Category Archives: short stories

The Coldest Day of the Year.

 

 

CHAPTER 33.

 

The service elevators were easy for her to find.

She’d spent an entire week of her life at that hospital, nights and days in the summer of ’95, and not as a patient.

Somewhere between Father’s Day June 14th and the last week of July, hair bobbed shorter than it had been since right after she’d given it up in ’82, each sundress from the now ex-honeymoon taking its paper doll turn down those glued carpet halls with their bands of border color marking every corner, her feet, incongruous in hospital issue tube socks, rendered right of passage. She’d worn those rubberized socks, every day that sweltering summer, claiming her route from just past the ramp to the room to the cafeteria and back, just like the help. In the third bed of the second quad of the ninth floor, her mother was dying. She could do whatever the hell she wanted.

Admittedly, entering the grand lobby and approaching the receptionist was, over twenty years hence, an odd thing, but this time she wasn’t entirely sure of her destination. In fact, taking care to wear her oversized, wool-lined denim jacket, one of the knit scarves from the plastic storage bag, the fading pair of black boots, ratty brown leather gloves inherited from her oldest aunt, the most shapeless, unmatched winter hat and even a pair of oval tortoise shells from ninth grade she felt it fitting that, not really knowing where she was going she should appear entirely unrecognizable.

Quietly, uncharacteristically, she bowed her head. Where was the dialysis department, and what was the quickest way to get there? Stylus poised, she mapped the receptionist’s recommended path without comment. Marveling at life’s minor consistencies, she wondered if the thickened skinned, transparently vacant woman had quit her second job at Macy’s or if the retail chain had already let her go.

The row of lobby elevators stood like the gates of Hades, too large, too chrome, too imposing. There were just too many, at least four, the product of Total Quality Management’s marketing ploy to make this medical complex look like the diocesan center for all who came to worship.

The receptionist, powerless in every other aspect of her life, had been eager to disclose the insider’s view, sending her well past the Lake of Fire and into the alleys of the old wing where the walls were still painted mint green and every step could be heard. Decades earlier this had been one lone brick building, where every appendix burst, every broken bone arrived to be set, and every child who wasn’t Catholic came to be born. Equally fitting that these were the walls and halls wherein those whose kidneys were failing would spend three days of every week of the final five to seven years of their lives.

She could see them now, just beyond the vending machines. She knew that, stepping in or out of a service elevator, her denim sleeves might brush against any number of incoming patients or aides. Her wager was that the costume she had affected would blend her into the scenery, render her subconsciously dismissed by even those in closest proximity.  She had come to seek a panoramic picture of the whole operation from the point of view of invisibility.

This was, allegedly, a work day. Word was the census was low; with good Irish luck, all patients would be finished before the next round of lake effect. She knew that there would be no snow on this shift, however; sub zero windchills into the double digits would prevent even the most determined flake from crystallizing. This would break all records for the coldest day of the year.

Reaching the first of the two double doors, she extended a gloved finger toward the Down button. Just as she pressed it, “ding!” – the plastic arrow above the second one lit up cherry red and its doors opened, releasing all occupants.

There were no patients in this elevator. From the distorting corner of the right lens of her ninth grade tortoise shell glasses she could just make out the form of his broad shoulder. Looking out from under the frames, however, her newly far-sighted eyes could clearly see the short, wide fingers of his right hand, fingers which had grasped her own flesh and traced every inch of the surface of her skin even as they reached to graze the small of the back of the uniformed woman who stepped out after him.

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© 1/6/18  Ruth Ann Scanzillo  All rights those of the author, whose story it is, and whose name appears above this line. Do the right thing; write your own. Thanks.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Difference.

 CHAPTER 32.
The sheets and blankets rolled into their customary clump again, like a load of laundry waiting to be sorted. There was the top sheet, placed to protect the rest from animal dander; the knit blanket; the small downy; and, somewhere impossible to determine, the sheet intended to cover the body directly – never found, just felt, in a tangle, around the calves.
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At her frustration, he cursed, and tossed them all on top of her, four frozen minutes later getting out of the bed and heading to the kitchen. He was finished sleeping, after all, and it was morning on his day off; five in the morning, but morning in his world, just the same.
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She really had no definition of love, apart from her own experience; as such, it likely differed from everyone elses. When she awoke in her morning, her first thought was usually about what she could do. Might she help clean, or find something else practical that should make all his days off easier before the inevitable return to the grind? Maybe there was a gadget to acquire, or some task she could cover; maybe a food, or a practice, that could increase the quality of his health or environment.
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Then, she’d set about to do it. She’d think about what she could do, for him, and then she’d do it.

Granted, sometimes there was a failure to recognize how he might want to spend a day, or how he might want to do something or have something done. Her desires for him, in conflict with those for himself.

This is how love was expressed toward her, indeed the only way it was ever expressed in her family, and that by the mother; Great-Gramma, Mammy and then mum were ever about doing what would keep the family going – sustained, protected, cared for. It was the definition carried down by her family, and its small, exclusive, Fundamentalist fellowship; a woman, after all, born to serve.

She, however, had inherited at least half of her father’s DNA and he was nothing if not independent-minded. While primitive in scope, he’d much preferred exactly the way HE did things, even when his wife felt differently about either the quality of his efforts or the choices he prioritized.

And, that had been their fifty-plus years together; mum, serving what she determined to be dad’s needs, and he serving himself.

She couldn’t think of a single thing that dad ever did for mum. Ever. Perhaps he’d tried, early on – only to be met by her bitter ridicule of the quality thereof. Yes; that was mum – a child of the Great Depression, who’d been raised to perform tasks for her very survival. There was nobody else who knew how any better than she, and she made sure that everybody knew it.

Now, she could hear him, even with the bedroom door closed, emptying the dishwasher of its cutlery – each fork and spoon, dropping into its slot in the drawer, like water torture during World War II, she envisioned, tightening her arms over both ears. Even in spite of his particular family dynamic – absent biological father, present if abusive step dad – he’d been raised to expect a woman to care for his needs, and to place them at the top of her agenda. Even when he didnt want her to, he still ultimately expected it.

This was generational. Eventually, many women got wise to the fact that, unless they did for themselves, nothing they really wanted out of life would come to them. That was when they began to put aside enough money to buy their own cars, and then their own homes, and to make lives for themselves.

Others continued in the tradition of their forebears, by: attracting the man they’d selected; manipulating him into supporting them; and, getting their needs met through him indirectly without his realizing —  including going elsewhere, behind his back, to get what he could not or would not offer, all within the framework of the life they’d maneuvered for themselves.

But, she was part of the generation of women which broke ground and established separate identities. In her case, truly believing that she would attract a man of such quality that he would actually want an independent female who would share in the load of life. Yeah; that.

That was her generation, and it pretty much left the men who were her contemporaries blindsided; who would be left to care for them, in the manner to which they had become accustomed?

In an effort to feel worthy, her generation of men had become the step-dads of their era. The new step dads – not like those of their own, bitter experience. They’d become the ones who rode in on their steeds, fully armored, ready to love both the single woman AND her brood of offspring left by the deadbeat in his wake. Hence the acronym: SMILF (and, the title of the new Tv show): Single Mother I’d Love to F@$k.

This was hard. The women watched, from inside the houses they’d bought and the full time jobs maintained, as the vast majority of their own men selected “unwed” or divorced mothers instead of independent women to care for and love.

It didn’t surprise her, at all then, that he remained curious about his ex’s daughter, even after the death of the girl’s mother. Neither was she surprised when he became annoyed every time she asserted a need of her own, however small or petty it may have seemed to him.

Unclasping her arms from about her head she shoved away the mound of covers and sat up, her aging, overtired body fighting to right itself. His mattress, designed to absorb the body’s configuration, had no rebound capacity. On this morning, even the bed was no help.

Playing second, third, even fourth – behind the dogs, the cat and the laying hens –  on this morning, her reality had come home to roost. Only she wasn’t home. Not really.  There was an old, displaced farmhouse about eighteen minutes northwest, one she’d acquired at age twenty nine for thirty four five at eight and a quarter fixed; paying on the principal each month, she’d become its owner in just under sixteen years. For her purposes, the location had been ideal; under ten minutes, in any direction, to get anywhere in town. On this morning, still very much the middle of her night, its walls were calling. Her house, her spouse.

She just had to get back to her established domain, and nurture it for herself. Today, she must. She had learned that, in spite of the overwhelm left in its neglected wake, that home was still her own. Her comfort zone wasn’t built for her; judged however by the outside world, she. had. built. it.

Yes, she had built it, just like he had built his own. The difference was: having spent a lifetime waiting for somebody to express as much interest in trying to care for her needs and enhancing the quality of her life as she did for the man for whom she now felt love, per this morning it appeared that she was still waiting.

Perhaps he did truly love her. Maybe tomorrow, she would know. But, even in the cold car, she could already feel it. Her bed. One warm flannel, and a fleece.

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© 11/30/17  Ruth Ann Scanzillo    All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Thanks for being that good person.

littlebarefeetblog.com

“Is love a binder of wounds?

…or, merely a lubricant on a squeaking part?

…..or, an element of transition from rough to gem?……”

——  David Michael Sammarco  ©12/1/17

 

 

 

 

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© 11/30/17  Ruth Ann Scanzillo      All rights those of the author, whose story it is, and whose name appears above this line. Thanks for being that good person.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

Postcript.

 

 

She drove home at 4:34 a.m. Pulling up to the curb she could see, through the dark, three cats sitting in the road. Two grey, one black, together forming a large triangle. Startled by the car headlights, a baby possum scurried away into the backyard hedge. As she approached with her camera, only the black cat moved.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo   8/19/17. All rights of all chapters from the Short Story category, the sole copyright of their author, whose name appears above this line. Be that good person. Thanks for reading. ❤

littlebarefeetblog.com