This is the result of an Open Prompts challenge that I issued on Monday. I like what I came up with, although the hardest part to incorporate was the length, i.e. cutting it down to this size. Here are the elements that were suggested:
– a red leaf clinging to a tree, trying not to fall (submitted by Anja)
-the title, The Silverware Man (submitted by Chris De Voss)
-a character named Bartleby “Bud” Hobdringer VII (submitted by Miles Rost)
-a length of 555 words (submitted by Catherine)
-lots of water (submitted by Amy at The Bumble Files)
The Silverware Man
After ringing the funereal doorbell for five minutes, the door was finally opened by an old man in a shabby bathrobe.
“I’m sorry to keep you waiting,” he said. “I’m temporarily without a butler. How can I help you?”
“I came about the job,” I said.
He took the newspaper from my hand. “Ah, the silverware man. Come in. We have a very extensive silver collection. We used to have a very large staff, but I am afraid we are suffering a personnel shortage currently.”
He didn’t interview me, just offered to show me around. “Great,” I said, sticking out my hand. “Your name’s Bud, right? I asked in town.”
He shot me a look of disdain. “My name is Bartley Hobdringer VII. Please address me as Mr. Hobdringer, or sir.”
“Yes . . . sir.”
Our footsteps echoed off the dark walls of the entranceway and the smell of mold was strong in the air. A single bulb dangled from a dust-covered chandelier. The house looked deserted.
Most of the silverware was kept in the basement, which I found to be flooded. After wading through hip-deep water, I managed to carry out the warped and moldy boxes and clean them up. By the end of the day, the silverware gleamed and my hands were black with tarnish. I set the table in the palatial dining room: four forks, two knives and two spoons and waited while Mr. Hobdringer sat down with a can of sardines and an apple and fastidiously picked out a fork.
“I’m currently without a cook,” he said, almost apologetically.
“If you’d like, I could—”
He cut me off. “No, your job is just the silverware. We must do things right.”
He did not dismiss me or invite me to join him and I continued to stand there awkwardly while he ate.
“You must consider me a fool to live like this,” he said after a while. “How far I have fallen from the days of my grandfather, when this house was full of life.”
“I know I am fighting the inevitable, but still, I feel like I must fight,” he continued, speaking out into the gloomy expanse of the room. “I cannot sell this house, but I cannot keep it going either. I’m like the last dying leaf of autumn, fighting to stay on the tree, fighting against every icy blast for just another moment of being attached to everything I’ve always known. I fear falling.”
Life soon became very relaxed. My job was only to wash and polish the silver and set it out for meals—a job that occupied half an hour at most. A week later, Mr. Hobdringer gave me a vase in place of my salary. When the antique shop owner in town heard where I had gotten it, he nodded knowingly and gave me a good price.
Two weeks later, Mr. Hodringer did not come down for breakfast. I finally went looking for him and found him in bed, his body already cold. His leaf had finally fallen. On the desk was a note to me.
Your service, although brief, was much appreciated. Please take the silverware as your final payment. It will repay you well for your efforts. Thank you for bringing a gleam of the past back into my life.
Bartleby Hobdringer VII