a twice-hourly repetition for many years to come?
Mr. Lipschitz waited anxiously as the clock began to chime. The small door on the left side opened and the milkmaid began her journey from one side to the other. Soon a small, brown dog followed her, wagging its tail. Mr. Lipschitz was elated.
“You’re a good boy,” he said to the dog. “A good boy.”
With a sense of accomplishment, Mr. Lipschitz sat down at his heirloom grand piano, opened the lid, stretched his fingers and prepared to play as he did every evening before dinner. Tonight it would again be the second movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 6 in B flat, and it would be only that until he had perfected it.
His hands hovered over the keys but then came to rest in his lap. His fingers fidgeted. He pursed his lips.
What was going on inside his sock drawer? He reflected on the ritual. Each sock was pinned together with its mate before putting them into the hamper. They were washed in the machine and still pinned, placed into the dryer. They were only unpinned when he folded them neatly and placed them, according to color, into the sock drawer of his fine, gentleman’s dresser.
In the unlikely event that there appeared a matchless sock, that sock was carefully placed to the left side of the sock drawer until the recalcitrant mate reappeared. That had happened only once, when he had foolishly allowed the vanished Mrs. Lipschitz to do his laundry. It never happened when he did the laundry himself, until now.
For the past few days, more and more pairs were coming out of the dryer sans pins and sans mates. The left side of the drawer was becoming filled with mateless socks. Just how many, he wondered? He rose to return to his bedroom to find out.
He went to his walk-in closet, picked up one of the two empty wooden laundry baskets kept there for such an occasion, and returned to the gentleman’s dresser. Opening it, Mr. Lipschitz removed all the socks and placed them inside the basket. With a sense of distaste, he carried the basket down the stairs and into the kitchen. He emptied it onto the original nineteen-twenty’s, white porcelain kitchen table that had once lived in Hearst Castle. He separated the mateless socks into colors then bit his lower lip to keep from crying out.
One blue, two black, and four brown mateless wonders stared up at him as he stared down at them. He counted no less than seven missing socks before slipping a nitroglycerin tablet between yellowing teeth to quell an erratic heart.
“This will not do,” Mr. Lipschitz said aloud. He gathered up the socks and strode into the laundry room. He stood in the square, white room, complete with a low, stone hewn garden sink. Across from the sink sat the washing and drying machines, acquired from the sale of a missing soldier’s possessions.
He studied the washer, clean, white and new.
“No, you are all right,” he decided, patting the top loading washer several times on the lid. “Everything is all right going in and coming out of you.”
He turned to the dryer. It also sparkled clean, new and white.
“But you! I believe you are the troublemaker. What have you done with my socks?”
He kicked the dryer squarely in the center of the door. Waving the offending socks in the air, he hurled them down on top of the appliance. His deceased mother’s pique café curtains quivered in the window from the slight movement of air.
The man repeated the question. “Well? What have you done with my socks?”
“I ate them,” a deep bass voice replied, resonating within the small room.
Shocked, Mr. Lipschitz backed up and, in doing so, tripped over his own foot and fell into the Tuscan garden sink containing seedlings ready to be planted in his pristine and well-organized garden.
“Who said that?” he asked. Wiping dirt and small leaves from the back of his slacks, he looked around for the source. “Who said that?”
“I did, you prissy, butt wipe. You asked me what I did with them and I told you. Now go away.”
The voice seemed to come from the dryer. Mr. Lipschitz stared at it, his eyes wide with fear.
“What…what did you say?” He clutched at the sink behind him.
“I said go away, you sniveling snot rag! What are you, deaf, as well as ugly?” The masculine voice took on more of a grating tone with each word it spoke. “Get lost! Take a hike! Or give me more socks. Do I make myself clear?”
Mr. Lipschitz fought to remain calm, his mind racing. This could not be an intruder. He would have heard the alarm go off. The doors and windows of his home were locked, always. The security system was sophisticated and on, every single moment of every single day and night unless he visited the garden or garage. He had not been outside the house for several days. He’d been toiling in the basement on the dog’s tail.
“Heh, heh, heh,” chortled the dryer. “Gotcha, didn’t I?”
“All right. All right. That’s enough,” Mr. Lipschitz replied with a bravado he was not feeling. “This joke has gone on long enough. Whoever you are, come out from behind the clothes dryer. This is not funny.”
“You think anybody could be standing behind me mouthing off and not be seen by you? You’re stupid on top of being deaf and ugly.”
Even though there was less than a six-inch space between the wall and the dryer, Mr. Lipschitz, nonetheless, craned his neck around to the side of the dryer to see if someone was hiding. No one was there.
“I don’t understand,” he stuttered.
“What an asshole,” the dryer said and began to laugh raucously.
“Stop using language like that,” Mr. Lipschitz reprimanded. “This is my house and I won’t stand for it.”
“Oh, you won’t, won’t you? You’re such a frigging dickhead. If you don’t like my language, leave the room. But before you do, throw me a sock. I’m hungry.”
“Shut up! How dare you talk to me like that? You’re just a dryer.”
“Up yours!” the machine drawled. “Got any more blue ones? Those are my favorite. Must be something about the dye.” The dryer made a smacking sound. “Yummy!”
“Why, you miserable piece of tin…” Mr. Lipschitz shouted. He bent over and opened the dryer door.
“Want to climb in and take a ride, little man? It’ll cost you one pair of socks and maybe your jockey shorts.”
Mr. Lipschitz began to kick at the sides of the dryer wildly, scuffing his Bally Oxfords. “Shut up, shut up, shut up,” he cried. The room echoed with his voice, raspy intakes of breath, and the sounds of clanking metal. His mother’s curtains quivered again.
“Ooooooo! You’re scaring me now!” the appliance said. “What are you going to do, you wuss? You haven’t got what it takes to pull me off my foundation. I’m bolted on. Face it, Fuck Face. Give up and throw me more socks!”
A scream of rage erupted from Mr. Lipschitz’ bowels. He took hold of the back of the dial plate with one hand, the dryer opening with the other and began rocking back and forth with all his might. The more he pulled and pushed, the more the dryer taunted him. His face turned red and sweat poured from his body. His muscles strained, ached, and then trembled. Finally, the bolts that secured the dryer to its frame began to rip loose with a shrill, tearing sound. But Mr. Lipschitz was beyond hearing that. He was too busy feeling the searing, hot pain in his chest right before the dryer fell on top of him.
The next morning, a middle-aged woman gingerly unlocked the back door and peeked inside. Tottering on platform heels, she stepped over the threshold, turned off the warning pings of the alarm system, and tiptoed to the stiff hand protruding from beneath the dryer.
She ascertained that dead was dead and crossed to the wall behind the dryer. Humming a smart tune, she withdrew a small tool from her bag and unscrewed the cover to the phone jack. Nestled inside were a small microphone, speakers and wires. She placed the electronics in her handbag and returned the cover to the wall.
The short, square woman pranced through the house and into the living room, heading towards one of the six hand blown, bevel-edged, double windows covered in French silk damask. Adjusting her miniskirt, she pulled back one of the opulent drapes just far enough to signal her young and nubile lover sitting in a waiting car. The younger man waved, pulled away and left her to the next task.
Removing a raw onion wrapped in a hanky plus a cell phone from her bag, she sat down in a genuine Queen Anne walnut wing chair, resplendent in the original blue silk velvet, and dialed 911. As she waited for the operator to answer, Mrs. Lipschitz looked around her and thought, “Ka-ching, Ka-ching.”