GLOW • by Joseph Kaufman

Mom bequeathed me two things before she passed. First were keys to the Vermont Bed & Breakfast where I grew up. She managed the business with perfect elegance: polished woodwork, superbly manicured lawn, and spotless sidewalks every winter. At twenty-four I was destined to fill her shoes.

The second item Mom left was the snow shovel.

She never explained where it came from or why it was special. To me and my little brother her observations just sounded peculiar, like: “Kincaid and Conrad, I’m sorry the shovel didn’t glow for Daddy…” Weird.

Dad had a stroke while clearing snow shortly after my sixteenth birthday. Mom said the shovel was there when she found him in the snowdrift, but it couldn’t help. “Only that which hasn’t already run its course can be reversed.” Whatever that meant. They’d just celebrated their 27th wedding anniversary, and apparently that was course enough.

But today, when beautiful Crystal Fitzimmons died in my arms, the course had only just begun.

I should probably back up.

***

“Hello, Kincaid.”

I was scooping the last bit of snow off the sidewalk when Crystal strolled up.

“Hello, Crystal.” I stopped and squinted a smile through frozen breath. Crystal made me pleasantly nervous.

“Sorry about your mom,” she said.

“Yeah.”

“You doing okay?”

“I’m getting by.”

“Nine inches of snow sure doesn’t help, huh?” She cocked her head to the side.

“All part of the job.” I tilted my face to match. That’s when she slipped. Dammit.

It was a stubborn bit of snowpack I’d missed. Her left foot slid on it, and she toppled straight into me. My arms caught her at the sidewalk, but I couldn’t stop her forehead from cracking on cement just beyond my right hand.

That’s when the shovel started glowing.

Honestly, that first time was instinct. I frantically grabbed the shovel and tightly clasped the handle. BAM, there I sat the night before, ready to go out and clear nine inches of snow before Crystal arrived again.

I started with that stubborn bit of snowpack.

***

“Hello, Kincaid.”

“Hello, Crystal.”

“Sidewalk looks good, you must’ve been out early.”

I leaned on the shovel, grinning. “All in a day’s work.”

“You’re looking good, too,” she said.

“Oh, well, I –”

“I mean, you look like you’re dealing okay with your mom being gone and all.” Crystal pushed her hands deeper into her wool pockets.

“Sure,” I said. “Dealing. Not jumping for joy or anything, but keeping busy.”

She nodded. “Well, I better get going.”

As she walked past, Crystal took a mittened hand out of her pocket and lightly brushed my arm. Delightfully stunned, I didn’t turn to see her trip over a crack in the snowless sidewalk. Instead, the shovel’s glow relayed the bad news. I took a deep breath of frigid air and compressed its handle again.

***

“Hello? Kincaid?”

“Crystal, is that you?”

“Yeah!” Her shout was muffled by the mountain of snow I’d deposited on the center of the sidewalk in the direction of her approach. “I can’t see you around this pile!”

“Sorry, no thru traffic,” I quipped. “I’m clearing snow on both edges of the sidewalk to repair a cracked section. Maybe the street would be safer?”

“I was hoping to talk, but I suppose there’s always tomorrow.” I heard snow crunching as Crystal detoured out to the curb.

Hoping to talk, eh? A smirk crept over my lips before I noticed the shovel was glowing. Gripping the handle, I heard a snow plow rumble by and wondered why the City hired such incompetent drivers. God. Dammit. Clench.

***

“Hello… wow! Kincaid!”

Crystal marveled at my handiwork. I’d spent all night keeping up with the snow falling on the sidewalk and street outside the B&B, sprinkling enough salt to dissolve the Morton Salt girl’s umbrella. It practically looked like spring.

“Hiya, Crystal.” I offered my free arm. “Snow’s gone, but there’s a nasty crack I haven’t had time to fix. Let me escort you.”

“My hero!” Crystal giggled and hooked her arm through mine, our thick coats generating a satisfying friction. She stepped high over the crack and giggled some more.

I smiled when we reached the end of the property. “Looks like we made it! I’ll get to see you tomorrow, finally!”

Crystal stopped, untangling her arm from mine.

“Finally?”

“Never mind. Just seems like I’ve been shoveling for days, and it’s supposed to warm up tomorrow.”

“Oh, okay,” she replied.

I saw distraction in her green eyes as she turned to cross the street. Distraction enough that she didn’t see the car coming. It slid through the deep slush, and I would have hurled that glowing shovel as far as I could if I didn’t need it so much.

***

“Hello, Kincaid.”

I sat on unshoveled steps, chin buried deep in my scarf and upturned mittens.

“Hi.”

Crystal shuffled her boots. “You okay? You seem… tired.” There were no words. I couldn’t tell her this was the twenty-third time we’d met this morning. I couldn’t tell her all the ways I’d seen her go. And I couldn’t tell her I was falling for her. I glanced at the shovel and wondered what the point was. A piano would probably fall on her this time.

“You want some cocoa?” I sighed.

“Cocoa?”

“Yeah. I need to warm up.” I stood and motioned to the door.

“I hope your brother’s home?” Crystal clapped her mittens together.

My brother? “Yeah, Conrad’s making breakfast, but —”

Crystal squealed with joy and bounded safely up the steps. She wasn’t excited about cocoa. Or me. My fingers wrapped around the shovel’s dull handle. Grip. Grip. Nothing.

***

Don’t worry about me. The B&B is thriving, my brother and Crystal are very happy together, and I’m happy for them.

Yesterday, I noticed the lawn mower sort of shimmering. Not sure why Mom never told me — maybe she didn’t know.

I only have the one brother. He’s already on his course. I’m looking forward to summer.


Joseph Kaufman lives in the Madison area with his beautiful wife, lovely daughters, a cat, and his collection of over 1,250 beer bottles. He is the Applications Development Manager for the world’s largest rodenticide company. He has done a fair bit of writing and reading in online communities and contests, and completed his first paid editing job in 2015.


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 average 4.2 stars • 45 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Cheers, Joe. Lovely. Every right note. So happy not just to read your work, but to truly enjoy it…five stars.

    • Joseph Kaufman

      Thanks, Sarah — means a lot.

  • Ramon Rozas III

    I must admit that I do not get it.

    • Joseph Kaufman

      Sorry it didn’t work for you, Ramon! Have you seen the movie “Groundhog Day”? I kinda sorta shamelessly ripped off that idea here. *smile*

  • Carl Steiger

    Poor Kincaid, His brother owes him big time.

    Speaking of rodenticide (and you were, in your bio), I wonder what you could recommend for squirrels who have a nest in a roof with an unknown entry point?

    • Joseph Kaufman

      I could certainly recommend some product codes (as we do make products that are powerful enough to kill larger rodents (like squirrels), often involving ZP (Zinc Phosphate). Here is a link, but you can’t buy this stuff online:

      http://www.belllabs.com/product_details/united-states-pest-control-zp-pellets

      My overall recommendation would be to find a professional, though, for a couple reasons. First, any exterminator will likely emphasize finding the point of entry and repairing it, first (and they should be able to help with that, perhaps even using some of our “Detex” products). Second, baits potent enough to kill larger varmints often require a license to buy and use (depending on state). A professional will have that required knowledge and certification.

      Even if you kill off one batch of squatter squirrels, more will come back until you find out how they are getting in. I know, I know — that part is easier said than done. I bait for mice almost yearly. When temps drop and the cat starts going crazy, I know it is time to deploy some bait stations in the basement. *smile*

      Hope this helps!

      • Carl Steiger

        Outstanding! Better yet, we’ll probably win the prize for off-topic comments of the year.

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          Or for community service. Forwarding this to my son, who with his housemates has gotten tired of taking glue traps full of despairing mice to the woods, where they douse them with oil so the varmints can free themselves and run away. They’ve reluctantly concluded it’s time now for the merciful quick end…

          • Joseph Kaufman

            Hm, then they will have to decide what is “merciful”. Bait stations us, as their name implies, bait. A trap will be more…physical. I don’t think the mice like either very much.

            It doesn’t matter how many mice they kill-and-release or just clear. Mother Nature will make more. Gotta find out how they are coming in and stuff the holes with steel wool (or just repair ’em).

            That should probably be enough to insure our off-topic award. *smile*

  • Lisa Walpole Finch

    Awesome. Glow is exactly right. That’s what this story does.

    • Joseph Kaufman

      Thanks, Lisa. Now I’m glowing as well. *smile*

  • Michael Stang

    We all need a glowing shovel, don’t we? Know I could use one, I think … maybe not.
    Creative, tight and right, highly entertaining. Thanks, Joe.

    • Joseph Kaufman

      Indeed we do! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, glad you liked it!

  • Rose Gardener

    Making each replay sufficiently unique in style and wording for interest to be maintained isn’t an easy task to pull off. Good job, Joe!

    • Joseph Kaufman

      It was even harder than that since it had to be written in 48 hours for the contest I entered it in years ago! I didn’t make many revisions beyond that original submission…

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, good to hear from you!

  • Joe – this was an absolute delight to read. This is a “glowing” example of what flash is all about. Yes, I did first think of Groundhog Day but it was soon apparent this was going beyond that simple concept. I hope your collection of 1200 beer bottles aren’t all the same brand.

    • Joseph Kaufman

      Jeff, the collection has no repeats, save for a precious few that are there for traditional inertia (i.e. I missed them and now it is too late — they snuck in!). But pretty much all unique, over 1250 now. Bottles, magnums, some cans. It’s all good.

      I appreciate the read and the praise. I hope this exemplifies Flash, and that makes me happy — I don’t consider myself very good…yet. In about 20 years when I have time to actually write again, I hope to get better at it. *smile*

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Overall I enjoyed this story and the twist. If you haven’t seen the remake of ‘The Time Machine’ (nowhere near as good as the Rod Taylor version), the MC had a similar problem with his fiancée getting shot, mown down by horseless carriages, etc., whenever he went back in time to save her.
    I’d watch out for the overuse of commas and clichés like ‘superbly manicured lawn’ – and I didn’t get what ‘course’ referred to in ‘that was course enough’ and ‘the course had only just begun’.
    I thought the two main characters were well rounded and really made this piece come alive.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      “…course enough…”
      Dad’s time was up, so the shovel couldn’t resurrect him. But Crystal’s story has only just started. The shovel makes sure it keeps going…

      • Paul A. Freeman

        Ah! Of ‘course’!
        Nope – it still sounds awkward to me. Must be that eggnog again.

    • Joseph Kaufman

      Paul, thanks for reading and commenting. You are right about the commas — not sure what is going on there. I wrote this years ago (before starting at EDF) and have become much more comma-aware since then. Sadly, I didn’t do one more revision run with those goggles on.

      I’ve never considered “superbly manicured lawn” a cliche. Perhaps a tad overwritten, but at least it’s not “babbling brook” material. *smile* Quite subjective, of course.

      Glad you liked the characters, and thanks to SCA for explaining the “course”. That part of the idea was too large to fit in Flash, I’ll admit; so I agree its shrift is short. I only had 48 hours to write the piece, though, so that kind of shortcut became the norm…

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

        Paul and Joe: As someone who ruthlessly weeds out commas from spots where others tend to regard them as essential, I must say I disagree here. Authentic rhythm of speech is sometimes extremely hard to translate from the writer’s head to the reader’s, especially because of the nano-subtleties created by regional/local accents, stress patterns etc. etc.

        Here, I thought Joe was very effective in creating a believable, likeable personality for Kincaid. The rules drilled into us by HS teachers and creative writing workshops don’t always marry well with a truthful narrative voice.

        I re-read this carefully after reading Paul’s comment, and in every place where an editor would likely want to remove a comma, I could hear, in my own head, the justification for keeping it in.

        • Joseph Kaufman

          Sarah, you should meet and talk with my 10th grade English teacher, Ms. Gray. She taught me all the rules about comma use, and the zero-eth rule is: “Don’t use one unless a rule supports it.”

          I agree that when Kincaid is speaking (or in any dialogue) — use all the commas you want. All bets are off in that case. But in pure narrative, I do try to follow the rules.

          Now, that gets wobbly. Is the narrative actually dialogue, just of the inner variety? Sure, especially in first-person voice. But I did go back and remove a couple commas from the first section. There’s no need for a comma after an introductory prepositional phrase. Ever. That was the biggest thing I had to get over. That, and not needing one for an ending adverbial phrase. If it isn’t a true compound sentence, don’t compound it with a comma.

          Because the Ms. Gray rule that comes even before the zero-eth rule (the negative-one-eth rule?) is: NEVER put a comma in a place because, “it seems like that is where there would naturally be a pause if the words were spoken.” That’s what I subscribe to and where I see Paul’s point.

          But I see yours, too, and you are very keen to observe I was going for a natural, flowing voice for the MC. Either way, the upside-downside equation says to lose those commas (in my opinion). I don’t think it detracts from Kincaid’s development to have fewer, and obeying Ms. Gray is always a good thing.

          Someday I’ll tell everyone what Mrs. Burgod taught me (seventh grade English teacher). Damn, she was good…

  • You have to hope not many more domestic tools begin glowing or poor old Kincaid is going to have the longest and most exhausting life ever! I wonder what happens if you ignore the call – does the shovel come and clout you round the ear for being callous? I think this story could go anywhere your imagination wants to take it, and that too is the essence of flash 🙂

    • Joseph Kaufman

      I suppose we hope all the implements set family members on their “course” first, and Kincaid is the only one left who isn’t course’d. Hopefully the lawnmower does the trick for him. *smile*

      Thanks for reading!

  • John Towler

    Really good, Joe. Nothing but compliments on this five-star piece.

    • Joseph Kaufman

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting, John. And all the best to you and yours in the New Year!

  • I dig this type of story.

    I imagined that the glow wasn’t the shovel/lawn mower at all. Rather it was something in Kincaid’s matriarchal family line.

    Thanks for the story!

    • Joseph Kaufman

      Oh man, now I have to rethink the whole core of the piece…interesting idea, Ward! That the “glow” is his Mom watching over him or some sort of hereditary thing (but then how could it have ever worked for Dad?)

      Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting — means the world!

      • Happy to stir the pudding, so to speak. I thought that maybe, the shovel really only worked for her. The father just used it to move snow. 🙂 Unfortunately, it didn’t glow “for” him. His ‘course’ was at an end.

        The coolest thing about this site is the interaction with the author and other talented writer/editor/readers through comments.

        Thanks for the site, EDF. Thanks for the interaction @josephkaufman:disqus.

        • Joseph Kaufman

          You are more than welcome — I’ve never been Disqus-tagged! *smile*

  • S Conroy

    Very enjoyable . Surprised that the almost repetition worked so well. And the off-topic discussion on varmints was the cherry on the cake. :-).

    • Joseph Kaufman

      Varmint discussions rarely go awry. *smile*

      The repetition only works because, as I said elsewhere in the thread, I ruthlessly stole from the classic “Groundhog Day”. Don’t drive angry!

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

        Joe (et al): You might enjoy reading Charles Harness’s “Child by Chronos.”

        • Joseph Kaufman

          Oh my, that was GOOD! Thanks for the tip! Love that sort of thing…

  • A story by Joe Kaufman? Who is glowing now? Hint: Me.

    • Joseph Kaufman

      Thanks for dropping by, Dustin, good to see you!

  • Marie

    Lovely

    • Joseph Kaufman

      Thanks, Marie!