Sick

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On new material.

Published April 17, 2016 by mandileighbean

Last week was seemingly the longest week of my life. I could list all the challenges, frustrations, and disappointments and create a self-serving litany of complaints, but what good would that honestly do anyone? What kind of energy is that to offer up to the Universe? Instead, here’s an excerpt from the novel I am currently working on. I hope you enjoy it! Please comment with any comments or suggestions you may have – everything is greatly appreciated! 🙂

 

James’ eyes were bloodshot, whether from lack of sleep or too much drink Charlotte couldn’t tell. His eyes were also wide and vacant as he stood beside the coffee maker, staring into some void that only he could see. James seemed mesmerized, entranced, and it was creepy, terribly unsettling the way he could be present and a million miles away all at the same time. Charlotte wanted to call out to him and break that awful concentration, but she was too sick, too tired. She just continued shuffling by, too exhausted to even pick her feet up off the ground. It could have been her oh-so-clever subconscious, discreetly forcing her to make noise to call James to attention, but Charlotte was too sick to think. And truth be told, Charlotte had never really been all that clever, certainly not clever enough to figure out her own subconscious. And so, she shuffled outside.

The sun was hot and bright, but Charlotte didn’t remove any of her excessive layers of clothing. She was too tired, simply too tired, and besides, maybe she’d sweat the fever out – wasn’t that how it worked? She couldn’t remember. She was too tired.

Charlotte breathed heavily through her mouth, as her nose was congested enough to be rendered useless. She stared across the quiet street, too exhausted to turn her head, and her squinting, bleary eyes fell upon one of the only kids inhabiting the whole apartment complex. The kids belonged to the wonderfully nice family who had moved in a month ago much to Charlotte’s delight. The young girl currently in Charlotte’s view was a little sister to a big brother, both under ten years old. The last time Charlotte had seen them, they were yelling with youthful abandon, chasing one another in twisting, ever-widening circles across the dry lawns of their adjacent neighbors. What a beautiful sight! What joyous noise! Charlotte had been absolutely thrilled to encounter signs of life – FINALLY – at her new home. Once poor Kelly left, the remaining inhabitants had all been so odd, frighteningly so, and they had all been dying, or so it seemed.

Charlotte could certainly understand that now.

And apparently so could the kids Charlotte had affectionately begun to think of as Jem and Scout. She was looking at Scout now, and Scout was sitting at the start of her squat driveway, crying. Huge, mournful-looking tears leaked from her eyes and rolled down her round cheeks as if they were trying to be discreet, trying to avoid a scene. Her soft whimpers cut the silence and they sounded so pitiful. Had it not been so tired, Charlotte was sure her heart would have simply shattered. The little girl sat cross-legged on the hot asphalt, just crying. What was wrong? Where was Jem? Despite her extreme exhaustion and growing concern that any kind of movement would kill her, Charlotte turned her head to the left and moved it slowly to the right, endeavoring to scan the landscape to find the brother.

Charlotte didn’t have to look far.

Jem was standing in the middle of his lawn, just a few diagonal paces forward from his sister, standing and sweating in the sun, and staring, staring at Charlotte.

Their eyes locked.

Charlotte gasped and stumbled back a pace or two, unnerved to recognize the look in the little boy’s eyes. James was somewhere behind her in the house, presumably still in the kitchen, with an identical expression. But Jem was much too young to be lost in his own thoughts in such an unsettling way. What ghosts could he possibly have to gawk at? What horrors from his past could he possibly have recalled to the surface to relive in some masochistic ploy? The stare remained intact, unbroken, as Charlotte lost herself in her questions, in imagined possibilities of Jem’s infant traumas, each one more horrible and devastating than the next.

So when James appeared beside her, Charlotte screamed and lost her balance, falling into one of the cheap patio chairs. The plastic was unforgiving and her teeth clacked together as she landed hard on her ass. She could taste blood in her mouth.

“Jesus Christ, Charlotte,” James growled, closing his eyes against her shrill tones. “Do you always have to be so goddamn loud? I told you I’ve been battlin’ a headache for days. Or do you not give a shit about no one but yourself?” He looked down at Charlotte. The vacant expression was gone. James was clearly present in the moment, and him and his eyes were all impatience and contempt.

“I’m s-sorry, James. I-I w-was -” Charlotte stuttered. She wanted to apologize, but she was just so fucking tired.

“I brought you out some coffee because all do is think about you,” James sneered. He thrust the mug at her. The kind and thoughtful gesture was anything but considering his hostile, impatient tone and the muted violence in his actions. Charlotte flinched, but took the mug. She mumbled gratitude, but either James didn’t hear or didn’t care. “I’m going to work even though I feel like shit because one of us should do something.” James roughly dragged his hands along the edges of his face. “I feel god awful,” he groaned. He was wallowing in his misery until he snapped his gaze back to Charlotte. “Ain’t you gonna drink that coffee? I went through the trouble of making it so you’d enjoy it, not let it sit there and cool!”

Charlotte nodded slowly and lowered her gaze like a shameful child. “I will, I promise.”

She was so tired.

James looked at her for just another moment before storming to his truck. Charlotte listened to his boots thud heavily against the grass and then crunch against the gravel, making his progress. She didn’t want to look at him – he was being so cruel. He was especially cruel in the mornings lately. But Charlotte didn’t hear the expected opening and slamming of the truck door, or the expected and familiar roar of the engine coming to life, so she looked to James, to see of everything was alright in the thick heat, in the muggy silence broken only by buzzing insects and the soft whimpers of the little girl. When Charlotte looked, James was staring at her. This time, there was something dangerously close to pure hatred in his eyes. He was glaring at her. “Drink the goddamn coffee, woman!” James barked the order.

Charlotte flinched again, but did as she was told. Once she started drinking from the mug, James got moving again. He climbed into his truck, started the engine, backed out of the driveway, and drove away. Only then did Charlotte stop drinking and pull the mug from her lips. It had been quite the gulp, a few gulps really, and so Charlotte went to lick her lips clean, first the bottom then the top.

As her tongue swept her top lip, Charlotte froze. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. There was a bitter and metallic taste, something that reminded Charlotte of the feel of aluminum foil. It was a bad taste, a yucky taste. Something was wrong with the coffee. Coffee should never ever taste like metal.

The mug fell from her hands. It shattered against the concrete, exploding into sharp shards at her bare feet. Later, Charlotte would discover tiny cuts on her feet and wonder how they got there, where they came from. But currently, Charlotte was experiencing one hell of a moment of clarity. For that moment, she didn’t feel sick or tired or sweaty or scared. She didn’t feel anything. The sudden knowledge was expansive and it filled her completely.

Charlotte knew the coffee was poisoned.

Charlotte knew James wanted her dead.

In the distance, Scout was still crying.

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Be sure to let me know what you thought! xoxo

On messy mortality.

Published April 21, 2014 by mandileighbean

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #14: An elderly couple disagrees about what to do with their sick house cat.

dyingcat

Frank’s oxygen machine was hissing quietly in the background, as it always did, amidst his pitiful gasps for air. Edith knew his health was rapidly deteriorating and that soon she would be alone in the house, shuffling in worn slippers from room to room as she swept and wept and waited for death. It would be horrible to lose Frank after more than fifty years of marriage, and Edith was beginning to accept that she wouldn’t be able to survive the trauma, but all that knowledge was damn depressing, so she shoved it down, ignored it as best she could. She was only even thinking about the inevitable end now because Stinky was dying and he was doing so in the middle of the kitchen. The damn cat didn’t even have the decency to hide his decay away under a bed or a dark corner of a closet. He was lying on the linoleum, on his side, and his breathing was rapid and shallow. She could easily observe his side rise and fall, rise and fall. His eyes seemed glazed over and when she called his name, or even made any kind of noise, he did not turn his head. Edith released a deep breath and bent to cradle the poor, pitiful animal in her arms. She lifted Stinky and carried him into the living room, where she laid him on the floor beside the couch where Frank lay.
Edith looked at her husband who, in all actuality, looked just as pitiful at Stinky did. Frank did not look at Edith or really acknowledge her presence at all. She cleared her throat. “I think Stinky’s dying, Frank.”
Frank grunted. “Best to make sure he’s comfortable and let him be about his business then.”
Edith paled. “That’s it? That’s all you have to say?”
Frank fully opened his eyes and surveyed his wife. In the time they had been married, just about half of a century, she had only surprised him maybe once or twice, and that was it. He prided himself on knowing her so completely, from her most shameful secrets to her wildest desires. If she took an extra breath, Frank knew it and even anticipated it sometimes. So the shock, outrage, and grief saturating her tone did a number on Frank. He had not been expecting such emotion – could never have anticipated it because Edith didn’t even like Stinky. As a matter of fact, as best as Frank could recall, Edith had hated the cat. She had only allowed Frank to cross the threshold into their home with the feline because he had bribed her with jewelry, sweet nothings, and wine … mostly wine. Edith never pet Stinky, and she’d always forget to feed him. The cat was constant fodder for her complaint, and come to think of it, today was the first day Frank could remember Edith ever using the animal’s name. Why would she express sentimentality over a creature she loathed? Hell, she sounded more upset than Frank did and it was his cat. He struggled to take a breath and wheezed, “What else can we do?”
Edith’s bottom lip quivered and ideas did not come easily, nor did the means to express them. She simply trembled for a few moments before she exploded. “We could take him to the vet, Frank. That’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?”
Edith’s tone was now angry and defensive. Frank’s confusion depended and when he spoke, it was with halting difficulty as it always was, but he spoke even slower and simpler, as if he were explaining geometry to an especially dense toddler. “Stinky’s very old, Edith. It’s his time. All the money, time, and energy spent at the vet’s office might not be enough to save him.”
“But you don’t know for sure and you won’t even try! You’re just giving up on him!”
Frank turned his worn and tired gaze on the poor wretch in question. The cat was dying and he certainly wasn’t taking his time to do it; Frank was fairly certain the cat would be dead within the hour. He looked pitiful and miserable, thin and bare. What would be the sense in moving him, dragging him out into the cold for a car ride, which he hated more than anything else in the world, the vet included? It made no sense and Frank always erred on the side of logic. “He might not make it to the vet, darlin’ –“
“Might; there’s that word again! If nothing’s guaranteed, then why not try?” Edith’s face was red, evidence of her misplaced passion. She had some vague and far away understanding that she wasn’t talking about Stinky, not really. But just who she was referencing eluded her at the moment and some instinct, some sort of sixth sense, told her it was better that way and kept her from tumbling down any rabbit holes.
Frank understood Edith was not going to let this go. His wife, whom he adored and praised and sincerely loved in the best way mere mortals can understand it, would rather he struggle to stand, pack up the damn cat, and hobble to the car, gasping and fighting for every single breath. Frank had emphysema and had been given a six months’ notice three months ago. He was on his way out and in a fit of what could only be sheer lunacy, his wife wanted him to die trying to get their dying cat to the vet’s office. It didn’t make sense and though Frank always erred on the side of logic, he also wanted to keep his missus happy. “Alright, alright,” he said. “Get the carrier.”
Edith should have been satisfied, but she was not. She was still an emotional mess, desperately terrified and overwhelmingly sad, and too afraid to admit and acknowledge why. She watched with her trembling hands over her equally tremulous mouth as Frank gripped the back of the couch and lifted his fragile, fragile body. He stopped breathing as he did so – did not have the energy to move and inflate his lungs – so when he came to a sitting position, after nearly a full minute of slow-motion movement, he paused to inhale deeply and greedily, wheezing. Both Frank and Edith knew he only had a few gasps left, only a handful of lungful inhales before Death would kindly stop for Frank. He let one leg simply drop from the couch, and it crashed against the carpet, as if it were completely useless. Frank winced. The other one would drop in the same fashion and dear God, Edith couldn’t stand it. She released a sob of epic proportions, so loud and shattering that Frank felt his heart momentarily stop. She rushed to Frank, thought better of it, and gently took him into her arms. “I don’t want you to die. I can’t live without you; what would be the point?”
Frank was too stunned, too exhausted, to move. He only allowed himself to be held.
“If you don’t think there’s anything worth fighting to live for, how could I possibly find anything? I know it’s selfish, I know it’s unfair, but it’s just sad, Frank. I’m so sad because I am going to miss you so damn much.”
Frank took a short breath. “I’m going to miss you, too. I love you, Edith. I always have and I always will. Life ends in death; always has and always will. We can’t change it, but we don’t have to dwell on it, either. Just love me, babe, okay? Love me like you always have until the end. It’s all I want.” Frank took his sobbing wife into his arms, and for the first time in many, many years, Frank shed tears of his own.
Somewhere in the background, satisfied the humans would be alright on their own without him, Stinky died.

dyingman

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