Enjoy Your Stay

The rows of beds extended beyond her ability to see the end in either direction, one row on the east side, one on the west.

“Have you made a selection yet?” The orderly, dressed in clean white linens, smiled that same perfect smile depicted in the advertisement.

She shook her head.

“Well, remember, east for peace, west for rest. We hope you’ll enjoy your stay.” The orderly left her.

She looked around for her purse, remembered she’d left it in the locker when she’d changed into the dark linens designed to make her sleep more comfortable. Everything about this place, from the lavender scent to the tranquil music was designed for that one purpose: comfort. How else could one sleep the contented sleep of the dead in anything less than comfort?

Still, she’d been awake far too long, ever since the incident, ever since the clouds parted, ever since she’d lost her children. The aliens did nothing overt, simply existed and watched. That was the most provocative, the watching. They did not interfere, did not direct nor correct. But the watching never stopped.

The watching made it impossible for anyone to sleep; some even died from a lack of sleep. Children were especially susceptible. Her children. After they died, it became too much for her, too much to bear the knowledge that everything she did, every thing she thought, even all she wished, became fodder for the aliens.

Would she dream of aliens? Would they watch her in her sleep and walk beside her in the world of dreams? The thought terrified her.

“Are you ready?” Another orderly, or was it the same one? She couldn’t tell.

“I’ll take an eastern bed, thank you,” she said.

“Excellent choice,” said the orderly.

“You would have said the same thing if I’d chosen the west, wouldn’t you?”

“Of course.” The orderly led her to a vacant bed, tucked her in, placed the psychic wafers on her temples that soothed her brain to mimic a REM state, and she dreamed of bright lights where she found her children, and those who would have been their children.

Running Away From Home

I’m not very good at running away from home. In elementary school, several of us would gather on the playground during recess to make our plan for running away. It was August, and the long summer still called to us. As first graders, we weren’t sold on the idea that school was compulsory any way, so we took steps to choose our own paths.

William and Karl, living outside of town on farmland, having access to mini-bikes and low powered motorcycles, would provide the transportation. The rest of us would bring provisions, clothes, flashlights, tents, and sleeping bags. Someone offered up a compass, but without a clear destination in mind, directions were besides the point. The date was set, coinciding with my piano lessons, which, conveniently enough, I didn’t like and wanted any excuse to miss. Running away seemed like a great idea at the time.

I packed a small suitcase, socks, underwear, a pair of pants, and a pack of cigarettes I’d previously stolen from my parents. Oh, and a couple of comic books. I reasoned we’d need something to read for entertainment. I also included matches, for the cigarettes, but also for the pack of leftover Black Cat fireworks which could work as an improvised weapon, provided we needed such protection. I also borrowed my brother’s Boy Scout knife. One flashlight, but forgot to include spare batteries, and my lucky rabbits foot, also for protection.

Saturday arrived, the day of our departure, and as my mom called out for me to get ready for piano lessons, I stealthily snuck down the stairs to the back door in the basement of our split-level ranch style house. The weight of the small case seemed to grow exponentially as I quickly darted along the back side of the house to make my escape. Pumped up with adrenalin, I nearly puked, and thoughts of my mom scouring the house, looking for me, washed through me. What I was leaving behind became imminently more clear than life in the wilderness ahead.

I panicked. Swinging around, I retraced my steps, snuck back inside, up the stairs, and tossed the small case back in the closet to its previous hiding spot, all in time for mom to take me to piano lessons.

The next school day revealed that none of the cadre of escapees had managed, or even attempted, to leave home and embrace the wide-open future of living on the lam. Plans were put aside, and no one wanted to talk about it. Thinking back, I wonder if they each had their own existential moment of clarity like I did, and chickened out, like I did, only to return to their homes, their imperfect lives, somewhat out of fear, but also because of the security that the known provides.

I’m still not very good at running away from home, even one as broken as this one. As a child I could put back the Boy Scout knife, the clothes and food, even the cigarettes. As an adult, I can’t put things back the way they were before. Words can’t be unsaid, choices can’t be unmade, a heart given away can’t be taken back. But the known, as difficult as it is, holds me in place more than the call of an uncertain future living in the wild ever could.

River Runs

When the river runs through the valley, through the flat places, the water seems eternal, as though it has run this route since the beginning of creation, on to the end of the same. When the ice breaks the separation from winter to spring, all of the flat places are scrubbed clean, washed down and away, leaving behind a new eternity to mark a past that never existed, leading toward an uncertain future.

Winston and the Mysterious Flaw

Winston likely would have commanded more respect if it hadn’t been for that one flaw. Oh he was an upstanding man, went to church on a more or less regular schedule, ran a successful pizza delivery service, even served adequately on the town council. Winston had everything going for him, except for that exceptionally long nose hair. Stark white as the full moon, and just as hard to miss on a late summer’s eve. The hair, which extended from his right nostril, could have been over a foot in length, if there was a courtesy protocol for this sort of facial defect. Why Winston did not trip his nose hair, or even tug this particular strand from his nostril I shall never know. I’d ask him, but I can’t face him, can’t get beyond the wavy white tusk. 

Nonsense

There are words floating by, spoken, earnest, that make no sense. Loud words, important, fake. Take them all, the dangerous words, and drown them in cold water, hold them under the surface gasping for breath. Let the lake freeze, cracking the words; the sounds they make nonsense.