Archive for January, 2010

Friday Flash: The Woman Who Rusted

Mona’s brain began to rust first. She would sneeze and spray solid bits of orange into her hand. She began to forget things like where she left her car, if she fed the cat, the fact that she no longer had a cat and, on a rainy Tuesday, she forgot to slip on her pants before walking out to the mailbox.

One day she sneezed and her teeth popped out onto her lap. She screamed, but then did remember she had dentures and this would sometimes happen when she forgot to buy denture cream. She would also need to buy skin lotion, she thought, as she scratched at a patch of brown scales on her arm.

“You should move to Yuma,” her doctor told her. “Low humidity. Will help delay the oxidation.”

“Oxidation?”

“Yes, rusting.”

Mona scratched at her flaking, cracked lips. “But, how?”

He shrugged. “These things happen.”

Yuma was all limitless sky, blue and more blue. Mona wondered what she was supposed to do with all this limitlessness. It only made her feel more small and insignificant.

In a folding yard chair, she sat, rubbing lotion into her pits and cracks and waited. It took longer to fall apart under a Yuma sky, but she waited patiently.

Her bones became brittle. Her pitted heart groaned at the exertion of pumping and circulating. Her lungs stiffened. The scent of acid and iron swirled around her. She shooed away neighborhood kids as they tried to polish her, thinking they were desert squirrels. Her mind was the first to go.

The Yuma sky began to rust, too, right before it bruised and then was shot through with pinholes. Mona tried to touch the light shining through the pinholes. She couldn’t get her heavy hand to move.

A neighbor rested a washbowl in her lap, mumbling something about being useful to nature. Sparrows and mockingbirds soon came to dip their dusty beaks and feathers. Their beady eyes were curious but unafraid. She knew she had lost her humanity. She was now just a curiosity.

In the silence, only the sharp edge of forgetfulness remained.  She had forgotten to do something. But what?

Her last breath beneath the limitless blue was a soft sigh of relief.

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Friday Flash: A Change of Heart

“Helen…”

It is only a whisper, but the room explodes into pandemonium. The word is a hurricane. It sweeps a nurse out the door, blows another out of the corner, clutching a chart and her chest.

He opens his eyes suddenly, memories caught between fog and pain.  There is a beep and a click in the sterilized space, the suddenly silent space…and then his mind explodes. Click BOOM!

He clutches his heart, his bearded mouth a cave full of unearthly groans and escalating screams. He watches them  in slow motion: Helen’s eyes crinkle at the corners as a mother-smile ignites, brightens her face. Emma bathes in the love; cooing, waving chubby fingers, bubbling at the world.

Rage bubbles now, builds, escapes from the cave and threatens to burst his eardrums. Beyond the nurses hands with straps and needles, he sees them. He sees Helen’s throat open up with the first bullet, then her chest. Crimson flowers bloom and splatter his shirt.  Her hand reaches for Emma as she falls backwards; falling, falling. “Emma!” Emma’s soft head blooms as he lifts himself from the chair, his heart shattering because he knows he is one second too late.

His next bout of awareness comes two days later. Men in suits and grim, sleep deprived faces file in to stare at him.

Questions begin slowly, carefully as if the words are probing his wounds. Do you know where you are? Do you remember anything from Friday, October 1st? Do you know your name?

His answer is a blank stare. His mind is simply white noise.

“That’s enough for now, Gentlemen,” a sympathetic voice breaks in.

“What is my name, please?”

The raspy voice startles the nurse checking his fluid bag. She trips backwards and then stoically pushes her fists into her pockets. “You don’t remember your name?”

“No.”

Sighing, she glances back at the door. “It’s David. David Farah.” Her arms now cross. “Ring a bell?”

“No.” He runs a shaky hand over the sore flesh under a thin gown. “What happened to me?”

“What happened to you?” Her eyes round, then blink at the ceiling. Her mouth tightens. “You were shot. The bullet damaged your cardiac valve and your heart wall. We had to do emergency surgery. You have a new heart, Mr. Farah.” She bows her head and leaves.  The men in suits file back in.

Now their eyes burn fiercely. Shock has crumbled under the weight of anger and injustice.

“So, names, Mr. Farah. We want names.” One of the angry men moves to stand over him. He smells like cloves and fear. “We know you weren’t acting alone in this. Thirty seven people died in that restaurant, you son of a bitch. Thirty seven people that included a…baby.” This last word is spit into his eye. Venom. He doesn’t blink because he is focusing on steadying the images and feelings rushing at him. An old fire, from another lifetime is nudging its way to the front. It is hate and faith and fear all rolled up into a singular, seething wound that is wearing the mask of a human soul. His silence is taken as being uncooperative. The angry man slams a hand down on his stitched up chest. The pain feeds the fire.

“They should have let you die. I would have let you die! The only reason they didn’t was because of god damned politics and lawsuits. They should have given you a pig’s heart you piece of shit.” One of the other suits pulls him away. Takes him outside.

“You mentioned the name Helen.” The third man’s jaw twitches.

“My wife, isn’t she my wife? She’s dead, isn’t she? Oh…and Emma.”

His eyes narrow. He pinches his nose between his eyes then motions for the others to follow him out.  He comes back in alone, with a folder.

“Helen Brennan, along with her husband, Michael and their baby Emma were victims in the attack.” He folds his arms. “How were you acquainted? Was this a targeted attack on them?”

“I don’t understand,” he stutters. The line between lifetimes is blurring. The space that separates souls is disappearing. They stand facing each other as one. One body, two lifetimes. Grief swirls as a black storm within and around them.

Nurses, doctors and agents share the view, peering at the man signing his confession through the window, struggling with their own grief and confusion.

“Maybe we should tell him,” a nurse glances at an agent.

“Tell him what?”

“That he has Michael Brennan’s heart.”

“What good would that do?”

“Most people don’t know that the heart sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. Some people believe our soul is in our heart.”

David Farah turns to the window full of faces, lifts his hand in a thumbs-up salute and plunges the pen deep into his new heart.

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Friday Flash: Root Baby

She was dangling at the end of carrot leaves clutched in Jane’s fist, a tiny dirt baby. On her knees in the garden, Jane stared at the doll-like face covered in dark soil; halfway expecting it to inhale and start crying, while knowing this would be impossible. However, when wet bubbles began to form on the bottom lip, it rattled Jane to the core and she almost dropped the creature.  She fell back in the damp soil, still keeping tight grip on those carrot leaves. Opening her eyes, she confirmed she hadn’t gone insane. The baby was there, still swinging in the air.

“Impossible.”  Jane lowered her into the basket, on top of the three or four carrots she had already plucked from the soil. Removing her gloves, she wiped the soil from its eyelids. They fluttered at her touch. Then she brushed the dirt from its neck and chest. Its skin was almost translucent, tinged yellow in the sunlight; thin fibers on its arms and legs glistened as it became animated, opening and closing tiny fists, kicking tiny toes. Jane brushed back the leaves from its forehead, in awe.

Then, in a flurry of fear she crawled, plucking out row after row of carrots, imagining other root babies entombed in fertilized soil. But, thankfully, this was the only one. When Jane peeked back into the basket, the eyes were open. It was staring at her quietly with eyes the color of the sun.

“Marge? Hi, this is Jane. Listen, I have a problem.”

“Okay.”

Jane sat at the kitchen table, the root baby still in the basket of carrots, staring quietly back at her. The smell of damp soil permeated the air.

“You know how I was telling you this spring I couldn’t afford Pureorganics seeds?”

“Oh no, Jane, you didn’t buy that genetically modified crap did you?”

“Well…yes. I figured, well how bad could it be, really. Right?”

“So,” Marge sighed, “how bad is it?”

“It’s…it’s alive,” Jane whispered. “And staring at me. I don’t know what to do with her.”

There was a long silence.

“Do you need a recipe?”

“What!” Jane sat up in her chair. “No! I can’t…can’t eat her. She looks human!”

“So, what are you going to do? Raise her and send her off to college? Jane, listen, you grew her in your garden, for food. You plucked her out of the dirt, she…it, is obviously not human. So, what’s the problem?”

Jane was feeling frantic. “What’s the problem? She has eyes, tiny clear eyelashes, toes…”

“So do cows, so what?”

Jane had no answer.

“Look, you know Evan Rogers at Knoll Hill Market? If you really can’t eat it, he’ll buy it from you. Sylvia was telling me her brother got some bad GM seeds, ended up with some kind of fish turnips. They smelled awful, but Evan bought ‘em. He specializes in exotic meats.”

Jane felt bile rising in her throat. “I have to go.” She barely made it to the bathroom.

When she returned, the rootbaby had lost her glow, her skin was graying. Was she dying?

Jane frantically offered her milk, the last of her pureed potatoes, water. She refused everything silently.

“What do you eat?”

She turned to the internet for answers. The few hits she got only gave cooking advice, not feeding advice.

Jane rushed her back out into the sunlight. Maybe her energy system was more plant like, she seemed to come alive when exposed to the sun before. In the sunlight, she could see tiny flakes and fissures on the rootbaby’s skin. So dry. She unwound the hose and trickled cool water across her belly and legs.

Her tiny mouth twitched. Was that a smile? The sunlight faded from her eyes and they closed. The animation left her.

Jane turned off the water, the rootbaby now bathed in her tears.

Jane knew she was supposed to call a disposal unit, but she also knew what they would do, the dissection, the tests. That would be worse than being eaten.

She scooped up the tiny body in her palm and held it gently to her chest as she walked back to the garden.

(photo credit: Jonathan Boeke)

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Friday Flash: Breaking the Mold

When she was small, we created people out of cookie dough, Jell-O, stories, clay and mud. There were molds of almost every shape available: holiday gingerbread men, scarecrows, ghosts, Barbie. There was no mold for a little girl or a perfect mother. Those things have to be specially crafted, shaped by hand, cooked on low heat so there is no searing or melting involved.

She grows taller, breaks the mold. Becomes a sailor. The horizon is closer than you think, but you can’t convince a sailor because they know the world is round, life is a circle. They know the ride is sun-soaked, full of sea-winds whipping through the insignificant parts of the journey.  I will be back around some day, she says. I stay close, dipping my toes in the sea. Water is an excellent conductor, of energy and also of ideas. The idea that insignificance is a mirage, for instance. A silvery fish slips beneath my foot, a caress. It is enough. Drifting used to be enough for her, now she is steering.  An island where the waves lap at white sand glints close by. Another mirage? Only she can know. I am on a different shore.

Funny thing about little girls and perfect mothers. They are one in the same and yet neither. They are their own mirage, ideas of our own making. Ghosts shaped by matter. Shaped by each other’s dreams, shaped by bird songs, molds of words, ideas, wars and passion long gone, the whisper of fate. Shaped by hope that, like the potential flower curled up in the tiny seed, bursts forth to create and destroy its own container.

It’s a Sunday morning when the meaning of life occurs to her.  She is gray and lumpy from all the kneading, the twisting, the falls during her journey through space-time.  Eyes open wide, pupils dilate, laughter percolates, gains speed and force and rips the reigns from her bone thin fingers. The freedom startles her. She hears the white-crested-laughing-thrush in her own cry. She no longer cares why the caged bird sings. Or the free bird. She no longer cares why waves crest and foam, why the sun’s light is gentler from the moon, why the unpredictable nature of life is the only foundation worthy of a little girl or a perfect mother. It just is.  It just does.  And it is beautiful.

(photo credit: Marius Fiskum)

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