Friday, September 24, 2010

What the Doctor Ordered

When she arrived at the hospital, he was still in the intensive care unit.

Seven days since an ambulance brought him writhing with the pain of an intestinal blockage.

Five days since the operation that cut away the small section of knotted obstruction.

Two days since a nurse snapped an oxygen mask over his nose and parted lips. She explained he needed the assistance; he was a “mouth breather” and his shallow inhales did not feed his lungs.

One day since he looked at her with eyes narrowed in disapproval.

“If you came earlier, I could have gone home with you,” he said and pointed a tremulous index finger at her. “You missed the window of opportunity. I know it was on purpose.” He turned his head away from her.

Though she tried many times during each visit, no amount of cajoling or explanation could disabuse him of the notion that nurses hated him and waited for family to leave before a daily ritual of torture. Doctors told her confusion and paranoia were normal in patients his age – after all, he was still under the influence of disorienting painkillers.

After several hours of sitting and watching him sleep, while listening to the whirls and pings of machinery taking care of his bodily business, she stood.

“Leaving?” he said after pulling the mask from his face. So he was feigning sleep, she thought.

“I'll be back tonight,” she said.

“Don't bother if you're not prepared to take me away from here.”

She kissed his forehead and helped him put the mask back on his face. He closed his eyes and did not say goodbye.

As she left the unit, she nodded to the hospital staff who looked her way. Torturers? She smiled at the thought. Tonight she would return and listen to his complaints and know they were fueled by irrational fears that he was never going home.

Always was a bit of a diva – for a man, she thought and laughed.

She walked the maze of halls that were very familiar to her now and stepped out into the sunshine.

Upstairs, the torture continued.

Friday, September 10, 2010


If you encounter a grizzly, do not run.

That's what Andy had told Sylvia and the others a year ago as they sat around a campfire on their first weekend together in the woods. They were drinking, laughing, and telling ghost stories when Andy interrupted with this unexpected proclamation.

Sylvia looked around quickly, worried she would see a 400-pound mama bear waiting for dinner. Andy smiled and patted her back.

“The most sensitive part of the bear's anatomy is the nose,” Andy continued, and took Sylvia's hand and molded it into a fist. He told them that throwing the hardest punch one could manage right in the center of its nose would send a bear running away in pain. Sylvia laughed at the image, but Andy shook his head and looked somber. The others stared at their hands.

“I remember reading about this guy who saved his life that way,” Andy said while he stroked Sylvia's  arm and stared at the fire.

“He described it like hitting a bag of thawed hamburger.”

No one said anything.

Andy looked up. “Okay, fine, let's talk about something else,” he said, and laughed as he lifted his hands in mock surrender.

“This round's on me.” He went to the cooler for more beer.

Now, after a year of many weekends spent in tents in the woods with Andy and their friends, Sylvia felt comfortable with the inconveniences - and joys - of camping.  As usual, while Andy left for a last visit to the latrine, she spread out the double sleeping bag after packing for the drive home the next day. She was thinking about the appointments she needed to make back in the city when she became aware that the other campers were shouting. What she heard dried up her saliva and made her legs wobble.

“A bear! There's a bear!”

Don't scream or yell. You'll only aggravate the grizzly, Andy had said that first night, ignoring teasing questions about what to do if a ghost attacked.

Not breathing properly, Sylvia pressed both hands across her mouth when she heard Andy's high-decibel cries of fear and pain, cries that ceased after a few moments. Pale and queasy, she could not stop her horrified shout of “No!” as her head turned toward the sounds of snorting and huffing outside their tent.

She regretted packing the cast iron skillet.

As she waited for what might come, Sylvia raised a trembling hand and made a firm fist, thinking of chopped meat.

© 2010 Marisa Birns 

Friday, September 03, 2010

Bearing Gifts

I'm as ready as I'll ever be, Molly thought as she looked in the hall mirror and brushed back a strand of hair from her forehead. Although she had to beg, Charlie agreed to share a drink with her and was coming over.

“For the last time,” he warned her when they spoke on the phone that morning.

Molly decanted the wine in the kitchen and poured a glass to drink while she waited. When the doorbell buzzed, she shivered and went to let Charlie inside.

Each was on their best behavior after the initial awkwardness of their hellos. When Molly offered wine after a few minutes of small talk, Charlie smiled and nodded. “Be right back,” she said as she placed her glass on the coffee table and went to the kitchen.

“I know I can't change your mind about us, and I'm sorry about that,” she called out as she poured the wine and opened the drawer to her small desk. “I just hope we can be friends at some point?” She sighed as she took out the vial of Everlasting Love Trap potion. Two drops.

“Um. Yeah. If you would want to be just friends, why not.” Charlie answered as he took a miniature cellophane envelope from his pocket and leaned forward. Two shakes of the odorless, colorless, flavorless granules dissolved quickly in Molly's glass.

Earlier, an aged man at a rundown shopfront took his money and promised Charlie that in only a few days, the Repel Thee Forever powder would dissipate Molly's inconvenient attraction to him, never to be stoked again. A goodbye gift from Charlie. No sense in having her suffer needlessly, he thought.

Molly returned with his glass. Charlie stood and stretched his hand to her. She gave him the goblet and let her fingers linger on his for a moment before she let him go. He smiled and lifted the glass slightly above his head and waited for her to pick up her own from the table. They faced each other.

“What should we toast?” Molly asked. “To friendship?”

“Well, let's see.” Charlie said. He thought about the luscious Anita waiting for him at the bar. “May all our wishes come true. How about that one?”

Molly nodded. “Perfect,” she said and raised her arm.

They clinked their glasses and laughed for a moment before they each drank deeply.