It's still dark in the neighborhood. But if you stare long enough, wait for your eyes to adjust, you can make out his house: the beige one at the end of the cul-de-sac with the tall antenna reaching out from the tile roof. Can you see into the kitchen through the sliding glass door? He's working at the small oak table, a Phillips screwdriver in his right hand. Before him, sits a lamp, its base removed, wires protruding at odd angles. Alongside the lamp, a hammer.
He works like this every morning before the sun rises, with only the meager light from the lone bulb in the kitchen chandelier to guide him. The thought has crossed his mind that the problem could be with the outlet, but he is methodical. He will follow every possibility within the lamp. Even then there will be lingering doubts.
Now peer through the sliding glass door into the bluish light of dawn. There is a mutt standing on the cement porch looking in, a leash hanging from his throat, a squeaky rubber hotdog in his mouth. He alternately drops the squeaky hotdog and picks up the chew rope by his foot, then looks at the man, shaking his head in mock violence. He changes back to the squeaky hotdog and squeezes it in his teeth over and over.
The bulb in the kitchen chandelier sputters before going out. The man squints up, then returns to his work. He twists the wires together inside the table lamp and caps them, then screws on the metal base. He walks the lamp to the nearest outlet and plugs it in. Turns the switch. Once. Twice. He unplugs the lamp and takes it back to the table. Then he grabs the hammer and smashes it.
The dog has now dug up an old sock, one the man gave up any hope of finding months ago. He holds it in his mouth as he stands before the sliding glass door, but the man's behavior makes him nervous. He barks and drops the sock. He picks it up, then barks, dropping it again. He goes on like this, unsure what to do, until he sees the man put down the hammer and walk out of the kitchen, through the laundry and toward the garage. The dog runs along the side of the house, hoping to catch a glimpse of the man, then gets distracted by the scent of his own urine in the grass and stops and pees.
Boom! Unnerved by the noise, he cuts the pee mid-stream and runs to hide in the bushes. Boom! There it is again. As if the sky is cracking above him. He hates loud noises; in fact, he still has nightmares of the time the man took him to a Fourth of July celebration. So he curls in deep, letting the forsythia cover him just as the sun breaks the horizon.
The sledgehammer punches a hole in the stucco. The man swings again, breaking a hole in the east wall of the house adjacent to the sliding glass door. After a few more swings, the man takes the sledgehammer back to the garage, then returns to the kitchen and peers through the hole--he has to stand on his tiptoes. He pulls back, rubs his eyes and tries again. It's no use, he can't see anything. He shouts through the hole. "Hey!" But asleep in their beds, his neighbors can't hear him, and the dog won't leave the cover of the forsythia. And so the man wanders about the house, screwdriver in hand, turning faucets, flipping switches, and checking the door seals. He circumnavigates back to the kitchen and remembers the burnt out light.
He unscrews the bulb, tosses it in the garbage can, then looks around for the new one. He can't remember where he put it. He scans the chair under his feet, the oak table, looking for the bulb. Sunlight streams through the hole in the wall. The light warms the small of his back, and it is then he thinks he remembers. He steps off the chair and moves to retrieve the bulb from the cupboard above the washing machine, but when he enters the shadows of the laundry he stops, distracted by the hammer he left on the dryer. He picks up the hammer and takes it back to the kitchen table.
About the author:
Peter Grandbois is the author of The Gravedigger (Chronicle Books, 2006), a Barnes and Noble "Discover Great New Writers" and Borders "Original Voices" selection as well as the hybrid memoir, The Arsenic Lobster (Spuyten Duyvil 2009). His second novel, Nahoonkara, is forthcoming from Etruscan Press. His essays and short fiction have appeared in magazines such as: Boulevard, Post Road, Gargoyle, and The Writer's Chronicle, among others, and received an honorable mention for the 2007 Pushcart Prize. He serves as associate editor for Narrative magazine and is a professor of creative writing and contemporary literature at California State University in Sacramento.