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.