So, here’s my last short story of 2017, ya’ll. It’s a story about some neighbors who can tomatoes, and partake in other activities. There’s also a dog. I guess it’s kind of a gay romance. Tried to avoid cliches. I was worried about it at the beginning of the week, but I like how it turned out.
The rain stopped hitting the tin roof above the garage door. Sean turned off the table saw and wiped the sawdust from his face with his faded red t-shirt. Maggie ran out from under the silver Nissan. She shook the water off of her and sat down on her hind legs. She scratched behind her ears and breathed through her mouth. Sean put his arms out and she ran to him. She hung off his shoulders and licked the wood pieces off his face.
“Easy now, Maggie. How long have you been over here? They’re prolly looking for you,” Sean said. The smell of rain and watered-down sweat choked him. He stood up and patted out his jeans and t-shirt. Maggie leaped off her front legs and dropped back down as she turned. Sean flipped the switch on the inside of the garage and ducked under as the door came down. He walked down his driveway, across his yard, past the water meter and lighting rod, and toward a red and brown brick house. Sean stepped from his overgrown yard into the well-clipped lawn of his next-door neighbors’. He scratched his throat with a cough at the smell of herbs and ground bark. Maggie wagged her tail through an overgrown tomato garden between his house and theirs. Sean went around it and past the pea green Charger in the driveway.
Maggie ran through the grass toward the side door of the brick house. Sean followed the stones that the grass had overgrown. The screen door opened before either of them reached the house.
“Oh my God. I don’t know how she always manages to get out when it rains,” Stacy said. The dog ran in through the open screen door. “Maggie, stay there, no, there,” she said. She yelled and pointed into the kitchen on the right. Maggie’s tail fell down onto the linoleum, then she stood and ran onto the carpet in the living room. Stacey threw her hand up and shook her head.
Stacey was a woman in her mid-30s with black shoulder-length hair. Sean would never admit to her or her husband, Frank, that he could see some gray as she leaned out the door and into the sun as light glided across the yard. “How are you, sugar?” Maggie said. She grabbed her purse by the stand under the light switch and stepped outside.
“Oh, Stacy, you know, getting a little done with this and a little done with that,” Sean said. He rubbed the back of his head and smiled.
“Uh-huh, aren’t we all?” Stacy said. “Casey here yet? Figured you two’d already have your guns out.” She scratched her ear then felt inside her purse. Her long earrings flashed and Sean looked away.
“Not yet. A few hours, probably. You know Miranda.” Sean popped his knuckles.
“Uh-huh. Frank’s in the basement. Careful, he’s got that mess with the tomatoes down there.” Stacy pulled her keys from her purse and drove the Charger out of the driveway. Sean went inside. He took off his shoes as the screen door shut. Maggie put her front paws onto Sean’s shirt. She ran them down his jeans and lifted them to the shirt again. Sean rubbed her head and lifted her legs off him. She dropped down onto the carpet. Sean took a step into the living room. Maggie followed. He lifted her up and carried her to the open basement door. Sean followed Maggie down the blue painted steps.
The basement smelled like a stewed garden. White boxes were tossed behind the pillar ahead of the steps. More boxes and totes were stacked along the left, stopping just before the refrigerator. The yellow door was left open. Sean pushed it shut, careful not to touch the brown stains on the door.
Maggie sat down by Frank at the stainless steel pot of tomatoes on the deep freezer in the corner. She wagged her tail. Frank’s white and red Louisville shirt was clean until he grabbed a gob of tomato and dropped it onto her face. She pulled the pulp in with her tongue before it fell over and off her snout. Juice dripped onto the concrete.
“Casey here yet?” Frank said.
“Not yet,” Sean said. Frank turned his head away from the glass jars and funnels.
“That’s not like Miranda is it? You call them?” Frank picked up the basket of sugar and sifted through it with a little yellow spoon.
“Casey’s a teenager now. Probably busy with boys.” Sean put on the oven mitt laying over the freezer door.
“Uh-huh. Or Miranda is.” Frank dropped a small amount of sugar inside each funnel.
“We’re going hunting when she gets here. You can come with us if you want.” Sean leaned into the freezer. A jar fell into the floor. He kneeled down beside the shattered pieces.
“Use the broom. You’ll cut yourself.” Frank closed the sugar. Sean tossed the glass into a plastic trash can under the back of the stairs and put back on his oven mitt. Frank grabbed the handle of the pot with a towel. Sean grabbed the other handle. They walked the big pot over the jars along the freezer together and let the tomatoes fall into the funnels.
“You were gonna do this by yourself without a ladle?” Sean stumbled into Frank’s ribs. He let his elbow rest under Frank’s armpits.
“I would’ve managed.” Frank held the pot still over the last jar in the first row. It was full. “Ready?” Frank waited. Sean let Frank’s weight hold him a moment more.
“Ready.” They leaned forward and took the pot the other way across the freezer. They sat the pot back down when the last jar was filled. Maggie stood up and rubbed her paws on Frank’s Louisville shirt as he walked with the pot towards the staircase.
“Down Maggie,” he said. Maggie tried her luck with Sean. He held up his hands, palms out. Maggie whined. He reached out and scratched behind her ears. She jumped up onto him and ran her paws down his shirt.
“Maggie, come on,” Sean said.
“Down Maggie,” Sean said from upstairs. Maggie went to the far side of the basement, between an old dresser and more boxes. She laid down beside the dresser and spread all four of her legs across the concrete.
Frank came downstairs with a clinging pan. The steam from it had fogged his glasses. He sat the pan on the freezer, removed his glasses, and wiped his face with his long sleeve. He grabbed the tongs from the pan and placed a lid on a jar.
“What’d you end up getting Casey?” Frank said.
“Some game she wanted.” Sean squeezed a cut on his ring finger.
“She plays video games?” Frank said. He placed another lid.
“No, a board game. Some kind of talking game with a mouth piece that makes it hard to talk.” Sean went to the sink by the refrigerator. He pulled the lever up and watched the blood spill down the drain.
“Now that sounds like Casey.” Frank tightened a ring around a lid. “You alright? Looks like you’re canning your own set of tomatoes over there.”
“Should’ve used the broom.” Sean held his finger under the running water and then applied pressure. Frank went to the shelf above the top of the steps and returned with a small bandage. Sean wrinkled a paper towel from the holder on the side of the fridge into his hands, then he finished by wiping them onto his red shirt. He reached for the bandage.
“Let me,” Frank said. He peeled the paper off and removed the tabs. Sean pointed his finger below Frank’s chest. Frank lifted Sean’s hand up to his eyes, then he pulled the hand back down by the wrist and rolled the bandage up over the finger. He lifted his glasses from his nose and sat them up higher as Sean wiggled his digits at him. Frank stared past Sean’s fingers. He leaned Sean onto the edge of the sink. Sean held onto Frank’s arms.
“Stacey?” Frank said. His hands were around Sean’s lower back.
“She left.” Sean lifted his thighs away from the sink. Frank held him tight. Their lips mashed and their jeans unzipped. When they got off, they cleaned themselves up with paper towels and water from the sink. Frank cleaned his glasses with his shirt and went back to the freezer. He grabbed the tongs, pulled a lid out of the water, and set it on top of the next jar. Sean fixed his brown hair and felt of his pockets.
“Where’s my phone?” Sean said. He looked around the sink and through the steps to the freezer.
“You didn’t have it out none,” Frank said. He tightened a ring around a lid. The jar busted. Glass shattered over the concrete. “Shit. Lose one every time.” He slid in his socks across the floor and stopped between the two shelves in the corner along the sink wall. He pulled a broom from behind the furthest shelf and grabbed some paper towels from the holder by the fridge. Maggie wagged her tail on the other side of the steps. She jumped up onto Frank as he came back over to the red splattered glass. “Down, Maggie, down.” She whined and came over to Sean.
“Down Maggie,” Sean said. She jumped up onto him and ran her paws down his shirt. He grabbed them and held onto them. They danced while Frank swept and wiped up tomatoes. He held his palms out to Sean after he finished.
“No cuts,” Frank said. He wiped the excess tomato juice from his hands onto his shirt. He pulled another lid up from the water with his tongs and set it on a jar. Sean set Maggie’s paws down as she licked his wrapped finger. He pulled his hand up and Maggie turned around. The side of her blond coat was red.
“Hey Frank, Maggie’s bleeding.”
“What?” Frank dropped the tongs into the pot and squatted by Maggie. He examined her coat. Sean went to the sink and pulled the roll of paper towels off the holder. He got down next to Frank, who looked at him from overtop his glasses.
“It’s tomato,” Frank said. Maggie licked his glasses. He cleaned them with his shirt and went back to the jars. Sean ran a paper towel over Maggie’s side. She darted away. He tossed the towel into the trash under the stairs and put his hands in his pockets. He looked around the basement from under the stairs.
“You sure I didn’t have my phone down here?” Sean said.
“You wanna use our phone to call?” Frank pointed upstairs.
“No. I’d better get I guess. You wanna come hunting with us later?” Sean watched Frank tighten the lid around the jar.
“Come back later.”
“Okay.” Sean went up the stairs and walked through the house. He put on his shoes and went out the door.
The sun hid behind the clouds. Sean walked along the grass-grown stones, across the empty driveway, past the garden, over the lawn, and through his overgrown yard past the lightning rod. It started to rain before he got past the water meter. He went through his front door and into the garage. His phone was on his saw table. He slid his finger across the screen. No missed calls. He called Casey. No answer. He opened the garage door and watched it rain.
His phone vibrated in his hand. It was an unknown number. He slid his finger across the screen.
“Hey, Dad,” Casey said. Her voice was low and raspy.
“Casey? Where are you two?” Sean said.
“Mom’s in the hospital.” Sean put his hand over his hip.
“She wasn’t feeling good this morning and she came in and they’re keeping her.” Rain pounded the tin roof of the garage.
“Do you want me to come get you?” Sean listened to Casey’s breath.
“No. I’m gonna stay here.”
“Okay. Love you, Dad.”
Sean didn’t know which of them hung up first. He put his phone in his pocket. Maggie ran across his driveway and under the Nissan wearing her tomato stains. He turned on his table saw and split a two-by-four.
You can read more of my fiction here.
Eric Shay Howard is a writer and editor. He lives in Louisville, KY and edits Likely Red Magazine.