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vol vi, issue 2 < ToC
Scorekeeper
by
Bob Ritchie
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I’ve Been ToldWaking to
of Fourth StreetCry Stop
Scorekeeper
by
Bob Ritchie
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I’ve Been Told
of Fourth Street




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Waking to
Cry Stop
Scorekeeper
by
Bob Ritchie
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I’ve Been Told Waking to
of Fourth Street Cry Stop
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I’ve Been Told
of Fourth Street




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Waking to
Cry Stop
Scorekeeper
 by Bob Ritchie
Scorekeeper
 by Bob Ritchie
Water spattered down on her, stuttering from holes in the showerhead near-closed by years of accumulated calcium deposits. A hyphen of black inched up the tiles in front of her. Though without her glasses, Hannah knew that it must be an ant: They always invaded the shower and the kitchen when it was the rainy season in Puerto Rico. She wouldn’t have it. She leaned through the spray, thumb extended, and crushed the intruder, wincing at the pain in her gut that seemed to have been caused by her forward lean.

“Most uncool.”

The voice rode the shards of water sputtering through one of the mostly obstructed holes.

“Excuse me?” All the dignity she could muster while naked and wearing a raggedy, blue shower cap. The hand with the thumb that had just crushed the ant went to her genitals; she didn’t realize that the tiny body had not yet been washed off, and gravity and flowing water transferred it from thumb to pubic hair. Her free arm crossed her breasts, hand clutching her armpit, her response as automatic as turning towards a car crash. Nervous, she said, “Who’s there?” She put heels to tile and forced her demeanor from apprehensive to assured. “God?”

A man of indeterminant age squeezed out of the showerhead and slid down the arc of water. When his heels hit the shower’s tile floor, he bounced up, doing a perfect front flip over the high bar holding the shower curtain. He landed with a slight grunt on the closed toilet seat.

“That’s a 10,” he said, a satisfied smile on his face.

Beto had complained when she had hung the clear shower curtain in their bathroom. “But anyone can see me taking my shower,” he had said.

“Keep the bathroom door closed,” she had replied.

Now she thought maybe he had been right, but how could she have predicted the arrival of a small man spritzing from the showerhead? Though it had been a 10, she admitted.

Hannah uncrossed her arms and swiveled on planted heel to face the man more completely. The still spraying water cascaded down the left side of her face, an annoyance, so she twisted the faucet closed.

Beto had already left for work, taking Cristina with him to drop her off at pre-school, which was on the way to the bakery that Beto was set to inherit from his mother, Miriam.

The silence of the empty house pushed through the closed bathroom door.

“No,” said the man, ripping through the accumulation of heavy quiet to answer Hannah’s question.

Hannah had already noted that he was small, not quite little person–sized, but if he was over 5’2”, she would eat her shower cap.

With one hand, Hannah flicked the shower curtain to the right. At the same time, she reached her other hand out to the towel hanging from the bracket between toilet and shower. Wrapping the towel around her wet and naked body, she said, “You’re very short.”

“Not usually the first thing that I hear when I make a home visit.”

She tucked the corner of the towel into the edge that passed under her arm, not bothering to check whether it would stay in place. It will, she decided, the affirmative already more attention than she really would have paid to the issue if a small man weren’t perched on the toilet seat, eating, she noted, a string of black licorice.

Noting her noting, he pulled another twisted string from the breast pocket of his suit and offered it to her, “Want some?”

She shook her head and looked pointedly at her arm where a watch would be if she wore a watch in the shower. If she wore a watch.

“Sure. To business.” The man removed a clipboard from a desk drawer and ran his finger down it; the licorice still clutched in his hand scraped the clipboard’s surface. He put the sweet down next to him on the seat. His sliding finger stopped, tapped once. He said, “If it weren’t for all the mosquitoes, we would have been having this meeting a few weeks ago.” He folded the clipboard in ten and tossed it onto the otherwise empty desktop. “It’s their bites, you see. Individually, each bite doesn’t amount to much, but after a couple of decades, the number of points removed from your total score adds up.” He reached out to an adding machine. Tap click tap click, grinding gears. After studying the emitted paper for a moment, he leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers under his chin. “At your current rate, you’ll have reached the max allowable lifetime score in two days. The ant would have put you over if it hadn’t been for the cat scratches that stray gave you last June. And the mosquitoes. You have to admit, they’re one of the benefits of living on a tropical island, the mosquitoes.” His eyes drifted down from the 10-foot ceiling. It was crossed by heavy beams that looked like nothing Hannah had ever seen in Puerto Rico. She imagined the ceiling to be in a Bavarian castle. His eyes lit on hers. “You’ll probably want to start seeing to things, make arrangements for your continued absence, that is.”

She sat on the toilet seat “What’s your name, again?” She tweezed the abandoned bit of licorice on the seat between thumb and forefinger and dropped it in the trash can.

“Sam, but my colleagues call me ‘Scorekeeper.’”

“Sam the Scorekeeper?”

“Absent the definite article, but, yes.”

Hannah stood and turned to the mirror; still steamed up from her shower, it displayed clouded confusion. She took up the washcloth that lay draped on the edge of the sink and cleared the condensation from the center of the mirror. She couldn’t wipe away the confusion.

Her unwrinkled—attractive even, in a middle American healthy kind of way—face stared out, innocent and dumb. Not that she was a stupid woman. She had reared Cristina and—to some degree, Beto, her husband—to be responsible and careful. A trick, since Miriam had given him that particular prince-of-the-house upbringing that was still considered normal for the oldest male child of a Puerto Rican family. But faced with Sam Scorekeeper’s news that little remained of the life that she had imagined stretching on into an unknowable but gold-limned future, she allowed herself a moment of stupidity, letting slip, “Two days?”

“Remember the mouse, rat, and cockroach invasion after the heavy rains back in January of ’02?”

She watched the face in the mirror lift and fall as the head it fronted nodded once. She smoothed down an escaping eyebrow.

“I get that you don’t want a bunch of vermin overrunning the house, especially not with an infant child crawling about, but them’s the rules. If you had followed your husband’s advice and called an exterminator . . .” Sam mimed holding a phone with a silver handset.

Hannah objected, “I did call.”

Consternation compressed his features. He spun on his chair and removed a fat file from the open drawer of the file cabinet, shuffled through the papers as fireworks arced out of and exploded over the drawer. “Now that is a mistake that—”

“Well, I called. He couldn’t come for two days. So I had Beto buy me some poison and some glue traps at The Home Depot.”

Sam dropped the file on the desk. It flaplanded and popped out of existence at the same time that he said, “Ah, well.” A last sparkler sparkled and darkened.

Hannah pointed at the place the file should have been. She said, “Shouldn’t you put it back in the file cabinet?”

Sam ticked his head to the side, looking a question, and then realized. “No,” he said, “it was supposed to be deposited into my heaven-drive, but I kept putting it off. I can be the most dreadful procrastinator. It’s the little things that catch me up. You know how it is.”

Hannah glanced over at the unputaway stack of soap bars on the bath cart and said, “Yes, the little things.” An ant cruised across the tiles and began a slow climb up the stack. She reached out to smash it and then stopped herself. “What if I don’t kill anything ever again?”

Sam, nodding, said, “Sure, we see that all the time. But it’s no good.”

“What do you mean?”

“Even standing there, refraining from crushing the ant, your gut flora is taking out intestinal boogeymen and your white cells are destroying some viruses that are trying to invade your bronchial system. Among other things.” Sam’s nodding changed to shaking. “Try not walking on grass. Death is all around.”

“But surely that’s not my fault, well, the grass, but viruses?” She wondered about the “other things.”

The licorice appeared again; Sam chomped a two-inch length. “Back in the so-called biblical times, we let that kind of ‘killing’ go. That’s why you had people living four and five hundred years at a crack. Noah was the straw that broke: He saved so many animals that he was up to 3,000 years. We changed the policy when he reached 950. Already the population explosion was exploding. Imagine what a 1,000-year lifespan would do to the planet.” Sam finished the licorice. “We had to go strictly black and white: You—which includes all that your body encompasses—are responsible for anything you kill, unwittingly or no—strict liability. And that includes any injury that results in the death of the organism within 24 hours of your having done whatever you did to cause the original injury.” His lips quirked up in a smile and he chuckled.

“What? I don’t see anything funny.” Hannah had once read that a frown isn’t indicated by the mouth but by the eyebrows. No way, her mouth was frowning so hard that its corners parenthesized her chin.

“I’m sorry. Nothing about you. I was thinking about ethical vegetarians and vegans who grow their own food: The shock; you have no idea.”

“Eating? That hardly—”

“Tricky, that. You don’t wield the sledgehammer that kills the cow. We got a statistician to make a table—an actuary from MetLife.”

“I can’t not eat, but still, if I start saving animals, like Noah. That’ll extend my life, right?”

Sam tapped his fingers on the desk. “It would.”

“I hear a ‘but.’”

Sam nodded in agreement, “But, your ovarian cancer has metastasized into your abdomen, colon, and bladder. And those cancer cells are some efficient little killing machines; they’re jacking up your score at a fierce rate. No, it’s days, not months.” He smiled apologetically. “You’d have to save several million animals to offset the points the cancer is accumulating. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but . . .”

Lifting the towel a fraction of an inch, Hannah flicked the just-remembered ant body from her pubic hair and nodded. “Just a sec,” she said.

Sam watched as she leaned over to pick up the heavy porcelain slab that covered the back of the toilet. The curiosity he wore splattered the wall next to the shower.

“That’s that, then,” said Hannah, carefully replacing the porcelain cover.