“Same Place, Same Things”
When Harry Lintel is called to a farmhouse to repair a broken well pump, he arrives in his truck full of tools. It’s the Depression and farmers are struggling to keep their crops watered. Harry is a 44-year-old widower and has been traveling around the states to fix broken pumps. In Louisiana, he’s there to save the berry farmers from the drought.
At the farmhouse, Ada, the farmer’s wife, points to where her husband has gone to fix the pump. Her questions make Harry uneasy and his guard goes up when she asks him how old he thinks she is. He answers, “Lady, I’ve come to fix a pump. What kind do you have and what’s wrong with it?”
What follows is a series of events that, despite Harry’s caution, threaten to trap him in a situation he doesn’t yet understand.
This is a terrific short story and any more plot descriptions would spoil the ending. As with other great short fiction, Gatreaux’s story is tightly worded and nothing in the story is without meaning or purpose. He slips in important details and dialogue that the reader may not understand right away, but ultimately point to trouble. As the tension increases, the big question is how Harry will handle Ada.
The reader has hope because Harry is a good man and is sustained by his hard work. His pride especially shows when he looks at his truck because he sees how it represents his freedom. “He gazed fondly at the Ford, its stake body loaded with blacksmith’s tongs, welding tools, a portable forge, and boxes of parts, wrenches, sockets, coal, hardies, gasket material, all covered with a green tarp slung over the wooden sides. It could take him anywhere, and with his tools he could fix anything but the weather.” He is poor like Ada and the farmers in the area, but his work keeps him from feeling desperate and trapped.
One night as he lies in bed and fights a dangerous temptation, he is grounded by his returning memory of the quiet family life he once had: “He tried to remember what he had done at night when he was at home, when he was twenty-four and had three children and a wife, but nothing at all came to him. Then, slowly, thoughts of rocking sick babies and helping his wife can sweet corn came to him, and before two minutes had passed, he was asleep.”
As Harry and Ada interact, he gets pulled deeper into a situation he doesn’t understand. In true great short story fashion, Gautreaux adds a surprising turn at the end, stretching the story’s finish to the very last word.
“Same Places, Same Things” is a great story about a woman’s desperate attempts to break out of a hopeless situation and about a man’s efforts to escape her trap.
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