By Stephen Ground
John was running out of time.
He and his dog Scratch had moved into their fixer-upper forty-five years earlier, on the bend of an unpaved road neighbouring on nowhere. They’d seen a lot – blizzards, tornadoes, the mayoral election of ’74 – but never had a visitor come knocking, not once. He’d installed a bear claw knocker, purchased at a flea market by the ocean, but it’d never seen action – no Mormons, or charlatans flogging the World’s Sharpest Knives, the World’s Suckiest Vacuum. He saw people in town, Tom the butcher or Ms. Harvey at the bank, but no one visited him and Scratch IV.
He pulled rice from a cupboard one evening, showering the floor in runaway grains. Cursing field mice and their thousandth conflict, he tottered out, bending his creaky elbow to support his aching hip with arthritic fingers, redistributing his weight on collapsed arches to compensate for swollen knees. The traps were on a shelf in the shed, he could see them. Despite his body, his mind remained sharp.
He rummaged aimlessly, having forgotten why he’d come outside, but jumped when he heard a nail pounded a mile away. He craned his neck, positioning his good ear like a satellite. rapa-rap-rap. A blue sedan sat on the road, near the walk to his door. thud-thud-thud.
Hey, John shouted, lurching towards the house. He cursed between hurdles over piles of tools, scrap, and trash strewn around his yard. Hey, he shouted again – a young woman poked around the corner. She smiled, wary but warm.
Yeah, John huffed. Didn’t wanna miss ya.
It’s okay, I was –
Gimme a minute, he said. I’ll go in, and you knock again.
That’s not necessary.
I insist, he said. Please?
He stepped in, closed the door, and called, Okay, ready. After a horrible, silent moment, three short, vibratory raps of a brass bear claw on weathered wood – he exhaled and swung it open, reached to embrace her but thought twice, then asked, What can I do ya for?
Wrong house, she said, and retreated, tore off in a cloud of dust. He watched her go, closed the door, boiled the kettle. He sat, closed his eyes, then blindly tapped IV with his slipper and said, Coulda barked, y’know.
IV rolled over, burped, and fell back asleep.
Stephen Ground holds an Honours BA in Theatre and a Certificate in Community Arts Practice from York University. He is a managing partner/head writer of Toronto-based collective Pearson House Films. Find his fiction in The Esthetic Apostle, Sky Island Journal, Flash Fiction Magazine, and others. He resides in Milton, Ontario.