Double Take

witch

A tall man with a hooked beak for a nose and heavy eyebrows stared over the wooden slats of the fence.  He wore grey sweat pants pulled up over his hips and a thin long sleeve t-shirt that outlined sharp shoulder blades and bony shoulders. Thin wrists and long, pale hands stuck out from the ends of the sleeves.  He was like a scarecrow hanging onto the fence, scaring off the birds and small rodents.

“Mike, what are you doing?” a woman asked from behind him, suddenly arriving, and seemingly appearing from out of thin air.   She had shiny, black hair and wore a pair of neon green tennis shoes and a matching athletic top.  

He gasped and tried to step back.  He stumbled, finding he was already against the fence without any additional room for his long legs to stretch.  Then he realized several things; it was just Lani and she must have walked over, she therefore did not appear from out of thin air and in conclusion, he decided that witchcraft was likely not involved.  He felt relieved and relaxed back into his original watch over the fence.  

“Hey…” he gave a sheepish greeting at his exaggerated reaction.

Lani narrowed her eyes as she tried to understand what he was doing staring over the fence.  It was not lost on her that his neighbor, Shelly, was young, single, and often sunbathed in a very itty, bitty polka dot bikini.  Lani’s heart rate increased as she felt an anger rise from her gut into her chest as she watched him continue to peer over the fence without shame or remorse.

The sound of a wail, presumably Shelly, broke her chain of thoughts. 

“Princess,” she cried out.

Mike waved her forward and motioned with his heavy eyebrows to look over the fence. 

Lani crept up to the fence and saw that Shelly was not the target of the man’s attention.  Rather, it was a lump of fur that lay on its side in the grass. 

“Something’s wrong with Princess,” Mike whispered in an astute observation.

“Help!” Shelly called, perhaps sensing a nearby audience, “someone help me with Princess.”

Shelly knelt down next to the dog as Mike and Lani made their way around the fence, leaving one yard to enter another. 

“She just got back from the groomer and I let her out and the next thing I know she’s on her side breathing like that.”

The dog was on the smallish size but not so small to fit in a purse.  Its fur was longish but not long enough to get knotted, and it wore a bedazzled pink collar, not bedazzled enough for Dolly Parton, but bedazzled enough to suit a dog named Princess.

Princess lay on her side, she drew in ragged gasps of air.  Her side rose and fell as she stared straight ahead with unseeing, dull brown eyes.  

“This is not good,” Lani surmised as she knelt next to Shelly and the animal.

“What happened? What’s wrong, Princess?” Shelly asked, not believing the scene as it unfolded in front of her. 

The dog slowly breathed in and out and then gave one last puff of air.  Its side did not rise again as Shelly and Lani kneeled next to the animal and Mike towered above the gathering.

“Princess, princess, can you hear me? Hang in there with me.  Princess?” Shelly ran her hand along the dog’s side and held her head in her hand.  

“She needs CPR. Chest compressions.  Step back, Shelly.”

Lani crossed her index and middle fingers on the dog’s chest and pumped to the beat of “Stayin’ Alive” by the BeeGees, just like she learned for an infant in Beginner’s CPR.

“This isn’t working, I have to get her to the vet,” Shelly whimpered. “I’m going to get the car. Will you bring her out to the drive way?”  

Lani exchanged glances with Mike.

A vet was not going to help Princess, there was nothing shy of a water-into-wine, roll away the stone type of a miracle that would bring that dog back to life.  It wouldn’t be long before she started to stiffen up with rigor mortis, hopefully, the vet could break the news about the miracle shortage before that happened. 

After the car peeled out with the dead dog stowed away into the backseat, Lani turned to Mike.

“What happened back there, really?”

“Princess was barking and I was picking up twigs in the yard.  She barked and barked and barked and wouldn’t stop and I stood up and looked at her.  That’s all I did, I swear, and she just sort of stopped and fell over onto her side,” he raised one hand and placed the other over his heart in a solemn oath of truth.

“You killed Princess?” Lani asked.

Her tone changed and she narrowed her eyes for the second time and started walking backwards towards the road, away from this yard and this man and this clear case of evil intent.  She repeated herself but this time, there was no question about it.  It was a fact and a statement, “You killed Princess.”

 

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The Airing Of Grievances

The large conference room was filled with angry faces. Several tables were configured in a semi-circle around the accused and her comrades, who happened to be the management.  The workers were on the edge of turning savage; they snarled and breathed heavily as they prepared for the meeting.

It was an airing of grievances, of which there were many.

Icily the accused stared out at the workers, refusing to look away. She sat with her straight back in perfect composure.  There was no reason for her to answer to these swine.  In front of her, she had neatly folded her hands one over the other, which would have been non-confrontational, if she hadn’t been wearing a pair of tight, black leather gloves.

Everything else about her was normal; light pink blouse, pleated slacks, modest, black heels and a dainty gold chain that lay softly over her collarbone and around her neck. She wore just a hint of makeup and kept her intricately braided hair pulled back with a clip.

Everything but those damned black leather gloves said she was willing to make peace.

Almost certainly, it was the gloves that tipped the workers over the fine line of decency. The gloves proved that she had something to hide, a reason to veil her dishonest hands and a lack of shame that anyone else was implicated.

The first stone was thrown, followed by another and then another. Her comrades stepped away, unwilling to risk being struck as well.  Out of respect, they lowered their eyes, unwilling to participate in the violence but unable to stop it.  Small pebbles grew into rocks with the workers’ confidence until finally a boulder was pushed over onto the accused.  She held her hands up to shield the blow; the gloves did nothing to save her but they did send her out in criminal style.

gloves-2

 

Hospice, the conversation killer

Expectation

wilted-flowers
Hospice, it’s a real conversation killer.

So death, what a bummer, amiright?

The couple, Jack and Jill, rode in silence with the occasional interjection about the weather and the Grammy’s.  When they arrived, it was a relief to leave the car.  They stepped out of their temporary vacuum world onto a freshly sealed, asphalt parking lot.

“This is nice,” Jill said with a grimace against the cold.

She pulled her coat together with one hand and held a bouquet of wilted flowers in the other. At the top of the inclined parking lot was a light grey stone, two-story building with clean, white trim around the windows. Along the edges of the building dry, brown, stick bushes waited for Spring to come alive with bright and vibrant colors, unlike the occupants of the building, grey and prostate, watching the world turn from their beds.

Next to the door, a sign read, “This is a secure facility, please ring bell for assistance.”

Jack studied it for a second, pushed the red button and waited; he was very good at following directions. The door clicked after a few seconds and was opened by an unseen hand.

“After you,” Jack said gesturing for Jill to walk in front of him.

Jack was also known for his good manners and gentle nature. Once inside, they met with another obstacle, Doris.  Doris sat at a table in the foyer, posing as a receptionist, bouncer, and tour guide, depending on the day.

“We’re here to see Beverly De…”

“Bev DeMonn?” Doris cut him off eagerly as though to say yes, we know the same people, isn’t that a coincidence.

Doris was a small woman with short hair done up in that old-lady-way requiring weekly visits to the beauty shop for a wash and style.  She nervously adjusted her glasses on her face and shuffled a stack of papers on her desk.

Jack stood tall and looked Doris in the eyes. He shook his head in confirmation and gave a warm smile.

“Yes, exactly, she’s my grandmother.”

“That’s nice,” Doris said with as much sincerity as she could muster. “Right this way.”

Jack and Jill followed Doris’s shuffling steps as she led them down a hallway and through an open sitting area. There was a fireplace pumping out dry heat, warming two empty arm chairs and an empty couch. The place was strangely quiet and still for such a large facility.

“It’s nap time,” Doris explained, reading their minds. Then in a whisper over her shoulder, she added, “And we just lost a few residents.”

“That must explain all of the locks, everyone wandered out,” Jill snickered.

“Not funny,” Jack hissed without looking at his companion.

“Ok, ok,” Jill said unrepentantly with a shrug, “anything to lighten the mood.”

Suddenly, the lights grew brighter as they stepped into a cafeteria. The kitchen area was against the far wall.  The rest of the area was taken up by empty tables and chairs.

A shriveled up human, presumably a female from the fuzzy pink sweater with shoulder pads that she wore, sat alone at a table. In front of her, there was a small dish with a half-melted, purple Popsicle.  A wooden stick leaned out over the edge, like a riderless teeter-totter.  With a weak shove, the woman pushed the dish to the side and folded her bluish hands on the table.

“Bev, you have company,” Doris announced and readjusted her glasses.

Bev looked straight ahead, her eyes a bleary blue with pupils drawn into pinpoints.

“Grandma, it’s me, Jack.”

Perhaps he was as unrecognizable to her as she was to him; her once black hair was now gray, her face shrunken in without dentures to support a shape, and her body was half of its previous size.

A dehydrated apricot, apple, plum? Jack tried to match up the fruit with the woman without any luck.

“Oh, and this came for you.”

Doris reached into the pocket of her sweater and pulled out a letter, postmarked and stamped from Florida. Bev turned to Doris, reached out with a claw like hand and grabbed the letter without a word.  She sliced it open with the long nail on her index finger and extracted the contents.

Slowly, she read each word of the epistle, feasting her eyes as she refused to allow her body. Jack pulled out a chair and sat next to his grandmother while Jill selected a seat across the table from the two.

On Bev read and still she refused to acknowledge her company.

“How are you, Grandma Beverly? We heard you were sick and brought you these flowers,” Jill spoke loudly.

For the first time, Bev looked up at Jill.

“I can hear just fine. What time is it?”

Jack stepped into the conversation, seizing his opportunity. Gingerly, he put his hand on her arm and said, “Its two o’clock, Grandma.”

“Hmmm…too bad,” Bev exclaimed and returned to her letter.

Dying was not about to change her mind about these unsaved heathens. It was simply too late to do anything about it. So Jack and Jill went back down the hill, got into their car and drove away with a sad promise not to return until another much, much later day.

Safe

wolves

“C’mon girl,” Mama said over her shoulder as she pushed through the library doors.

A little girl followed in her shadow, wearing a dirty red coat, fastened by two, shiny black buttons in the front. Her hair was separated and twisted into many black snakes that writhed around her head, a tiny Medusa.  She toddled forward, with quick and uneven steps.

Mama dropped down into a chair at a bare table.   She was not a heavy woman, but the weight of her world was sometimes crushing.   Leaving her purse on the floor, she pulled out a folder and opened it.  She started her work by flipping through the paperwork.

Blowing out a sigh, she focused on the first page.

“Girl, you being bad,” Mama reprimanded the child.

She had the special eyes of a mother that saw everything around her, with or without actually looking.  Not once did she raise her head or eyes, yet she saw Girl shredding a Kleenex that she extracted from her purse.  She saw Girl opening drawers and cabinets against the wall, taking off her shoes, and standing in her purse.

Mama continued, flipping through the pages, one after another.

“Girl, I’m warning you.”

She signed by the x’s and filled in the blanks. She was doing was she was supposed to be doing, she supposed.

Meanwhile, a man at the next table watched Girl. His nails were jagged and dirty.  In front of him were a stack of Tom Clancy books and a half-empty bottle of Mountain Dew.

He also had a special set of eyes, the kind that noticed everything and waited and planned.

“Pssst….”

He quietly got Girl’s attention. She turned her big, brown innocent eyes in his direction, curious and playful as a kitten in a cardboard box.  The man reached into the pocket of his stained, baggy sweats and pulled out a piece of candy wrapped in gold foil.

With a smile of brown and broken teeth, the man held out the piece of candy. Girl crept forward, cautiously, but with her eyes locked on the prize.

Mama signed the last page and shut the folder with finality.

“Girl, don’t go messin’ with that man.”

In a different world, she would have hissed and bared her teeth at the man.

“C’mon, we’re done.”

The wolves of the past, present and future were held at bay, not meant to meet for another day.

The Mystery of the Thermostat

therm

Maintenance-man Mark plodded into the office, his heavy boots leaving a trail of dried mud in their wake.

“Too damn hot in here,” he growled. “Who’s been messing with the thermostat?”

Sweet Sally stammered, “I don’t even know where the thermostat is to mess with it.”

She actually felt quite comfortable without her customary heavy sweater and scarf, a little warm maybe, but it beat the alternative of freezing. She thought and said these things with no small amount of resentment that her warm, little office mecca of 85 degrees was about to be adjusted in the wrong direction.

“Don’t be messing with it,” he barked at Sally.

Innocently, Sally looked at him thick glasses and magnified eyes and appeared very much like a concerned insect.  At that moment, Sally’s coworker, Murph walked in and casually strolled to his desk, returning from an extended and unexcused break from which he hoped that Sally did not notice.

Nothing got past those big, buggy eyes, especially not extended and unexcused breaks.

In that moment, Maintenance-man Mark became judge and jury, he found the guilty party.

“You’ve been messing with the thermostat,” he declared sizing Murph up in his baggy khakis and wrinkled sweater.

Murph nonchalantly replied, “No way, man.”

Mark had his culprit, now for the confession.

“I wouldn’t touch that thing,” Murph continued unconvincingly.

“Yeah, well it was set for 87 degrees and it didn’t adjust itself. So one of you two did it.”

Mark stared and Murph, neither willing to concede.

“Well its back to 68 degrees, right where our building owner wants it. It better be that way when I come back.”

The next day, Sally walked into the office and sighed. She took off her coat and left her heavy sweater and scarf on. Too cold for comfort, like usual.  However, by midmorning she took off her scarf as the office warmed and by lunch, her sweater was hanging over the back of her chair.

Murph was missing, like usual, while the temperature climbed one degree at a time. Sally didn’t notice as the room became hotter and hotter, like a frog placed in warm water slowly turned up to a boil, she didn’t think to jump out until she was cooked to a sacrificial fritter.

If it wasn’t for the wool

shp

The sheeple will wake up one day to the sound of barking and push the wool, heavy and dirty from neglect, back from their eyes. Squinting and blinking, sensitive to the light, they will try to close their dumb eyes again.

Without the wool, it will be too hard to stay in the dark for long.

The sheeple will soon realize that while they were blindly grazing, their shepherd was changed for another. The loving master tried to rouse his herd, “Please wake up,” he begged, but on they slept.

The good shepherd tried to trim the wool back, but there were too many sheeple and the shears were dull. When his time was up, he humbly took his leave with a plea, “Take care of my dear sheeple,” a request that only brought laughter to the lips of a cruel man with a taste for lamb, his replacement.

Woe to the sheeple when their eyes finally adjust and they realize they are no longer in the lush green fields of plenty. Instead, they will find that they are in a corral too small for so many, pawed and tramped down to the dirt.  Earth and excrement will mix and cover their hooves.  Proper hoof health will be impossible in their new environment without enough room to stretch, let alone to grow, and so the sheeple will stay small.

Then the sheeple will notice the ferocious dogs, circling the pen and gnashing their teeth, a hunger in their red eyes.  The beasts are starving and desperate, and the sheeple are easy prey.  With absolute intention, their new guardian will open up the gate, “If only you were smart…” he says to the doomed creatures as the dogs rush in.

If only, if only, if only, they might have seen it coming.
Someday

Chronic Time Squeezer/Deep Sleeper

sl-br

Heavy pounding on the door rattled the already chipping paint from the walls and ceiling. Flakes of paint danced in the air and fell to the ground, an early snow in late October.  Yet, it did not rouse the occupant of the unit.  Like a bear in hibernation, the man slumbered on, completely unconcerned with the outside world.

“It’s a gift,” he always explained when asked how he was able to sleep uninterrupted by storms and sirens, bright lights and bedbug bites.

“What if there is a fire?” his mother asked out of concern one day when she discovered that her grown son had slept through two alarm clocks and missed a job interview.

“Ma, that’s part of the gift. See, I didn’t want that job anyways and the gift made sure I didn’t have to worry about turning them down.   Don’t worry though, if there was a fire, the gift would wake me up.  It would never let me burn.”

This logic and misplaced confidence did not convince Ma that her boy possessed any special ability or skills other than extraordinary laziness. If Ma only knew of the curls of the smoke slowing filling her son’s room while he slept, she could have confirmed her suspicions that the gift would indeed one day allow him to go up in flames.

The pounding continued at the door and Kane slowly returned to reality, he felt himself involuntarily and cruelly pulled from the dark, safety of sleep. Before opening his eyes, he scratched at his chest and yawned, resistant to entering into the light of day.  He knew why there was a man impatiently standing on the other side of the door with sore, red knuckles with a ring of keys in other hand.  He also assumed that the man with sore knuckles and keys was standing next to a police officer.

Still, Kane wasn’t about to leave the warmth of his bed. Instead of answering the door, Kane pulled the blanket up around his chicken-neck, snuggled down deeper and closed his eyes, grateful for his gift.
Rearrange

My Treat

Two grey haired women sat across from each other. They arrived to the café just a minute earlier and were shown with their many bags and layers of clothing items to a quiet table in the corner with a vase of plastic flowers in the center.

“And now I hear you have worms. How delightful,” the first woman said to the second.

The waiter arrived with a notepad in hand. He pulled a pencil from behind his ear.

“Can I offer you a cup of tea or something to snack on?”

“The worms can wait,” the second woman replied and pulled out a pair of bright red reading glasses from one of her many pockets.

The waiter pretended not to hear their private conversation, while the women stared at their menus, intently studying the options.

“So many delicious things to try,” the woman mused over the list. “I do believe I’ll have a cup of stink bug tea,” the first woman said.

The second woman commented, “Excellent choice, I’ve heard it helps with worm-anxiety and improves sleep.”

“I’m a simple woman with simple tastes, unlike some people.” She gestured with her eyes to the woman sitting across from her at the table.

“Just water and a piece of burned toast for me, unbuttered, please.”

“Ladies, I am sorry to disappoint you but those things are not on the menu. Maybe you would like a fresh cup of coffee and a croissant?”

They both looked up at the man and narrowed their eyes at him and his obvious lie.

“Not interested,” the first woman said.

The second woman chimed in, “Try again.”

“Actually, we might have what you are looking for,” the waiter said after a thoughtful pause.

The women looked over the table at each other with crooked half smiles.

“Hot water, two mugs,” the first woman called out after the waiter. “That’s all we want.”

She pulled out a small plastic container with holes poked in the top and said, “My treat.”

The container was filled with live stink bugs, crawling and clamoring over one another, equally as eager to leave and live as the woman was to make her special tea.

stink-bug

Words of a baffling father

Fragile
Baffling is the father who declares his undying love for his son to every stranger, but neglects to mention how he lost custody and refuses to seek treatment or change. He blames the system that conspires to separate his family and sets his jaw with grim determination in his crusade to right the wrongs done to his clan by others.

He would give anything, including his right hand, to bring his boy home. He explains this to the judge when asked what he has been doing to rehabilitate over the past few months.

“That’s not what I asked,” the judge says.

The baffling father clarifies, “I would climb Mt. Everest or swim in shark infested waters if that would prove my dedication to bringing my boy home.”

The judge shakes his head with sadness. Frustration left him years ago for a level of acceptance just before apathy.  He has seen this case before and will see it again many times before he retires and takes up deep sea fishing in Florida. Sometimes the thought of riding in a boat over the open sea, smelling the salty, fresh air and feeling the spray of warm water and sun on his face is the only thing that gets him from one moment to the next.

“A boy’s place is home with his parents.”

The judge wants to laugh as he scans the room for the boy’s mother, already knowing that she is not to be found. The baffling father is alone in his battle with the state while his partner is out on streets, engaged in a fight of her own and losing on a daily basis to her demons.

These are the same demons that plague the baffling father and the same ones that brought him to this place, alone in a room full of people.

In just a few minutes, the judge sets a date for the next hearing, straightens out a stack of papers and prepares for the next case. He has heard more than enough.

Pleased with the power of his convincing speech, the baffling father discreetly slips out back to the parking lot where a man wearing dark sunglasses waits inside of a blue pick-up truck with tinted windows. The baffling father walks around to the passenger side and hops into the vehicle. An efficient transaction takes place; few words are needed for their business.

He returns inside after all of the morning cases are completed to pick up his paperwork from the clerk, his eyes are glossy and his pupils have taken on a black-hole like appearance, massive and destructive.

Wanda, the clerk, purses her lips as she stamps and staples his papers.

Baffling father excitedly exclaims, “I am so close to getting my son back, I can feel it in the air.”

In truth, he is feeling the benefit of air conditioning on a hot day and the rush of whatever just travelled up his nose or into a vein. Apparently, the combination can feel like the false hope of a man in denial about the reunification process.

Fragile are the hearts and minds held together with a wad of pink bubble gum.

bubble-gum

Bones

broken

It is Wednesday morning and I am called down the hall by a man’s voice.

“Puney, Puney, down here.”

He sounds weak and hurt; the noise registers in the same place of my brain as the baby mouse caught by a sticky trap last week.

“Just come in,” he says as I raise my hand to knock on the door.

It’s eerie that he knows I am just outside of his door. I pride myself on my quiet and cat-like footsteps.  When I was a kid, for one reason or another, I thought I was actually a Native American descendent and naturally practiced the silent walk of my people through the woods, grocery store, mall and all other places a delusional 7 year old might find herself.  In spite of that intense practice, I am coming to the realization that my footsteps may not be as cat-like as I once believed.

In the next instant, I consider the possibility that this is a trap and I am about to be separated from my beloved skin, Buffalo Bill style, but quickly ignore that pesky gut feeling and push forward. I enter the room to see the man sitting on the couch, holding his arm at a peculiar angle.

Dark red drops of blood escape from multiple cuts on his arms and legs. His eyes are unable to focus and his head wobbles back and forth on his chicken neck.

“I fell,” his voice cracks and there is dried blood on his lips.

His explanation saves me precious time to determine, with a great sense of relief, this is not a trap.

His voice drops to a whisper, “I just don’t feel right.”

In front of the man is a table with his medications, inhalers and tiny brown bottle of nitroglycerin on top. He grabs the tiny bottle and tries to twist the lid off while still cradling his other arm.  He is most unsuccessful.

I start to offer to help when he holds up the arm he has been cradling and I see for the first time the real problem. On the side of his wrist, a bluish-purple mass has formed around what appears to be the end of a protruding bone.  The mass is so big and unnatural, it seems unreal, I look for strings or tacks where the mass is externally connected.   I find none.  The mass is definitely an unfortunate part of his arm.

“I think ther’ is somethin’ wrong with mah wrist.”

A strange new accent emerges, perhaps released from a past life as the pain increases. Pain does all sorts of magical things to people; it transforms their personality, encourages new behaviors and habits, and reminds us that we are of the living.  Of course, it should be noted that the transformation is not necessarily good, nor are the habits and behaviors that are often pain inspired.

“Yep, that looks pretty messed up,” I offer my unprofessional and unsolicited opinion and dial 911 against his feeble protests and promises to ice it.

Brother, I might not be a doctor, but I do know there are some things that all the ice and Ibuprofen in the world won’t fix, starting with broken bones.

How is that for taking a fierce stance?

Official Diagnosis: Pretty Messed Up Wrist, no ICD9 code available.
Fierce

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