The Desk Fans

On the table behind him rusty Seagulls wait their turn. Silver Swans perch on the bookshelf. Sidewinders lie motionless on the floor. After breakfast he opens the window and sits down with a turn-of-the-century Peerless—steel, non-oscillating, thin spokes curved like heat waves.

He takes the fan apart, lays each piece gently on a blanket, cleans, buffs, inspects. He labels masking tape to keep everything straight. Tomorrow he will polish, the next day he will tune. He will install a new electrical system—vibrant wires wrapped in black—then alignment and balance.

The first fan he restored was a Westinghouse. He found it in a corner of the basement when he was cleaning after his wife’s funeral. The japanned finish reminded him of her hair, wet after a shower. He liked to remember her that way—her thin frame scrubbed clean after a day at the beach, or a day in their canoe, her fingers trailing dark water. He liked to remember her in the desert sun, her face shaded by an oversized hat.

Now he spends his days searching for fans. He finds them at flea markets, in stuffy estate sales, in mildewed boxes, damp from the basement earth. He digs them out and brings them home, sets them on the mantle, the dresser, the stairs. He tries to save each piece, but sometimes has to salvage what he can—blades, acorn nuts, grommets, feet.

After lunch he picks up a toothbrush and gently cleans the furrows of each screw. He works until his fingers ache. It’s best this way, to keep his mind occupied, to keep him from his wife, her brightly-colored dress in the moldy earth, her lipstick covered by a shroud and the feeling he has that she is still there, watching over his shoulder. Red-eyed, sweat dripping, he switches on the fans beside him. They awaken, cough, spurt, and one by one rattle their applause.

JODY BROOKS teaches writing at Georgia State University. Her stories have appeared in Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Hobart, The Florida Review, and South Dakota Review, among others. She lives and works in Atlanta. ("The Desk Fans" originally appeared in the Winter/Spring 2016 issue of TSR.)


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