Riding the Metro-Rail
The distant bark of the loudspeaker marks the impending arrival of the train.
“Two minutes until red-line arrival. Please, stand clear of the tracks.”
I clutch my valise more tightly to my chest and dash, head-down across the red-lit stoplight pools, their thousand rain-drop ripples shattering the mirror of the street.
The wet, huddled throng waits meekly beneath the too-short plastic roof and when the metro-rail has thundered to a stop, we pour gratefully aboard.
I stand. The damp-wet smell of city trash and unwashed bodies overwhelms.
“A good choice. That’s a good choice you made.”
A woman smiles up at me from her seat. It takes me a moment to realize she is addressing me.
“A good choice. To stand.”
She nods, eyes quick and darting, wildly ranging across the rows of our co-riders: men in fluorescent construction vests and button down sweaters, women in brown cleaning uniforms and monotone scrubs.
Her own uncombed mop of red hair and grime-stained clothes cohere her to the metro crowd.
She pats the plastic five-gallon bucket lid she is perched on.
“I take it everywhere. Everywhere. You can never be too careful.”
Her eyes bulge demonically and she gesticulates violently to our co-riders. A man behind her squirms uncomfortably.
“Germs. They’re everywhere. A good choice.” She smiles conspiratorially, insanely, eyes delirious in the flickering fluorescent light.
I laugh inwardly at the irony. Of all the passengers, we are the only sane two.
Tis’ not by dark that fear is wrought
Except in thought
Except in thought
The black is long,
the shadows deep
Try though I might, I do not sleep
White specter of the inky night!
I long for light
I long for light
Her small form is obscured by the tall grasses and overgrown milkweed. She squats, balanced on her thin legs, tousled blonde hair blowing free and wild with the wind.
“Sarah?” I call, but she stays crouched, low to the ground.
“Sarah!” I call again, and she half-turns, her fat, toddler-cheeks dimpled and delighted.
“Look mama!” she chirps. She lifts her cupped hands high into the air for me to see. I walk closer to crouch beside her, kissing the tangled locks and open brow.
She shrugs me off impatiently. “Look what I got mama!” Tenderly, cautiously, she unclenches her small fist, displaying its contents with glee.
I look down on the crushed legs and beautiful, crumpled wings giving a final fluttering effort.
“A butterfly! How wonderful” I smile and she returns it fully, filled with pink-cheeked childish wonder.
Reflections of a Nursing Home
On sleepless nights their faces come, unbidden to my mind. Quivering lips and doleful eyes glimmer out of the gloom. —Gray-aged creases, crinkled to scowls; faces stale and spent beside the insolence of youth. They peer up at me out of oversized hospital beds and follow me from the corners of hallways.
I am haunted by their silent accusations.
Sunshine Meadows called to offer me the position on the same day rent was due. My one-bedroom apartment cost two-hundred and seventy-five dollars a month and the role as night-aide, 6 PM to 6 AM, paid $8.50 an hour. I accepted gratefully and chewed my fingernails until the first paycheck cleared.
I was sixteen years old, and alone. My conscience resorts to this irrelevant statistic—age—when it feels particularly guilty, when the images of lips and eyes and creases flash unceasingly in memory.
A forgetful youth. A selfish moment. Is this neglect?
A cutting word. A cruel grimace. Is this abuse?
An impudent girl in over-large scrubs clocks on to her shift.
The work is steady, but unenviable. Distribute pills. Check vitals. Apply lotions, creams and cosmetics. Wash. Scrub. Comb. Hair. Urine. Dentures. Feces.
An endless monotony of self-sacrifice to the nearly dead.
The shower shift is especially unsavory. Twelve hours heaving the invalid and overweight from wheelchair to shower seat, removing undergarments, hearing aids and jewelry, and being bitingly warned against pocketing the treasures stripped from their scabby necks. The men are prone to grope. The women are prone to complain.
After careful scrubbing between each fleshy excrescence and a second hugging of their naked, now wet bodies back to the wheelchair, the process of re-clothing begins. Breasts are scooped from their long descent into bras. Hip-high compression socks are peeled over layers of mottled, flaking skin. Buttons are adjusted. Watches are replaced. Every individual has their preference.
‘Over the shirt, I said. Over the shirt, not under!’
‘Watch the curls. I just had it permed.’
‘Put it in the left pocket, not the right. I can’t reach it in the right.’
The list of demands is unending.
Irma is uniquely cantankerous. She has two great vanities: heaps of gaudy jewelry that she wears draped about her wrists and neck, and vermilion lipstick, meticulously applied. If the jewelry is not put on in just-the-right order, or the lipstick applied not just-to-her-liking, it must be removed and started over.
As I draw closer to that threshold between activity and inability, my compassion grows. My own skin is now blotched, my own mobility now constrained. Handing over control of my personal comforts, however small, to the impersonality of a stranger feels dreadful.
On the third re-application of lipstick, with Irma insisting “it’s just not quite right. See how it’s smeared at the bottom?” I sneer and toss the tube into her lap.
“If you don’t like it, put it on yourself.”
Her embarrassed glance at the useless, arthritic arms at her sides, and those quivering red lips linger now in my mind.
Her voice is falsely cheery when she replies.
“Well.. that’s ok then. I think it looks alright after all.”
The road to wisdom's very plain
And simple to express:
And err again
But less and less and less.
I Killed My Love
I killed my love today, with words
Rashly cast and keenly scored;
Rage succeeded self-control,
Spitting barbs of vitriol
And whetted edge its mark re-found,
Remembering a former wound
Though pen triumphs the biting sword,
Sharper still’s the daggered word;
And fury of the tongue could be
Murder of a first degree.
The Way of All Men
The weary, wan light of the moon filters faintly through the window shades. The pale, cold light casts into relief a small, ill-kept bedroom with two matching twin beds on opposite walls and two night-stands, a small lamp upon each. A wheelchair sits, crammed between the end of one of the beds and the wall, behind an old commode.
The bed on the left is empty.
A man lies in the other, listening intently to the clock ticking above the doorframe. His eyes glitter dully in the bleached half-light of the room. The night is only half-spent and he shifts imperceptibly, as someone accustomed to lying awake for long hours.
His face is gaunt and unshaven, bristly and rough—a lifeless conglomeration of skin and hair and eyes—unmoving and unfeeling in the bleak and winnowed moonlight. The night’s shadows heighten his socketed eyes and angular chin; things that once were fine, even handsome, appear somber and spent.
The man stares fixedly at the ceiling, arms tucked in close at the sides, hands upon his chest, fingers interlaced. For all of the man’s roughness and severity, his hands are a tender antithesis. Delicate and elegant, they are the hands of an artist, or a surgeon—equally liable to paint the sweeping majesty of a sunrise as to bind a wound or brush a tear. They are hands to craft a toy for a child or nurture the tender shoots of a garden bed.
The clock has finished ticking to four-thirty when the man ends his quiet vigil, unclasping his steady fingers in search of the thick, plastic cord near the bed’s side-rail. Outside his reach, it takes some moments before he is able to grasp it, and some time more to locate the rubberized grip and red button.
His fingers linger over the button, hesitant, feeling the edges. He shifts uncomfortably in bed, an act that seems to decide him, and presses the button.
A light above the door flickers on.
The man sighs audibly, unable to retract the action, and returns to his examination of the ceiling. The ticking of the clock resumes to his hearing. One minute. Two. The rhythm of the clock is indelibly etched into his mind. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Five minutes. Six. Nine. Tick. Tick. Tick. Eleven. When the door finally opens, it is a relief of those endless seconds.
“What’cha need, Mista’ Lewis?”
The voice is loud and harsh.
Mr. Lewis’s eyes flicker to the outline that fills the door, his fears confirmed. Voice hoarse from disuse, he struggles to reply and the voice repeats itself, more forcefully.
Coughing to clear his throat, he croaks, “the bathroom.” A loud groan of dismay meets his reply.
“Day shift’ll be here in a hour. You cain’t wait?” Murmuring a soft no, Mr. Lewis continues to keep vigil over the ceiling.
“Fine,” the outline grumbles.
Ambling towards him from the door, she drags the commode beside the bed and drops the siderail. His aged body twists unpleasantly as his legs are pulled unceremoniously off of the bed.
In a practiced motion, his body is heaved upright from the edge into a standing position, body held in force by her massive form. The sharp smell of sweat and of freshly-smoked cigarette on her uniform is nauseating. Again, a practiced swing, and he is on the cold plastic seat, trousers pulled to his ankles.
“You gon’ be long?” she asks, eying him impatiently.
“No’m,” he replies, though it is a long seven hundred and thirty-nine seconds of the clock before she returns to help him off.
Title: The Way of All Men
Genre: Literary Fiction
Age Range: Adult, or older Y.A.
Word Count: 598 (in excerpt), approximately 9,000 written
Hook: “The bed on the left is empty.” This line gives room to the question: why is the bed empty? The book brings this concept full-circle as the empty bed becomes a metaphor for all of the loss in Mr. Lewis’s life, specifically, his wife. The opening theme of abuse of the elderly is also employed to draw the reader in.
Synopsis: The book’s central character is Mr. Lewis, an elderly man who has lived in a nursing home for four years. The loss of his wife and the busy-ness of his children’s lives (which keeps them from visiting), has made him lonely and cynical. When the director of the nursing home determines that the business won’t survive financially without taking on more paying residents, all Medicare patients (including Mr. Lewis) are forced to share rooms. The dementia patient who moves into his wife’s empty bed is far from desirable, but as Mr. Lewis and Albert become acquainted, a friendship develops that alters Mr. Lewis’s perspective. The novel will examine the following social issues:
1. Elderly abuse, and why it often goes unnoticed.
2. At what point should care/treatment end?
3. When do nursing homes become predatory?
4. Does God exist and/or love His children, and if so, why does he allow them to suffer?
As all good literary fiction requires an exceptional plot apart from its social considerations, each of these topics is broached via character dilemmas and plot setbacks, not just through dialogue or verbose commentary.
Target Audience: Hopefully all lovers of classic literary fiction. (My aspiration is to write like Steinbeck, Hemingway or Hugo, though I certainly fall short).
Bio: I worked for 5 years prior to college as a CNA/EMT to save money. The time spent in various nursing homes and hospitals gave me much of my material for this book. The more interesting points of my life have been my work: I have sourced agricultural products within sub-Saharan Africa, worked as a surgical technician, in wildland fire-fighting, and am now a data analyst/scientist, specializing in healthcare data. Each of these experiences have spawned a variety of book ideas.
Education: Bachelors of Science deg. in Computational Mathematics & Statistics, Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
Experience: Apart from placing 2nd in a collegiate writing competition, I am new to the realm of writing (in terms of sharing and marketing my work, not creating.)
Personality/Writing Style: I am a reserved individual with a dry sense of humor, who values logic and precision (cue my background in mathematics). In my writing, I prefer character-oriented lit that scrutinizes the human condition. For example, I am working on a novel about the loss experienced (by a family) in a hurricane that examines how natural disaster relief efforts too-often fall short.
Hobbies: I love to read (classical literature and historical non-fiction are my favorites) and also enjoy all things outdoorsy (backpacking, skiing, fishing, biking, etc.). Learning in general is also a hobby and lately, I have been studying for the actuarial exams and learning how to bottle food from my garden (pickles, peaches and salsa so far)!
Hometown: I have lived in Chicago, Utah, New Jersey, Idaho, Arizona, Houston and south-eastern Africa, so no place in particular is home.
Those Who Laugh
Those who laugh the hardest, often weep the most—façades of our lighthearted bliss hide the black morose.
In a large, grassy, golden field all scattered about with radiant, red poppies and delicate blue Columbine, stood an ancient well. It was old, far older than you, my dear reader, and grown all about with ivy and weeds. Its’ wooden roof was rotted and sunken, sun-stained and weather-worn.
What nature had not reclaimed for her own lay in bits of scattered debris about the stone base. In spite of its deterioration however, it was a lovely spot, a place where dreams began and secrets could be shared—a place over-flowing with promise.
Traipsing through the grass, a girl went her way towards the well. Though dressed plainly, she was beautiful. Her hair was a golden to outmatch the field and the flush on her cheeks outshone the poppies. Her thin, somber mouth was accustomed to silence. Her eyes, the soft blue-gray of a trilling little gnatcatcher, were wide and kind.
She reached the edge of the well. Thrusting her hand into the pocket of her pinafore, she drew out a small stone. Almost perfectly white and round, the thin moon-like pebble would have made a splendid skipping-stone. Its’ surface was worn and polished, having been rubbed and carried and caressed. The girl, prize held tightly in her palm, leaned over the stone wall to peer into the well. She had been here before, so its depth caused no thrill. The sun above the treetops illuminated some meters down, before the rest was lost in gloom.
The girl glanced around and sure of being alone, began to whisper a silent prayer half-heavenward, half directed toward the gaping mouth of the well. Her brow furrowed in concentration, her small face earnest as only a child’s can be, she poured her soul into her desire.
Then, with a last longing look at her treasured stone, she tossed it into the well.
The van is overturned, wheels pointed skyward, like a great, disemboweled carcass laid out for the vultures. The great metal skin, crushed and bent, reveals struts of ribs and shattered-glass eyes.
I watch as they pull him out.
The wheels of the van are motionless and still now, the creaking silent.
Silent and still as my father.
Red, white and blue shards of glass on the pavement flicker in synchrony with the red, white and blue lights beside us.
The same colors they will bury him under.
I watch as the crumpled vehicle is hoisted onto a tow truck, to be carted to its final destination. Abandoned in a graveyard for other demolished cars and trucks and vans, it will be left to decay alone.
I wonder if there is an alternate resting place for him.