"Spring Cleaning"

By Steven Kivel


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Pop, plop, almost silently and certainly imperceptibly the first drops of rain hit the living room window. Like little water bombs they smashed in to the glass and exploded, causing little circles of water to grow and then fade against the dirty window. The window was almost 20 years old. It was the original pane that the builders had placed in this cabin's living room window frame. During it's life it had never seen a good cleaning. "This was after all a man cabin" the owner would have said, in way of explanation, "and only women care about CLEAN WINDOWS". This was the hunting cabin of Mr. Delmore Blain, late of government service. Delmore Blain was a man of strongly held beliefs, some rational some not, but all held in a grasp so tight that nothing could loosen the grip enough to examine them. If something arose in Delmore's life that challenged his assumptions, he would quickly add amendments to reality in order to make his strongly held beliefs true. If this were impossible he would simple forget that which seemed to challenge. He was not the first or only man to hold to his assumptions of life in this manner, but Delmore Blain did it with a passion to rival Romeo's love. The rain started falling harder, mother nature's attempt at cleaning the cabin's window. If any living man had been in the cabin the sounds of the hard rain falling would certainly not be imperceptible, but no one had stepped a foot into the cabin in months. Like many cabins in Michigan's upper peninsula, Delmore's was not "just off this little road" but miles off any road. The closest neighbor was more than 5 miles away and had no idea of the cabin's existence. No one ever stopped by to see how the hunting was, or how the fishing was, or even how Delmore was doing. He could sit in there with his thoughts and his books for months undisturbed. He would neither see nor talk to anyone, this is how Delmore liked it. The world was going to hell, and people were no damn good. The wind picked up and a large evergreen branch scrubbed the window. Mother Nature is nothing if not persistent and someday this branch would break the window and it would need to be replaced. She would have her clean window, but as Delmore would grumble, "Mother Nature is a woman and they like clean windows". The cleansing of the water and the scrubbing of the branch would do little to clean the window today. The dust, grease, and smoke that had accumulate on the other side of the window would still obstruct the view.

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The mess of the inside of the window complemented the rest of the small cabin. The litter and dust which permeated the cabin had always been features of the cabin, without which the cabin like Lincoln without his beard, would have been unrecognizable. The stench that filled the stale air of the cabin was a development of the last six months. On the wall next to the window hung a calendar. At the end of each day, after he showered and before he went to bed, Delmore would mark a large X over the date on the calendar. He would then do the same in his daily planner. Another day assassinated, dead, and unmourned. He could not close his eyes unless he had completed this ritual. The last day marked off was September 12th 1993, six months and four days ago. The table under the calendar had several ring spots and two empty beer cans one laying on it's side and a pile of papers. The papers included the books Cosmos and Pale Blue Dot, both by the Jew scientist, Carl Sagen. Under the books were several papers containing lectures Sagen had given on "the green house effect" and "the rain forest" along with a biography and brief summary as to his contacts in other countries. This was Delmore Blain's last great crusade, to prove that if Sagen was not a Soviet agent, as Blain suspected, then he was at least an agent of Soviet influence. His stand on the arms race and "social" issues were all signs pointing across the water to Russia, where both his parents had been born. "KNOW YOUR ENEMY". Light flashed from outside the window, illuminating the room. Thunder boomed. This was quickly followed by more lighting. It lit the pictures sitting in frames on the coffee table. The first was Delmore's Blain's wife and their son Del, circa 1967 before Del grew his hair long and started all those fights. In 73 Del had walked out the door after arguing with his father about Vietnam and "the blacks". Delmore's last words to his son were, "Don't come back ya fucking fairy!" Del walked out the door, his long hair flying behind him. Del was young and stupid, listened to all the wrong people, like the Jew scientist Carl Sagen. Delmore was sure he'd learn the truth for himself and come back. Then he hoped, finally he prayed but it never happened. Del's mother left a year later.

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Delmore had received the truth from his father. He received it as a child receiving a Christmas gift. He clutched the truth in a hand welded shut. He held it to his heart and would defend it at any cost. As years passed Delmore blamed everyone for his son walking out and his hand tightened it's grip on the truth. The time passing made making a first move became harder. The second picture was Del leaving home at seven a.m. headed for work. It was taken last year with a Nikon Aptevia with a 150mm lens. Delmore sitting a half a block away had clicked off eight pictures in 90 seconds. Three he threw out instantly because "she" was in them. Out of the five remaining, this is the one he liked best. Del's face smiling, his again short red hair and beard framing his face and those blue eyes, the dancing blue that he got from him mother. Although he threw away the picture with Del's wife in them he didn't hate her, or maybe he did. It wasn't her, hell Delmore didn't know Del's wife. It wasn't her brown eyes, black hair, or her wide nose, it was that she represented their fight. No, it was more than that. As much as he wanted to ignore things, as much as he wanted to "Let him live his own life" and accept his son, he could not accept. He could not ignore. There were some things that were just wrong. His grip tightened. The last two picture were Thad and Josh Blain. Half his, half the devils, but lord they were cute. Some days he would imagine himself teaching them to fish and hunt. Thad was the oldest and always the best at hunting. He was bigger by half than his brother who was two years younger. Both hair curly brown hair and brown eyes. Josh, named for Delmore's ex-wife's father, would always need help. Thad and Delmore would show him how or teach him that hunting is man taking part in nature. It was always a wonderful day. Some days he would imagine these wonderful days. Some days he would stare at them and hate their mother for keeping his grand-children from him. He would try to imagine how they would look if they weren't half the devil's. Outside the lighting strobed the room. It gave the appearance of movement to the hand holding the bottle of vodka at the dining room table. Of course it was only an appearance since the hand had not moved in six months.

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The hand belonged to Petrov Redman late of government service and life. What was left of his face did not do justice to the man who he had been. The strong facial muscles had been ripped from the bone by the force of a blast from a gun. The pale blue eyes had gone dark and sunken inward. What was left of once strong arms hung loose in his flannel shirt stained brown from dried blood. In one hand he held a bottle of Absolut, the other held a small strangely shaped key ring. He was in the old Soviet Union, what Delmore was in America. Both were men of strongly held beliefs. If they had met at an earlier time in their lives, they would have hated one another. Both Men would have known the other was evil and both would have loved to have ended the evil they were and that they represented. Both men would have known one day that there would be a "showdown" as Blain would have put it. Like "High Noon" of "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" one day they would face each other and only one would walk away. Then August of 1988 changed the world. Both men, incredible well informed men, woke to the news that "The Wall" had fallen. Soon afterward the Soviet Union fell, the world had changed. Delmore started seeing new and more elaborate threats. If the Soviets could fall, then so could the U.S.. He found fewer people at the office to understand his theories. The world had changed and men of strongly held beliefs were replaced by men who's beliefs were expedient. They face the direction of the wind. Then Delmore Blain, just 2 years short of retirement, left the agency. Under what circumstances and who's idea it was depended on who you asked. They are men to whom held to the truth as tightly as they did their beliefs. Lightning flashed the cabin. It had been originally built without running water or electricity. After Blain left government service he spent a few weeks in a half hearted attempt to find other employment. Then he sold his house and most of his possessions and moved to the cabin full time. He would become a writer, a voice against the new order and wait until his truths were heard by enough people or until the new order collapsed.

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He added the money from the sale of his house to his savings and converted the whole amount to cash. This took several days. He then bought a pump and a generator. The pump would allow his cabin to have a shower and toilet, both were vented out of the house just a few yards to a stream. The generator ran the pump, a small water heater (5 gallon), and his TV. The only thing Delmore brought from his house to the cabin were his books, a TV/VCR and his video tapes. Delmore loved movies, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, but most of all Humphrey Bogart. If asked he probably could not tell you why, but his favorite movies "Casablanca", "The Maltese Falcon", and "Key Largo" all had something. A character, a good yet flawed man who had done some flawed things finding inner strength in a time of crisis and through some heroic action finds redemption, REDEMPTION. Delmore's most recent acquisition was "To Have And Have Not" with Lauren Bacall. He had seen it marked down to $3.95 in the cheap movie section at Kmart. When Delmore handed the tape to young blonde cashier, she was unable to get it to scan. She punched several numbers on her cash drawer key pad and hit "ENTER". The cash drawer buzzed. With a heavy sigh, she threw a switch and a large numbered light above her head began to blink. Delmore started tapping his fingers on the counter. He closed his eyes. He found incompetence frustrating. The price tag read, "To Have And Have Not $3.95" It was clear to Delmore how much the tape cost. People had grown so dependent on technology, that this girl could not tell him the clearly marked price of the cassette. The fat supervisor arrived to help the cashier. Delmore was not encouraged. He began to fidget with his large strangely shaped key ring. The ring only held two keys, both were to his red 1989 Chevy S-10 pickup. The ring also held a small hard plastic box 1"x2"x3" with a small funnel on the top. Delmore rubbed the box ferociously and transferred it from one hand to the other. "I like your key ring" came a voice from behind Delmore. It was a large man with a lean muscular face and pale blue eyes. "It holds two 22 caliber gas propelled bullets, does it not." The blonde cashier's eyes exploded in size. "I've always wanted one" the stranger said in a heavy voice thick with an accent.

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The cashier made quick work of Delmore's purchase. He paid the young blonde, whose hands shook as she gave him change. Delmore smiled at the stranger and walked toward his truck. He did not make it to his truck, before the stranger ran up to him. Delmore had placed the accent, so he was not surprised to learn the man was Russian. The Russian, Petrov Redman, was interested in where Delmore got the key ring. The two started talking about Russia or rather the old Soviet Union vs. the United States. Both men were shocked to learn that a short time ago they both held similar jobs, one for which the key ring was not standard issue. They talked, walking to the Elk Street Bar and Grill which was across the street from Kmart. They talked about the good old days when enemies were clear and the world was on the brink of annihilation. They ate greasy pizza and drank cold beer. They aggrandized their positions in the old order. You would have thought them old war buddies who had fought the good fight against a common foe. In the end it was who they were. By the end of the night, their stories and importance they held in those stories grew even larger. They called each other "Napoleon" and "Ilyia", after two spies from an old TV show. At two A.M., leaning drunk on his S-10 pickup Delmore removed an envelope from his pocket. He opened the envelope and jammed the letter back into his pocket. The envelope he flattened and drew a map to his cabin. He was too drunk to look up from the hood of the truck, as he handed his new "old" friend the map. When his friend left, Delmore took the letter from his pocket. He hadn't read it since he picked it out of his PO Box. He did not read it now. He dropped it to the ground. He didn't need to read it. He had written it. She had sent another one back, unopened. He knew where she lived and had thought about driving over. He could just tell her he wanted to say, "I'm sorry". No he couldn't JUST tell her. He couldn't JUST look in those eyes, the blue dancing eyes he loved so much. As painful as a returned letter was it would be nothing compared to face to face rejection. There was more. What if she had remarried? Delmore feared the answer to this question.

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Some nights the only way he could sleep was to imagine her one day at his cabin's door. It would take a lot to bring her there, a crisis. Something had happened and only he could help. It might take a lot, perhaps cost him his life, but in the end REDEMPTION! He kicked the letter on the ground he had already forgotten what he did with the envelope. He had forgotten about the map and it would be a week before his friend used it. "Bang" reverberated through the small cabin, as the branch slapped the window. The wind had picked up outside and the branch was no longer content to scrub. "BANG" the branch hit the window a second time. Mother Nature, exercised her womanly wrath. She had grown angry with her vain attempt to clean the window. "SMASH" the window exploded inward sending shards of glass through out the small cabin. The branch swung in through the window frame and out again. The windows absence allowed wind to flood the room. Beer bottles toppled. Papers scattered. Pictures flew. Petrov fell forward. The gun dropped from Delmore's hand. The cards lifted from the table and danced their way to the floor. The ace of clubs did an impressive somersault. The king of hearts did a quick pirouette, first showing his face and then his red diamond back, as he spun through the air. The same king had given Delmore a problem the morning of September 13th. The king had sat on the bottom of a large row of cards. Solitaire was not Delmore's favorite game. He needed it that morning. Something to keep his mind occupied. Delmore had become depressed. He blamed all the right people, but it didn't help. He tried to take his grandkids hunting, but he knew it was a fantasy. He briefly considered suicide. He held his Smith and Wesson in his hand. He knew he could not do it. A man does not do such things. "Be a man", "Be a man". It was his childhood mantra, "Be a man". A man would never kill himself. Bogart would not, certainly John Wayne would not even consider such things. Even in The Shootist, John Wayne as a retired gunfighter with cancer. He is in pain, facing a painful death. John Wayne never gave it a thought. Delmore felt dirty for thinking about it. "Be a man". He sat the Smith and Wesson on the table.

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Delmore grabbed the cards and now faced the king. He sat there at the bottom of a line of cards, immovable and protecting six vital cards. Delmore was at his end when the knock came on the cabin door. The knock shocked Delmore Blain. Maybe it was her. Maybe she needed him. He flung the door open. Petrov Redman stood in the door with a very cold, very greasy pizza , a 12 pack of Budweiser and 2 liters of Absolut Vodka. Delmore was thrilled to see Petrov. It may not have been her, but it was deliverance from his mind. He rushed his friend to the table. They ate very cold, very greasy pizza and drank warm beer. They laughed. Delmore's day had changed direction, perhaps his life. He made Petrov a gift of the key ring he so admired. (After all Delmore could get another for less than 100 bucks). Petrov spoke of broken marriages and children unseen. Delmore redirected the sadness with humor. They laughed. They drank. They laughed again. Finally Delmore asked "How the hell did you find me, anyway?" He half expected aerial reconnaissance photos. Petrov handed Delmore the envelope. Delmore Blain recognized the envelope while it was still in Petrov's hand. It was the one "she" sent back, unopened. For the second time today Delmore's mood changed. Delmore's life changed. He felt life drain from him. A bullet to the heart would have just been a physical manifestation of this life drain. Delmore tried to shrug off the shroud that wrapped him. He made a case for the Jew scientist Carl Sagen, for being a Soviet agent. Petrov laughed, thinking it a joke. Delmore insisted and then accused Petrov of lying. The two sat in silence for more than an hour, staring at each other. They looked in each other's eyes. There was a moment, an agreement reached without a word. Both were strong men of strongly held beliefs. Both men knew of what they were and were not capable. Delmore picked up the Smith and Wesson. Petrov held his new key ring. They both had been staring at death's door for months. Unable to open the door for themselves, they helped each other through. Six months and three days later, a wind stampeding through the cabin would push him and Delmore Blain would fall to floor. Outside the rain stopped. Mother Nature had moved on. She was a busy woman and there were other places to clean.

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