The Routine

IMG_20171007_174725.jpgI pull out two blue cardboard boxes from my medicine cabinet and blink at my reflection in the mirror. This is it. The routine is near completion. Once I do this I am past the point of no return. Last chance to flake out of training, but I see my thin neck and smile. That’s why I can’t skip this.

As I grew out, I took my big pants to the seamstress. “The hems,” I told her, “- they’re too high.”

But, in reality, my thighs were too thick. My pants bunched up from crotch to knee. I should probably have just bought new ones, but there was a tiny part of me that was still in denial. I’m not fat.

I slide the first contact over my right eye. Always the right one first. I wonder why. Is it because I’m right-handed? Or is it because I always have the right contact box on top of the left? Hard to know. Why am I thinking about this anyway? Just get on with the routine. I blink three times, willing the contact into place.

“It’s my PCOS. I read about it. It causes weight gain,” I told a dietician. “There’s the IBS too.”

No, silly. It’s because you eat crap. Just admit it. But I couldn’t. Not out loud. If I were to admit it, I wouldn’t be allowed cakes, chocolates, or cookies. How could I possibly live without my double fudge chocolate chip cookies?

I press the next contact on over my left eye and blink. I can’t turn back now. These little contacts cost too much to waste them. Now I have to go to boot camp.

In the past six months, the routine has been the same. Come home from work, get dressed, put on my contacts (because I hate sweat dripping onto my glasses), lace up my ankle strap, and slide my shoes on. Once done, the act of getting into the car and driving to the park has already been decided.

“You don’t have to hate food that’s good for you,” the health coach said. “We’ll find the plan that’s just right for you.”

I doubted it, but I paid money so I wasn’t going to be accused of not trying. I will come to their training sessions and eat the meal plans they suggested. What have I got to lose?

I slide my running shoes over my feet and leave for boot camp. The ritual complete for the third time this week. With pride, I strut out of the house with a gym towel over my shoulder. I have beat the lazy-beast for another day, and I’m much happier for it.

I returned to the seamstress. “My pants need hemming again. I lost all this weight.”

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The Long Night

sad

Tim paced the bleached linoleum of the hall. The drab walls and neutral chairs seemed to darken at each pass. The twenty-year old associate pastor prayed, but he was prepared for the worst, his faith wavering.

The doctor burst through the waiting room doors. Color drained from Tim’s face as the doctor issued his diagnosis.

Words fell on his ears: wife, daughter, both critical, 25% chance to live.

Not allowed to see wife or newborn babe, he collected his belongings and left the hospital for the night. Certainty setting in. In the morning, he would arrive, and she would be gone – his wife of ten months.

Tim couldn’t sleep. He paced, sat down, rocked in his chair, got up and paced again until the hour he would be allowed to return to the hospital.

He arrived to surprising news. She lived. They both lived. Mother and child were going to be fine.

He bounded into the room with a grin from ear-to-ear, “Debbie!”

Her eyes were on the other side of the room, though, where a man stood over their daughter.

“Good morning, pastor,” Tim said as he crossed the room.

The older man turned and patted the young man on the shoulder. “I came to make sure it was your child.”

Blood rushed to Tim’s cheeks. Before either knew it, his fist met the pastor’s jaw, and he stumbled back into a chair.

The pastor took his Bible and rushed out of the room – no word of apology offered.

Tim ignored the rising anger within and picked up his daughter to hold her for the first time. A tiny drop landed on his cheek. He placed a hand on his wife’s hand. How close it had all come.

“Melony, we love you,” he whispered.

In that moment, he could only think how grateful he was that they both survived the night. His two miracles.

But once the moment passed, he was left to his thoughts, and they consumed him.

It was on that day he decided never to return to his church. He never preached again.

 


The List

Scrub the crimson from your skin.

In a few days, light one candle at the closed casket. (Try not to smile.)

Offer your “sincere” condolences to the widow. (Don’t rush off after. Stay – share some heartwarming stories about the deceased.)

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Source

The Warehouse Mob

IMG_20170822_121016.jpgThe small group huddled in the corner of the postal warehouse. Undelivered packages lay open on the floor alongside blankets, eaten food packages, and flies.

The last of the afternoon light dwindled.

“I can’t spend another night in the dark,” Sarah said with a tremble in her voice.

She wrapped her arms around her legs and wept into her knees. Around her, married couple Lance and Glen put their hands on her shoulders. On the other side, Priyanka and her son, Ashwin, reached up to touch the fading light.

The warning sirens started their nightly ritual, “Woo-woo-woo.” For five straight minutes, it would continue until the timer turned off – a relic of those first few days. It didn’t cover the sound of the agonies of the living, the half-living, outside the tin walls that protected them.

“Make it stop, Mommy,” Ash cried. Priyanka pulled the toddler close and hummed a sweet lullaby. Her gentle rocking settled his tears for a moment.

“Don’t you worry, Ashwin,” Glen said with a slight gruff. “We’ll be saved soon. The army will be here any day now.”

“No, they won’t,” the boy said. “The monsters will get them too. Just like Daddy.”

“Shh, shh,” Priyanka said, covering Ashwin’s ears. “Don’t fill his head with such nonsense. We know we will have to make our own luck if we’re going to survive.”

She picked up her son and laid him down on one of the blankets. She continued to sing a song until the boy’s breathing became steady and slow.

Priyanka inched back to her side of the makeshift bedroom and sighed.

“Dads?” Sarah whispered.

“Yes, sweetie?” Lance and Glen said.

“Can we try the radio again?”

“Only if you keep it down,” Priyanka said with a hiss.

“Yes, yes, of course,” Lance answered.

The teenager fumbled in the dark for a moment before the sound of static filled the room.

She moved the dial, the frequency of the static changed with each turn. She moved it fast and slow from one end to the next for several minutes.

“Don’t leave it on too long, hun,” Glen said. “Conserve the batteries.”

“Okay,” she turned one last time and heard a voice on the other end.

“Repeat, if there are any survivors out there, you are not alone.”

The group gasped in varying states of surprise. Survivors!

They listened intent on the transmission and the words said: their names and their location – an abandoned army base and a laundry list of ways to survive on the outside.

“The key is light. They hate light.”

The transmission ended and Sarah turned the radio off. The group sat in silence for a moment.

“How are we going to get all those items?” Sarah asked.

“I know where some batteries are,” Glen said. “Mr Saunders – ”

“The man with the little dog?” Lance asked.

“The very same… He used to keep a jar of batteries… for the apocalypse.”

“But Dads… he was one of the first to turn.”

“Then he’s long gone now,” Glen said.

For the first time they ignored the cries, the gurgles, and the bangs around the warehouse. They had hope.

It wasn’t until they all stood, like a giant mob, at Mr. Saunders’s door the next morning that they realized the truth. Overgrown grass and weeds covered the once immaculate lawn.

He greeted them from under the front porch. Batteries and a tiny dog head stuck out of the bulbous form.

Their screams were hushed as they became one with the host.

Midnight Dreamer

IMG_20170522_054502Awake. Again. At midnight.

Tears cover my pillow. I wipe my nose, not daring to sniff in fear of waking someone.

Why don’t you like me? I’m fifteen. Shouldn’t I have a boyfriend by now?

But the trumpet player doesn’t like me that way. Instead, he looks right past me. His gaze falls on my friends. Their perfect hair, perfect skin, and perfect breasts are as far from me as can be. I’m so cool, though. He tells me so. I play games with him, watch movies, talk about all the things he likes. It’s gotta be the way I look – my acne-riddled face, my big nose, my tiny mouth, and my ridiculously small boobs. That’s why no guy wants me, least of all him.

I close my eyes.

Across a crowded room, he enters.

His blue eyes search and fall on me.

His mouth widens in a smile.

Ignoring all else, he comes to me.

“Hey.” “Hey.” We say.

He leans in.

Noses touch.

Lips touch.

*****

Awake. Again. At midnight.

My pillow and mattress are damp with sweat. I stare at the ceiling as rivers trickle down from my eyes to my ears.

Why do I like him? I’m eighteen. I’m running out of time to find a boyfriend.

But just as before, the theatre major doesn’t look at me that way. His hazel eyes graze mine. He’s the first boy to look at me, not through me. We talk and laugh while we work. The days go by so much quicker when he’s there. But he’s not available. His girlfriend frequently shows up to brighten his day. I hate that I wish they would break up.

His head is on my lap.

I run my fingers through his hair.

We pretend to watch TV. But…

We are content to stare at each other.

His hazel eyes hold all the secrets.

*****

Awake. Again. At midnight.

My pillow is over my head, stifling what would be a full-on sob by now.

Why doesn’t he love me? I’m 22. I’m out of time to find a boyfriend.

But just as every time before, the roommate doesn’t look at me that way. His brown eyes are closed in the room next to mine – closed to me. He looks above me, scared to meet my gaze. We talk, we laugh, we play games together and watch movies together. On the days that he’s happy, everything is awesome. But on the days he’s not, all the weed in the world won’t help me forget.

He’s available. He doesn’t look at my girlfriends. He must like me. Why doesn’t he like me like that?

Black lingerie on, I step down the stairs.

His eyes fall on me.

Without words, he says, “Come here.”

I don’t.

I lay down on the couch.

Show him my curves.

He doesn’t wait long.

He crosses the room.

*****

Awake. Again. At midnight.

My neck pillow is no help. Tears of joy stream down my face as I stare at the tiny monitor in the seat in front of me and watch Mrs. Henderson Presents.

Why does he love me? I’m 25. I thought I didn’t need a boyfriend anymore.

But I found him. He found me.

His blue eyes stare back at me through a webcam. He talks to me, never at me, and for hours, we discuss everything from our day to our past and future.

I’m nervous excited about finally meeting him in person. In a few hours, I will start my life with him.

It only took ten years to have a partner. I hope I don’t screw it up.

No dream tonight.

In fact, I never have to dream again.