Friday, February 4, 2011
ORDINARY WONDERS AND BLEAK MIRACLES
Waiting For Zachary
Al Bruno III
Ken Grady hated the drive to the Muldwych Assisted Living Facility. He hated the place itself even more. He hated the staff with their trained pleasantries, he hated the pre-fabricated buildings and the layout that made him feel like he was an unwanted guest in a second rate country club.
Most of all he hated the residents; so many of them had allowed age to turn them into the walking wounded. Some of them couldn’t even do that, they rolled to and fro in their wheelchairs and motorized carts. Ken was seventy-five years old but he looked ten years younger. Plenty of folks asked him his secret, was it genetics or clean living? Was it diet or prayer?
His only answer was that staying young was looking Father Time right in the eye and telling him to fuck off. That was something he did a lot these days.
The nurses heard him knock and buzzed him in to building four, the tallest building in the facility. It looked half like a prison and half like a hospital because that was just what it was.
After another change of empty pleasantries with the staff he made his way through the locked glass doors that served as checkpoints and entered room 814.
Jennifer was sitting in a chair by the window, the television was blaring nonsense but she didn’t seem to notice or care.
“How are you feeling today?” Ken asked as he took a seat next to her.
His wife didn’t look at him when he spoke, she just kept watching nothing. Her hands were clasped together and her fingers moved with mindless precision, a lingering memory of the rosary she had used to count on Sunday mornings.
On the TV some poorly dressed fool was winning cash and prizes. Ken sighed heavily.
Friends and family had told him this daily ritual was no longer necessary, that Jennifer would have wanted him to move on, but how could they know that? How could they know that when Alzheimer's had robbed her of the ability to speak?
Besides Ken couldn’t abandon her, not after almost forty years of marriage, not after all the laughter, love and the occasional spectacular argument.
Jennifer paused in her finger counting, then started again.
As they had grown older they had spoken frankly about deathbeds and do not resuscitate orders. Somehow what was happening now had never come up. Was that foolishness? Or hope? Ken supposed it was a bit of both.
Her illness had begun with forgotten names but had quickly progressed to lost hours and terrifying confusions. Ken had tried to care for her himself but as more and more of her memory had eroded away he had been left with no choice but to entrust her in the care of professionals.
The day he had left her at the Muldwych Assisted Living Facility had been a terrible one. Jennifer had been lucid and spiteful. She had cursed and spat and worst of all she had told him he had never been her first choice, that she should have waited for Zachary.
The name had haunted Ken. He had tried to dismiss it as ramblings but every night as he lay alone in his too-empty bed he turned it over and over in his mind.
Jennifer had a younger sister in Calgary and after some consideration he called her. It took some prying but eventually he learned everything. For decades it had been Ken and Jennifer against the world but before that there had been Zachary. Jennifer had been little more than a teenager then but she had been so very much in love. He was three years older and already on his way to making a life and a career. They would have been married after she graduated from high school but the draft had robbed them of that dream. He had been declared missing in action.
She had promised she would wait, she had been waiting for almost four years when Ken had met her and fallen in love. He had worked tirelessly to win her heart, but he had just thought she was playing hard to get. He had never suspected he was trying to get her to break that promise.
It had hurt to know there had been someone else, someone his wife had loved enough to spend a lifetime keeping a secret. Ken wondered how often she had allowed herself to think of her first love, if in the best moments of their marriage there had been a part of her that secretly mourned what might have been.
Ken didn’t think so because through the good times and bad he had always been able to make her smile.
He could still do it, even now.
“Hey...” he leaned forward in his seat and took her twitching hand in his, “...it’s Zachary.”
Slowly Jennifer’s eyes brightened and she broke into a grin.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Then John Travolta starred in a movie that combined disco music and internet tech support called 'Stayin' Online'.
Psychotic Kid rarely revealed the secrets of his ninja training, especially the part where he had to dip his scrotum in a koi pond.
You dress for the job you want not the job you have, which is why Amazing Ed wore a superhero costume while working at Jiffy Lube.
Rigor mortise had set in 5 minutes before death, a sure sign of a Viagra overdose.
“Shakespeare was right,” the doctor said as the dairy farmer flatlined for the 999th time, “cowherds do die a thousand deaths.”
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
In The Shadow Of His Nemesis
By AL BRUNO III
A cluster of houses, motels and stores sprawled between the interstate and Grand Canyon National Park. The buildings facing the road were devoted to the businesses that depended on the steady traffic of tourists going to and from the park for survival. The houses of the people who lived and worked in the those businesses and Park itself were relegated to the sidestreets.
Night stretched from one flat horizon to the next, winter stars sparkled and the moonlight shone. The village was dark save for the irregular stream of headlights cascading down the interstate. It was a little after three in the morning.
The woman who lived in the second floor apartment above the Magic Lantern Gift Shop twisted and turned in bed, unable to return to sleep. Lying there, with nothing more than a pillow to hold for comfort, she listened intently for whatever had woken her.
There it was again, a gentle knocking. A thin film of fearful sweat seeped from her pores.
Slowly uncurling her hands from the pillow she reached into the open night stand drawer. The revolver’s weight was reassuring.
The knocking continued, persistent if not assertive.
She got out of bed and fumbled into her robe, the gun never leaving her hand. For a moment she debated the wisdom of switching on the lights and finally decided that at this point it didn't matter.
Turning on the hallway light, she paused to make sure everything was all right in the room next to hers before moving on. The knocking began a third time. She clicked the kitchen light on with the muzzle of her revolver. The knocking died abruptly, leaving her to briefly wonder if in her paranoia she'd imagined the whole thing.
Well, one way or another she was going to find out.
After a deep breath, she opened the door.
"Isobel." the man in the doorway said.
After not using it for so long her name sounded alien to her. She hadn't even dared think of herself as Isobel Talbot for fear she might somehow give herself away.
Well, either invite him in or tell him to get lost. She thought, You don't need someone noticing him.
"Come in," she slipped the revolver into the pocket of her robe and stepped aside. Isobel tried to imagine how she must look, worn down and pudgy with hair that was going prematurely gray.
"Your timing's good," she said grimly, he still looked exactly the same, "it's almost a year to the day since I saw you last."
Isobel offered him a seat at the kitchen table, he accepted. "I searched for you whenever I could."
"How did you find me?" she leaned on the refrigerator.
"It wasn't easy. You left very little to go on."
"That was the idea." Isobel said, "The Monarchs-”
Galen smiled, "The Monarchs have other problems to worry about these days."
"Well I don't have to ask how you've been occupying your time do I?" Isobel returned the smile in spite of herself.
Galen laughed nervously, shifting in his seat, "How have you been?"
"Don’t you mean who have I been?”
“I had to help Zeth get Magwier back to Windham. He woke up while Zeth was stealing a car and handed me an envelope from his pocket. It was full of cash. And a fake driver’s license for a woman that looked just like me,” she chewed her lip, “a woman named Lily Ferguson.”
Galen said, “He kept calling you Lily before that.”
“I know but he looked as surprised as I was to see it,” Isobel said. “As soon as I could I started making my way on my own. It was rough at first but once I got here the woman that owns the store downstairs, her name is Joyce, she took pity on me and gave me a place to stay."
"That was kind," Galen's sorrowful eyes lingered on her.
"It worked out pretty good too. I design T-shirts for her now." Isobel shrugged, "I guess my art degree finally paid off."
Galen looked up suddenly, his hackles raising at the faint rustling sound.
"No." Isobel raised a hand, "It's nothing to worry about."
“Who is it?”
She appeared lost in thought for a moment and then said, "Come on. I'll show you."
Hand in her bathrobe she led him to the room.
Galen stiffened at the sight of the crib, "You were- I- We-"
Loving, cooing words leaving her mouth, Isobel reached into the crib and hefted the heavy red-haired baby in her arms. Gurgling, his tiny hands flailed at the air, his dark eyes blinked.
"Galen meet Warren." Isobel said. "My son."
"-our son..." he said with disbelief, reaching for the baby with trembling hands. Isobel carefully passed him over to Galen. "How old is he?"
"Three, almost four months."
"He's big." Galen smiled, his son reaching out to touch his face.
"Tell me about it." Isobel took him back, "They had to do a C-section to get him out. He was a few pounds short of the hospital record."
Galen helped tuck his son into the crib, "He's beautiful."
"Yeah," she gently kissed Warren's forehead, "When I first found out about him, I didn't know what I was going to do, but he ended up being the only thing that's kept me going."
"You were the only thing that’s kept me going all this time."
Isobel wound up the mobile dangling over the crib and returned to the kitchen. Galen paused and watched his child staring raptly at the rotating musical chimes before following her.
"Do you need money or anything?" she leaned on the refrigerator.
"I need you." Galen drew close, "I've missed you."
She crossed her arms, "Galen-"
"What? What's wrong?"
"What did you come back for that night Galen?" Her voice was growing cooler, "To make an honest woman of me? To rescue me? Or something else? Were you going to cover your tracks?"
"Galen..." she said slowly, "You have to go now."
"I love you! I made a mistake, I made so many mistakes.”
"I love you too." Isobel opened the door as Warren began to wail, "But I can’t trust you. I’ve learned a lot about you over the last year. Magwier and his friends watch over me and they’ve told me everything.”
"Please! I’ve changed."
"It's not about me anymore Galen." she said gently, "It's about my child, I have to do what's best for him."
They stood staring at each other then finally Galen crossed to the door, "Can I see you again someday?"
"We'll be gone by tomorrow."
Galen turned and walked down the stairs.
Isobel closed the door and almost ran to Warren’s crib, he quieted as soon as he was in her arms. She wasn't lying, she would have to move on now. There was no way she was going to risk either of them being found. The thought saddened her, she'd been happy here.
Well, if not happy then content.
Still rocking Warren in her arms, Isobel returned to her bedroom and peered out the window. She spied a huge canine shape making its way towards the Interstate. Isobel could imagine all the talk she would hear tomorrow about some huge animal spied roaming about town.
The shape paused and looked back. A deep baying filled the air, the sound lulled Warren to sleep, a moonlight lullaby.