I let myself in after ringing the doorbell one time. At most homes I wouldn’t do this; I’d just leave the groceries on the front stoop. But I decide to waltz right into Mr. Granger’s house for a few reasons.
One: he always leaves the front door unlocked, which he argues is intentional, and I retort that he is becoming forgetful in his old age.
Two: I like to linger here in this quaint home, however contrary a setting to its gruff owner.
Three: I quite enjoy the argumentative banter that we have developed over these last 6 months that I’ve delivered his groceries to him.
Four: Mr. Granger could be dead.
So, I might as well do the right thing and check.
I drop the grocery sacks onto the counter in the kitchen, and before announcing myself, I unload the cold cuts, ice cream, and whole milk into the fridge. I leave the rest for later, and make a circle through the unused dining room, then the study, and into the living room where Mr. Granger usually spends his time working crosswords and pretending to ignore the TV Soaps, though I know he has been, in fact, “working” in the same crossword puzzle book since 1993 and knows by heart every Soap storyline that has ever graced his screen.
He’s nowhere on the first floor, which is surprising because he has one of those sluggish chair lifts that carries him up the stairs like he’s nobility, and his patience runs thin at about step 4 (I’ve seen it), so he rarely goes up during the day. It’s parked at the top step, so he must be up there.
I call up from the bottom. “Mr. Granger? Mr. Granger. Hey Grange!” That last one, I know, will ruffle his feathers and get his attention if the first two attempts didn’t. “Grange” is his nickname from his military days, long before I was born, a nickname for which I have not earned the right to use because of the audacity I have to be so young in this day and age. But Ol’ Grange has never kicked me out of his house, not once, so I don’t think my use of it bothers him as much as he wants it to.
Not a sound materializes from upstairs, so I hesitantly make my way up. I’ve never gone up there. The old hardwood steps squeak, as expected, until one doesn’t. Step 7 is solid. I tip toe up and down, then up two and down two, like I’m playing the life-size piano from Big. Step 7 seems to be a broken key, or the only working key, really. A key to something I have not earned the right to know about but suddenly want to know everything about.
I have already tried to learn the ins and outs of Mr. Granger, I can’t help it, I’m a curious person. But he’s a closed book. I’ll admit, on the rare occasion, when I felt like lollygagging in Mr. Granger’s home after I had bored him with enough questions to cause him to doze on the couch, I have snooped in his office. I found a few old photos with no names or dates written on them. He looked happy then, smiling with his buddies, even clinking beer mugs in one photo. I brought him a six-pack from the store once, my treat, and tried to pop open a can with him, but he said he doesn’t drink and told me I’m too young anyway, even though I was old enough to buy the beer in the first place. I can’t seem to crack anything, or anyone, open in this house.
“Tell me a war story,” I asked him once.
“They’re not fairy tales, Kristen, they’re serious. Ask someone else.” He shut me down.
Another day: “Don’t you ever get lonely?”
“No,” he said. “Being alone is peaceful. You should try it sometime. Hey, how about now?”
I stayed longer than usual that day just to irritate him.
Another time: “Tell me about the first time you fell in love.”
“I’ve never fallen in love, Kristen. Men like me don’t fall; we stand firm until a woman falls for us.”
Sheesh. “So, who fell for you then?”
“None of your business. Did you forget the beans again?”
“Of course not. Why do you eat so many beans anyway? Don’t they give you gas?”
“All your prying gives me gas.” I rolled my eyes at that and turned my head to hide a reluctant smile.
When something is deemed “not my business” I am determined to make it my business from that moment forward. And stair step 7 has “not your business” written all over it.
“Mr. Gran-ger…” I half-heartedly call out one more time just in case he is within earshot.
I squat down, grip the edge of step 7, and attempt to lift it. It’s solid. Why fix this step and none of the others? Due to my aforementioned office snooping, I know where Mr. Granger keeps his crowbar. I fly there and back in seconds and start pulling up the step, before my good sense can catch up to this moment of insanity. It groans and gives way just enough for me to peek underneath. Before I do, I look at the void at the top of the stairs again. Under my breath I beg for forgiveness from the absent Mr. Granger.
I pull my phone from my pocket and shine the flashlight inside. Paper. Yellowed. It looks like envelopes. I stuff my right arm inside and grab as many letters as my fingers can clench. But when I try to pull my arm free, it doesn’t budge.
My face flushes. My hands start to sweat. If I get stuck like this, I will literally be caught red-handed. Or read-handed.
I search for the crowbar. It’s on the bottom step, too far for me to reach. I dig the heel of my left hand into the step’s edge and push up with all my might. It doesn’t budge. The fingers of my right hand are starting to tingle from lack of blood flow.
A couple of possible scenarios fly through my mind’s eye.
One: Mr. Granger finds me and reams me out for snooping and damaging his property.
Two: He never appears at all and I have to call 911 and explain that I’m stuck in a staircase…“And while you’re here could you check and see if there’s a dead man upstairs?”
Pride and humiliation prevent me from dialing 911. Instead, I croak, “Mr Gr—.”
But the sight of him kills my voice. He’s at the top of the steps, a statue, eyes on me. Shock shoots through me, but not because he looks angry, no. Tears. His eyes are full of tears. He’s—he’s weeping.
In an effort to deflect embarrassment away from the man whom I’ve never seen cry, I aim it at myself, try to make light of the situation, and pretend not to notice his tears. “Mr. Granger, umm, I’m sorry about this.” I gesture to my right arm which appears to have been amputated. “My arm, it’s stuck. I can’t feel my fingers.” I tug, but it’s no use. “I guess you wouldn’t believe I slipped and fell into this position?”
To my surprise, he chuckles, which leads to coughing, which then forces him to slowly sit down on the top step and compose himself. Meanwhile, my arm is asleep and my head is spinning in confusion at these emotions before me. I expected anger, but I’m witnessing tears and laughter and no big rush to help the disgraced damsel in distress. I might pass out.
He wipes his eyes and takes a big sniff. “Oh, I wish I had my camera.”
I shoot him a minor stink-eye but can’t really blame him for being amused by something I got my own self into. Somewhere I got myself into. “Umm, could you help me? Then, we could laugh about this over a cold drink and maybe an ice pack?”
He pulls himself up with the stair railing and sits down in the chair lift. “I’ll be down in a jiffy. Might want to sit back against the wall so I don’t run you over. Though, that would be the least of your worries right now.” He giggles.
I smirk. The lift descends at a repulsively slow pace. But, this time, I’m the one irritated by the speed, not Mr. Granger. He seems to be loving all of this, and I don’t know why.
When he reaches the bottom he bends down, grabs the crowbar, and hands it to me. I have just enough strength in my left arm and leverage to lift the step up another inch and pull my arm free. A few letters fall from my fingertips and land on the steps around me. Amidst my pain and embarrassment, I forget to tell him thank you for rescuing me from dismemberment. I just stare at the letters, willing them to disappear, willing my whole body to disappear.
“Kristen, you’ve done me a favor.”
I look right at him, mouth agape. “W-what do you mean?”
“You were right.”
About what? I stare speechless into his glossy eyes.
“I am getting forgetful in my old age; you were right about that. These letters. I hid them there years ago, under that step. Every time I used to walked up and down the steps—squeak, squeak, squeak—and step 7 was quiet and solid, I smiled knowingly. But this stupid chair lift—that’s why I forgot.”
I rub my sore arm as my fingers begin to come alive again, the way Mr. Granger seems to have come alive just now. I try to imagine how frustrating it would be to forget something so important. “So… what are these?”
Mr. Granger smiles. “These are from the woman I fell in love with.”
“I knew it!” I blurt out. “I knew you weren’t immune to falling in love.” The pain in my arm is suddenly replaced by a hunger to know everything about this epic relationship.
He says, “Why don’t you see if you can reach in there and get the rest of the letters out, then meet me in the living room. We’ve got some reminiscing to do.”
I resist the urge to squeal and, instead, start furiously grabbing every single dusty, glorious envelope.
Mr. Granger stands. “I’ll grab us a couple of beers from the fridge.” He winks and leaves me amid a gold mine of handwritten history and surreptitious love. My heart might just burst.
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Congratulations! I enjoyed the characters you built in this story.
Thank you so much! I thoroughly enjoyed your story and intend to spend a lot of time going back and reading your other pieces so I can learn from you.
Hi Robin! This was an excellent story, it was very wholesome. At first, I felt anxious about what she was going to find at the top of the stairs but that quickly got replaced to what was going to happen to her if she got caught snooping in this man's home, after all, she was only supposed to deliver his groceries and you would think someone would be upset if they caught another person going through their personal belongings. The ending though I really enjoyed, it gave me an idea of the friendship that was about to become with Mr. Granger and...
Love this! Congrats on the shortlist! I don't have words to explain how I felt about this at all. Just...so many things you did right. Completely right. I like how the prompt you used, in the context of the short story, isn't quite what you'd expect, and isn't ever really outright said. It reminds me of something my father told me (in the context of the contest, in fact, about two different stories): you don't need to say outright in the short story what the theme or prompt is. Let readers understand for themselves how it fits into the story...
Hey Robin, I love your story! I'm wondering if I could read it on my podcast, "Unpublished, not Unknown"? It's all about giving voice to indie authors' short stories and spreading their reach a bit further. I'll credit you and link your profile in the show notes. People can listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Youtube, and 5 other locations. It's in its growing stage, so I'd only ask you to share your episode with friends if you like it :) You can check out the format here: https://bio.link/katiek
Oh wow, that's such a cool concept! Not personally, of course, but thank you for publicizing the works of indie writers! Though I really only just discovered this exists, it touches me personally because I spend a lotta time worrying about ever getting published. I'm actually terrified of not being successful, famous or just in general remembered. This podcast sounds great!
Hi, LM. Thank you! It's been incredibly fun to record and share people's stories. I found that there's a large gap in the writing world and I hope this podcast can begin to fill it in. It's a great way to reach a larger audience by offering the story in 8 locations. And by bringing stories into the podcasting world you not only reach other authors but those who only like to listen or read and not write. Anyways, I'm having a lot of fun with it. Thanks for the encouragement. Keep up the writing! Can't wait to have you follow along :)
Are all the stories on the podcast ones from Reedsy?
So far they have been. It's not exclusive to Reedsy authors, but for now, it's been a simple resource for me. I do also allow people to email in a story to email@example.com and I'll review them personally :)
Hi Katie! I forgot to respond to this. (I've never had so many comments before, this is a new world for me). Yes, I would be honored if you would like to read it on your podcast. I'm subscribing right now!
Hi Robin, no worries at all! Enjoy the spotlight :) Thanks for the permission. I'll let you know when I've posted it!
Robin, your episode is live! You can find all the ways to listen/watch here: https://bio.link/katiek Enjoy! And share if you like it :)
Already listened! Your voice is smooth as butter. I will be sharing will all my friends! Thank you, thank you.
You’re so sweet! Thank you ❤️
Hi Robin, hope all is well! If you have a moment, would you leave the podcast a 5-star review on Apple podcasts? It really helps! Happy writing :) https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/unpublished-not-unknown/id1577467066
Hi there! I’m reaching out to all of the authors who have been featured on the UNU podcast. I have a few new opportunities for you! In the quick and easy form linked below, I am offering: 1. A chance to schedule a casual interview with me for the podcast. This will be a basic get to know you, a way for you to advertise your other writing (books if you have them), and a time to laugh and have fun. They would be less than an hour, most likely under 30-min. Whatever works for your schedule. 2. A personal bio page for you on the website I...
Sweet story, I just wanted to know more about the woman he fell in love with. I was trying to picture the situation Kristen got herself into, that had to be embarrassing, it made me think of my most embarrassing moment! Good job!
Thank you, Sylvia! I wish I had thought to (and had time to) write more about the love of his life, with some snippets of the letters. I submitted this story in the eleventh hour, so I didn't have time to put more thought into that part of it, but I want to!
Robin, there were so many parts of my heart that were rugged at in this piece. My favorite line was: “I’ve never fallen in love, Kristen. Men like me don’t fall; we stand firm until a woman falls for us.” You did such an incredible job of characterizing Mr. Granger and Kristen. I absolutely loved this piece. Thank you for writing it and congratulations on getting shortlisted.
Thank you, Amanda! So so nice. I am actually in shock I got shortlisted. I never imagined... I feel like I've peaked!
I love crotchety old characters in movies and in books, you captured Mr. Granger as such! This was a cute story and I very much could relate to the whole I need to make it my business kind of situation. I would have loved to have seen a snippet of Kristen reading a line or two out loud, and being caught that way. Perhaps Mr. Granger getting pissed at first then breaking down. You developed two really strong characters that I enjoyed so much! Congrats on the shortlist!
Thank you for the feedback! One of my favorite books is written entirely in letters, and I wasn't brave enough (and also ran out of time) to sprinkle in some nuggets of those love letters. I appreciate you reading!
Oh no! I want to know more! You have done a great job of breathing life into your characters, of weaving a whole cloth (mentioning how slow the stair lift is and then bringing it back). Thank you for a wonderful story!
I often end my stories wanting to know more myself! I may have actually added more about Grange' past if I hadn't run out of time; I submitted in the eleventh hour. Thank you for reading!
A good story. I liked both characters personalities. Written well to the prompt.
Thank you, Andrea!
Hi Robin, I like your story, it warms my heart. It has been assigned to me from the critique circle, I usually read SF. I hope you don't mind my remarks, but, to begin with, I can't find anything wrong with the word usage, the spelling, or the suspenseful flow. I think some of the sentences should be broken into shorter pieces. This is a nice story, a nice thought, and I look forward to reading your future work. John
Thank you for the feedback, John! I really liked your story too.