1st Place – July 2019

If It Floats

by Alice Marion

“What’s that smell?” Lou asked as she waltzed into the kitchen.
“What smell?” Still groggy, I took a large gulp of coffee.
“Cripes Bill, can’t you smell it?” She pinched her nose. “It’s making my eyes water.”
I shook my head and took a bite out of my bagel smothered in cream cheese.
Lou walked from the stove, past the washer, and stood by the bathroom door. “It’s coming from over here.”
“Don’t tell me the septic system is backed up again.” I sighed. We’d just had it pumped four months ago. As I thought about it, the rain this spring had been relentless. “All this rain.”
She walked back to our gas stove and sniffed. “Maybe we have a gas leak. Don’t they infuse methanethiol in the natural gas to give it an odor?”
“Yup. Why don’t you call a repair service to check it out?” I had another big fishing trip planned today and the last thing I wanted was to be stuck home messing with the stove.
Lou rolled her eyes. “I guess, but I have my quilting group at eleven. Couldn’t you stay home today to handle a household emergency?”
I wasn’t about to give up my fishing trip. The lake had turned over two days ago, and the salmon and trout were biting like crazy. I’d landed an eight-pound Laker yesterday and would win the kitty if my luck held. Fifteen guys had thrown in a ten-spot. That would get me the new rod and reel I’d been eying at Cabela’s. “What emergency? A little smell never hurt anyone.”
“I better not have to hang around all day waiting for the service guy,” Lou said.
I tried to be helpful. “Why don’t you have the ‘stitch and bitch’ club meet here?”
Lou glared at me. “Don’t call them that! It isn’t funny. With that smell in the house? Besides, I’m don’t feel like cleaning and baking cookies. It’s not as simple as calling everyone to meet here instead of at Lois’s.”
“Why do you worry so much about a clean house? You’ve seen hers. With seven kids, it looks like it’s inhabited by a parade of pachyderms.”
Lou scowled. “Forget it. I’ll handle it myself!”
I knew I should have been willing to help. But I rationalized. Lou knew when she married me that fishing was a priority. She’d get over it. She always did.
I’d packed my lunch the night before, so I grabbed my insulated bag and loaded up five sandwiches, chips, and cookies, all would be gone by ten o’clock. Fishing’s a hungry sport. I reached for the coffee pot to fill my thermos when Lou stepped in front of me.
She wasn’t happy. “I get the next cup.”
I let her fill her cup. “I don’t need a full thermos anyways. I can drink water.”
“Damn right you can!”
***
When I launched my boat, I noticed the lake level was up another inch. I’d spotted a Canada goose nest the day before and moved it to higher ground. Junior had also mentioned seeing flooded nests the previous day, so I cruised over to check on my soon-to-be goslings. All was well. The momma honker chased the boat. I didn’t know what she thought she’d do if she caught it.
I had a fabulous day, beat my record, and won the kitty.
When I pulled into the yard, Lou was standing at the front door…not smiling. I wasn’t sure if I should unhitch the boat and leave for the night, turn around and go back fishing, or face the music. I opted for the music. Dinner was ready. Why waste it? I kissed her cheek, gave her my best smile, and asked, “Well, what did the repair guy find?”
She didn’t return the kiss or the smile. “Nothing. when he finally arrived about thirty minutes ago!”
“There’s nothing wrong with the stove?”
“Nope.” She stormed into the house. “And the damn place still smells like rotten eggs.”
I followed. After a day of fresh air, my nose picked up the scent. “You’re right.” I threw my empty lunch bag on the top of the washer, my favorite disposal site, then began sniffing the kitchen. As I moved toward the bathroom hallway, the odor increased.
“I’ll call the honey wagon service and see if they can pump out the septic tank tomorrow,” I said. “I’ll make sure they know it’s a priority.”
Lou didn’t respond.
The appointment was set for between eight and ten in the morning.
“You don’t have to be here. I’ll stay. Besides, Harry knows where the tank cover is.”
“Good because I’ve got to shop for groceries,” was all Lou said.
Harry joined me when he finished. “Your tank wasn’t full, but I pumped it anyways. With all the rain we’ve been having, plus the forecast for more, I figured it would be a good precautionary measure. I didn’t bill you the full amount. I’m headed to your neighbor’s too. One trip to the poop field! No reason to charge the full amount. You can share the trip fee.”
Harry was a champ. “Thanks. Why the stink if the tank wasn’t backed up?”
“No idea.”
I went back into the kitchen after Harry left. Just as I did, Junior strolled in. He swiveled his head around and sniffed. “What in God’s name is that smell?”
“We know it’s not the stove. And it’s not the septic system. I can’t for the life of me figure out what it is.”
Junior had moved back home after his divorce while he waited for an apartment to free up. He threw his jacket onto the washer. “Whatever it is, it’s bad!”
As he stood by the appliance, I had an idea. “Maybe your mother left wet clothes in the tub and they went sour.”
Junior leaned over and opened the front-loading machine. “Empty, but it smells.”
I joined him. “Yup. The odor’s coming from here.” I grabbed my phone and called Sears Repair. “My damn washer has something wrong with it. It smells like rotten eggs!”
“One moment, Sir. I’ll see if we have a rep in your area.” I waited a couple of minutes before she returned. “You’re in luck. I have a guy nearby who can be over in an hour.”
“I’ll be waiting with baited breath.” Being an angler, I loved that line. She didn’t laugh.
Junior and I had coffee and doughnuts while we hung around for Sears. Junior was one of the fifteen guys in our fishing pool. He owned a boat, the only thing his ex-wife didn’t argue over during their settlement. She got the dog and everything else. She said she’d had enough fishing for a lifetime. Junior said it didn’t matter. The dog couldn’t swim anyways.
A van pulled into the driveway beside my Bass Tracker. “Sears is here.”
“And here’s Mom.” Junior winked.
Lou ran in ahead of the guy and cleared the top of the washer of our lunch bags, shirts, jackets, and a pile of fishing paraphernalia. “There, now at least he can find the washer!”
Without any fanfare, the guy from Sears carried in tool bag and began his inspection. He opened the door, stepped back and looked at Lou.
“Don’t look at me! I didn’t wash any eggs lately.”
He laughed and began to pull the washer away from the wall. A rustle and a plop stopped him in his tracks. When he peeked behind the washer, he gagged, reached down and retrieved a plastic Walmart bag dripping with a greenish-black viscous liquid. “Here’s the culprit.”
I looked at Lou. She looked at me. Then we both looked at Junior. His face was on fire.
“Shit!” was all he said.
“Shit is right!” Lou put her face in his. “What’s in the damn bag? Last year’s turkey?”
Junior smiled. “Not exactly. It was supposed to be this year’s goose.”
“What?” Lou and I said in unison.
The Sears rep opened the bag. “It’s a big white egg.” He gagged again.
“It’s a goose egg. I netted it a few days ago while fishing. I meant to clean it out—save the shell, but I forgot,” Junior said. “It was cold to the touched, or else I’d have tried to hatch it.”
Lou grabbed another bag from the closet, double bagged the rotten egg, and put it outside in the trash barrel. When she returned to the kitchen, she stood in front of Junior. “What did I tell you about eggs?”
He stared back wearing a dumb look.
“If it floats, it’s rotten you idiot.” She emphasized idiot.
The Sears rep and I looked at each other and shrugged. Then he said, “I won’t charge you for the call. I was less than a mile away, and I’m not sure how to categorize it anyways.”
Lou piped up. “How about the $500 mystery of what’s that smell?”

Writers’ workshop and writing group