General Fiction, Short Fiction

Maintenance by Bryce Johle 

Nelson was watching the fan wobbling from the dining room ceiling when he heard a gunshot somewhere in the distance. From the couch, the blades swayed and rattled unlike their original behavior upon moving in. Something he’d have to fix himself, no doubt.

He read the update on his phone from the security camera service detailing a gun-shot victim nearby. Just a week ago, another man was shot and a car chase had ensued from Nearway Avenue, down the main road, and through the tunnel. The main road was minutes away by foot. He would’ve seen it, had he been outside. Could’ve accidentally been a part of it, even.

A spell came over Nelson and he found himself off the couch and wandering down the road. He crossed the busy street and hiked the uneven sidewalk, cement increasingly degrading until he found the trolley tracks that ran alongside Nearway. He guessed the crime probably occurred on the other side of them.

It was already dark out when he turned into the neighborhood, looking for wet, dark blood stains in the ground. He mindlessly scanned, recalling the sound of his newlywed neighbors shouting at each other when he’d left the house.

Seemed like it had been going on for a month. Mornings were quiet, but come noon, their twigs snapped. He only heard pieces of their nonsense, but he got the gist: the wife owned a side-business, wanted to quit her day job, and both worked too much to be with each other.

Sometimes Nelson heard the wife talking sour about her Mommy. When this topic swung around, he noticed a few key phrases in cycle: I wish. One million per-cent. Look at yourself. I just can’t even imagine doing that to my baby.

What was he doing here? He sat down on a station bench, waiting for something. Thinking about his son. He missed him. And the ceiling fan he’d have to fix on his own.

“I wish I could show you a thing or two,” he said into the drying fall breeze. “Wish I would’ve shown you some things when I had the chance.”

When his wife left him, Nelson had lost custody of his son due to his increasingly violent behavior which climaxed their marriage. He imagined the shadow arpeggio from the ceiling fan light, listening to his neighbors yell, longing for the connection he ruined.

“I just want to teach you what I know,” Nelson spoke again. By this time, a small collection of neighbors had wandered out in front of their homes.

He watched them until they went back inside, then began his walk back home. With every unexpected movement from the corner of his eyes, and every man who passed by, he hoped he would be part of something that night.

He was glad his son lived far from here, for keeping safe, but missed the boy every day. He didn’t want to think about it now. He wanted to run into an old friend, pretend he was fine. He wanted to feel pain and build a house for it inside where he could keep it comfortable so he and the hurt could be separate.

“When I get home I’ll fix the fan,” he said. “God knows maintenance won’t do it. God knows we can do it better if we work smart.”

He remembered when he first moved in there. It was liberating. He had spent over ten years living with a woman, and seven of those with his child. It felt like college again. Men sometimes ponder over the freedom after the chains of marriage, but days into his new apartment lease, he was grieving.

“Maybe I’ll get shot before I get home and won’t have to worry about it,” Nelson said as he passed a tall, hooded man.

“Pfft,” the man offered back, shaking his head and continuing on. Nelson walked a few paces, then turned around and sprint burst at the man’s back, shoes scraping the sidewalk, trying to instigate. The man flinched, his arm protecting his face, and sped away with his hood fallen.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Nelson said, feeling his head go wrong.

“Daddy, when are we going to fix the fan?” his son, Wyatt asked.

He looked at his boy walking alongside him in the dark, his little blue zip-up hoodie falling around his shoulders. “Soon as we get home!”

“What tools do we need?”

“Well, son, if I named them, you probably wouldn’t know what I was talking about. Maybe we should wait until we get home.”

“I know what the tools are, Daddy.”

“You do?”

“Yeah, just tell me what they’re like. I know them.”

“Let me think,” Nelson said, for the first time considering what was actually needed to resolve the issue. “Well, it’s up high, right?”

Wyatt nodded.

“We’ll need a ladder.” He saw his boy’s eyes light up at the sense he made. “And a wrench. Aaand—” he was stuck. Come to think of it, Nelson had never installed or repaired a ceiling fan in his life. He went silent the rest of the way, his finger tapping his lips.

Once home, assembled the ladder beneath the ceiling fan. He glanced at his son below and smiled. Jiggling the base of the fan, he saw cracks and stains from water damage.

“Ah, I see!” Nelson said. “Watch this, son.” He grabbed the fan with both hands, strangling the fixture and swaying to and fro like he’d once done to his wife on a particularly bad night. The legs of the ladder became uneasy until he finally ripped the whole thing free from the ceiling. “Arrggh,” he let out, then threw the big damn thing on the ground.

“And that’s how we fix the ceiling fan, Wyatt.”

Nelson stepped down from the ladder, braced his head, and went to bed alone in his one bedroom apartment.

Bryce Johle

Image by Alina from Pixabay 

11 thoughts on “Maintenance by Bryce Johle ”

  1. Hi Bryce,
    The MC was going through the motions and his sadness and loneliness was well done.
    The fantasy section when he saw his kid and they were going to sort the fan was also excellent.
    The end line about his realisation and being brought back to reality rounded this up.
    I do like the tone and misery of this.
    Hope you have more for us soon.


  2. Captures the character of a guy on the edge, then over it, Nelson’s watching the fan interrupted by a gunshot. I like the part about how he wanted to feel pain, but keep it separate. His instability, finally breaking down completely into hallucination when he sees his kid. But he did “fix” the fan.

    Liked by 1 person

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