Stumped (Part 1)

stumped book cover

My gloves were soaked and I wasn’t. At least not like I wanted to be.

The sweat was pouring off of me like the drops on the outside of a tumbler of the good stuff. I leaned on the shovel to catch my breath, and when I wiped my arms with wet gloves I drew back a bloody smear from the fight that my elbow lost with a stray nail on the side of the house I was backed up against.

That’s right, toots. There’s a million stories in the naked Bibb, and this is just one of ’em.

I looked at the minefield of tree stumps in this 4×8 patch of grass I was working at this gig that the fancypants folks call the krakhaus. Not my first choice of gigs, but these days you take the work you can find. Even if that work is the end of a shovel.

Besides which, if the bosslady wants that whole orchard clear by fall, I’m gonna have to get real practiced at how to turn trees and bushes into former trees and bushes. This was just a warmup.

There are tools made for this line of work. Weed Wrenches or Pullerbears can make a quick job of a scrawny opponent. Heavy Yellow Equipment matches up well with the big stuff. But what I was dealing with was right in the middle. Stumps, and lots of them. And what I had to work with was a shovel and an ax. Oh, and Mr. Sledgehammer over there, because sometimes you bring a cannon to a gunfight.

A bigger mystery to me was this patch of concrete sitting beside the sidewalk.

I’d seen this kind of thing before in the Bibb. Maybe it was some forgotten son of a dry, abandoned stormwater line that none but the cats and river rats call home these days. Or was it capping something that someone didn’t want me to go unearthing? I knew was I wasn’t gonna figure it out without getting my hands a little dirtier.

So I chipped the sod out from under there. I learned years ago, concrete and skulls crack easier when there’s nothing behind ’em.

But here’s the kicker: When I turned all that concrete into rubble, it wasn’t hiding or protecting a thing. Nothing but dark, rick soil and a few hungover earthworms up under it. So what gives?

I told myself not to waste time thinking about that, while there’s still stumps to clear. And I turned my sharpened shovel edge back to the roots of the bastard shrubs that will chew up this house if I let ’em.

Damn, it’s hot, I thought as I wrenched another stump from soil. What I wouldn’t give for a rainshower. I looked at the house’s new roof, protecting it from the Big Man’s tears. I followed a valley down with my eyes. And that’s when it dawned on me: That concrete was right below the roof ridge.

It wasn’t protecting us from what was under the ground. It was protecting the ground from the thousand pounding fists of raindrops.

I smiled, then, because I knew the endgame. Once all these stumps are 6 feet under — by which I mean out of — the ground, we’re gonna lay chimney bricks down to make a courtyard. Because the bosslady says fancypants people like courtyards.

And brick ain’t never scared of rain.

This post is dedicated to Elmore Leonard (though inexplicably written in the style of Raymond Chandler). We’ll miss you, E.L.

Thanks to Pops Kammerud for telling us about Weed Wrenches.

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