Chapter 2—Ten O’clock
I was stumbling around in my cellar and trying to locate my terrible excuse of a lamp in pitch black. On my way, I’d tripped on the lamp under my feet, scrambled to keep my balance as I fell forward. Down I went, my knee finding a sharp rock that waited for me to careen into it. It hurt… oh did it hurt.
I ran my hand down my agitated leg and onto the ground where I found the responsible stone. I tossed it to the side and heard it ping off the wall.
“Come on, Luc, you’ a child,” I said, pulling myself out of this little stupor.
I took in a deep breath and held it. I let it out slowly. I used my fingers to probe the injury and found it was only bruised. No tear in the fabric, no moisture either. It meant the skin wasn’t broken, the damage not serious.
I felt around for the lantern. A real bargain this lamp. I got it at a local shop, marked down to two dollars, a rebuild no one wanted. I was the unfortunate one to purchase it. It worked; it just burned too much kerosene, because the wicks were rounded, and they tended to soak up a lot of the fuel, and it caused the lantern to burn a bit hot.
I didn’t need to light up the house. Gas lighting was expensive—if I wanted to light my home during the night before bed, it would cost nearly eight dollars a month. I didn’t need to spend that kind of money. It was just me in the house. Even if I wanted to spend the money, it would cost me nearly a quarter of what I earned. I got $1.50–$2.00 per day delivering the mail. How much per day depended on how many hours I worked. If my time was under sixty hours for the week, the pay defaulted to the lesser amount. I don’t know how my coworkers did it—a wife, kids, and the neighbor kids coming over and drinking all the fresh milk.
Not me—I didn’t need those problems. I had different problems—like letting money slip through my fingers just to get out of the house. I got tired of being cooped up at night even though I was out walking all day, and hunting was out of the question. The normal places I’d go were the bar, and saloons, mainly off Vine and Fifth. I’d go out after work, get a drink, eat, listen to music, then come back home and repeat. Life was a carousel, and round and round it went, and nobody got off unless you died. Maybe not even then.
Oh, I liked to gamble too—did I mention?
I liked to bet on fights, sometimes I play poker, but I prefer betting on fights. Because I know how to fight, and I think I know how to pick a winner, it rarely turns out that way. They’re always throwing fights, I can’t get a break. I know. I’ve got nothing to show for all my years.
There I go again—thinking about things. I tend to do that—just go off to a different place. It’s the thought—I think, and therefore I must follow it. Where it goes, I go. I don’t understand it, and at times gives me problems. Like when I bought this rebuilt lamp. I should have paid closer attention to what the salesman said, but I didn’t. I heard him say it worked, but that was it. Though looking back, because we all know hindsight is twenty-twenty, I might have done better to get a newer lamp, one with a larger reservoir. I wouldn’t be here in the dark acting like a child who scraped his knee and is waiting on his mommy to come and make it better.
I hate being injured. I was used to being hit, but not in the knee. As a boxer, our knees are a must for moving and hitting.
I breathed out slowly and directed my voice toward the lantern. “I could replace you. Maybe get one of those newer, sexier models showing off their lustrous shine and curvaceous glass tops. I could go out, browse the store, try them out, see how they feel in my hands. Once I found the right fit, I’d bring her home, and you’d be out the door.” I snapped my fingers, then lowered my head. “My luck, I would be throwing away my money on something that’s as faulty as you.”
I imagined the lantern saying, “you’re too cheap to replace me.” I chuckled to myself.
I moved toward the direction of the lantern, groping around in the dark. My hand outstretched, I felt the glass, then reached for the base and singed my fingers on the hot metal. I jerked my hand away from the lantern, then pushed my offending middle finger into my mouth for a moment. “Are you getting back at me?” I whispered, then located the lantern, and was careful not to touch its hot metal edges.
“Hey, I was only teasing about replacing you.” I smiled at my own witticism. I then raised my voice to a falsetto “That’s what you get, Luc, when you play with fire.”.
I heard a sound upstairs. Not that odd actually, for this house had many sounds in it. The boards liked to creak, especially the ones that led to the upstairs bedrooms. The mice made those scratching sounds when they scurried across the floor, but this was a different sound. It resembled a faint scraping across wood, like someone was shuffling along, stopping, then shuffling again. I needed to go investigate, but first I needed to get out of this dark cellar.
“Now to find my way out without further injury.”
I tried to use my memory, thinking of the ground and how far I’d walked from the stairs to the wall. But instead of making a guess, I pressed my back against the wall. I knew the room was over twelve feet in length, and if I used my feet, give or take an inch, I’d land directly in front of the stairs.
I stepped out, counting aloud. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen…” and “ouch.” I stubbed my toe on the bottom step.
“Do you see what you made me do?” Of course, I knew the stairs would not answer, but I hadn’t miscalculated my steps. Or had I? Perhaps my feet had grown smaller.
I probed the staircase using the tip of my foot to locate the step in front of me. Comfortable after finding it, I eased forward one foot at a time, making sure to neither overstep and stub my toe again or under step and miss entirely. Up the stairs, I went, where I stopped at the top of the staircase, completely in the dark.
I listened for any more movement, but I didn’t hear anything. Maybe it was my imagination or a large rat. That must be it. Nothing to worry about in this noisy old house.
I reverted to my memory, strolling past the washroom toward the kitchen. I immediately walked straight into the table, banging it with my hip.
“You’re not supposed to be there.” I felt with my hands, and made my way around the table, shifting a chair as I redirected to the kitchen counter. “I’d do better to get myself a miner’s lamp.” Those lamps worked well—they used calcium carbide and water to produce the gas used by a light affixed to the miner’s cap.
I inched my way closer to where I thought the counter might be, keeping at a slower pace so as not to run into it. Each step I took, I thought I might bump into it, edging closer and closer fearing that I might hit the counter and then I did. Using my hand along its edge, I searched for the kerosene oil.
“I know I left you here.” Along the counter I slowly ran my fingers, feeling the smooth surface, then finding a few rough patches. “A good wax is all you need.”
I felt around more, finding, after a little exploratory touching, the coffee pot – the can of kerosene should be close.
I continued searching, feeling about the counter until I’d located it. “There you are.” The tips of my fingers touched the cool outer skin of the kerosene can. Carefully I removed the top of the lamp, exposing its reservoir. The stout fumes entered the air and filled my nose. I placed the lamp’s head onto the counter, mindful of the heated metal. Next, I poured the oil into the lamp. The liquid forced out gulps of air. When the lamp grew heavy, I stopped, capped the oil, and gingerly placed the can on the counter.
I set the lamp beside it, took out a match from my pocket, and struck it against the back of the matchbox. “Let there be light.” The flame illuminated the counter, sulfur permeated the air. I lifted the cover and quickly lit the wick, then placed the glass globe over the flame.
“All happy now?” I put out the match and patted the side of the lantern. “Of course, you are.”
Off to my right was my square table, covered in an off-white cloth sustained from many years of use, but washed once per week, and surrounded by four wooden chairs. One was shifted out of place from when I had impacted the table earlier. I held the lamp high, and it cast dancing shadows toward the front door to my left. I lowered the lamp and then walked past my cast-iron stove, its flume ascending several feet and bent at ninety degrees into the wall.
The floor creaked under my weight as I moved through the kitchen and toward the sitting room. Passing the front door on my right, I walked another six feet and stopped in front of the stairs that led to the bedrooms. I straightened my arm, raising it high, letting the lamp’s light fall onto the staircase. The shadows flickered, and I turned my ear in the direction of the stairs. I listened to the telltale sounds of the upper hallway. The boards’ creaks are unmistakable and loud. I lowered my arm and continued into the sitting room.
The light from the lamp pierced the dark, driving it back. On my right was my heavy bag for my boxing sessions and my head bag for quick movements to keep my reflexes in top condition. I rotated to the left, the light casting more shadows, this time on a painting of a colonial settlement with men in their suits and women in their Sunday dresses walking a dirt road that led to a white church on a hilltop. Under it was my bourbon table stocked with two bottles and four glasses.
I caught the scent of tobacco. I don’t use tobacco. Someone was here or had been. I continued to scan the room, casting the light over my two cherry-wood sitting chairs with emerald green fabric. Between them was a waist-high table. I continued to rotate to the right, bringing the light to a stop at the fireplace.
I didn’t know what I was searching for – or who.
A knock came from the front door.
I swung about, then caught sight of something to my right. Something I’d missed on the table when I first looked in the room. On my sitting table sat a pipe. I picked it up. Still warm. I smelled it. The scent of burned tobacco was recent.
Looking at the pipe. “Where did you come from?”
The knock came again.
I looked at the door and then looked closer at the pipe. “Has that old man been inside my house?”
I hurried into the hall, past the stairs, and into the foyer. The light flashed over the solid, sturdy oak door.
I turned my head toward the door, then looked at the pipe. “Has it been three months already?” I muttered.