She avoided going to the basement whenever she could. But tonight she did not suspect that her basement paradigm was about to be shattered.
Having descended the long creaky flight of steps, she begrudgingly acquiesced to the darkness, slipping into an almost trance-like state, where she and the night melded into a delicately balanced coexistence. Besides, lifting the heavy shovel gave her a sense of strength, and the uneven wooden handle created a strangely satisfying tactile tension, while threatening to send splinters deep onto her tiny palm.
The ‘delivery’ that morning, meant that there would be a new mountain to attack and the “chalk-on-a-blackboard” shriek of steel against concrete, was strangely reassuring. Wielding her instrument deftly, she slid it under the black, uneven lumps of coal and lifted the load into the smoldering embers. Sparks spewed, as the coals hit the fiery bed, and the reassuring crackle told her that the added fuel would soon be sending much-needed warmth to the rooms upstairs.
As the second shovel scraped the stall and another dose of coal was poised for dumping, as her goose-bumped skin reacted to an unfamiliar and frightening sound. Creeped-out and wary, she fought the urge to drop the shovel and run upstairs. Her shovel had suddenly (thankfully) become a potential weapon, as she strained through the darkness to see the source of the unearthly murmuring.
Hadn’t she told Papa he needed to change the bulb? But it wasn’t time yet, as a few more day’s pay was needed to fill the till before they could make the trek up to the store for replenishment of food and supplies.
There it was again!
She inched closer, delving deeper into the coal bin; guided by the now-flaming firelight. Spinning around, the mountain of coals at her back, she directed her gaze to the black crevice in the corner. A glimpse of white, heaving and shifting on the floor, confirmed that she’d uncovered the source of the inhuman sounds, now growing louder. Moving closer, shovel at the ready, she gasped, instinctively stepping back as she was suddenly and inescapably, face to face with her night-demons.
Dropping the weapon behind her, she bent softly and with care and delicacy, cradled Duchess, her miniature collie, who’d apparently decided that a dirty coal bin was a perfect place to birth her puppies. There were four little murmuring creatures, all wet and slimy, blindly huddling, being nudged to latch onto mom.
Moments later, aware now of human intervention, Duchess seemed to smile contentedly, swaddled now by towels and blankets, and surrounded by the fawning, pajama-clad family, led by Papa and his flashlight.
The house was very warm that night thanks not only to the coal delivery, but the unexpected subsequent deliveries in the coal bin. That dark, dank basement with its clunky old coal-fired furnace and sooty coal bin, had become a friendly place, filled with fond memories.
Decades later on the eve of Father’s Day, she rocks on her back porch, listening to cicadas and recalling that memorable night. She smiles, knowing that Papa is still watching, just in case she needs a little extra light.
Written in response to the Studio30P Prompts for this week: PAPA