Todd Nahm

The sound of Deirdre “Dee Dee” Kuntees-Smipes’s laughter was that of an old worn out donkey braying after being smacked on the rear-end. It was an insincere laugh. She had actually never found anything funny. She died one day when she fell down an open manhole on McFall Street.

She had been crossing the street and yammering on with her best friend, Heidi Van Dumper, and hadn’t noticed the missing manhole cover when she fell in. Her neck snapped upon impact. It is said that her last words (spoken with a grin as she briskly walked, unaware of the gaping hole she was about to be swallowed by) were, “I can’t wait to curl up with a good book and a glass of merlot.” It is also said that she held onto the “O” in merlot as she fell down the length of the manhole - sort of like “O-o-o-o-o-o-o. . .” That detail is, as of the time of this writing, unverified. Her husband, John Robert “J.R.” Smipes Jr., recognized her body right away at the morgue because of her “messed up” feet sticking out from under the sheet. She had that thing where the second toes overlapped the big toes and the big toes were almost pointed completely horizontal.

“Yep, that’s her,” he said.

In a bizarre coincidence, a year to the day later, Velma Gweneth Filtch plummeted down that same manhole as she crossed the street, distracted by a phone conversation with her mother, Barbara Jean Filtch. The last thing she was said to have uttered was, “Gavin will be attending Spanish Immersion school in the fall and Geranium will be entering her first year in the S.T.E.M. program at St. Adminius. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” Perhaps even more bizarre was the fact that Velma had that same exact “messed up” foot issue as Mrs. Kuntee-Smipes and was also identified by her husband, Mervin Rusty Plopp, because of it.

The city council convened an emergency session and passed a motion to allot special funds towards the purchasing of signs which read “Watch Where You Walk” to be placed in strategic spots near the manhole. Everyone had thought that that would be the end of it though some privately wondered if maybe just replacing the manhole cover might suffice. Unfortunately, a few months later, as she was leaving Bibelot (the heartwarming and faith-based local home decor shop on the corner of McFall and Grand) Shelly Marie Diplo became the third victim of the manhole.

She was carrying a large sign she had purchased to hang above the fireplace which read: “HOME IS WHERE LOVE RESIDES, MEMORIES ARE CREATED, FRIENDS AND FAMILY BELONG AND LAUGHTER NEVER ENDS” (attributed to Unknown). She had been struggling with the mammoth size of the placard and had not seen the open manhole nor had she been able to see the city council’s “Watch Where You Walk” signs posted nearby. She did not die instantly of a broken neck as the others had, instead she landed on her feet and broke both of her legs. She was lifted out by crane and taken to the hospital where she died days later of sepsis due to infection from fecal matter. She did not have the same “messed up” foot issue as the other two victims had had but she was missing most of the toenail on her left big toe due her father accidentally dropping a cinder block on her foot when she was seven years old. He had been drunk and hauling random items to a junk pile in the backyard
when she weaved between his legs, erratically, causing him to trip and drop the block on her. The nail had broken off completely yet, surprisingly, there had been no other significant damage. That grotesque toe peeked out from the end of her cast as she passed away in the hospital bed, surrounded by relatives. Her husband, Daniel Darby Diplo, sat at her side and held her hand, telling her, “Everything is going to be alright” to which she responded, “And see, I never thought that this would be how I died.” Unfortunately, those words would turn out to be her last.

After reviewing city maintenance records, no one could find a single record of sewer or road work being assigned to that particular spot on McFall Street during the time spanning the three accidents. And although, initially, Mrs. Van Dumper had remembered seeing orange cones and caution tape surrounding the manhole at the time of Mrs. Kuntee-Smipes’s death, she was now uncertain. None of the members of the rescue squad remembered cones or caution tape being there upon arrival but they did remember blocking off the manhole after they removed Mrs. Kuntee-Smipes’s body. A witness to the Diplo accident, Alma Jane Volkemp (local librarian of nearly fifty years) claimed to have seen a caucasian man in flowing white robes with long white hair and beard chuckling from behind a tree next to the Presbyterian church on the other side of McFall Street, across from the library, as she was returning from her lunch break. According to Mrs. Volkemp, he shrugged his shoulders and then disappeared around the other side of the tree. No other witnesses could corroborate her claim and there was no one in town or the immediate vicinity that matched the man’s description.

There were whispers that it was God himself. No one had spoken loudly or publicly about this but it had been spoken of. And the one conclusion that most came to was that, while they could not understand why God would do such a thing and (seemingly) take pleasure from it, there must have been a reason. This sentiment was echoed by Barrymore “Barry” Arthur Buggins, father of the late Shelly Diplo, at the commencement of Shelly’s eulogy. He said, “It is not our place to question the Lord’s motives. He does what He does and there is always a reason for it. I know that if Shelly were here today she would agree.”

Derwin Sikes, stock boy at the Piggly Wiggly, made a comment to his co-worker Dale Strum the next day to the effect of, “I don’t know why they always think God is white. No one has ever seen him. Or hell, why is he a him? Couldn’t he be a she or not even gender specific?” Patricia Mills-Funt, wife of Dr. Carl Dean Funt, the local podiatrist, had just happened to be in the aisle shopping at the time the comment was made and she berated the boys, saying, “God is white and God is a man and I don’t want to hear anymore of that nonsense. God is white. Just like Santa Claus and Jesus. Got it?” The boys responded in unison with a “Yes, Ma’am” and then proceeded to mock her mercilessly once she had left the aisle. Not long after, Larsmont “Lars” Randolph Milprick, the man behind the scenes at City Hall and close friend to the Funts, was able to coordinate the swift passage of a bill officially recognizing God, Santa Claus and Jesus as white males. The bill did not prohibit people from representing any of the three as something other than white and male, it merely served to, once and for all, officially make clear their correct ethnicity and gender. The bill was lauded by most locally for its courage in the face of the ever-building headwinds of political correctness sweeping across the nation. Headwinds that, in the estimation of many concerned citizens, served no purpose other than to neuter the greatness of their country’s
heritage. A month later, on the momentum of the success of the God, Santa, and Jesus bill (or GSJ as most referred to it) Mr. Milprick was able to get passed sweeping legislation prohibiting abortions county-wide while at the same time granting the Attorney General (Mr. Milprick himself) the sole power to order mandatory sterilizations of individuals at his discretion to be carried out at the regional hospital by head surgeon, Dr. Filmore “Tip” Drippings.

A Cabrera's poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in The New Guard, Brain,Child Magazine, Colere, Acentos Review, The Berkeley Fiction Review, Best Travelers' Tales 2021 Anthology, Mer, Deronda, and other journals. Her short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Award and adapted for stage by the Bay Area Word for Word Theater Company. She writes, teaches, dances and ride bikes in San Francisco, but not always in that order.

Todd is a proud graduate of Knox College - Galesburg, IL.  This story is dedicated to Robin Metz.