NPR logo His Floor

His Floor

Wood joists.

For Round 7 of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that have a character come to town and someone leave town.

Her nose drained down her lip, tried to freeze there, but dropped to a button on her coat. Winter's gravity pulled everything toward the sidewalk. She imagined stopping there, but the wind pushed her legs further down the street. Rusty pulled up in his truck, yanked his coat and briefcase toward him, and pled with her to accept the offer. This time, after three days of declining with soft smiles, she took it and climbed slowly into the warm cab.

He'd been watching her for weeks. He knew her patterns and paths, and could set his watch by her location on the street. He then did what he should have done before winter enveloped Laramie, and offered her the space. She stared out the cracked windshield of the blue Ford and thought about his offer.

He had a house on Grand, had rehabbed the entire thing and, being single and in a college town, split it into two apartments. He lived in one and rented the other to grad students. But he never properly finished the basement to create a third unit suitable to rent. She could stay there if she wanted, free of charge. Burdette wasn't afraid of Rusty, and never needed to look closely at him to judge his character. In 83 years, she'd heard enough voices to trust through tone.

The basement was dark, but heavily insulated and dry. He'd already moved a spare single frame and mattress into the corner with an unfinished nightstand next to it. He was in the process of stripping and re-staining it, and that told her he was sorry he didn't have much more in the way of furniture. The tenants upstairs might loan her a spare chair or a radio. He said he would check with them, and she nodded and ran her hand under her eyes. Then she hugged him a bit and he hugged her back, warmly and without regard for the smell in her hair and clothes.

She came and went freely for the winter, awakened each morning straining her eyes to see the floor joists above her. The comforting cut wood suspended across the ceiling of the room, her strong and oak-scented shelter. Rusty brought her a grey porcelain mug full of coffee each morning before he left for work, and on finishing it, she departed for the 12th Street Mission Kitchen. No matter the depth of the snow, the wind's force or the pain in her bones, Burdette spent every day walking. Her legs went for loops of blocks, stopping in the Kitchen twice a day and always back to Rusty's at dusk, falling asleep under the oak joists. Her ceiling was his floor.

In April, as the swell of snow slipped to rain and tulips, he sat down with the grey mug and touched her hand. He was quiet while she drank her coffee and looked up at the joists. Her eyes dropped and caught his, reddened. He took off his glasses and spoke softly.

He'd been transferred to Cheyenne. More money and somewhere he'd always wanted to live. His renters upstairs had graduated and were moving to Omaha. The house was sold to a man, he explained, moving to Laramie with a family — two children and his pregnant wife. They needed a big house, so Rusty had sold it to them. He kissed her forehead and went to his truck.

Burdette drank her coffee in silence, and imagined the feeling of running her hand along that ceiling. She put on her coat and she walked.