Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thick With Memory

Daddy weaved over me, his eyes bleary yet indignant.

"Phoebe. Where’s the damn cheddar?” He grunted, then turned, the belt of his plaid robe trailing on the floor. I stumbled up, tripping over the afghan, and followed.

The kitchen reeked of vinegar and over-ripe fruit. He stood before the refrigerator, rooting in the vegetable drawer. Apples and pears and Kosher dills rolled at his feet. God. Oh God. The grandfather clock boomed. I counted each chime …ten… eleven… twelve… then exhaled.

“Daddy.” I picked up a bottle of soda fizzing under the table. “What are you doing?”

“Looking for cheese,” he said. “Your mother didn’t fix dinner.”

Mrs. Snyder didn’t look much like Mom although I did, with my long blond hair, hazel-green eyes and wisp of a body. I took in the neat stack of washed plates by the sink, the ketchup blotching his tee shirt, then lured him to the table with a glass of orange juice. He drank while I knelt in pickle juice, swabbing the floor with dish towels.

“Honey, where’s your fiancĂ©?” he said. “He doesn’t visit anymore.” He smiled at me, eyes solemn and clear. He’d never met Kevin. “Did he get lost?” He giggled. “In his lab with his crazy mice?”

My stomach clenched. “Ben and I broke up--”

“Ah, Ben… yes, that’s his name.” He nodded. “He loves you – I see it in the way he looks at you. You know, I’m not sure I approve of him, too young, too immature. Maybe it’s his manic-depression that makes him jump around like a ping-pong ball. Who knows, who knows… but I have to admit, he is good to you.”

I blinked fast. With mechanical care I returned the pickles to their jar, each one making a wet, plopping sound. I slowly stood, pitching the bruised pear toward the sink. The fruit hit the cabinet instead and splattered on the floor. Oh God, give me patience. Please don’t let me lose it now. Facing the counter so he couldn’t see me, I dabbed my eyes with the corner of the towel, but the garlicky brine only made me cry harder.

He asked again for his sandwich. I turned to the fridge, found the cheese, plastic-wrapped American, hidden behind a six-pack of grape Fanta. I grabbed mustard, deli-sliced ham, and too-fluffy white bread. Daddy hated American cheese, hated Wonderbread and ‘spam ham’ full of sulfites and God knows what else. After all, until this year he grew organic vegetables. Damn Mrs. Snyder for buying all this junk. I’d have to go to the grocery store tomorrow, always an ordeal with Daddy in tow.

I breathed in and out, concentrating on the sound of sleet skittering against the window before forcing a smile. I brought the plates to the table. Daddy stared at his sandwich, then unfolded a napkin in his lap.

“This is good.” Crumbs fell from his mouth.

I settled across from him. The cheese larded my mouth. A quarter into the sandwich I remembered his meds, kept in the pillbox on the counter. I tapped out the memantine and galantamine onto a napkin. Expensive drugs for dementia, probably useless at this stage, but maybe he’d be worse without them. At least that’s how I justified their expense. But where was the third pill? His antipsychotic? I rummaged in the cupboard until I found the almost empty bottle wedged between Maalox and aspirin, and made a mental note to order a refill in the morning.

Daddy swallowed his pills without fuss. He reached across the stained Formica table and patted the top of my hand. Still steady, still the touch of a confident physician. I wrapped my fingers around his.

“So how’s life down south?”

My shoulder muscles softened; Daddy was back. “Good. A few more months of my fellowship, then I’m on my own. A real doctor.”

“A pain specialist.” His eyes crinkled at the corners. “I’m proud of your hard work, honey. Medicine is one of the most challenging but rewarding careers. Did I ever tell you about when I was interning at Mass general and the Hong Kong flu swept through Boston? Bedlam, absolute bedlam. Up for six nights straight. Not enough beds so we had patients camped along the Charles. Warm winter that year, so the flu spread…”

I pushed aside the uneaten sandwich and closed my eyes. His voice rambled, thick with memory. I’d heard this story many times in recent weeks; he seemed stuck in a time warp from forty years ago. I wondered if this particular memory would fade like the others.

“Johanna?”

I blinked at my mother’s name.

“I’m worried, about Phoebe. She hides in her room all day long. I know you don’t feel well, but you need to speak with her - she won’t talk to me. She’s alone too much, and it doesn’t do--”

“Daddy, Mom’s dead.”

He stared at me. His next syllable hung in the air for a fraction, then he continued with his worries about me from another lifetime.

I didn’t know how much longer I could do this.

***

Excerpted from PURE, a novel currently in a state of distress. Go here to read more about Phoebe...

And hey -- this is my 200th post. Cool.

Peace, Linda

"Life is a game, boy" -- JD Salinger Dead @ 91

My flag flutters at half-mast...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Viral In the Best Way


Michael J Solender and Peggy McFarland tapped me with a Circle of Friends Awards. Blush. And cool - I adore both their writing, and their blogs. MJ writes funny with a twist of odd, and Peggy writes creepy with a twist of un-hunh. Check them both out.

Time for me to pay it forward, a difficult task -- there are so many comfy spaces to hang. But here's 5 blogs where the writing and comraderie are especially keen these days:

--Fabulous Fabulist Barry J. Northern

--Mad as a Hatter Jon M. Strother

--High-flier Simon aka Skycycler

--One who always writes her mind Carrie Clevenger

--The Archangel Angel Zapata



Peace, Linda

Monday, January 25, 2010

All Things Magnificent


Magnificent #1 - YOU! THANK YOU ALL! Between comments and blog mentions and backlinks, a total of $126 raised for DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS. That's an odd number, so I'm rounding up to $150. I pushed paypal this afternoon, and the money's winging its way through cyberspace to DWB and Haiti relief.

Side effects? Feelings of good-doing and community-building. Special thanks to KIM over at Fresh Daily Bread who joined the fray with her own pledge drive.

Magnificent #2 - Being stalwart New Englanders, my husband and I take advantage of all days when the temperature hovers above freezing. Last Monday was such a day -- cloudless blue sky and warm enough to drink wine without gloves. Which was exactly what we were doing that evening when a flare arced over the treeline, leaving a smoke flume that lingered in the dusky sky for over a minute. We thought the worst -- a plane crashing, a satellite exploding -- but later discovered it was a rare fireball meteor which landed within an hour from our house HERE.

Magnificent #3 (Because good things come in threes) - Monday. It's over.

And not so magnificent... The demise of the slushpile

***

The Reading... Finished Niffenegger's Her Perfect Symmetry. Eh. Nearly 200 pages into Gravity's Rainbow. Much better.

The Writing... Polishing up a few poems and shorts for marketing. Finished up the first fifth of PURE, which has only taken me 16 months. Structure and voices under control, the remaining 4/5ths should be drafted by the end of the year. Especially since the magnificent Jen S, fellow writer who's HINT FICTION will be published later this year, are pledging to write 30 pages every month for our respective red pens.

Live hard, write harder... Peace, Linda

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Winter and All

Across the river from the asylum
under the gush of grey
sodden sky flirting with the
sun – a fickle breath tumbles
autumnal leaves through the last gasp
of meadows, golden-rusted

larkspur and rusted ragweed
the glimmering of winter berries

dead in appearance, lively
chilling winter approaches –
They leave the old world clothed,
warm, unsure of all
save that they leave. All about them
the cooling, southern wind –

Yesterday the grass, now
the lace of frost traces maple veins
As one nature reduces –
It lessens: obscurity, shadows of leaf

Tomorrow the stark solemnity of
leave-taking – the end
creeps upon them: surprised, they
burrow into the whitening earth.

***

A note of explanation. While reading William Carlos Williams' poem SPRING and ALL, I immediately imaged an old psychiatric hosptal in Massachusetts. The picture is a postcard of the Worcester State Hospital, now empty but beautiful in its derelict. I've walked the grounds often; the main building sits on the hill above UMass Worcester Medical Center, where I still maintain an adjunct position, and the place where I was born... so following the mood and style of Williams, I created a poem hoping to elucidate feelings of winter's melancholy...

PLEASE DIP DOWN TO THE POST BELOW and leave a comment -- wampum for your words, all to benefit Doctors Without Borders, to benefit the Haitian relief effort.

Peace, Linda

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Helping Haiti -- Cash for Your Comments



THANK YOU ALL! Paypal was pushed on 1/25/10 with a grand total of $150. Feel free to continue giving to haitian releif efforts on your own.

Nothing's more frustrating than not being able to provide hands-on care for folks who need it. Next best thing is cash. And who's cash better than mine?

For EVERY comment left on this thread between now and Midnight EST this Friday, I'll donate a buck. Link to this post on your blog, and I'll double it.

Where's the cash going? DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS. Aka Medicines sans Frontiers. Already positioned in Haiti, this fabulous group of committed health care workers know how to provide health and medical care in the most desolate of places and tragic of circumstances.

So drop me a line... won't cost you a cent, and we'll help the Haitian people.

Peace, Linda


(Photo from The Mirror UK, Victoria Ward)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Small White Pill

The gentle cooing of a mourning dove signals the dawn; I waken to the whir of highway traffic and, more distant, the lonesome wail of a train. The sky radiates a softer black, the ashen sheen it takes on just before the sun inches over the curve of the world. Somewhere, someone moans, and the night workers shush and rustle, prepare for the next group of caretakers. These are the only sounds; my mind is quiet; there is no noise, no morbid, florid thoughts, no whooshing or thrumming or humming, no lingering nightmares or images or memories. Normal? Is this what normal feels like?

***

Excerpted from BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT and originally published in Six Sentences (2008). To read more from this story about insanity-tinged love, head to AT THE BIJOU for After The Leap.

And don't forget to read and vote in the #FridayFlash Reader's Choice Awards. My humble entry is SILVER BULLET.

Peace, Linda

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

AFTER THE LEAP up at The Bijou

Excerpted from BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT.

Hang out and read the other double features, including Inevitable Encounters by fellow Harbinger ERIN COLE.

Read and enjoy.

Oh, and don't forget to VOTE for SILVER BULLET in the #fridayflash Readers' Choice Awards!



Peace, Linda

Monday, January 11, 2010

Manic Monday Musings


NOT on my weekend to-do list was getting a cat. Lo and behold, we have a cat. Flipper is our new family 'baby', a 5 month buff-colored male with the sweetest disposition. Officially my son's pet, Flipper has a writer's soul; he leaps onto my desk and pads across my (open) laptop. Off to purchase a squirt bottle...

***

Jon Strother's twitter phenom #FRIDAYFLASH has a Reader's Choice poll. I'm honored my flash SILVER BULLET, written in response to the DZANC Books Write-a-thon, made the cut along with so many other fabulous stories. So VOTE ====> HERE. At the least, settle in this cold wintry night and enjoy the reads.

***

THE WRITING... PURE, PURE, PURE... hack-sawing my way through this novel, prepping for summer conferences. PURE is my only focus for the next 3 months.

THE READING... Gravity's Rainbow -- what else? Even on the second read, I'm finding so many fascinating tidbits missed the first time around. Nickname for poor Slothrop? Babe and bomb magnet. Also up -- Niffeneggers Her Fearful Symmetry, procured in kindle version for a mere FIVE BUCKOLAS.

I'll be traveling this week, dialing for grant dollars in the South. Write hard, live harder... Peace, Linda

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Finding My Fix

I find Phoebe in suite four, hair captured in a surgical net. From behind the glass wall, I watch her caress the red stubble of her patient’s skull. The morning’s hard edge softens.

The surgeon saunters in. Backs to me, they confer, heads bobbing. Phoebe jabs at the chart. I walk in, wondering what’s up. Air conditioning blasts from the ceiling vent, making me shiver. They look up when I enter.

“Sullivan,” the surgeon says. His pocket reminds me he’s George Arrias, Assistant Head of Oncology Surgery. “Something odd with this protocol.”

I scan the chart. Midazolam, sufentanyl, propofol, succinylcholine. My usual anesthesia regimen.

“Yes?” I say.

Phoebe’s eyes question me over her blue mask. Not in a good way. I look closer, double check the doses, the timing. Sweat slicks my palms.

“See the boo-boo?” George says, all jolly to find a colleague possibly fucking up.

I don’t see anything wrong with this order. I scan the chart, looking for allergies. Penicillin? No problems there.

“No, Arrias,” I say, accenting the last syllable. “Everything looks copasetic to me.”

“Well, Doctor Miller sees a problem,” he says. “And so do I. So where’s Waldo, Sullivan?”

My face flames. I stare at the chart. Typical slicer-and-dicer. I remember rotating with him five years ago. Protocols were different than at NYU. I was at the sink scrubbing up and he was beside me, doing the same, when suddenly he grabbed my hands.

“No, no… this is how you do it,” he said, smiling. His fingers, lean and strong, slid around and between mine, soaping them up. He pressed against me. “You’re new - drinks later? I can show you the lay of the land.”

I had shaken my head, embarrassed my washing wasn’t up to Hopkins par, embarrassed I had a hard-on, too. Arrias hasn’t been too nice to me since.

Phoebe’s pencil raps against the chart. Sufentanyl 50 micrograms. “That’s the dose for the patch.” Her green eyes narrow. “This patient needs a drip.”

Shit. Shit, shit, shit. The patch. I wrote these orders up last night, after sharing a few hits with the stage crew after the Christmas play rehearsal.
“Apologies. Long night.”

“There are no excuses in surgery,” Arrias says. “But thank you for providing an excellent teaching opportunity. Thankfully not at the expense of our patient. Good catch, Doctor Miller.” His gaze lingers on her overlong. “I’ll enjoy working with you.”

He strides out. I turn to Phoebe, who’s back to checking vitals. “You okay?”

“Are you?” She jabs at the calculator. I double check the numbers and look hard to find a mistake.

“Looks good, sweetie pie,” I say. She tilts out of my kiss. “Gotta go. Page me if you run into any problems – I’m checking on patients.”

Her lips stay pressed together. She doesn’t watch me leave the operating suite. In the hallway, I slump against the wall. When my heart stops slamming against my ribs, I walk around the corner to Recovery. My pre-dawn patient, blasted full of holes by a rival gang banger, is still behind curtains. I chart vitals. Doreen and some new nurse stand behind the small desk, drinking vente somethings. They’ve got the easiest job in the hospital – stare at a bunch of bleating monitors, serve Hawaiian Punch with tiny straws to waking patients, and shoot the shit with the docs. Boredom makes them lax.

I walk to the back supply closet. No one's around. I pull out my keys, insert one into the lockbox. It doesn’t open. I reinsert the key, twist it, but the lock doesn’t budge. Sweat drips into my left eye. My hands shake as I try another key, then another. No luck. I saunter back to the front.

“Hey beautiful,” I say to Doreen. “I need a patch for Mrs. Ossarian, but the box is locked.”

She looks up from writing at the desk. Her partner, R. Rivers according to ID dangling around her neck, laughs.

“That’s why it’s called a lock box, Doctor,” R says.

Smart ass bitch. I lean over the desk, blocking R’s view, and bat my eyes at Doreen. Last summer, before I settled with Phoebe, Dor and I’d gone out for beers after softball. The grapevine says she’d be happy to resume our relationship between the sheets.

“Well, hon, Mrs. O could use some help – she’s in pain from her lung resection.”

“They have morphine up there,” she says.

“She’s throwing up the oral.”

Doreen looks at Nurse Ratchet Rivers, who shrugs. Doreen opens a drawer and palms the key from the magnet embedded in the side of the drawer. I can’t see the drawer or the key, but I know they’re there; I make a point of knowing such things. She leads the way to the back.

“We changed the lock – a bunch of patches went missing. And Vicodin.” Her eyes flicker at me, probing.

“Really?” I meet her gaze. “You and your buddy better be more careful. Any slob could walk back here – narcotics are worth big bucks on the street.”

“No kidding.” The box pops open, revealing orange blister-packed morphine, OxyContin, tidy rows of Duragesics standing in their foil jackets. Saliva gushes in my mouth. I reach for three patches.

“One at a time.” Doreen’s hand covers mine before sliding me a clipboard with a pen dangling from a string. “Here - sign it out.”

“You’re kidding?”

“New policy.” She scrolls down the page to Duragesic 50 micrograms. “Patient name, date, and room number.”

I have no fucking idea where Mrs. Ossarian is; for all I know, she’s discharged from the hospital. The pen hovers over the space for room number.

“I can check for you,” she says.

“Room 434.” I pocket the patch.

“A bunch of us are trying to get up a racketball tourney – interested?”

“Absolutely.” I have what I came for, now I can leave. “Email me.”

I hustle from recovery, head pounding from this new complication with the lockbox. What a fucking pain. I’ll have to come back, when only one nurse is on duty.

***

Another excerpt from PURE. For more on the travails of my pill-popping anesthesiologist Kevin, read BREAK TIME


Peace, Linda

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Glass Room

Oh yes, we're here. She knew, even after all these years. Something about the slope of the road, the way the trajectory of the car began to curve upwards, a perception of shape and motion that, despite being unused for thirty years, was still engraved on her mind, to be reawakened by the subtle coincidence of movement and inclination.

So begins Simon Mawer's THE GLASS ROOM, a finalist for this year's Man Booker Award and perhaps the most sweeping and compelling novels I read this past year. The story unfurls in Czechoslovakia in the pause between the two World Wars, even as the Nationalist Socialists rumble in neighboring Austria.

Viktor Landauer, Jewish auto tycoon, marries gentile Liesel and together they look to the brighter future of their country by comissioning a glass house to raise their family. Built into the side of a hill sweeping over Mesto, the Glass Room is "a place of balance and reason, an ageless place held in a rectilinear frame that handles light like a substance and volume like a tangible material and denies the very existence of time." Characters enter this space -- Jews and gentiles, Slavs and Germans, musicians and scientists and dancers -- and their interactions reflect the transparency surrounding them.

Mounting political tensions drive the Landauers into exile, where love and loyalties are tested. In their absence, others inhabit the glass house, including Germans who run medical experiments on subjects to elucidate the characteristic to differentiate Jews from all others. Later, under the Communist regime, a rehabilitative hospital for children. Nearly sixty years later, all circles back to the original owners who dreamt their vision of a diverse Czech nation.

This is historical fiction at its finest, mixing fictional characters with real figures. Indeed, the primary 'character', Das Glasraum itself, is based on Villa Tugendhat, which stands in spite of German bombings, Soviet occupation, and other travails of time and history. The Landauers' lives intertwine with the charismatic Hana, the tender Kata, the architect Abt, and others emblematic of the artistic and business communities of the time.

Although THE GLASS ROOM is a book of large ideas of science and architecture, of history and relationship, of war and culture, it never gets preachy. This haunting story has a bittersweetness to it, a tone not unlike that evoked in Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It is a sad story, but not a sentimental one; Mawer uses prose with the clean purity of glass. THE GLASS ROOM is a novel I will reach for again -- and again.

The author... SIMON MAWER was born in England and spent his childhood there, in Cyprus, and in Malta. His previous novels include The Fall, The Gosepl of Judas, and Mendel's Dwarf. He lives in Italy with his wife and teaches at St. George's British International School in Rome.

The Press... I've profiled the The Other Press before -- they have an excpetional portfolio of literary fiction, memoir, and non-fiction. Exquisito!

Peace, Linda

Friday, January 01, 2010

Blue Hydrangea

With the view sweeping down to Long Island Sound, Mother had a fine resting spot. Veneered in ice, weeping beeches dotted the hillside, never to grow high enough to block the views of the dead. Only the yellow backhoe, snow-dusted from last night, marred the expanse of white.

Prime real estate in Larchmont, New York.

Wind blew off the water. Behind me, the soft slaps of car doors echoed. Bundled under my right arm, I pulled my sister closer. Most people thought Izzy and I were twins, but they never looked close enough; they only saw the same slight build, the same green eyes, but her father’s blue blood pulsed under her skin while I possessed our Mother’s more feral darkness and, perhaps, my father’s. But only Mother knew those details and she was dead, felled by a final cataclysmic stroke.

Her casket stood between the freshly dug ten by six hole and her husband’s white marble headstone. His memorial reached my shoulders, engraved for posterity: Benjamin Michael Taylor, III. 1956 – 2001. Husband, Father, Provider, Friend. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Right. Then my namesake sure wasn’t shaking hands with Peter at the pearly gate.
Izzy’s eyes narrowed at my snort. I turned my gaze to the gathering. Neighbors, her artist friends, his former business acquaintances – familiar faces though I didn’t remember names - murmured to each other behind polarized lenses.

“Ben.” Izzy tugged at my sleeve. “Who is that?”

I followed her eyes. A man stood behind the covey of mourners. Unhatted, ungloved, he leaned on a cane. His eyes had the tired look of someone who has lived life too hard. Even under cold-reddened cheeks, his skin looked yellow. He stared at me. I looked to the still water and imagined flying away.

The circle parted for the priest, black vestments flapping in the breeze. There was a sudden hush, broken by a seagull’s cry high above. A jet flume trailed across the indigo sky.

The priest cleared his throat and stepped before the casket, obscuring the jaundiced stranger. His voice shook through the homily. His hands trembled, too, reminding me of my own when the lithium went too high, but his tremor was a courser one. Parkinson’s disease, I finally deduced. Droplets of spittle crystallized on his beard. While he droned on, I contemplated other deaths, my cannibalized mice, the tedium associated with the business of dying.

Believe me, I wanted I could mourn my mother – she’d brought me into the world, after all - but she’d been dead to me for so long the burial felt parenthetical, an unread epilogue. I wanted to feel – sadness, hurt, some sputter of grief. Anything. But I didn’t. I blamed the antipsychotic for my reluctant apathy. A small price for a functional life.

The priest folded his palsied hands over his leather-bound Bible and looked at me expectantly. “Does the family have any final words to share in remembrance of Ariana Carandini Taylor?”

I was the son, the oldest, expected to say something. The prepared notes lay folded in my jacket. Izzy squeezed my fingertips. I withdrew my hand from hers, fumbled for the papers, then let my hand drop; from me, the words would sound false.

The priest nodded and four workers grasped the casket’s handles. Smooth straps slipped between eight hands that lowered five hundred pounds with synchronous precision. The casket disappeared, carrying her cells, blood, and bones.

The gathering circled closer. Isabel knelt beside me, fingers curled around a clump of earth. I screwed my eyes tight. Cry. Cry. Just cry. But I couldn’t. All I saw were my mice, their bloody body parts poking out of shavings.

I turned away, to the waiting limousine. Behind me, clods of frozen earth shattered against the casket like the sound of paint smacking newly-stretched canvas. I leaned against the passenger door, the engine idling under me faster than my pulse. Shivering in the bitter air felt cleansing, like penance.

The small throng dispersed. The priest escorted Izzy to the car. I slipped beside my sister. When we pulled away, I stared back at the gravesite. Only the man without a hat remained, clutching a hydrangea, lush and top-heavy. Where did he find that beauty in December? He dropped the flower into the silence of the hole, consummating her life and death.

My head sank against the leather. The image of the blue lace-cap teased of summers impossibly distant, of Mother arranging pink and purple stems in cut-glass vases. I wondered how he knew hydrangeas were her favorite flower.


***

Happy New Year! The above is excerpted from PURE, a novel under reconstruction. For the next few months, PURE is where I will devote my writing energies, and hence my flashes will largely follow the adventures of Ben, my ethically-challenged, lithium-dropping post-doc, Kevin, my pill-popping anesthesiologist, and Phoebe, the medical fellow torn between the two of them. To 'catch up' on Ben, the primary protagonist, read here: In The Name of Science

Other PURE fridayflashes here:

Break Time

End of the Line

Happy reading! Peace, Linda