September 23, 2012 § 1 Comment
This Will Not Return
The girl next door is dying. I cannot pronounce her disease, but I know that far away look in her eyes, as if to say Someday. Someday. For better or for worse, it will be over. She smiles heroically, those hazel eyes of opaque need, sends me away, claims that today there is no room for two. Live your life is what I read in her eyes.
It will be 1966 forever.
I spend my days painting barns a deeper shade of red, counting hens’ eggs with a crooked sense of hope. After a rain, a Kansas wind, I cling to the insulation of the attic. There is a darkness there I do not recognize. I’m never comfortable with my loneliness. Homework, as usual, drags. My sonnets for Mrs. Hershey’s class are ruined. The meter is off. My mind drifts again. The girl next door will say she’s sorry but prefers to bleed solo. She will not want me to touch her/does not realize that my love is too serious, too simple.
My mother still makes me peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for school, even though I’m a high school freshman. She collects glass jars, says she fills them with trapped air, the cloud of a man’s shallow breath. On the days that my father doesn’t call from Germany, she lives on black coffee and crumb cake. The girl next door still loves macaroni and cheese. She can name each cat by her back lot dumpster and confesses to feeding them scraps of morning breakfast. When her folks are out, we make out to some old reruns of American Bandstand. If the pain becomes too much for her, she digs her fingernails into my flesh. I tell her I don’t mind. I hope the imprints of her nails in my forearms stay forever.
Walking back home, I look up. The sky cries foul play. The sky cries It’s never fair. I’ll hike over to Murray’s Field, bat & glove, will pitch a ball to no one. It will be me against loneliness. The score is always 0-1.
Kyle Hemmings is the author of several chapbooks of poetry and prose: Avenue C, Cat People, and Anime Junkie (Scars Publications). His latest e-books are You Never Die in Wholes from Good Story Press and The Truth about Onions from Good Samaritan. This is his second publication on Slice of Life. He lives and writes in New Jersey.
Image: Rust, By Leigh-Anne Fraser
September 10, 2012 § Leave a comment
He waited until his son went to bed and took his prescribed pill. Other than a general feeling of slowing down, he didn’t feel particularly different. He fell asleep and dreamed he was with his son, in a life raft floating in the waters of a marsh. He navigated their way through the bulrushes but they never found shore.
Earlier that day, he waited in the neurologist’s office. The doctor left, her medical student in tow, to confer with her colleague. Her office overlooked the site of the new “super hospital” and, if he leaned to the right, he could see nine cranes busily completing its construction.
The medical centre was adjacent to a tony neighbourhood of high end boutiques, fair trade coffee, smug self-satisfaction, and nowhere to park. He chose a spot where parking was permitted for one hour, and hoped it would be enough.
He came because his family doctor referred his case when he saw him about a stutter he had recently developed right around his fortieth birthday. He never had one before and wondered if this was the beginning of the end of his mental facilities.
He found himself stuttering at work, in meetings when he was pressured for an answer, or when his toddler refused to get in the bath, or get out of the bath, or his wife would ask him a question and suddenly, all he could say was “p-p-p-p-pork chops.” This caused him to be more reticent than usual. He earned a reputation as someone who rarely spoke.
The neurologist administered an exam to determine if there were any issues and asked him several questions about his overall mental state.
As he answered, he remembered his father who, in the span of seven years, sired four children. That meant, at one point, they were all at once teenagers. He remembered him at the dinner table, trying to maintain control over his unruly, defiant brood. The words would catch on his lips, or at the back of his throat while his children would have a good giggle at their father’s troubles.
After she left, he noticed a small bust of a bearded man. He wondered if it was Sigmund Freud. He picked it up and saw that it was Hippocrates.
Right, he thought. Of course.
When the doctor returned, she was accompanied by her colleague, an older man with dark curly hair. He held a position of authority over her because his medical students numbered six to her one. The ratios clearly increased with tenure.
“We don’t think there is anything wrong with you, neurologically,” the doctor told him. “We think your stutter is anxiety related. I’m going to recommend a subscription to Rivotril. Try it at home first as it may cause drowsiness but it should help with what may be a generalized anxiety disorder.”
“Should I take it with scotch?” he asked the doctor.
When he left, attached to his car, was a parking ticket.
John Hansen lives with his wife and child in the suburbs of Montreal, Canada where he works spends his days looking at spreadsheets and evenings writing and obsessing over Coronation Street.
Image: Stick in Sand, By Leigh-Anne Fraser
August 7, 2012 § 1 Comment
Guy With The Aviator Glasses
I heard him before I saw him, when he was checking in at the desk. He had a booming voice. I knew he would be my patient. He was disheveled wearing a Hampton beach baseball cap. His white hair was wispy and in need of a cut. He wore large metal aviator sun glasses. I never did see his eyes.
He was a large man, in a light blue t-shirt, neon royal blue polyester shorts and yellow socks. Sneakers on his feet.
There was something not quite right about him. He spoke slowly and deliberately with a drawl. He was having trouble hearing.
When I looked in his ears I saw something with ridges on the left. I thought it might be a piece of tubing of some sort. I grabbed it with a forceps. As I removed it, I realized it had legs. A roach I suspected. It was stuck in some wax.
This is Clara Brown’s second publication on Slice of Life.
Image: Bolt, By Leigh-Anne Fraser
July 7, 2012 § 2 Comments
Not By The Hair
adrenaline gets me through. and showing up. and instinct. and serendipity. and t-shirts and comfortable clothes. i need sacred space for me and my book bag in the corner across from everyone else. every mother of every boy i dated or married offered the same criticism about me: not warm, not sweet. Their sons would agree except for under the sheets.
white medicine makes my temperature rise and burns off cancer and my youth. the ob-gyn doctor says my body still wants to have a baby, but the oncologist says no, let’s jettison that body right into menopause. the last time i weighed this much I had a baby the next day. take tamoxifen for five years. then the cancer won’t come back. maybe. now the hair falls out in clumps in the bathtub. not growing back in furrowed flesh-rows unless the curls come in metal-gray and wolf-white and pubic-coarse.
my hair curled velcro-brown since birth, matted with sweat and mildew from riding my tricycle up and down memphis streets when i wasn’t talking to elvis, mr. green jeans, or mighty manfred, my best friend, the upside-down table in the playroom, its legs, his four hairy legs swimming in the air.
black before i went to mexico one summer, my hair covered my shoulders, made me vanish into its darkness. before that i vanished into the eight-inch scar that runs from under my right armpit to my wide nipple: four surgeries and thirty-three rounds of radiation. if you think of me as lopsided you might be right. you might be looking too close. you might be looking at, as my husband says, the cute one.
this month i vanish into the hair on my head that makes me look, as my mother says, haggard. like the hooded gnarled, but not wiser, crone. i beg the stylist to put the blonde streaks back into my hair, to put the caramel back into my unflavored life. the black hair provides a mask, the blond hair provides a frame to compete with the young writers, the ones with the natural blond, brown, and red hair who might understand a rapunzel allusion one day or see star wars for the first time this year. the ones who have never had a mammogram. the ones who do not fear the machines which invite me to hold my breath for two hours every six months so that I can hold my breath for the next six months.
hurry up gets me through, gets work out on time and finished no matter when i start. yeah, i can manufacture honesty about other people–their hair and their needy excuses about their writing every day all day. able to look straight ahead naked in the mirror without flinching at the hoary changes, myriad over time? any day.
Natalie Parker-Lawrence, a writer since 1994, earned her MFA in Creative Writing (creative nonfiction and playwriting) at the University of New Orleans in 2010. Natalie Parker-Lawrence’s new full-length play, a collection of nine true-story monologues about insomnia, I Bet They’re Sleeping All Over America, won a spot in the first Women’s Theatre Festival of Memphis in August 2012, and is the season opener for Our Own Voice Theatre Troupe at Theatreworks, September/October 2012. The Just Passing By Theatre Company in association with The Morris Theatre Guild (outside Chicago) produced Bob War in 2011. Adelphi University (New York) produced Earlybirds in 2009. The Women’s Playwright’s Initiative staged a regional reading in Orlando, Florida of Upright Position in October 2008. Her other plays have been produced in Memphis theatres. Her essays have been published in The Barefoot Review, Wildflower Magazine, The Literary Bohemian, Stone Highway Review, Tata Nacho, Knee-Jerk Magazine, Edible Memphis, The Commercial Appeal, World History Bulletin, and The Pinch. She is the religion/spirituality columnist for Wildflower Magazine.
Image: Dryad, By Stephen Martin
March 7, 2012 § 5 Comments
Real or Imagined
Rebecca Bielik Zick
Needle sharp, needle sized points of itching flare over her back, possibly thirty of them. She really shouldn’t count. A few spark on her arms. She feels one or two prickle on her butt and maybe some are scattered over her thighs. Probing for these far flung irritations goes against popular wisdom.
She must consider the flares don’t exist at all.
One November on the five hundred mile car ride to the cold North, wearing a sweater pulled out of a box, the itching first started. She fought the attack waged by the inside of her sleeve with full bore scratching, with reason and when those failed, with dissociation. She’d never been allergic to wool, and in any case, the sweater was most likely a cotton/poly blend.
By the time they cleared Kentucky, she had a full blown epidermic calamity: welts rising all over her right arm. She took off the sweater. She didn’t wear that or any other sweater the entire Thanksgiving holiday. She wore short sleeves. She tried drug store ointments. Regardless of sensible interventions, when she wasn’t on her parent’s couch sleeping the sleep of the catastrophically bereaved, she watched the spreading paths and hillocks.
Her family, a living daughter, a husband, a sister, a mother and a father all thought she was nuts. When did “dust” accumulate in a sweater washed before it was cleanly packed in a taped box, gain such power? They didn’t believe in such dust, and even if there were dust, they didn’t believe in its atomic capacity for contact dermatitis. She has a sense of humor, and so Phantom Itch was born. With medicine, extreme will power and time the first occupation by Phantom Itch dissipated.
She never donned, before a thorough wash and two rinse cycles, a single item of clothing from a box again, and yet Phantom Itch continued to visit. It’s a running family joke now and she faced the possibility of hysterical symptoms. How could she avoid it when one summer vacation, she had inexplicable traveling pain in one arm, and the repeated need to ask her daughter, “Am I drooling?” as she swiped at the corners of her mouth, coming up dry fingered every time.
And so tonight, she won’t think about dust accumulated in the fabric of the rental home’s furniture. Once or twice, with lightning speed, she bats away visions of mites until she can suppress them altogether. She does fantasize taking Benadryl, purchased on arrival against the possibility of mosquitos and sand fleas.
And the prickling itches that scatter like evil fairy dust over her skin?
She’ll never know if they are real or imagined. She does know the fallout of tragedy can linger in the most absurd, in the smallest ways. She can take the itches. She’s glad, more than ecstatic, that she can keep them in their place, that she has more choices with which to accommodate her mind than the question of craziness or slumber.
Image: Wood and Stone, By Stephen Martin
February 7, 2012 § 4 Comments
You’re sitting on a stained white couch, the cushions so soft you worry you won’t be able to stand back up with any kind of grace. You want to grab one of the throw pillows and hug it to yourself for comfort but wonder if that would make you look needy or neurotic or whatever it is your body language will say. So you sit up as straight as you can on the squishy sofa and refuse to let your arms cross in self defense.
The therapist might be a little older than you. It’s hard to say. High desert climate isn’t kind to skin. You’re glad you haven’t lived here all your life and feel desperate to leave before your own skin turns to leather. You like her jeans, her shoes, and her trendy glasses. And then she tells the two of you that your daughter is exhibiting signs of BPD. Borderline Personality Disorder. You reach for your husband’s hand. Your fingers entwine with familiar ease. It’s not that you didn’t already know.
When she tells you that your daughter is terrified of being just like her biological mother you squirm. Your husband says, If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck. You stare at the floor to hide your Picasso face, one eye filled with amusement, the other with outrage. If you had three eyes, the third would be a fresco of sadness.
The therapist isn’t big on labeling. You aren’t in love with it either, but if it walks like a duck. Your feathered daughter is a master at projection and manipulating the truth. She lives in a black and white world, is impulsive, violent, self-destructive, histrionic and narcissistic.
You leave the counseling session and drive straight to the bookstore. You love the bookstore and you find yourself relaxing, wandering around, even after you find the book you are looking for. You buy your daughter a present, a henna tattoo kit. It looks fun. Maybe she can draw on herself rather than cut herself.
It takes only five of the nine behaviors for a BPD diagnosis. She somehow exhibits all nine daily. You read on and begin to wonder if your ex-husband was a BPD. That would explain a lot.
Michelle Bidwell lives in rural Idaho and works as a Field Interviewer for Research Triangle Institute. She is a longstanding member of the Diving Deeper Writing Workshop. She loves to read, write, garden, and hang out with her dogs. Michelle is a mother of five and very proud grandmother of three.
Image: Reflections and Light, By Stephen Martin
February 3, 2012 § 5 Comments
Ear, Nose and Throat
You come into the room and sit in the chair, sometimes the chair you are supposed to sit on, sometimes my chair and I have to ask you to move. You have your purse on your lap. Why do you have it on your lap? Why don’t you put it over there on the chair? I ask you a question. You answer a different question that I did not ask. I ask how long and you say a long time. Yes, but how long exactly? You keep talking and I cannot get a word in edgewise. I sigh and listen and try to take control of the situation. I give up and get up and start to look you over. I try to look in your ear. You pull away. You cringe and tense up. I sit down. I am just going to look in your nose now. No, don’t lean back. Just keep your head still. I hold your head with my hand. You scrunch up your face. No, relax your face. That is it. You are doing fine. I feel your neck. You are okay with that. Open your mouth. Put your tongue back in. Relax your tongue. Breathe through your mouth like a puppy. Say ahh. Oh, you have something in your mouth. Could you spit that out? Thank you.
Jennifer Sulkow is a Physician Assistant in upstate New York. She is a member of the Diving Deeper Writing Workshop.
Image: Anna, Harbin Hot Springs, By Sandra Jensen