The Iron Writer Challenge #53
2014 Iron Writer Spring Equinox Challenge #3
A Stop Sign
Any 1970’s book
Dani J Caile
I guess the signs were there early on that Jeffrey was different. In kindergarten you could see it. All the others had teddy bears and fluffy pink elephants and horses for comfort toys to sleep with. Not Jeffrey. He had a Gonzo puppet, a grotesque, cross between a bird and a who-knows-what smiling purple muppet. Running around shouting ‘The Great Gonzo’ and searching for chickens were two of Jeffrey’s favourite pastimes while the others hit the swings and slides.
It didn’t get better. When we got stuck in an escalator in that Greek hotel, he announced to all those present whom we’d befriended, a French family and an elderly Englishman, that to calm us all down he would recite the Lord’s Prayer. It was okay until about the twelfth time around, he was quite cute in his little bowtie and cardigan, his eight year old eyes shining through his prescibed glasses. But it took hours for help to arrive. We never saw those people again. Ever.
Then he got heavily into sci-fi, what with Star Wars, Star Trek and all. The greatest for him was Douglas Adams. He used to be a huge Hitchhikers fan. For years he’d celebrate Adams’ birthday with the towel thing and post a picture of it up on the web. He was even the leader of a local HHGTTG fan club, until that is he picked up an old British copy of the book in one of those conventions he was always going to and found out that the words ‘Belgium’, ‘kneebiter’ and ‘swut’ were not the original words used by Adams. Now, whenever he sees or hears of any reference to ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’, be it book, film, TV series or any actor or quote connected to it, he throws himself into a rage and rants on about how Adams debased himself as a writer with the use of coarse foul language and that it was actually American censorship which brought the artistic quality out of the book.
And it’s grown from there, really, his ever annoying behaviour. Still with the glasses and bowtie, he starts shouting in a crowd and goes off on one, telling someone about how everything is just one big conspiracy theory and that we should stand up against the oppression around us.
One of his latest stunts was to sit at the crossroads waiting for cars to come by and step in front of them with a Stop sign in hand, making them screech to a halt. He then proceeded to tell the driver, from where he stood, how their car was destroying the environment and that they should go to work or wherever they were going on foot or by horse or bicycle. Usually the driver beeped him out of the way with force and he begrudgingly moved. I also saw them get out and belt him one. Serves him right, really. He’s one irritating piece of s**t.
Sorry? Who am I? His mother, that’s who.
“But.. I’m only twenty-five.” Shock made the words heavy as they stuck in my throat.
“We’re going to fight this Chelsea,” he said resting his hand on my shoulder. “I have to say I’m a little surprised. I read your family history and you didn’t indicate anyone on either side of your family as having a history of breast cancer. With a case this aggressive, I would anticipate your mother or grandmother having a history.”
“No.” I choked on the word. “There’s no one.”
“I think our best option at this point is using a high dose of chemotherapy to be as aggressive as we can but only if we can find a bone marrow match. I want you to talk to your family and have those willing to come and be tested as soon as possible. If we can’t find a match we can put you on the donor registry. I know this is overwhelming, but we will fight this.”
I sat silently staring at the wall. How could ten seconds so drastically change your life?
“Would you like me to call someone?” He asked softly.
“No. No. That won’t be necessary.” I gathered up my purse and coat and walked out of the room.
“Excuse me, please.” I mumbled as I bumped into an elderly lady trying to get on the escalator. I stepped on behind her and watched transfixed at the bustle below me as we made our way down to the first floor.
Nurses in their blue scrubs and doctors in their lab coats with people of all different sizes, shapes, and ages hustled back and forth barely acknowledging one another as they went about their business. My gaze wandered and rested on a little girl laughing hysterically at a fatigued man speaking to her from the Kermit the Frog muppet encasing his hand. She yanked it from him and hugged it to her “I’m a Big Sister” t-shirt as she jumped on his lap.
A little boy passed by in a wheelchair his left leg in a stark white cast. As I neared the bottom of the escalator, I could make out the title of the book balanced precariously in his lap: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
I couldn’t agree more, I thought as I stumbled off the escalator and out the door into the sunshine.
It should have scared me that I didn’t remember how I got to the stop sign at the crossroads near my house… or exactly how long I had sat there watching my three year old Jasmine and five year old Conner play in the front yard on their new swing set they got for Christmas. I could watch them forever, I thought, and something squeezed in my chest when I realized forever may only be six months or a year. My babies. A car behind me honked impatiently. I glanced in my rearview mirror and waved apologetically as I took my foot of the brake and pressed on the gas. It was only ten seconds. The scream died in my throat as the world went black.
K. A. DaVur
I’ve been doing this a lot of years, and I don’t care what the statistics show, I know the leading cause of death. Not cancer. Not car accidents. No, what kills the most is beliefs. People believe their husband is having an affair. They believe they are good to drive. Beliefs.
Today was a perfect example. I cruised, lights flashing, through the stop sign and into the mall parking lot. Dispatch said there had been a jumper. I rushed the gurney up the main thoroughfare, past the atrium where a pianist with shaggy brown hair pounded out a ragtime tune. We found her body by the base of the escalator, bent and broken, her head twisted at an angle that let me know even before I felt for a pulse that she was dead. She looked like a puppet whose strings had been cut. I pushed the button on the radio clipped to my shoulder. “We have a DOA.”
I made my partner go through the motions of resuscitation while I handled the crowd. I’ve seen a lot, but the thought of putting my mouth to hers was somehow more than I could stand. I regretted my decision soon enough. If ever you are unlucky enough to die in public, know that your body will be the main attraction This crowd was worse than most. Two old men hung over the railing looking down from the second floor, narrating the events as if we couldn’t see with our own eyes what was going on. One of the food court workers was there too, waving a wooden spoon and clutching a plate of samples, forgotten, to his chest. He was frantic, trying to tell anyone who would stand still what he had seen. I couldn’t understand a damn word he said. The husband was the worst, though. Dressed in a loud checkered sport coat – who even wears those things- arms flailing, He screeched and yelled while security tried to hold him back from the body. “Camilla” he shrieked, “darling, speak to me!” “You can’t go near, sir,” the man in blue said in a deep baritone. “Procedure.” Snot poured out of the husband’s long hooked nose. It was as if he had lost his only connection to this world.
The coroner arrived and we approached the body together. As he pulled the zipper on the bag I saw it, the belief that had led to this tragedy. I walked over and kicked the book shut with the toe of my boot. The cover was blue with an outline of a bird. “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” I read. So, that was it then. Cause of death: brain death due to severed spinal cord. Secondary cause: This book. People believe that they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up. After a decade in this job I know it’s not true. No matter how much you want it, no matter how hard you try, if you were born a chicken you will never soar like an eagle. I hope she found peace in the next place.
It was my least favorite uncle’s funeral and Noni wanted to find his bronze star medal.
Noni steadied the folding ladder as I climbed into the attic. I found the light cord and yanked, filling the room with jaundiced light.
“To the left, I think.” She hadn’t been up here in ages, commissioning someone to carry the Christmas boxes both ways.
The attic floor was a maze of warped 2x4s. In between each rectangle was a puff of insulation and the occasional lid of plywood. One wrong step and you’d go straight through the ceiling and into the sitting room.
“Look for a green army trunk.”
My eyes were still adjusting. I was in no hurry to get to the funeral. The attic looked like one of Noni’s garage sales. There was a stolen stop sign nailed to one of the support beams, along with rusty license plates. Boxes were filled with dime store novels and true crime tell-alls. Amityville Horror sat on the top, marked 10¢.
Three trunks were lined up on an old door spanning the grid. Pawpaw’s, Dad’s and Buster’s. Once opened, the locker smelled of mothballs and Hai Karate, a retching scent.
“Noni, do you remember the day I saw the stars in the fireplace?” I rummaged about, waiting for her to answer, fearing she wouldn’t.
The afternoon was as vivid as a Polaroid to me. Buster promised there were stars at the end of the chimney.
“Look up there and you’ll see the stars, bright as day,” he promised.
Buster scooched me into the fireplace, his hands on my ribs. I pushed my head into the fireplace, soot and ash billowing, stinging my eyes. I blinked through tears and stared hard at the abyss. Then I felt my Garanimal corduroys being shimmied down.
“Hey!” I yelped, jerking up, banging my head on the flue.
“Just keep looking for the stars.”
Motes of dust danced in the black and stars blinked at the edges.
“I remember Buster saving you at the mall,” Noni countered.
Months before the fireplace, I had stubbed my toe into the escalator grill and it gobbled them up like Cookie Monster. Uncle Buster pried my shoes out with his knife and delivered me back to Noni’s. My shoes were hairy with shredded plastic, like Easter grass.
“You don’t remember the fireplace?” I pressed.
When she had come home, nothing was said but I never saw him again. The silence was cavernous and echoing. Buster lived in Noni’s house, between girlfriends, but he was a ghost. When I came over, his cigarette wisped away in the ashtray. Sometimes, his shoes would sit by the door, unoccupied.
I found the medal in a ripped paper envelope. There was no star, just a dirty attendance medal.
Noni’s voice floated upstairs. “We don’t speak ill of the dead.”
“I can’t seem to find it. It’s not here,” I said, scratching the medal against my beard. Her disappointment radiated up the stairs. but she didn’t speak.
I flicked the medal into a gap to rest in peace with bent nails and mouse droppings.
“I don’t see any stars.”