Ungrateful

Green wet pears hanging on the tree branch

Old Anthony was happy about the corona virus. It kept that girl and that Leep out of his room and his life, and meant even more minimal contact with his caregivers at Sunny Shores, which was neither sunny nor near any recognizable body of water.

By chance, his room overlooked a sparse patch of lawn and a tree, all of it (and Sunny Shores) enclosed by a tall chain link fence. This fence was meant to prevent the folks from Floor 6 from escaping, should they manage to wander out of their locked ward, but mostly it made Anthony feel as if he too was a prisoner.

It was a pear tree. He had a memory of his uncle’s farm in the country where he and his sister and parents took brief summer vacations, as his uncle tolerated them for a week or two without charge. Uncle Frank’s orchards included a few rows of pear trees, and Anthony remembered the teardrop shape of the canopies, the warm, luminous leaves and the plump clusters of fruit, never quite ready for picking when the family visited. They feasted on late cherries and peaches, but those who came after enjoyed the pears.

The tree outside his window was solitary, old, and neglected, but home to a hive of honeybees, which Anthony observed with interest, as he had nothing else to do. Especially now, with the lockdown.

All Sunny Shores residents were banned from the dining room and other common rooms, about which Anthony cared not a whit; but it made it more difficult to connect with Presley. It was not impossible, however, because staff had been cut back, ostensibly because patient isolation made a full complement of caregivers unnecessary. But Anthony knew the proprietors of Sunny Shores were most interested in saving a few bucks. They were a business, after all, and he remembered when they switched to powdered milk in the hopes no one would notice, and the declining number of chips in the chocolate chip cookies, and the fewer and smaller proteins on his plate… a shrivelled thigh instead of a plump breast with his rice and peas did not go unnoticed.

He couldn’t tell if the person who dropped off his lunch and dinner tray was the red-headed one with the big teeth or the brunette with the permanent lip blister, since they now wore caps and masks. The masks didn’t look like the ones he saw medical people wear on television: They looked like the kind you bought at Home Hardware to protect your face from sawdust. Whatever.

He wasn’t sure what precisely was in those bottles Presley sold him, or where she got them, but they did the trick. The sharp, clear, bitter liquid came in mason jars with screw top lids and blank labels on them, presumably so Presley’s customers could disguise their hooch however they desired. Anthony labelled his “CPAP” and figured the redhead and the brunette would likely not notice or care, even though he didn’t use a CPAP machine. They tended to be incurious.

If the girl or Leep ever noticed the jar on the dresser, they said nothing, perhaps because of misplaced trust in a man’s right to privacy, even an old, homeless drunk.

Sometimes the Wiry Guy came in with his meds, also masked for do-it-yourself projects. He liked to chat but thankfully his voice was muffled and Anthony had never been good at understanding accented English.

He could enjoy his CPAP liquid in peace, enjoy the warm oblivion it brought, without thought of who the girl really was and why Leep wanted to see him. Arranging and following through with the meet-ups with Presley were enough to occupy his mind between watching CIS: Las Vegas and Ironside reruns and staring out the window at the bees.

They were as busy and industrious as the cliché, but they also possessed the kind of grace and indifference that Anthony had long admired and so rarely seen in life: Tawny, hovering creatures who had no idea how the sunlight filtered through their wings and illuminated them like fireflies, who filled their days with routines never challenged, who never mourned losses, and who lived and worked in splendidly oblivious isolation.

One day he recognized Wiry Guy as the man cutting the lawn around the pear tree. Anthony wondered if he was a grass cutter who dispensed medications or a nurse who mowed lawns. Neither option made sense, until Anthony took his CPAP jar from the dresser top and poured himself a few small shots.

Wiry Guy was likely a nurse, since he seemed unskilled at cutting the lawn, leaving ragged patches like badly cut hair and accidentally ramming his mower into the pear tree. The latter action resulted in Wiry Guy getting stung by the usually benign bees, evidenced by a waving of arms and some screaming and a rush to get back inside, leaving the mower forlornly abandoned under the shade of the tree.

That’s why, in the end, Anthony was expelled from Sunny Shores. His memory of it was not as sharp as his memories of his uncle’s farm, but sure, he became irate when Wiry Guy reemerged on the lawn with a hose fitted with a power nozzle, and emboldened by CPAP elixir, Anthony summoned enough wherewithal to tie his dressing gown closed and stumble out of his room, past the empty desk at the reception and out the doors into a day that was warmer than it looked.

He stopped Wiry Guy’s destruction of the hive by pushing the mower into the back of his legs, then grabbing the hose and turning it steadily onto the nurse, who, so he was told, almost drowned. Who ever heard of a man drowning from a garden hose?

It got fuzzier after that, but when Anthony’s head cleared, he’d discovered he too had been stung twice, both on the upper calf of his left leg. Ungrateful bees.

The girl had appeared in his room and was packing a duffle bag with his meager belongings, and talking.

“Drunk, too?” she said. She didn’t sound angry, exactly; in fact, he wasn’t even sure she was talking to him. But he quickly understood that this scenario meant that he had to leave the facility and go to live with this girl, his daughter. He hated Sunny Shores, but they mostly left him alone there, and now he would have to live in quarantine with this girl interfering in his life and what few pleasures he had left.

He wasn’t so happy about the corona virus now.

Crazy Dark Place [Repost]

Prompt: Fight or Flight

plain-blonde-doll

Charlotte arrived home just after four am, and Jamie was asleep. The house still stank of beer, so he’d had friends over. The furnace had clicked over into overnight temperatures, so the house was cold– that especially bitter, early morning cold.

She went into the kitchen and washed her hands at the sink. She used Palmolive dish detergent as soap, and scrubbed up as thoroughly as the surgeons she occasionally worked with. Her hands, she noticed were looking pink and raw but she was too tired for a shower, and needed to wash away the death and decay.

Jamie had cocooned himself in the sheets and blankets at one side of the bed. She had to wake him, or sleep in the cold.

When she awoke the next day, she had a meal that was neither breakfast nor lunch, an egg sandwich and a glass of cranberry juice, followed by a can of beer. Jamie had gone off to work, and she was due at the hospital in less than an hour.

She combed her hair, thinking it was too long. Who was she kidding? Her hair was pale blonde and thick and there was no grey showing, but she was no longer the bright young beauty that had attracted Jamie and so many others. She rubbed baby lotion on her arms and chest. She put concealer under her eyes. She thought of Cassie, who was the wife of one of Jamie’s friends. Charlotte would agree to the Super Bowl party Jamie kept talking about, so Cassie could visit too and they could chat and Charlotte would inevitably laugh, because Cassie always put things into perspective. Cassie seemed to enjoy making Charlotte laugh. The world was a crazy dark place, that was Cassie’s philosophy. Might as well face it and deal with the paralysis of life with energy and a sharp tongue.

Charlotte understood that. She felt paralyzed but lacked the energy or power to feel that she was more alive than the patients she treated, and not one of the walking dead. She wanted handsome Jamie back. She wanted the feel of a hero’s arms about her, warm and soothing. She wanted a flat stomach and trim waist, and clothes that fit. She wanted to be admired and yes, even pampered. Instead she was surrounded daily by the dying, and had to fight off thoughts that the happiness of those she served might be better fulfilled by a deep, permanent, peaceful sleep.

Jamie had a gig that evening, and Charlotte would miss it. While she she nursed a vague nostalgia for the once inseparable performer and muse, she didn’t mind, and neither did Jamie. He was hardly the rock star she had worshipped as a girl. He was a DJ in a small town now. He didn’t write songs anymore, or sing them. She was no longer his inspiration. He played whatever music his clients wanted, even country and western. Being the wife of an indifferent DJ was not the same as being the wife of a rock star. To be honest, he was never a rock star either. Just a singer in a band that was no more.

He would be home from work by six, while Charlotte was at the hospital, then out again by seven, so she made him an egg sandwich too, wrapped it in cellophane and put it in the refrigerator. It was not a hot meal, but then Jamie was less of a cook than she was. It would have to do.

She had one more can of beer, and put another one in her bag.

She passed the hall mirror on her way out the door and looked into her own eyes. So, how she felt was obvious. They were as flat and matte as a painted doll’s eyes.

Cassie. She would wait to see Cassie before she made any decisions. Cassie could make her laugh. When she truly laughed, her eyes twinkled and shone. Many people had told her that, once.


  • Original Prompt: Jump, September 22, 2016

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.

Crazy Dark Place

Prompt: Jump

plain-blonde-doll

Charlotte arrived home just after four am, and Jamie was asleep. The house still stank of beer, so he’d had friends over. The furnace had clicked over into overnight temperatures, so the house was cold– that especially bitter, early morning cold.

She went into the kitchen and washed her hands at the sink. She used Palmolive dish detergent as soap, and scrubbed up as thoroughly as the surgeons she occasionally worked with. Her hands, she noticed were looking pink and raw but she was too tired for a shower, and needed to wash away the death and decay.

Jamie had cocooned himself in the sheets and blankets at one side of the bed. She had to wake him, or sleep in the cold.

When she awoke the next day, she had a meal that was neither breakfast nor lunch, an egg sandwich and a glass of cranberry juice, followed by a can of beer. Jamie had gone off to work, and she was due at the hospital in less than an hour.

She combed her hair, thinking it was too long. Who was she kidding? Her hair was pale blonde and thick and there was no grey showing, but she was no longer the bright young beauty that had attracted Jamie and so many others. She rubbed baby lotion on her arms and chest. She put concealer under her eyes. She thought of Cassie, who was the wife of one of Jamie’s friends. Charlotte would agree to the Super Bowl party Jamie kept talking about, so Cassie could visit too and they could chat and Charlotte would inevitably laugh, because Cassie always put things into perspective. Cassie seemed to enjoy making Charlotte laugh. The world was a crazy dark place, that was Cassie’s philosophy. Might as well face it and deal with the paralysis of life with energy and a sharp tongue.

Charlotte understood that. She felt paralyzed but lacked the energy or power to feel that she was more alive than the patients she treated, and not one of the walking dead. She wanted handsome Jamie back. She wanted the feel of a hero’s arms about her, warm and soothing. She wanted a flat stomach and trim waist, and clothes that fit. She wanted to be admired and yes, even pampered. Instead she was surrounded daily by the dying, and had to fight off thoughts that the happiness of those she served might be better fulfilled by a deep, permanent, peaceful sleep.

Jamie had a gig that evening, and Charlotte would miss it. While she she nursed a vague nostalgia for the once inseparable performer and muse, she didn’t mind, and neither did Jamie. He was hardly the rock star she had worshipped as a girl. He was a DJ in a small town now. He didn’t write songs anymore, or sing them. She was no longer his inspiration. He played whatever music his clients wanted, even country and western. Being the wife of an indifferent DJ was not the same as being the wife of a rock star. To be honest, he was never a rock star either. Just a singer in a band that was no more.

He would be home from work by six, while Charlotte was at the hospital, then out again by seven, so she made him an egg sandwich too, wrapped it in cellophane and put it in the refrigerator. It was not a hot meal, but then Jamie was less of a cook than she was. It would have to do.

She had one more can of beer, and put another one in her bag.

She passed the hall mirror on her way out the door and looked into her own eyes. So, how she felt was obvious. They were as flat and matte as a painted doll’s eyes.

Cassie. She would wait to see Cassie before she made any decisions. Cassie could make her laugh. When she truly laughed, her eyes twinkled and shone. Many people had told her that, once.