Friday, November 18, 2005


I grew up in a sunlit apartment. The radiator clanked and clicked. The landlord turned the heat off at night, so Momma would stuff blankets under the doors and chinks in the windows to keep the heat in.

Before I was born, Momma painted my nursery walls with scenes from a swamp. A great friendly green frog looked at me in my crib. Plants grew haphazardly around the windows. Everything was green and yellow, kind and warm.

When I was four, bats came in to my room one summer night. Before I cried out for Momma to shut the windows, I watched the bats drift back and forth over my head, fluttering my dreams away, frittering them to the night sky. And then, I cried out, and Momma came in her long nightgown, chasing the bats out and crooning to calm me.

My father smoked a pipe in a great chair with wings. He read the paper and smiled at me playing on the floor. I remember him being so grave, but he was only 31 at the time. At night, he would give me horsey rides. One time, he stayed home from work with me while I was sick. He tried to draw pictures for me, and talked to me, and we had a nice time eating soup and napping. As we aged, Daddy grew away from me. But in that sunlit apartment on Case Street in Evanston, I was his little monkey.

Momma and Daddy played records all the time. Daddy would tap his toe and strum along on his guitar, while Momma would sing in her faint soprano voice, and I would sit in the sun breaking through the window, and stay warm, and lie on my little stomach.

There were walks in the park, and swing sets, and the beach on Lake Michigan. Friends of all walks came to visit. Laughter and wine and soft blankets. These memories, I remember. But mostly, I remember the sun wandering through that window-filled apartment, warming the crooks and nannies, warming my little body so I grew just as the murals in my bedroom, spreading up to life.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Resolve: Another Flash Fiction Friday (Click Here for Details)

It was just a bad feeling, sitting in that dark, smoky bar. The band had finished their set, and I needed a drink after doing a rather poor cover of "Jesus Built My HotRod". The audience was the usual group of pathetic goths and punks, hiding their graying hair with black hair dye. I thought to myself while sipping the third vodka tonic of the evening, "How do the drug stores keep that dye on the shelves?"

Sandy and Shelly, two 'groupies' of my band, came up to the bar and draped themselves around me. Both smelled of sweat, alcohol, cigarettes, and something more foul...Loneliness. In the dull light of the neon signs, I saw through their white makeup, the pores of dried out skin, the scars of acne, the fine lines of age.

"That was a killer set," said Sandy in a lilting voice.
"Thanks," I muttered, draining my drink and slamming it on the bar.
"Are you guys having an after-party?" asked Shelly.
"You mean, are the five us guys gonna go back to the warehouse and get trashed?" I replied. "Yeah, there'll be an after-party."
"Can we come?"
"Don't you come every Saturday?" I asked, malevolently.
I didn't wait for their replies, got up from my seat, and went to the bathroom. While urinating, I read the graffiti over the urinal.
"Fuck Franky!" "Sex and Drugs=Rock and Roll"
I smiled at these frank messages of angst. But just lower from all the other scribbles, I saw small, neat handwriting.
"Arthur. Go out to the alley."

What the fuck? Who knew my name? Who knew I would be standing right here at this urinal? Am I that stoned? I shook and zipped myself up. It's a joke. Somebody in the band...playing a stupid prank. Nevertheless, I made my way out of the dank bar into the chilly alley. Nobody there. I chuckled, lighting a smoke. As I turned to re-enter the bar, a voice softly sounded from behind a dumpster.
A hooded figure emerged, shadowed and ephereal. I smiled; this was a good prank. The figure lifted the hood, and I beheld a vision of beauty.
Here was a woman, young, with light reflecting from her porcelain skin. Her hair was light ash, her eyes colored gems, her lips ruby red. She had a young, full face and a full figure to match. She was heavenly.
"Who are you?" I asked, removing my sunglasses and running a hand through my black hair. I suddenly wished I wasn't so drunk, or so pale, or so thin, or so wasted of life.
"Don't fret, Arthur. I've been watching you. You're ready, now, I think."
"Ready for what?" I asked, suddenly sober. Awed. Transfixed. My God, there were no words.
"There are no words for what I can offer you," the woman responded. I immediately sensed her reaching into my mind, fingering every sad memory. She grasped a hold of one memory, holier than the rest, even more tender. Candles, shadows, a bed, rumpled sheets, Rachel lying in pools of blood, open wrists, my sobbing, and those words, "Why, Rachel? Why?"
The glowing woman was silent as she wrapped herself around this memory.
"Rachel couldn't stop herself, Arthur. The poison had caught hold of her, and she could not forgive herself. She is at peace, now."
How did this woman know about the heroin addiction? How did she know about Rachel's tortured inner self? I asked these questions in my mind, and the woman simply smiled.
"It's time, Arthur. She's waiting."

Rachel-the summer of my life. Dark, funny, mysterious. She was Greek, with olive skin and liquid eyes and full lips, and hair that trembled and curled to the small of her back. We met in the spring years before and fell violently in love. The heroin only enhanced our love, until Rachel began to fade. Insanity breached our fortress. I got off the heroin, replacing it with alcohol. Rachel couldn't stop. And when her veins had collapsed, and her eyes had lost their light, and her hair had fallen out, and her limbs ached, and the tests came back positive for HIV, she couldn't go on. So, she had made our bed a shrine, and laid herself on it, and lit candles, said Hail Marys, and opened her withered flesh for release.

These memories came back over me in a great tidal eclipse, and I fell to my knees. The lesions on my legs split, and a grasped a lock of my own hair, only to see it fall out in my hands. For the first time since my diagnosis, I began to weep, and those tears felt like daggers rolling down my cheeks.
"Please. Help me," I begged, all of my sores opened and bleeding. I felt like Christ.

The woman came and wrapped her great cloak around me, and I fell into her bosom, and wept myself clean. And ever so gently, the woman brushed the hair from my nape and bit, deep into the red poison of my blood. I felt no pain. The woman drank deeply, and as the life ebbed from me, she lay me down on the pavement, and held me in her arms. I knew what she was. But she was not as one would imagine; she was not evil or tainted. She was pure and innocent and fragile.

So, I smiled a smile of great relief, and felt something warm wash over me. It was the air, the molecules, the light. Everything was shifting and becoming translucent, and the Angel of Death reflected joy into my eyes, until it all become indistinguishable.

And then, there was only one voice. Rachel's voice.
"Arthur. You've come home."

There is no deeper breath than the breath taken by the dying man.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Flashed Again...Click here for details

With money in my pocket and cotton candy in my hand, I hop away from my father at the carnival. At the wise and illustrious age of ten, I have earned the privilege of roaming the fairgrounds on my own instead of dawdling with the family. In one hour, I have to meet Mom and Dad and Chuck back at the Ferris wheel. I have a whole hour of freedom.

Dad gave me five dollars to spend anyway I want. Instead of losing it all at a game booth (rigged for profit, of course), I know exactly what I want to do. Skip the kiddy rides! Skip the funhouse! Those are for babies. I'm going straight to the wagon.

Every year, we've passed the gypsy wagon with the sign out front reading "Madame Zartha--Seer of All Things--Oracle and Truth Seeker!". Every year, I've tugged on the hand of my mother and dragged my feet. And every year, she has said one of the two responses: "Too much money!" or "The work of Satan!" But this year? This year, Madame Zartha is going to See into my future. I've been planning the questions for a week now. Will I have a boyfriend by the time I'm thirteen? This school year, will my bedtime get pushed back an hour? Can I get out of dish duty? Will I become a famous pilot? The questions are written on a pink piece of notepaper.

The wagon looms in front of me. Lucky me! There is no line. I will have an entire fifteen minutes with the madame, uninterrupted by other fair-goers. I have already calculated the worth of my five dollars--a card reading and a palm reading. Madame Zartha has a crystal ball in the window of the wagon but I am certain it is decoration.

I ascend the rickety steps to the wagon, excitement bubbling in my stomach. I throw the cotton candy onto the ground--no need for that, now. I pat my hair down and straighten my shirt. A voice calls from within, "Enter!"

The wagon smells musty and magical. It is the scent of cigarette smoke, liquor, and something a bit older--something indescribable. It is dark except for the dingy light shining through the dirty window. Madame Zartha sits at a tiny table. She is a short woman with black hair and a turban wrapped about her small head. Her nails are long and painted shiny red. Her weight is indeterminate, as she wears a long gown that puffs and gathers. I am a little afraid.

"Sit, child. You have the fare?" Madame Zartha's voice is not accented, as I imagined it would be, but is lustrous all the same. I press the five dollar bill into her hand and sit, eyes wide and lip trembling.
"You have come to hear the truth?" Madame Zartha tucks the money into a wallet on the table next to her. From here, I can see she has a moustache. I am entranced.
"Yes," I whisper.
Madame Zartha pulls my hand toward her and grasps it firmly, spinning it over, palm up. She stares into my eyes as she traces the faint lines with one hand.
"Ah. You are a brave girl to come here all by yourself," she says. "You have the heart of a lion."
I blush; she's right! It takes a lot of guts to walk around a fair alone.
She continues, still staring at me. "Great love is in store for you. You consist of fairy blood--beautiful and precious. But!" Her voice grew loud with warning, "You must protect yourself from those who would take advantage of your strength! There are those who would use you, then throw you away! Heed the danger!"
I gasped and nodded, scared of the terrible people out there who would hurt me.
"Your knight is strong. He waits for you, and sleeps with your face imprinted into his dreams. You must be patient; you will find him. Do not give up on his love." Madame instructs. She caresses a long line in my palm.
"You will succeed in all that you do. You will have to work hard, and not give up. Life will not always be easy for you. Sometimes, you will feel very alone and unappreciated. But you must keep trying! You are a chosen one--your life will make an important impact on those around you. You must know when to respect your elders, but you must also challenge old ways that stunt your progress. Be wise and wary as you go about life. If you do this, you will be happy, and loved." Madame Zartha speaks in a trance. Secretly, I am relieved: looks like I'll get to stay up later this year than last.
"The spirits are leaving me now, child. They leave me with one impression: you are a warrior-woman, beautiful and impressive. You are kind and charitable. You think before you speak. You never lie or speak without reason. People respect you. Your knight cherishes you. You shall be a pride to your parents and a gift to all whom you encounter." With that, Madame Zartha falls silent. She closes her eyes briefly, then opens them.
"The reading is over," she says. I stand, my shoulders back.
"Thank you, Madame," I state clearly. She regally smiles at me, and I turn to leave.

I step out of the wagon, feeling adult, mysterious, and beautiful. I turn to look at Madame Zartha one last time. She is hunched over the table, smoking a cigarette. She looks very small from here, and very alone. I turn and see my family striding toward me, probably 'by coincidence'. I walk towards them, feeling older and wiser than ever before. My mother smiles as I approach them.

"So, you finally got your wish, huh, Lizzy?" she asks.
"Yes," I say.
"And was it everything you hoped it would be? Did she tell you anything you weren't expecting?" Momma is pulling hair back from her forehead, and I see fine lines by her wide eyes.
"It was..." I hesitate. How could I explain how Madame Zartha allowed me to grow up in five minutes? How to explain the new truth of myself?
"It was everything I wanted it to be."

With that, I take my mother's hand, and we go to the Ferris wheel, where we will whirl into the sky and lose our breath at the expanse of the sky, and be quiet in the presence of clouds, hopes, and the warm sunshine.

The Book of Job as Told by Job

*I'm submitting this to a magazine for a contest, so don't you DARE plagarize it.

“What are you talking about?” I respond. I’m picking at a scab.
“You and your manuscripts,” I whine, sucking on a locust. “You know, half don’t make any sense. I know; I’ve proofed all of them.”
God grumbles at me and a cloud rolls over my head. It feels nice; I’ve been sitting in the sun for days.
The trouble started a couple of weeks before. See, I made this contract two decades ago with God that I would edit His work. I’d let Him sign off on the corrections and I’d camel-courier them to a tablet press in far-off Gadara. The tablets would be etched and scattered throughout the pagans’ lands. The way God figured, if a nomad stumbled on a tablet in the middle of the desert written in his language, he would have to read it. Once the nomads heard from God, they’d be convinced to get to the nearest Temple, put on a yarmulke and have their foreskins shaved off. Not exactly fool-proof, but definitely creative. That was God for you. Always up to some new-fangled idea.
Things got sloppy last time. I was schlepping edits about Ezra, but the courier was drunk when he showed up for the delivery. The camel didn’t look too steady either; turned out the camel had a severe case of the clap. Well, off went the drunken courier and the S.T.D.-ridden camel into the desert, where they got sidetracked in some rat-hole town. The delivery didn’t get to Gadara, the edits were lost in a tavern, and the courier also contracted the clap, though whether from the camel or one of the working girls, I’m not sure. God got pissed off and told my wife I was in deep shit. Then, I got in trouble with my wife.
“It’s too important to be screwing up like this!” she nagged.
“I know,” I replied.
“We’ve got a party to host in one week, all the kids are coming back with the in-laws, and we gotta slaughter livestock and get the caterer here. I can’t deal with your continual screw-ups!”
“I know.” I’ve learned to succumb.
She put her hand on one hip and stared at me. “Do you KNOW who you’re dealing with here?” she demanded.
“Yeah. God.” I replied.
“No, ME!”
A knock sounded at the door. A servant stood there, looking a little scared. I asked, “What’s up?” The servant looked fearful, saying, “A gang just killed some of your livestock, and a fire came from nowhere and blazed through your entire herd.”
“I thought I smelled barbeque,” I replied. “Dammit.”
While I was trying to explain all this to my wife, a bunch of neighboring villagers pulled up in a wagon and ran to the door.
“You just parked in the cabbage,” I said to the group. “Oh, now LOOK what the mule is doing! What’s the big idea?”
“Um,” said a villager, “Yeah, we just passed by your kids’ house?”
“That commune they live in? Sure, what’s going on?”
“A dust cloud came out of nowhere and blew the whole house down. Now they’re all dead.”
“Dammit! I told them not to build that place of straw!” I yelled.
I pounded the wall in anger and jammed two fingers. “OW! DAMMIT!” I screamed. My wife was hysterical at this point, so I had a servant drug her with opium and she fell fast asleep. I sat down with wine to mourn, clutching my fingers, and that’s when I noticed the sore.
“EWWW!” I screamed. A green boil had shown up on my thigh. My upper thigh. I wondered if I got the clap from the camel.
God showed up.
“JOB!” He said.
“What? Can you see this? What is this?”
“For what?” I asked. In the background, I heard my wife scream in her drug-induced haze, “For screwing up, you schmuck!”
“For what?” I repeated softly to God.
“Look, God, this was the first time I failed you! I’ve been doing so well; I mean, I got that whole ‘Song of Solomon’ published by Fish Press, and you know how much they hate the pleasures of the flesh! I got your first ROMANCE novel published. You can’t be this upset over one boring dialog with a drunk!”
“ENOUGH!” God yelled.
“Okay.” I said.
Because everyone seemed ticked off at me, I decided to sit beneath a great leafy tree that was shady and peaceful. As soon as I sat down, the tree withered up and died, and the sun shone bright on my skin, now puckered up with boils. My head itched, and as I began to scratch, little bugs fell out of my hair—lice. I shaved my head beneath the hot sun and felt miserable.
Some of my drinking buddies came to see me; they missed me at cocktail hour. Larry, rubbing his beer belly, asked, “Dude, why don’t you just screw the whole God thing? I know this other writer—he’s fantastic! He’s written a LOT about sex and wine and how good revenge feels…he’s a genius!”
“Larry,” I said, “Satan has really predictable plotlines.”
Larry got quiet and the guys sat and chatted with me about what a total wuss I was.
“You know,” said Larry, “If I were you, I’d be cursing God right now. There are other bosses out there that wouldn’t, you know, SCREW UP YOUR LIFE just for one lousy mistake. Now look at you! No kids, no sheep…” He was interrupted by Bart, another friend.
“Yeah, you had some pretty fine-lookin’ sheep,” Bart said.
“Why would you want to remain faithful to a jerk like that?” Larry asked.
“Because, you don’t give up on a good boss after twenty years of decent pay,” I lectured.
“Oy,” Larry said, waving his hands in disgust. The other men agreed I was being ridiculous, so they left to watch camel-polo. I stayed under the tree, and that’s where I am now, listening to the Big Galoot go on about ice in heaven.
“I thought,” I say while examining a sore, “that heaven would be warm and friendly.”
In the distance, I hear the pounding of hooves. A figure is emerging from the sand dunes, seated on a black horse. The horse appears to be breathing fire, and a great pink fur coat is streaming from the rider.
“Aw, shit. We’ve got company,” I inform God.
“About as many times as you’ve damned humans to a fate worse than hell,” I say as the figure gets closer.
“What’s up, niggaz?” cries the man as he brings his horse to a halt and hops down. The man is decked out in hot pink leather and wears a bright fedora.
“Aren’t you roasting in that thing?” I ask Satan.
“Hell, no! Shit, thanks to the Big Brother in the Sky, I ain’t got no problems handlin’ heat.” Turning to God, Satan yelled, “Hey, Big Pimp! Check out the duds!” Satan sits down next to me, fingering his Jeri Curl locks.
“Homey, I grew up on the mean streets. I gots to do what I gots to do to get by, you dig?” Satan snaps his fingers, glittering with ice.
“Shit. Talk to the hand,” Satan raised a hand up to the sky and looked at me.
I scratch at a boil.
“You really shouldn’t pick at that,” Satan says while lighting up a blunt, “It’ll scar.”
Satan sighs and looks at me the way people look at lepers.
“I know I look rough,” I say, “But my wife thinks my bald head is sexy.”
“You know, I gots an idea for a book right now. ‘Satan: Pimpin’ the Galaxy!’ You like? I can get you a hard copy. It’s about me and my gang, man. Some of the Bloods from around the way.” Satan adjusts his fur.
“Nah,” I say, “You know I’m contracted with God.”
“Chill out, Big Brother,” Satan yelled. Turning to me, he says, “I can take care of you. You’ll be my agent. Shoot, brother! I will lay out the cut and you will be up to yo’ nose in blow! Hell, you probably still think that contract you signed with God is kosher, don’t you, Blood?”
“Huh?” I ask. “I don’t understand you.”
Satan dropped the act and said pointedly, “Look. That contract you signed with God was a farce. The thing is, Big Brother made Free Will, which is pretty much why I can stay in business. God can’t MAKE you be his editor. Work for me! You’re independent, man—a freelancer!”
God remains silent.
“God?” I ask, “Is that true?”
I feel crappy about this, like I’ve been hoodwinked. “My companions are treacherous like a torrent-bed that runs dark with ice, turbid with melting snow!” I scream.
Satan glances at me. “So, we ridin’?”
I think about this. I consider God--He’s very intolerant of some things and can be bossy. Satan would be easy-going about deadlines and is filthy rich, while God talks about the fruits of the hard-working, yada yada. God wiped out my family, my livestock, and my hopes. I’m still thinking about this when God speaks up.
“What?” I ask.
“I know,” I say. “I blame my mother.”
“Here I am, just trying to live out a nice, peaceful life! I obey the Ten Commandments, I commit to one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer for Hebrew training, and you guys want to test me?” Now, I’m incensed.
“You get decent benefits? ‘Cause I got yo’ back on benefits,” Satan whispers.
“Shut up, Satan!” I yell. “God, why doubt me? Not only are you the great ‘I AM’, but you also have some pretty interesting writing. I like your dry humor. You’re money!”
“Yes, I think you’re good! I also happen to think you are a Beneficent Being. But YOU,” I say, turning to Satan, “are a HORRIBLE writer. It’s all the same with you—lust, sex, greed, murder, hatred. The first nine sex scenes are great, but they get old. God’s the one with the talent. All the pink fur in the world wouldn’t convince me otherwise.”
“You’re an idiot,” Satan says, wiping the dust off of his pink pants. He stands and looks up at the sky, saying dejectedly, “Well, I hope you’re pleased.”
I clear my throat.
“Deal,” I say.
Satan jumps on the horse and gallops off. I notice the horse’s platinum shoes, and I shake my head incredulously. Satan’s get-up does look pretty snazzy.
“Hey, God,” I ask, “You think you’ll ever wear a coat that cool?”

(c)Elizabeth Anne Fritz

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Children Are Gone

*It's Flash Fiction Friday Time!

"The children are GONE," Miranda frantically cried into the phone.
"What do you mean 'gone'?" Daniel asked, his deep voice sounding tinny from the other side of the world.
"I mean, they were with me, but then little Adam...oh!" Miranda began to weep in earnest.
"What? Adam WHAT?" Daniel demanded.
"Oh, he's just three, Daniel! He just slipped away! And before I could tell Geoffrey any differently, he ran off in search of him!" Miranda was crying and clutching the phone to her ear.
"Miranda! How could you let this happen?" Daniel was upset in the way men become when they cannot fix a problem.
"I don't know! It's scary here. It's like feeding time at the zoo! The people...oh, God, there are SO MANY of them, and they all wander about, crazed looking, and it's like they see you but they don't really SEE you..." Miranda's voice trailed off.
"Calm down, Miranda. They can't have gone too far," Daniel was trying to calm down, miles away.
"You don't understand, Daniel. This place is a football field! It's enormous! And the noise, can you hear the noise? Two little boys will not survive alone!"
"Miranda, please, honey, you have to calm..." Daniel's voice was becoming harried again.
"What will these people DO to them? What will they do? Why, they could snatch our babies up and I'll never see them again! Oh, it's all my fault!" Miranda cried. "Oh, Daniel, how could you let me come here ALONE with the children? I thought you loved me. I thought our hard times were over, and you would protect me, and the children! Now, you'll never see your sons again, and all because you couldn't leave your precious library!" Miranda was screaming now. She turned to look around her. She searched the sea of faces for her little children. They could be anywhere! They could be hiding in a dark corner, or trembling with cold somewhere.
"Miranda, we've been over this too many times. I simply CANNOT hold your hand through everything. You HAVE to understand--there are some things you must face alone," Daniel said.
"Yes, alone! Okay! But NOT with the children! You made all three of us vulnerable! You've abandoned your family for the last time! I won't put up with it. You can put me away again, lock me up, ignore me forever. But if you ever put our boys' lives in danger again by stranding them here, a place such as this...I will never forgive you!" Miranda screamed. Some of the faces in the crowd turned and looked at her with empty eyes. For a brief moment, some of the faces registered panic in Miranda's voice, but this realization quickly dissolved. The zombies were too numb to help Miranda.
She prayed all of the zombies were like these--dull, dumb, and without desire for two little boys. Oh! Geoffrey had on a bright red Mickey Mouse shirt...Miranda scanned for the color. No, nothing. Adam had on his little Oshkosh jumpers with the train embroidered on the front pocket. Those were the jumpers Miranda's mother had bought for him. To see that little train again would be a miracle, but Miranda had given up hope.
"Daniel, if we survive this nightmare, if I can come back with our babies, I promise you, I will never EVER come here again unless you are with me! Do you understand?" Miranda shouted.
"Of course, dear, yes, but please...go look for the children!" Daniel cried.
"Wait, wait, I hear something," Miranda's voice grew quiet on the phone, and from the large house where Daniel sat alone, he heard a voice grow over Miranda's breath.
"OH! I must go, Daniel. I must go!" Miranda hung up the phone and began to run through the thick crowd. Her eyes frantically darting here and there, she almost careened into a tall, devilish man, but she righted herself and kept running. And there! There, around the corner, thirty, now twenty feet away, she could see her boys. Geoffrey and Adam were standing together, holding hands, eyes large with fear and grief. And the voice came back on the loudspeaker just before Miranda collided with her children and gathered them into her arms, sobbing loudly with relief.
Miranda Patterson clutched her cart, white-knuckled, while she bundled the two boys into it. She glanced around at the other shoppers, oblivious to her plight, and sighed a deep sigh. As the three reached the exit doors, Miranda left her items in the cart and yanked the boys to the green mini-van.
She buckled Geoffrey and Adam into the backseat, climbed into the front, and made sure the child safety locks were on. She placed the seatbelt across her chest and began to reverse out of the parking lot.
As the minivan rounded the corner of the street, homeward bound, little Geoffrey spoke up.
"Mommy? I don't ever want to go there again!"
Miranda nodded and glanced in the rearview mirror.
"Don't worry, baby. We'll never EVER go back to Wal-Mart."

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Traveling Without Moving

On the eighth floor of a hospital in Brooklyn, by the western window, a man is sitting in a wheelchair. The sun grazes the linoleum floor. The ward is quiet. The man is silent.

He is Lou, and he has lived in this hospital for many years. He is more familiar than many doctors and nurses. The orderlies feel quite comfortable with Lou, because Lou is more like a piece of furniture than a patient. He is rigid and faint; he does not speak. No visitors come to see Lou. He is easily moved from corner to corner, and he is very compliant because he cannot speak.

Lou has a bath once a week, given by a pretty nurse. He shows no signs of excitement during bath time, even though the nurse is buxom and fair. After his bath, Lou is shaven by the nurse, and she combs his hair in a sanctimonious manner. She puts aftershave on Lou’s neck.

Lou is in a psych ward because the doctors cannot figure out what else to do with him. Lou is not crazy, but he is not normal, either. A stream of specialists have come in to work on Lou, hoping to have a revelation, or discover some new neurological disorder to name, or simply get to the bottom of the problem of Lou. Unfortunately, none of these specialists get very far with Lou, and grow frustrated, and take their specialties to other patients. A battery of medications has been forced on Lou in the past, but he does not respond to the drugs, so now, Lou is only dosed with blood pressure medicine and a mild sedative. The sedative is to ensure ‘appropriate reactions’. This is fancy medical speak for ‘keeping him quiet in case he gets loud’. Getting loud is not what Lou does, and the doctors are foolish to waste the sedative on Lou.

In other hospitals, on other psych wards, there are many people like Lou. They have been forgotten, even while still in the same room with others. They are shadow-like; somehow, they disappear into the walls of the room. There are many, many people like Lou all over the world.

In ancient times, Lou may have been regarded as a spiritual master—a man so still in thought and meditation that he rejects the world and its noise. He might have been called a priest or a monk. But it is not long ago; it is 2005, and Lou is merely considered statuesque. Lou is catatonic; doctors would reject any claim of spiritual meditation. Lou is not a Zen master; he is just an old piece of human furniture.

So he sits by the same window (because he is pushed there by a nurse) and he seems to stare out into the sunlight. This is what Lou does until he dies.

Lou dies in his wheelchair; he was sitting for eight hours until the shift nurse realizes he is there. It is only when she takes his pulse for checks does she realize Lou is cold and rigid and deceased. The shift nurse feels very sad for Lou and very relieved that Lou is not her father, or herself. The shift nurse calls the proper numbers and doctors come to ascertain that Lou is dead. When he is pronounced dead, orderlies move him to a stretcher and he is pushed down to the morgue. The morgue finds his cause of death as heart failure. The morgue embalms Lou, since he has no known family, and arranges to have Lou buried in the small cemetery next to the hospital, for the poor souls who are without family. Lou is very properly and formally dead.

When Lou opens his eyes from beyond the grave, he is quite relieved to have his faculties of communication back. Others understand him, and bounce around him in balls of light. Lou enters the darkness of space in a quiet manner. He feels joyful and content. There is, after all, something after death, and that Something is a great collision of nameless souls, of which Lou is one. So now Lou doesn’t really have an identity, much like in life, and he doesn’t have any concerns, much unlike life, and he is very, very glad to be with Others.

Lou asks the Others, in a transcendent way, of course, “Why?”
And the Others reply, in a transcendent way, “Why not?”

And Lou is content with this answer, and realizes that for his entire measured human life, he had been traveling without moving, and in death, he is continuing his journey. Lou thinks: “What a relief. What a grand, great relief.”

Sunday, October 09, 2005

For Michaela

I write this for myself and Michaela, a native of Omaha. I lived in Omaha for four years while studying at Creighton University. These were some of my most depressing years and eye-opening years. Nebraska was the home of my catharsis--Nebraska is where I reconciled the child in me with the adult.

You start in a covered wagon.

You start with the trail-blazing pioneers, etching a path to California, only to be stopped in the dead center of the Earth, too tired to move forward, too tired to forge back. You quit in the brown spot, and that brown spot is named Nebraska.

You build a shack of dirt and line the floor with dirt. You sweep dirt out, only to find it caked in the porcelain dishes you brought from back East. You wash clothes, only to dry them in dirt. You find dirt in your food, bland and white.

You build a real home out of expensive wood, because there is hardly a tree in sight. You put in glass windows so that you can gaze out onto the brown fields of prarie. You wish there was something else to look at, but there is nothing.

You get some livestock, and you plant some wheat. You have some babies and farm the land. Your blood is thinned, your skin is thick, your hands are tired. You nurse sick calves and sick babies. Many of them die in the winter. You bury them in a grave, and make a cross for the children, and stick the cross amongst the brown, brown wheat.

And then the trains come through, and the town becomes a city. The city builds itself out of the pioneers who have come, but the city never loses the dirty sheen from the dusty land. And in the winter, when the sun is dimmed and the cold snow has belched upon the tundra, there is only brown surrounding the city. But now, you are in a home, with alleyways and separate garages and stocks in the beef trade.

And then, the beef trade goes on to better places, where the ranching is more prosperous, and it leaves the dirty city in Nebraska. The trains still run through, but not as often. The trains are bound for more fantastic places--Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles. You are left behind in a trail of dirt.

You go along the North Platte river, out to the wilds of Northern Nebraska. You stand amidst the brown wheat and smell the air. It is ripe with pollen. It is bleak and soul-crushing. Later, the land goes fallow, but a quarry opens, and so you go to work at the quarry. You see girls, young girls, with shoulders like men. These girls drive trucks and Hi-Lo's and go home to cook bland meals of meat and potatoes for their husbands, who still read The Farmer's Almanac with the poise of the religious.

You are Catholic, Protestant, German, Irish, Scottish. Your hands are still tired, your skin is still tough, your blood does not always warm you in the middle of the gray, gray winter. You wonder why you stay in such a bleak, brown place.

And then, in the middle of summer, you stand at a fountain in the middle of this dusty, windy, gray city. And the sky is dark, but off in the distance, far to the West, a lightening storm begins, thrashing purple violet against the ground, soundless and beautiful and awe-inspiring. The air is thick with electricity, and it is as though Thor himself is standing atop the Mutual of Omaha building and tossing down these forks of power.

You awake the next morning, and the sky is so huge above you, and so blue, the expanse leaves you breathless. While the city remains gray and lifeless, and the Earth remains brown and dusty, you know why you stay. You stay for those skies. Those incredible Nebraska skies.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Chase...Flash Fiction Friday

Loping along through the moonlight, the priest tore at his cossock. A sweat broke against his brow as he ripped his collar into bits.
“O Heavenly Father, I am not worthy so much as to gather up thy crumbs at thy feet…” the young priest thought as he ran, panic transforming his heavy features into a grimace.

The path he took was steep and filled with roots of the surrounding forest. Many times, the priest lost his balance, tripping over the wet, bleak ground of the Estonian coast. His black shoes had fallen off somewhere behind him.

He heard the distant shouts of angry citizens, clanging their way through the dense underbrush, waving torches and screaming for justice. This night, it was not just the recently converted Muslims (departed from their lands as Jews, now taking on Arabic names). It was his own parish.

He was long used to the chases, and was also adept at finding shelter. But this night was different, for the town cryer had spotted his hideout, and had also identified him as the newly stationed priest from distant Romania.

His Orthodox stature, the priest thought, would surely protect him. Alas, it had only camoflauged him for a certain time, and then, just like before, in all the other little villages and towns throughout Middle Europe, he was discovered, and chased and hunted as an animal, and forced to beg the Papal consulate for further orders.

The priest, still running in outright fear, found his rosary and began to chant the Salve Regina, hoping for God’s intercedence. The would-be captors were nearing, and the priest was beginning to tire. His abdomen clenched in a familiar way, and he hurtled to the damp ground again. He tried to stand, but could not, for the pain was so intense. It traveled through his gut and into his bones. He moaned “Kyrie Elesion, Kyrie” but again, God did not respond.

Momentarily, the priest was thrust backwards in time, as a child, when he first Awoke. His Master stood before him at an altar, and raised a sword above the child’s head. And the priest clearly saw, just as he had then, the single drop of blood, the single wiry hair, pinned onto the very tip of the sharpened blade. And how it had plunged down, puncturing the boy’s gentle skin. The searing pain..oh, the pain…

The priest returned to the present, gathered his cassock (or what was left of it) into a bundle, and arose. The torches were much nearer, now, just feet away. The priest heard the screams and yells of dozens of different languages, none his Mother tongue. And as the mob surrounded him, and saw him for what he was, he lifted his head and screamed for his brethren to help, as God would not come to his aid.

Through the dense brush, the wolves came with lamplight eyes and snarling snouts, and gathered ‘round the monster, heeding their Master’s call. And before the mob stood the Werewolf, slaving for flesh, howling in pain, agony, and bleeding from one great paw. The stigmata was upon this monster, yes, and the mob’s fear was only slightly diminished by the pity felt for him. But then, the wolves began to advance, and the mob was thrown into action. After several attempts to slay the wild hounds, the mob turned to descend the mountain and escape.

The wolves howled as they ran, and the Master wiped at his snout. He swatted away one single, crystaline tear. It was the one tiny piece of humanity the Lord left him this evening. It was one tear during a whole summer of the full moon.