The Carriage House

by Pauline Mortensen

When Martin Blumenthal awoke that morning, he rolled over on his back and discovered that he had a stiff neck which seemed to cap the chill along his spine. He lay there looking at the picture above the foot of his bed. In it was a lamb shivering in the snow and an English sheep dog howling into the night storm. It made his neck hurt. He lifted himself to a sitting position and let his feet fall over the side, his toes just brushing the floor. He was wearing his long night-shirt that Ruth always said was too warm for summer. So, if she was right, how did she explain the cold down his back? She’d probably been fooling with the air conditioning again. Martin tested his legs on the hardwood floor and hobbled off to the bathroom. When he came back, he sat down on the edge of the bed and lifted the bottom of his nightshirt around him. He sat there trying to remember; when he woke up in the mornings it always seemed like he had just forgotten something. Every day forgetting. Where would it end? He clawed the shirt up his back and pulled it over his head. He finished dressing—his smooth tan pants his wife always ironed with a crease, and an olive-green shirt. He brushed his stringing white hair back across his sunburned head and noticed that if his body stiffened anymore on him, made him stoop another inch, he would not be able to see into the mirror on his dresser.

Ruth was waiting breakfast in the kitchen. He spoke to her in a high-pitched graveled voice. She shouted something back that he couldn’t quite make out as she placed his plate of eggs in front of him on the table. He looked around for the ketchup. She had forgotten it again. When he got up to get it, he spilled his milk. He dabbed it up with his napkin.

“What is it this time?” He heard that. In the refrigerator he grabbed the bottle of ketchup in his fist and held it up like wine.

“The ketchup. You forgot the ketchup again.”

“Forgot, nothing,” she said. And he heard that too.

After breakfast he took his position in his rocker which faced out the front window toward his roses: Red and Amber Regalias, Bertha Whites. They grew as tall as men because he pruned them to grow vertically, the rows angling back slightly almost like auditorium bleachers. The plants seemed to soften the effect of the carriage house front which rose abruptly from the surrounding concrete walkway—the house not having the advantage of a porch.

The carriage house had two stories like the main house and faced Ninth East like the main house; it had been converted to apartments like the main house, but once when university students came to sketch the main house, they told Martin that the carriage house lacked “architectural integrity.” During American Heritage Week it had been described in the paper as “blunt and stark with a utility of design.” So, Martin had always kept it bright yellow as if to compensate for what it lacked in shape.

People still came to see the main house even though it had been neglected; the porch woodwork was chipped and had an occasional spindle missing from the railing. Where once roses had climbed trellises from the porch to the roof, students now chained their ten-speed bicycles. On one side of the porch was an original Davenport where neighborhood cats slept, and on the other was a chest of drawers that someone had started to refinish leaving it half stripped of paint.

As Martin took his place this morning, he glanced out the side window. Some men were unloading lumber from a pickup truck backed up on the lawn at the main house. Perhaps they were going to make some repairs, maybe build a fence around those garbage cans. “About time,” he said aloud. “Get the Board of Health after that lazy Don Avery.” He began to rock back and forth. His father would never have permitted such an eyesore, not the Judge, not on his property.

Martin felt something on his arm; it was his wife’s bony fingers. “I keep telling you, you should build your own fence,” she shouted at him, her face sticking out from her neck like a chicken’s. He pretended he didn’t hear. She leaned closer. “Did you hear me?” Martin rocked his head up and down so she would leave him alone.

Why should he do it? He had already built a fence, a chain-link fence, one that would keep the student renters off his lawn—out of his roses when they played football. In a way he had built it against his better judgment, as a matter of survival. The fence had divided the yard, cutting across a connecting sidewalk whose usefulness had passed away with horse-drawn carriages. There had seemed a crime in that. And he had built the fence at his own expense; Don Avery had resisted paying a penny. What did he care? He was no real neighbor, renting the place out to just anybody.

The key point was that a wooden fence on his property would completely block his southern view, and it would block out the sun. If Avery built a fence, a small one around the garbage cans, that would be the most logical and agreeable thing to do. But Avery wasn’t agreeable on most counts and logical only when it suited him.

There had been few occasions when Martin had actually visited the main house after the remodeling. He had returned several letters over the years delivered to the carriage house by mistake. There had been the trips to see the manager, but there had been many managers, students who only lived there two or three years and moved on. He preferred to catch them in the yard or to phone to discuss his business of reminding them about their responsibility of keeping the place up. This was better than walking to the manager’s apartment down the darkened hall with its two bare light bulbs, one at each end of the corridor. The remodeling had destroyed rooms and entry ways. The house had changed so much Martin always had to struggle to figure out where he was; he was never allowed to go into the living rooms where the fireplaces had been, where his bedroom was with the window seat, where his mother punched down bread dough in the kitchen, and where the chandelier in the parlor mirrored a million images of his face. These rooms he was not allowed to go into because of some new wall that felt like chalk and rubbed off on his shirt when he brushed against it.

Martin watched out the side window. There were two men on the back of the truck and one on the ground; he couldn’t make out if one was Avery. The man on the ground could be him—he wasn’t doing much. The other two were bringing out the lumber, sliding one end out onto the pile and dropping the other end like dry bones.

It was a lot of lumber for a fence the size Martin had in mind. He stopped rocking and pushed back with his legs to see if he could get a better look. The window glass was old and had ripples in it that made the men look like snakes. He put on his reading glasses, but it didn’t help. The men were still warped and their purpose even more so. Martin put the glasses back on the end table. The clock on the mantel began to chime.

It was the clock Ruth had brought home from some antique store just after they were married. She had brought it home and removed some dusty old thing from the mantel, replacing it with the polished brass clock. There it had bleated out the Westminster chimes every fifteen minutes for the past forty-five years. Martin had known then that she wasn’t going to be of any help, that she didn’t understand about the main house and the Judge and couldn’t because she had never known either one. She didn’t know that the Judge had convicted a man once just because of the fancy clothes he was wearing. He had told Martin this and warned him when Martin wanted stripes in his new suit. And Martin told Ruth this, but she still didn’t know it. She had decorated French Provincial, even the piano with its cat’s-paw feet. She had insisted on that. And Martin had had to give lessons on that new French Provincial for thirty years. Now that he never played anymore, the cat thing was finally silent.

He touched the arms of the oak rocker where the varnish had been worn away, where the oak was nearly opalized with the oil from his hands. Now dry, wrinkled and covered with brown spots, his hands caressed the oak. He leaned back into the rocker and closing his eyes thought of a Talisman rose.

The sound of dropping lumber changed into footsteps in his head, the footsteps of his father on the porch saying “Where is Martin?” Martin was under the porch hiding where the cats slept and where it smelled like mice. He hid for fear of what his father would say when he got home, what he would do for breaking the eggs that he and Lew Mitchell had stolen from the chicken coop and splattered on the roof of the barn just for the fun of it. Martin’s father found him under the porch shaking with fear and took him to the carriage house where things smelled like leather, horse sweat, and axle grease. There his father had set him on a bale of hay, and the Judge himself climbed up on the lid of the grain bin. “Hear ye. Hear ye. The court of the Honorable Judge Blumenthal is now in session. You are charged with stealing and destroying property that does not belong to you. How do you plead, Martin Blumenthal?” Martin had pleaded guilty because there was no way around it; his mother had caught them throwing the eggs. So, the Judge took the pitchfork and pinned Martin’s leg to the bale of hay, and closing his eyes to represent blind justice, he passed down the sentence of guilty, for which Martin was to take the hired hand’s place in the carriage house cleaning stalls and feeding the horses for a period of two weeks. This was to repay his debt to society, to his mother, and to the Judge. Martin did it and felt that it was fair and felt anger and pity for Lew Mitchell who got away with it here but would have to pay in the next life. When the sentence had been delivered the pounding stopped, and Martin opened his eyes. That was always the way it came out, and the forgetting that seemed bent on taking it all, had not taken that.

Next door they had finished stacking the lumber and were pulling the pickup off the lawn. Someone was parking it on the street. It reminded Martin of the off-street parking ordinance that Don Avery ignored. Martin had obeyed it, digging up half his lawn and his roses to provide private parking for his tenants as required by law. But what did the law matter to Don Avery? Martin’s fingers tightened on the arms of the chair, and he started rocking.

Avery’s only chance was to redeem himself with a fence. The Judge would approve of a fence, a small white-picket one around the garbage cans, something unobtrusive that would blend in. The Judge had always taken the plain view of such things. His tastes had remained simple in an age he said was architecturally extravagant. This meant that his house had less of the gargoyle effect, as he would put it, and more of the straight-line effect which created the feeling of solidarity, strength, and truth, more courthouse and less gingerbread house. Martin agreed. While other houses in the neighborhood of the same age had stained glass windows and faces carved over the entries, the Blumenthal mansion stood out bare-faced and open-eyed. The Judge was proud of that. It was the architect and not the artisan who gave the building its beauty, its gabled roofs and dormer windows instead of minute carvings that from a distance obscured the true lines and cluttered the solid space. The Judge had maintained there would be no angels or devils looking down on him when he went into his own house. And there were none.

Martin stopped rocking. There was a man dragging a ladder around to the front of the house. He disappeared when he rounded the corner, and Martin decided it was time to water the roses.

The hose was coiled along the side of the carriage house on the cement patio where he always left it. He bent over slowly and picked up the end, unscrewed the sprinkler head, laid it on the windowsill, and started for the roses, the hose uncoiling behind him.

There was dignity in caring for roses. Kneeling beside the Judge under the rose trellis, pulling weeds, Martin had felt that. The Judge under his judicial robes wore a red rose on his lapel where he could smell it when he was in court. It was something to keep him separate from the riffraff he had to deal with. The Judge told him about transients, about the winos down by the warehouse, how they’d sell their own mother for a bottle. They had no place, not like Martin who would someday inherit all of this, and his father would lift him to the top of the cement hitching post and pan the whole block with his arm.

Martin nosed the end of the hose down into the soil, waited while the circle of soil around the roses filled and the excess flowed out into the lawn. He could see what they were doing now. They had a ladder stretched up to the top of the porticoed front entry. And there was Avery, himself, starting up the ladder with a crowbar. They were not going to build a fence. Two other men waited at the top of the ladder, leaning against the dormer window of Martin’s bedroom. Martin moved the hose. They were going to work on the dormer.

Sitting in the dormer Martin could look down on the street and the carriage house yard waiting for his father to come home or waiting for Dave, the hired hand, to do something interesting. The rain would drum on the window sometimes, but always Martin felt impervious to the storm, sitting so far out from the house, yet always protected. Once he had seen lightning strike a tree in the vacant lot across the street, and the tree had caught on fire and some men had put it out.

Again, he moved the hose. The men on the roof were beginning to remove the shingles from the dormer roof. The nails squeaked and the old cedar splintered and cascaded down the roof into the flower garden. Martin felt the coldness of the hose. He bent over to collect some fallen rose petals with his free hand; he tucked them into the pocket of his shirt, pinching the softness to release the fragrance onto his fingers.

While he was bent over, he saw two boys cross the street from the ballpark. They each had on a baseball glove and were tossing a ball back and forth. They joined the sidewalk in front of the carriage house and started toward the main house. Martin held the hose tight in his hand, and the coldness seemed to move up his arm. Leaning over the Red Regalias he drew in the reassuring smell of the roses.

The boys hovered around Avery’s pickup for a while, then headed for the peach tree in the front yard, just on the far side of Martin’s chain link fence. “Just let me catch them in my yard,” said Martin just under his breath, “and there’ll be hell to pay.” He pulled up the hose to stick his thumb in the end and squirted down the grass between his roses.

The boys began searching the ground under the peach tree. They started throwing peach pits at each other. Not finding any fresh peaches, one of the boys started up the tree trunk, the other boy boosting him up with his hands.

On the roof Avery and his men were ripping away the shingles, clawing at the wood with hammers, Avery tearing things with his crowbar. The top of Martin’s head burned with indignity while the whole right side of his upper body seemed paralyzed with the coldness from the hose.

With his left hand Martin massaged the numbness out of his right arm. He pulled the hose into another circle of dirt and changed hands. He took a leaf between the fingers of his cold hand and polished the dust away with his thumb until the natural wax was restored.

There had been no trespassers when his father was at the head of the estate, at the head of the bar. There had been an iron fence to define the place, posts made out of four-inch plumbing pipe, and three iron chains draping between. Only a segment remained in front of the carriage house, a segment rusted but still solid. Avery had removed the rest of it and had hauled it away in the back of his red pickup.

The boy in the tree was tossing down peaches to the boy on the ground who caught them in his baseball glove. Then there was a crash. Martin wasn’t sure where it had come from. He stood there unmoored, drifting. It came again and again like signals for his attention. The boys at the tree were shouting, one jumping up and down, the other shaking the limbs of the tree. There were peaches falling all around. Martin stuck his thumb in the end of the hose and aimed it at the tree. There was more shouting, something about a crazy old man, and the water seemed to blur his own vision. But he kept squirting, squirting them out like ants. They retreated, dancing out of range on the sidewalk. Still, he kept squirting, but the sound persisted. He looked up at the house through the limbs of the tree, leaving off the pressure with his thumb. There was a gaping hole in the side of the dormer roof, and Avery stood with his crowbar lifted high for another swing. The bar came down on a new spot and slats and cement of the old-style construction were knocked away; they fell inward into where the window seat had been.

Martin had not understood. They were not putting on a new roof; they were not repairing the dormer, but removing it altogether, as one would attack and remove something evil, something offensive. The coldness in his arm seemed to spread into his chest and move outward from there spreading to his other extremities. His arms went limp; they hung at his sides, the water from the hose running down his leg and onto his shoes. His legs felt pinned to the ground.

In this position Martin felt he had to say something. He dropped the hose. Someone was talking to him.

“Hey you. Hey you.”

He turned to the sound, towards the street. Something hit him in the arm, but it didn’t hurt, and then he saw boys running down the sidewalk. He waited. He heard the surrey coming home, the sound of the wheels on the hard road in front of the carriage house, heard his father on the steps, and the horses pawing for water in front of the house. “No,” he said in answer to the voice inside his head. And to himself he remembered there had been a Depression, and there had been debts to pay. The voice persisted.

“Excuse me, but do you own this place?” Martin knew he had to answer true.

“No,” he said.

“We saw the sign. The ‘For Rent’ sign in the window? Can you tell us where the office is?” The voice drifted, moved outside.

“Excuse me, but could you tell me who we could talk to about seeing the apartment for rent?”

“Apartment?” The voice was standing beside a blue Volkswagen; the voice had a mustache. It was a young couple from the university. The woman was still in the car. He moved towards the young man, his feet squeaking inside his wet shoes when he walked.

“Yes, an apartment. We were just passing by and saw the sign. We’ve been looking all over for a place.”

Suddenly Martin demanded, “What is it you want?”

“This is really an interesting place. Are you in charge here?” The man looked at his wife through the front window.

Martin came up to him, stopping a few feet away. “My wife, she handles . . .” He looked at the student with the mustache, a number ten plastered on the front of his red shirt and demanded, “What did you think? Of course I’m in charge here. I used to own all this,” and he panned the whole block with his left hand.

He stepped in closer, tried to stand straighter to look the student in the eye. “I’ll show you something interesting if you want.” He took hold of the student’s arm just above the elbow and tried to pull him so he could get a look at the main house. The young man resisted slightly. Martin paid no attention—he held the student’s arm out like a turkey wing.

You see that house, built in 1889. That house has architectural integrity.” He pointed with his free hand, his wrist limp, and his fingers unable to straighten out. “You see what they’re doing to it? they’re destroying it, that’s what they’re doing. Do you see?” He pulled the man’s arm to get him to move to a better spot. “Do you see? I didn’t sell it to Averys to have them destroy it.”

Martin moved in, stuck his face next to the mustached one, stared into his eyes for an answer. The student tried to pull away again, but Martin held him firm, sinking his fingers into the man’s bicep.

“Hey, search me I . . . “

God knows what Avery’ll put up there, probably his garbage cans. Do you want that? Do you want that really?”

The student looked back at his wife and then to Martin. “I really couldn’t say. It looks like they’ll do a nice job.” And then, “I’m sure they will.”

Martin gave back the arm, pushed it away with both hands in disgust. “What do you know about Avery?” The student got in his car; he said he’d come back another time. There were flowers painted on the car door. What did he know?

Martin looked down at his own wet shoes and pants and made his legs move out onto the sidewalk. He had to stop Avery before it was too late. In front of the main house Martin stopped about where the cement hitching post had been that had held the iron ring where the horses were tied in place, to keep them from pawing the lawn. He looked up to where the dormer was being taken apart by the three men. The men moved from side to side on the roof like matchsticks on the piano, like the matchsticks he moved back and forth when he practiced.

He had tried to work all the matchsticks to the right side of the piano, playing a piece over and over, moving one match if he played the piece all the way through without a mistake, but moving it back when he fumbled the next time through. He tried to get all the sticks on the finished side at the same time, three times perfect so he could finish practicing. His father had hired Mrs. Finch because she was particularly strict about practice. She smelled like vinegar sitting next to him on the piano bench, sometimes onions. She’d sit there nodding, trying to stay awake while he labored through the pieces, and Martin had felt guilty about making her sit there that way.

The sides of the dormer were disintegrating before him. Avery was smashing the wood, bringing the crowbar down as if it were something hateful. The wood splintered and popped, and soon the obstruction that had been Martin’s childhood had been removed. Avery was coming down the ladder.

He came over to where Martin was and stood there smelling of sweat, bits of wood and plaster stuck on his arms. He said that Martin needn’t worry about a thing because he had a lot invested in the old house and that he wouldn’t do anything to bring the property value down. He insinuated that Martin couldn’t understand such business matters. Martin wanted to tell Avery how the house had been built, the design of the thing, what it meant, but Avery told how the tenants were complaining about how drafty the dormer window had become and that he, Avery, poor mechanic, was stuck with the bills because he paid the utilities. Martin could only say that he understood, because, after all, he rented apartments too. So, he only said that he hoped it would look nice when he got done. And Avery walked off still clutching the crowbar.

Martin thought it had been all right living next door cultivating his roses, prodding Avery and his managers from time to time to keep the place up, to keep his tenants in line. But Avery was going too far in this. He shouldn’t be fooling around with the way things were.

And Avery had stood there dusting his pants and stomping his feet on the sidewalk, never really looking Martin in the eye. There was no reassurance in a man who couldn’t look you in the eye and swear to tell the truth. Martin started home rubbing a pain that was working up in his thigh.

Walking back, Martin heard laughter coming from his yard. Those boys, the ones with the baseball gloves, were in his yard after his roses. One was grabbing at the flowers, pinching and twisting the petals free. The other one was running in and out of the columns of plants. A fistful of petals showered into the air, and then another. Martin was working his feet.

“Hey you two. Stop that. Stop or I’ll get the law after you.” He was moving as fast as he could; he was out of breath.

The boys saw him coming; one cupped his hands around an entire flower and popped it off, and he trailed the petals in the air behind them as they ran all the way to the corner of the block. They were gone by the time Martin reached his yard. There were petals all over the grass. Too many for Martin to pick up.

He picked up the hose, turned off the water, and recoiled the hose by the side of the house, more out of habit than from conscious effort. Martin went into the house and dropped down into his rocker, his hands rubbing the arm rests.

He leaned back into the chair, his head bobbing up and down slightly, but out of control as if it were in water. When his head was down, the water tapped his mouth so he couldn’t breathe; then he heard his mother shushing him, holding him in her arms, rubbing his toes and fingers trying to make the color come back into them. They sat in her chair, the oak rocker, gently rocking while she tried to shush him from crying so much. The Judge was saying, “He should have done what I told him; he should have stayed in the carriage house until I came for him, but he was bound and determined to get back to the house.” Martin saw himself looking out the carriage house door from where he was perched on the seat of the carriage, where he was wishing he were in his room away from the water. Only yesterday there had been snow up to the second step of the house, but now there was only water running down the street, through their yard swamping the carriage house and most of the sheds. There were animals drowning which his father and Dave were trying to save, rabbits and chickens struggling in the foot-deep water. All the sandbags and digging was not helping very much. Going out to help his father had not turned out to be as fun as he thought it was going to be. The water came up over his boot tops and spilled in on his toes, and it was cold water having just been snow, and he had wanted to go back when his father set him on top of the carriage seat and told him to stay until he came for him. But Martin had become colder sitting there waiting and doing nothing. Outside, the water surged at him knocking him over. He remembered going down, his face hitting the water, the water trapping his mouth and burning his eyes. He had closed his eyes and mouth tight and his eyes had seemed to push inside his head. He had slid along the hard packed ice underneath the water, his face going under and up and the water going down his back turning him over and up and moving him along. He had tried to lift himself up, but his arms wouldn’t work. The cold had dislocated them taking them away from him, and his legs were tied together with the cold. So, there he was without arms and legs, a rolling sightless lump, until a hand grabbed his coat and lifted him up. Then there he was with his mother stripping his clothes off of him in the foyer and throwing the blanket around him, and the Judge was saying, “He should have done what I told him; he should have stayed in the carriage house until I came . . .” In the foyer, then in the parlor before the fireplace where his mother was rocking him gently and shushing him and telling him everything was going to be all right. The Judge leaned against the mantel and said, “He should have done what I told him . . .”

But Martin on his eighteenth birthday had come down the spiral staircase very proper in his long-tailed coat, pressing his piano music against his side. He came down the stairs and into the parlor where the Judge’s friends were waiting, and the Judge was waiting, standing by the fireplace, his arm resting on the mantel with his foot on the grate. Claude Debussy was on the cover of Etude magazine, a memorial tribute. Martin played Suite Bergamasque, wading through it as best he could. The men in the new style suits told him that he certainly had a chance, and they shook his hand and made a bow towards him. They talked with one another in the corner, and then they talked with the Judge in front of the fireplace and shook his hand. Everyone who shook Martin’s hand had whispered congratulations as if they all knew he had already been accepted.

Perhaps they had known more than he had, for he went away to Juilliard that fall to study the piano. His father had put him on the train and had given him his best valise. Martin had put his music into where the legal documents and books had been.

He went away in August and came back for good after eighteen months. Martin was sitting in his father’s study, uncomfortable, fidgeting in his father’s leather chair. It made his legs sweat. He sat there behind the massive desk and tried to comprehend the shelves of books “the dark covered mysteries” the volumes of law.

From behind the desk, he could look out on the street at the spring rain. The side window had been opened for spring cleaning and airing, and the rain was coming in on the floor. Martin went to the window and pulled out the pins and let the window slide down into place. The Judge was dead. Last week Martin had gone to the funeral where they had lowered the Judge beside Martin’s mother. Martin was alone in the house now. He had decided not to go back to school; there was no point in it anymore. He wondered what he should do, not knowing then that he would go to Lew Mitchell for financial advice. His eyes toured the high-ceilinged room with its endless books, and he seemed out of place in the solid-grained, leathered-covered room.

Martin saw himself then as a young man starting out on his business career with Lew Mitchell, and he saw himself old at the same time, watering the roses, and in his dream he laughed at what a young man thinks, about how a rich young man thinks there is enough money, and how it had seemed that there would always be enough if he handled it, not prudently, but wisely.

Then in ‘29 Martin saw himself sitting in a dark-colored room. There was a lemon-shaped burning object out in front of him, a sphere not completely round that was solidifying into a lamp. The lamp was on a desk made out of fashionable mahogany. It was deep reddish brown with square black leather insets in the top; the walls of the room were paneled with similar dark wood which absorbed the light from one small lamp.

Out of the darkness Lew Mitchell leaned forward and placed some official looking papers on the desk; his eyes were one dark bar across his face, the face that was the grown-up face of his childhood friend. Lew spoke.

“I believe I have found the way for you, Martin. A way that will leave you financially solvent and secure for the rest of your life.”

“I appreciate how you’re helping me, Lew. You always were the one for making plans.” Martin heard himself talking, remembered how it had always been with Lew sitting across the desk with all the answers.

“Yes, but you realize, of course, there is going to have to be some sacrifice on your part.”

“Of course.” Martin felt his head bobbing in agreement. “It’s just that with the city building up around the place, I can’t afford the taxes.”

“Yes, Martin, but it’s not just the taxes. You’ve piled up a considerable debt in the market. Continuing to live in the style you are accustomed to is no longer the question. There are going to have to be adjustments.”

“I see. Well, what have you got for me?” Martin leaned forward on the mahogany desk, trying to see the papers in Lew’s hand.

Lew leaned back into the darkness. He waited a few minutes as if trying to find the appropriate starting point. He began slowly. “You are familiar with the current situation in the housing market, are you not? The new steel mill, the expanding university?”

“They say there is a shortage.” Martin tried to see his face; it was like trying to see through water.

“Exactly!” Lew seemed to leap on his words; he slammed his flat palm on the desktop. “Here it is. The best deal I’ve been able to manage under the present conditions. I have several interested parties who want to buy your place.”

The news did not exactly take Martin by surprise, but it was still a blow. “What do you mean my place, Lew?”

Lew’s eyes reflected the light of the lamp; they seemed to glow with the prospects of the plan. “Just this. The crash has left you penniless. I couldn’t predict that. You have debts, and your only assets are tied up in this real estate. You’ll have to liquify those assets.”

Martin tried to say something, but Lew went on.

“The way I have it figured, you could keep the carriage house. Convert it into apartments, make a place for yourself in it, and live off the income from the tenants. With the sale of the rest of the property, you’ll be able to pay off your debts and be able to afford the remodeling.”

When Martin woke up from his nap, it was late afternoon; he opened his eyes slowly, unsure of where he was. There was light on the philodendron in the corner and the philodendron

silhouettes on the wall. His neck hurt. There was something pushing, hammering against the top of his head, forcing his head downward into his shoulders. He tried to move, but a sharp pain down his back restricted him. He grabbed for the arms of the rocker, but his hands seemed strapped in, encased in thorns. He looked down anxiously at his lap, at a grey wool comforter drawn up over his arms and tucked in at his sides. After a moment he remembered it was the one Ruth had put on the foot of his bed. Slowly he lifted his head and upper body away from the back of the chair, and the pushing sensation gave way to a throb in his head. He tore his hands free from the blanket and caught hold of the rocker, gripping the wood, working his fingers into the worn indentations. He sat there tilted forward, staring out at the roses that were shaded by the carriage house.

He smelled bean soup from the kitchen and heard the clank of silverware on the Formica counter. Then the day came back, distilled into the one impression of roses cascading down from Avery’s crowbar.

Martin pushed himself up from his chair trying to raise himself straight. He went out into the afternoon sunlight to see what Avery was doing. He walked around his stadium of roses that stretched from the asphalt parking lot to the chain link fence. The wet grass squeaked under his feet as he slid them along underneath him. He moved down the fence until the peach tree was out of the way, and he looked up. On the roof of the main house above the Judge’s porticoed entry was the fence for Avery’s garbage cans. The new wood only roughed out the shape of the remodeled room, but rather than a gabled roof, the roof sloped outward to the street like a rabbit hutch, broad and squat.

Martin took hold of the steel fence, sticking his fingers through the holes and around the wires. He clung to it as if he were receiving a freezing electric charge, the jolt reaching the center of his body.

“He should not have done that,” said Martin, and he released the fence and started backing up. His feet dragged, and his legs were stiff. There seemed to be movement around him, but he couldn’t account for it. He rocked forward and back, turned west to the carriage house toward the sun, toward where his roses should have been, but he was blinded by a whiteness that pushed in his eyes. He thrashed out with his arms expecting to take hold of something, but he seemed unable to locate himself. There was a cold pain down his back, and he was turning and falling forward, crashing down through the roses, his face peeling against the thorns. He clenched his teeth against the impact, clenched them so he couldn’t get his breath. The ground hit his shoulder first; it compressed his chest and knocked all the air out past his teeth. And then he was on his face sucking in the wet grass, and the throbbing in his head was like a pounding gavel.

Spaces Between Us: The Dialogues of Il and Elle

by Nicole M. Christensen

Act I, Scene I:  Stage is black except for two spotlights that suddenly illuminate Il and Elle standing on opposite sides of the stage.

Il: Two roads converged in a yellowed wood . . .

Elle: And being two travelers . . .

[Stage to black, then a spotlight on Il and Elle again.]

Elle: A.

Il: Being.

Elle: Seen.

Il: Divided.

Elle: Equals.

Il: Effectively.

Elle: Geometrically.

Il: Adjusted.

Elle: I.

[Stage to black.]


Act I, Scene II

[When stage lights come up Elle is standing center stage and Il is seated downstage facing away from each other. They move, sit, etc. to their own interpretation throughout the remainder of the scene.]

Elle: [Addressing the audience] Am I alone now? [Il sits on the side of the stage, staring off into the distance, not responding] Is anyone there? Can anyone hear me?

Elle: [More insistent, pointing to people in the audience] You, and you, can’t you hear me? I, I’m sure I can see you. . . . Maybe . . . it’s no use. [Elle proceeds to go to opposite side of stage and sit, mirroring ll.]

Il: [Stands slowly surveying the audience, squinting; begins to walk across the stage and suddenly notices Elle.] Hello there. Can you hear me? Hello? [Walks over to Elle and, looks at her.] Ah, sleeping. It figures. My travels always bring me back to here . . . [Paces the stage as he continues. Looks thoughtful for a moment.] Should I wake her? No. That would be awfully inconsiderate. Perhaps she has completed a hard day of work and needs her sleep. She may have just completed a marathon. She could have just given birth! She could be an insomniac for all I know. How could I wake her? I don’t even know her name―[Thinks and looks back to Elle.] But, I would like to know her name. What could it be? Anne? No. . Beth, Claire, Diana, Elizabeth, Francie, Gidget, Helen, Isabelle, Jane, Katharine . . . ah! I know where this leads [Very triumphantly]―Zelda! [Looks back to her.] No. Perhaps I should wake her. I think so; perhaps she has been sleeping for hours. In fact, she may have overslept and will be grateful that I woke her. She has an appointment! Yes, something important I’m sure. So, I will wake her. [Starts to walk towards her.] But how to wake her. I could softly serenade her with Italian arias to gently rouse her from slumber. Hmmm. I could pounce on top of her screaming “The Germans are coming!” No! That’s a terrible idea! But . . . if it were done nude . . . [Looks excited.] No. Probably best not to mention the Germans. I know! I’ll . . .

[She moans.]

Oh no. I’ve woken her . . .

Elle: [Yawns and stretches.] Oh, another day. Much to do, much to do . . . [Il walks over to her and follows her around, trying to get her attention.] Same thing every day . . . busy, busy, busy.

Il: I’m sorry to have woken you, I was only trying . . .

Elle: I’m already late . . .

Il: Let me introduce myself . . .

Elle: The appointments, the meetings! Always piling up . . . [Notices Il for the first time.] Excuse me. You’re in my way . . .

Il: I’m sorry, very sorry. Please, my name is . . .

Elle: I’m too busy right now . . .

Il: No, you don’t understand . . .

Elle: I’m perfectly happy. Please go . . . [Stops, freezes, as does Il, and looks out at the audience.] Well, maybe not perfectly happy . . . But I’m okay . . . and I’m busy. [Sets off again hurrying about the stage.]

Il: [Looking exasperated, watches her for a moment.] Stop it before I shoot!

Elle: [Suddenly halts, turns and looks at him.] What?!

Il: I said, [Clears his throat.] please stop and listen to me.

Elle: No, you didn’t You said, “Stop it before I shoot.” And you screamed it as I recall . . .

Il: [Thinks.] That’s not how I remember it.

Elle: What?

Il: I said, that’s not how I . . .

Elle: No, no, I heard you. Shoot what? You said you were going to shoot . . .

Il: [Thinks.] Oh, I don’t know. It just seemed like the thing to say at the time.

[She starts walking away.]

Well I tried being polite with you . . .

Elle: Tried?! When? I never heard you . . .

Il: Just now! I was trying to get your attention just a few moments ago when you were . . .

Elle: No you weren’t. I saw you, don’t think I didn’t see you. You’ve been sitting by yourself for the longest time. You prefer solitude. You think I didn’t see. You want to be alone.

Il: I feel quite lonely right now . . . [Pause.]

Elle: What?

Il: I said, I feel more alone around others, than by myself.

Elle: Strange man. What do you want?

Il: I want truth.


Elle: I want happiness.

Il: Then we seek the same destination.

Elle: Do you think so?

Il: Yes.

Elle: Perhaps.

[Il walks away from Elle and sits down facing away. She watches him, turns away, then turns back and begins walking toward him as she confronts him . . . ]

Elle: So we’re talking, don’t leave now. Tell me about yourself, where have you been?

Il: [not looking at her] I have been everywhere and nowhere. The paths I have traveled in solitude have brought me back, always, to the same place, the same questions. A bit changed from the journey I grant you, but always my solitary trips have brought me to this place . . .

Elle: [speaking to no one] I have been nowhere and everywhere. In a group, on a schedule I have seen it all and understood nothing. So much to learn and see. But I find I am always bored now . . .

[Il and Elle suddenly look at each other.]

Together: What did you say?


Il: You must have places to go . . .

Elle: And you must have places . . . also.


Together: Yes.


[Exit off of opposite sides of the stage.]


Act I, Scene III

[Spotlight on Il and Elle.]

Il: Jade.

Elle: Came.

Il: Elegantly.

Elle: Eminently.

Il: Entering.

[Stage to black.]

[Scene opens with Il and Elle on stage in their original positions as they had been when the play first began.]

Il: There’s the seats, the feel of the air . . . I’m sitting on a stage of some king [Looking around.] . . . yes this definitely has a familiar feel to it . . .

Elle: He said we’d been through it all before.

Il: [Pointing to the audience.] You, and you . . . have we met before? Little balding man! It’s all very strange.

Elle: He said it was like being damned to daily reincarnation to the same hell . . .

Il: I wonder if someone would care to tell me just what’s going on? I don’t understand–

Elle: He never understood . . .

Il: [to the audience] Someone just tell me what I’m supposed to do!

Elle: He created it all himself . . .

Il: I have no control! None at all over this craziness! You’re all fakes!

Elle: We both were creators, at least I thought . . . There was a time I was so sure, but then he said . . .

Il: [ferociously, pointing at the audience while speaking but afterwards turning so he points at Elle] You LIE!

Elle: [desperate] He convinced us both.

Il: It IS a stage and we’re helpless puppets. [Sad laughter.] Puppets and fools. No one’s ever shed any light on this dark play . . . .

Elle: I chose the company of fools over solitary night . . . But it is darker now . . . .

[Stage to black.]


Act I, Scene IV

[Spotlight on Il and Elle.]

Elle: Only.

Il: People’s.

Elle: Curiosities.

Il: Are.

Elle: Essential.

[Stage to black.]

[Il and Elle on opposite sides of the stage, facing diagonally away from each other. They speak and react as if they are talking face to face.]

Elle: If I begged you to love me, would you?

Il: No.

Elle: If I begged you to stay, would you?

Il: No. I will leave you. Don’t you understand?

Elle: If I showed you why it is wrong, what you will lose, would you see?

Il: Our eyes are already closed! I see my own path. I see my own light. It is enough . . .

Elle: You are trading gold for stones, don’t you see that?! Do you know what you choose?
Il: I am choosing my own path.

[Short pause.]

You caught me by surprise. I was not ready for you. I see this . . . that it is your fault.

Elle: So you have chosen. I will be miserable. Will you be happy?


Your choice?

Il: You made me choose. I did not want to.

Elle: You will be happy?

Il: Perhaps I made the wrong choice. I will know years from now . . . maybe not years . . . maybe not ever . . . sometime down the road I’ll look back and . . . there’s no way to ever know! Don’t you see?

[Sinks down to his knees.]

Elle: [softly] The wrong choice?

Il: Pity me.

Elle: Pity? I am your castoff, your Unwanted. You walked away. Now you ask of me . . .

Il: Please. I can barely hear you.

[Short pause.]

Your face is familiar. What is happening?

Elle: You have forgotten already. We’re both in pieces you know. And you’ve forgotten. Isn’t that the way it is? Didn’t I try to warn you? What will become of us?

Il: I don’t know.

Elle: What was your name?

Il: What was yours?

Elle: It’s a tragedy you know.

Il: No. It could have been prevented.

Elle: A fine drama then.

Il: It means nothing.

Elle: It means everything.

Il: I am the fool.

Elle: We play the fools.

Il: We were never wise enough for the part.

Elle: What was your name?

Il: Ah, it is time to say goodbye I think.

Elle: You said goodbye before you knew me.

Il: Is it too late?

Elle: Never.

Il: Then we begin where we left off.

Elle: No. Begin anew.

[Stage to black.]


Act I, Scene V

[Spotlight on Il and Elle.]

Il: Tears . . .

Elle: Ubiquitous.

[Stage to black.]

Elle: Hello? Where is everyone? Can you hear me . . .?

Il: Can you hear me? Where are you?

Elle: I’m here. I promise I’m here. But where are you?

Il: I’m HERE! I’m HERE! COME FIND ME! [Laughter that turns somewhat mad.] Someone come find me . . . [softer, aching] Someone come help me . . .

Elle: Help me . . . [The sound of wind.] It was an echo . . .

Il: Only an echo.

Elle: No one heard me . . .

Il: Hear me . . .

Elle: He MUST be out there . . .

Il: Where am I? Where are you?

Elle: There’s no one.

Il: There’s only one.

[Short pause.]

[Bright white light shines from above the stage in a small circle onto stage center.]

Il: What is it? Hello?

[Male voice from offstage, fatherly, quiet, peaceful.]

Voice: I know.

Il: [frightened] Who are you?

Voice: I am here. Come.

Il: What is this?

[Il’s face is suddenly illuminated as it comes into the light onstage. One of his hands starts to go into the light as he smiles and looks up.]

Elle: [Laughter, self-righteous, mocking.]

[Il, shocked, looks toward the laughter and disappears from the light.]

What are you doing?

[More laughter.]

Il: I don’t know, I don’t understand, I only . . .

Elle: Fool! Just like you said, we’re (all) fools, but now you’ve forgotten?!


Il: Have we all forgotten?

Elle: A pathetic image. You on the stage alone, hopeless. You’ve stolen my role, the one I made famous . . .

Il: The victim.

Elle: Are you? Tell me, are you?!

[Short pause.]

Voice: You are ashamed.

Il: [Face again illuminated by the light.] I don’t understand. Is it possible?

Elle: Absurd.

Il: But the light . . .

[Spotlight vanishes, stage lights come up, Il and Elle are next to each other onstage. Il is crouched down on the stage, Elle is standing beside him.]

Il: It’s gone. Where did it go? Where is . . .

[Frantically starts darting about the stage, looking under and around imaginary objects.]

Elle: What do you seek?

Il: Truth.

Elle: [Strikes a match and holds it to the audience.] Look.

[Il keeps frantically searching.]


[Il freezes and looks over at her, transfixed by the flame; approaches her slowly, entranced.]

Elle: You want truth? [sadly] Here.

[Il reached up to the light and Elle blows it out. Stage black.]


Act I, Scene VI

[Spotlight on Il and Elle.]

Elle: Vetoes.

Il: Double your.

Elle: Expertness.

Il: Why?

Elle: Zero.

[Stage to black.]

[Il and Elle are in the same positions with same lighting from Scene One.]

Elle: [addressing the audience] Am I alone now?

[Il sits on the side of the stage, staring off into the distance, not responding.]

Am I alone now? Is anyone there? Can anyone hear me? [more insistent-pointing to people in the audience]

You and you, can’t you hear me? I . . .

Il: [Stands suddenly and addresses Elle.] Okay, give it a rest . . .

Elle: I beg your pardon.

Il: No you don’t, you . . . well all right. There. You’re pardoned.

Elle: What?

Il: You begged, I granted, full of grace as I am. But please stop this incessant questioning.

Elle: I only wanted to know if . . .

Il: You know very well that they can hear you. Just like I could hear you. But is anyone listening?

Elle: Well, you obviously heard me.

Il: I was participating in the rarest activity yet known to man. I was thinking. I was deep in meditative thought, when your incessant questioning shattered the fragile shell of my contemplation.

Elle: Oh that was beautiful. And I’m sorry that I disturbed you.

Il: I think you’re the more disturbed.

Elle: Pardon?

Il: Granted.

[Short pause.]

Elle: Look, I’m busy.

Il: I believe it.

Elle: You’re mocking me.

Il: Am not.

Elle: Are too!

Il: D2 . . . No I’m not. Ask them.

[Smiles and points to the audience.]

[Man in black comes running across the stage, screaming, ranting, pulling his sweatshirt off – a black T-shirt underneath – and flings the sweatshirt onto Il’s head as he runs past Il and Elle.]

Il: [Stands in shock and reaches up to touch the sweatshirt now draped casually over his head.]

Well then, that was . . . totally uncalled for.

[Tries to stand with some dignity.]

Elle: [Bursts out in uncontrollable laughter, pointing at his head, tries several times to regain her composure, and is unsuccessful.]

Il: What? What?

[Elle continues laughing.]

Il: They really need to do something about this. [Pointing in the direction of the man in black.] This could be dangerous. I could have, well, I could have lost something.
[Man in black comes running across the stage as before in opposite directing twirling black pants above his head – revealing red polka-dot boxers – and runs up to Il and drapes the pants over his shoulder and continues wildly off stage.]

Elle: [Breaks out in uncontrollable laughter.]

Il: Ahem. [Clears his throat repeatedly, getting louder, hoping to silence Elle’s laughter. Finally speaks.] You know, it’s not one bit funny. [dryly] I’m just glad he wasn’t wearing armor. I could have been killed.

Elle: [laughing] Oh, that would have been, that would have been . . . [Il glares at her.] that would have been terrible.

[Elle turns away to hide her laugh; the man in black emerges again twirling his red polka-dot boxers with a board reading “Censored” covering his midsection; man runs directly into Elle, knocking her to the floor, and flinging the boxers in her direction.]

Il: [Smiles and slowly walks over to Elle, so enraged she can’t speak; stands rocking at her feet smiling.]

[Furious, Elle picks up the boxers and throws them at Il; Il takes them.]

Well thank you. They’ll fit just fine. Yes, really good quality actually.

[Il extends a hand to help Elle up.]

Elle: No. You’re a royal idiot, you know that? A raving lunatic. Just look at you.

[Stands up.]

Il: You’re absolutely right. What was I thinking? [Proceeds to place boxers upside down on his head.] Your majesty. [Bows.]

[Elle turns trying to remain annoyed.]

I realize that you, pinnacle of tolerance and advocate of lunatics everywhere, you could not possibly be offended. Surely you of all people can find the humor here.

[Elle is still defiant through smiling; Il takes boxers off of head.]

To return to your earlier question, I . . .

[Man in black reappears with nothing but “censor” sign, large bunny slippers, and a black top hat, begins running across the stage yelling.]

Do you mind? [pointing to the man] We’re having a moment here.

[Man stops abruptly, turns dejected, and walks off the stage from side he entered.]

Elle: You were saying?

Il: To answer your earlier question . . . [Clears throat, looks away, looks back.] I was listening.

[Il walks slowly past Elle offstage, lights out.]

Act II, Scene I

Elle: Zero.

Il: Wise.

Elle: Experts.

[Stage to black.]

[Lights come up; Il and Elle are seated facing one another at a small table, pantomiming a meal conversation.]

Il: So, where did you say you were from?

Elle: California.

Il: Oh . . . they must have lots of . . . stuff in California . . .

Elle: Yes.

[Scene freezes for the following and all subsequent asides as Elle talks facing the audience . . . ]

Elle: [aside] Well, you’re a scintillating conversationalist.

Il: I mean, I’ve just heard it’s really, uh, crowded there.

Elle: Yes.


Il: [aside, facing audience] Well, you’re a scintillating conversationalist.

Il: [to Elle] So, are there really, a lot of people back home?


Elle: [aside] I can’t believe this.

Elle: [to Il] Uh, yes.


Il: [aside] Come on! Throw me a bone, I’m dying here!

Elle: So, where are you from?

Il: North Dakota.

Elle: Oh . . . [Turning head to give disturbed expression to audience and re-facing Il.] Boy, that’s . . . unusual. I didn’t know if anyone actually lived up there. I thought maybe we’d sold off North Dakota to Canada twenty years ago [Laughs but stops when sees Il’s stony response.]

Il: No, I’m from North Dakota.

[Elle begins speaking to the audience, moving around to her own interpretation. Through next monologue, Il is frozen in background.]

Elle: This is just unbelievable. Am I sitting here, listening to this backwater turkey ramble about North Dakota? Some hick that I met, no, not through a friend, not through work, not even a dating service, but the Internet? I have hit a new low. It’s not like I’m some loser. I graduated from college five years ago with an Ivy League degree and loan payments to prove it. Now, I have a great job – okay it’s a good job, but in a few years I’ll move up the ladder. Point is, I’m successful, right? I’m in good shape, literate, I know what’s going on in the world. But you want to hear about my day? Well, I’ll spare you the gory details, but it has so far been twelve hours of raw, backbreaking, nerve-wracking, knuckle-whitening, traffic-jamming, muscle-cramping, panty-hose-running, raining, slipping, falling hell! [Short pause.] Wasn’t I supposed to be happy?

[Sits back down in her chair – Il comes to life.]

Elle: This isn’t happiness.

Il: What? You don’t like the food?

Elle: Yes – never mind.

[Elle freezes.]

Il: [to audience] Never mind? Okay, fine. Don’t eat your $25 dinner, which I’m paying for, thank you very much. Maybe for a city girl that’s no big deal, but for a boy from North Dakota – well. You want to know how often my family ate out at nice restaurants when I was growing up? Oh, let’s see . . . NEVER. Yeah, that’s right. Big occasions growing up – well, I just picture Mom, laughing, making enough food to feed the county. Those are some of my best memories, actually. I don’t have an important diploma, well, only high school, but that doesn’t count I know. You know what I do right now? I paint. No, not one of those sophisticated Rembrandt or Monet types. I paint houses, and fences through a little company I own. Hey, it does all right, people like to keep fresh paint on their homes, despite what’s going on inside of them. But I never go to a fancy place like this. What am I doing here? It’s not a question – what am I doing, period. My first time on the Internet too, and I start talking to her. What was I thinking? What am I so desperate to find that I’d stand for this . . .


Elle: I’m glad to be sitting. I’m so tired.

Il: But where’s – the rest?

Elle: At the end of the day, I’m always looking for a rest . . . I think we all need it.

Il: We do.

Elle: [Raises glass to toast with Il.] To sleep, perchance to dream . . .

Il: Of the rest.

[Glasses clink.]

[Stage to black.]

Act II, Scene II

[Spotlight on Il and Elle.]

Elle: Double your . . .

Il: Vehemence.

Elle: Using.

Il: Teaching.

[Stage lights up; Il center stage seated in a chair. He moves around, stands, etc., during this scene to his own liking. He is addressing the audience.]

Il: I’ve got a problem. Do you want me to tell you? No, no, I shouldn’t; you’ve all got problems of your own, and who am I to be burdening you with my petty things? After all, shouldn’t I be an alpha male? Strong, burly, able to bend tall sycamores with my bare hands . . . I don’t need advice, right? [Short pause.] I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. I don’t even know what an alpha male is. I just read that in some magazine and I thought, well shoot, I’ll be an alpha male. But what about beta males? Why don’t we hear about them? Is there a gamma make? [Laughs.] Or females, why is this designation only male? Hi there, are you an epsilon female? You look like you’d go well with a theta male. What the hell is an epsilon female? Or male? Well, forget it. So I’ll tell you my problem. It’s greetings. I never know what to say after “Hi.” I mean, you can’t very well just say “Hi” and leave it at that. It’s, “Hi, how are you?” But maybe I don’t care how you are, I’m just walking by and I want to say “Hi,” and “How are you?” just gets tacked onto the end like some kind of vestigial limb. It’s the veritable pinky toe of the greeting world. “Hi, how are you, don’t answer!” I know it’s horrible. But I know you all think this. You’re walking down the street and someone you recognize is coming towards you and what do you say? “How are things?” or “How are you?” or “How’s it going?”, right? Has anyone ever said something beside “Fine,” or “Great,” or “Okay,” in response? Would you care if they did?

[Elle enters from stage right and talks as she hurries across the stage.]

Elle: Hey there! Long time no see!

Il: There’s a reason for that.

Elle: Have a good one! Bye!

Il: No, no, that was too fast. I bet she just didn’t hear me, so she assumed of course, that I’d said . . .

[Elle walking from stage left to stage right.]

Elle: Hi!

Il: Hi.

Elle: How’s it going?

Il: My hand just fell off – just absolutely fell off at the wrist, right into my lap, blood everywhere . . .

Elle: Hey great, talk to you later!

[Short pause.]

Il: Now that’s just sad. Where does this come from? Who started this . . . ?

Elle: Hello again.

Il: Oh brother.

Elle: You don’t look too well today – are you okay?

Il: Actually, I’ve got some really bad diarrhea, and you know, things have just been moving through me so fast . . .

Elle: Wow that’s neat! Well, I’ve gotta run. See you!


Il: So, that’s my problem. Not the digestive tract thing, the greeting thing. But what’s the alternative? I asked a friend about this once. He said, tell them you appreciate them. But I’m trying to see how that would play out. “Hi there! You know, I appreciate you.” What does the other person respond? “Thanks. Seek counseling”? Another friend suggested a compliment. Something like, “Hi! I like that sweater you’re wearing.” I could see this occasionally working with a female friend, but with a guy? If some guy walked past me and complimented my slacks I think I’d be worried. I’d be thinking, Why did Bob just compliment my slacks? Is there something on them? Is my fly down? Is he gay? This is a bad thing, definitely not an improvement over “How are you?”

Elle: [Walking from stage right to left.] Hey there! Nice tie.

Il: She wants me.

[Stage to black.]

Act II, Scene III

[Spotlights on Il and Elle.]

Elle: Essentials.

Il: Are.

Elle: Curious.

Il: Pieces.

Elle: Only.

Il: Understood.

[Stage to black. Stage lights up. Side view of Elle lying on ground stage left, Il lying as a mirror image to Elle stage right.]

Elle: Hello?

Il: Hello?

Elle: Uh, you over there. Come help me up.

Il: Come help you up? Whatever for?

Elle: Because I want to get up.

Il: Well get up then.

Elle: But I can’t.

Il: You can’t? What’s wrong with you? Leg broken or something?

Elle: No. I just . . . I don’t know. I want you to come over here and pull me up.

Il: That’s absurd. If you want to get up on your feet, just stand up.

Elle: No.

Il: You haven’t even tried.

Elle: Yes I have.

Il: When?

Elle: Just now


Elle: There, I tried again. See, it’s no use.

Il: I don’t believe you. You’re not trying at all.

Elle: Okay, fine. [exaggerated groaning] There. I really tried. Now come over here and help me.

Il: In case you haven’t noticed, I too am lying prostrate on the ground.

Elle: Oh. Well, why don’t you get up?

Il: Why would I want to do that? I rather like it down here.

Elle: Like it? Why?

Il: Well, one has a brilliant view of the stars.

Elle: What stars? It’s the middle of the day, you idiot!

Il: Yes, all right, it’s day.

Elle: And a cloudy day I might add!

Il: But I imagine that if it weren’t a cloudy day, one would have a brilliant view of the stars . . .

Elle: Oh, that’s fine, just fine.

Il: Look, I don’t have to justify myself to you. If you don’t like it, get up and go. I wish that you would, in fact.

Elle: What’s that sound?

Il: What sound?

Elle: It sounds like a rumbling, or a volcano . . . or some sort of engine?

Il: Anything’s possible.

Elle: Could it be a car?

Il: The fact that we’re lying in the middle of a road makes it a definite possibility.

Elle: Then perhaps we’d better leave.

Il: Go ahead.

Elle: Well, help me up . . . It’s essential that someone help me up!

Il: I’m not listening . . . [overlapping Elle’s next line] la, la, la, la, la, la, la . . .

Elle: Get your butt off the ground and help me!

Il: [Arches his back so his butt is off the ground.] Is that better?

Elle: Oh, shut up!

Il: Hmm, the roar is getting louder.

Elle: How observant of you.

Il: Perspicacious is my middle name. Say, I remember a crack in the road between us.

Elle: It matches the one in your head.

Il: That was bitter. Something’s definitely coming our way.

Elle: Yes, something’s coming.

Il: I can hear the wheels scraping across the hot pavement now . . .

Elle: You can not. I barely hear a distant rumbling.

Il: My senses are more acute. The gears are gleaming as they speed along the pavement.

Elle: You’re imagining things.

Il: An unpredictable driver swerves his vehicle left, then right, then left . . . only a few more feet and then . . .

Elle: [Jumps up off the ground and yells.] Ahh! We’re going to be hit!

[Small boy enters stage opposite from Elle on a tricycle, peddles across the stage. Elle watches, then bows her head.]

Il: [Jumps up.] Well, that was dramatic. I honestly didn’t know how it would turn out.

Elle: You could’ve helped me up.

Il: I could have. But now you don’t need me. I set you free.

Elle: I set myself free.

Il: [Lays back down.] If you say so.

[Elle walks off stage; lights out.]


Act II, Scene IV

[Spotlights on Il and Elle.]

Il: Important.

Elle: Elements.

Il: Come.

Elle: Jailed.

Il: I.

Elle: A child.

Il: Jeered.

[Stage to black. Spotlight on Elle in middle of stage.]

Elle: Question: are we more alone in solitude or in a crowd? Does loneliness increase in direct proportion to the amount of space between one person and another? Or is it something else entirely? [Short pause.] I’ve often wondered about this because sometimes, surrounded by people, even friends, I feel suddenly much more removed than when simply by myself. Isn’t that strange? When I am alone, there is only one voice that I hear. I hear myself. But then, in a crowd-I hear what everyone else is saying, but I can’t hear my own voice. And if they’re not listening to me, and I can’t even hear me, then where have I gone? Have I disappeared? Where could I find me? In solitude. But is solitude without others? Or something else? [Short pause.] In a group or by myself, I am one, I am alone, I am in solitude, though not necessarily lonely. Lonely is a place where the voices you long to hear can no longer be heard. It is not an empty space – loneliness is when the space within you is filled with everything around you, and what is within you has been silenced. Lonely and alone are strangers you meet; but solitude you invite to stay.

[Stage to black.]


Act II, Scene V

[The following are said in quick succession.]

Elle: Goodbye.

Il: Hello.

Elle: We play like always.

Il: But, yes.

Elle: But, no.

Il: Yes.

Elle: I suppose.

Il: Of course.

Elle: Not at all.

Il: Absolutely.

Elle: Uh . . .

Il: No!

Elle: That’s me!

Il: Yes!

Elle: Yes! So . . .

Il: No, you messed up that time!

Elle: Ah, yes.

Il: No. For you, no.

Elle: Yes

[Short pause.]

Il: Again, one more time?

Elle: Begin.

Il: Finish.

Elle: My life.

Il: My life.

Elle: Happiness.

Il: Education.

Elle: But no! That’s not true . . .

Il: It depends on the professor . . .

Elle: It depends on the student.

Il: The truth.

Elle: Philosophy.

Il: Religion.

Elle: Political science.

Il: Oh, that . . .

Elle: You messed up that time!

Il: Like always.

Elle: Like never.

Il: We play like . . .

Elle: Children.

Il: Adults.

Elle: The truth is somewhere . . .

Il: Between us.

Elle: Hello.

Il: Goodbye.


Act I, Scene VI

Elle: Genius.

Il: Affects.

Elle: Immediate.

Il: Decisions . . .

Elle: Sleep.

Il: Becomes.

Elle: Awake.

[Stage to black. Il and Elle in original positions.]

Il: And so we’ve traveled one road.

Elle: Two roads converge.

Il: Many roads converge.

Elle: Two roads diverge.

Il: Today.

Elle: Each day.

Il: Each moment.

Elle: As two diverge.

Il: Two converge.

Elle: And on and on.

Il: Ad infinitum.

Elle: Have I known you?

Il: [to the audience] Have I known you?

Elle: [to the audience] Have I known anyone?

Il: [to the audience] Have you known anyone?

Elle: But yes.

Il: But no.

Elle and Il: But of course.

[Short pause.]

Il: I’ll tell you a problem.

Elle: I’ll tell you nothing.

Il: [Walking toward Elle.] Together.

Elle: [Looking away.] Alone.

Il: Once upon a time, in a village.

Elle: A city, a country, a space . . .

Il: Far, far way.

Elle: [Looking at Il.] Right here . . . [Looking at the audience.] Between us.

Il: A man.

Elle: A woman, a child.

Il: Said, “Hello.”

Elle: Goodbye.

Il: “Can you hear me?”

Elle: No.

Il: One answered.


Elle: No one?


Il: No.

Elle: One?

Il: [Pause, smile.] Yes.

[Stage to black.]

End of Play

A Glimpse from Bald Peak

by Jim Richards

On a summer morning at Hebgen Lake, Montana, water-skiing came first-always. We got to the lake every morning at eight-thirty, just in time to feel the cold morning breeze surrender to the sun and see the ripples vanish from the lake, leaving it a smooth, blue-green glass. Only this morning the ripples didn’t vanish.

“Well, what do you think, guys?” My dad turned his back to the lake to face us, his hands on his hips.

“It’ll calm down,” Mike said. Mike was sixteen, eight years younger than me, bleach blond, and tan as leather. He fixed his eyes on the lake in serious concentration, as if he could make the ripples on the lake disappear psychokinetically. I stared at him equally as hard, maybe hoping to move something too, inside of him. He was a good-was. But lately he’d taken a dangerously sharp exit off of the straight and narrow onto the rough road of. . . drugs? Immorality? Who knew? Last year he started bawling in the stake president’s office where the whole family was gathered for the setting apart of my sister, Emily, who was leaving on a mission for Spain. We were going around, one by one, expressing our affection for her; when we got to Mike, he burst into tears. Mike, Mr. Non-emotional, Mr. Keep-it-all-inside started bawling, and it wasn’t because Emily was leaving. Unfortunately, his eyes were past crying now; they just stared into the lake, trying o make it smooth, for another rush-of-a-ski ride.

“I don’t know, it looks pretty choppy,” I said to Mike, whose eyes were still locked on the lake. My nine-year-old brother, Eddie, was busy using a yellow, plastic bucket to dig in the sand. He could care less about the lake, the weather, anything. He was nine, and he was happy. Just like Mike used to be.

Dad walked down to the end of the dock, took off his felt cowboy hat, rubbed his bald head, and looked at the mountains, then the clouds, the lake, and back at the mountains; he was playing prophetic weatherman.

“Well, what do you think, Nostradamus?” I yelled, cupping one hand around my mouth.

“Looks like it’s going to be windy for a while,” Dad said, walking back up the dock toward me and Mike.

“Amazing, absolutely amazing!” I said, shaking my head. Mike looked at me and let out a short, breathy laugh. He stepped off the gray dock onto the course sand, slipping his T-shirt off on the way. He was getting big. The muscles in his back looked rock hard as he lay stomach-down on the cool sand, using his shift as a pillow.

“It’ll calm down,” Mike said again.

Actually, he knew that Jenny and Stacy, his fine-fleshed friends, would be coming down to the lake soon from their cabins. For Mike, they were the next best thing to waterskiing. For the girls, Mike was the best thing. And he knew it.

From the dock I could see across the corner of the lake into the marshy meadow of tall grass where a moose meandered.

From the meadow I could see where the pines began, growing thicker and taller as the mountains got higher. From the edge of the forest I could see where the terrain became rocky, steep, and capped with clouds, the highest summit around-Bald Peak.

And from the look on my dad’s face, and his Brigham Young stance, I could see that today he wanted to hike to the top. And so did I.

“Let’s do it, Dad,” I said, raising my eyebrows.

“I’ve always wanted to. Do you think we can make it?” he said, looking at his watch which he wore on the inside of his wrist.

“Well, I’ve been considering it lately, and I think if we ride motorcycles to Lionhead Ridge,” I pointed, “we can hike down the other side and across, to the base of Bald Peak. From there we should be able to climb the south side of the face.”

“‘Well, we’ll figure out how to approach it when we get there,” Dad said starting off toward the motorcycles, “Eddie, come on.” Eddie dropped the bucket, came running across the sand, then stopped next to where Mike was lying in the sun.

“Come on, Mike,” Eddie said. He wouldn’t want to go; I knew it, and Dad knew it. I wished so badly that he would come. It wasn’t that big of a deal, but with each little activity he missed, he separated himself more and more from the family. Thinking “better that he reject me than Eddie,” I spoke up.

“Mike, come with us,” I said. He acted like he hadn’t heard what we’d been talking about.

“What?” he mumbled, without raising his head.

“Hike Bald Peak with us.”

“No . . .” For a minute, I knew he remembered how much fun we’d had on summer hikes in the past-to Coffin Lake, Lionhead Mountain, Sheep Lake-if he would just come he would love it. “No thanks,” he added. Somehow these little ways of distancing himself were more painful than his times of emotional explosions or running away.

The morning was nearing noon, and I had to be to work at Three Bear Restaurant waiting tables at six p.m. I figured three hours up the peak and two hours back down would give me just enough time to shower and drive to the restaurant in West Yellowstone, about ten minutes from our cabin. We needed to hurry and for some brilliant reason we saved time by not preparing a lunch for the hike. We grabbed an almost empty bag of sour cream & onion chips, and a few small bottles of water. I had been in these mountains plenty of times. We would manage.

|                       |                       |

The motorcycle ride to Lionhead Ridge was about twenty minutes for me, thirty for my dad and Eddie. Since I beat them to the ridge, I had some time to listen to myself think-about Mike. What had happened? He used to be so close to everyone in the family, especially me. Now he was only close to his “friends.” We used to laugh together so much, now he would hardly talk to me. Agitated by my thoughts, I listened to the sounds of the mountains instead: a hawk screeching high above the lodgepole pines; tree trunks creaking under the weight of the breeze; grasshoppers whispering like rattlesnakes; sage-hens cooing from the thick brush; and eventually a couple of motorcycles buzzing and echoing up the trail.

We parked our motorcycles behind trees on the hillside where they couldn’t be seen from the trail and started hiking through the woods.

“I think if we cut across, down this side of the ridge, then we will eventually come to the base of Bald Peak where we can hike up,” I said, ducking under a branch.

“We don’t want to go too far down, though. We should stay near the ridge,” Dad said, helping Eddie over a fallen tree. If there is one way my dad and I are alike, it’s this: we’re always right. Well, I’m right, and he thinks he’s right, especially when it comes to the mountains.

“If we stay near the ridge we’ll have to come down eventually anyway to get to the base of the peak.” I angled my path slightly down the mountain.

“But if we don’t stay near the ridge we won’t be able to see where the bottom of the peak is.” He angled his path slightly upwards and Eddie followed behind, picking up rocks and dropping them periodically.

This discussion ended like most between me and my dad, without an agreement. Just me going my way and he going his. We knew we’d end up in the same place. The only difference was that he thought his way was best, and I thought mine was. Actually, both ways turned out to be much more difficult than we had imagined. The mountainside we traversed was steep and there was no trail. We hiked with one leg about a foot uphill from the other, an excruciating task for ankles. Then, when we reached what we thought would be a gradual descent to the base of the mountain we found a series of gullies and steep ravines. For the whole hike we were either going straight down or straight up through thick forest. By the time we got to the base of the mountain we were already terribly tired and way behind schedule.

“Well, we made it . . . to the base,” I said, closing my eyes to keep my sweat from burning them.

“Yeah, should we head back?” my dad said, taking off his sweat-soaked hat.

“Yeah right, we’ve come this far,” I said, shading my eyes to try and locate the peak.

“You’re doing great, Eddie. Can you believe this kid, hiking like this at nine years old?” My dad patted him on the shoulder. Eddie, mimicking, reached and patted my dad on his upper arm. Dad was more patient with Eddie than with any other of his ten kids. Maybe because Eddie was the tenth. He’d had a lot of practice. I don’t think Eddie will ever know the stern and strict love Dad raised me with. Dad was already Eddie’s friend.

When I was nine-years-old, he was only my dad. It wasn’t until I got back from my mission that we became friends, I think. It’s hard to tell with my dad. He keeps things inside, even from Mom. Just like Mike. In a way, I think dad finds in his friendship with Eddie what he missed in Mike. I bet it hurts to be a father, even a good one.

“If we switchback up here,” I pointed, “then we can reach that incline and climb straight up.”

“It’s too steep, we’ll have to switchback at an angle heading for the lower part of the ridge then walk up to the summit.” Dad put his felt cowboy hat back on and motioned Eddie to start out ahead of him. We moved up the mountain steadily on our separate ways for the same destination.

It took us over an hour of switchbacks and bear-crawling up rock slides to finally reach the summit. It was Awesome. From the peak, looking east, we could see the blue entirety of Hebgen Lake, straight ahead, stretched the wide yellow plains where our cabin was; and on the right, we could see the square-mile city of West Yellowstone. I looked at the lake for a long time from this distance, trying to see Mike, which I knew was impossible.

The majestic view from Bald Peak was a natural witness to me of an artistic creator, a testimony of God himself. I felt a powerful reverence, and it made me mad-mad that Mike wasn’t next to me, feeling what I felt. I stood there staring at the lake, inspired and frustrated, as the upward wind chilled my sweaty clothes.

The stale sour cream & onion chips tasted delicious, but didn’t last long. Neither did the water. We had nothing left to satisfy our hunger and thirst. Because of the valleys and steep ravines we knew the hike home would be just as hard as the hike up. It was four o’clock, and I needed to be clean, dressed, and taking someone’s order in two hours. For some reason I thought I could still make it.

“Dad, I think if we hike down the other side of the mountain we can walk along the north ridge-line and make it home faster.” I untied my flannel shirt from my waist and put it on.

“You think so?” If he was about to agree with me, I knew he must be exhausted. “I’ll try anything if we don’t have to go back the way we came.”

My dad stayed mid-way up the mountain while I hiked down the other side to see if it was a possible alternative for a way home. Eddie stayed at the top within Dad’s sight. When I was almost to the very bottom of the backside of the mountain, I realized it would be impossible. I was surrounded by cliffs dropping hundreds of feet into jagged rocks.

“Hey! Are you okay?” my dad shouted. He sounded panicked, like he had shouted several times and I hadn’t heard.

“I’m coming back up!” I shouted twice before he heard me. When I got back up the mountain I bent over with my hands on my knees, struggling to catch my breath. I felt my back and legs cramping up. My tongue was dry as a cat’s paw and my temples pulsed with pain. I had no water, and welcomed the sweat that dripped down my face into the corners of my mouth. I took off my flannel shirt, damp with sweat, and tied it around my waist. My watch read 4:45.

My dad and Eddie had started heading back down the ridge-line and I caught up with them at the top of where we had ascended the face.

“I’m going to have to hurry on ahead, Dad. I have to get to work,” I said between breaths.

“Right. Good luck,” my dad said, without turning around. The fastest way down, I figured, was to sit on my heels and slide on the loose rocks. I did this for forty minutes before I got to the bottom with aching knees and punctured palms from pushing and balancing as I slid down the rocky face. Crossing the first ravine, I realized that the flannel shirt I’d tied around my waist was gone. I didn’t even consider looking back.

The next two hours of my journey were the most grueling of my life. My body’s resources were completely exhausted. My stomach cramped and burned as if it were drying up. I couldn’t make more than ten steps up the steep hillside without stopping. I was in the shadow of the mountain now as the sun got lower, and the mosquitoes came out to feed. I was too tired to brush them away from my neck, my arms, my face. My body no longer sweat, but endured a burning chill like a fever. The evening air and swarms of mosquitoes made me really wish I had not lost my flannel shirt. It was after six, but getting to work was not important, just getting home alive.

Near the top of the last steep hillside, I was resting after every step. Finally, my body refused to go on. I collapsed face-down, dizzy and dehydrated. Lying on my cramped stomach, resting my head on my arm, I could see into a dry creek bed. Buried in the sediment I saw the top of a plastic bottle. I reached for the bottle and uprooted it from the earth. A Pepsi Big-Slam, one liter. Muddy or not, I would drink it. As I twisted the dirty lid I heard the refreshing burst of carbonation, a sharp hiss saying the soda was still good. I put my flaky lips around the muddy mouth of that bottle and drank nonstop till it was gone.

My body must have absorbed the liquid instantly because my stomach felt empty within seconds after the drink. My strength was revived enough to finish the ascent and make it to the motorcycles, where I hopped on, rode home, and made it to work an hour and a half late.

|                       |                       |

In the restaurant I cleared plates and took orders in a daze. I wasn’t there; I was wondering who had dropped that Pepsi and suffered thirst so that I would survive. Maybe some hiker had dropped it out of his pack on Lionhead Ridge last summer, and the spring runoff had washed it down to right where I would need it the next year. I marveled at how miraculously coincidental the whole thing was. It made me wonder if next year a tired hiker might be caught in a storm and find my flannel shirt on the mountainside to keep him warm. As I looked at the hungry tourists eating all around me, I thought about these strange events that make no sense until long after they transpire. It’s like every once in a while God gives us a glimpse from his direction. He lets us look back and says, “See, see the way I weave?”

When I got home from work I wanted to tell Mike what had happened, but he wasn’t home. Dad had made it home, but only after carrying Eddie, vomiting, and suffering early stages of hypothermia and muscle spasms in his legs. I stayed awake for a while, hoping Mike would come home so I could tell him about the hike. Come home Mike, come home, I thought as I fell asleep on the couch. He stayed out all night. I don’t think my dad slept at all. I’m sure my mom didn’t. Mike, what are you thinking? Give me a glimpse, God. Give me another glimpse.

On Grandmother’s Couch

by Q. Woodward

The only doctor in Franklin, Idaho,
was drunk that night, so a midwife
caught my grandmother before she fell
onto the rough kitchen table.

Eighty-six years later, we sit
on her plastic-covered couch,
her scarecrow body slumping
into mine, her hands like
orange peels, curled
across my forearm, grabbing
at almost anything today.

Because I have hair she calls me
Nathan―her teenage gardener who says
he feels guilty each time my mother pays him.
All bald men are Arnold―her husband
twenty-eight years dead. This silent hour
is punctuated only by her battle
to breathe through thick phlegm
that refuses to rise.

The doctors we pay to preserve her
speak clinically, as if we are colleagues,
noting that things like this will run
a charted course. I sit, cradling her frame,
and count the tiptoe rhythm of her heart,
every measure nearing decrescendo.

Breakfast Catechism

by Jared Pearce

Christianity has chosen symbols well―purifying
water, the voice of thunders and rushing
air―for the superstitious language that hold God.
But if He speaks in thunder, who hears
at 5:19 in the morning?

Rain patters on the tin awnings over the windows;
good, I think, that the water comes and cleanses after
the voice of God has shaken the house―the wind
slams the hallway door and makes me start.

Tiny drops renew after God’s mad preaching. Clouds
roll north into the mountains―again His voice―
and again the rain and coolness comfort, but I’m unnerved
by the questions that listening brings to all discourse:

How, in the rumbling, do we discern mood or tense?
Is this a command, perhaps a complaint, in response to His all-knowing
glance on the dresser and bedclothes?


by Jared Pearce

The scrub juniper exploding dark green life
and shadow around us, over us; the night hours when
even crickets have stopped dancing. Curiosity,
the eternal in another’s body―sacred

individuality beyond touch―like the narrow
between clavicles. We treated each
other like temples, proselytes
approaching the holy. My nervousness

in sustaining distance and desire since in some months
I’d leave to try religion―I always wanted
to be a religious man. But I’m divining
the lonely freshness of a second skin moving

independently in synch―I’m sure snakes
are used to this―and hearing a voice say
wait, and walking home by moonlight and speaking
of rightness. I imagine, after a belly-full

of knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve spoke
of this―justification for wanting
to be so near another human person connected
to an idea of falling―

In love and engaged, Making out in the old pickup
in Prescott, spring, parched for each other
over months of abstinence. Dizzy communion, our bodies
signs, we walked along the cemetery

where a bleached tombstone Gabriel spooked
us back to the comfort of the radio and reckless
driving. Laughing at ourselves we stopped only twice
on the road home to straighten make-up,

hairdos, excuses. Her mother only slightly noticed
the rosy flush at our throats in the morning.
We still smirk about that―the funny, moral
wriggling of bring caught in love.

Man Silently to His Wife at the Meat Counter

by Alma Christl Call

My objection, chopped
like these two thick steakes
that I don’t want but you must have.

on such a good cut
not bleeding, cauterized
quickly with this carved
smile, for the butcher.

You must win, must say so aloud.
But, this is not a new pain,
this emptiness somewhere
between the rib and backbone,

as if a needle left over
from an old surgery
had wormed through a lung.
I know nothing

of surgery except the daily
operations of your voice, sterilized
like your formica eyes.
Your conversation, clinical.

Each day an -ectomy.
Another part of me.
And the resentment
grows like an -oma.

Wednesday Tennis

by Christine Guerra

The courts were reserved—Tuesday nights for the men’s tennis team and Wednesday mornings for the women’s team. After the children had gone to school and the husbands to work, the women would put on short white skirts and gold bracelets. They each drove, one lone head in the minivan, and waited together at the end of the court. They pulled their husbands’ green beer bottles out of the trash and said, “Do you believe them? Glass on the court. What were they thinking?”

“They weren’t thinking.”

“I’ll have a talk with my Harry tonight.”

“If it breaks and gets in the surface, you can never get it out.”

“This is the reason we have a charter.”

“Glass,” Delia said.

They would play until the sun rose above the tree line, till the cool of the morning started to burn off. Not competitive like the men. The men played in the heat. Their shirts would stick, and they would pull them out by the tails to rearrange the beads on their swarthy faces. The men threw away their game balls after a match, considering all the sport to have been smashed out of them by their mighty strokes, but the women pulled the cans of balls out of the trash the next morning, used them for practice, and found they still bounced.

Delia shook her head with the rest of them when they talked about the men. Her husband didn’t play tennis with the neighborhood. He preferred racquetball at the health club. He wouldn’t stand out in the cul-de-sac with the other men on Saturdays, either, and talk about whatever it was those men talked about. Delia didn’t understand this about Paul. The men always looked so friendly. They were older; you could see the shine of their scalps through the wisps of hair. They were stable. When they mowed their lawns, you could tell how far along they were or whether they had done the back first by how much red sunburn showed through their hair. Paul paid a teenager from the next street over to keep the yard. Delia asked him to do it himself, just once, and said she would bring him lemonade when he stopped to change the bag. He told her she could take lemonade to the teenager.


            Sonya lived in the stucco house with dormer windows on the corner. She invited Delia to the team. “Come wheeze with the old ladies,” she said. “Lend us some youth.” Sonya came from Norway with her husband and talked as though she had something in her mouth. Delia let the words go into every part of her mouth, especially when she spoke with Sonya, as if she could improve her accent by example. Sonya was an atheist—Delia half-expected her to be a shoplifter or a child abuser.

There was an order to things, Delia thought. Baptists were at the top, the most virtuous. Under them were the Methodists, then Catholics and Jews. Below them, populating the prisons, were the cultists and atheists. Delia had never met anyone in prison. The farthest she’d ever been from the Chatahoochee River was New York City. She had gone there on a theater trip when she was nineteen. It was an ungodly city, a Sodom, a Gomorrah. She hadn’t been mugged, but a waiter padded their bill. To her it was the same. Best to stay in your own pond, she thought. She did not believe in evolution. Fish should stay fish.

Paul had lived in California for a year, before his father repented. That was when Paul was twelve. Paul said that before he met Delia, he had wanted to live in San Francisco, but that Delia had helped him to see what he really wanted. He still thought it was a nice place to visit. Delia was working on that.


            The tennis coach was a short Jewish boy who lived in the city and drove a VW Rabbit the color of an under-ripe lemon. “Ladies,” he always said. “Ladies.” He was raised in South Carolina. You could tell. “Ladies, let’s get those racquets up.” He had hair on his arms and very white teeth. He smiled like a toothpaste model. His 1eg muscles were bunched. Sometimes, Delia would catch herself watching him walk, his calves swelling and smoothing.

Sonya would grip her racquet like an ax. The Jewish boy would say, “Ladies, shake hands with the grip,” and she would say, “Glad to meet you.”

Delia kept a paperback Bible on her nightstand. Paul wanted to get her a nicer one, but she said that she would feel bad bending the spine back. When she didn’t feel like reading, she would tell Paul that she had been studying the Word in the afternoon and that she needed time to digest. She believed greatly in the need to digest the Word.

Delia had a bachelor’s degree in biology from the small Baptist college where she met Paul. She had planned on medical school before she met Paul. But when you meet the right one, all your other plans become dispensable. She told Sonya that.

“Two people with one direction,” Delia said.

“It takes work,” Sonya said.

“The Bible says that Jesus will do the work,” Delia said.

Sonya smiled politely. She didn’t believe.

Delia heard the riffled hum of bees.

“I wasn’t accepted to medical school. I wasn’t smart enough.” She held five balls on the flat of her racquet. “I sure don’t know what I would do without Jesus—what I would have done if I didn’t know that Jesus was guiding me.”

“In other places, people don’t believe like you.”

“It’s not believing. It’s just true.”

Sonya drank from a bottle of water that had ice forced through the neck.


            Monday mornings, Delia clipped the coupons from the Sunday paper and did the shopping. She liked doing them back to back so that she could remember better what she had clipped. It reminded her of when Paul was still in college and every fifty cents mattered. They went over and over the bills, offering to cut personal luxuries. Paul skipped lunch, without telling her. He insisted that she buy scented candles, since she liked them so much. He would bring them with wildflowers wrapped in the free supermarket newspaper. Now, the house was filled with candles.

She would watch the children on the street and wait for Paul’s car, pushing all the wax to the center of the candle. She thought that she should have lived back when they sealed envelopes with wax drippings. She thought that she would have been very good at that.

She said to Paul, “Maybe I should get a job.”

He said, “Do you need money?”

She said, “I miss working.”

He said, “Do whatever you want.” Delia didn’t mention it again.


            Sonya said, “Where did you learn to serve? I can’t do it.”

“Jesus does the work,” Delia said.

“I hope he has more important things to do than that,” another woman said. They laughed, very friendly. Delia decided that the woman must not be a Christian.

Delia said, “I never thought a person could be happy without Jesus.”

“It can be hard to be happy. As hard as serving,” Sonya said.

She swung her racquet short. She didn’t stretch like she should have. The ball bounced in the lane.

The Jewish boy said, “Ladies. Like picking an orange, ladies. “


            Tuesdays Delia had lunch with her sister, who lived with a man. The sister swore a lot and made Delia uncomfortable, but at the end of the lunch, she would say, “It is so refreshing to talk to you.” Delia would always bring her a scripture to read, written on a piece of paper, even though she knew that the sister wrapped her gum with it. Delia didn’t really look them up. She copied them off her daily calendar for Christian women.

Thursdays the cleaning lady came, and Delia took the laundry to the cleaners. Fridays she went to the postnatal wing of the hospital and looked at the babies. She would lay her face against the glass and try to read the charts. Paul said, “When the Lord wants us to have children, He’ll send them to us.” He counted days for her. He was tender. She was taking birth control pills, but didn’t tell him.

“Follow through, ladies. Put some power in it, ladies.”


            Paul liked to cook. He would bring home special cuts of meat, or ripe vegetables, and make dinner. Delia said it threw off her shopping. She didn’t really like to cook. For lunch, she ate peanut butter sandwiches. She also liked yogurt and chewy granola bars with chocolate chips. She bought the kind of yogurt printed with dinosaurs, because the grown-up yogurt had chunks of fruit in it. She didn’t like chunks.

Sonya had two children, ten and thirteen, and she tutored college students in physics. Sonya had never eaten a peanut butter sandwich in her life. Delia didn’t know that for a fact, but it seemed true. Sonya’s husband looked like he was sixty.

Paul came home and said, “A woman tried to pick me up at the gas station today, can you believe it?”

Delia said, “Didn’t you tell her you were married?”

Paul said, “Sure I did. It’s just funny.”


            Delia told her sister, “I don’t know what to do with kids.”

“What? It’s easy. That’s what they invented TV for.” The sister was looking at the waiter, trying to catch his eye.

“What would I feed them?”

“They love peanut butter sandwiches. And macaroni and cheese. And anything that comes in a can. If it gets too tough, give them ice cream. They’ll eat it till they explode.” The man she had lived with before had a son, who was only allowed to visit them once a month. Delia thought that was too generous.

“Why don’t you have any kids?” Delia said.

“Oh,” the sister said, “Because they ruin your sex life. But that wouldn’t bother you as much.”

Delia didn’t answer.


            Paul thought they needed a vacation. Time to get away, and relax. Stress could make you sterile, he said. Could make either one of us sterile. He said, imagine us at the beach, with the moonlight and the surf. What a beautiful way to make a baby, he said. We could always tell him where he was made, he said.

Delia said, “Why would you tell a child about where it was conceived? It would warp its mind.”

Delia said she couldn’t go anyway, that she couldn’t leave until the tennis season was over. The others were counting on her, she said.


            Delia had trouble praying lately. She felt silly, as though someone watching her would think she was talking to herself. She didn’t sing in the car anymore, either. She never danced alone. She didn’t care for dancing in public, either, unless someone said to her that she danced beautifully. Then she enjoyed it.


            Delia said, “Maybe the Lord just doesn’t want us to have children. Maybe we should just give up.”

Paul tried to touch her hand, but she pulled it away.


            “Ladies, concentrate. Ladies, be sure to eat lots of carbohydrates before the match. Pastas and breads, ladies. Pastas and breads.”

Delia zipped her racquet into the bag and packed her tennis balls into the can. The lid was missing again.

“I’m bringing cream puffs for after the march.”

“After exercising?”

“We’ve earned some extra calories.”

“Don’t tell Bob. He’s on a no sugar diet.”

“They are worse than the children, really.”

“Yes,” Delia said. “They never want what’s good for them.”


            Paul asked if she wanted him to come watch her play. She said yes, but when he was there, he made her nervous. After the first set, she waved him over to the chain-link fence and asked him to leave.

When she got home, he said, “Do you want a divorce?” He stood at the bottom of the stairs. She stood on the third stair. She could see the top of his head, where the hair was just beginning to thin.

She said, “Divorce is a sin in the eyes of God.”

“So is lying,” he said. “You don’t want me. I’m going to a hotel. “

She said, “Wait, we’ll have children. Wait. We can fix this.”

He said, “I don’t understand you.”

She said, “I might be pregnant right now. It might happen tonight. Don’t go.”

He said, “We need help.”

She said, “You’re right. We’ll pray.”

He said, “I don’t think I can right now.”


            After dinner, after the news, when the house was dark and cool, Delia watched the moonlight on the wall. In the pine branches, the moon made shapes of light. An old man at first, then a toy soldier. Then it looked like Jesus, bending slightly towards the window.

Purple Armchairs

by Amy Baker

My brother said he saw a band of dogs once that were really skinny and had no hair. They were about a foot tall and had big eyes. He said they were sniffing cars’ tires but quickly trotted away when they saw him. I laughed when he told me, picturing a bunch of lanky, pink-skinned dogs running around. I laughed—until he said that they had a disease.

I had never heard much about Parvo virus before. I thought it had to do with dogs and cats and tapeworms. I wondered if Parvo was the disease the dogs had that made them lose their hair. Someone told me animals die from Parvo. Their dog had it, and it stopped eating.

We had the same dog for nearly fourteen years. She was a gorgeous golden retriever. People used to stop us on the street and tell us how beautiful she was. People think dogs can’t smile, but she could. We would scratch her back and examine her teeth, and come to the conclusion that, “Yep, yep, she’s smiling.” We didn’t treat her like a human, but she thought she was one. She was always healthy and fairly energetic, and then she got a tumor and died. It wasn’t because of the Parvo disease—it was cancer.

The word reminds me of death. Perhaps it is because my dog died of cancer. Perhaps because my dad had cancer, though he didn’t die. I think of a little girl I know cheerfully reading a picture book with her parents on the third floor of a Hollywood hospital, while the invisible cancer grew inside her. She had no hair.


            I began to get bruises on my legs in February of 1996 after I went skiing for the third time in my life. I was confidently flying down a blue diamond run at Sundance Ski Resort near Provo, Utah. I heard a groan from behind me and then a “Whooooaaah” and a man barreled into me. My skis flew, and so did I. I finally stopped after thirty feet of sliding. The man who crashed into me was near the bottom of the mountain. I guess he was sorry, though he was too far away to yell it. My legs throbbed as I began the search for my skis. I knew bruises would follow. I just didn’t know they would be massive.

The bruising on my arms was worse than on my legs. I went to a church activity at the park and played grass volleyball one night. Our team won. We laughed and slapped each other high-fives. Later that night, my entire forearms were dark blue and covered with tiny red and blue dots. Playing volleyball had never done that to me. People would gasp at my arms, and I would show them and laugh about it because they looked a lot worse than they felt. I even took a picture of my bruises to send to my family in California.

I thought my family would be surprised too, and laugh, because that is what I did. They didn’t. My mom first asked me if I was eating. She suggested that I go to the doctor when I got home. I flew home to California after finals in April. When I took a shower that night, I noticed huge bruises on the back of my thighs. They were from sitting on the airplane seat.

The next day I went to see a doctor out in North Hollywood. She asked how my year at college had been and then checked my ears with those pointy ear-lookers that have little lights. She asked if anything else was wrong. I showed her my bruises. She looked at them and acted nonchalantly, as if everyone went in there with serious bruising. She told me to have a few blood tests done and to go home. I shrugged, concluding that I needed more iron in my diet, and left the clinic without answers. on the way home I thought of my boyfriend, Matt, who told me that they thought he had leukemia when he was nine. Matt was hospitalized for three weeks. His mom tells of how when she touched his arm it left a bruise in the shape of a handprint. His body had nearly stopped producing platelets, the blood-clotting cells. He had to have a bone marrow test where they stuck a long needle into his lower back to penetrate the spine. The tests came out negative for leukemia. What he did have was idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura—commonly called “ITP.” That’s a very long name for a platelet-destroying pathogen in the body. (Originally, I had thought Matt made the word up!) Doctors don’t know what causes platelet destruction with ITP. (ITP is different from hemophilia—with hemophilia, at any given time your body doesn’t produce enough platelets; with ITP something in your body destroys platelets you have already produced. Both diseases cause severe bruising.)

I had severe bruising. Within three hours of the time I arrived home from the clinic, the phone rang. It was Dr. Baer.

“Guess what,” she said and sighed. “I have news for you.” I sat Indian-style on the blue carpet of my room as my heart beat faster. I leaned forward, as if trying to get closer to the doctor’s voice. “You have something called ITP” she said.

I almost laughed. “You mean idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura?” I said. “My boyfriend had that when he was little.”

All I could think about was how Matt was never going to believe me when I told him this one.

“You are going to have to come in tomorrow and the next day for eight hours of IV in the oncology department.”

Oncology means cancer, I immediately thought. My attention heightened. I felt as though someone had snapped their fingers in front of my face. I grabbed a pen and the nearest piece of paper I could find to write notes.

“Your platelets are being destroyed and we don’t know why. We are expecting to receive tests back soon to find out if a virus is causing this or if we’ll need to do additional tests for leukemia.” I took notes furiously. She said that a normal person has between a 150,000 and 250,000 platelet count. If the platelet count falls below 10,000, internal organs can begin to bleed and there is no way to stop the bleeding—the patient dies. She said my platelet count was 13,000.

I froze. “What’s this IV deal?” I asked. Thoughts of HIV and contracting other diseases from infected blood transfusions saturated my brain. She explained that it was gamma-globulin, a man-made substance that would coat and protect each individual platelet cell. She explained that having the IV treatment tomorrow was crucial to my staying alive. With my platelet count at 13,000, if I bumped into anything the internal bleeding would likely nor stop and I would have to be hospitalized. I made arrangements with her to arrive at the oncology department at 8:00 a.m. the next morning and asked if she could be reached later. I knew my parents would want to talk to her.


            Joanne, the nurse, typed my name into the computer and told us we could wait in the treatment room. The first thing I noticed were the room’s big window’s. The walls and floors were white. My mom and I each sat in one of the purple reclining chairs that were against the walls below the windows. Hey purple chairs! I remember thinking. These chairs are the same color as my bruises!

That’s all there was in the room, lounge chairs and small television screens clamped onto the ceiling. The rest of the room was open space. Out the windows, beyond the chaotic city streets that were under construction, I could see the ocean and Santa Monica beach. Catalina Island would have been visible, if it weren’t for the smog.

My eyes shifted from the window when Dr. Sleight emerged from his office. He was tall and bald. He wore a bright blue Hawaiian shirt with gaudy flowers and white pants. I thought the shirt was humorous, though I remember thinking, Are they allowed to wear things like that?

He smiled and shook my mom’s hand, introducing himself. He began to explain the intravenous procedure. He said there was no risk of transferring any diseases during the treatment because the gamma-globulin was man-made. The IV was imperative, he said. He reminded me that my platelet count was 13,000 and if it dropped below 10,000, I would have serious problems. My mom and I still felt apprehensive. Everything had happened too fast. The day before, I had gone to the doctor thinking she was going to tell me to eat more bananas or vitamins. Now I was going to have intravenous treatment. I had never even broken a bone before.

We believed the doctor, though, despite his casual Hawaiian shirt that somehow made him seem less professional. I guess he just had a good sense of humor. He immediately called the lab and asked them to send up the bottles of gamma-globulin. The procedure would take about eight hours that day and eight hours the next. Great, I thought. Sixteen hours in purple reclining chairs with the beach out the window to long for.

The nurse said the IV might make me sick initially. She was right. After eight hours, Joanne removed the needle from my hand with the care of a gentle mother. I winced as the blood poured out. I couldn’t handle the sight or thought of blood and injuries.

My mom drove me home. I was achy and dizzy and almost couldn’t walk. I threw up fourteen times when I got home. My dad and our neighbor, the former bishop, gave me a priesthood blessing that night. I wanted to go to sleep and stop throwing up. I remember feeling that the blessing would give me relief for at least a few hours. It did. I fell asleep.


            The next morning I awoke with another eight hours of IV and throwing up to look forward to. Dr. Sleight greeted us in the treatment room with a smile and white pants identical to yesterday’s. He was wearing a yellow Hawaiian shirt this time. I wondered how many pairs of white pants he had and how many times he had been to Hawaii.

“Good news, Amy!” he proclaimed. “You have a virus.” My mom and I sat confused as to why that was good news. “With ITP we don’t usually know what is destroying platelets,” he said. “Bur your blood has tested positive for a virus, so we have a better idea of the nature of the beast. You have something called Parvo Virus B- 1 9.” Parvo! That is the dog disease that gives them tapeworms or something. Dogs die from that. They stop eating. I wondered if they lost their hair. My mom must have been thinking the same thing, because she immediately spoke.

“Isn’t that the same disease that dogs and cats get?”

“No!” the doctor said, nearly shouting. He seemed almost offended. “They are completely different! Humans cannot get the Parvo disease that animals get.” My mom turned to me with

a “sorry-I-asked” look. He nodded seriously. “It is not the same disease, and Amy will not die from it.”

The second day of IV treatment went better than the first. I had a severe headache still, but I didn’t throw up. The doctor suggested that I come in tomorrow for a third consecutive day. I would only have a blood test, though, to ensure that the gamma-globulin was working. I then knew where I would be spending my summer—at the hospital.

I began to go to the hospital each week for a blood test to determine my platelet count. If my count was under 50,000, I stayed for eight hours of IV that day and come back for eight hours the next day. I ended up having an IV treatment every third week.

I did not realize at the time how serious it is when platelets are destroyed. During the time that I discovered severe bruises my freshman year at BYU, I made my roommate, Mandy, come with me to donate plasma. (They pay you for your plasma.) The assistants at the plasma center first checked our veins to see if they were big enough. They then told us that they were sorry, but we would have to come back another time. The electricity had gone out.

Mandy and I walked the six blocks home, disappointed not to have gotten paid, but secretly relieved to be getting away from long, sharp needles. What I really should have felt was lucky. If they had stuck a needle in me at that time to remove blood and plasma, I probably would have had to have been hospitalized. I am sure my platelet count was low at the time because my arms and legs were covered with bruises. My body would have had no way to stop bleeding. I could have bled to death.


            I didn’t feel sick. I had a virus in my blood, but I didn’t feel different. I got up early and ran two to three miles every day, even on IV treatment days. I lived my normal life, working for my dad’s exchange student company every morning and going out with friends at night. I even went on a four-day backpacking trip to Yosemite National Park in late May, though I probably shouldn’t have. (I didn’t tell my doctor about that one.) The thing that slowed me down was fatigue. I was tired all of the time. I would fall asleep everywhere. At times I lacked the energy to get up, and I would doze off.

My nurse suggested that I not run everyday. She said I needed to allow my body to rest. I had played sports and been active my entire life. I didn’t want to stop running. It seems like such a small thing, but I didn’t think I could live without exercising.

I lived. I was lucky. Some children who regularly received treatment in the purple-chair room of the hospital have already died of cancer, mostly leukemia.

Besides myself, there were nine other “regulars.” They were children who were receiving their treatment at the same time as me. We would smile and say hi, though we didn’t talk much to each other. The only way we knew each other’s medical stories was through observation. There were two boys who always got a mustard-yellow liquid through IV. They were receiving platelets. I wondered if they had hemophilia. I never asked them about their diseases or their lives, nor did they ask me. We just smiled.

I remember one day, when there were only a few people in the room. There was a beeping sound and the nurse gently took the needle out of a little girl’s hand. The nurses loved the children and grew attached to them. One nurse, Joanne, said it tore her heart to work there because children suffered and died a lot of the time. Joanne was a master at IV needle-removing. She could do it with one quick sweep and it didn’t hurt as much as when the other nurses took needles out. Joanne was careful, but the little girl whimpered softly when the needle was removed. She clenched her mother’s arm and tears streamed. The mother stroked her daughter’s hair. Joanne put a soft gauze pad over the puncture wound and smiled.

“Is that your favorite book, Sophia?” The girl nodded, her bottom lip jutting out, and she sniffled. She was reading it the last time I came. The girl s sobs died down when Joanne kissed her forehead. Joanne said it tore her heart to work there, but it must have also fed her soul.

I sat across the room that day with an IV needle in my hand. It was secured with large amounts of tape. I had brought several books to read, but I watched Oprah and Montel Williams talk shows for an hour or so. I seemed to forget about viruses and treatments and leukemia while I watched daughters bring their mothers on the talk shows to get makeovers.

Finally I turned off the television to study Spanish vocabulary words. I was enrolled in Spanish 345 class for fall semester and was nervous that the class would be difficult. My dad gave me the vocab words. He is a high school Spanish teacher.

My IV beeped. Joanne came to push buttons on the digital flow regulator. I asked her how much longer she thought the treatment would take that day. She checked the amount of fluid left in the bottle, looked at her watch, and told me it would be another three to four hours. I smiled and thanked her. I remember, at that moment, wishing I was at the beach.

I am sure all those little children that I saw in the treatment room also wanted to go to the beach instead of the clinic. But they couldn’t. Much of their lives was spent there at the hospital receiving IV fluid or having tests done. Many of them went to the hospital at least twice a week; some went everyday. They did it to stay alive.

Many times I would sit in the purple armchair and count the hours that I had left of IV treatment. I knew that my Parvo virus would go away after it “ran its course” and I would be better. If the virus didn’t leave, removing my spleen would solve the problem. Dr. Sleight didn’t want to do that though, because it would be a major operation and I would have to take pills everyday for the rest of my life. He said he was hopeful that the virus would eventually leave, though it might take two years.

The little children that I shared the treatment room with did not have that comfort. They did not know when they were going to ger better. Many probably never would. Some would not live to see their next Christmas.

One day a girl named Sandra came into the clinic. She was probably about twenty years old. I had seen her previous times, but she never got IV treatment. Most of the time she just sat in the room and waited to see the doctor. One of the nurses paused to look at Sandra on her way to check a boy’s IV flow regulator.

“You got a new wig!” the nurse said. “It looks so good!” Sandra was beaming. I smiled too. It did look good. I didn’t know Sandra wore a wig. I supposed she had lost her hair from chemotherapy.

I sat in the purple armchair and watched the school-age children receive IV while doing their homework. Two brothers always did math together. Their parents never came to the clinic. They probably just dropped them off and picked them up. The process had become a routine, a part of their lives. I thought of their mother asking them later that evening how many math problems they had finished that day at the clinic.

The armchairs were big and comfortable. I remember the feeling of their fibers on my skin and their stale smell, like they’d been taken out of a home’s front room that the family rarely used. You could almost fit two of me in one of the chairs, three of the little kids. I had difficulty falling asleep in them, though. I was afraid I would move around too much in my sleep, and the IV needle would come loose. One day I did fall asleep and the needle slipped. I woke up and the top of my left hand was swollen almost an inch and a half higher than normal. There was a big bubble under my skin. I looked at it and felt like I was going to faint. The nurse hurried over and quickly removed the needle. She said the gamma-globulin fluid had seeped into my tissues, but that the swelling would go down within a few days. I was relieved.

I began to feel more grateful for good health. My body was not completely healthy, but I was glad to be alive. I was able to run and hike and do things that I loved. I could breathe without a respirator, and I could walk. I had forgotten that health and our very lives are such blessings.


            Dr. Sleight began to be concerned about what would happen in the fall when school began. I had planned to go back to BYU and was registered for September classes. I was greatly looking forward to it. The question was how I would receive my IV treatments. The closest hospital that accepted our medical insurance was in Denver. One plan was to fly to Colorado every three weeks to receive treatment. My mom suggested that I fly home, though, because I knew the California hospital and staff well. We discussed the subject a bit more and tentatively decided that I would get a blood test to determine my platelet count each week in Provo at the BYU Health Center. I would have the Health Center fax the results to Dr. Sleight. If my platelet count was low enough, I could take some special steroids or fly home for a weekend of IV treatments.

As my mom and I talked one afternoon about plans for the school year, Dr. Sleight went back into his office. He emerged a few minutes later with a lei of artificial flowers around his neck. He was grinning. “How about transferring to BYU-Hawaii?” he said in a salesman voice. “We have a clinic in Hawaii that accepts your insurance!” I laughed. Going to Hawaii sounded like paradise to me. But I shook my head. Everything had been arranged for me to return to Provo. I had paid my tuition and my first month’s rent. My friends were there. I was going back.

I left for Provo two days after an IV treatment on August 24th. My platelet count was high due to the gamma-globulin boost. I said goodbye to my family and then stepped on the plane, wondering if I would be back three weeks later.


            I didn’t think much about platelets while at school, though I went to the Health Center each week. At first my count was a high 125,000 from the recent IV in August. Then it began to drop. One week it was 69,000. Dr. Sleight had set the rule that if my platelet count went below 50,000, I would have to fly home. However, after a month my platelet count began to be stable. The lowest it got at school was 65,000. I never flew home. I concluded that the virus had left.

I wonder sometimes at the curiousness of the experience. The electricity went off in the plasma-donating center before I knew I had a virus. The virus gradually went away after I returned to school. I know people prayed for me. Older ladies in my ward’s Relief Society came up to me and said, “Hope you get better sweetie. We’re prayin’ for you.” I appreciated that. My brother wrote to say that his entire missionary district held a special fast for me. They included me in their prayers. I was instantly grateful to them. I think all those people are why the virus left my body and I got better. (Actually, I don’t know if the virus has left. It may still be in my body. My platelet count has gone up, though, and I consider myself better.)

I continued to have my platelet count monitored. I began to go to the BYU Health Center once a month instead of once a week. My count remained steady at 80,000 or higher. I remember the day my count rose about 100,000. I gave the nurse who drew my blood a high five.

One night in Janu ary, my mom called. It was near midnight. “Amy, I have to tell you something,” she said. I sat Indian-style against the wall in my apartment in Provo, Utah. I was in the living room and the lights were off except for one small desk lamp in the corner. “Amy, Joanne called me,” she began. Joanne was the nurse from the oncology department in California. “She said that you can’t fax your platelet count results here anymore.” My curiosity heightened. was the hospital’s fax machine broken? Did I need to start seeing a doctor in Provo instead of Los Angeles? Was I all better? My mom began again. “Amy, I just had to call you really quick and tell you this.” She was silent for a few seconds. “Dr. Sleight is dead.” I gasped. The sound was so loud that my roommates woke up and came into the room.

“What? How did he die?” I asked. Thoughts of diseases ran through my head: AIDS, Parvo, cancer. He had lost all of his hair.

“He was killed in a car accident,” my mom said. I was stunned. I could see Dr. Sleight smiling at us with his bright Hawaiian shirts, suggesting that I transfer schools and go to BYU-Hawaii.

My mom and I spoke a little more and then she had to go. I hung up the phone and was left in shock. My virus had come unexpectedly. I went through a summer of painful and seemingly tedious IV treatments, the last one being two days before I returned to BYU in September. I had not had another treatment since. The virus seemed to have disappeared. And my doctor was now dead—not cancer, not Parvo, but a car accident.


            On the third floor of the Kaiser Hospital on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, Joanne still tends to the IV’s and needs of bright-eyed children. I know she loves them and their families. Many of the children that were there when I was probably continue to visit the clinic regularly for treatment. They do so to stay alive.

I attend BYU. I have not been to the oncology clinic for a year and a half. The last time I got my platelets checked was four months ago. I have a jogging class and run twelve to eighteen miles a week. I count myself lucky to have good health.

But I remember well the oncology department. I admire our nurse, Joanne. She became a part of our lives. More than once, I remember a little child who died of leukemia, and Joanne had to call and tell their family. I think of the children there. Although I don’t really know them, I feel drawn to go back and visit. I cannot begin to know what it is like to deal with the physical and emotional difficulties of having cancer. But I want to tell the children that I love them. I want to tell them that they inspire me. For two short months, we seemed to share a common understanding because we sat fighting diseases on the threads of purple armchairs.


            Sometimes people do not know how to act around those who are different. Before I had a virus, I was never afraid or nervous around people who had illnesses, but I was ever aware of their disease or handicap. I would observe how they acted and performed tasks that I took for granted being able to do. When I spoke with people who had a disease, there was a little cuckoo clock in my brain that, every so often, would come out and say, “Oh remember that he has cancer,” or, “How remarkable that she does all of these things even though she has AIDS.”

What I learned was that the illness is a part of their lives, but it is nor their whole lives. I went to the doctor every week when I had Parvo virus. I had to stop doing some things I normally loved to do. I went to the doctor around the same time each week because I had to. Then I went on with my life.

I think of people with illnesses differently now. I still admire many of them, but my little reminding cuckoo clock is gone. People may have tubes in their noses or have to pull an oxygen tank, but I see them as I see everyone else. I do not think of them as different anymore.


            I cannot imagine what it would be like to have cancer. I think of how I sat in a purple armchair next to children with cancer, each of us with an IV needle in our hands. I remember feeling selfish because I had already grown up. I was nineteen. My disease would go away. They were little children, beautiful and full of energy. Many would probably die soon. But they didn’t think about that. They were kids who wanted to play as every child does. Their parents cherished each day.

I think of the day I will return to the clinic. I imagine myself driving through the busy streets of Los Angeles on a warm Friday in June to visit a room full of big windows, purple armchairs, and young children receiving treatments. This time I will no longer feel beckoned by the beach out the window, but by the smiles and silent courage of a stalwart group on the third floor.

Our First Christmas Eve

by N. Andrew Spackman

The air above my parents' roof is cold.
It pushes smoke back down the chimney.
I turn off the fire alarm
and open both windows, but
my wife and I still can’t breathe,
so I hang a wet towel from the mantel,
next to the Christmas stockings
my mom made for us.
On mine she needled baby.
The one she made for Kathy
is black with soot.

Beneath the smoke,
Kathy and I drink eggnog.
On our hands and knees,
we lap it up like kittens.
She hides her hands in my hair
and sponges my face with kisses.
"Be soft," she says
when I bite her lip on the hide-a-bed.
That night, in dreams, I stand before her,
black with soot and tempting.
She says all she wants is a pomegranate.