Crack the Spine
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Crack The Spine Issue Sixty-Three May 7, 2013 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2013 by Crack the Spine
Contents Nick Kolakowski The White Mountains Jennifer Audette What You Donâ€™t See Abigail Warren The Little Beauties While Crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge Sara Biggs Chaney Letter From the Slush Pile Holly Henden The Art of It All Mark Oliver Nickâ€™s Place Phil A. Carriere Grace William G. Meffert Night Ride
Cover Art By Christine Catalano Christine worked happily in graphics for many years. Now liberated from daily deadlines, she tempts her muse with camera, Photoshop, and the occasional poem. Some of her artwork has been published in the San Pedro River Review, Crack the Spine, and Mused. She is anticipating the publication of an article highlighting some of her black and white photography in an upcoming issue of Front & Centre, an independent print publication featuring North American writers.
Nick Kolakowski The White Mountains
The family we found, in the deep woods, Barked in our faces, like anxious bloodhounds, Before the older ones remembered words From a long-dead era: “hep cats,” “niftic,” The matriarch cooing “Daddy-O” as She toyed with the strange fabric of our shirts. We had some trouble understanding them, But could read all their hard years in the pelts Hanging from the rafters of their cabin, Their black teeth and scars, the missing eyeball Of the father who begged us for a smoke. The children ran on all fours and stole our Shiny things, their mother talked to spirits Lurking (she believed) in the stone of the Crude hearth. We brought them the modern world, boxed In plastic crates: sweaters, shoes, freeze-dried food, But only then, trussed in bright synthetics, Shorn like pets awaiting the vet’s scalpel, Did they seem like something to be pitied.
Nick Kolakowski’s work has appeared in The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, The Evergreen Review, Satellite Magazine, Carrier Pigeon, and Washington City Paper. His first book, a work of comedic nonfiction titled “How to Become an Intellectual,” was published by Adams Media in 2012.
Jennifer Audette What You Don’t See The morning after her funeral, I pushed back the shower curtain, determined to get in, if not to be a man and face the truth that Ann was gone, then at least to get clean. But the air felt too cold and dry. I couldn’t do it. For as long as I’d lived with Ann, she’d showered first, staying in until the walls ran with condensation. We joked that the bathroom cried when she left. I looked behind the door, where she sometimes left her underwear. I never got tired of that, the thrill of seeing them there, like a secret she’d left for me. But the floor was empty. I plucked a mat of her hair from the drain cover and brushed off the soap film as best I could. Downstairs I found an envelope and tucked the little wad of hair inside, like you’d do with a two-year-old’s first cut. I slid it in my pocket. I’ll never be able to ask her, “Ann what the hell were you thinking?” She’s the one who’d pointed out, years ago, how sometimes, during the winter, the whole world turns silver-blue, how headlights come on but don’t seem to make a dent. Did she think I’d pass by on my way home from work and give her a ride back to the house before it got too dark? She’d done that before, back in August, sticking her thumb out when she saw my car. She wore running shoes with her sundress. “Gas, grass, or ass, no one rides for free,” I’d said when I pulled over to pick her up. She’d laughed at that old joke, head back, eyes closed. Her mouth tasted like the raspberries she’d been picking at the edge of the road. The night she got hit, she didn’t know my boss had called me into his office at the end of the day. She didn’t know that I’d left a half hour later than usual. Thirty minutes, that’s the difference between safe and silver-blue. Ann’s wool coat hung on the hook by the door. She loved that it was the color of fresh peas, her pea coat. Imagine if she’d bought a yellow one. I pushed my arms into the narrow sleeves. My wrists poked out sixes inches. I found her scarf in the hall closet, wrapped it around my neck and pulled on the hat she’d made to match. In a pocket I found the part of an acorn she called the lid and a small, gray feather. Ann had a thing for birds, especially their feathers. I swear they’d float down from the sky right into her hand.
The coat’s seams stretched against my shoulders. I heard a rip and had more room. Her hat barely reached the tops of my ears and I pulled it down again and again to keep it from sliding up. Seventeen years of life with Ann circled around me: the smell of her shampoo, her lavender lotion, her breath, the feel of spaces that had held her body. *** Since I couldn’t get into the shower, I got in my car and drove. At stop lights I leaned toward Ann’s side of the car and pulled her seatbelt to my face. Sometimes in the summer, when she wore her sleeveless things, she’d have to hold the belt away from her skin so it wouldn’t rub across her collar bone. I touched the air where she should have been, kissed her shoulder, stroked the peach of her cheek. She felt like a phantom limb. The cars behind me laid into their horns when the light turned green, like they thought I had no right to wallow. I drove past the diner where, on Saturday mornings, we shared waffles covered in real syrup and a side of bacon. I parked behind the Sudz-Mart with my window down to smell the humid exhaust of tumbled clothes. Our first fight happened inside, years ago, to the sound of spin cycles and the rhythmic clatter of loose change. I’d held up a baby-sized wool sweater the color of grass after rain. “Someone must have left this behind. Too bad, nice sweater.” I’d said. I didn’t know it was hers. “Come here; let’s see if it fits you.” Ha, ha. But no laugh from Ann. The sweater, a favorite, given to her during her semester in Ireland. How could I be so careless? “I’m sorry. It was an accident,” I’d said over and over. If it was such a needy piece of clothing, why had she tossed it in the hamper? I’d yelled. I rolled up my window and drove away from the Sudz-Mart heading out of town to our road up on the hill. I stopped where she’d been hit. I got out of the car to look for the deer prints I wanted to find even though there were none. Boots had trampled the dirty snow and tire tracks marred the shoulder coming and going, the confusion of an emergency. I walked 10 paces past the big oak before I saw the single set of tracks frozen along the shoulder. Ann’s right toes turned in like a lopsided pigeon. I got back in the car and headed toward the highway. God damn February! Ann was crazy about walking, about exercise, in February. “It’s gonna be skinweather before I know it. I’ve gotta get this old girl in shape!” She said how hard it was to keep her body trim, to keep the saddlebags, she called them, off her hips as she got older (as if I weren’t getting older too!). But I liked the softness winter brought. “Remember what your hero Vonnegut wrote,” I’d tell her.
“A woman should feel like a hot water bottle filled with Devonshire cream not a paper bag full of curtain rods.” I’d run my hands along her sides, her hips, the curves of her behind. *** I got on I91 in Brattleboro and didn’t turn south again until one hundred twenty miles later in St. Johnsbury. It’s easier to think on the highway; there’s safety built in: signs explicitly state No Pedestrians, the rumble strip keeps you in line, bends in the road are designed to handle speed, and oak trees don’t hide what you need to see. *** For two days before the funeral, I thought I’d gone deaf. People spoke to me, their mouths moved, but all I could hear was a soft thunk repeating in my head. Ann’s service was small, arranged quickly. No one expected me to talk and my thoughts weren’t for sharing. People rubbed my back, mumbled apologies then drifted away to whisper to each other. Who could do such a thing, hit a person and keep going? Maybe the driver didn’t feel anything, I heard someone say. *** On the highway, I drove north and south and north again, on repeat. The tires hummed along the road. At rest stops I left the car running to feel the life of the engine in my spine, to keep me warm. Sleep never came, but at least I could shut my eyes. By the third day I knew I needed food, maybe I even felt hungry. Ann ate fast food when we drove west to visit her family. It was the only time she did, like a ritual to curse the journey. She’d order a soggy burger with a side of fries even during the few years she called herself a vegetarian. I’d eat my tuna sandwich and carrot sticks packed from home. Twenty minutes after she’d popped the last fry into her mouth, she’d groan and tell me her guts felt full of dead cows and salt shakers. ***
I hadn’t thought to bring food with me. Bags of burgers and fries ordered through scratchy intercoms piled up in my car. With every bite I thought, “Do this in remembrance of me,” the words that decorated the altar where we got married, in a church, even though neither of us believed. *** Six days into my drive, heading north again toward St. J, I watched an owl swoop down from the trees into the path of an 18-wheeler. It bounced a few times along the shoulder, feathers swirled in the air. I veered across the rumble strip into the breakdown lane and reversed back to the owl. Of course the bird was dead. It wasn’t the driver’s fault. Ann wasn’t afraid of dead things. She would’ve brought the owl home and tucked it away in the garage. When maggots and earwigs had cleaned off all the flesh, Ann would’ve sunned the bones to white and marveled over the skeleton. I scooped the bird off the highway and laid it in the nest of fast food bags and burger wrappers on the backseat. *** The cops showed up at our door two hours after I’d gotten home from work. DOA, they explained after they’d removed their hats and said, ridiculously, “Good evening, Mr. Dubois”. I’d excused myself to the bathroom to throw-up, mostly wine, turning the water in the toilet purple. Before they knocked, I’d been sitting in the dark, pouring myself another and another, waiting for Ann to get home. I wanted to tell her about the deer, how it leapt out of nowhere at the spot where the tree trunk nearly pushes into the road. We called it the Death Oak, with scars from plow blades and car bumpers. She’d know exactly where I meant. She’d be home any second, the smell of cold air on her skin, her cheeks rosy. A deer, I’d tell her. I’d ducked and shut my eyes when I saw something in my peripheral vision, as if that could keep it from hitting my car. I wanted to hold her and tell her about my raise. That’s why my boss needed to see me at the end of the day, a god-damned raise. When I came out of the bathroom, I asked the officers, were they sure? Did they know who did it? I told them it’d been a good day at work, about the raise, how’d I’d stopped at the general store around the corner to get some wine, to celebrate, and so came down our road the back way, not my usual route. There’s no reason why that couldn’t have been true, why I couldn’t have done exactly that.
I don’t remember if they told me who called about seeing Ann’s body. The officers helped me make the necessary arrangements. Part of the job, they said. The tall one put a hand on my shoulder. The other one, his stomach straining against the buttons of his uniform, said, “We’re sorry for your loss, Mr. Dubois.” *** For two weeks I hadn’t been out of the car more than a few minutes to pump gas or go to the bathroom in the woods at the side of the road. I hadn’t spoken to anyone. When the nights dragged on I’d see flashes jump from the white reflectors marking off tenths of a mile. Only one headlight worked. Hallucinations wavered at the edge of my vision, shapes ready to leap in front of my car. Sometimes it looked like Ann, sometimes like a deer, most of the time I couldn’t tell for sure. I heard the creak of my eyes as I blinked away the visions. Everything started to stink. Ann’s coat held in the sweat of my grief. I’d used the scarf to wipe my eyes and nose. Spilled ketchup dried to a crust along the edge. I could smell the sourness of my hair under Ann’s hat. The dead owl festered in the backseat. Ann would have known how to handle it better, how to take care of the dead thing. The sun eased down behind the hills, the color of the sky slowly changed. A State trooper idled in the U-turn up near White River Junction. Maybe it was the same guy I’d passed on my drive north earlier in the day. He would know what to do. I stomped the accelerator to the floor and flew past the cop doing ninety-five. Years ago, I’d gone even faster than that with Ann out on the salt flats in Utah. God, she loved it, whooped like a cowgirl and grabbed my thigh. In my side mirror I watched his silver-blue lights spin to life. He burned toward me. I pulled onto the shoulder and lowered my window. As he approached and saw the mess in my car - the two weeks of fast food litter, the dead owl, Ann’s pea coat ripped at the shoulders– his hand went to his holster. “License and registration, please.” I was ready. “Do you know why I pulled you over?” I nodded and took Ann’s hat from my head. I held it to my face but the smell of her was gone. My throat ached. It was time to talk.
Jennifer Audette has an MS in Audiology which has nothing to do with writing but does pay the bills. She collects feathers that fall from the sky, bleached bones, and treasures washed up by the sea. She studies writing mostly in solitude but sometimes with the folks at The Writer's Center in White River Junction, VT. You can find more of her work in the Spring 2013 edition of Fiction Fix.
Abigail Warren The Little Beauties
The Bridesmaids drape on furniture like Botticelli’s tired women, waiting to pose—sad and bored faces in their pastel blues—it’s the fourth wedding this year, and one more morning glass of champagne at the hair salon will simply kill them—though it gives a sexy droopiness to their eyes—eyes that water for the camera, twinkle for the men, cry for the bride—another one gone to the White Dress, matching appliances, wineglasses to die for, and 7 beautifully photographed days in Paris—but now on this auspicious day, they celebrate, because they are almost sure this is what they want too.
Abigail Warren While Crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge Life Is Worth Living But the sign wasnâ€™t there when she walked halfway across. Coming from the south she must have been facing the city with its perpetual smog and skyscrapers; it could have been ancient ruins in a forgotten land. Slipping off her sandals exiting one side as she entered the other with bare feet I want to imagine that she considered swinging from the girders hand over hand from this point to that from here to there or diving in like a ballet dancer in pointe shoes.
I want to dream she glided in, velvet smooth as if pulled back to the watery birth canal a sliding from one side to the other.
Abigail Warren lives in Northampton, Massachusetts and teaches at Cambridge College. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in print and on-line, in Monarch Review, Duct, Forge, Pearl, Brink Magazine, Gemini Magazine, Into The Teeth of the Wind, Sanskrit, Emerson Review, Hawai'i Pacific Review, The Clarion, Bluestem, and Compass Rose. She was a recipient of the Rosemary Thomas Poetry Prize.
Sara Biggs Chaney Letter from the Slush Pile Dear Editors, I’ve got some kick-ass clichés headed your way. I’m sure you need a laugh. Did you like that last one I sent? I had to knock on a whole lot of doors to find someone who kept the poems they wrote in the 8th grade. That shit was arduous and more than a little embarrassing. My leg is infected and my eyes are still burning. But I’ll tell you what, Charlie Brown: A choice bit of schlock is its own reward. I write you today because I have hit the jackpot, yes sir, I have. This should be good for a yuk. Would you believe I found it in a flash mob video? It was viral on facebook for like, more than three hours. Let me lay it out: An orchestra in Italy assembles, one by one, to play the Ode to Joy in a picturesque town square. What could be more over done? The whole thing starts soft, just one guy with a cello, and no one really knows what’s happening yet, they’re looking up from their coffee cups, confused, they’re thinking is this a street performer? Then two dudes with violas waddle out from an alley way, then two more with flutes, then the oboes, then quick stepping it here comes the French horn player. Two more with the xylophone balanced between them. The warm sound builds on its oh so very familiar path. Freude, freude, freude. And what do you know. Who stops to watch? An old lady and a tow-headed child, of course. Man, it was straight purple prose in motion. Reader’s Digest with a Kleenex commercial on top. Even better is the look on the old lady’s face watching the musicians play, like its all so transcendent. Illuminating. Epiphanic. Soul-replenishing. Have we played how many adjectives can I fit in a sentence, yet? Let’s save that for the next submission. Anyway, watching this—and I’ll admit I gave this video a repeat viewing, being as how it touched me and 40,000 of my closest soul-compatriots—I got to thinking about Beethoven. Well, not really Beethoven, but Gary Oldman as Beethoven in that mediocre biopic. At the end he’s going deaf, you know, and the movie’s flashing back to his childhood and the Ode to Joy is banging in the background. In his mind he’s a little kid, running, running in the dark. He runs down the bank and right into the lake, and there he is, all alone in the lake, in the dark, floating. The Ode to Joy bangs and clamors as he drifts in the dark. And I can’t help but think it’s deep as hell, you know, cause he’s going deaf and the lake is like an eardrum, a vibrating sound mirror, and while he floats in it he hears the freude freude freude all
around, just stinging his ears to silence. I remember how I kept hitting rewind on the VCR to watch those last few minutes of the movie again and again. I was probably eleven years old. Home sick from school. And I just liked that part so much, you know? It made me think stuff, about how you can’t be really happy without being really sad. Happy and sad are the biggest clichés of all, stupid and insipid and hollow and heartbreaking. Anyway. You’ll love this part. By minute 4:00 of this video the whole orchestra is assembled, and undercover opera singers start popping their heads out of windows. Meter maids release their vibratos. A stern suited young lady and a pissy old man, who moments before appeared to be strangers, fling their newspapers and start belting that shit out from the park benches: Freude schone gotterfunken, tochter aus Elysium. And then the camera pans real slow over the whole square. Just slow enough for you to realize that everyone in earshot is grinning like a dipshit. Waiters, trash-pickers, stray cats. No one, and I mean no one, in this town appears to be losing their job, no one’s an alcoholic, no one’s kid has stage four cancer. They’re all ready to throw back the kool-aid for a song. Is it weird that I want to climb in the video? I want someone to freeze frame me in all my dipshit euphoria. Rewind. Playback. And then again. Man. Listen. I think I need to send myself on furlough for awhile. Can you get by without me? Don’t get me wrong, I love collecting tired ideas for you. But I think I need to drain my head; this slimy heart-pain makes for a creepy neighbor, always coming around when I’m trying to get some writing done. After awhile I’m just some asshole swimming in cellos and babies. I’m digging in the dirty corners of the closet for the Joni Mitchell album my sister used to play when I was a tow-headed baby, all the painted ponies going up and down. I’m singing and sniffling till my eardrums pop. I can’t stop thinking about little Ludwig in the lake, and the way old ladies look when something nice happens. And the word, freude, getting louder and louder. And Gary Oldman floating in the town square while a flash mob of editors dances to Mozart. Every bit of it so played out I could gag. Or weep.
Sara Biggs Chaney lives in Vermont and teaches writing at Dartmouth College. She received her Ph.D. in English with a concentration in Composition, Literacy, and Culture from Indiana University in 2008. When she isn't busy teaching or getting ready to teach, Sara researches representations of Autism. Her poetry and flash fiction have or will appear in Stone Highway Review, Sleet Magazine, Emerge Literary Journal, Right Hand Pointing, Eunoia Review, and elsewhere.
Holly Henden The Art of It All Tie it up and pull the strings tighter so the black will hold your breath for you Just a quick inhalation and a pause of recognition Not quite like waiting to be kissed; more like the moment before orgasm But wrapping around your ribcage so tightly but not tightly enough never tightly enough You pull the strings tighter and wish someone was standing behind you pulling the black strings until you swoon And all the women before you breaking their ribs pulling on their corset strings to fit perfectly into the shape of someone else’s desire But it feels good to be held tight in this vise Like when he pulled your hair and you submitted under a cascade of quickening pulses His mouth on your neck, your hands on the kitchen counter, and “Turn around,” was all he growled, low and hungry And as you stand in front of the mirror and pull the damn thing tighter you suddenly release and The strings glide through your fingers and dance along your back And go slack against your body like the reins of a rider who’s given up
Holly is a psychiatrist working in Phoenix. She did her undergraduate education at Wellesley College, her graduate education at UC Davis, and her medical school training at the University of Arizona. In her poetry she tries to catch and elaborate on those moments that otherwise would slip by quietly. She hopes that in her poetry she is able to explore the space between the beauty and cruelty of existence. Her poetry can be found in The Front Range Review, Ginosko, The George Washington Review, and Schuylkill Valley Journal.
Mark Oliver Nick’s Place Nick's place was just a single windowless room in the basement of a Portuguese family's home. He brought Jen in through a torn screen door hanging off of its last screw around the back that took them through a laundry room. The washing machine pipes were gouged and torn and a white powder lingered visibly in the air. Nick fumbled roughly with the wrong key for a minute, lobbing motivational curse words at the lock without success, before he stumbled on the right one by chance. He slid his hand around the door, flicked the switched, and presented his home. The switch flickered two fluorescent lights overhead into a desperate battle for life. The one closest to the door pulled through, managing a solid shine after only a few false starts, but the other never pulled off anything more than a dull orange glow at its edges. In the slight light of the active tube the room became visible. The right side of the room was the kitchen, which was just a thin counter pressed against the wall, cluttered with empty pizza boxes, dishes and unwashed pans. There was a mini-fridge at the end, stained with the dribbling scum of some spilled sauce. On top of it was a brown dial-operated microwave from the '80s, still proudly stamped with the sticker advertising that it had cost them ten dollars at Value Village. On the left was a television, decorated in caseless CD-Rs and antique video games. A Super Nintendo, an X-Box, and a whole clump of machines she didn't recognize were sprawled out on the foot of floor between the television and the couch. The couch was covered in a set of window drapes with a floral pattern of lime green and stale yellow, laid on top to hide the Styrofoam brick they'd used to cover a set of missing springs. The back half of the room was blocked off with white sheets draping from the roof, affixed with electrical tape. They were thin enough that Jen could see that all they covered was a single bed and the man lying on top. “Steve dibsed the bed tonight,” Nick explained. “But it's cool, the couch is super-comfortable. And Steve's a real deep sleeper, so don't worry. If you're worried about that.” Jen made a noise that was somewhere between a mumble, a laugh, and a word, and stood uncomfortably by the entrance.
“Do you like Jack?” Nick asked as he walked over to the mini-fridge. “I think Steve still has some Jack Daniels in the freezer.” He pulled open the door and fumbled a bottle out from the colder half of the unlit fridge. “Man! Did you know about that? The forty-percents don't freeze. You know how if you put a beer in the freezer it goes, like – bmpfsh! – and you have to buy new groceries now? The fortypercents don't do that. And it's, like – you don't even need ice now, right? Crazy delicious.” He took two coffee mugs from the cabinet and rinsed them under the tap. “I don't know if it works for wine. Or the liqueurs, the twenty-percents? There's probably some magic number, right, but I don't know what it is. Science experiment! Gotta try that.” Jen had just managed to make her way to the couch without stepping on any of the electronics littering the floor, which was no small accomplishment. She was rather proud of her finesse. When she slid onto the couch, she could feel the bread crumbs and bits of potato chips itching against her skin. When Nick handed her the mug, she got out a belated, “Oh, yeah, Jack! I love Jack. Love Jack. We do shots, we – when Cheryl and Trish and I, we really like – Jack Daniels is good.” She held the mug and sipped. For a second it tasted like frozen sugar coated in maple syrup, but it twisted into a bitter taste of bile that lingered far longer. Nick took off his coat and dropped it carelessly on the floor before sitting down next to her. Underneath he had a black t-shirt with the words “I Pwn Noobs” written under a picture of a cartoon character she didn't recognize. Jen, realizing she was still wearing her own coat, let out an apologetic laugh and folded it on the arm of the couch. She was wearing the blue dress and pushup bra combo that made her boobs look big, coupled with the belt-at-the-stomach look that she'd stolen from Sharon. They passed nervous giggles back and forth and sipped their mugs of whiskey for a moment, until Nick said, “Oh, man! I saw this video on YouTube last night, and it's hilarious, it's this guy – he's a midget? But not a normal one, all his features are weird and he has these big hilarious glasses, and he lipsynches to these pop songs – the music's horrible, but he makes these faces, totally hilarious, like – I don't know, I couldn't do them, I wouldn't do it justice. You have to just watch it. It has something like a million views. I'll send you the link, it's really funny.” “That sounds really funny,” Jen said. “Do you have Facebook? I could send it to you over Facebook.” “Yeah.” Jen gulped back her Jack Daniels. “Yeah, I have Facebook.” “It's just Jennifer Jacobson, right? You'd be in Sharon's friend group, so you shouldn't be hard to find. Do you use a fake name? Like, I don't know, Steve is Mayor McNuggets. I don't know, that seemed funny when we made it.”
“Jamieson,” Jen said. She tried putting the half-full mug on the couch arm, but it didn't look very stable. “Jennifer Jamieson.” She moved the mug on to the floor. “Oh, jeez!” Nick said with a laugh, slapping himself in the face like a cartoon character. “I am so sorry! I knew that, I'm just really drunk, I swear. I get – you know, memory loss and brain damage and all. Drinking causes them. Jamieson.” “It's okay,” Jen said. “And, yeah, you could find me on Cheryl's list. No fake name. No Mayor McNuggets.” She laughed a little and Nick laughed quite a bit. Then she reached over and took Nick's mug from his hands. She made a flirtatious smile, sipped the whiskey, and fought back a wince. She put the mug on the floor next to her's. turned, looked him in the eye and said, “So.” A shaky laugh slipped out of Nick before he could hold it back. He said, “Yeah.” She leaned over and kissed him on the lips. He moved to her neck immediately and started sucking like a starving leech. She let out a little moan and, overly encouraged, he started nibbling with his teeth. “Gentle, gentle!” she said. He stopped and stepped back, looking like a puppy who had just gotten the paper on his nose. “Sorry. Just, I don't want a hickey.” He leaned back on her and pushed her against the arm of the couch, slobbering kisses across her cheeks and her forehead. He ran his fingers in zig-zags along her stomach and she couldn't tell if he was tickling her on purpose but tried not to laugh to be safe. She thought it would be sexy if she grabbed at his crotch but he winced and let out a quick squeal. “Was that too hard?” she said. “Don't worry about it,” he said. “Was it too hard?” she said. “It's fine,” he said. He pulled off his “I Pwn Noobs” shirt. Without the oversized shirt disguising his features she could see how skinny he really was. His ribcage poked out through his flesh. His whole chest was completely hairless, except for a forest of black hairs jolting out of the ridges of his freakishly wide nipples. When he climbed back on top of her she could feel his ribs jabbing into her stomach. It was like being mounted by a coat-rack. He dove back to her neck and started nibbling again, so she pushed him back over to his side of the couch and took over. She hesitated before climbing on top, afraid she might crush him. Jen was ready to admit that maybe she had a few extra pounds, but next to Nick she felt gigantic. She thought that maybe there was something to the all Mr. Noodles diet after all.
Jen crawled down and started kissing his nipples, but soon felt unsure about it. Was this even an erogenous zone for men? When she'd dated Paul this was all he ever wanted to do to her and it always just felt weird. She dove in and took a big bite anyway. Nick groaned and Jen couldn't quite tell if it was in ecstasy or pain until she leaned back to look him over. “Jesus!” she let slip, seeing his bleeding nipple. “What?” Nick said. “What's wrong?” “Do you have any paper towels?” Jen started scavenging through the floor, but couldn't find anything other than old cartridges and burnt copies of James Bond movies. “Why?” Nick recoiled from under her. “What's wrong? What's going on?” “Nothing!” Jen pulled his shirt off the floor and threw it on him before he could see the blood. “Just put this back on. Everything's fine.” She started forcing it back over his head. “What are you doing?” Nick squirmed as she forced the shirt on him. “Something's wrong. What's going on?” “Nothing's wrong.” Jen managed to get the shirt on him. The blood didn't seem to be seeping through. “It's hot. It's a hot shirt. You look hot in that shirt.” Nick didn't seem fully convinced that his “I Pwn Noobs” shirt was such a successful lady-killer, but Jen was on him with her tongue fast enough that he let the matter drop. She started nibbling on his ear, which had always worked on her when Paul did it. She felt a little like she was going at it like she'd eat a cookie, though, and decided to go back to his mouth before she ended up drawing blood again. A wheezing cough sounded out from behind the curtain. Jen stopped. She sat up like a dog following a noise. “Steve has a cold,” Nick explained. “Don't worry, it's fine.” “You said he was asleep,” Jen whispered. “He is,” Nick said. “He coughs in his sleep. It's normal, everyone coughs in their sleep.” “I don't think you can cough in your sleep,” Jen whispered. “Can you cough in your sleep? You can't cough in your sleep.” “You can cough in your sleep,” Nick said. “It's normal.” Jen was not convinced, but Nick was tugging her back down and she felt guilty resisting. She gave in and came back down, kissing him while Steve probably watched them through the curtain. She pulled her head up and peeked at the sheet dividing the room. She could the silhouette of a man lying on his side and she couldn't tell if he was facing away from them or if she was staring directly at them.
Nick grabbed at the top of her dress and started pulling it down and she was sure she saw Steve sit up. She pulled Nick's hands away, pulled her dress back up and pulled away, saying, “Stop, stop, stop.” She looked through the curtain again but he was still lying down after all. “This is too weird.” “It's fine,” Nick said, reaching over to squeeze her breast. “Don't worry about it. Come on, it'll be fine.” He tried to kiss her, but she slid off the couch and took a few steps back. When she realized what she'd done she let out a quick embarrassed laugh. “No, totally, it's cool,” she said, “It's fine, I just – let's just talk for a bit.” Nick was just staring at her. He looked like a kid who had just had a toy ripped out of his hands and was trying to figure out why before he started crying. “No, but,” he said, trying to puzzle it out. “I mean, this is my house. You know? This is what's it's like. Steve's a deep sleeper, and you can't see anything through the curtains. I mean, don't be weird about it.” “No, yeah, totally, it's fine,” Jen said. “I just – I feel like I barely know you, y'know? I just want to get to know you.” Nick just kept staring at her, frustrated and confused. He got the words “What are we going to talk about?” out very slowly and it sounded more like a complaint than a question. Jen sat back down on the couch cushion furthest away from Nick and put her knees up like a wall between them. She tried to remember something that Nick had told her about him or anything at all that they'd talked about at the bar, but nothing came to mind. The only thing she could remember was making out with him on the dance floor, but even that was spotty. She said, “What do you do? For a job. Are you in school or working or whatever?” Nick snorted a quick laugh out through my nose. “Oh, God. You sound like my mom,” he said. “Sorry. I mean, just – she's always on my case about that. I know you didn't – anyway.” He rubbed his forehead like he was deep in contemplation and repeated the question. “What do I do.” Then he said, “Yeah, I've got that sorted out. You know the Wal-Mart up on the corner there? By the subway? They've got a sign up for a part-time merchandiser and, I mean, the people who work there right now are just garbage. I can totally do that. I'm dropping off a resume tomorrow and, I mean, that's a lock for sure.” Jen said, “That's cool” without totally realizing it. She was looking at the pile of dirty dishes in the sink. The black ash crumble of some burnt meat stuck to a pan was mesmerizing her for a reason that she couldn't understand. She tried to remember what it was that had attracted her to Nick, but nothing was coming to mind.
“That's just a pay the bills thing, though,” Nick said. “Steve and I have this YouTube channel, and we record Call of Duty and sometimes Halo games and things like that, and we have this real funny repartee going back and forth between us. He's got, like, a Chris Farley personality going, and I'm David Spade.” He made an exaggerated face and growled, “For the love of God!” but his voice was too thin to sound anything like Chris Farley. “Our last video got, like, 17,000 views, and I hear when you get up to 20,000 they start paying you.” Jen didn't say anything. She was looking at some black splotches on the wall now and she couldn’t tell if it it was grime that had rubbed off of their hands or if they were getting mold. She had this nagging feeling somewhere in the back of the mind that she should just get up and start running and never stop. She imagined she would end up in a small town in the north and she'd live in a small cabin without electricity or phones. She would grow strawberries and carrots and the deer would come through the forest to eat out of her hands. The winters would be hard, but in the summer she would travel into town for the farmer's market and everyone would admire her collection of carrots that resembled celebrities. “You should compliment me,” she said suddenly. The words spilled out of her mouth before she realized it and she felt embarrassed the second they were out. Nick said, “What?” and Jen laughed at herself to try to play it down. “I'm not crazy,” she said. “Sorry, that wasn't supposed to be a weird clingy thing. I don't know why I said that. I just meant, what do you like about me?” Nick said, “Um” and looked her over. He seemed to be putting some serious thought into the question. “You're beautiful,” he said. “Oh,” Jen said. “Okay.” She wasn't really sure what that meant. Nick looked at her expectantly and started shuffling his body closer to hers. She said, “What else?” “You're sexy,” Nick said, pulling her dress up over her knees. He started kissing them. Then he shoved his hands between her legs and tried to pull them apart. She tried to push him off gently, but ended up having to pry his fingers off one by one. “Say something better,” she said. Nick just looked frustrated. He glanced around the room as though he was looking for inspiration anywhere other than from her. Then he turned back to her like he'd found his muse. “You're like a flower,” he said. “You're like a rose.” Jen said, “Okay.” “You have beautiful petals. But you also have thorns.”
“I have thorns.” “Sexy thorns.” He dove his hand between her legs once more and started to slide his hand up her thighs. She could feel his nails grating against her skin. She inched back instinctively, but he didn't stop. “I don't think I know what that means,” she said. He let her go with a loud, audible sigh. “Well, I don't know,” he said. “You're kind of putting me on the spot here. What do you like about me?” Jen looked at his skinny frame and his soft round shoulders and his patchy peach fuzz beard and his tangled hair. “You're funny,” she said. “You have a good sense of humour.” Nick tried to lean in again and she stood up. “I have to go to the washroom,” she said. “Excuse me one second. Sorry.” The washroom was as disgusting as the main room. The counter was covered in soap scum and spotted with patches of still black water. The sink was coated in a layer of cut black whiskers converging around a small clean spot where the water fell when the tap was left running. She turned it on and used her hand to divert the water onto the sides. The force of the stream washed most of the whiskers down the drain, but a few stubborn stragglers clung on. Her head has throbbing and her nerves were shaking with an aimless anger that she didn't know where to direct. She tried to figure out how she got into this situation and it made her feel like a slut. She thought that maybe she might hate herself. She had to wipe the steam streaks off the mirror to see herself clearly. She looked at her pug nose and her fat cheeks and the stupid ponytail that made her look like she hadn't picked up any new fashion tips since she was six. She pulled the scrunchie out of her hair to see how it would look, but when it fell out it was just straggled and messy. On the top of the toilet there was an issue of Men's Health with a picture of Chris Hemsworth on the cover. He was wearing nothing but a low hanging pair of jeans and you could see that V muscular men get peeking out at his pelvis. The thought that she never be with a man that looked like that slipped through her mind. It struck her as a simple, detached acknowledgement of an obvious fact. Jen had never been the type of girl who turned heads. She had only ever dated one guy and he was no skinnier that she was. She broke up with him because her friends all told her she could do better, but that was a year ago and she hadn't been without anyone since and he was dating that bitch with the overbite.
She flipped through the magazine not really reading it until she could make herself think rationally. She wasn't being fair to Nick. She wasn't anything special. She was just another plain fat girl. She remembered when she was young she was completely convinced that she was going to marry Justin Timberlake one day. But she was an adult now. When she opened the bathroom door, Nick was still sitting on the couch. He was leaned forward with his hands together, tapping his fingers together. His right leg was shaking slightly. “Do you really think I'm beautiful?” she said. Nick shook his head over to her and looked like he was too disoriented to understand what was happening. “What?” he said. Then, “Oh, yeah. Of course. Like a flower.” Jen walked over to him, pushed his head up by the chin and kissed him on the lips. She snapped open the belt at her waist and let it slip to the ground. She pulled her dress down one strap at a time. She had hoped it would just fall off like in the movies, but it got stuck on her thighs and when she tried to kick it off she almost tripped. Nick was watching her with a look of total excitement and anticipation. His face was frozen in a state of total shock and it looked a bit like he was trying not to have a heart attack. To see him looking at her like that felt like a piece of her soul that had been torn out had come back. For a while, she just lingered in front of him in her underwear and soaked in the attention. Her eye shot over on its own to the drapes where Steve was sleeping and a bit of that confidence pulled away. She held a finger up to signal she'd be back in one second as seductively as she could, went over to the wall, and turned out the light. She walked back slowly, shaking her hips from side to side until she bashed her foot into a ColecoVision. “Fuck!” Jen said. “Yeah,” Nick said, his voice shaking eagerly. “That's it. Talk dirty.” She picked up the video game system and threw it out of the way. Then she hobbled over to him in the sexiest hobble she could pull off. She pushed him down onto the couch and climbed on top of him. She tried to pull his shirt off slowly, but it got stuck on something at his nipple and she had to give it a good yank to get it off. Nick yelped in pain and reached to his bleeding nipple. He held his fingers up and looked a little terrified to see the splotches of blood stained on the tips. Jen just looked at them with him for a second, then blurted out, “What did you do? You must have cut it somehow!” Nick just said, “What the hell?”
“Let's not worry about it,” she said. “Let just not think about what you must have done.” Nick looked like he was starting to form a sentence, so she leaned over and kissed him on the lips before he could say it. She didn't stop until she was sure he'd forgotten. Nick moved over to her neck and he was a bit more gentle this time. She let out a moan she wasn't expecting and bit her lip to stop it. Then he traced his kisses up the side of her face and started sucking on her cheek. When he didn't stop, she tried pushing him back a bit and he pulled the cheek out with him. She thought she should say something, but decided it was easier to just let him suck on it for a few minutes. He reached his hand around her back, grabbed her bra strap and just started yanking it upward. He seemed to be genuinely confused why it wasn't working and tried to just yank harder. She reached back and started to unhinge it herself. “I can do it,” he insisted, and grabbed at it again. She pushed his hands away and took it off on her own. She started tracing her way down his chest with kisses. A bit of the caked-in blood got caught on her tongue and she spat it out without thinking. Nick groaned in pleasure when she spat on him. It struck her as a little strange, but there was no sense in being a prude, so she gave his chest a few more good loogies. She kissed her way down his stomach and started unbuckling his belt when she heard the fridge open. When she looked up she saw a naked man's buttocks staring at her over the side of the couch. Jen went completely still. Nick tried to kiss her neck, but she mushed his face with her palm and held him down. The naked man pulled a carton of orange juice of the fridge. He leaned back his head and poured it down his throat. Then he put it back. It was hard to make him out in the dark, but as he walked away Jen was almost certain she saw something dangling between his legs. Nick had to pull her hand off of his face so that he could breathe. He said, “He was probably just sleep walking.” “I don't think he was wearing pants,” Jen said. “He was wearing pants. Steve wears pants.” “I do not think that he was wearing pants.” Nick tried to kiss her on the neck again and she pulled away completely. After some fishing around on the floor for a bit she managed to find her bra and put it back on. “Come on,” Nick said. “You're being so --” He let out a frustrated sigh and shook his head. “Nevermind.”
“What?” Jen snapped back. “What am I being?” “Nothing. It doesn't matter.” They dressed themselves without saying anything. Jen nearly left without a word, then managed a weak, “I have to work.” “Sure,” Nick said without bothering to look up. He let her walk most of the way out without stopping her. Then he remembered the scattered mess on the floor, the dishes piled up in the kitchen and his own sickly body and he said, “Hey, wait.” Nick scavenged through the the mess on the floor until he found a sharpie. He ripped a greasy piece of cardboard off of a pizza box, wrote his e-mail address on it and gave it to her. “I still have to show you the video with the midget,” he said. “I mean, if you want to. You don't have to.” Jen put it in her coat pocket, but she didn't say anything and she left. It was still dark as she walked home. She had a feeling like she had a lot to think about, but she wasn't really thinking about anything. She pulled the torn piece of cardboard out and looked at it. She thought about crumbling it up and throwing it away. For a moment she just stood there, outside and alone. The cold empty air bit at her skin and she hugged herself to stay warm. Then she put the cardboard back in her pocket and walked home.
Mark Oliver is a writer based out of Toronto, Ontario. More stories by the same author can be viewed at his website at http://markoliverfiction.wordpress.com.
Phil A. Carriere Grace What it is: Charlemagne’s dog Can’t stop licking Blood away from the day – Stands ready – toothy – Carried by historical sense To stay bottom-rusted to greatness But always upward glancing Singing in dog to Christ Who feigns interest. What it is: Dying from remaining A holy K-9 covenant watching the last shock When veins pop and blood Like oil bubbles On the marble surface, Red splattered Lame’; And finally A joining of verse to frailty The body humbly mastered Clean of tomorrow.
“I received my MFA from the University of South Carolina in 2007. I am married to a beautiful woman 35 years and have two good and grown sons. I have been publishing poems in the small press magazines and journals since 1996. My work has appeared in Blind Man’s Rainbow, Mid-West Poetry Review, Visions International and others. For the last six years I have taught composition at a two year college in Columbia SC.”
William G. Meffert Night Ride
When I was a young boy, grownups would ask me: “Are you going to be a surgeon like your dad? He saves so many lives, what a great man. Don’t you want to be like him when you grow up?” “I’m thinking about it,” I’d say. What a stupid question. I mean, was I going to say no? “Maybe a brain surgeon.” Their foreheads would wrinkle and eyes open wide after that one. Most old people would then shake my hand with their big paws. “Terrific,” they would say, and finally move away. I really didn’t know much about my dad until we started seeing patients together in 1950, in the middle of Iowa. I was nine years old. Most often we went to see a patient in the emergency room. I would wait outside the operating room looking through one of the small windows while they fixed somebody up. But it was like looking at a doctor movie from the entrance of a theater, distant people in white uniforms doing something to the person lying on a table. I wanted to be in the operating room, and see what Dad actually was doing. *** “Andy, I’ve got to see a patient in Monticello. She’s having a lot of pain in her stomach, may have to operate on her.” My dad was standing beside my bed. I rolled towards the Baby Ben on the table. One a.m.. “Want to come along?” Our old brick house faded away in the headlights as we backed down the driveway. We were soon racing along in my dad’s big white Cadillac, way over the limit. Then he really opened her up on the narrow highway leading to Monticello, the centerline stripes rushing by in a blur. This car was new, with wide leather seats and those new electric windows instead of cranks. The front bumper guards looked like large bullets; chrome stripes ran along the doors and fenders to the tail fins. A large chrome V was on the front and rear. This was the champion of cars and it went like hell. Dad floored it and soon the wind was screaming even louder than the engine. I watched the white speedometer needle move rapidly to the right- 60,70,80,90,100. “There’s a three mile straight stretch after this next curve,” he said, the red- tipped cigarette moving up and down as he talked. “Don’t be surprised at the bounce when we go over a little bridge a mile ahead.” I grabbed the seat edge and hung
on. Foot to the floor, leaning forward, both hands gripping the wheel- 90, 100, 110, we flew across that narrow wooden bridge and through the black night surrounded by warm odors of farm animals and the sweet smell of freshly cut hay. Being a doctor and driving a fast car seemed unreal to me then. How could you start as just a kid and one day become someone who could save lives and drive as fast as you wanted? “Well, you’ll see, honey,” my mom would say when we talked about it. “Not much in life happens suddenly. You’ll just figure out what you want to do and then work on it each day. You can do anything you want if you work hard.” My lips moved with hers. I had that last sentence memorized. We slowed for the last curve before Monticello, passed a blinking red neon: Eat Gas 24 Hours, and coasted through deserted streets to a tall white building on a hill, Henderson Hospital. The Henderson family had given their home to the town for a hospital after the old people croaked and the kids moved away. As we drove up the curving driveway, the headlights dimly showed a towering mansion with windowed turrets and dark balconies. It looked haunted, like the Hendersons might still be floating around inside. Dr. Meyers was standing under the light near the front stairs. He was sort of stooped over with small round glasses. He smiled. “My God that didn’t take long, Clyde,” he said, shaking hands. “Didn’t I just talk to you about half an hour ago?” “No other cars,” my dad said as we walked up the steep stairs to the large double entrance doors. “I brought my son Andy with me.” “Glad you did,” Dr. Meyers said, holding the hand rail, carefully taking one step at a time. “Can’t start them too early. You’ll have an interesting time tonight, son.” “Yes sir.” I said, still listening to the crinkling, cracking sounds of the hot Cadillac. Maybe I could just sleep in the car while they took care of the problem. There were very few lights as we walked up a winding staircase to the second floor and past a life- sized statue of Jesus with his arms reaching out, eyes staring up at heaven, folds of blue and yellow robes lit by several candles at his feet. I would have liked him better if his eyes had been looking down and following me along like in those old paintings where the eyes seem to move as you walk past. Dr. Meyers carried a flashlight along the dark hallway to the patient’s room. I followed along behind the doctors like a useless wooden toy being towed by a string. I stopped at the doorway but watched closely. Looking over the tops of his glasses, Dr. Meyers introduced my dad:
“Here is Dr. Westwood. I called him to come up and take a look. Clyde, this is Marian Clark and Jake there beside her.” I could see Mrs. Clark, white as a wax candle lying there holding her belly and Jake standing near the bed looking scared as hell, his white wrinkled forehead contrasting with a deeply tanned face, his sun -darkened hands clasped together. “Tell us what happened,” Dr. Meyers said. “Well, I was just usual until yesterday. Then I had a little pain on the right here, pointing low on her stomach. It got a lot worse this evening and when I got up from the chair after dinner, I fainted, didn’t I, Jake?” “You sure did, scared the hell out of me, honey.” “Any nausea or vomiting or diarrhea?” “Just a little nausea.” “Any fever?” “No.” “Have you ever had these problems before?” “No.” “Are your periods normal?” Dad asked. “No. I’ve missed the last two.” Dad touched her belly. She grabbed his hands and shouted: “Oh Doc, that hurts like hell. Don’t press on it!” She turned on her side and brought up her knees. I bit my lip and looked at the floor; never saw anyone in that much pain before. Dad turned to Dr. Meyers. “Well Alex, looks like she’s got bleeding in her abdomen don’t you think? Her missed periods make me concerned about a tubal or abdominal pregnancy.” “The laboratory studies show severe anemia,” Dr. Meyers said. “I sent for some blood in case she needs a transfusion.” “We need to look in there,” Dad said. “Shouldn’t wait for morning; should do it here rather than wait for an ambulance. How about anesthesia and a scrub nurse?” We have two nurses on call and sterile instruments upstairs. I can give an ether anesthetic.” The operating room was on the fourth floor. Mrs. Clark was carried on a stretcher up the two flights of stairs and down another dim hallway, Dr. Meyers holding the front handles, my dad at the rear. I walked behind again. Everything smelled like bleach and the old floor squeaked.
We came to a small white room with a bright overhead light where two nurses were laying out instruments and opening packages of gauze sponges. Mrs. Clark was moved carefully from the stretcher onto a metal table in the operating room. Then Dad, Dr. Meyers and I walked to the nearby dressing room. “Alex, is it OK with you if Andy watches?” “Hell yes,” he answered, pulling a white scrub suit over his fat stomach. I looked through the tall stack of uniforms for the smallest size. “Oh, don’t worry about size,” my dad said. “We’ll just roll up the sleeves and pant cuffs and pin the waist so they don’t fall off. Here put on this cap, I’ll tie this mask around your neck.” I stood there trying to get enough air through the heavy mask while the two of them began scrubbing their hands. They looked comfortable in their white clothes and masks. I could see through the window into the operating room as the Mrs. Clark’s gown was removed and she was painted with iodine. She was the first naked woman I had ever seen before except my mother, once by accident. So pale and so quickly painted orange, her body didn’t seem real. Maybe it was her color or the fact she was lying down. I was a little disappointed at her flat breasts after looking at all the National Geographic photographs. White sheets were put over her, covering everything except the stomach. Dr. Meyers started the anesthetic. He motioned to me to come into the operating room. I loosened my mask a little and entered the room but stayed against the wall. One of the nurses turned to me, eyes narrowed above her mask. “Don’t touch anything!” she said. I put my hands behind me and stood there in the bright white room, fingers locked and sweaty, not sure of what to do. Another nurse and my dad stepped up to the patient’s side. “She’s ready Clyde,” Dr. Meyers said. “Scalpel!” A nurse handed my dad this little shiny knife which he pressed against the patient’s skin. Blood flowed from the cut. “Hemostat, silk, sponge, hold the retractor like this,” Dad said, pulling on the handle and looking up at the nurse. Sometimes he talked to me like that, especially when I was trying to tie a knot or fix something that was broken. “That’s the wrong way,” he would say, and then leave the room. Later my mom and I would figure out how to do it. I looked away, thinking how great the trip home in the Cadillac would be. “Andy, come over here,” Dr. Meyer said, again looking over his glasses. He was sitting on a shiny metal stool near the patient’s head. “See how I pour this ether?” He was holding a metal can about the size of a Campbell’s soup can my mother used in our kitchen. He had cut off the small top and put in a
cork with a small v cut in it. Ether dripped from a short piece of pipe cleaner stuck through the notch onto a soft mask held over Mrs. Clark’s face. His wrinkled, hairy hand held the mask firmly. “She breathes it and it keeps her asleep. You just have to be careful not to drip too much or too little. You have to listen to how she breathes. Sit here beside me on my chair,” he said, moving to the edge of the round seat. “I’ll hold your wrist. You hold the can. There you go. Just go round and round the mask. Listen to her breathe.” He had a calm voice and explained things much better than my dad. Mrs. Clark sounded like she had just been frightened by Frankenstein. You know how girls do watching movies, only she did it over and over. Her forehead started to frown. “That’s not enough. See, she’s waking up.” I poured more out the can and her breathing deepened but then became softer. “See, that’s too much!” Dr. Meyer said. I tipped the can back but dripped some on my pants. It was real cold and smelled like mothballs. I liked it. I tilted the can and dripped a little more on my hand. Dr. Meyers took over. About then my dad asked for the suction. I stood up and saw all the blood rushing through the plastic tubing into a large bottle on the floor. Sponges were soaked with blood. “Alex, you better start a unit of blood,” my dad said, looking through the cut into Mrs. Clark’s abdomen. I didn’t know we had that much blood in us. The glass bottle on the floor was half full of Mrs. Clark’s blood! Jesus! In the movies people get hurt, bleed just a little and fall over. But no one seemed too worried except me. “I’ve got it.” Dad said. He had one of his gloved hands around something deep inside her. “Have Jake come in so I can show him what the problem is.” I had no idea people were hollow inside-that you could reach inside them to fix things. In a few minutes Mr. Clark came wide eyed into the operating room through a glass side door, his overalls and boots partly covered by a small white gown a nurse was trying to tie around his chest. “Jake, step up on the stool behind me,” my dad said. Silently, his wide eyes staring above his mask, Jake stepped up and put a hand against my dad’s back to steady himself. “She bled quite a lot. See this red thing here?” Mr. Clark leaned forward, he was sweating. Dad turned his head to look at him. Easy Jake, don’t push any harder. Don’t want you to fall into us. Is he OK nurse?” “Hell, I’m Ok, Doc, just something you don’t see every damn day.”
“It’s about the size of a walnut. It’s a pregnancy that never made it down Marian’s right tube to her uterus. It got stuck in the tube and started to grow, got larger and finally broke open and caused all that bleeding into her abdomen.” Dr. Meyers was dripping the ether now; I was standing beside him so I could see what Mr. Clark was looking at. Dad had a red thing between his fingers of his left hand, small spurts of blood shot out with each heartbeat. He put two clamps just under his fingers and the bleeding stopped. He cut between the clamps and lifted the red thing out of Mrs. Clark. “Here it is he said,” holding the thing carefully before handing it to the nurse beside him. “I forgot to ask how many kids you have, Jake.” “Two, Doc, a boy and a girl.” His voice seemed faint and he rocked back and forth on the stool. “Well you can still have more. The other tube is normal and she has both ovaries.” I thought: Why would you ever have more kids after this? “I gotta sit down, Doc.” Still holding up his gown, the nurse that had led him into the room grabbed Mr. Clark and helped him back out the glass side door into the hallway where he slammed down on the nearest chair before the door closed. So that’s kinda what happened my first time in surgery. Sure, I felt wobbly too, just like Jake. But I just sat down on the floor and stared at the small tiles for a while until Dr. Meyers wanted me to pour the ether again. Mrs. Clark sort of woke up while we were still in the operating room after her bandage was put on. She started to moan and moved around before they tied her to the stretcher. Finally she answered a couple of questions and sighed when one of the nurses asked her to take a deep breath. I followed along while they carried her back down the stairs to her room. Jake gave Dr. Meyers and my Dad bear hugs and everyone shook hands. Even me. *** We pulled into that diner on the edge of town for breakfast just as it was getting light. A little bell rang as we opened the door. I was hungry. The only person in there was standing at the sink washing dishes and smoking a cigarette. “Come on in, boys,” she said, smiling. “I’m Esther. What’ll you have?” She was just a little taller than I was, her face wrinkled except for a strip of bright red lipstick. We sat at the counter on those turning stools I like. Esther put her cigarette down on the edge of the stove as she fried our bacon and eggs. About half way through Dad lit another cigarette with his Zippo and leaned across the counter towards me: “Do you have any questions about what happened last night, Andy?”
“Oh, no Dad. I pretty much understand it all.” That’s what I said. He had a little smile then. Really though, I didn’t know what the hell had happened. How much blood do we have inside us? Do other naked women look like that? Wait until I tell my friends! That night I learned that people aren’t just solid like trees. They look solid but you can drip some ether on their faces and reach into them with your hands to fix what’s wrong. I’ll probably reach into people someday too. And take Dad along on fast car rides.
William G. Meffert is a surgeon in Vietnam, Iowa, Haiti, Russia, and China, as well as a flight instructor, carpenter, surgical consultant for Stanford University. He is published in AOPA, The Vietnam Archive, The Evergreen Review, The MacGuffin, and forthcoming issues of Helix Magazine and Ars Medica.
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