Thursday, July 12, 2012

Scriptic Prompt Exchange: "To Live Is To Die"

[For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Tara Roberts gave me this prompt: ' In memory of Nora Ephron: “I always read the last page of a book first so that if I die before I finish I'll know how it turned out.” How would the last page of your life story read?. ' I gave Grace O'Malley this prompt:' ​"The history of my life is the history of the struggle between an overwhelming urge to write and a combination of circumstances bent on keeping me from it." -F.Scott Fitzgerald ']

{Author's Note: I really wasn't sure how I wanted to take this on. I've stopped really writing about myself, mostly because I am frightfully boring. (The caveat being, of course, as Bono reminds us, "every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief.") So I warn audiences far and near that what follows is fiction. Nonsense. Hooey and applesauce. A tale told by a fool, signifying nothing.}

I always snicker inwardly when one of the staff lean over me. "Patterson Rehab and Living Center" is sewn in archaic script above the left breast of the shirts the staff wear, and I am neither capable of being rehabbed, nor of doing very much living. It was a nothing joke, a throwaway line, but my wife would have chuckled, probably shaking her head as she looked down, if she had heard it.  I probably told her thousands of jokes over the years- remembered gags from standups, stupid "three x walk into a bar" stories, puns and double entendres. We could always make each other laugh.

She's gone now. Three and a half years ago, Christmas Eve night. How's that for a joke? Wrap the presents, go outside for a final, frigid cigarette before bed, and slip and fall on the ice, never to wake up again. She would appreciate the irony of that- a death worthy of the master of satire, Kurt Vonnegut himself. Try to kill yourself with cigarettes for decades, and expire because of a slip and fall.

I wandered around for a while after that, dumbfounded. I always told her I would survive if she wasn't around, and I did. But I was awfully bad at it. Without adult supervision, men fall into patterns, usually static, stupid ones. Or I did, at least. I ate too much, stopped exercising, stopped caring. 6 months after that I collapsed in a heap getting the mail at the end of the driveway. They told me that a UPS man called 911, and I've been in the hands of the medical industrial complex ever since.

Fortunately, they still talk to me. I guess it's a medical ethics thing- they continue to explain the procedures, where I'm going, what they're about to do. I can't move a muscle- a phrase that never meant more to me until the last 12 months or so. I can't blink, or smile, or twitch an arm or a leg. Not a thing. Absolutely no communication with anyone. They've done CAT scans, MRIs, all sorts of tests, and apparently they see so much brain activity they don't dare shut me off. But I'm fed through tubes, I evacuate through tubes, everything is done for me by an endless stream of  women. Tall ones, short ones, round ones, flat ones, white, brown, and black ones. My wife would have laughed at that. "Finally, your dream scenario," she'd say. "Being waited on hand and foot by young women. Literally."

I've given up worrying or getting angry. Even if I allowed myself emotions like that, how would I display them? I spent the entire first month, in between bouts of sleep, raging at my confinement, willing a finger or a toe or an eyelash to move, flicker, something. Let me speak, let me communicate, let me live, for heaven's sake. Let me ask if the Dodgers won, tell me Steven Strasburg's win total, something. But eventually calm fell over me. Resignation, really. Whatever kind of stroke this was, it had severed my motor control as surely as a puppet slumps when you cut its strings.

I was awakened by the familiar sounds of an aide coming in to check on me. I knew from my years in the industry that one of the things they tried to do was check in on each person every 8 hours- touch them, talk to them, take their vital signs. It was a way to prove that everyone was being watched, and it was, ideally, a way to make sure you caught problems before they blossomed into major issues. But it was the sort of practice I felt sure that, big companies being what they are, if they didn't have to do it, they wouldn't.

I knew it was dark out. Since I couldn't turn my head and I couldn't eat, time didn't have much concrete meaning any more. I just knew I was aware of it being light, and then, later, I was aware of it being dark. I could tell from the way the shadows played across the industrial lights that were my constant companion. The aide's face swam into my vision, a red haired girl I hadn't seen before that I could remember.

"Hello, there. How are, tonight? I'm sorry. I'm new here. I don't know why they make us do this, because I don't even know if you can hear me or anything. Or if you can understand me. Maybe it's like house plants, maybe talking to people makes them healthier? I don't know."

I felt my field of vision shift. I knew logically she was tilting me to one side so she could check for bed sores or other skin issues. "I shouldn't say that. You're not a plant. I'm sorry." I couldnt feel what she was doing. "But at least you're a good listener. That's more than I can say for most men I know." My vision changed again, back to the typical view of the overhead light again. Her hands came up to my face. She had manicured nails, but short ones. I figured her work pretty much demanded that.

"You look like my ex. Older, but you have the same kind of face." She had blooms of red on her cheeks, which were otherwise porcelain white. Her eyes were bright blue. I could see thick red hair pulled back tight. When she bent low, I could see tan bra straps and a tiny gold cross. "I wish you could talk, at least. I really need someone to talk to. Everyone here is like 50. Nobody understands what it's like."

My field of vision shifted again, and I realized she was tilting me the other way. "You're practically the only guy here. Most people here are women, and nobody even close to my age." She paused. I could hear her swallow. "I guess I can tell you, right? It's not like you can tell anybody. He wants to get back together. My ex. We fight all the time, and sometimes...well, we fight a lot. It gets bad."

My vision shifted, and I was looking at the ceiling again. She was looking at me, her hands near my wrist. Pulse, I assumed. She was quiet. She had a womanly body, the kind of woman who usually gains weight after giving birth. Thick hips and thighs, busty, well built. Weighty. Fertile. Solid. I looked at the cross around her neck, and I ached to touch her, to feel the warmth of her hands, to watch her blush when I complimented her. She stopped, moved closer to my head, and thus, out of view.

"But who else am I going to get?," she continued. "I'm not pretty, I'm not rich, I'm not anything. I'm not going to find a man any better than him. And he will get better. I think, once he calms down, he'll be fine. When I finish school and stuff, he won't be so mad all the time. And, well, it's not just the two of us anymore. Or, it won't be. So I've got to take him back, now. I know he'll find a job soon. And then another year I'll be done with school. Maybe a year and a half. I'll probably have to take some time off. It will work out. It's got to."

She came back into my field of view. I could see what she meant now- the swelling that made her top tight across the middle was more than just beer and nachos. "Well, anyhow, on to the next room. Thanks for, um, listening, I guess. Bye!" She faded from view, walking out and around the corner, and I heard her voice, high and chipper and cheerful, echoing from the room next to mine. I looked at the ceiling, the same bank of lights, yearning to cry out, begging her to come back, urging my arm to move. But I made no sound, and I didn't move, and my brain chewed on itself as the room got darker and the Earth, unaware, turned beneath us all.

{Author's Note Addendum: I did very little research and/or thinking about exactly what sort of stroke might cause a disability like this. I'm pretty sure I got it wrong. Apologies to sticklers for detail.}


  1. I really liked this! So interesting, kind of like eavesdropping on a conversation. And how tough not to be able to tell her don't do it!

  2. I really like what you did with the prompt. The irony throughout the whole piece was great.

  3. Terrific job - Very believable. Nice dialogue. My favorite line: puppet slumps when you cut its strings.

  4. Brain chewing on itself. I think I've felt that once or twice. Makes me think more than usual.

  5. I really like this. I like the character, too. Nicely done!


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