Saturday, September 29, 2007

living (nrsv)

this is the new revised standard version of my short story living. i've slightly changed it up to submit to uvsc's touchstones magazine. because it's actually uplifting, there is a good chance it'll be rejected. i've also submitted teach me to hate. if they reject these, perhaps i'll submit my thoughts on where they can stick them ;)



Day 1

I am still alive.

Someone once told me that when you face death, your life passes before your eyes. What he didn’t tell you is that if I kept my eyes open, my life could be eternal. Looking back, there have been a few occasions in my life when I have truly felt alive - brief moments of time that seemed to transcend everything else.

Age four. I don’t remember much. I wasn’t old enough to understand what was going on. A week earlier, my mother was pulling me out of the bath and noticed something wrong. A few days later a man was drawing my blood. He had a bushy blonde mustache and told me he had to make sure it wasn’t green. Green blood? I believed him even though the idea made me giggle. Lucky for me, it was the right color. He told me I had a hernia and that I was going to need an operation fix it. I had no idea what they were talking about. All I know is that I got to pick out the flavor of air I was going to get to breathe while they fixed the problem. I chose banana because it was my favorite fruit. That afternoon, I got to ride a red wagon to a room where they laid me down and had me inhale the scent of bananas. A sunken feeling hit my stomach as they told me to close my eyes and count to ten. I only made it to six.

Age ten. He was my hero. During the summer break, we set out to build our underground fortress. The construction was simple, but brilliant. Dig a large hole. Plant a center beam for support. Lay old plywood, boards, and sheet metal overhead. Use an empty water-bed bladder to seal it. Finally throw dirt, rocks, and sagebrush over everything for camouflage. It was the perfect place to play and hide. Perfect. . . until some neighborhood bullies threw a smoke-bomb in while we were inside. With the plywood trapdoor held shut, we couldn’t escape. Smoke filled the room choking me and forcing my eyes shut to avoid its sting. My brother, two years older, grabbed the flaming bomb and forced it through a small opening. His hand was burned and I never looked at him the same again.

Age twenty-five. I was already missing her. It had only been a day since I knew I would never see her again. My stomach weighed me down and my heart seemed to beat in slow motion. As I laid in the darkness, I closed my eyes and remembered. In sequential order, I witnessed every moment I had ever seen her smile. I saw her stopping me in the halls at school. I saw her laughing over curry soup on our first date. A wry smirk before beating me in our favorite game. A wide grin with puppies at Christmas. A loving look glowing in the firelight. The assurance of safety as I kissed her goodnight. As I closed my eyes and remembered, I smiled.

Age twenty-seven. This afternoon. I hurt for him as he came to tell me. White sneakers. Light khakis. Sky blue dress shirt. Stethoscope. I looked at his hands. I looked at my chart they were holding. I looked everywhere but at him. I couldn’t bear to see his face. I imagined him happy. I imagined him giving me good news, because he obviously didn’t see it that way.

Once again, that sunken feeling in my stomach. That slow beating of my heart. I dragged them with me toward the bus stop as a spring drizzle softly taps across my head, shoulder, and back. As I board the bus, the driver gives me a friendly nod. It pierces my skull and settles into the back of my mind. At home, I lie on my bed and try to reflect on the day. It seems like an abstract dream. I am already forgetting the particulars and can only remember the overwhelming feeling encompassing me. That, and the friendly nod of the bus driver. As I stare at the empty ceiling above me, his smile gives me a sense of safety.

Day 3

With a cold phone held against my ear, I drop in a few quarters and wait for an answer. It’s dark, but a nearby street light illuminates my every breath. I hold it in and then release the warm moist air with a hollow blow. I’m a dragon blowing smoke. I continue to wait as the phone rings on the other end. Still no answer. The previous days’ storm no longer masks the night sky. Instead, a moonless night reveals a pristine mosaic of stars in the sky. I know I’ve seen them before, but even with the glare of street lights, I don’t remember there being so many. I can see the big dipper. Follow its face to the north star. The little dipper. Orion with his belt and dogs. Some swan. Lines connecting the stars seem to appear out of nowhere bringing the constellations to life. A shooting star shoots across the sky from Leo the lion, through my own astrological Gemini, to Taurus the bull.

My parents don’t answer on the other end, so I hang up. I don’t blame them. How long has it been since we have talked? It has to be at least a few years. It’s not that we fought or possessed any hard feelings against each other. They just didn’t understand me. They couldn’t. For a long time I didn’t understand myself.

The phone rings. Do I dare answer it? They must have caller i.d. or did a star-sixty-nine. Hello? Mom? Her voice warms me all over. God, I have missed it. Yeah, it’s me. I… I just wanted to tell you that I loved you. We talk for an hour and catch up on all that we have missed. I don’t tell her the news. Don’t want to dampen the mood.

Day 12

I had decided to change things up today and replace the usual vanilla with some hazelnut. However, suddenly my latte seemed cold and unsatisfying.

War veteran. Disabled.


Please Help. God Bless YOU

I was busy admiring the frost covered branches of nearby maples when I nearly walked into him. His dirtied grey blanket and makeshift wheelchair stood in stark contrast to the white shaved ice of the morning frost. A torn piece of cardboard with scribbles from a permanent marker pled his case. I can see that he’s living, but in this biting cold I have doubts that he will for long.

My normal instinct is to walk away, but I’m unable to. I can make a difference. I can help. Here, it’s still hot. A pink face appears from behind the cardboard sign. Without saying a word, he takes hold of the cup and sips on the steaming latte. His eyes open slightly and reveal what were once dark blue irises, but are now bloodshot and clouding with cataracts. Those graying eyes meet my own and express a deep sense of gratitude. Behind them I can see a life full of struggles and hurt.

I begin to pull out my wallet, but quickly change my mind. He needs more than money. Let’s get you a warm meal. As he thanks me, I smell a hint of alcohol in his breathe, but do not hear it in his voice. I feel assured that his struggle is real and do not question the sincerity of his plea. As I push him to a nearby Village Inn, I no longer feel the cold around me.

Our meal is silent, except for the occasional sips of coffee, the smacking of lips, and muffled burps. He eats as if he hasn’t seen a meal in days, shoveling down his pancakes, eggs, and bacon without the proper amount of chewing. I don’t ask him any questions, nor say a word. If he wants to talk, he can. Otherwise, I just allow him to enjoy his meal. Our waitress, with her short blonde hair, looks at him curiously and whispers a thank you to me as she hands me the bill. I tip her generously.

As we leave the restaurant, he indicates that he wants to part ways. I’m guessing he doesn’t want to burden me any more. I want to tell him that he was no burden – that this meal had been a highlight of my week. However, I refrain from saying anything. Instead, I merely pull a twenty out of my wallet and hand it to him with a shake of my hand. Thank you. He grins back and nods a thank you in return.

My apartment feels warm tonight.

Day 13

I slept better than I have in a long time last night. In my dreams, I was immortal. I was a Greek god living in paradise. I gave birth to the stars and they told my stories. Nothing could touch me. Nature obeyed me.

The new morning sun could not shatter that dream. I was still alive. I still had stories to create and legends to brew. Outside my window, an unseen bird celebrated my life by singing a beautiful melody. I now had my own personal soundtrack, my own accompanying score. As I walked to the bus, I whistled its tune.

Day 17

Over the last two years nothing has changed. Same apartment. Same bus. Same work. Same latte. Same walk home.

However, now it all seems different.

Over the last few days, my personal soundtrack has added new songs, themes, and instruments. The laughter of children. A train in the distance. The hum of idling engines. Power tools. Cars splashing through puddles. Telephones. Creaking doors. And all the many assorted cadences of daily life.

Tonight there was a new song, theme, and instrument. My walk home was accompanied by a police siren coming my way. In front of me, surrounded by a gaggle of onlookers, was my beggar friend. Only now he wasn’t poised on his throne of poverty and struggle. Instead, he lay on the ground motionless and at peace, his chair lying beside him. From what I could gather, he just collapsed along the sidewalk. Probably a victim of exposure on this freezing night. His skin was already turning blue and his grey blanket and cardboard sign soak in water as it seeps through the broken ice. Now at rest, this frozen body is a statue symbolizing triumph and endurance through pain and loss.

Walking home, I hear the simple sounds of our meal replay in my mind. Those sips, smacks, and burps accompanying the sirens behind me. Lines in the night sky appear in the darkness between the stars, constructing new constellations. Zitianos, or the Beggar, finds his new mythic home between Hydra and Canis Major.

Back at home, I sit back and reflect on what I just witnessed. My mortality seems clearer and ever closer. On television, the evening news puts an exclamation point on the inevitable mortality of all life. Bombs in the Middle East. A child missing. Major car accidents. It all ends the same. I reflect on the news I was given a couple weeks ago. All life must end, including my own. It’s only a matter of time. It could be tomorrow, or the next day.

Next to my bed is a picture of her. It’s been over two years now and still I see her in my dreams. We didn’t see it coming and I never had a chance to prepare for it. Nevertheless, she lived life to the fullest, and taught me to find the smallest beauties of everyday life.

As I fade into the world of dreams, Zitianos joins her and looks at me. He still doesn’t speak, but his gestures speak volumes. He grins and she tells me to live.

Day 18.

I woke up this morning. And that’s a great thing.

When I was five, I wanted to be a triceratops. Three horns and a shield. You can’t beat that. A tyrannosaur could not beat that. King of the dinosaurs my ass. Before he had a chance to bite, I would have already ripped his bowels apart with my three-pronged attack.

I grew older and wiser, and quickly learned that it was impossible for me to be a dinosaur. So I had to choose a new profession. I wanted to be a werewolf. Michael J. Fox had me convinced after the first of many viewings of Teen Wolf. There I learned that not only do werewolves have hairy bodies and long sharp teeth, they also have mad basketball skills and undeniable sex appeal.

I grew older and wiser again. Since then, I have considered being an astronaut, fireman, geologist, archaeologist, football player, doctor, artist, journalist, chemist, biologist, physicist, astronomer, and pilot. However, I never considered nor wanted to be what I’m doing right now.

My cubicle is my coffin. A three-sided pine box storing my working corpse. Like Dracula, I spend the daylight hours entombed, only to free myself as the sunlight fades. My nightlife, however, does share Dracula’s excitement.

What do I do? I’m not exactly sure. Management gives me instructions. I pass those instructions to those I supervise. I make graphs, charts, and spreadsheets reflecting their work. They are full of numbers and acronyms. Apparently AGLBL is at 67%. I don’t know what that means. Management apparently does and isn’t too excited.

Management comes over to break the news. I swore we had this conversation last week and the week before. Regional isn’t too happy. So management isn’t too happy. So I shouldn’t be too happy. Through the whole conversation we never make eye contact. I take a sip of coffee and send off an e-mail to my team members. I let them know they shouldn’t be too happy. In my coffin, my soundtrack is an occasional fax machine and the clicking of keyboards.

This isn’t living. With a smile, I gather up whatever I don’t want to leave behind. A picture of me and her. A small stuffed gorilla named Simi. A paperclip statuette of a man. His paperclip dog. A Dwight bobble-head. A stack of Post-It notes. As I leave the building I whistle the bird’s melody.

Day 24

Almost one week out of the coffin and I feel ressurected. I’m still no triceratops, werewolf, or astronaut, but so far I’ve been a snowboarder, rock climber, ukuleist, cyclist, and house cleaner. Each morning I wake. Each waking is a new life. Each life is a moment to embrace and explore the possibilities.

I’ve considered traveling, going off to a foreign land, and exploring the unknown. However, this last month I’ve realized that there is so much of the world right around me that I’ve never seen. The short distance to the bus stop reveals a world that would take a lifetime to explore. Graffiti depicting everything from names to sex organs seem to dot every sign, railing, sidewalk, post, and curb. Some come in full color, others in monochrome. Some are etched; others will wash away with the next snowfall. Each has an author telling a story. The wildlife is no different. Birds of every shape and color, insects large and small, dogs of every size, cats of every shade, mice, worms, and squirrels. I’ve seen proof of raccoons, but have yet to see one. I’m sure the time will come.

Back at home, my apartment is nearly spotless. If you had known me before, you wouldn’t believe I lived here. No longer do clothes drape my chairs and cover the floor. The bookshelves lack the characteristic stack of unopened envelopes. The build up of dust is gone. Dishes are clean. The carpet has been vacuumed and shampooed. The tile scrubbed. Windows and mirrors are clear. Books are put away. DVDs are stored in their cases. The bathroom is spotless.

I must admit that cleaning has become a little easier. I rarely use the kitchen anymore. Last night I ate Thai in a small six-tabled restaurant. Evil Chicken. Delicious and hotter than hell. My face burned red as my eyes swelled up with tears. The night before was a pastrami sandwich on rye at a small mom and pop restaurant off the corner of State and Center. Before that was some lupulu, lau lau, and kalua pig at Sweet’s Island Place. Before that, a shredded beef chimichanga at La Casita. I think it’s Spanish for little house.

Why travel far?

Day 47

Aquaphobia. It’s the fear of deep waters; not to be mistaken with hydrophobia, which is a later stage of rabies. When I was young, anything over my head was too deep. I couldn’t swim. I hated boats, bridges, dams, and anything else that posed a serious threat to my life. Somehow, in some way, I would drown. It would be the end of me. When I was fourteen, I decided to jump into my uncle’s pool when nobody was around. The cool water soothed my fear. I lived and learned to swim that day.

Thanatophobia. It’s the fear of one’s own personal death; not to be mistaken with necrophobia, which is the fear of dead things. When she died, it was rather sudden. She was already gone before I had the chance to see her one last time. Accidents can be so tragic. We never saw it coming. She never saw it coming. Death became something tangible and the reality of my mortality came alive. I feared it.

When my mortality became more eminent, I decided to jump in once again. The cool vitality soothed my fears. As long as I can, I hope to continually swim in these waters. I no longer have a fear of death. I only fear not living.

Outside, the moon is rising over the eastern mountains. I set out across the cool, crisp grass for an evening walk. A distant train plays its song in the background as Zitianos shines approvingly overhead. It’s a perfect night for a swim.

Day 93

The face in the mirror looks anything but mortal. His longer dark hair loosely falls over his eyes, giving him the strength of Samson. A thin beard covers his face, just shorter than the patch below his lower lip. He’s part werewolf, without the basketball skills. In his smile, I see her radiance. I see my brother, the hero. My mother’s love. The bus driver’s grin. Zitianos’ endurance. He’s lost weight but energy emanates from his stature nonetheless. He’s part triceratops, without the horns and shield. His brown eyes look over me approvingly, complimenting my own appearance. We praise and congratulate one another for making it to today, hoping there is a tomorrow.

Back in my room, I dress in a t-shirt and pajama pants. The pajamas are a little too short, exposing my ankles. No big deal. I just sleep in them. As I lay in bed, a nearby traffic light beams a sequence of green, yellow, and red lights through the cracks of my blinders. Mixed in with passing headlights, my room is its own light show accompanying the evening score. My eyes slowly shut as I watch the lights dance across the ceiling and wall.

Day 164

I woke up again this morning, yet for some reason I can’t help but feel this may be the last. Some people make lists of things they need to do before they die. Today, I saw a balloon float away in the distance. Just a small red helium balloon. Nothing particularly special about it. Below the balloon a gathering of school boys, perhaps five or six years of age, cheered it on. As the balloon drifted higher and higher, it seemed to shrink smaller and smaller. I sat on a nearby bench, beside a graffiti tale, and watched the balloon for what seemed like hours. Occasionally I’d lose it, but would quickly spot the speck of a reflection against the bright blue sky. A symphony of cars, birds, barking dogs, and children accompanied the scene. It was beautiful.

If I had created a list, this one event would have completed it all. I feel truly alive.

Tonight, I kicked back on my balcony and watched the sun set over the western hills. As the light faded, the night sky began to come to life. Lines flew across the sky bringing the legends behind the constellations back to life. There was Orion, the Hunter; Gemini, the Twins; and my friend Zitianos, the Beggar. My eyes grew tired, but I held them alive. If I held them open, I could live eternally. As I lay there, I could hear her singing the bird’s song, the final movement in my soundtrack. New lines appear in the sky depicting a new legend. Looking back at me from the stars is Zantanos, the Living.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please provide a name or consistent pseudonym with your comments and avoid insults or personal attacks against anyone or any group. All anonymous comments will be immediately deleted. Other comments are subject to deletion at my discretion.