Fiction Friday – Some Time Soon

This is a piece I wrote sometime ago. It was published by Transition Magazine. 

Sometime Soon

Coma: the patient is in a state of prolonged deep unconsciousness

Jennifer listens intently to the doctor.  One thing stands out in her mind.  David is awake.

She thinks, “He’s not in a coma.  That’s good news.”  She looks at him on the hospital bed and her husband is suddenly diminished; his strength lost.  His eyes are open and the doctors say he doesn’t see her.  She knows he does, maybe not really clearly or maybe not totally understanding what he sees but he does see her.

Vegetative State: the patient is awake but is not aware.

“It’s me, David.  I’ve brought you some flowers.”  She thinks she sees awareness in his smile.  More than she has seen before.  A feeling of great hope floods her being. Jennifer calls the nurse but by the time the nurse arrives, he is blinking and nodding at something in the farthest corner of the room.  The nurse is irritated.

“I have patients with real needs,” she says.  When she sees the look on Jennifer’s face her own expression softens.

Jennifer hates the discreet pity of the professional caregiver.  David was almost lucid.

     Persistent Vegetative State:  the patient has been awake but unaware for a month.

Jennifer comes every day at the same time. She always says, “It’s me, David.”  And then she tells him about her day and about the kids.  She is careful to explain how busy they are and why they can’t come to see him as often as she does.  David, Jr. is on the hockey all-star team and Kelly is going to a gymnastics tournament.  They both miss him, really, really miss him.

She never cries.  That is, she never cries when she is visiting him.  She refuses to give up and she is sure that David can feel her determination.  As long as she believes there is hope.  She has strong faith in positive energy.

     Permanent Vegetative State: the patient has been awake but unaware for a full year.

Jennifer is very upset with David’s doctors.  They want her to let them remove his feeding tube.  “But, he’ll starve,” she protests.

“He has no quality of life.”

David Jr. and Kelly stand looking on.  David, Jr. shifts uncomfortably and then he says, “The doctor is right, Mom.  Dad wouldn’t want to live like this.  You’re not being fair to him.”

Even Kelly agrees.  “This isn’t Dad.”  She cries silently, tears streaking her cheeks.

Jennifer looks at David, Jr. and she wipes her tears away angrily.  She does not cry when she is with David.  The doctor leaves.  David, Jr. and Kelly leave.

She wants to scream.  She wants to shout that it isn’t fair.  She wants to punish her disloyal children.  She wants David to wake up and come home.

David is smiling and he is drooling.  His eyes are blinking but he does not see.  His hands make spastic grasping motions at the edge of his blankets.

“Oh, David,” she says.  “What should I do?”

“Hmmmmph, huhhhh,” says David.  His right hand paws at the air.

“It’s beautiful outside today,” she says.  “The birds are singing and the sun is melting the snow.  Spring is here at last.”  She sits with David a long time, longer than usual.  She holds his hand and strokes it.  When she kisses him good-bye, she looks deep into his faded blue eyes.  She looks for David and can not find him.

‘It is a beautiful day,” she thinks. She knows she will have to give the doctors’ permission soon but not today.  Sometime soon.

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Remembrance Day 2018

 the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.”

We will remember them.

Remembrance Day 2018 marks the 100th Anniversary of the Great War, the war to end all wars. and yet in 1939, Germany invaded Poland, plunging the world back into conflict. By this time, my grandfather had immigrated to Canada, a choice in family legend that meant living under the British flag.

When war broke out my Dad was working on a Dairy Farm near Edmonton. I like to imagine him as a strapping, handsome Canadian farm boy. I think he had ridden the rails near the end of the Great Depression but his experiences would have been limited. I imagine that these are considerations he had when he joined the Army. The picture accompanying this blog shows him in uniform with his family before he shipped out. This is the kind of remembrance, families all over Canada have tucked away in albums or maybe proudly displayed and framed.

Dad was one of the lucky ones; he came home six years later. That is not to say he came out of the experience unscathed. I know that it changed him and he could be morose and quiet. At times he drank a lot. I think it was a self-medication to dull the horrors he had seen and experienced.

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The handkerchief depicting Dad’s Unit.

Dad gave the handkerchief in the picture to his cousin, Nancy Trefiak, who is the second young woman from the left in the top photo. They were close and could use the same biting sarcasm in their humour. When Dad died, Boxing Day, 1976, she gave the handkerchief to me; she had kept it all those years.

I did not hear war stories from my father. He wouldn’t talk about what had happened. When my (then young husband asked), all he would do was recommend a book detailing the Battle of Monte Cassino.

“If you want to know what it was like, read this,” was the most he would say, other than a couple of memories that demonstrated his luck at surviving.

One of them he told, described how he had wandered across a field (perhaps in Italy) after a hard night of drinking. When he woke, the next day, a team of engineers was clearing the field of mines. His staggering steps had woven through them without incident. One other thing he related was a shell dropping right beside him as he slept in a haystack. It didn’t detonate.

Dad was through North Africa, into Italy, Belgium. On his leaves to Britain, he met my mother, the sister of a friend back home. My mother was a British war bride.

After the war, my father became a farmer. I don’t think he had any desire to travel or seek new adventures. He’d had more than a lifetime’s worth packed into six years overseas. What he focused on was keeping his family safe. In the fifties, he earned a private pilot’s license and although he loved flying, one of his motivations was to provide an avenue of escape if war ever threatened close to home.

The Second World War was a part of me growing up safe on the farm in Eastern Alberta. Mom remembered the Battle of Britain and hiding under a make-shift table-like protection when the bombs fell.

The war was never far away for my parents and now on November 11th, I do remember.

Fiction Friday – What Are Friends For?

This piece is a flash fiction that I first entered into an Edmonton Journal contest (a few years ago; there’s no budget for such things now.) I’d like to say it won but it didn’t. I edited almost half of the words so that it made the word count for the Writers Union flash fiction contest. There it won an honourable mention…and now to the story.

  Isabel arranged the combs and brushes on the terry cloth towel she had laid over the stainless steel tray.  “Well, Iris, what would you like today?  No, don’t say anything.  I know just what you want.”

Isabel moved one of the combs and set it nearer the edge of the table.  “What did I do with the scissors?  Don’t tell me, I’ll find them.”  She rummaged through her satchel and after a couple of minutes produced them with a triumphant flourish.

“I knew I brought them,” she said.

Isabel looked at Iris’s long, graying hair.  She took a brush and pulled it through the thick straight mane.  It wasn’t easy to get the knots out.  “I’m going to wash this, Iris.  It’ll make it easier to cut.”

Isabel had Iris’s hair washed in record time.  As she toweled it dry, she said, “I think it would look better short.  Short hair makes a person look younger.”

Isabel hummed as she cut great swaths from Iris’s thick hair.  The overhead light flashed silver from the sharp blades of the styling scissors.

Soon most of Iris’s heavy hair lay in a pile on the floor.  Isabel stepped around it and picked up the hair dryer.  “Do you like it, Iris?  No… don’t say anything. I’m not done yet.  Wait until I blow it dry and it has more body.”

The dryer whined as Isabel styled Iris’s new bob.  She drew the brush through the hair and curved it gently at the ends.  When it was dry, Isabel stepped back.  She took a hand mirror from the tray and held it so the back of Iris’s head was in view.

“I told you, you’d look younger.  I never did understand why you were so vain about that long hair.  I’ve wanted to do this for ages.”  Isobel flicked an errant lock into place and picking up the scissors trimmed some uneven hairs from Iris’s bangs.

“There, that’s your hair done.  Let me see your nails.”  Isobel took her hands and inspected her nails.  She shook her head and clucked at the bright polish.

“I can fix these, too,” she said.  “They’ll be easier to keep when they’re short.  You won’t need polish, either.  I’ll just buff them.”  Isobel hummed in a tuneless monotone as she took the nail scissors from the tray.  Snip, and then snip.  As each scarlet nail was severed, tiny silver sparks leapt from the scissors.  Snip, snip.  Iris’s nails joined her hair on the floor.  When Isobel was satisfied that they were short enough, she buffed them carefully.

She sighed with satisfaction.  “Just look at you, Iris.  You look great, so much younger and more stylish.  You should have let me do this, years ago.”

Again she held the mirror so her old rival could see what she had accomplished.  She added, “I know you want to look your best tomorrow.  You’ll never have another funeral.”

 

 

Nanowrimo- National Novel Writing Month

Fifty thousand words in 30 days. Since 1999, the first year of Nano, would-be novelists have accepted the challenge of writing a novel in November. Starting at midnight, 12:01 Nov. 1-midnight Nov. 30, authors set the goal of writing every day to create a minimum of 1, 667 words, and by doing so accumulate a 50,000 word novel.

So- it’s 2018 and I’m going to give it another try. My novel is one that I started and let dwindle to nothing last year (not a Nano novel.) I have thought about it and still like the story but not the way I had written it so Nano 2018 is a total re-boot, rewrite.

How am I doing? 1,831 words as of 8:30 AM yesterday. That made me behind 3,169 words already. Not an auspicious start. For me, working full time (and only for a month) interfered. I’m not used to regular work hours and I was tired. It’s an excuse, not a reason because people with full-time jobs, children, and way more responsibilities than I have, accomplish it. So I’m going with the idea, that I’ve made a beginning and I have “won” Nano once in 2016. Winning means I wrote 50,000 words. I had tried in 2013 and 2015. Those efforts stalled around the 25,000 word count.

Nano Novels have been traditionally published and some have become best sellers. I assume that it wasn’t without more hard work and a lot of editing. But as the saying goes, it’s impossible to edit something that doesn’t exist.

Participating in Nano can be a bit of fun and a lot of motivation. Updating your word count each day shows your progress and the numbers are translated to a graph. There a forums to join, write-ins (real and virtual), writing buddies and more.

If you’ve ever considered writing a book, this is one way to dive in.

Good Luck.

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Erin Morgenstern started The Night Circus in Nano and completed it over another two.

 

Fiction Friday- read Halloween Harvest

Halloween Harvest

            The sun had set but its slanting rays still cast an eerie light throwing the trees along the road into twisted shadows. Drew steered them deftly along the winding trail.

“I don’t know why you insist on hanging with Keven. He’s so weird.”

Kaitlyn’s frown crinkled her careful Elvira make-up.

“Keven’s okay. He owns a start-up IT company and it’s so successful, he’s thinking of going public.”

It was hard to take Drew seriously, dressed as he was in the cheesy devil costume. The cheap plastic mask was perched atop his head and she knew they wouldn’t make an entrance as the sexy couple they were.

“There now, see that,” he said, as they rounded a final curve.

It was hard to argue. The “cabin”, a large log structure, dominated by spruce trees and alight with Jack-o-lanterns did look like the perfect setting for a Hallowe’en Party…if only the storm stayed away. Ominous, dark clouds could be seen to the left of the cabin, across the lake. Kaitlyn thought she saw lightening but that made no sense…it was October 31st.

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Before she could mention it to Drew, he had stopped the car, jumped out and was looking for the booze in the trunk. On the deck, she could see Keven, in a Grim Reaper outfit. Kaitlyn had to admit it suited him with his tall, gangly build and spidery arms and legs. The black shroud swirled around him in the breeze and the loose hood hid his face. He supported an authentic-looking scythe against the deck floor and its blade curved away from his head. Around him, a werewolf couple, a vampire and a zombie milled. Various interpretations of monsters had inspired the costumes of the ten or so guests. Some unidentifiable music blared, rap or punk or emo or some wicked combination. Maybe it was banshees wailing.

Kaitlyn shivered and followed Drew onto the deck.

“Keven, my man,” said Drew.

Keven didn’t answer but gestured to an old fashioned Coca-cola cooler with his left hand.

“Perfect,” said Drew, grinning as he deposited the beer and hard lemonades into the ice in the cooler. “Want a raspberry to start, Kaitlyn?” he called over his shoulder. He had already popped the top from a can of Bud for himself.

Without waiting for her answer, he opened the drink and held it out to her. Its sweet pseudo- fruit smell mixed with the malty fug of beer. Across the deck, some guests smoked weed, and its pungent odor wafted in the breeze.

Through the windows, Kaitlyn could see two large candlelit tables, one that was covered with catered food- sushi, crab cakes, smoked salmon, vegan offerings and a variety of vegetables. The second featured chips, dip, Cheezies, nachos, any kind of junk food you could think of. The candlelight gave the food a bloody colour and the flickering shadows cast it into disturbing shapes.

A nasty looking witch came up to Kaitlyn and said, “Whoa, I thought Elvira went out in the 80s.”

Kaitlyn stood with her mouth moving but no sound emerged. She looked down at herself. Sure there was lots of cleavage and the outfit was super tight but she could carry it off. Those hours in the gym were worth it and besides, Drew liked her to look good. She knew she looked good.

Drew came over and she could tell he had chugged a couple of first beers.

“Hey, babe,” he said. “Let’s dance,” and he started to contort without rhythm.

Kaitlyn didn’t argue. She loved to dance and it was a chance to show-off her Elvira look. Soon she and Keven had the deck to themselves. Kaitlyn couldn’t contain a smug smile. Then she heard the thunder over the blasting music. The first rain drops were big and cold. The wind rose sending gusts of frigid air churning around the cabin.

“For Cripes sake.”

Keven grabbed her by the waist and they followed the other stragglers into the cabin.

Lightning split the sky, followed by deafening thunder. The icy temperature of the cabin prompted a chorus of complaint.

“Keven,” a vampire shouted. “Get that fireplace going.” There was no answer.

“Turn on some heat.” This from a witch.

There was more carping and moaning. Their host was didn’t hear it because he couldn’t be found.

Kaitlyn had goosebumps and was shivering.

“Do something, Drew,” she said.

“Excuse me, look out.” Drew wove through the guests and tables to the fireplace built into a fieldstone feature that extended beyond the wall. It was bright, new and looked unused. Drew bent closer.

“Do you know what you’re doing, Bud?” asked a werewolf. “Don’t want to blow us all to hell. Keven’s got plenty more refreshments.”

“For God’s sake, light it,” said Kaitlyn.

Drew fumbled a bit as he looked for the controls which were hidden in a panel on the floor of the fireplace. He hesitated but then, turned the main control. Nothing happened. He tried a couple more times with the same result. Shouted advice from the guests didn’t help.

“Oh, for f___’s sake.” The werewolf pushed Drew out of the way and after a flourish, he turned the control to ON.

A huge ball of burning methane exploded into the costumed crowd. The werewolf combusted in a spontaneous flash. Drew screamed as his plastic mask melted onto his face. Kaitlyn’s Elvira gown dissolved and burst into flame. The unholy screams, the roar of the fire, the crashing thunder turned the cabin into a nightmare inferno. The guests cavorted in a final macabre dance as tendons and ligaments contracted spastically. Upstairs hungry flames flickered and licked around Keven’s comatose body.

Outside, a long shadow stretched from the black clad figure watching the conflagration. The only features visible in its hooded face were red eyes, reflecting the fiery destruction before it. Shrouded in black and leaning on his scythe, the Reaper enjoyed his work for a few minutes before turning to melt into the stormy darkness.

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The Saturday Night Ghost Club

This is Craig Davidson’s fourth book. The other three include Rust and Bone, Cataract City and his real memoir Precious Cargo. He’s a great author and best of all, he’s Canadian.

 

The Saturday Night Ghost Club is a gentle novel, part coming-of-age, part shattered life, and part haunting memoir. It explores memory and how each time an event is recalled, it changes.

Jake Breaker is a neurosurgeon. He understands the fragility of the brain and how mysterious its workings are. The summer he was twelve, Jake made a true friend and learned about his eccentric Uncle Cal. His uncle runs the Occultorium, a spiritual business full of cheap trinkets, real antiquities, and plain strange paraphernalia. Even as a kid, he knows that Uncle Cal isn’t quite “right.”

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Jake’s recounting of his twelfth summer, the summer of The Saturday Night Ghost Club, is full of suspense. There is Billy, his new friend, and Dove, Billy’s sister, dangerous and verging on true beauty. They get into scrapes, put themselves in jeopardy, and hang out with Uncle Calvin.

The Saturday Night Ghost Club is set in 1980s Niagara Falls, nicknamed Cataract City. Uncle Cal takes the Club on nocturnal journeys to its haunted locations and reveals the legend or story associated with each one. Jake finally confesses to their night time pursuits to his parents and his mother is horrified.

This novel isn’t long, a bare 248 pages but it’s 248 pages to enjoy. If you hurry, you can read it before Hallowe’en.

 

 

Cold Comfort

Flash fiction No. 2, Fiction Friday. With the nights getting colder, and furnaces working all over the country, this might be appropriate….

           The voice wakes me in the middle of the night.

           “Arnie.  I’m scared.  Arnie.”

           Scared?  Of what?  I always looked after us. I made money to have a nice house.  If you worked as hard as me, you would enforce some standards in that home.  I wanted a hot meal on time.  I wanted that nice house properly cleaned.  It’s not too much to ask, is it?

“Arnie, Arnie. I’m so cold.”

It was her own fault. I told her a hundred times.  “Don’t touch my remote control.” I didn’t like her watching those stupid soaps. She was watching when she should have been getting my supper and she lost the remote. It didn’t hurt her to watch what I wanted.

“Arnie.  I wanted to watch figure skating.  I used to skate.  I was even pretty good. Remember?”

“Shut up,” I said.  “Just shut your hole.”

“Arnie.  I don’t want to be here alone.”

I got my earplugs I wear at work.  Those jackhammers are hell on hearing.  I put the earplugs in.

“Arnie, come on down.  I’m so lonely.  I’m scared.”

Damned earplugs aren’t working. I don’t want to hear her whimpering but I can. Why can I still hear her?

“Arnie, come down for a minute.  I promise I’ll be quiet then.  Please.”

I am a reasonable man.  I just feel stressed sometimes.  I have to go down and see if she’ll shut up. Doesn’t she know I have to work tomorrow?  Doesn’t she know that I had ended it yesterday?

Darlene is right.  It is colder than Siberia in the basement.

“Arnie, please.  I’m so cold.”

I go past the furnace to the storage room. There she is, dead.  Just like I left her.  So why do I hear her voice?”

“Arnie, I’m turning blue.  I’m so cold. Let me come back upstairs.”

I look at Darlene.  She should be blue.  I pushed her yesterday but not that hard.  She fell and hit her stupid head. All she has to do is look after me and the house.  I work hard.  It’s not too much to ask to have a nice home.  To have a good meal.  So when she asked me I said, no.  Why does she have to go to her sister’s all the time?  You’d think she’d learn.

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“Arnie.  It was her birthday.  I just wanted to see her, that’s all.”

That voice. She has to be dead.  How come I’m with dead Darlene…AND I CAN STILL HEAR HER DAMNED WHINY VOICE???

“Arnie, you can’t hurt me now.  But Arnie, I’m so cold.”

What does she think I can do?

“Darlene,” I say.  “Of course, you’re cold.  You’re dead, you stupid woman.”

“Arnie.  I’m so cold.  Arnie.  I’m scared and I’m alone.”

I turn my back because I’m done.  I’m going back upstairs to my bed to sleep.

“Arnie, don’t go. You have to stay with me.”

I try to walk out.  It’s like moving through mud.  So slow.  Then I can’t move at all.

“Darlene, baby.  Let me go.”

“Arnie, I want you to stay.  I’m cold and scared and lonely.  You can’t go.”

“Let me go get you a blanket.”

I forget what Darlene’s laugh is like but it isn’t like this. I try to reason with her. Crazy, she’s dead.  I couldn’t get through to her when she was alive.

“I’ll get you a hot water bottle.”

More lunatic laughing.  I can’t get it out of my head.  I cover my ears.

“You can’t go Arnie.  I want you to turn up the furnace. Turn it up high.”

Stupid woman.  The thermostat is upstairs.  She lets me move to the furnace.  I bend over and pretend to adjust a dial.

That damned laughing gets louder… it’s- WHOOOOSH!

“I’M BURNING.  HELP, DARLENE, HELP.  I’M SORRY BABY.”

The last thing I hear is that crazy laughing and my own dying scream.

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