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After being picked up from my friend’s house, I got in the car and I noticed my father’s hesitant and unsteady vocals; what he told me was certainly the most dreadful and unexpected news I could have ever thought.
Roughly nine o’clock, almost pitch black, in the car on the way home, Dad’s short, emotionless tone did not appear to be a good sign. He abruptly said to me, “So…the cops came to the front porch this morning with divorce papers…Just thought I’d tell you rather than you hearing it from someone else.” Although I was not standing next to my father when he was informed of this news, when he told me, I was hit just as hard by the pain. I was aware of my parents’ inability to be civil with one another; however, what I hadn’t realized until this moment was the true severity of the situation. While in the car, I wondered inside my head, “Why did the heat just arise?” and “Why did my heart just sink several feet lower than normal?” I could almost feel the vomit traveling north up my esophagus. Immediately after discovering this news, I tried to put up a front, but enough tears arose from my eyes for my whole family.
Eventually, I asked Dad more follow-up questions such as, “What’s going to happen to the house?” and “Where will Teddy go?” Although those questions were not the most important, I found that it was the only method to fill the awkward, speechless moment.
“We’ll figure it out.” Even though that was the only sentence he seemed to be able to form, I could tell by the way he looked at me and how tightly he held my hand that he truthfully meant what he said. By recognizing my goal to only look out the window, my Dad could also feel and see the endless amount of horror in my eyes. Gazing to the outside world made it seem like I was looking for an answer.
Who knew a ten minute drive could turn into an hour long car ride, by only one simple sentence? The ride was not actually an hour long, but because it was so quiet that I could hear the wheels rolling across the ground, it felt that long. As soon as I noticed my uncontrollable breathing, I inhaled as much as I could, and for a second, I thought maybe I could pinch myself and wake up from this ceaseless nightmare. So I tried. Unfortunately, I did not succeed. Dad said nothing else the whole way home. I could tell that he was more terrified than me from his direct and motionless gaze at each part of the road that approached him. Finally, he pulled the car into the driveway; which really felt like a gift from Heaven. I stared into the garage, and when he stopped, I opened the door and entered the last place I knew my family could ever be together. I left my father sitting inside his car in the pitch black; once again, alone.
What my family went through two years ago was the most awful and unanticipated circumstance. As a result of that, my father constantly attempts to camouflage his mournfulness through the use of humor; however, the strengths that he has acquired from this experience have, moreover, have influenced me.
Despite the humorous tone that he uses when he says to me, “I’m gonna go home and weep,” I have noticed the true sincerity of the sadness in his voice. He expresses fear as he notes the destruction to his life: but, he also tries to overcome the fear of no longer having his family with him each day. In addition to that, I have noticed his choice of words change from, ‘Mom,’ to, “your Mother.’ This simple modification has shown not only me, but also him, the level of agony he goes through each second of the day. Although when my father throws in to a casual conversation that he will “go home to an empty house”, by the way he looks at me, I have noticed the unbearable ‘alone’ feeling that has become inescapable. He experiences frustration every time he remembers that he can’t go home and see his two boys and little girl everyday like he used to. Instead, he attempts to combine his family life with his business life and act almost as if each of our gatherings is just another one of his ‘business meetings.’ He presents these emotions through a depressed, quiet, and less enthusiastic tone, specifically to reach out to all three of his kids, despite the amount of rage he has experienced from, now, living life alone.
My father’s distraught feelings have appeared most to me when my two brothers and I received a letter in the mail for an invitation to go over his house for a Thanksgiving Dinner. This instantly made me recognize the severity of our separation; but, at the same time, I have become impressed by the way he has maintained his altered life without the constant appearance of his children and wife. Additionally, he has realized that, at some point, he must put up a front when in the presence of his children. I have recognized the encouragement he knows that he should have when he tries to fulfill his kids’ needs. He’s always told us that he’ll “get [us] anything at all that [we] need, no matter what”, even though, in reality, everyone knows that money is the last interference that he could handle. My father will also often say, “I’ve worked all night, and went to another business meeting this morning, so I haven’t gotten a chance to sleep.” Then he will ask if I am working; and if I am, despite the scare amount of sleep he gets on a regular basis, he will go through a massively inconvenient trip, just to see me, even if it’s just for a few minutes. I can see through his slight bit of seriousness, and instantly recognize by the tone in his voice that his life’s goal is to never become distant from his kids. They’re his life. This battle has helped both my father and I to attempt avoiding how it’s destroyed us all; and, hopefully in time, obtain even more strength than we had before.
Accepting the brutality of the condition is exactly what has helped guide me the most. When he notifies me that we should have ‘weekly meets’ in order to ‘solve one problem at a time’, I also recognize that that’s his way of doing everything he can to help me and himself to an almost unreachable goal. After this, I’ve understood how delicate we all actually are, and that it is surprisingly a good thing because it’s one of the characteristics that help us the most. It builds us up even stronger and makes us able to fix more problems. The knowledge that I have gained from what will ever be the most awful situation my father has experienced has prepared me to face my own problems and to continue to strive for the objectives that will shape my future.
Ian Lashley McIntosh
The fresh smell of apple pie drifted through the house, rousing Daisy from her sleep. Waking up to the smell of freshly baked desserts was always a welcome way to pull her from lucid dreams. In the past, many different smells had filled the morning air of their little home. Cookies and bread, although usually it came down to a different type of pie. Her mother specialized in pies ranging from apple to chocolate pecan. But that was all in the past, her mother rarely baked pie anymore. In fact, the rarity of her baking had been reduced to a predictable pattern that quickly told Daisy what she would be doing today. She sighed, wishing that she could have the pie to herself, but she knew that could not be the case.
Daisy pushed back her covers, and put her feet down on the cool oak floor while stretching. The room was still dark. She got up and shuffled to the window to pull back the curtains and let the early morning light drift in. She rubbed her eyes and propped the window so the cool breeze could stir up the stiff air in her room. She put on her slippers and gave one last stretch before opening her door and heading downstairs. The smell of apple pie was even stronger as she progressed down the steps.
She entered the kitchen to find exactly what she had expected. Her snow boots were out along with her white riding hood. On the kitchen table sat a basket of food. Approached the table, she peeked underneath the blanket that covered the food. Nestled inside the hand-woven basket were breads, cheeses, and various fruits. It was the most food she had seen in her house in a long time.
Her mother turned around and smiled. “You’re finally up.”
“I’m going to grandma’s house.” It wasn’t really a question. She already knew the answer.
Her mother wiped her flour caked hands across her apron. Daisy had actually wondered if she’d ever see her mother in it again. It had been hanging on the back of the pantry door collecting dust for nearly a month. “Yes, and taking her some food. You know how she is during the winter time. I feel terrible I haven’t been able to get something out to her sooner, but…”She didn’t complete her sentence but Daisy could guess.
She knew that her grandmother rarely left her bed during the winter. In her old age she had weakened to a point in which she could barely pull herself out of bed. She was only surviving because Daisy’s mother was supporting her by delivering food to her. To be honest, Daisy didn’t feel like delivering anything. Daisy kind of wanted to crawl back into her bed to escape the current biting cold that penetrated their small cabin.
Her mother bustled around the kitchen, placing more things into the basket and began to pack a separate bag for Daisy on the road. It was several miles to grandmother’s house and her mother had always been a little overly cautious. Food for a few days, some healing herbs and ointments, rope, a tarp, a traveling cooking set. Daisy tilted her head. She had a feeling the pack would be too heavy, but she didn’t comment. She knew how stressed her mother was and didn’t need to worry her further. Instead she took one of the pieces of extra pie and chewed it. She ignored the sticky pie filling oozing onto her hands. It actually felt good. Her mother tied up the bag and looked at Daisy sternly.
Daisy looked for a place to wipe off her sticky fingers, but found no place but her own cloak. She always said it looked like a giant hand cloth, but the cloak was too precious to her to ruin in such a way. She however settled with wiping them on the wooden table in front of her when he mother was not looking. She was occupied with one of the drawers in a shelf that she was unlocking with a silver key she always kept around her neck.
Daisy had asked hundreds of times what the key was for, but her mother said it was not important. In a vain attempt she tried to see around her mother so she could peek in the drawer, but her mother had her body stationed in the perfect position to block her view from all angles. Daisy could move to get a better angle, but that would have been too obvious.
She sat back up quickly when her mother turned back around. In her hands was a wooden box. The surface gleamed with a multitude of different shades brown combined showcasing the individual grains of wood. She wondered vaguely if it was enchanted wood. She had always been fascinated by magic, even though she knew she wasn’t allowed to be. It was closed by a single silver latch on the front. Her mother flicked the latch upwards and the box creaked open. Daisy wasn’t sure what she had expected, but a dagger had not ranked on her list of possibilities. It was a small dagger to be sure, but sharp judging by the jagged teeth.
“Take it,” her mother said offering the box.
Daisy stared at the glittering dagger in confusion. Never before had she been given a weapon like this for her travels. She looked up at her mother as if about to ask a question.
“Two children were nearly eaten by a witch in the woods a few months ago. I’d feel safer if you had this. I would accompany you to your grandmother’s house myself, but I’m afraid I must stay here. Your father is coming back home today and I must get everything ready. I packed enough clothes for you to sleep over. I don’t want you on the road when it gets dark. Also stay to the main roads. No shortcuts.” She wagged her finger as if already scolding her for already doing something wrong.
Most of this did not process in Daisy’s head as she picked up the dagger and examined it with awe. The world they lived in was dangerous. Everyone knew that. Most children did learn how to at least carry a dagger with them. Most of Daisy’s friends did. For the longest time Daisy’s mother refused to give her one. She never really understood it, and could not even begin to fathom why her mother would give it to her now.
She looked up into her mother’s eyes and noticed that she was not looking at her. Her mother’s eyes seemed to go all about the room, but never focused on Daisy. The girl concluded that she had to be looking for something. Daisy placed the dagger in her the basket for lack of a better place to put it. She put the hood on her head and placed the back on her shoulders. It was every bit as heavy as she thought it would be. The basket wasn’t much better.
“Are you sure I shouldn’t leave some of this food here. What will you and dad eat?”
A half smile crossed her mother’s lips. There was something broken about it. It was an expression she had never seen on her mother’s face. It was dark and distant, but it was so fleeting Daisy questioned if she had actually seen it at all. A real smile was back on her face as she leaned over to kiss Daisy on the forehead. “Don’t worry about us. We’ll be fine.” She opened the door for Daisy, her smile full of its usual light as she lightly placed her hand on Daisy’s back and guided her out. “Remember to not stray from the main path.”
“Okay,” she said before venturing off of her porch and onto the path that would take her to grandmother’s house.
The snow had settled from the night before. It was the untouched kind of snow that blanketed the earth with no imperfections. There didn’t even appear to be any markings from passing animals. It was a wondrous sight. Magical even if she were to describe it. A sickness fell over her as she began to mourn the perfection she was about to ruin with her booted feet. She stood on the porch for several moments taking in the sight before stepping forward into the ankle high snow. There was no wind thankfully. Without wind, her hood stayed in place and provided some protection for her ears which were always the first thing to get cold.
Daisy wasn’t usually one to disobey her mother, but something about her mother’s brief broken smile had shaken her resolve when it came to listening to the woman. She tried to push off the thought as she reasoned out her disobedience with what she considered to be logic. The straight path to her grandmother’s house was so much longer, and she wanted out of the cold as quickly as possible. She knew the perfect shortcut. It was a perfectly logical reason to disobey.
Making sure to keep on the path until she was out of sight of her cabins, she looked back briefly before ducking into a line of trees.
As she entered the woods, she discovered another logical positive to not following directions. The snow under the trees proved to be slightly thinner. This made her progression far less tiring and eased her nerves about ruining the majestic quality of the snow as this air was obviously already corrupted by animals and fallen twigs and acorns. Looking up, she took in the fresh air and glanced up at the now blue sky. The sun was out, but she doubted it would heat up enough for the snow to melt anytime soon. Distracted by a passing cloud that momentarily blocked the sun, she did not see the man step into her path. She walked right into him. Even though she hadn’t been walking all that fast, the impact hurt as if she had walked into a tree. She fell back, nearly hitting the ground and spilling all of her mother’s baked goods. She would have spilled everything out of her basket if the man had not caught her by the wrist and pulled her back to her feet before she had fully fallen.
“Thank you sir,” she gave the man a quick smile. She quickly realized her folly and closed her mouth before any more greetings could escape her mouth. Her mother told her to never talk to strangers. While she had questioned her mother’s advice about the path, this did not seem to be the best thing to question her mother on.
The man looked nice enough. He looked to be about her father’s age, with a slightly scruffier beard and dark blue eyes. Judging by his simple attire she suspected he was simply a traveling merchant, but she did not see him carrying anything to sell. He just had a walking cane with a carved wolf head as a handle.
“Happy to help,” he said in a surprisingly rich and warm voice. It was the kind of voice one could drift off to sleep to. Her father had a similar quality to his voice, although not quite so cultured. There was an accent that she could not readily place. Still, he reminded her of her father. It was probably these similarities that kept her at ease. Even if she sensed no danger from the man, she still felt she should honor her mother and get out of the situation as quickly as possible. She’d just have to be polite about it.
She smiled at him. It was the friendliest smile she could make without seeming too fake. “Well thanks, but I really must go.” She started to walk around him, but the slightest of movement from him caused her to be once again blocked.
“That’s a marvelous smell coming from your basket. You are taking some pie to someone?”
Daisy stopped for a moment. With the basket covered, she could not a smell a thing from of its contents. The only thing she could smell was pine trees. She looked down at the basket and back up at the man. “Yes, I’m bringing my grandma some food. I really must run along now. If I’m late I’ll get in trouble.” It wasn’t a lie. Her grandmother was probably expecting her, and if she didn’t show up in a timely manner, she was likely to get scolded by her mother when she found out. With that, she stepped around him and quickly made her way along the unmarked path that she knew existed. She looked back once and waved at the man.
“Thank you again,” she called back.
“And have a good day,” he said with a smile. It was a kind smile, but something about his eyes seemed different. It was another shift in emotion that she had no time to read before it was gone. Slightly unnerved, she turned her attention back to her path and continued. She picked up her pace until she was modestly running. She told herself that logically it was just to make up time for her brief stop. She would keep up this jog until she reached her destination. No more distractions.
Her grandmother’s house was far even by shortcut. She arrived at the small cabin several hours later. She had run most of the way, forgetting even why she had taken up such a quick pace. She came up to the front door and knocked on it three times in a row. It wasn’t the most complicated sign ever, but it was what they had agreed upon as the knock Daisy would use. Grandma did not like opening the door, so she liked to know who was at the door by the knock. There was the sound of rustling on the other side and the door. Daisy stood there for a few moments knowing that it would take her grandmother a long time to get to the door. The door finally opened to reveal her grandmother in her usual pink nightgown and a thick white shawl wrapped around her.
“Come in dear,” she said placing her hand on Daisy’s back and lightly ushering her inside the house.
Daisy lowered her hood and looked around the room. It smelled funny. That was the first thing Daisy noticed. She could not place the smell, but it was rancid like spoiled meat. She sniffed the air to get a better read as to where the smell was coming from. She put the basket on the table. “I brought you some food grandma.” She looked back to see her grandmother putting away her shawl in the closet. She usually just kept it on in the bed as an extra blanket.
“Mother sends her best,” Daisy continued.
She only received a quick nod from her grandmother as she moved about the room closing the curtains. What little bit of light lit the room quickly vanished. Maybe she wanted to use candles.
“Are you hungry?” Daisy asked.
“Starved,” her grandmother said.
Daisy’s eyes narrowed as she observed her grandmother. Her voice sounded deeper than usual. “What a deep voice you have grandma. Are you sick?” She froze when her mother walked up behind her Before she could move, her grandmother pulled her into and embrace, her head lowering so her nose pressed into Daisy’s neck.
“You smell so good.” He voice was gravely and slowly becoming even deeper than before.
Claw like fingernails trailed down her shoulders as her grandmother continued to nuzzle into her neck. It took Daisy a few minutes before the chill in her veins had finally receded enough for her to move. She struggled out of her grandmother’s grip and stumbled away from her.
A scream caught in her throat as she took in the image of what she believed was her grandmother. The old woman was standing with her head cocked to the side, her mouth hung open as if her jaw had detached and was now cracking back and forth between a regular jawline and the grotesque extended one. Her whole body twisted and snapped as her bones appeared to be breaking and reforming all at once. Her neck snapped at an odd angle that did not seem humanly possible. Her usually brown eyes enlarged and became a shocking blue. Her wrinkled small features began sharpen and become more masculine as hair grew from her face. Her body was enlarging, ripping her clothes as a man’s body took its place.
She couldn’t even form any words as she quickly recognized the man crouched down like a dog in front of her. It was the man from the woods. He stood up and smoothed back his hair. “Hurts every time, but so efficient.” His cultured way of speaking hadn’t lost its power, but now if it lulled her into sleep she was sure it would be into a nightmare.
Daisy inched towards the table where she had placed the basket. “Where is my grandmother?”
The man tilted his head to the side as it made a loud snapping noise. He smiled. “In my stomach. I ate her a few nights ago. She was a bit bony and barely had any meat on her, but these are lean times for everyone.” His eyes seemed to light up with mirth as he examined Daisy with a calculating expression. “I much prefer the meat of younglings. So much more flavor. So much meaty fat. I would stay and talk, but my mother always said to not play with my food. Night will be here soon and the full moon out. But honestly I like having my food dead before I change, so I’ll deal with it now.” He jumped forwards with speed Daisy did not think possible. She tried to jump out of the way, but he caught her by the throat and slammed her down onto a table. The basket was thrown from the table and her one chance of grabbing the knife was lost.
Tears flowed down her face as she beat her fists against his chest. “Why are you doing this to me,” she cried.
He placed a hand around her throat on the side of her face. “Ask your mother. Well, I suppose you can’t since you’ll be dead. Well, let’s just say I paid for my meal tonight.” He shrugged. “Oops. Oh, by the way, I hope you don’t mind if I just snap your neck. I detest it when my food is already bleeding and riddled with holes. I have a cousin that loves to stab his dinner to death, but I think it takes away from the flavor. I swear I can taste the metal from the blade.”
She screamed and struggled harder but it was useless.
“Shhh, it will be quick.” He placed both hands on either side of her face.
The door burst open and in an instant the man had jumped off her to confront who had entered. A young man maybe a few years older than Daisy stood at the door with a cold detached look on his face.
The man that had attacked Daisy growled, falling onto all fours. He leaped forward to meet the intruder. The boy quickly moved forward as the wolf man opened his jaw to reveal a row of sharpened teeth. The boy caught him in mid air by the throat, using the momentum of his jump to slam him into the ground with enough force to shake the whole cabin and splinter the floor. The wolf man struggled, but the boy’s grin seemed too strong.
“This is not fair, I bought her fair and square. You promised me! You…”His words were cut off as the boy pulled out a dagger and shoved into the wolf man’s chest. The last sound he made was a gurgling sort of growl that died with one final twist of the boy’s dagger.
With a quick yank, he pulled the dagger from the dead man’s chest, sending a spray of blood splattered the floor and reached Daisy, speckling the front of her cloak with crimson specks.
The boy absently cleaned the edge of his dagger with a cloth he pulled from his pocket. He didn’t even glance up at the cowering Daisy that hadn’t moved from her location. The room seemed so dark and unfamiliar to her. The room seemed to want to consume her into darkness.
Light entered the room as a woman walked in. She was the most beautiful woman Daisy had ever seen. Her dark black hair lay stacked in an intricate layering. She wore a silk golden dress that seemed to glimmer like the very snow outside. That wasn’t what made her beautiful. He face was smooth and unblemished, her eyes a brilliant bright blue. Her features were perfectly symmetrical and it was impossible to say her age due to a youthful, but wise appearance.
A concerned expression crossed the woman’s face as she entered. She glided across the floor, her feet invisible underneath her dress. She bent over and reached out to touch Daisy’s cheek. Daisy felt the urge to recoil, but she didn’t. A warm feeling spread across her face, and the pain from the attack vanished.
“Oh my sweet, I’m so sorry this happened to you,” her voice came out like music. It was entrancing to the point Daisy could focus on nothing else but the woman’s words.
“Do you know who I am?”
“Yes, you’re the queen. My mom says you’re bad. She says it your fault my dad had to go away. It’s also your fault that we have no money.” she said.
The woman looked sad for a moment. “Oh sweetie, I’m not bad. But I can understand her dislike for me. It’s hard to run such a vast land and have no help. It’s hard to make them all happy. But if I had some help, maybe I could make everyone happy.”
Daisy sniffed. “But my mom says….”
She was cut off as the boy approached and handed the queen a rolled of piece of paper. “I found this on him,” he said sternly.
The Queen took and opened it. She made a slight gasping noise, and tried roll it back up quickly. Daisy managed to catch a glimpse and saw her mother’s signature at the bottom.
“What’s that,” Daisy asked.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” the queen said.
“I want to know. If it has my mother’s name on it, then I should get to know.”
The queen sighed. “Okay,” she unrolled the paper again. “This is a contract offering to pay your mother for her first born child. Big Bads like that man there often make contracts like this with poor families. Too lazy to hunt so they buy their food. Your mother’s signature indicates that she sold you. I’m so sorry.” The parchment caught on fire in the queen’s hands. “It’s despicable, selling your own child.”
Daisy felt numb. How could her mother betray her like that? It made no sense. She tried to put together in her head, but none of it made sense.
The queen looked back at the slain body. “An invention by my father. They are nasty creatures. They plague my land and bring my people such suffering. It’s one of the things I need help with.” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “Will you help me?”
Still a little shaken Daisy only managed to squeak out her response. “How can I help you?”
The queen put her hand on Daisy’s cloak. “I can give you power. I can give you power beyond your imagination. My huntsmen can train you to fight. With these two tools you can make sure nobody suffers your fate, or your grandmother’s fate. You can help me by purging the land of these monsters.”
Daisy sat there for a moment in a daze. She looked down at the man that had attacked her. She thought about her grandmother’s kind face warping to that of a monster’s face. “Okay,” she said.
“Good, I’m so glad that you agreed.”
With her hand still on Daisy’s cloak, the queen’s expression took on a new layer of focus. The small specks of blood on Daisy’s cloak expanded eating away the pure white that was once there. Soon the entire hood had turned a deep red like a rose, like the blood that still seeped from the man’s body and soaked into the floor.
One day as Gripkin and the princess sat under a tree during one of their sessions, the princess looked at the sky and saw it was clearer than she had ever seen it. “Oh, it must be nice being a bird, especially on a day like this! I would fly all day if I could.”
“Well, you can’t,” Gripkin said. “You were not born with wings so it is foolish to even think otherwise.”
“It isn’t foolish if it makes me happy. In fact, dreaming about anything, anything at all, whether it is possible or not, is only foolish if it brings sadness. And I never bother dreaming about things that make me sad.”
Gripkin smirked and attempted to lure the princess back into her lesson. The princess then studied, but only for a short period before she became distracted again.
“Gripkin,” the princess said, “how do you have the patience to learn so much? Seems pointless when there are others who can learn for you. You should perhaps find a companion; someone who can teach you things you’ll never learn in a book.”
“Why would I want to learn anything that cannot be taught in a book? I enjoy this study. It gives my mind something to focus on.”
“But I doubt you need a book to tell you what you should focus on.”
“You’re right, princess.” Gripkin said. “But it helps me to focus on something good.”
“Good?” The princess gave Gripkin a peculiar look. “As opposed to something bad?”
“Yes.” Gripkin said, turning back to her books.
“What bad things would you focus on? You don’t seem so bad to me.”
“That’s because I have these books.”
“And what if your books were to disappear?” The princess asked. “What if your house burned down and all the books with it?”
Gripkin looked at the princess suspiciously and took a moment to answer. “I would think I would have to buy more.”
“But say you had been robbed and had no more money.”
“Then I suppose I would have to borrow yours, if you would let me.”
The princess then laughed, truly laughed, until she saw Gripkin looked displeased. Wiping a tear from one of her deep blue eyes, the princess explained, “If that day should ever come, Gripkin, I promise you can have all of my books!” She laughed again. “Every last one.”
And strangely enough, within two weeks of this conversation, Gripkin’s home was mistaken for a thief’s and burned down. She was left with nothing–not even a single bit of dust–but decided not to worry, for the princess had made her a promise.
She arrived on the doorstep of the castle and awaited the princess. When the princess arrived, Gripkin did not hesitate to tell her what was on her mind.
“Princess, my home has been destroyed along with all of my books. You made a promise to me that should this ever happen you would give me all of yours.”
“I did, didn’t I?” The princess said, and Gripkin could see a change take over the girl’s face. She smiled mischievously as the governess waited. “Well, Grip,” the princess began, “I would love to give you all of my books, however; I think this is my chance to teach you something.”
“What do you mean?” Gripkin asked, not at all pleased.
“I think this is my opportunity to teach you something you will never learn in a book. You must find a man to love more than anything in the world. He must teach you to see the world in a new way, and all the beautiful things in it. If you can find him, and you still wish to have my entire collection of rubbish books, I shall make sure you have it.”
“But, princess–” Gripkin protested, however; the princess knew what she was about to say and interrupted her.
“I promised you all of my books, yes, but I never promised I would give them to you immediately. Calm down and stop worrying. I will promise to help you and now,” The princess smiled “you will become my student. Come with me.”
Gripkin was shocked; this was not the way she foresaw this morning’s series of events. But as ordered, she followed the princess and entered the library where the door closed and left them alone together.
“Why are we in the library if I am not receiving my books today?” Gripkin asked, and then watching the princess flit her hand as if nothing were to bother her, she said “I thought it might be encouraging. Now first things first, lift your shoulders. You must not hunch. Men want women, not chimps.” Then, her eyes looking away, the princess thought about what she said and considered correcting herself. But then as before she waved the thought away as Gripkin watched her long blonde hair move with her every motion. She was right; men want women–not chimps.
Gripkin did as she was asked, though as self-consciously as she possibly could. But the princess, having patience fit for royalty, began to sound frustrated and said, more sternly “Confidence, Grip! Find it!”
Gripkin attempted to seem more confident when the princess said more softly “Now, smile.”
When she smiled, she thought it felt peculiar. She had smiled so little in her life that she was not accustomed to her face in such a position. “See,” the princess said, smiling. “You’re a natural. It’s a shame you haven’t smiled much before, it really transforms your face. Now,” the princess said, quickly moving on. “You have no more clothes then? Because of the fire?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so.” Gripkin said, secretly hoping this was her ticket out of this. But of course, her mentor was a princess, so it was unlikely.
The princess laughed and said “No, don’t be! Saves me having to burn them myself. Raguitta!” She yelled and the door immediately opened. “Send someone to take her measurements.” When the door closed again, the princess, clearly delighted, said “Oh, you will look much better in new clothes. Now,” The princesses’ finger went to her lips as she thought. “Most men only need a pretty woman. Your manners are good enough; just keep your shoulders back!” She scolded as she noticed Gripkin’s shoulders had hunched once more. Caught off guard and slightly frightened, Gripkin straightened her posture and made an effort to remain composed.
“I suppose we’ve done enough for today.” The princess said and watched as the tailor entered the room. “We will continue tomorrow at this same time. Don’t be late, unless you’ve already found a man by then.” She smiled, though it was not returned, and ordered the seamstress to meet with her afterwards. Then she exited and Gripkin was measured.
As Gripkin walked to one of the castle’s spare bedrooms designated for her, she considered leaving, after all, books could not be so important. But deep down Gripkin knew that if she did, her life would only be more difficult. Surely the princess would send someone to find her for in all her years as a governess, Gripkin knew the princess was quite perseverant when she wanted to be, unfortunately it was never towards math or science.
The next day Gripkin returned to the library and was surprised to see the princess was already there. “Hello!” She called excitedly. Gripkin noticed they were not the only two in the room. There were in fact many other women, each holding at least three finely sewn dresses. “Hello, princess.” Gripkin said, bowing.
“Your new wardrobe is complete. I have had many people working on it since you left yesterday. I picked the materials myself. What do you think?” The princess couldn’t help her excitement and took Gripkin’s hand, pulling her to one of the seamstresses.
Gripkin looked at them. “They look wonderful, thank you.” She spoke flatly. Though truly appreciative of the gesture, Gripkin still only viewed them as mere dresses.
“Oh Grip, they’re beautiful. Here, touch them! Don’t they feel…rich?” The princess laughed. “Now pick one, any one you like, and get dressed. I want to see. From now on, this will be the new you, whether you’re dancing with your man or reading one of those lousy books! Oh, this is so exciting! Felicity, fetch me some tea.” Then Gripkin tried on a new red satin gown while the princess waited for her tea.
This particular lesson focused on wooing a man. And as the princess gladly demonstrated her expertise by strutting around her delicate frame, Gripkin on the other hand felt extreme discomfort. But she continued with the lesson, for an unknown reason, and returned each day. When the princess finally felt she was ready, Gripkin was released in an attempt to find someone to love.
She applied all she had learned and while many men where immediately attracted to her, Gripkin found them either self-absorbed in maintaining the perfect image (which included a perfect wife) or simply lacking the brain required to hold a stimulating conversation. Days passed, soon weeks, and soon the green-eyed brunette began to lose hope. There was no one she loved and perhaps it was even sadder that she felt no one loved her. The princess, however, was stubborn and still refused to give Gripkin her books until she found someone to love, and eventually, Gripkin gave up her search. She secretly forfeited the books and on a day when the rain constantly poured and the streets were nothing but mud, Gripkin went for a walk. Her dress was ruined, so much was clear, but so long as her tears blended in with the rain dripping down her face, she did not mind.
But as she walked something unexpected happened. There was a man inside a horse-drawn carriage who looked upon her, rags and all, and despite her appearance, did something quite rare: he asked her if she was alright.
Gripkin at first was not sure he had been speaking to her and so she kept walking. But when she found it peculiar that the carriage did not pass her, she turned and saw the most handsome man starring at her with thick brown hair the color of chocolate and warm brown eyes. And as she looked at him, she spotted the beginnings of a smile starting to form on his face.
“Hello, lady.” He smiled. “Are you alright? You seem lost.”
“Hello.” It was all she could say.
“Here,” said the handsome man, without another thought “Let me give you a ride. I promise you’ll be safe.”
Before she knew what was happening, she found herself oddly listening to this man. When she was finally sitting, reason came back to her and she made a movement to leave, after all, why on earth had she joined a stranger?
“Wait,” he said. “Let me give you a ride.” And as he looked at her so sweetly, reason once again left her, until they began to converse and she found him to be quite an enjoyable fellow. In fact, he was more than she had ever expected. But as she looked at herself upon arriving back at the castle, she was reminded he could not be as smitten with her. After all, she had failed to inflict any of the princess’s techniques on this man, and worse, she hardly looked presentable.
But little did she know this did not matter, for the man she had stumbled on had been a rare sort. He had been clever and he knew that there was more to Gripkin than her appearance. As a wise man, he could see it from first glance, by simply looking into her eyes. There was so much he desired to explore and so for the next fortnight he continued to visit Gripkin. They became great friends but still Gripkin could not believe he loved her and so one day she asked him something that had been on her mind.
“Why do you visit me so often if you do not love me?”
“Because I do love you.” She turned her face away only to find it trapped in his palm. He turned her face so that her eyes could look into his and said “And I will visit every day until you believe me.”
And so he did. But during his visits he brought more than mere company. Anyone can bring company. No, for Gripkin, he brought all he had. He learned so that he could answer her questions, he accompanied her wherever she wished so that she could explore, and when the day finally came when she believed he loved her, she realized he had done more than that. In fact, he had done just as the princess had promised. This man, who Gripkin loved more than any word can describe, had given her perspective. He had taught her to love the world and all the things in it. And as the two of them sat in the garden one day, Gripkin found she was doing just as the princess had done that one afternoon that seemed so long ago. She found she could not read any of her new books and instead she looked elsewhere. For Gripkin now realized that while you can learn almost anything from the book, it means more to discover it yourself by exploring the things around you. In that, you live life.
But in all her exploring there was one question Gripkin could not find the answer to. She could have simply asked, yes, but a part of her was not sure it would be appropriate. For she wondered, who was it that had taught the princess love all that time ago that made her look at the birds and wish to fly away?
As I hobbled through the doors on my crutches, the bright florescent lights immediately make me want to squint, but aren’t bright enough to make me actually do so. Instead, I just have a dull pounding sensation behind my eyes. To make matters worse, there is a really irritating ringing in my ears from the constant beeping of different machines coming from all directions, all trying to alert the nurses of something. And that smell. So nauseating. Just the smell of sickness, latex gloves, new gowns, antibiotics and the scent of flowers and balloons all mixing together and invading my nostrils making me want to vomit.
It’s called a Slipped Capitol Femoral Epiphysis, but we can call it a “skiffie” for short. Yours is very severe because of your misdiagnosis. It is usually just separation of the ball of the hip joint from the femur at the growth plate of the bone. In your case, there is also a tearing of the head of the joint. What we will do is operate on the hip, stabilize the joint, and secure the head of the joint with a screw or two. From there on, I was occupied staring at this fat old white man with a scruffy grey beard who referred to me as a body part and not a 10 year old human being. Who in the world did he think he was? What he was saying was, until then, do NOT put any weight on your right side at all. If you bear weight the entire cap will tear off and your growth plate will be permanently damaged, leaving your right leg at its current length, never to grow again. If this happens, you will never walk again. I said nothing, not because I was scared, but because I was not listening at all. He had lost me after he called me a hip.
My mother called my grandmother in Canada every day. I never really paid attention to what they spoke about, but for some reason on this day I heard every word of their conversation. She is so strong, and has overcome so much in the past 8 ½ years. What 18 year old can say they have undergone surgery 16 times in their short life? She walks around with a smile on her face but I still sometimes feel guilty for all of this. Her childhood was kind of stolen from her through this all. But they told my baby that she couldn’t and she made it known that she would! Every single time, she looked that trial in the face and said you better watch it. As I listen, I think about what she is saying, and it isn’t true, this is in no way my mother’s fault, but I don’t say anything. This only makes me realize how much I am loved.
It’s daddy’s turn to come with me into the operating room. I watched as my father went with the surgeon to get scrubbed up. The nurse gave him a gown, hat, shoe covers and face mask to wear. Once he was ready, he walked with me as they wheeled his daughter, unable to walk due to a severe bone infection, into the operating room. I was no stranger to this place. I had been here many times, but it made me just as nervous each time. The bright lights, the scary machines and equipment, the freezing cold air, all added to my fears. What if this was the time where my body couldn’t take anymore? What if I didn’t wake up this time? I hummed and squeezed my dad’s hand to hold back the tears as they lifted me from my soft bed to the cold hard operation table. I knew he hated seeing me have to go through all of this, but the selfish part of me still asked him to come in anyway. In came my anesthesiologist. He was kind. He asked me if I was ready. I replied the same way I always did, ready as I will ever be. He then secured the face mask over my nose and mouth and told me to breathe deeply. At first I didn’t, but I couldn’t hold my breath for long. The gas was cold and kind of sweet in a nauseating way. My stomach started to feel queasy even though it was empty, but I felt as though I could vomit anyway. I felt less and less in control of my own body. Then I felt a prick in my hand while the anesthesiologist told me jokes that I laughed at to hysterically. My dad told me he loved me and that he’d see me in a few. He knew it would be many grueling hours while they tried to scrape the infected tissue out of my body but he reassured me every time. I felt my veins begin to get cold. The nurse told me to count back from ten and before I knew it they would be done. 10…9…8….
The 100 gallon tank was set in the wall. The little blue, green and pink pebbles that rested on the bottom of the tank were covered in a layer of green slime. One lonely ugly fish swam around in a kind of a circular manner. Over to one side then back to the other, bubbles rising from the orange body every now and then. I tapped on the glass, the fish slowed to stop, but only for a second. He had a weird round look to its eyes. I wasn’t sure if it was natural or some kind of weird problem. How sad he must be. That poor little ugly fish, it had no friends, lived in a tank, with nothing to do but the same boring routine for hours on end, and maybe even a disability. As I sat in my wheelchair in front of the tank in the hallway of the children’s ward, I couldn’t tell if I was actually sad for the fish, or if I was sad because that fish was me? How different was my life? Here I was stuck in this dumb wheelchair, can’t walk or dance or run or anything fun, I had no friends, and I too was doing the same boring routine every day. How pathetic.
I lay on the couch, covered by three comforters and a blanket, still shivering. My mother got the thermometer from the bathroom cabinet. She put it under my tongue. It beeped and it read 103.2. I had never had a fever like this before. My dad grabbed my coat, shoes and wheelchair. He took me to the car and rushed me to the emergency room. After running many tests, the doctor came back to let me know that I had a blood infection. I contracted it through the semi permanent IV line that I had that was being used to give my antibiotics to fight off my bone infection. I would need to be admitted to the intensive care unit at least for the night. Now my body was fighting not only fighting a massive bone infection, but a blood infection too. It was basically fighting its entire being.
Today I graduate high school. As I finish curling my hair I sit down on the edge of my toilet, paying no mind to my crisp white summer dress I am wearing that is now caressing the porcelain seat. I was too caught in thought to be worried about my new dress. I actually did it! Look how far I’ve come. In a few hours, I will have officially graduated high school. Later that evening my mom hand me a card; Congratulation on your Graduation! My entire family gathered at my house to celebrate one of the biggest milestones in my life thus far. Not only did I graduate on time with the rest of my class, but I walked across the stage on my two feet like everyone else. Something that seemed so impossible a few years prior.
As I stood on the deck of the pool to welcome in my new class of students I was beyond excited, teaching was what I was meant to do, and I was finally able to do it, and boy I did it well.
What happened to you weg? Why it have a hole?
Well I had surgery.
The doctors had to cut it open
Oh no! why?
Well I had something called an infection. It means that little germs got inside of me and started to make my bones sick.
No not anymore, it just looks like it hurts.
I was used to this now, it happened with every batch of new students I had.
I packed the multitude of teddy bears, blankets and balloons that had been brought to me during my extensive stay. I wheeled myself down to the nurses’ station to deliver a card to the people who had become my family over the course of the last three months. It was a both exciting and sad moment because I had been waiting for this day! But I was also going into a really scary place, the unknown, who knew what tomorrow would bring for me. But my mother always told me to look to the future with positivity. This too shall pass she always said and it always did. So instead of worrying, today is a good day; it is the day I am being moved from the hospital to a rehab hospital. The past 3 months have been tough, but I’ve made it this far.
“That’s not what I’m saying,” Jason said. “What I’m saying is that if you could choose any super power, any one, the coolest one would be invisibility. Because you could sneak anywhere and hide anywhere and do whatever you wanted. And no one would ever, I mean ever, catch you, if you’re quick and smart enough. But you have to be quick and you have to be smart.”
“The only thing you’d do with invisibility is spy on girls in the shower,” said Cindy.
“He already does that on Facebook,” said Tim.
“Hey, asshole, let’s keep what I might do and what I could do separate. What I’m saying is that, if, and that’s a very big if, anyone had the power to do what they wanted with any super power, they’d be best off with invisibility. I’m telling you.”
Cindy shifted in her seat. Tim put his arm around her waist underneath the table. “What about infinite strength? Wouldn’t you want to crush an ugly crook’s skull with your bare hands or lift a train off the tracks?” said Tim.
“Aw, come on,” said Jason. “What kind of morals would you have then?”
“What do you mean by morals,” said Tim. “I’d have a lot of fun with infinite strength, like doing lifting competitions for money, but I’d do good stuff too, like rescuing a few puppies from caves and shit like that. I’d be like Superman except less vulnerable to Krypton.”
“Kryptonite,” said Cindy. “Krypton was Superman’s planet.”
“Yeah – that’s what I meant. Kryptonite,” said Tim, scratching his face.
“Superman knows nothing about what it means to help people,” said Jason.
“Is that why you think he doesn’t have any morals – because he doesn’t help people?” said Tim, raising his eyebrow in scorn.
“Do you really think he’s sacrificing anything by saving people falling from buildings? No. He fucking grew up strong and lifted tractors when he was a kid, while the other toddlers just pissed their Huggies and ran away on the playground.”
“Were you one of those toddlers?” said Cindy.
“Hold on, Jason. Just because he’s from a distant planet in outer space,” he wiggled his fingers, “Doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about us humans. He was raised by them, after all.”
Jason sighed. “He has no idea what it’s like to be like a human – to really be one of us ordinary bored and tired people. Even his alter ego, Clark Kent, is a weakling who’s shy with girls. It’s easy enough to care when you know you’re not in any real danger. But it takes guts to fight when you’re scared. Batman is scared. He’s human. But, no, Superman is arrogant. After all, his name is fucking Superman, which is one big ego trip.”
“Wait. Hold on a minute. What do you mean, ego trip?” said Tim.
“Ego trip. Think about it. He calls himself Superman. Super-fucking-Man. He not only calls himself a man, and he is most definitely is not one. He’s actually some weird alien loner from a destroyed planet. But more than that, he thinks he’s better than us people,” said Jason. “He’s an asshole.”
“Yeah, well… Of course he is better than people. He’s strong.”
“Yeah, but is that the only standard that one person is better than another. This superman, who’s not even a man, goes around town with his arrogant title, until he gets a little moody and has to hide in his fortress of solitude. He must be narcissistic. He saves a few kittens from a tree and all of a sudden he wants parades so he can fly around in his specially made tights, thinking he’s king shit, doing good deeds. Then when he gets into real trouble, he takes a fucking vacation in outer space until he can get the upper hand again,” said Jason. “He’s like a hack celeb hiding from the paparazzi until he can score some free publicity with a shitty B-movie.”
Tim shook his head. “You’re getting waaaay ahead of yourself. It’s smart to hide till you think up a good strategy to beat your enemy. There’s no point in running head first to your own death. And he might call himself Superman but he’s not a stupid man. You’re not giving him any credit. And, back to your own super power. Let’s not forget that. You think you’re morally better because of your invisibility. Your invisibility cloak is a super power too! Or have you forgotten that? You’re sacrificing less than the average guy does when you fight crime. You even said it yourself that invisibility was the best thing to have. So, by your unrealistic standards, you’d have less to lose like the superman you hate so much.”
“Swoosh,” said Cindy.
Jason shooed her away with his hand.
“Oh, but you’re forgetting one important detail, Timmy boy. I didn’t always have the invisibility. I’m still vulnerable to bullets, unlike the man of steel, and I have to sneak around like a god- damn ninja. Some mob boss could easily sprinkle powder and track my footsteps, get heat seeking devises or whatever he wants. I got to not only be brave but I have to be smart. Unlike Superman, I have to deal with different dangers instead of the oh-so-rare Kryptonite. Plus, he wears tights. If I were a superhero, I wouldn’t prance around in red and blue tights. I bet he chafes.”
“This is a stupid conversation,” said Cindy. “You guys are stupid.”
Tim nudged Cindy in the ribs and then said: “Ok. Forget about Superman for one second. You talked about the Bat. He doesn’t have any real super powers, but he does have the skill. Would you choose skill and smarts over invisibility? He hides out in a cave, has technology up his ass, and shows off his cash at all the high-roller parties. I’d trade that life for your invisibility,” said Tim. Cindy rolled her eyes and then stabbed a stack of waffles with her fork.
“Batman’s got issues,” said Jason. “His parents died when he was a kid, and he hangs around like a father figure to a circus orphan. Plus he’s compensating for his own dad’s death with a dinosaur butler. And he wears tights.”
“What’s it with you and tights?” said Cindy.
Tim tapped the table to get Jason’s attention and then said, “He might have a few mental problems but who doesn’t? He might compensate, but he can ride around on speed bikes and swoop down catching crooks. The Bat has a pretty awesome thing going on, if you ask me.”
“I have no sympathy for either of you.”
The hostess held the front door open so a customer in a dark suit could enter. He was tall with white whiskers, holding a worn hat in his hands. A waitress with a tan apron waddled over to the man and seated him with his brother, who finished his last sip of lukewarm coffee. He folded his newspaper and shook his hand.
“I’m sorry I’m so late,” Ralph said, red-faced and numbed from the air outside. “Do you mind if I order a cup. I’ve been working all day on a new contract with the Marshall people. You know how it is.”
“I ordered for you. I hope you don’t mind. It’s been a while. How are the wife and kids?”
Ralph said, after brushing his jacket off, “Well… my youngest of the two is having trouble.”
“What kind of trouble? It’s nothing serious I hope,” said Dave.
“Well. Michael’s been having a lot of issues lately.”
“What kid doesn’t have issues these days?”
“That’s what I thought….”
“What kind of issues are we talking about here, if you don’t mind me asking?”
A chubby waitress walked up to the two men, “Need anythan’ hon?”
“A slice of pumpkin pie. Thanks.”
She filled their two cups with boiling coffee, black and steaming, before walking to check on the other tables. The three students behind the men laughed loudly in the diner like rusty trumpets in a broken orchestra. The restaurant had a steady murmur of conversation, a smell of crispy bacon and fried ham. The hostess opened the glass door again. This time she seated a new table of three, one with an oxygen mask on his face. They thanked her and hunkered down into their seats like skeletons dangling their bones in a dance. The waitress walked up to the new table, expecting them to leave her a bad tip as the old generally do, and introduced herself by writing her name on a napkin. They called her “dear” and thanked her and asked questions about the specials. She pretended to be interested in what they had to say and laughed politely at their comments and then walked away to grab three menus.
“That was a really nice service,” said Martha.
“I don’t know how nice a service can be,” said Al.
“Jill looked nice, at least. They really made her look like she used to.”
“She was ugly before she died.”
“Oh, quiet, you. You’re just upset you lost your watch.”
“That watch was in my family for three generations. My great grandfather wore that watch in the war. Won it in a hand of poker. My father’s father gave it to my father who gave it to me it when I turned twelve, back in ’08. Said it was a family heirloom. Best of its kind,” said Al. “Now it’s gone.”
“I,” breathed the wrinkled man into the oxygen mask, “think,” he said.
“Rest yourself, Edgar. You’ve had a long day.”
“I… I…I… ” said Edgar, slumped over in his wheelchair like a roll of wet toilet paper.
“If the man wants to say something, let him say it,” said Al.
The waitress with three moles on her chin walked up to the booth behind the three top. She placed a brown pie on the table, filled with whipped cream and a cherry. Dave and Ralph looked at each other and talked quietly as their coffee cooled. The waitress grabbed a steel container and filled their cups up before walking into the kitchen.
“Listen Ralph,” said Dave. “Has your boy told her yet?”
“No, but I’m afraid he will. He hasn’t spoken to me since he saw.”
“All men slip up,” said Dave. “You are still a man… I suggest you come clean with Jesse. You can’t lie to her forever.”
“How the hell am I supposed to do that? I made a mistake, but I still love her. I don’t want to hurt her anymore than necessary.”
“Did you want to hurt her when you…” Dave leaned closer and then stopped.
Ralph looked away for a moment into the reflective glass and then sipped his coffee.
Dave sat there and waited.
“To tell you the truth, Dave, it wasn’t the first time I slept with her, even in our house, even in my wife’s own bed. Little Mike saw me touching her in the garage, if you want to put it gently. I don’t know how much he saw, but he couldn’t even look at me anymore. I yelled at him, I told him to fucking leave or I’d belt him. I wasn’t thinking. I asked him later what was the matter to see what he would say, but he kept coloring in his damn book. He wouldn’t even look at me. I really screwed this whole thing up. I have nobody to talk to anymore… You’ve got to help me. I need somebody to help me.”
“How am I supposed to help you?” said Dave, feeling anger rising from his stomach to his throat. He didn’t even want to be here, but Ralph was his younger brother and he had to stay. There was no way he could go back to work, not after this news. But his monthly reports were due later that day. His boss wouldn’t be as understanding. He felt guilty for even thinking about his work when his kid brother had screwed up again. But this was the kind of thing Ralph did often.
Dave struggled to find words for a moment. Then he said:
“Listen, Ralph. Maybe he didn’t really know what he saw.”
“Oh, he knew. Mike might be young, but he’s not that young.”
“Then you have to tell her,” said Dave. “It’s the only way.”
“How can I blow fifteen years of marriage?”
“It was her sister, for Christ-sakes!” said Dave, feeling a splash of fury inside his chest. The three students looked over at the table and began to whisper. The waitress eyed the two men, but went back to placing a check on the table.
In the booth behind Ralph and Dave, Martha leaned over to Edgar’s face, her large bosoms flapping in her polka-dotted undershirt. “Would you like me to feed you, dear?” Edgar curled his mouth and looked away from her as he breathed through the tank.
“Leave the old man alone,” said Al. “Can’t you see he’s still upset over Jill’s wake.”
“I was only trying to help,” said Martha, looking down.
“You’ve helped enough.”
“Humph! You have no manners,” said Martha.
“You wouldn’t know manners if they bit you on the behind.”
“I’ve had about enough of you. You’ve been rotten this whole trip.”
“Maybe it’s because I’m with such pleasurable company.”
“You think you’re so smart, don’t you. You really don’t know how much I slave after you even if I told you. You don’t give me any thanks. Clean this, clean that, like an old grizzly bear by the T.V. set. At least Edgar knows how to treat a lady.”
“Edgar doesn’t even know what planet he’s on half the time.”
“I-I,” said Edgar.
“Keep it up mister. I swear I’ll leave you like your first wife.”
“Don’t mention her name to me, Martha. You know how I hate that name.”
“Irene. Irene. Irene.”
“Will you shut it?”
“You started it.”
“Children,” said Edgar.
“What,” said Al.
“I get it,” said Al.
“I don’t,” said Martha.
“Hey, Martha. Why don’t you sit over here by the light, where the seat is much warmer?”
“Why are you being so nice all of a sudden?”
Al and Edgar exchanged glances.
“Umm. Well. Can’t I do something nice for my lady without a whole damn investigation?”
“I guess not.”
Al pulled Martha closer to him, feeling her warm wrinkled hand cupped inside of his. The waitress passed their table and walked over to another booth, where the three students were talking excitedly about nothing. She balanced three of their plates on her arm and strolled into the kitchen, while whistling Beethoven’s Sonata off-key.
“I’m so tired of the lame way kids use slang nowadays,” said Jason.
“You mad,” said Cindy.
“Exactly,” said Jason, pressing his finger hard to the table. “Back in the 1920s, American slang had style, it had class. You could walk up to some dame with a trench coat on, light her cigarette, and tell the other kids to beat it, before you asked her off to ‘make out hill.’ Now all you hear these days are fucking kids talking about ‘noobs’ and ‘YOLO’ and ‘epic fails.’ If your life revolves around a silly acronym on a T-shirt, then you need to get another life.”
Tim cleared his throat and then said, “You have a point, but you shouldn’t romanticize the older generations. For example, mothers used to buy and smoke ‘healthier’ cigarettes when they were pregnant because the doctors said so. How ignorant were we then?”
“We’re still plenty ignorant,” said Cindy. “Exhibit A.”
She pointed to Jason. He smiled mockingly at her.
“We’re so ignorant we think we’re not. Wait. Does that make any sense?” said Tim.
“No,” said Cindy.
“Are you saying that we think we are smart and wise but we aren’t,” said Jason.
“I agree in a sense. Except with my case for invisibility.”
“Let’s not start that again,” said Cindy.
“Agreed,” said Tim. “I guess what I’m saying is that every generation thinks they have all the answers but those answers prove to be lacking or just plain wrong, in a lot of cases. People used to think the earth was flat, for Christ Sakes.”
“That’s true, but without working toward something with what we have or at least think we have, we’re working toward nothing.”
“That depends on what you’re working toward,” said Tim.
“I’m working on a new plate of waffles,” said Cindy. “Waitress, over here,” she gestured.
“How do we know we’re working toward anything good,” said Jason.
“We might never know, but we could, at least, suspect that what we’re doing might have good results, if we see its close effects.”
“What do you mean, close effects?”
“Well,” said Tim. “Einstein didn’t know there would eventually be GPS devices when he was working on his theory of General Relativity. He was working on it for entirely different reasons.”
Jason frowned for a moment. “He also didn’t know that E = MC^2 would lead to the atomic bomb.”
“I didn’t know Freaks and Geeks would be cancelled,” said Cindy.
“I didn’t know that you didn’t know that,” said Jason.
“Now you know.”
“Ok – so back to the close effects I’m talking about. We can’t be absolutely sure in knowing everything or even some of everything, but sometimes, we can make reasonable guesses based on how little we really know, if that ‘little’ is something we actually know, or at least, what we use to find out more.”
“Huh,” said Cindy.
“Wait. I got it. But sometimes those guesses are horribly wrong,” said Jason. “Sometimes we fuck up and BAD.”
“What would happen if I put syrup on this stack of waffles? Would I eventually end up in a ditch somewhere, asking myself how life could be so bad if I only used butter?” said Cindy.
Jason smirked. Tim nudged her in the ribs but she pushed him back. Tim backed off and then said to Jason, “That reminds me of what we once learned in philosophy, back in undergrad, about time paradoxes.”
“What about them?” said Jason, feeling his sideburns.
“Well. From what I remember, if you went back in time and killed your grandfather, would you end up killing yourself, or would you even be there in the first place, because you already killed your grandfather and wouldn’t exist because you weren’t born, or would you kill your grandfather in another timeline and then exist in an alternate one?”
“Um,” said Cindy. “I’ll go ask Doc Brown.”
“How can you, if you are you, kill your grandfather if you don’t exist because you killed your grandfather?” said Jason.
“Exactly,” said Tim. “Paradox.”
“Maybe the answer comes from a different idea of what time is. What model are we using?”
“I don’t know,” said Tim. “I was thinking about linear time from classical physics – entropy accelerating in a closed system, if the universe is a closed system. But maybe it isn’t. I don’t know.”
“Maybe if I hit you in the head with a hammer, the answer will come to you,” said Cindy.
“She’s so violent, so, so, violent. Timmy boy. You need to get her to stop watching those Tom & Jerry Re-Runs.”
“Itchy & Scratchy,” said Cindy. “And don’t you forget it.”
The waitress walked up to these three, somewhat flustered in the face. She let out an exasperated sigh and said, “We’re closing in 15 minutes. Would you like your check?” Cindy, Jason, and Tim looked at each other. Tim stood up and said, “I’m going to the bathroom.” As soon as he left, Jason said, “That guy said he would love to pay for us. Just put the bill on his side of the table.” Cindy sniggered. “Let’s get out of here before he comes back.” Jason said, “Tim isn’t known for controlling his temper.” Cindy said, “I’ll handle the big klutz. It’ll be funny.”
The two men in dark suits sat inside their booth and talked for what seemed like hours, days, months, years, decades, ticking slower and slower, until freezing in one instant. Dave unrolled cash from a silver clip and tossed a folded bill on the table.
“We’ve been here a while, Ralph, going over the same thing for no reason than to just talk. We’re not getting anywhere with this. You already know how I feel. You can choose to listen or you can hide the truth. I’m going back to the office. If you feel you want to change your mind, stop on by. If not, then I don’t know what else I can tell you.”
“I will,” said Ralph. “But I’m still unsure.”
“Let’s think about this some more tomorrow. How about you come to my office anyway?”
“That sounds fine.”
Ralph slumped over and rubbed his face with his hands, the bags under his eyes transparently showing the blood underneath the skin. Dave stood up and walked out of the restaurant doors. He did not look back. The lights in the kitchen switched off. Bussers and dishwashers whipped each other with wet towels in the back room. One of the waitresses was telling the cook that she had a lousy night. She was on the schedule for another double tomorrow. Maybe she could take off and bring her son to the carnival if she called Amanda to work in her place. The cook didn’t like her but nodded anyway. The kitchen staff scrubbed the floor and wrapped the food and unbuttoned their uniforms and clocked out. The red and white tables smelled of cleaning fluid. Shadows fell across the restaurant in still silence, until a few hours later, when it all would start again.
Two fat, greasy, overly plump cinnamon buns goopy with age and exposure to the elements.
Staring at his wife’s fat ass sticking out from the depths of the refrigerator, that’s what he thought it looked like. A pair of cinnamon buns.
They had been married for twenty-four years and in Phil’s mind, that was enough—more than enough. In those twenty-four years, Phil had never known his wife to be thin—she was fat when he met her, and she’d be fat when she died—only varying shades of obesity.
She hadn’t always been as big as she was now, though. In the early years she was, in her own words, pleasantly plump. Never fat or obese or overweight. Pleasantly plump. Even the sound of the words together reeked of a buried truth, a conscious turning away from the facts. But she wasn’t pleasant or plump. She was fat, plain and simple. And it only got worse from there.
Unlike most married men Phil knew, he didn’t mark the months and years with pictures or mementos of dates or happy memories, or even arguments, for that matter, he marked the passage of time by what parts of his wife were being stretched and pulled and revealing the beginning stages of cellulite.
The early years were the best, or rather, the best of the worse, Gloria the closest to her pleasantly plump stage. The day in the café he had met her, she was rounded, but not offending to the eyes, her black hair shining and flowing over her shoulders, obscuring any neck fat that had begun to develop. She was, in her own way, beautiful, size and all. Phil had failed to notice the remnants of a Danish on her chin.
Those early days were okay. Then came the second date—and the second chin—followed by such a level of greasy fat that began to widen and expand her neck as if it was a thick slab of wax, melted down by an unrelenting flame.
These stages continued until, every part of Gloria wiggling and jiggling with every step, he couldn’t even meet her sunken in eyes on the rare occasion that he spoke to her. He was disgusted. By her, by her careless attitude, by their lives.
They couldn’t have children and on the rare occasion that they had gone to the bedroom for anything other than sleeping, Phil was the one on top. Had to be. One night after a heavy dinner, Gloria had rolled herself on top of him and before she realized that his moaning and panting wasn’t a sign of passion, it was too late. The promise of a quiet night at home had left Phil with a broken rib and two-months of respiratory problems. In other words, they were done for a while.
But a while had turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months, and months turned to years. Anytime Gloria would attempt to initiate something, Phil would either make excuses or pull out the medical card. My chest, he’d say, my chest is really hurting tonight. Maybe tomorrow?
But they had both known what was going on—there’d be no tomorrow. Their physical relationship was—like the chocolate cake on the counter that Gloria had eaten in one sitting—gone.
This was seven years ago and now, Phil staring at her flabby flesh pressed tight against her thin, flower-print nightdress as it popped and flowed in thick flabs out of the refrigerator, the thought came to him. And though it had no doubt been in his subconscious for years, the fully formed thought popped into his head:
He hated his wife.
And he did. He hated everything about her. He hated the way she ate, shoveling food into her like an animal, scarcely taking time to breath; he hated the swine-like snorts and grunts that she made when she ate (at which point Phil would move to eat his dinner in front of the TV); he hated her walk and her thick voice and the way her arm fat giggled and swayed as she gestured with her hands while talking; he hated her face and greasy hair and overall unkempt appearance; he hated the idea of being called her husband, and most of all, he hated her. He hated Gloria. Gloria and everything she symbolized to him. And what baffled Phil most of all was that she didn’t know it.
He heard the refrigerator door close with a cushioned thud and realized he was still staring at her. As she turned around to face him, he quickly averted his gaze.
“So you got any big plans for tonight, sweetie,” she said through a mouthful of cheeseburger.
“Nothing too big, you know. Might watch some TV. Bonanza rerun tonight.” And even though he couldn’t have cared less, he added, “you?”
“Well it’s Tuesday. You know I have my Bingo league on Tuesday.”
He did. Every night for the past four years, Gloria had gone to her Bingo league down at the church hall and while he believed that’s where she was going, he still for the life of him couldn’t figure out how it could be considered a “league.” You sit on your ass and dot the numbers that the monotone announcer calls. There was nothing sport- or league-like about it.
“But until then,” she added, smiling, “me and my three friends are going to spend some quality time together. And then I’m taking a nap. I’m pooped.” She let loose a combination giggle-snort.
At first Bill had no idea who she was talking about. As far as he knew, she didn’t have any friends, much less three of them. But as her figure left the room, he saw that it had been obscuring the counter on which rested a family-sized box of Cinnafun cinnamon rolls. Peaking in the goopy, glaze-stained box, he saw that three of the generously plump rolls were missing.
Unbelievable, he thought. Just unbelievable.
In the wake of her final footsteps, Phil slouched over to the refrigerator and pulled out two beers before plopping down in his armchair in front of their outdated Zenith.
He twisted the cap off the first beer, downed half of it in breathy gulps, then downed the rest. Down the hatch.
From their bedroom, he could hear the snores emanating from Gloria’s nose then turned up the volume on the TV to drown them out. They put up a good fight, but the gunfire and hollers of Bonanza stifled them to a dull noise. He could live with that.
As someone shot a cowboy off his horse—a large, black stallion—he thought of Gloria. It angered him that, as much as he tried not to, his thoughts always came back to her. Looking at the screen, he pictured Gloria’s head on the stallion, snorting and cackling into the dry air.
Though the door to the bedroom was closed, he knew what he would find: Gloria sprawled out on her back, shirt halfway up her chest, and a thin layer of icing glazed over everything. During times like these—for this wasn’t the first—Phil always thought she looked like a victim of a drug overdose, her body in disarray, mouth hanging open like that. And in a way, wasn’t she?
It could be different, he thought, it really good. Turning up the TV another notch, he heard the sound of a door opening and closing. Though he knew it wasn’t Gloria, he looked down the hall anyway. Lumbering off the couch, he went to the front window, peaked through the curtains, and saw Martha helping Dick down the concrete steps that lead to the carport. They had been neighbors for the past three years and Phil liked them immensely. The four of them were around the same age, so finding common interests had never been an issue for them. They’d come over for game nights or dinner and every time Phil found himself enjoying himself greatly, finding that it was only after they had gone home that he realized he hadn’t thought about Gloria at all.
When they had first moved in, Martha and been the one Phil had met first. She was middle-aged, and though it showed a bit in her lumbering gait, her face was nothing but youth. It radiated from beneath her cornfield-yellow hair and cool, green eyes. Naturally, Phil had expected her husband to be the male-equivalent of her perfection. He wasn’t.
The first time he set his eyes on Dick Harper—he and Gloria had gone over to officially welcome them to the neighborhood—his eyes grew wide, mouth agape. Dick was, to put it mildly, hugely obese. He waddled to the door, his flesh rippling with each movement under his too-big sweatpants and sweatshirt. His hair was close-cropped, revealing a rather large forehead and a pair of wide-rimmed spectacles. He was large, yes, but there was something else there that Phil couldn’t put his finger on. He was…
And then it came: clean.
Though he was an incredibly large man (about three of his wife), there was nothing about him that radiated filth or lack of care or personal hygiene. Looking at the man before him, Phil saw in his kind, deep-set eyes that he was overweight, but he didn’t want to be. Not at all. Upon further conversation, he would learn that Dick was in Overeaters Anonymous—the Fat Farm, Dick would jokingly call it—and though he was eating better than he had been, he was still, obviously, far from his goal weight.
Remembering this as he looked at his neighbors, Phil was filled with a feeling of friendship. He liked Martha fine, but he really enjoyed being around Dick. He was a wealth of knowledge—World War II, computers, finances, even how to make home-made frozen yogurt—and Phil always found himself learning something new whenever he was around him. It was fascinating, he thought. A friend. To have and to be. Smiling, he dropped the curtain and plopped back into his chair to the familiar sounds of the Bonanza theme as a new episode started up.
On his way, his feet treaded over a beer bottle and, looking down, saw that they littered the carpet around his chair—about a dozen bottles in all—and the chair-side table. He let out a hmmph. He couldn’t remember drinking them all but, as Martha once told him, it’s easy for messes to pile up. You just gotta be around when it’s time to clean them up.
Hearing her words and the sounds of Martha’s minivan leave the carport float through his head, he closed his eyes and gave himself over to sleep.
“Hey Hon? Hon? I’m getting’ ready to leave now, alright? You gonna be okay, right?”
“Yeah,” he heard his dream-self say. “Yeah, go ahead.”
“All right. I won’t be home for a while.”
“That’s fine. You girls have fun.” The words sounded funny, his tone weirdly giddy.
She gave him a wet, sugary-smelling kiss on his temple, ruffled his remaining hair and started for the door.
“I’ll see you,” she said, adjusting her floral print dress. “Don’t fall asleep too long. Never know when I might need you.” She blew another kiss in his direction.
He held her gaze awhile longer, watching her frame as she waddled out the door, her purse clutched in a meaty hand, bus pass in the other. Phil didn’t know why he felt that this moment was somehow different from the other times she had left for Bingo, but just the same he knew that it was.
He watched her go, saw her figure waddle past his field of vision in the front windows, and then she was gone. For a moment he sat and listened to the quiet. Though she was gone, Phil had half-expected to hear the sounds of her breathy eating from the bedroom, bombarding him at any moment. It was only when he exhaled that he realized he had been holding his breath. Slinking back down into his chair, his foot found a beer bottle and, discovering its emptiness, sent it away with an uninspired kick, sending it flying as it shattered on the glass front of the TV.
Phil Keebler awoke from sleep with a start. His dream was bizarre, as dreams usually were. And now, he found himself still sitting in his recliner in front of the dim sounds of the television. From the bedroom he heard faint noises. Faint, but disturbing. The door was closed, which accounted for the sense of muffling, so he walked down the carpeted hall to the bedroom door, pushed it open on squeaking hinges, revealing the lumpy shape of Gloria pounding her fists and convulsing on the bed. She was on her back wiggling and shaking and rocking and as he got closer, it became clear that she was trying to roll over onto her side. Why, he did not know.
Then the sounds: wet, guttural, hacking noises from deep within her throat. At the side of the bed, the noises were louder and more disturbing, her throat sounding like a clogged shower drain much in need of some Dran-o. Her sunken eyes were wide and red, begging him for something that her lips could not. Her chubby fingers pointed to her mouth and with that, combined with the rough, wet half-coughs, Phil realized what was wrong with his wife. She was choking.
Unsure of when it had happened, he found his nimble fingers prying at her throat, slick with saliva and icing and in the dim lamplight of the bedroom, saw the thick glob of mush shoved deep within the prison-like confines of her throat. As her eyes bugged out further and she continued her child-like rolling back and forth, only then did Phil see the crushed box of half-eaten cinnamon buns crushed beneath her enormous frame. Seeing the familiar blue-and-white box, lifeless, he paused and took a step back as Gloria continued to hack and heave, fighting for breath, desperately clawing at her throat.
Phil didn’t know how long she had been like this, but instinctively knew it couldn’t have been longer than a minute or two. Frozen, he looked into her pleading eyes and almost unaware of what he was doing, began to back away from the bed. He continued this, still looking at Gloria, until his back hit the knobby handle of the door, which he opened, and taking a final look into his wife’s searching, horrified eyes, walked out.
The door clicked behind him.
With an inch-and-a-half of plywood separating them, Phil pressed his ear up against the door, listening to the springs creaking as Gloria thrashed about on the sunken bed and the harsh and angry inhalations as she continued fighting for breath. He listened until there was no more to listen to, the room beyond a quiet tomb.
He’d have to call the police, he knew; being the good husband that he was, he’d make a formal report, how he’d walked in the bedroom to find his wife already dead on the bed, beyond help or comfort. He’d do that, but not right now.
For now, he stood outside the door, listening to the quiet, the lack of noise wrapping around him like a comforting blanket. As he let it envelop him, he felt something odd creeping upon his face, something that he hadn’t felt in years. For the first time in a long time, Phil Keebler was smiling.