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directed drift by parenthesized

24 May

The clock read 12:00.  He imagined for a moment that he owned a grandfather clock that would dramatically chime on the hour in an ominous tone.  If that were true, his day would certainly be more interesting. Brian switched on the television and flipped through the channels.  Just when he was about to give up on the quest for entertainment, a familiar face passed on the screen.

The show was older from the first decade of the 2000s.  He could tell by the poor quality, but her face was unmistakable.  Pausing the show, he considered her.  This was after she had become a star he guessed, or perhaps, during.  It was certainly after they had drifted apart as young, troubled couples tend to do.  He smiled fondly.   He had loved her dearly, had spent countless nights writing songs about her, silly songs he had though even then.

Maybe he should give her a call, for old time’s sake. He remembered how much he loved to talk to her.  After that awkward meeting on the bus to New York, they had immediately settled into comfortable conversation, an almost effortless process.  It was what he remembered most about everything.  It was what he most liked to remember.

He found her number in his contacts list.  She lived in California now, Los Angeles, that is.  It was only nine over there.  Surely, it was still early enough to call.  When she answered, he felt a rush of happiness hearing her voice again.

“Lisa, it’s me Brian.”  He sounded young again, eager.

There was an intake of breath, then “Brian?”

“Yeah, I just saw one of your shows and I just wanted to call you.”  Silence.  “I hope I’m not bothering you, am I?”

A broken, angry chuckle across the line.  “You have some nerve, Brian Samson, calling today.”

In the background, he heard a little girl call for her mother, then an abrupt click.  He dropped his phone on the table, trying to wonder why an old friend, even if she was an ex-girlfriend, would react like that.  Then he sighed.  He was a fool.

He had stumbled back into their tiny studio apartment smelling of smoke and stale beer.  She had stayed up waiting for him.   She had been sitting on their couch in his old high school t-shirt memorizing her lines.  He had drank too much after he was heckled off the stage.  After he had fought with the loudest of them.  He won the fight and lost his job.  It was his fifth job in as many months, and all talk of a record deal had disappeared.

Bitterly, he had mumbled that they did not have enough money for a baby.  He remembered just the way her eyes looked, how tired and frail they looked in the lamplight.  He told her to get rid of it.  Then he passed out.  And, a few weeks later, she did.  She never said a word about it.  He assumed that she had been practical.  After all, she had yet to make enough money to support a child on her own and he could not hold a job.  It had just made sense.

He had not thought about it when a month later she moved out of the apartment to live with people from her new show.  It was closer to the shoot and no trouble to him to take the subway there.  He thought nothing of her schedule growing increasingly busy until it was too late and they had fallen apart and the only things in his apartment were labeled BRIAN SAMSON instead of LISA AND BRIAN.

And now he was just as oblivious.  Today their daughter would have been sixteen.

He was a damn fool.

***

We met Brian last week in new.  Lisa also appeared last week and was first seen in the script.

new by parenthesized

17 May

His head tipped forward, the too-large baseball cap almost falling off.  Just as it reached the point of no return, revealing tousled black hair, his head rocked backward against the bus seat.  He had his arm over a guitar case settled on his lap.  His other hand clutched a wrinkled bus ticket, destination New York City.

An announcement over the intercom startled him awake.  Brian looked up, scanning the doors of the station furtively.  Readjusting his baseball cap, he pulled it down to cover his face, hiding the dark circles under his eye and the yellowing bruise on his cheek.  Slouching lower in the grimy seat, he stared intently down the depot

A smile spread across his face when the bus arrived.  He leapt forward, almost dropping his guitar in his rush to get in line.  The red duffel slung over his shoulder swung around, and the zipper sprung open.  He was too excited to notice the trail of clothes, guitar picks, and sheet music that followed him or to hear the snort from the tired bus driver.  Brian put his guitar over his seat, examined, it and flipped the case around until it showed the duct tape label: BRIAN SAMSON.

He sat down, a small grin on his face, preparing to continue his nap.  The cap covered his face completely; a satisfied sigh could be heard from its depths.  Brian had barely closed his eyes when he felt a tap on his shoulder.  When he saw the pretty girl, he straightened up immediately and attempted what he believed was a debonair, charming smile which fell the moment he saw his boxers neatly folded sitting on top of a pile of his stuff.

He blushingly reached for the items, stuffing them haphazardly into the duffel.  “Sorry about that.  I …uh… I didn’t notice.”

The girl laughed a little at his sheepish grin.  “It’s fine, “ she said.  She looked around the bus and then, to Brian’s surprise and joy, sat down next to him.

“I’m Lisa.”

“I’m—“

“Brian, I know,” she said pointing at the many grey labels spread across his possessions.

His blush deepened.  “Right.”  He looked out the window, wondering if he could make the situation more awkward.

He turned back to her, attempting to distract from his growing embarrassment.  “So why are you heading to New York?”

“I have an audition for this tv show.   You?”

“Trying to find a club who’ll let me play.  A record deal.  The whole works.”

He sounded so earnest and hopeful, the same that she had sounded.  They looked at each other and smiled, a silent good luck hung between them.   Both began to talk in excited spurts about their plans for the city, never mentioning what they were leaving behind or what had made them run.

When the bus finally arrived hours later, they walked out of the station, eyes blinking against the bright sunlight of their new home.  Together.

***

We previously saw Lisa in the script.

afraid by parenthesized

2 May

“I need some bus fare.”

No response.

“Hey, I need some bus fare, man,” he said louder.

Nothing again.

“Any spare change?”  He tapped him on the shoulder this time.  Still nothing.

One last time.  “You’re my only shot man.  It’s two bucks!”  He shoved the man, a kid really, on the shoulder.

Finally, the kid looked up and pulled out his wallet, spread it open, held it like an offering.  “Take it.”

He reached in and pulled out two wrinkly one dollar bills.

“No, all of it.”  He shrugged and grabbed the rest.  “Thanks.”  A bleary stare at the driver’s license.  “Thanks, Mike.  I owe you one.”

The drunk stumbled away.  He rested his head against the light pole.  After a few minutes, he managed to get on to the bus.  Mike watched him leave, still holding his empty wallet open.  He snapped his wallet shut and massaged his temples.    Another bus passed by.  Nowhere to go.  Nowhere to be.  Nowhere to stay.

His brother, Sam, had kicked him out of the house.  Told him he was a no-good, useless, piece of shit.   His brother’s wife called him a “bad apple.”  Mike had laughed, said he had never been so insulted by a frigid WASP bitch.  That was when his brother pushed him outside and slammed the door in his face.

“Didn’t think a math prof could throw a punch,” he had shouted at the closed door.

Second door shut on him in less than a month.  First, his mother.  She said he was a handful.  Wrote him a check for five thousand dollars, acting like that was enough to stop him from telling the truth.  His brother refused to listen so Mike had started dropping hints, making some trouble at the dinner parties.  He had that ridiculous suburban life he had dreamed.  White picket fence, dog, uptight wife with a bun in the oven.  No smart-ass little brother was going to stop him from keeping it.

Especially, not a brother adopted from some drug-addicted woman their father had a one night stand with.

When Mike had found out, he wanted to meet her, his actual mother.  Wanted her to explain why she let that abusive bastard who called himself a father keep him from her.  Part of him had wanted to yell at her and throw things, come in drunk and self-righteous and full of demands.  Part of him wanted to parade her in front of his father and then the press, ruin his chance at political office.

Part of him was just afraid.

Which is why he had yet to call her.  He reached into his messenger bag and reached for the whiskey.  He took a huge gulp.  He was pathetic.  Drinking at a bus stop in the middle of the night.  Mike threw the empty bottle across the street.  The sound of breaking glass was raw and satisfying.  Why not, he mumbled to himself.

He flipped his phone open and started dialing.

***

We met an older, wiser Sam in stolen saturdays.

calling by parenthesized

26 Apr

“Calling Amy Jameson. Please report to the Customer Information Center on the first floor.  Calling Amy Jameson.”

Abigail glared at the intercom on the ceiling.  What was the point of going to the Customer Information Center if you were just going to be told that all flights were cancelled?  She certainly understood why Amy Jameson had not bothered.  She would have ignored the damn thing too.  If only she could drown out that pleasant, calm midAtlantic female voice, she would give up the rest of her summer in Europe.

She sighed.  The airline officials had told her she would on a plane in a few hours.  Unfortunately, she had been delivered that message repeatedly for the past two days.  She was tired of brushing her teeth in airport bathrooms and being at the mercy of the blue-suited airline representative who talked in what Abigail was sure was a faux-French accent.

“Calling Amy Jameson. Please report to the Customer Information Center on the first floor.  Calling Amy Jameson.”

She pressed her hand against the restroom door, but it would barely move.  Great, she thought, now they are depriving me of bathrooms too.  Grumbling she set her shoulder against the door.  The door slid open partially.

That was when she saw the body on the ground.

The woman’s hair was spread in a circle around her.  There was some blood on her face, but Abigail could not see where it came from.  She checked for a pulse.  It was there, but erratic and slow.

“Help!  Help!  Someone’s collapsed in the bathroom!”

A woman rushed toward her.  “What did you say, honey?  Where is she?”

“She’s right in the doorway.  Bleeding.  I don’t know where.”

The woman bent down as Abigail frantically spoke.  “It’s okay.  I’ll take care of her.  Now, go over to those emergency phones and call some airport people here.  God knows, they aren’t doing much.”

After Abigail left, Paula turned back to the girl and started checking her vitals.  She stirred and started moaning in pain.  “Hi, honey.  It’s okay.  You’re going to be okay.”

The girl did not open her eyes, but Paula was not worried.  They always managed to pull through, at least when she was there.

***

We previously met Amy in the dress.  Paula appeared in knowing life.

two of a kind by parenthesized

18 Apr

Lindsay exits her psychotherapist’s office quickly enough to see the red indicator light turn off. She glances around the room.  Another door opens to reveal a middle-aged, slightly pudgy man who seems to suffer from what she believes are medically-induced hallucinations. The aggressive way he swallows his pills with his Adams apple bulging out vulgarly…well, he never appears to be emotionally stable in the least.  She does not remember if she has once seen him calm and affable in the three or so years he has held the appointment before her.  She wonders why he is in the office now.   She, for one, is glad that her husband is not a man like him, so forthright and jittery.  After giving him a polite nod, she walks through the door and toward the elevator, hoping to avoid the awkward silence that would surely follow.

Of course, he enters the elevator with her.  She hides a shudder as he tosses back a few more blue and white pills. She softens quickly though.  Addiction is a messy subject she is too familiar with.  Everyone has their reasons after all.  Who is she to judge?

He says nothing for the first seven floors, but as they past the 18th, he says, “I hate her.”

“I beg your pardon?”  She chooses to get involved foolishly, not biting her tongue in time.  She is surprised at herself.  Normally, she is fantastic at keeping quiet, especially when it comes to male frustrations.

“My ex-wife just had that son-of-a-bitch’s baby.”  He spits out the words and digs for his pill bottle.

Lindsay does nothing to stop his self-medicating.  It is not her place to interfere in others’ lives.  She repeats this as a mantra.  It is not her place to interfere in others’ lives.

“I’m sorry,” she says, refraining from making eye contact.  She does not like the sound of broken rage in his voice and harsh breathing.

“No, I am.  I let her get too goddamn busy and what do you know?  She meets John.  Precious fucking John who looks at her like a woman instead of something to crotchet on.”

Lindsay thought crotchet was an odd turn of phrase.  Perhaps, he had more issues than she had suspected.  “Crotchet on?”

“I knit.  It’s an activity that requires a lot of dexterity, not as feminine as everyone thinks.”  She finds herself amused by his defensiveness, a small smile lifting her lips.  “Of course.”

The elevator finally reaches the parking garage.  He shakes his head, not at her, but in a bitter resignation at himself, something she recognizes.  She pats him on the shoulder hesitantly.  “I hope you…”  What is the right wording here?  “I hope you feel better about your ex-wife, um….”

“Hammond,” he says.  “It’s Hammond.  Thanks, you too about your husband.”

She feels confused.  “Why do you mention him?”

He smiles at her ruefully.  “The damn spouses make those doctors all their money.  That and the mothers.”

She laughs, and he laughs, and they both wander back to their own cars and their own lives.

***

We met Hammond previously in hammond.  We met Lindsay in embers and learned more about her in the cow creamer.

repeat by parenthesized

5 Apr

Her laughter broke the silence.  The laugh was sharp, a staccato sound that sounded too alive for the classroom full of dozing graduate students and a snoring teacher’s assistant.  Those in the class who still had some semblance of energy let their bleary gazes wander to back of the room where the girl was sitting.  She seemed mildly interesting, a welcome distraction to the muted, subtitled documentary.

She ducked her head, and her brown curls hid her face.  Her friend next to her grinned, elbowed her in the arm.  The girl blushed, but returned the friendly jab with one of her own.  There was a distinct thump and another brief staccato chuckle.  Her hands flew into the air, making wild gestures undirected at the rest of the class who slowly returned to staring blankly at the screen.

Jon watched the couple for a moment longer.  The girl was pretty, beautiful even.  Too bad.  He settled his head back onto the table. Twenty minutes later, the lights came on.  Jon put on his wire-frame glasses and leaned back.  Rustles filled the room as students shoved blank notebooks and handouts into their bags.  Jon checked his watch and joined the line of students desperate to escape the classroom.  He quickly weaved through the crowd, rushing to get to his next class.

“Wait!  Hey, you in the red shirt!” He turned around to see that girl from class waving at him.  Whoever she had been sitting next to had disappeared.

“You left your laptop in class.”  She handed it over to him, a small grin on her face.  She was definitely very pretty.

“Oh, thanks.  I definitely would have missed that.”  He smiled at her and walked a few steps before he swiveled back.  “Do I know you from somewhere?  I mean, besides class?”

She looked surprised.  “I don’t know…probably just around campus.”  Her cheeks had the slightest hint of a blush.

“No, I know you from somewhere.”  He struck a pose of deep thought, which drew another one of those staccato laughs from her.  “Don’t you study at the coffee shop on Sixth?  Oh, you definitely do.”

She nodded, a strange look on her face.  He offered his hand.  “I’m Jon, by the way.”

“Oh, that’s my bo—Oh, um…nevermind.  It’s Julie.  Well, I guess I’ll see you around.”  She headed off in the opposite direction, her hair swaying with the breeze.

He realized he was late and cursed.  He started running toward his class, but then stopped and switched direction and caught up to her.  “Hey Julie, do you have plans?”

“Right now?”

He nodded a little too eagerly.  “No, I’m just meeting…someone at the park later.”

“Great.  Let me buy you some coffee.”

***

Link to related stories: Clarity and Him & Her

knowing life by parenthesized

29 Mar

They say that at the moment of death, you can feel the body go cold.  Suddenly, you will stop cradling a warm human life; instead, you are clutching a corpse that grows colder by the second.  You can feel their body heat dissipate into the air.  They say that this is a traumatic experience you never get over.

After ten years as a nurse, I have never had this experience.  The staff jokes that I have the touch of life, or death has an allergy called Paula.  I am a hospital good luck charm, a protection against the bitterness that sets in after someone watches their fifth, tenth, hundredth patient die.

Sometimes the other doctors and nurses tell me I am naïve, that I cannot possibly understand medicine or life or death or how to be human.  They curse and cry.  I hug them, hold their shaking bodies close, brush their hair from their eyes, and tell them they are right.

My patients do not die, at least, never while under my care.  I could not tell them that I know what holding death is like.  They like to claim that my life is rosy, that it is a pale reflection of our profession.  I used to remind them that I have held suffering in my hands, but I have only seen death from a distance.  I have watched my patients linger in the throes of pain, the agony that accompanies complex treatments and risky surgeries.  My colleagues know this, know that sometimes death seems like a mercy that none of my patients will know under my care.

But, I only know life.

Even with suffering, I know I will get the joy of recovery; the elation a family feels when they hear the word, “fine.”  They resent me for that sometimes.  I understand.  After all, I nurse no death induced sorrows when I leave for the night.  My family listens to stories of tragedies turned into happy endings.

No, I do not know death, but when I watch my colleagues, I wonder…do I really want to?  If ignorance is the price of my life, this is something I will gladly pay.

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