Chips

Prompt: Thanks

the finger bandaged

Leep sharpened the steak knife for quite some time, as he knew it could be more difficult slicing through raw meat than cooked, and his fingers were definitely raw.

He didn’t intend to saw through the bone; no that would be stupid, and very difficult, not to mention unnecessary. This might all be unnecessary if old Anthony Gizmodo hadn’t been scooped up off the street, from his usual spot on the bus stop bench in front of the liquor store, and taken to some kind of government rehab. He couldn’t find out where they took him and Hannah, the liquor store manager, who usually was pretty well-informed, didn’t know either.

So Leep would have to take himself off to emergency.

He’d been tracking Theresa, Anthony’s daughter, for a few nights now and knew her shifts and that she was working long hours in Emergency. It was risky just turning up. She could be on a break, or busy defibrillating someone, or stocking the shelves with thin rubber gloves and vomit trays, or injecting antidotes for illegal drugs. Really, he hoped she was well-paid for this work. Leep himself was ok with blood but not with anything of any texture coming out of eyes, ears or mouths. Those kinds of things made him queasy. He had a nice chilled bottle of Red Racer IPA to calm his nerves, and positioned the middle finger of his left hand on the bamboo cutting board.

Ok, who knew so many blood vessels and nerve endings were located on the ends of fingers?

He only cut a small piece, just the very tip, and debated whether to put it in a baggie and take it to Emergency with him, but it truly looked too flimsy to be successfully reattached so Leep disposed of it in the can under the sink. This injury should be just severe enough that he lingered in Emergency, but not so severe that they’d keep him there. He got a towel and a bag of frozen peas— holy hell, it hurt!— and made his way to the car.

Theresa, with great authority and purpose, pulled back the curtain that surrounded the bed where Leep sat perched, his hand still encased in the peas and towel. She hadn’t looked him in the eye yet. But how serendipitous that it was she who was assigned to bed number 4 in the emergency ward! Leep smiled inwardly— sometimes the chips (he imagined poker chips) fell his way. Not often, but sometimes.

“Leep,” she said, “is that you?”

Exactly what she’d said in the parking lot when Leep mugged her, that night two weeks ago. Then he’d responded “No” and stole all her cash.

This time he said, “Yes, I cut my finger.”

She examined it, dabbed at it with some liquid on a cotton ball that hurt but didn’t sting at all, then bandaged it up. All very deftly, efficiently, and while not completely ignoring Leep’s grunts and winces from the pain. Holy hell.

All the while they conversed in low tones.

“I was sure it was you in the parking lot,” Theresa said.

“What parking lot?” asked Leep.

“I needed that money to pay for my son’s school trip.”

“What happened to it?”

“You wore the same jacket and jeans the night we took my father home.”

“How is old Anthony?”

Theresa smelled equally of white gardenia and disinfectant. It was actually rather comforting. She didn’t wear a white uniform and white oxfords but instead a pink polyester short-sleeved pant suit and white Adidas running shoes.

“He’s not doing well in rehab,” said Theresa.

“No,” said Leep. “I’d like to go see him though.” He held his left hand up in the air, propped at the elbow as Theresa had instructed, with his wounded middle finger extended. It was not the message Leep intended. Perhaps Theresa had endured other symbolic though unintended insults before.

Theresa didn’t respond, and instead disappeared into the hubbub of Emergency, closing the curtains firmly behind her.

Was she calling the police? That would not be a good thing. Chips were falling his way tonight though. They were tumbling through the air and landing in giant mounds at his feet. So perhaps she would find him convincing, genuine, if a bit gormless; the details of the robbery might be fading. Leep was not the kind of man to rob the daughter of the closest thing to a friend that Leep had. Was he?

When Theresa returned she had a small prescription pill bottle. “For the pain,” she said. “Keep it iced and elevated, if you can.”

“Thanks,” said Leep, adding: “Maybe I could go see your dad with you, next time you go.”

“I don’t think so,” said Theresa.

“I’d help pay for gas,” said Leep. “My car is getting new brakes.”

“You don’t need to pay for gas,” Theresa sighed.

“Maybe you could tell me then about that thing in the parking lot,” said Leep.

“Maybe I will,” said Theresa.

Advertisements

Hot

Prompt: Memory

woman damaged_Fotor

Leep awoke, feeling too hot. He’d had that dream again. The too hot dream.

It was more a memory than a dream because Leep did remember it, it was real, that sharp fragment from a life he had mostly forgotten. But he couldn’t understand why it played on a loop in his dreams, over and over.

He was a boy, sitting on a chair behind a floor to ceiling plastic curtain. The curtain was white with a pattern of solid red circles struck through by solid red lines. The pattern made Leep uneasy— it felt unfinished, wrong, hostile, and it was all he had to look at.

But the coffee finished percolating. He heard the silence. So he stood, pulled the curtain aside and went to the counter where he unplugged the pot.

A woman sat at a formica-topped table. The table was edged with shiny, ridged chrome, and the pattern on the top was sky blue with white starbursts. She wore a starched white dress with sensible white shoes, badly scuffed and starting to wear at the heel.

The pot was heavy for a boy, but Leep was careful. He poured steaming coffee into the white porcelain cup set before the woman. She took a sip.

“Too hot,” she said.

And Leep awakened in the dark. He got out of bed, took his gun out of the side table drawer, and went into the hallway. He put his navy blue nylon jacket with the hood over his black pyjamas, pulled on his boots, and stuffed a dark woollen scarf into a pocket.

And he walked, in that perfect deep abandoned silence, through streets and alleyways and across parks, until his legs ached and he found himself in the parking lot of the hospital. He wrapped the scarf around his mouth and nose so only his eyes showed, and waited until a lone nurse, in a pink pantsuit with navy blue piping, emerged from the glowing light of the hospital’s east entrance and approached the row of parked cars.

He crept out from the shadows as she reached into her handbag for the keys to her car, a grey Toyota.

“Give me your wallet,” he said, as usual. “I have a gun.”

She was in her forties, plump, with frizzy ash blonde hair. She was Theresa, Anthony’s daughter, and Leep had helped her get her father home one day when he’d passed out on the bus stop bench. He hadn’t known she was a nurse.

She looked startled, but they all did.

She said, “Leep, is that you?”

Leep took the gun out of his pocket and pointed it at her. “No,” he said. What was he going to say? “Hey, how’s the old man?”

She had forty-five dollars in her wallet, and in the clear plastic slot for a driver’s licence she instead had a picture of a boy, about twelve years old, staring out from under a red baseball cap.

Leep threw the wallet as hard as he could, towards the hospital entrance.

“Go get it,” he said.

When Theresa turned, Leep ran. He took the back alleys, crossed parks now damp with dew, through shadows of dim unlit streets until he reached his house.

He felt sweat trickle down his torso and prick the back of his neck.

Too hot.

Unscheduled

Prompt: Later

surreal flight

Nate sat in Row 17, Seat C, on his way to visit his father, who may or may not be dying. His sister said he was fading fast, but he’d faded fast before. Two years ago, Nate had sat with him for the last hour of his life, stared at his grey stubbly unresponsive face, wondering, honestly, if he wanted him to live or die, until Pop revived and went on to survive this last hour, and more hours, and even moved back into his apartment.

He didn’t like the air on planes. It dried out his nasal passages and his brain. His headache started within the first ten minutes of the flight. He asked for tea and the attendant brought him coffee. When he pointed out the error, the steward said, “Well excuse me”, as if Nate had been rude or attacked him. Migraine number two.

Nate had long legs, prone to cramps. When a different flight attendant came by and asked him to switch seats at the request of a married couple who wanted to sit together, even though it meant a window seat for Nate, he said, sorry, no. The attendant rolled her eyes, and then ignored his call button, when he wanted a glass of water to take his allergy medication.

Beside him was a lovely woman, very attractive, but she hadn’t bathed for a very long time. Or perhaps she was a particularly nervous traveller. Nate didn’t know. He wasn’t hostile, but he truly wanted the oxygen mask to drop. Something to muffle the unpleasantness.

Who knows what kind of upbringing his father had? Probably as fucked up as Nate’s. Because Pop believed in toughening up his son, which he interpreted as being distant, critical, strict, and unapproachable. Even when Nate was a man, with responsibilities and a career to maintain, his father did not alter his attitude. You are not good enough, why should I love you? Nate plugged in his headphones, listened to a podcast of a politician describing why the world was ending.

There was no tequila on the flight, so Nate had some vodka with lime.

They were over Cleveland, and Nate remembered a chat with his father about a girl he wanted to marry.

He ordered another couple of tiny vodka bottles, and the flight attendant said, Don’t you think you’ve had enough?

Nate thought, Fuck you, but didn’t say it. He was sitting quietly, throwing back drinks which were pleasantly numbing. What difference did it make to the attendant?

“Just bring them,” Nate said. “Ok?”

“Well sir, I can’t do that, but please have a glass of apple juice courtesy of the American Airways.”

“Are you kidding me?”

The flight attendant stared at him with shark’s eyes. Dead. Bored. Disengaged.

He thought of his father, a white sheet and one of those hospital greyish-blue waffled blankets pulled up to his chin, in a grey room with artificial light, with a long-unused machine with dials and lights and wires nearby, and the option of an ancient fat portable television to watch, and a bed tray with meatloaf dinner and apple juice pushed away in disgust, and an environment too noisy and too bright to sleep, and resentment building up inside his father like masses of bodies pushing forward, unstoppable, as at a riot.

“Give me the fucking drink,” said Nate.

The plane made an unscheduled stop in Cleveland, and Nate was taken away in handcuffs, which was a new experience. He shouldn’t have shouted and threatened, obviously; the airline has to take their precautions.

He sat in a small, overheated room at the Cleveland airport, waiting to be processed. Perhaps, he thought, his father would die while Nate was restrained for acting irresponsibly on a flight. His sister might tell him why Nate was not there. His father could then die content, knowing he was right all along.

Maxine

Prompt: Drop

One-Way-Both-Ways

“Drop me off at the main entrance,” I said to the cab driver as I closed the door and he pulled away from the curb. It started to rain.

“Of course,” he said, “though I just have to do one thing first.”

His name was Bernard J. Hollyhall. He looked like a serial killer in the photo displayed in the ID sleeve, with a scowl, a day’s worth of beard and hair in need of washing. In person his appearance was quite pleasant. He had a trim physique, neatly groomed hair, and a clear complexion.

“What?” I said. “What do you mean?”

“Just one quick stop,” he said amiably. He turned on the windshield wipers and they made smudgy noises as they rubbed against the glass.

“No, I mean I believe the meter is running,” I said, “and you are a taxi driver, and you take your customers directly to their destination.”

“Yes, thank you, I did learn that at the taxi institute.”

I ignored the sarcastic tone. “Then please get me to the main entrance of the hospital, without a detour.” I sat back in my seat again, certain I had made myself clear. I knew how to manage people. It was my job.

“Sure, the main entrance, as soon as possible,” said Bernard.

“It’s possible now.”

“It will be.”

“Don’t turn off,” I said, leaning forward again, as he moved into the right lane. Was that a turn signal I heard?

“No, no,” Bernard said, as he turned right.

“What are you doing?” I was starting to get agitated. I got out my cell phone, which I hoped he would see as a threatening move. Rain poured down in sheets, bouncing up off the sidewalks, as people hurried by with collars up against the wet and umbrellas at a tilt.

“It’s just here!” Bernard said, half in exasperation and half in joy. He pulled over near the intersection, leaned over and pushed open the passenger door.

A golden retriever jumped onto the seat. It was soaking wet, and smiling, if canines smiled. The car immediately filled with the smell of wet dog. Bernard signaled and merged into the traffic again, making a left turn at the next intersection.

“This is Maxine,” said Bernard, to me. “Maxine, this is… oh, I didn’t get your name.” He glanced into the rearview mirror, catching my eye.

I stabbed a number into my phone.

“I would like to report a driver, Bernard Hollyhall,” I said when the dispatcher picked up.

“I’m terribly sorry,” said a woman. “I only dispatch, I don’t take complaints. Please call customer service.” And she hung up.

Bernard was scratching Maxine behind the ears with one hand, and talking soothing nonsense. “No need to make a complaint, I’m sure this is a misunderstanding. Who’s a good girl?”

I pretended the woman had not hung up. “Yes,” I said to no one. “H-O-L-L-Y-H-A-L-L.”

The car stopped abruptly and I lurched forward. We were at a red light. Bernard turned around and said, “Please get off the phone, or give it to me,” he said, holding his hand out.

“I don’t think so,” I said to Bernard, then, into the mouthpiece, to no one again: “Did you hear that?”

“Your phone is interfering with my GPS signal,” Bernard said.

“Nonsense,” I said.

Maxine barked.

“There, you’re upsetting her. She can sense trouble.”

“There is no trouble,” I said. “For god’s sake take me where I want to go.” I held the phone up. “Gone, hung up. But they have your name.”

Bernard scowled. “That is unfortunate.”

“For you,” I said.

“Yes,” said Bernard. “Would you like a treat? I have your favourite.” And he reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a milkbone. Maxine took it in her soft mouth and he ruffled the top of her head. I could hear the crunch as she ate the biscuit.

“Take the next left,” I said, recognizing the turn-off.

“In just a sec,” said Bernard.

“Now!” I cried.

He pulled into a parking space with an expert’s ease, gave Maxine a big hug, and then opened the passenger door. The dog jumped out and disappeared into the rain.

“Front entrance, did you say?” Bernard asked as he steered back into the traffic, wiping dog hair off the front of his nylon jacket and winking at me, this time, in the rearview mirror.

He drove directly to the hospital and pulled up in front of the automatic doors. I gave him a twenty dollar tip.