Sunday, December 25, 2016 - Christmas Day

Advent 2016

"Miracle at O'Connor House"

 

            The rain started to fall around sunset.          

            Eb had seen the clouds wadding up in the corners of the sky for days, dirty off-white clumps that lurked around at sunset like ghosts.

            Old Doc Stephens was half-blind, but even he knew something was amiss.

            "Them clouds just ain't right," the old man had said, chewing on the stem of his corncob pipe with a set of worn teeth. 

            Eb just shook his head.

            "Criminy," Eb said, brushing a wayward strand of gray hair from his eyes.  "What else?"

            Still, Eb really had not been surprised when the weatherman first mentioned Hurricane Zelda. 

            "Hurricanes?  Land sakes, it's December," Mrs. Craige said, sitting on a wooden bench on the O'Connor House porch.  Her caterpillar eyebrows, magnified by the large-rimmed reading glasses that perched on the end of her tiny nose, knitted together as she filed her corrugated fingernails with a worn Emery board. 

"Who ever heard of such a thing?"

"Could be a sign," said Doc Stephens.  "A warning of the Apocalypse."

His eyes, bleary and opaque, blinked twice.  He stopped chewing on his pipe for a moment.

Everyone on the porch stared at him.

"Nah, it's probably all just global warming," Doc said.

            It was just another day at the O'Connor House.

The O'Connor slumped against a collection of better-appointed row houses on the corner of Harris Street in Savannah, just as it had for the last one-and-a-half centuries.  A ramshackle affair, cobbled together from clapboard and tin and rusty nails, the O'Connor had at one time housed several members of Flannery O'Connor's extended family, although the brilliant writer herself had moved on to the family farm in Milledgeville by the time she was sixteen.

"Did Flannery O'Connor live here?" visitors would ask.

"She visited," Mrs. Craige would reply with a crooked smile.   This response (and her shock of electric blue hair) elicited quizzical stares from confused tourists, who usually moved on without another word.

In its early days, the O'Connor had been a boarding house for sailors on shore leave.  Later incarnations included a few years as a home for wayward girls, a short-lived stint as an orphanage, and a brief (but notorious) interlude as a house of ill repute.  It was only in the 1970's that the place became known as the O'Connor, when an enterprising businessman named Sy Blackmon attempted to cash in on Flannery O'Connor's ties with Savannah by the use of her surname on the building itself.

The level of interest was tepid at best.

Today, the O'Connor was a Whitman's sampler of faded dreams, frustrated ambition, and tarnished beauty - an eclectic collection of students, retirees, and divorced persons trying to find their way through a rough patch or two.  Or three.  Or more.

Eb Goorks became the O'Conner caretaker as a favor to Sy Blackmon, who had remained the owner of the aging building by default.  In a former life, before the death of his wife Virginia, Eb had worked as Sy's handyman, tending to all of Sy's many properties all over Savannah.  But the economic downturn had hit Sy pretty hard.  He had to sell most everything - four bed and breakfasts, half a city block on Broughton Street, and the apartment house on Victory.

But Sy could not find a buyer for the O'Connor - not a single one.

"I'll let you live there for free if you'll manage it for me," Sy had said.  "That place needs a caretaker.  Stuff's breaking down all the time."

It took Eb all of three minutes to decide.

"I'll need a TV," he said.  "My old one's on the fritz."

"Deal," said Sy. 

And that was that.

Before Eb could blink, twelve years had passed.

Those years had worn Eb down to a nub of his former self.  He scarcely recognized the hook-nosed, white-haired old man who stared back at him from the shaving mirror each morning.  Even his hands were old, speckled with age spots and sunspots and Lord-knows-what-other-kinds-of-spots.  He stooped over when he walked and his joints ached and he couldn't see worth a darn anymore.  Worst of all, he was lonely.  He missed Virginia every day.

Virginia had believed in miracles.  Virginia had believed in salvation and in God's benevolence and what had it gotten her?

Pancreatic cancer.  No miracles there.

After Virginia died, Eb's heart had frozen up.  He didn't feel anything anymore.  He was numb to the core, all hope having evaporated into the stratosphere. 

All he had left to care for was Frodo, his ill-tempered calico.   And Eb had a suspicion that Frodo merely tolerated him.

Eb had developed a routine at the O'Connor that revolved around Frodo.  At 10:55 p.m., Eb would open the front door.  Frodo would stroll in, at a leisurely feline pace. Eb would then lock the deadbolt and stare out at the square to think for a minute or two before retiring to his apartment.  This was Eb's quiet time.  He found that he did his best thinking at these moments.  Once, he remembered where he had hidden a hundred-dollar bill inside a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird years earlier.

Tonight, as he clicked the deadbolt shut, he stared out of the window at the wind-driven rain.  He could hear it rattling across the tin roof like chains.  The branches of the live oaks in Pulaski Square were swaying back and forth like elephant trunks.

"I thought they said Zelda was turnin' north," Eb muttered to himself.

At 11:00 p.m., Eb shuffled down the hall to his apartment.  Frodo beat him to the door and sat there with a bored look on his face, licking his paws. 

"Miaow?"  Frodo said.

"One minute," Eb responded, fumbling with his keys.

 The animal averted its eyes, staring at the ceiling.

After he entered the apartment, Eb stepped out of his battered loafers and arranged them neatly beside the front door.  Frodo sat on the linoleum floor, which had turned a dingy yellow and curled up at the edges.  The big cat growled, his yellow eyes narrowed.

"Lord knows, Frodo, you are spoiled!" Eb said, pulling the aluminum foil off of a can of half-eaten salmon.  He dumped the food into a plastic bowl and Frodo buried his face in it.

"You're half pig, you know that?" Eb mumbled.

Frodo peered up at him, licking his whiskers, and resumed eating without a sound.

Eb popped the tab on a Diet Coke and sank into his favorite chair - a cracked, overstuffed leather recliner which had faded to a coppery brown, like an old penny.  He switched on the TV with the remote and found the evening news.

Lightning flashed outside.  The images on the television shuddered a bit.

"Car bomb explosion in Islamabad today..." the announcer said.

            Eb switched channels.

            "Wall Street in a panic...drought continues throughout the southeast...oil prices topped two hundred dollars a barrel today as..."

            "Lordy," Eb said.

            The TV droned on.

            The reservoirs in Atlanta were bone dry.  Ghost towns from the 1930's, drowned for decades, emerged lifeless and mute from the bed of Lake Lanier as the last bits of water drained into the thirsty maw of Atlanta. 

Heck, there was a corn shortage in Iowa, of all places.

            "That's like a gnat shortage in Georgia, right, Frodo?" Eb said.

            Frodo, asleep on the floor, opened a single eye and closed it again.

            Eb turned to the Atlanta stations and caught one announcer wishing that Hurricane Zelda would wallow ashore in Georgia and "hurry on up to Atlanta."

            "We need the rain," the announcer said, beaming.

            The announcer's hair was perfect.  His teeth were like Chiclets.

            "Idiot," Eb said.

            He decided to go to bed at 11:15, before the sports and weather broadcasts.

            At midnight, while Eb was asleep, the power went out.

            It was around 3:00 a.m. when a strange sound awakened Eb from a dreamless sleep.

            Tock!  Tock!  Tock!

            At first, he thought someone was knocking on his window.  This prospect bothered him.  Eb still harbored suspicions that ghosts really did exist, even if he had never seen one.

            Maybe if I ignore them they'll go away, he thought.

            The wind had picked up.  Eb could hear it tearing at the eaves of the old house, driving rain and hail and who-knows-what against the ancient boards.

            "I'm going to have my work cut out for me tomorrow," he said out loud.

            It made him feel a little better to hear a human voice, even if it was his own.

            Tock!  Tock!  Tock!

            That sound again.

            "Criminy," Eb mumbled, pulling on his bathrobe.

            He tipped back the window shade and looked outside, but could see nothing.  The street was as black as pitch.  It was the darkest night Eb had ever seen.  There was no light anywhere.

            Eb snatched the Maglite and his keys out of the bedside table drawer and clicked the light on.  He made his way down the hall and unlocked the front door, then stepped outside.

            Eb had seen a hurricane before - David, in 1979 - and he knew what they looked like. 

            But David had been a Category 1 storm.  Last time he checked, Zelda was Category 3. 

            As Eb played the flashlight beam up and down the street, the wind roared, bending the trees into impossible angles.  Rain fell sideways, stinging Eb's face like a swarm of flying needles.  A palm tree had been flung headlong into a Toyota minivan across the street, crumpling its roof.  At least two of the giant oaks in Pulaski Square had simply been uprooted, their craggy trunks now lying squarely on the ground.  They looked like a pair of dinosaurs - Ankylosaurs, perhaps - lying prostrate and helpless against the earth as the angry winds lashed against them.

            Eb found that the branch of an oak tree had snapped off and was slapping against the side of the O'Connor like a metronome - Tock!  Tock!  Tock!  He grabbed the branch and pulled it away from the building.

            "That should do it," Eb said, wiping the rain from his face with his shirt.

            As Eb returned to the O'Connor, Frodo sat in the doorway, his tail swishing back and forth.

            "Bad storm, Frodo," Eb said.

            "Rowrrr," Frodo growled.

            Once back in the apartment, Eb closed his eyes and tried to sleep.

            But he couldn't.

            The wind was howling now, and he thought he heard part of the roof tearing off.  There was a strange metallic sound - the gutter, perhaps? - and occasionally Eb heard something solid striking the walls of the old house.

            Frodo curled up in the bathroom cabinet, under the sink.

            Taptaptap.

            Another rhythmic noise.

            "What now?" Eb said.

            Taptaptaptapatp.

            Frodo jumped up from his nesting place and trotted to the apartment door.

            "Rowrrr," he said again, looking over his shoulder at Eb.

            "What?" Eb said.

            TAPTAPTAPTAPTAP!

            "Oh, all right," Eb said.  He pulled on his bathrobe and slippers, grabbed the flashlight and keys once again, and shuffled back down the hall, with Frodo at his feet.

            TAPTAP...

            "I'm comin'!" Eb said.  "Hold your horses!"

            He opened the door.

            A young dark-haired couple huddled together on the O'Connor's front porch.  They were soaking wet.  The boy was bearded and wore jeans, a tank top, and a silver earring in one ear.  A crudely rendered tattoo of a fish of uncertain speciation (Eb guessed it was a sea bass) glistened on one shoulder.  The girl was tiny and fine-boned, her hands long and delicate.  She was dressed in jeans and a plain pink t-shirt that said simply Mom.

            She was also pregnant.

            "Do you have any rooms?" the boy said.  "We were hitchhiking and got here this afternoon, but then the storm hit and we got stranded.  All of the hotels are full.  We don't have any place to stay."

            "Did you try the DeSoto?  The big hotel down the street?"

            The boy looked at his feet and shook his head.

            "They ran us off.  Said they're over capacity, and we didn't have enough money for a room there, anyway.  They're the ones who suggested that we come here."

            "We're full up, too," Eb said.  "Not a room left."

            The girl started crying.&

Share This Page

Upcoming Events