A Temporary Flooding in the Town of Sanford
Percy Smith stands in line at Sanford Bus Station, impatiently rifling through a wad of receipts, tickets and dollar bills.
Sanford is a small town where folks routinely make trips to the Sanford Deli to buy a pound of turkey, a pound of ham and a muffin.
On line at the deli, men and women of Sanford catch up with one another: “What’s new?” “Same old!”
The people of Sanford routinely eat half of their muffin during the car ride from the Sanford Deli to the Sanford Post Office.
On line at the post office, men and women of Sanford bond over shared experiences: “What’s up?” “Same as ever!” “Good Corn Muffins today, huh?” “That’s the truth.”
At the post office counter, Sanford Post Office employees inquire of their Sanfordette civilian counterparts: “How’s it going?” “Different day, same story, mailing a letter to my sister today.” “Oh, and how is she doing?” “Seems to be holding up.” “Can’t hope for better than that.” “Nope.”
The town population seemed to reach equilibrium on September 25th, 1987. Since then, nobody was born without somebody else dying that day or within a couple of days. The population of Sanford from September 25th, 1987 to present is 3,210. The mayor of Sanford was elected in 1985 and has been re-elected 12 times, the closest margin of victory being seventeen percent. The largest margin of victory for the current mayor is nineteen percent. Sanford’s voting commission estimates a one percent margin of error in the vote tallying.
Penny Nickeldimer is the name of Percy Smith’s imaginary roommate. Percy dropped out of SCC mid-Spring semester last year. It was at that time, Percy decided to sell property. Percy and Penny hung a shingle by the door to their apartment and Percy scrawled “Unreal Estates!” using white chalk.
The Sanford High School graduation rate has stayed consistent at 88 percent, with 5 percent of the students leaving Sanford to pursue college degrees. Luckily for Sanford statisticians and census-takers, Sanford Community College, which is roughly the same size of Sanford High, manages to coax some of its out of town students to become residents each year. Roughly five percent of its students choose to move to Sanford each year, avoiding the lengthy commute from the neighboring West Sanford.
Every once in a while for a while now, Jarrod Danceyworth swings by Unreal Estates! on Sunday morning before running his errands. When he reaches Sanford Deli, about an hour later, he can’t help but order himself a “Danceywhistle,” tall, no foam. He usually precedes his order with “Good morning, dear elf,” regardless of which counterperson is attending to him. The co-owner Pamela no longer works weekends for this reason. Pamela is five feet tall.
A Danceywhistle is a cappuccino sprinkled with Elf Essence. Elf Essence is mixture of cinnamon and nutmeg. Monday through Friday, Jarrod orders a 16oz. cup of ‘house brew’ with 2 creams and 3 sugars on his way to work at Conway Construction.
Larry Buddington, mayor of Sanford, visited Percy at Unreal Estates! for a “consultation” just last month. Three weeks ago, Mayor Buddington announced to the press that he planned to build a permanent CircleSwingSwung in the center of Sanford Town Square, where the statue of Buford Sanford now stands.
Larry answered questions about this a day later while eating at the counter of Sanford Family Restaurant: “What’s a CircleSwingSwung, Larry?” “Oh, you’ve seen them before.” “Where, Larry?” “Carnivals, Amusement Parks, and so on. They call them Ferris wheels.”
Nobody at SFR shared Larry’s open enthusiasm for the project and sensing a public backlash, Larry announced to the press that he had suffered some recent ‘food poisoning’ and was ‘postponing Project CircleSwingSwung indefinitely.’ Larry has been spotted at Unreal Estates! twice in the past week.
Scarlet Madigan, widowed mother of five and owner of SFR, didn’t openly express enthusiasm for Larry’s CircleSwingSwung, but shared in it. Sanford Family Restaurant has served Sanford’s hungry, and an especially loyal, hungry group of regulars since 1992. Her oldest child is 21. Her youngest is 5 years old. Her husband left Sanford two years ago with his fellow Reservists, including Jarrod Danceyworth. She was the first client of Percy’s at Unreal Estates!.
That conversation between Scarlet and Percy started at about 10:30 in the morning:
“Yeah. Come on in.”
“Sure. Take a seat.”
“Thanks. I couldn’t sit in the house anymore. Needed out of the house. They started showing footage from over there. And- ”
“You don’t need to explain, Scarlet.”
Scarlet wiped her eye with a Kleenex from her purse and then blew her nose in it.
“So when did you get into selling property? I saw the sign and had to stop in and ask.”
“Last week, I guess. I’ll tell you the truth—you’re my first client to pop in.”
Percy poured himself a cup of coffee, retied his bathrobe and suggested they sit out on the back deck.
“Kay, Perse. You wanna show me pictures of what you’re selling or what?”
“Can’t yet. I don’t have that many pictures. Nothing developed on most of it anyway. It’s all just kind of blank property. Waiting for the right folks to come along.”
“Well yes and no.” She frowned at him, dipping her green tea bag. “You see, anybody could come along and develop it. There’s no ‘right folks’ but then again, I suppose there are more right folks than I count. But there aren’t any here in Sanford so far.”
“What? Huh? Then why are you selling it here?”
“I live here. There must be at least a couple more like me.”
“What do they go for?”
“It’s on a sliding scale. But I’d like to get at least twenty five bucks for a small plot.”
“Twenty five bucks?! What the hell kind of property-“
Percy sipped his coffee then quickly got up from the table. Scarlet continued, “-I mean it would have to be the size of an ant hill to sell for twenty five, I mean smaller than an ant hill-“
Percy ran through his small apartment and grabbed a few pieces of paper from behind magnets on the refrigerator.
“-I mean, really, twenty five bucks, he must be wasting my-“
Percy sat back down, sipped his coffee and handed Scarlet the pages.
“What?! Percy, these are the drawings from your fridge. Is this a joke Percy? Is it? What’s the deal?”
It’s an equal distance from Sanford to any of its state borders. The horizon shares the same features regardless of whether someone is looking Northeast or Southwest or in between.
There are three types of cats in Sanford: Calico, Orange Tabby, and Siamese. With one exception, there are two breeds of dogs in Sanford: Golden Retriever and Bassett Hound. So, there are only six possible ways a dog chasing a cat can appear in Sanford. With the exception of the owners, most don’t turn to look.
Percy didn’t see Scarlet for about a month after she first stopped in. Since her first visit, Percy had seen two other clients. One was his new friend and neighbor Daniel Wedbetter. Daniel had recently taken up residence in the apartment below Percy’s after leaving the home he’d shared with his wife. Curiosity had gotten the better of Daniel. That conversation between Daniel and Percy lasted 4 hours.
It started like this:
“Gettin’ ready for work?”
“Nope. I just like to dress up to watch the People’s Court. It makes me feel that my judgments are more official and likely to be echoed by Judge Milian — which is the main reason I watch.”
“What’s Unreal Estate?”
“This is. You’re here. This is it. Who are you?”
“Your neighbor from downstairs.”
Then an hour later it went like this:
“Now see here, where I’ve drawn in a swingset-“
“Hold on. Can’t you think of a better name for it than that?”
“Hmm.” Percy nodded approval as Dan erased the word swingset and wrote in ‘chainwhipper.’
“How’s that? Chainwhipper.”
“Sounds scary. I think it would be scary for the mermaids and a bad influence for the leprechauns to call it that.”
“Okay, well how about Swing-“
“You don’t want these leprechauns to get out of control, do you? I’m questioning whether the leprechauns are a good idea. They’re very impressionable.”
“Okay. Okay. Chainwhipsicle. Moving on, I don’t want to have any cement roads.”
“What do you want?”
“I want mine and the feet of my guests to slide along the ground like a liquid.”
“You could have magnetic plates in the ground to make people hover along it-“
“No, please, too technical, I just want the ground to be flexible and slick enough to slide things along. Perhaps using magic.”
“I’m just going to write that down and we’ll see what we can come up with.”
Then two hours later, it concluded like this:
“Okay, Percy. How much do I owe for this setup?”
“Well, let’s just say that the double plot is fifty bucks and there is a ten dollar an hour consulting fee, so ninety bucks.”
“That’s it? Here take two hundred. I’d rather give it to you than my wife.”
Percy has about two dozen regular clients now. Many are secretive about the nature of their Unreal Estates! purchases. But two weeks ago, Joe Smith, an installer for Sanford Cable Services got ejected from a Sanford Public House for drunkenly insisting that his winged camels would outrace any car in the parking lot. Five minutes later, Jarrod was ejected from Sanford Public House for insisting that his elf-driven chariots would beat “unruly, untrained camels” any day. The two split a cab home.
After several more consultations at Unreal Estates!, Scarlet Madigan is taking a drafting class at Sanford Community College. For the past six weeks, Scarlet has been seen sketching every mid-morning in Sanford Town Square. The early sketches were simple drawings of Sanford Memorial. However, two weeks ago she began passionately working on another, more elaborate drawing. More and more frequently Scarlet draws into the late afternoon, forgetting to pick up her youngest daughter and son from Sanford Elementary. One line within the drawing measures the height of the statue at one thousand feet. The base of the statue is a stone carved into which are hundreds of images of various size. A few of the larger images: A young couple holding hands for the first time at the West Sanford Drive-In, a man dancing next to his wife’s hospital bed, a uniformed soldier holding his six-year-old son in his arms for the last time.
A week ago, Scarlet was an hour late picking up her children. After receiving a stern phone call from Principal Rodecker, Scarlet ran to her car, threw her sketchbook in the backseat and pulled away. On the drive home, Scarlet’s daughter surprised Scarlet with her recently-improved literacy.
“Beh-eh-el Maa-deh-gen,” Scarlet’s daughter sounded. “That’s daddy’s name, right Mom?”
Scarlet looked into the rearview. “Damn right, sweetie.”
Against the advice of his doctor at the Sanford branch of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Jarrod Danceyworth took himself off Zoloft last week. To the further dismay of Dr. Rufus Bumper, these were Jarrod’s final words on the matter: “The elves won’t listen to me if I’m dependent on pills, Doc,” which he followed with, “Or should I say dwarf?” and a wink, "I noticed your disproportionately large hands."
Last Tuesday, the false rumor circulated Sanford that Daniel Wedbetter and Martha Wedbetter had reconciled. The rumor was started by the ticket taker at the Sanford Movie Theater. In fact, Daniel got out of his rented convertible with West Sanford’s Darcy Grimes whom he had met at the monthly Sanford swap meet. The twosome walked out of the film early headed for Sanford Lookout with a bottle of Cabernet in tow.
Percy woke up at seven this morning with the goal of leaving Sanford for awhile. He has already pasted a note on his shingle indicating that the Unreal Estates! are sold out until further notice. He plans to reopen after some time abroad, perhaps a love affair, he doesn’t quite know. His estate planning has run stale, signaled by a recent first consultation where he accidentally duplicated another client’s blueprint. “The well has run dry,” he fears. His bus ticket has him leaving at noon, heading west. There are people in Sanford pulling for Percy, hoping he’ll return. Many have elaborate drawings and colorful diagrams magnetted to their fridges. Percy mailed all the Unreal Estate plans to their owners for safekeeping — in case his trip turns out to be permanent.
Penny and Percy argued the issue extensively over coffee. The argument ended badly for their relationship:
“Need I remind you again that you came up short just once. You had one bad day,” said Penny.
“It’s not just about Barnaby Arnold’s estate plan,” said Percy. “I can’t shake this feeling. Like I’m reaching around in the dark for a switch that isn’t there. I mean, look at you, Penny. You deserve better. You don’t even change your clothes anymore. You just wear the same thing as me, everyday. I mean, when was the last time you spoke with your true British accent? Yesterday, I didn’t even remember to invite you to watch People’s Court.”
“You mean, today’s Wednesday? What happened in the Woodysee Case?!?” Penny dropped his mug and then suddenly it was in his hand again. Percy caught a glimpse of his reflection in his coffee spoon and shook his head.
“Brett Woodysee got the dog-“ started Percy.
“No! That wasn’t even his dog. Bella was Donna Woodysee’s dog!” Penny’s fists were clenched. “If only I could’ve been there, perhaps Judge Milian would have-“
“See, Penny. I can’t keep going like this. I’ll start letting everyone down,” Percy sipped his coffee, which was cold. He got up and walked across the kitchen to find an empty pot and the burner left on. He flicked off the red button, and then put the pot in the sink to cool. It hissed as Percy ran the faucet over it.
“Penny, I don’t know what else to do but go. You can come. Come with-“
“I’m staying. I don’t travel. Never have. You know that,” Penny said.
After a pause, Percy replied “You’re right. I do.”
Percy stands in line at the Sanford Bus Station. There are six Sandfordettes in front of him and three behind. Three in front of Percy stands Jennifer Lucilles, a tall brunette hunched over slightly because she is holding her tabby, Malice, in her arms. Jennifer is trying to give Malice as much time out of her cat-case as possible before the long bus ride to Des Moines. Approaching is Beth Crepesmith with her unleashed Chihuahua, Divine Crepesmith. Beth is wearing her headphones and listening to track one of “Magical Mystery Tour.”
Percy takes out his copy of the Sanford Bus Line Timetable, checks his watch and looks at the closed bus door. It’s a hot day today in Sanford and Percy is beginning to sweat. “Why this is the only day the bus is late,” he wonders. He digs into his pockets for change and finds two quarters and a wad of receipts, tickets and one dollar bills.
Percy finds a note from Penny. It brings him momentary comfort. “My friend Yen Deutschmark is coming to stay and keep me company while you’re gone. Come back soon. Yen’s a slob.”
“Waiting to take you awaaay,” hums Beth. Divine’s ears perk up. Malice begins to squirm. Jennifer tries to hold on tighter. Divine’s growl sounds like a remote controlled car and Divine takes off towards Jennifer as quickly. “Take you todaaay,” hums Beth. Malice scratches her way out of Jennifer’s arms and hits the pavement running. Divine sprints after her.
Heads turn. Not all those in line look at first, but eventually almost all. All but Percy, his gaze fixed on the horizon.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED