And Then it Broke

A little short fiction for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

And Then it Broke

He was doing it all wrong, I could tell from the grunts and groans coming from the basement. My brother Ben was helping my uncle clean out his basement. Fifty years of stuff, accumulated over a lifetime of living in that New Jersey house. Well, to be more accurate, fifty years of junk.

Who knew what was down there? A battered pool table and a well-used ping pong table. What fun we had as kids, the seven cousins playing endless games of round robin ping-pong, the older boys always beating us girls. That is, when we were kids. When we got older, my youngest cousin could whip any boy at any game. Then it was a deeper voice proclaiming, “That’s not fair,” instead of girlish whines.

Stacks of tennis and health food magazines. My uncle’s workbench, where he was doing some kind of experiments on gasoline when he caught the house on fire. Now all the toys and books, furniture and old clothes were a soggy, smoky mess. Instead of smelling like sweaty kids and witch hazel the basement reeked of musty ashes turning sour.

My brother staggered up the stairs, arms full of of half-burnt Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. He stared at me blankly for a moment, and then headed outside to the trashcans.

“You could help,” he said on his return.

I turned a page in my book. “You said you didn’t want help.”

“That was before.”

“Will you try it my way?”

He paused, then nodded. “Fine. If you are so sure it’s better.”

I followed him down the stairs. “Over there,” he pointed to one corner, “are all the books.” He turned and pointed to another pile. “That’s Aunt Margie’s grandmother’s china. It’s about the only thing we can save.”

“Where’s the suitcase?”

He rolled his eyes and pulled a suitcase from under the ping-pong table. Silently we filled it with the remnants of books and magazines. “I don’t know about this,” Ben said. “It will be too heavy to carry.”

“Not for both of us.”

He shook his head and closed the lid, fastening it shut. “Ready?”

I nodded and bent my knees to lift one end. His end went up. Mine stayed on the floor.

“See? You can’t lift it,” Ben said.

“We need a better system.” I looked around the basement and found a length of rope. “Let’s tie the rope around the suitcase, and use the pulley.”

“What pulley?”

“The one at the top of the stairs.”

Ben stared, open-mouthed. Sure enough, there was a pulley attached to the wood frame of the stairs, up near the top. He looked for a moment, then smiled. “That’s our uncle, always tinkering with something.”

Neither of us knew what the pulley was for, but figured it was just what we needed. I ran up the stairs to loop the rope over the pulley, and dropped the ends down to Ben. He looped the rope around the suitcase and through the handle, jerking hard on the ends to make sure all was secure.

We quickly agreed on what we thought was a brilliant plan. Ben would pull on the rope and raise the suitcase up to the top step. I would reach under the banister and pull the suitcase onto the top step. Then Ben would help me get it over the last step into the kitchen.

“If this works,” I said, “we won’t have to make a million trips up and down the steps.”

Ben glared at me. “I’m pulling now.”

He put all of his 200 pounds of weight into it, and slowly the suitcase rose into the air, gently swaying, the wood of the stairs creaking.

“Keep going, you’re almost there,” I told him.

He paused, took a deep breath and made one last heroic effort. The suitcase lurched up to the level of the top step. I leaned out to pull it toward me, angling it to fit it under the banister. “Can you pull it a little higher?”

Ben responded with a grunt and a mighty heave on the rope.

And then it broke. Not the rope. Not the handle of the suitcase. That would have been great compared to what did happen.

The pulley pulled away from the side of the stairs, cracking the side beam. The step I was on no longer had any support, and I watched, almost as if in slow motion, as the suitcase, the pulley moved away from the wall. Then we all fell to the floor below.

Ben jumped out of the way. Aunt Margie’s grandmother’s china wasn’t so quick. The pulley, the stairs and my left arm weren’t all that got broken that day.

And I don’t think I’ll ever be able to talk Ben into anything ever again.

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