The Perfect Way

Prompt: Quicken


“Only you make my heart quicken,” said Kenneth, sitting on the edge of the bed. He had loosened his tie, and his shirt, a size too big in an attempt minimize his weight gain, bunched around his abdomen. He was pale and white.

They were in the Presidential Suite at the Four Season’s Hotel. Outside the windows, city lights twinkled and dimmed. Lydia was seated in a dove grey, faux suede sectional couch, long legs crossed. She was, as usual, fresh, fragrant, and immaculately groomed.

“Thank you, Kenny,” said Lydia. “Will we be in bed tonight, or simply talking as we did last time?”

“In bed, Lydia,” said Kenneth. He went to the bar and poured them both a vodka, brilliantly clear over brilliantly clear, crystal, half-melted ice cubes. “You know my story. I’m in danger.”

“I do,” she said. She stood and walked to where Kenneth sat on the crisp linen bedspread. She stroked his thinning hair. “How is Magda?”

“She’s good, the kids are good,” he said. “Everything is good.” He then spoke quietly and precisely, as if he’d prepared a speech. “If you leave quietly later on, so much the better.”

“I understand,” said Lydia. “But I’m not sure.”

“I can’t think of a better way.”

“For you.”

“Yes, for me, but I am also sparing Magda,” said Kenneth.

Lydia raised her eyebrows as if to say, Now?, and Kenneth had the perception to blush. It had been a difficult six months. The salacious scandal, the humiliating reveals, the financial losses, the intense stress, the devastating health problems, and the loss of face and reputation, all while clinging to the deadening belief that enough lies would temper the pain.

They made athletic love in the king size, pristine white-sheeted bed. If the dead have memories, then Lydia provided lots of those. He left in the perfect way that only those who choose can know. His heart quickened, and he died.



Prompt: Punishment

conditions of the heart poster

Cash picked me up at my apartment and drove me to the doctor, which was nice of him since even a cab would have been awkward for me. I still couldn’t bend my left leg, and managing crutches for me was like trying to drive a standard instead of an automatic car: I was simply inept. So getting in and out of vehicles was a drawn-out pageant of flailing arms and legs, clothes riding up and revealing pasty white skin, and a lot of cursing.

“Maybe some kind of wheelchair would have been better for you,” Cash said seriously, as he merged into traffic on the highway.

“Really?” I was grumpy, still trying to do up the seatbelt. “That’s ridiculous. People with broken legs get the crutches. They are made to suffer. People with broken legs are lesser humans. No one cares.”

Cash had the grace to smile. “Is this just a check up? Or is there…?”

“Just discussing prescriptions,” I said. “I think I need more trippy pain killers.”

“Well I have some Oxy at home, if you need,” said Cash.

“Of course you do,” I said. He was immune to my bad humour, just as he had been when we were children. I could silence him, I could wipe a smile off his face, but affecting his worldview, that everything was actually ok and people always liked him, was an impossible task. He was teflon. His idiotic pranks in college were looked upon with indulgence, because Cash seemed to have no ill will. I sometimes thought he was an idiot, an actual idiot, but then I guess sisters sometimes felt that way about younger brothers. Didn’t they?

“Hello, Envy,” said Stuart, one of the nurses in the practice, when I entered the waiting room and triggered a tinkling bell. He was always super friendly with me. Probably to everyone. I was flushed from my journey from the car to the elevator to the third floor– flushed as in blotchy of face and out of breath, and Stuart smiled as if this discombobulation was charming in some way. Cash had helped me out of the car but elected to wait in the parking lot, as he didn’t like clinics, hospitals, or anywhere that smelled generically, antiseptically clean. It was a thing with him.

Stuart was leaning over the receptionist, Jodi, as they gazed at something on the computer screen, but after saying hello he plucked a file from a wire rack and motioned to me. “Come on through, Envy, I’ll help you get settled.”

“You are looking well,” he lied. He helped me sit in a leather chair next to a small desk with a computer, across from a raised cot covered in a layer of paper. Posters of internal organs and bone structure graced the walls like fine art.

“You too,” I said. I wondered if Stuart was potential dating material. I was so unused to meeting and dating men since Marcus that I might even consider Jodi, the receptionist. I had no idea who I was anymore. I wondered if I should flirt. And where I could find information on how to flirt, since I was pretty sure I had never learned how. Marcus and I found each other. He didn’t mind my lack of artifice, and I loved his effortless charm. Damn him, anyway.

Virginia told me, “Just heal, don’t even think about Marcus anymore, or being alone, or the divorce.” She meant well, but jeez.

While Dr Chao took my blood pressure I told him I was thinking of getting back into Catholicism.

“Oh?” he said. “Nice. Your BP is a tad high, but we’ll put that down to doctor-visit stress.”

“Well ok. Are you married, Dr Chao?” I had to start somewhere.

He looked only slightly startled. “Yes, yes I am. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, just that you know then, what it’s like, you know, to have a partner.”

He patted my hand with summoned sympathy. “Marcus let you down. It takes time to recover from that, as much as it does from your broken body.”

He meant well too, but holy shit, did no one know how to comfort a person any more?

“I am still in pain, especially overnight,” I told him.

“Sometimes we build a tolerance to certain medications,” said Dr Chao. “Let’s try something else.”

It was as simple as that. I struggled back downstairs, after smiling at Stuart in what I imagined was a flirtatious way, which only caused him to look utterly bewildered.

Cash was leaning against the car, chatting on the phone. In another few minutes I was flushed and grumpy again, but seated and belted up.

“You’ve had enough punishment for one day,” Cash said as he started the engine. “Feel like a martini?”

A martini! Who would have expected Cash, of all people, to understand the concept of meaningful comfort?