Chance [Flash Fiction]

There was no reason in the world for them to meet that night. If anyone wants to prove the existence of Fate or God, they might use this example in their studies.

She was supposed to be on her way to London from Wiltshire, but the taxi she was taking (her father had given her the cash for it, she could never have afforded such an extravagant means of travel on her salary) broke down unexpectedly.

He was supposed to be halfway to America, but his sister called, hysterical, just as he was checking in at the Delta desk at Heathrow Airport. She was having her baby early, and her husband was abroad on business. When he told his sister that he was about to fly away as well, she screamed at him in no uncertain terms, and scared him so much that he decided it would be a good idea to get his butt to the hospital, pronto.

They met in a pub around the corner from the private hospital where his sister was having her baby, and where her taxi had broken down. They both sat alone at the bar, and it was only when she ordered her drink (“White Russian, and put in as much ice as you’ve got, I’m parched.”) that he realized she was there. He had the same drink in front of him, looking just as full as it had when he’d gotten it, because of the profusion of ice-cubes which had begun to melt as he drank it down.

“You’re having what I’m having.”

“Oh? Right.”

“No, no, you don’t get it. Nobody likes extra ice in their White Russian. I had a friend swear to disown me if I let him see me order it like this again.”

“Hm. Interesting.”

“No, listen, I’m not drunk, my sister is having a baby, I’m just tired – okay, right, sorry, I’m babbling, enjoy your drink.”

“Your sister is having a baby? Over at the hospital?”

“Yeah.”

“My dad owns that place.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“So I should complain to you if something goes wrong?”

“He hasn’t seen the place in ten years. He just owns it. Sorry.”

“Interesting. Owning something and not knowing anything about it.”

“Pretty much like all our internal organs, you mean?”

“Never thought about it that way.”

“That’s okay. Most people don’t.”

“I’m Greg.”

“Martha.”

One Good Thing

Jodi lay on what she knew to be her deathbed, and thought about life. It was impossible for her to think about death. She’d been thinking about death for the past three years, ever since the doctors had found the first tumor. But in a few hours, the doctors said, she would die. They’d offered her morphine, to ease the pain, but she’d refused. It wasn’t because she was particularly strong, nor because she desired to suffer. It was merely that she wanted to think about life a little before she died, and she knew that she wouldn’t do that in the blissful haze that morphine gave her.

She wasn’t a very good woman. Ninety-three years old and her neighbors had been wishing her dead for two decades already. She knew that no one liked her. But that was alright. She’d realized sometime during her sixties that she didn’t like herself much either. At first she went to therapy and tried to fix herself. After four sessions, she’d decided that there was no reason to fix something that had been broken for so long, and anyway, Doctor Haddock was simply gaga.

Lying in the stinking hospital room, on her soiled sheets, Jodi wondered whether she’d done anything good in her life. She thought of her children, and concluded that they turned out to be good people despite her, not because of her. Her husband of forty-five years had died a long time ago, and she didn’t think that she’d made his life better. She thought, upon reflection, that he would have done better to have married his mistress when he started having an affair. She didn’t begrudge him anymore. Her grandchildren she hardly knew, although they were all in their twenties and probably having babies of their own by now. But her children had both run away to far corners of the earth, and so she’d never come to know their offspring well. Better this way, really, because her death wouldn’t be of much notice to anyone.

But surely, she thought frantically, she must have done something good in her life. No one would remember her for long, it was true, and if anyone did they’d remember a gruff, violent old woman who couldn’t hear very well but insisted that she did. They’d remember her spiteful cackle and the way she never opened the door for children at Halloween. None of this bothered Jodi, not really, but she still thought that there must have been something good in her, sometime.

A strange memory came upon her as she stared at the boring whitewashed ceiling. An image floated across her mind’s eye, an image of a red-haired girl giving a flower to an old drunk on the street and handing him a thermos full of strong black coffee. She remembered the man blessing that red-haired teenager, who was wearing a frightfully short yellow dress, and calling her “ma’am.” She remembered the red-haired girl laughing merrily, giving him five dollars – more than a month’s worth of allowance back then – and telling him to get a job. Finally, the last image she could see was of a janitor whistling as he swept the floors in an old office building where the red haired girl worked as a secretary. She remembered the red-haired girl smiling at him and shaking his hand and the man blessing her for the coffee and the money, but most of all for giving him hope.

Jodi’s crabbed fingers clutched at the call-button. A nurse came in, warily. She was new, and she’d heard horror stories about the old woman’s temper.

“Tell the doctors that I want the morphine, girl,” Jodi said in her rasping voice. “And be quick!” The young nurse jumped, surprised at the vigor in the words and hurried off without a word.

Jodi smiled to herself, toothless, sunken-cheeked and liver-spotted. She’d done one good thing in her life. That was good enough.

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…

… and the wind was blowing against the windows, making them shudder and rattle. It was almost impossible to see anything outside unless all the lights were off. Even then, the only thing that Patricia Nicole Baker could see was a blurry outline of the pine trees and their branches weighed down and tired from the barrage of water being dumped from the sky. It was a moonless night, and Pat knew what that meant. She shuddered, turned away from the window, and lit up every light in her small house.

It looked snug with the warm glow of half a dozen small lamps. There was the familiar lumpy couch, faded from red to pink over the years. There was the armchair, contrasting horribly with the couch, still a too-bright, too-light green. She’d picked both up at yard sales in town, years ago, along with the three rickety bookcases that stood side by side at the wall. Then there were the kitchen table and chairs, the familiar cupboards with little designs she’d painted on them. Pat walked to the bedroom, reassured again – the heavy wooden dresser, the floor lamp casting a blue glow through its shade, the double bed with crisp white sheets – she’d changed them just today – and the minuscule desk, just big enough for a laptop, a cup with pens in it, and a coaster for her drinks. The printer had to sit on the floor.

Normal, all was normal. Pat avoided the windows and puttered around, taking comfort in little tasks. She washed the dishes she’d used to eat her dinner off of, put the kettle on the stove, waited for it to boil and made herself instant coffee. Opening her mini-fridge, she drew out the bottle of fresh milk that she still got delivered to her – one of the perks of living isolated as she did was the rapport she’d built up with the farm-owners. Adding a dollop of milk and a spoonful of sugar, she picked up the mug and held it between her hands, enjoying the warmth it gave her clammy, cold hands. Striding to the bookcases, she looked through and found what she wanted. It was at the top of the right hand one, in the corner.

The children’s book she brought to the couch was well-worn. The spine was frayed and the front cover had some stains on it. The inside, though, was still beautiful. The images of the soft pastel colors washed over her, the familiar words forming in her mind without needing to read them. Sipping her coffee, she put it down on the floor beside her feet, took a deep breath and glanced at the old-fashioned clock on the wall. It was 9:45. Two more minutes, then, she thought. It was always at the exact time that it happened.

And then, on the moonless, stormy night, Pat lifted her eyes and saw a small figure standing in the middle of the room. He was dressed in a small, cheap gown with pictures of sheep on it. His hair was shaved off completely, though Pat remembered its original dirty-blond color. She knew that if he turned around, there would be a line of stitches at the back, looking fresh and congealed with some blackened blood. She’d asked for that – asked to see him without all the bandages wrapping his head. The doctors had allowed it, knowing there was no hope anymore.

Seth looked at her, his blue eyes shiny with tears.

“Mommy!”

Pat caught him in her arms, sobbing with him, hugging him so close she could suffocate him. Only she couldn’t, of course.

“Mommy, why?”

It was the question kids asked the most, especially very young ones. Pat had read all about it, about how you should give honest answers and admit it when you didn’t know. So she said, quietly, “I don’t know, darling. I don’t know, Seth-boy.”

Once they’d settled together, Pat opened the book, and started reading it to him in a bright voice. He stared hungrily at the pictures, laughed uproariously at the giraffe who got tangled up with his neck in a tree, pointed at the cute monkeys like he always did. Pat read slowly, trying to savor every page, but Seth was a little boy and he always wanted to know, even though he’d read it a hundred times before, what the next page held.

Once she would finish reading, she knew that Seth would fall asleep in her lap while she stroked his forehead. She always fell asleep, too. She knew that once she’d wake, he’d be gone, and she would wait for the next night with no moon, half fearful of his coming and breaking her heart all over again, and half fearful that he wouldn’t show up this time.

A Daughter’s Fever

Miranda looked down at the small crib. It was without ornament – nothing like the wonderful crib she had at home, with the painted bars and the bright sheets and blankets. Hospital cribs don’t have to be pretty, merely functional, just like hospital beds. It was strange that she’d never thought of hospitals having cribs before. Of course, when she’d given birth there was a crib, but it was small, it was near her own bed, and her daughter hadn’t been in it much; Miranda had preferred to hold her in her arms as she slept.

Miranda stirred, tearing her eyes away from the sight of her little golden-haired girl red with fever. She’d been sick for five days already. When Miranda saw that the fever wasn’t going down, she’d taken her girl to the hospital. It was a throat infection of some sort, that’s what the doctors said, but the fever was still so high… Miranda couldn’t stop worrying. She hummed with nerves.

She looked at the lone chair that could fit beside the crib. There were others in the room, but they were occupied by other parents watching their sick infants. What a dismal place to bring a child, Miranda had thought when she’d first walked through the door to that room. Her opinion of the cheerless place hadn’t improved since. Her husband was in their chair, fast asleep; the poor man. He’d borne with Miranda’s worries and unfounded fears and had tried to calm her, but she wouldn’t calm. She couldn’t calm. She’d exhausted the poor man.

Miranda thought of her work. She was needed, she knew. Real people, everyday people, depended on her. She knew some of them would be in agonies without her support and encouragement. She felt bad for not being there for them, but that feeling was in a very small corner of her mind. She really mostly felt bad because she was worried sick and still her little girl’s fever raged on.

She looked back into the crib and wiped the sweat of her daughter’s forehead with a small white towel. The doctors said that she needed to wait and let the medicine do its work. She waited.

Dora’s Birthday [Part II]

Part I

When Dora’s parents pulled the car into the driveway, Dora’s mother said “Oh, no!” in a strangled voice before ripping off her seat belt and running out of the car. There was a big ambulance sitting in front of the house, and two men in blue zippie-up clothing – kind of like Dora’s pajamas when she was very small – were rolling a big bed with wheels on it towards the back of the ambulance, which had its red lights swirling around and around, but the siren was off. Then Dora saw her grandfather run out the door after the men. Dora’s mother ran to him, and then they both got into the back of the ambulance with the men.
Dora’s father started the car up, and began following the ambulance, which now had its siren on.
“Daddy, what’s going on?” Dora asked from the backseat.
“Well, sweetie, I’m not sure. I think something happened to Grandma, and that’s why the ambulance was there. We’ll follow the ambulance to the hospital and we’ll see your mother and Grandpa there and they’ll tell us what’s going on.” Dora’s father sounded very worried. Dora knew he sounded worried because he sounded like this when Dora had tried to make herself some toast alone and had ended up burning her finger badly. She’d been taken to the hospital then, and the doctors gave her some sticky lotion to put on the burn until it healed. Her father had sounded exactly the same then as he did now.
“But Daddy, Grandma will be okay, right?”
“I hope so, sweetie.”

Soon they were pulling into the hospital parking lot. Dora’s father parked the car, and Dora leaped out of the backseat after him. They walked towards the big double doors of the emergency room [Dora knew that’s what it was because that’s where she’d gone when her finger had been burned.] The doors opened automatically and they walked in.
“Mommy!” Dora called out, and ran to her mother who was hunched over in a chair, half leaning over Grandpa and talking to him softly. She caught Dora up in her arms and settled her on her lap. Dora’s father sat down on her Grandpa’s other side, and asked quietly what was happening.
“She had a stroke,” Grandpa said. He sounded so tired. Dora never thought of her Grandpa as an old man, not like the other old men she would see on the street sometimes. But now she thought he did look old. She turned and buried her face in her mother’s hair. She was scared. Everyone was acting so sad and tired. It was her birthday. Everyone, herself included, should be happy today!
“What’s a stroke, Mommy?” She whispered in her mother’s ear. Her mother pulled her backwards a bit so she could look at her face. Dora was sucking her thumb, something she almost never did anymore, not now that she was a big girl and going to school and everything.
“Well, honey-pie, you remember how we read in your encyclopedia about how the brain works?” Dora’s mother answered. Dora remembered. She had gotten a nice big set of children’s encyclopedias for her last birthday and she’d been reading them with her mother and father and lately also alone a bit. The books were illustrated and she remembered the picture of the brain, all wormy and pink. She nodded to her mother.
“Well,” her mother continued. “A stroke is when a big clump of blood blocks some parts of the brain off. That throws the whole balance of the brain off and then some parts of it stop working for a minute or two. That’s what happened to Grandma.”
“But Mommy,” Dora spoke quietly, her thumb still half in her mouth. “Grandma will be fine, right? And we’ll go back to Grandma and Grandpa’s house and have cake and I’ll blow out the candles, right?”
“I don’t think so, baby,” her mother replied. “Grandma’s going to have to stay here for a while and I want to be here with Grandpa once she wakes up and the doctors see how bad the damage is from the stroke.”
It was all too much – first she’d gotten ouches on her birthday, then no dessert at school, and now even this was ruined. No cake on her birthday. Dora burst into tears.

Lucy’s Diary, May 25th

To be able to understand much of what is in here, you might want to, or need to, read the installment that precedes it in Alex’s blog. Here is the link: http://crystalgeek.wordpress.com/2009/02/10/journal-part-v/

May 25th, sometime after midnight, Pratt and Smith, under the covers in my room

Dearest Diary,

If my handwriting seems shaky, it’s because you’re currently nestled on my knees, which are also trying to hold the flashlight steady under the covers as I write. The girls yelled at me for having the light on when I came in here, hours after curfew of course [but the school understands and accepts this because of my needing to stay at the hospital every day]. As the library is closed, I have no choice but to huddle under my blankets and write in this most uncomfortable of situations. Forgive me for the discomfort I’m causing you, dear friend.

I’m oddly calm. I shouldn’t be calm, but I am. I suppose you’d like to know why I shouldn’t be calm, and I will indeed confide in you, but I don’t know how much I should, or can, or am allowed to write about this subjects that have recently been exposed to me.

Firstly, Micheal’s name isn’t Micheal. I’m not sure what his real name is, but he has told me to refer to him as R. and so I shall call him from now on. So R. is on the mend – he’s feeling much better, his bruises are slowly fading, and he should be released from the hospital in a day or two, a circumstance which will be difficult for me, because I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to see of him after he’s released. Miss Flynn believes that he really is a relative of mine, so I suppose she’ll let him visit me after study hours, and perhaps on our mornings off on Sundays I’ll be able to visit him wherever he’s staying right now.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m sure you want to know why I’m so certain that I have to keep seeing him. Well, let me share a bit of the secret then. I suppose, though, that I should start much farther back than what R. has told me tonight. I haven’t told him what I’m about to confide in you, Diary, and I’m not sure I should confide this in him, but I’ll think about it and see.

My parents died four years ago. Gruesomely, you may say. It was a car crash, and the media made out that Dad had been drunk and went off road, but it’s not true. The police told me right at first – before changing their story – that there had been a big truck coming towards them very fast [they could tell by the skid marks apparently] and that it seemed as if Dad had swerved so as to avoid the truck. There was a huge pool of oil right there, and the car slid and Mom and Dad went flying over the railing with the car into the field below where the car crashed upside down. You may wonder at my writing all this down this way. I haven’t repeated or talked of how they died for four years – at first, I tried convincing everyone that this was the true story, and I had to repeat it over and over and over again to get people to believe that Dad wasn’t drunk, but it was no use. The papers said it was a drunk-driving accident, and I gave up trying to tell people it wasn’t true. Since then, I’ve never talked about it.

Mom’s cousin, Clarisse, took me in. She’s the witch, the monster, the utter abomination of the human soul who is my legal guardian and it is she who sent me here, to Pratt and Smith. It is she to whom I now owe many thanks, though she’ll never hear me utter them.

If Clarisse hadn’t sent me here, I never would have met R. If I’d never have met R, I never would have found out that someone else besides my parents knew about the Parazelli, or suspected the existence of this group anyway. And now that I have met R, now that I know someone who has suffered a loss like mine at the hands of this foul group – because I know that Dad never drank when he drove, and I know that he and Mom had been dragging me around from college town to college town all of my childhood because they were trying to research and prove the existence of this most evil of cults, the Parazelli, who believe in bloodshed and evil as others believe in angels and beauty – now that I’ve met R and know he believes in them too, I finally have a way to avenge my parents. I finally have a way to continue their research, continue their work, and make them proud of me, their only, rather unruly, daughter.

Forgive me for getting your pages wet, my dearest confidante, my Diary, but I can’t help it. I don’t know whether it’s fear or relief I’m feeling right now, but I do know that I cannot part with R now – I mustn’t let him get too far away, and I have to get him to let me help, in whatever way I can.

Diary, my eyes are itching with the combination of my tears and tiredness. I shall leave you to your thoughts now, and hope you will not disapprove of my risking everything for this silly thing we humans call revenge.

I must speak with R. tomorrow. I simply must.

Good night, Diary, I hope your pages rest easily even with the heavy burden of knowledge I have put down in them tonight.

Yours, as ever,

Lucy

Lucy’s Diary, May 23d

May 23d, Afternoon, Grace Hospital, Room #304

Dear Diary,

I’m thoroughly exhausted. I cannot even explain to you the levels of exhaustion I have descended to in the last few days. My cousin, the one who sent me here, said before she sent me away that I was wild and lacked responsibility in my life [stupid cow, she didn’t know one thing about me nor my life, she just decided that, being sixteen, I MUST be wild]. Well, she would have been proud of the responsibilities I’ve taken on in the last week.

But I’m confusing you, I’m sure. Let me begin again, my dearest, and you shall have the story entire by the time I’m done writing.

The morning after I wrote in you last time, I got a phone call on my cell. It was during history class, and of course I couldn’t pick it up right then and there. It was buzzing in my pocket, and I was so shocked at the fact that it really WAS ringing for once [silently, though, obviously] that I immediately raised my hand and asked to be excused to the ladies room. As I’m a good girl and have never asked to be let out in the middle of a lesson since arriving at Pratt and Smith, the surprised teacher let me leave at once.

You can guess my utter astonishment upon seeing the name “Michael” on the screen of my cell phone when I escaped into the hallway and took it out of my pocket. It was Michael! The guy from the diner! I took the call, and all I could hear at first were some garbled noises. Then, I heard something like “help” and then “ouch” and then some monumental swearing. Then, just as I was starting to really panic, I heard him yell out “Oh god!” and then the line went dead.

Oh, Diary, I stood there in the hallway with the phone pressed to my ear even after the line went dead. I was in utter shock for a few moments and could only stand there, trying to figure out what I should do next. Eventually, my mind began to function a little and I dashed to the offices of P&S – a long run from where I had been, to be sure – and breathlessly had the kindly old secretary there call emergency services.

I had no idea where Michael was, of course, but I told them that I believed he was at or around a place called “Gaitec’s Reach.” The man from the rescue services made loud exclamations at that, and asked if I thought he’d been there during the night. When I said that I supposed he had been, the man got very nervous and then very business-like, and I gather that the area is quite traitorous to one who’s not familiar with the terrain.

You may wonder, Diary dearest, how I dealt with P&S on this whole matter – for of course, Michael was found, and I wanted to get to the hospital to see him as soon as I could. P&S are now laboring under the delusion of his being a distant relation of mine, one who was coming to visit me and who I was very worried about because he had been a dear childhood friend of mine, from the days when I still lived with my parents and not with my evil cousin [this lie was necessary to explain why my cousin has no idea who he is].

All in all, the school has been cooperative and my roommates have been life-savers – Sophie and Maria have been bringing me the homework every day, and Peggy even brought me some makeup [“because you look SO dreary, my dear”]. I’ve been spending most of every day here in the hospital, because poor Michael looks so frail, so very weak. I don’t know why, but I feel responsible for him. I can’t, just can’t leave him here to wake up all on his own! I heard his English accent last time we met, so I know he must be so very far from home, the poor thing.

The doctors say he had a bad concussion, and they think he should wake up in a day or two, but I’m worried. He’s been in and out, mumbling nonsense sometimes and groaning from the pain at others.

Diary, Michaels’s stirring, he may want some more water, so I shall have to resume my conversation with you later.

I am ever yours,

Exhaustedly,

Lucy

P.S. Oh, one other thing – I’m going to tell him my real name when he wakes up, if he tells me what he’s been doing here.

Move [Part I]

“Again!”

Frowning in concentration, Marianne wiped the sweat from her brow, took a deep breath and tried once more. The grain of rice on the table in front of her was her challange, her goal, and she had to conquer it. She had to master it. She couldn’t let her thoughts wander at all. She tried once more to believe, with all her mind and heart, that the grain was rising from the table, that the grain, lighter than a feather, could easily defy gravity. Marianne’s upper lip and forhead began seeping with wetness again as she gazed fiercly at the tiny grain of rice and tried with all her might to make it rise.

She almost had it, she felt, so close – but then her thoughts began to wander again, despite her best efforts, and she thought sullenly Why am I even doing this? Why am I doing what they tell me? In a moment, she collapsed in a heap on the floor, exhausted, and felt as if she had been wrung out like a sponge. She sat there, on the cold, metal floor, and tried to organize her thoughts again. She didn’t know where she was. She didn’t know how long it had been, but she knew it must have been some weeks – it seemed so endless. She fingered the white hospital-type bracelet circling her left wrist. It read “NOVICE  #824: MARIANNE” in big block letters, with no more indication than that.

“Again! Try again!” Came the cold voice over the loudspeaker. Marianne didn’t even see where the speaker was in the room, but she’d learned to hate the crackle of it, that little “Ffff…” before the person, who she couldn’t recognize as male or female, spoke. The voice was as present in her current situation as the sweat on her brow. It was the voice that awoke her from her restless sleep, the voice that commanded her to take the food from the odd, metallic dumbwaiter and eat it, the voice that told her relentlessly, over and over “AGAIN!”

As she had nothing else better to do, and she’d almost been convinced that maybe something would come of this, and also because she had learned what happened when she refused, Marianne rose to her feet, walked to the table with the grain of rice on it, and tried again. For a moment, for no reason at all, her mother’s face flashed before her eyes as she was concentrating on the grain. Blinking away the vision, Marianne stared at the reality in front of her. The grain of rice was hovering a full foot off the table. She coughed, and the grain clattered onto the metal table.

“Finally.” Said the voice over the loudspeaker. Marianne looked up at the wall, as metal and unadorned as the rest of the room, and tears filled her eyes.