Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An Improbable Contrivance (or: To Arms)

And he confided further, "In those days, I didn't understand anything. I should have judged her according to her actions, not her words. She perfumed my planet and lit up my life. I should never have run away! I ought to have realized the tenderness underlying her silly pretensions. Flowers are so contradictory! But I was too young to know how to love her."

A yawn interrupted her and Casey closed Utah Memorial Hopsital's copy of The Little Prince in her lap. Twice she cracked the tightness in her neck before settling her feet - warmed by the fluffiest pink slippers the gift shop had to offer at $3 a pair - on the edge of the hospital bed. She studied the ridges and valleys Joe's legs formed beneath the teal-colored bed sheets, her eyes acutely scanning him for the slightest jerk or twitch.

The machine to her right sputtered again, causing her heart to skip a beat and the air to choke in her throat. After a moment it settled and resumed its metered hum, but she swore - up and down and across her life - that Joe coughed every time it did this. She considered calling the nurse once more to check the wires that connected Joe to this clearly deficient device, but the fact that he continued to breathe - just as before - settled her to keep waiting.

"Wake up, bitty," she mumbled.

"Hey," came a familiar voice from behind.

Mali rapped twice on the doorframe before striding in. Parker, his hands woefully shoved in his pockets, approached soon after. He appeared shaken up, though mostly just damp from the rainstorm outside.

"Hey," Casey nodded before embracing Mali. Mali clutched at Casey's shoulders and then was still - waiting for Casey's tears that would not come. After an uncomfortable surplus of moments, Mali tentatively released Casey and offered a perplexed look.

Parker, however, broke the unspoken exchange when he inquired, "Is he going to die?"

"Parker!" Mali hissed. Parker winced at her scolding and edged away from them.

"He's going to be all right, he's just out right now. The doctor said he'd probably wake up before dawn, so I was waiting up with him."

"Oh," Parker responded, sounding strangely disappointed at the news.

"So what happened?" Mali pressed.

"A car," Casey replied.

"Whose car?"

"Someone's car -- an asshole's car."

"Gordon has a car?"

"Not Gordon's car. Where is Gordon?"





"Not sure."


Mali raised a hand to stop her and produced the envelope and the letter from the deep wells of her coat. Casey snatched the contents from Mali's hands and studied them. When she finished, she peered up at her friends, her mouth hung agape.

"What the fuck?"

"Language!" Parker insisted.

"That was sort of my reaction," Mali nodded. "The 'what the fuck' part, at least."

Casey sank into her chair and held a hand to her forehead.

Baby girl, when it rains, it pours - and when it pours, God's shitting on you.

In all the furor of Joe's accident, Gordon's disappearance, Mali and Parker's bewildering predicament, and now the advent of an unseen stalker following her halfway across the western United States, Casey felt decidedly numb toward the death that dwelt within her. She had read, years ago, that women who get abortions will often feel a hole inside themselves - a missing piece of what once was, now hollowed and left empty.

As Mali returned her attention to the screen of her device and Parker continued shifting his weight from one foot to the other, Casey bit at her lip and wondered why she didn't feel empty.

"Okay, so," Mali began, squinting at her PDA. "Immigration's offices aren't too far from here."

"I can't walk anymore," Parker whined.

"We could get a taxi, or maybe take a bus. I wonder if people still work the desk at immigration holding cells at four in the morning?"

Parker sighed and leaned against the nearest piece of furniture to illustrate his passive-aggressive point. To his later dismay, the nearest piece of furniture -- the sputtering box of wires Casey had tussled with all night -- toppled over, bringing Parker to the floor right along with it. Wires pulled free of Joe's body, speckling the bed and walls with tiny constellations of blood. Parker screamed for help as the tangle of wires threatened to consume him, his writhing only serving to entangle him further.

Casey, her eyes as wide as dinner plates, shouted for a nurse. Mali simply stood there in silence, awestruck.

"You fucking idiot, you're going to kill him!" Mali finally managed.

"Kill who?" Joe hoarsely mumbled as he rubbed thick, sticky sleep from his eyes.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Angelic Resolutions

A Story With No Stories

It was midnight. It was raining. The hospital was quiet. Joe laid perfectly still as tubes ran from his nose and arms to beeping machines that gave off a dull green glow in the dark room.

Casey watched his chest slowly move up and down. She wondered how it was possible to lose her baby and Joe all in one day. At least there's no life-threatening injuries, she tried reassuring herself. It didn't work very well.

"There's too much going on here, Joe. Parker and Mali disappeared, Gordon is off doing God-knows-what to God-knows-who and here I am, waiting for you to wake up. Are we going to continue telling stories? Are you going to hate me forever for losing our child? Do I want to even continue this bitch of a trip? How am I even going to pay for this little trip to the hospital? I hate not knowing things. That's the worst part."

A nurse walked in to check on Joe's vitals, but Casey didn't notice her.

"Sounds like an awful lot of unanswered questions," the nurse replied, drawing a syringe full of some clear liquid to inject into Joe's ivy.

Casey noticed she was there. "Please do your job and don't worry about me."

The nurse winced at Casey's statement, but continued to do her work. "You should get some sleep. You must have had a hard day."

"I can't sleep."

"You should try. I'll be back in an hour to check on him."

"Miss?" Casey asked as the nurse was exiting the room.


"Can you give me some advice?"

"Advice? What kind of advice?"

"Any at all."

"Well, I would have to say after fourteen years in the ICU, you would be surprised how many angels there are out there."


"Yes, people who help for no apparent reason at all. The things I've seen....it's almost too much to understand. God has a plan for us all, and sometimes He helps move that plan along through others."

"Now you sound like Parker," Casey muttered as the nurse left her alone with Joe. "Thanks for nothing."

"Oh, one more thing, honey," the nurse said, popping her head back in.

"Don't call me honey," Casey told her.

"Right. Well, I just wanted to let you know that this young man's medical expenses have been taken care of. Don't worry about how you're going to pay for this."

The nurse continued into the hall, leaving Casey with a severely confused look on her face.
Speaking of Parker....

He was running, crying, splashing through puddles, cursing the rain, and wondering where God was. Mali did not have the reaction he wanted her to have, and he decided to run home to his bastard in hopes of redemption. It was all confusing and hashed together on hunger and sleeplessness. Mali didn't want him, and that's where every decision had stemmed from.

It was when he finally stopped in front of a church to catch his breath that he realized how futile it was to return home now. But he couldn't return to the others...

A graveyard laid next to the church. It was as big as a baseball diamond, but none of the gravestones were much bigger than two or three feet. The names on the graves were strange, almost like someone made them up as the buried the corpses. In the middle of the resting area was a six foot tall cross. Parker stared at it, and, almost jokingly, whispered, "Why have Thou forsaken me?"

"Oh, poor you," said a voice behind him. Parker turned, saw nothing, and then looked down. There was short little Mali, using her coat to cover her head from the downpour.

"Please, leave me. I don't want to talk to anyone right now."

"So you're going to rip your heart out to show me, then leave? Typical male. Get over me, get over yourself, and come back."

"It's not that easy," Parker told her, turning and making his way toward the cross. He read a few gravestones on his way there. The names were incomprehensible. He heard the sloshing of footsteps behind him, and he knew Mali was following. "What is this place?" he finally asked aloud.

"I think it's a Russian graveyard. These names aren't English, that's for sure."

Parker kneelt before the cross. "I just wanted to make You happy," he said, his head hanging low.

Mali went around Parker and stood behind the cross. "What if I told you I am God? And that you made me very happy?"

"You are not God. It is a blasphemy to say such things. We are only humans. Weak, flawed, and desperate humans." He was quiet for a moment. "You don't want to be with me, do you?"

"No, I don't," she answered honestly. Parker's head hung loose on his neck once again, and Mali took a breath. "But that doesn't mean I want you to leave."

"I have no place here," he said.

"Can I tell you a secret?" Mali asked, draping her arms over the cross. She let her coat fall to her shoulders, and the rain ran down her hair and face. "I like your stories the best."

Parker said nothing and continued to stare at the sacred ground. "You're lying to make me stay."

Mali had had enough. "Fine!" she declared with her firecracker anger. "Go back to your daughter! Abandon us when we've already come so far! That's what Jesus would have done, right? I believe before he was crucified, he abandoned all of his followers in order to clear his head. Am I right?"

"Of course not. Jesus never..." Parker began. And then he began to sob.

Mali dismounted from the cross and crouched next to him. "Please come back," she whispered in his ear. Then, as if some great amount of emotion had passed from Parker to Mali, she began to weep as well.

It was about ten minutes later that Mali suddenly realized she had lost her phone-o-wonders.
Gordon knew he was fucked. He sat in a holding cell of the Utah Immigration Service. "I swear to God that I renewed my Visa!" he had tried telling them. They said he would depart for merry-old England in the morning. It had been a couple hours of silence, so Gordon hummed Bruce Springsteen songs to keep himself amused. When the door opened as he was in the middle of "Born In The USA" he was quite surprised.

"It seems your visa have been renewed," the immigration officer who had caught him said.

"......what?" was Gordon's best response.

"Yeah, just yesterday. It must have cost you a lot of money in fines. You wealthy?"

Gordon pondered the question for a moment. "Yes," he lied.

"Well, you can go. And I would love it if you returned to UCLA. I don't want to see your face running around back alleys anymore."

"Sir, yes sir!" Gordon beamed as he jumped up and exited the cell. "Oh, and sir?"


"Could you give me some advice?"

"Advice on what?"

"Advice on anything?"

"Yeah. Make sure you always have toilet paper. You're miserable without it."

"Jolly good!" Gordon exclaimed, practically skipping out of the building.
"It must be back in that alley, where you gave me the mini-Burning Man. I guess it slipped out of my pocket..." Mali was almost inconsolable.

"We'll find it," Parker told her, his face still as grave as the Russian headstones.

They wondered the streets, checking every nook and cranny, but no PDA was found. "My whole life is in that thing," Mali muttered acerbically.

They entered the alley where the confession of Parker's love had taken place. There, in a plastic bag to protect it from the rain, was Mali's phone and a white envelope.

"What the...?" Mali began as she opened the bag. Something was written on the notepad contained in the phone's database of random-shit-a-phone-shouldn't-have.

She read it aloud to Parker.

My life has always been strange. I've never really accepted the day-to-day activities of others. I find it hard to assimilate into any culture. I've tried being white, black, Hispanic, and Asian. I've been straight, gay, and everything in between. I've even tried Catholicism, Buddhism, Muslim, and even Satanism. I even wondered if I was the wrong gender, but I just don't fit in anywhere, anytime, in any way.

I followed you, Mali, to the original meeting at UCLA. I had noticed the flyer, and I was interested. But after seeing the five of you go off on your adventure, I thought it best not to ruin everything but trying to fit in. So I started following you all.

I was at the poetry competition. I was at Burning Man. I was at the youth center the night your number wasn't called. I have been following your troop across state lines, listening to every story I could overhear. It keeps me going. Even though I am not one of you, I feel as if I finally belong. I think I was meant to follow you all, listen to your stories, and appreciate your gifts and flaws. At the risk of sounding even more obsessive than you must already think I am, I have fallen in love with all of you. Joe, with his everyman point of view. Casey, with her tough and rigid exterior and her soft, comforting interior. Parker, with his self-righteous quests and sinful pasts. And you, Mali, with your soft-spoken volcano of emotions. You're all very special. And your stories are beautiful.

I have tried so hard to not involve myself with your exploits, but the past few days have been an exception. I am wealthy, and I have helped where financial helped was needed. I also alerted the proper authorities to Kat's whereabouts. Aiding a runaway will only bring you more trouble. And tell Gordon to make sure his Visa is renewed next time.

If my involvement has disturbed you, don't let it. I only wish for the five of you to continue on your path of creative exploration. I want to hear your stories. I want you to enjoy the time that was given to us all, but only with each other. Apart, you will only become more lost. Together, you can all go somewhere, anywhere. I also never want any of you to see my face. I prefer to listen from afar.

Please don't stop telling stories.

-The Follower-

Mali and Parker were stunned into silence. After letting the note left in Mali's PDA really sink in, Parker grabbed the envelope from the plastic bag in the alleyway. On the front, a hastily scribbled message:

You will find Gordon around the Utah Immigration Office.

You will find Casey and Joe in the Utah Memorial Hospital, Room 28C.

"What's in it?" Mali asked Parker as he opened the envelope.

Parker's face went white. He pulled out $5,000 and a small piece of paper.

On the paper, another message:

As Casey stressed before, don't let money overtake your creativity.

Parker looked into Mali's wide eyes and said, "Holy shit."