Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pain Eater (The Summons)

I've decided to expand upon a previous story. It may make a bit more sense after reading the original story.

Pain Eater

Pain Eater
(The Summons)

Jimmie climbed back onto the doctors table to await test results. His mind like an intellectual version of a gumball machine—millions of thoughts swirling in his brain until one peeled away and filtered down for processing. What a jewel of a thought it was—contemplating the irony of wait. How inaction bordered on negating the very definition of a verb, yet within a medical facility idle moments serve such vital purpose. Waiting perpetuated the eeriness of the unknown; fueled the idea that every worker knew more about a patient’s condition than allowed to divulge. Workers playing the roles of perfect minions; dancing in the hallways like puppets masquerading with painted-on smiles. Each peddling the premise of promise; that somehow through the pursuit of higher education a doctor acquired the ability to heal. As if simply desiring something so noble could make it true. The entire charade was nothing more than a higher form of hogwash.

Dr. Medina arrived carrying a packet of x-rays under his arm. Jimmie barely noticed the company in the room or the grim look on the doctor’s face as he did his best to temper the news. Words dribbled from his mouth rolling one into the other like vegetables into a blender.

“Tell me, Doc, do we have time for a serious question?”

Dr. Medina found Jimmie’s request for a ‘serious’ question uncomfortably amusing. Following an elongated stare in the direction of his watch he nodded, allowing his patient to speak.

“There’s a woman in the waiting room—probably middle thirties, thin, short hair, and a kind face. Glued to her sides are two of the cutest little girls I’ve ever seen. Each draped over an arm as if she’s their favorite carnival ride. Have you seen her?”

“It’s the second Thursday of the month, Jimmie. She’s due for another round of chemo—of course I’ve seen her!”

“Oh I understand you believe you’re treating her, but that wasn’t the question, Doctor. Are you moved by how pale and lifeless her eyes are; how the heaviness of her heart has seeped through her pores and settled like a fog around her. How day by day she’s losing the battle to hide her struggle with mortality from her babies. Are you able to see those things?”

The exam room became an experiment for displacement, as if every molecule of air was vacuumed out and thick layer of tension rolled in. The slap of x-rays against a metal counter echoed cold and still.

“Jimmie, you need to listen to me closely. There are time-sensitive decisions that need to be made. Can we avoid critique of my bed-side manner and get back to your condition?”

The woman in waiting touched Jimmie from the inside out. He was no more able to release the hold she had on his mind now than he could physically let go of her in the waiting room. They shared a hug that lingered; he brushed a tear from her eye and stroked her hand until they called her back, but perhaps the beauty of the moment was only the shared realization that modern medicine had lost sight of a patient’s true needs.

Disgusted by the lack of urgency on the part of his patient Dr. Medina cleared his throat a second time.

As thoughts of the woman faded Jimmie turned his attention to the row of plaques hanging on the wall.

“The best medical schools money can buy, and yet you don’t understand this at all, do you, Doc? How can you heal patients when you can’t even see them? You used to believe in a higher power—a creator in control of all things. As a young man you allowed him to guide you to the poison and watch over your methods of treatment. What caused you to leave those things, Doctor?”

An icy glaze swept over the physician’s face as his mind drifted to a dark and unsettled place. As uncomfortable as was the snapshot in time, more than anything he resented someone opening the door to it—a patient no less. The loss of control consumed him and so like a missile shatters its silo doors, his tone erupted sharp and cold.

“Jimmie, it’s not your day to play doctor! You’re not mentally or emotionally equipped for it. So if you’ll stop this superfluous nonsense I’ll deliver your diagnose now.”

The outburst produced nothing more than a wry grin from his patient.

“If you mean the cancer—I know full well what’s inside me. Soon it will be gone, as will the woman’s in waiting. In case you haven’t figured it out, Doc they are now one in the same. As much as you need to believe I came here to see you today, I came here for her. “

The consultation ended in a stalemate with Dr. Medina accepting a denial of treatment form while Jimmie continued to elaborate as he dressed.

“You see, Doc, God designs no one without purpose. He created with me with the ability to carry things for others; physical ailments they are unable to bear on their own. I inherited this ability from my Aunt Laura. She referred to herself as a pain-eater. Spent most of her life half-crippled by the afflictions of others, yet she chose to greet every morning as an opportunity to live out her calling. She saw a gift in what others would consider a curse. Most everything in life depends on perspective doesn’t it Doc? How is it that you lost yours?”

Jimmie didn’t require an answer just yet. He finished buttoning his jacket and placed a piece of scrap paper in the doctor’s palm. Folding the doctor’s fingers around the note Jimmie held them closed while he made his offer.

“After you see Jenny—when her test results come back clean and none of your journals offer a plausible explanation, please consider coming to our next meeting. You have the address, and we desperately need your help.”

Locating a reasonable parking spot turned into shear madness. Not even the finest play or sporting event warranted a five-block walk on such a frigid winter night but the doctor needed answers. In twenty-eight years of practice he had seen a single case, but in one afternoon a total of six terminal cancer patients walked from his office with a clean-bill of health and new lease on life, presumably because of contact with a man of questionable mental stability. One who possessed no medical qualifications whatsoever and identified himself only as a second-generation pain-eater.

Second-hand furniture lined the perimeter walls of an apartment designed to small. A single empty chair remained out of twenty or so. Doctor Medina passed on the front row and instead chose to stand near the door. If the appearance of the inhabitants was any indication he anticipated an early escape. Concert tees, brightly colored hair, or unusual piercings and tattoos appeared to be prerequisites for admission. Out of place didn’t begin to describe the doctor’s presence here.

Jimmie extended his hand.

“Thanks for coming Doctor. I’ll assume Jenny’s test results were the deciding factor on accepting my invitation. The other five cases were to avoid the understandable inclination to dismiss this as a freak occurrence. I assure you, everything that occurred in your waiting room was deliberate and divinely orchestrated.”

Dr. Medina leveraged the handshake and jerked Jimmie close.

“Why did you invite me here? Personal gain—you want to know how much you can extort from a doctor for your services! I’m telling you now I want no part in your black magic.”

Jimmie drew back matching the intensity with which the doctor delivered his accusations.

“None of us are for hire! If we even considered such a path our ability would be immediately and permanently be stripped from us. Funny you suggest black magic—there is a darker side to this and there are more of them than us. Through the same method of physical contact and transference they deliver disease and pain. In my mind the real question is how many in your profession would we be willing to arrange an endless pool of patients? Many already have. I needed to reach you first. Our group needs a spokesman who will be respected in the medical community, who can remind them of the Hippocratic Oath they all took. God directed me to you, Doctor Medina—are you telling me he was wrong in doing so?”

Jimmie’s attempt to keep the conversation private failed. All were innately aware of the importance of this moment. Every eye and heart in the room fixed squarely on the two—waiting for the pendulum to swing in one direction or the other.

“Doctor, time is of the essence. You assure me our group has your full support, and we’re on the way to your home.”

The physician’s face reflected an indescribable degree of perplexity. Indecision coursed through his veins like fire. He reached for the handle of the door, but the swing fell short as it met with Jimmie’s foot.

“Did you hear me say we would go to your home, Doctor? More specifically where your daughter is under the care of hospice? She has deteriorated to a point where your heart barely allows you to maintain eye contact. She understands you feel that you and your medicine have failed her. That’s why she can’t look you in the eyes, but we all know you have done everything within your power. The fact remains she’s broken beyond the scope of modern medicine. There is only one who can save her now. Damn it Doctor, are you too stubborn and prideful to let God use us to give you your daughter back?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Thought of the Day

There is nothing more imminent in life than death. Nothing more humbling and perhaps harrowing than the moment you realize the person staring back at you from the mirror is a player in this game and despite your attempts to cheat, thwart, or postpone it, your turn will come.
I am reminded of the final paragraph of something I wrote some time ago titled “A Hunters Eyes”

“Even now as I sit in my tranquil state, the transformation from hunter to hunted looms near. Truly it began seconds after drawing my first breath, but it is only now I’m aware of its steely approach. Being prey is nothing to fear, for everything is hunted by something or someone. My prayers are only that I may face the hunter who desires me with dignity and grace.”

The only possible way to hedge your bets against unpredictability is to convince yourself that today is ‘your turn’. Your only priorities are to live, laugh, and love appropriately

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Gates of Passage

A few of the words came in dribbles, others eluded her completely. Katy’s spotty recollection of the Mending Wall would have crushed Mrs. Carter; a woman who believed the poem to be of such greatness that all third graders should have devoured every word and committed them to memory. Katy recalled the look of horror on her teacher’s face as she explained Frost’s ambiguity left her cold inside. Her teacher coaxed her to an empty corner as if a third-grader with an opinion might be contagious. Swallowed by a state of panic, Mrs. Carter drew the back of her hand across her forehead and crumpled into the nearest chair. Katy had yet to connect the sharing of her thoughts with her teacher’s sudden illness, and she had plenty more to say. She described in great detail her profound sense of disappointment in the author’s inability to act upon his apparent desire to tear down the barrier. Mrs. Carter’s eyelids fluttered as Katy attempted to lighten the mood by suggesting that perhaps Frost was riding the proverbial fence of which he so eloquently wrote. Mrs. Carter’s eyelids slammed shut in a state of unconsciousness as Katy asserted indecision was in part, and in certain cases, a complete indicator of weakness.

She stared past the iron posts until the vertical and horizontal lines melted into a puddle of black. Fences served no purpose other than to keep people or things locked on one side or the other. She supposed the builder of this particular fence a fool. With respect to graveyards and spirits, barriers were helpless to do either.

Katy leaned her bicycle against the fence. She hated when mother was right and she had been on both accounts. In a perfect world Katy would have been mature enough to have attended her grandmother’s funeral with the rest of the family, and she supposed most fourteen year old girls had long ago removed the flowered basket hanging from the handle bars of their bicycles. Most girls her age didn’t ride bikes at all, but that was their problem.

Katy was born a roller coaster, her mother a merry-go-round, and most days the chasm separating them could not be bridged. Mother seemed to believe if she threw the term ‘young lady’ at her a gazillion times a day perhaps at least a remnant of it would stick. Katy wanted to puke a putrid, green, stream every time she heard it. Her mother acted as if she should understand completely what the title entailed and how to navigate the waters gracefully. She didn’t. Life in its present form simply moved too fast. Each day ushered in a new level of awkwardness. Katy longed for yesterday. She missed the way her pigtails bounced when she sprinted to first base, how her dolly’s eyes sparkled when the two sipped tea from tiny cups, and the strange feeling in her tummy when her father bounced her on his knee.
Overnight something swooped down and snatched every beautiful thing from her life. She despised the cakey feel of makeup, like her face could barely breathe; how her breasts continue to swell, interfering with the handle bars on hair-pin turns. The way the boys looked and smiled at her was different and disgusting. If these awful things were part of being a young lady she would rather stay a child. Stopping time didn’t appear to be an option. The injustice of being uncomfortable in your skin seemed inevitable and permanent.

Katy scanned the graveyard for fresh mounds of dirt, finding three that matched the general location her mother had given.  She lifted a paper sack from the bicycle basket, bit down hard on her lower lip, and moved toward the archway that marked the entrance.  The framework of twisted iron rose gracefully from one side of the gate before falling to the other, finding time enough between rise and fall to paint an ornate design against an azure sky. Even in a parking lot for the dead there were hints of elegance if you took the time to seek them out. The hinges of the gate were rusty and the moan dashed any hope of slipping in quietly and anonymously. A doorbell for the dead she thought.

“It’s Katy, Grammy. You home?”

After the words left her mouth she realized how ridiculous they were, but no more so than using ‘Eenie-Meenie’ to select one of the three graves. Her skinny finger bounced from one to the other until two were eliminated. Tightening the grip on the paper bag she tiptoed forward. The lettering on the temporary markers was tiny and difficult to read. By the time Katy could make out the name “Herman Mortimor Wagner” she realized her feet were nearly touching where his should be. She envisioned the toenails tickling hers to be black, curled, and filled with dirt. A sudden creepiness scaled her spine. She drew a deep breath and began backing slowly. Her heel snagged a hardened clod of dirt and a startled shriek ended abruptly when she met with the ground.

A sudden wave of easiness washed over her. If an angry spirit was on the prowl, her clumsiness would have made his work easy. She could only hope that clumsiness made the flesh bitter and sprits avoided her type altogether. Katy slowly reclaimed the breath squeezed from her. Her face flushed as she felt the breeze, much cooler and in places it should not be. She scrambled to pull the purple dress from her waist back over her hips and glared at the high heels strapped to her feet. She turned to the marker and spoke in an apologetic tone.

“I’m so very sorry, Herman Mortimor—wrong grave. This is all new to me…the heels, the dress, graveyards in general. While I’m not at all sure if spirits communicate with one another, if they do, please don’t tell my Granny you saw my underwear. She’d be very disappointed and embarrassed for me.”

Grannies did those kinds of things without thinking—bearing the good and the bad of their grandchildren’s decisions. “No mistake is unrecoverable”, she used to say. Granny used those words a lot with Katy. The time she confused tablespoons with teaspoons, when purple grape juice dribbled down her white ruffled blouse, but especially when a clumsy turn sent a family heirloom to an early grave. Katy burst into tears when she realized what she had done, but without expression Granny patted the top of her head, grabbed a broom, and swept up the remains. As Katy shivered at the sound of broken glass dropping into an empty waste can, Granny whispered that she had secretly hated the color and shape of that old vase, but never had the courage to do anything about it. She went on and on how it resembled an urn; how the color matched nothing in her home, and the relief she felt to finally be rid of it. Katy supposed grandparents had the latitude to lie, if it spared the feelings of those they loved.

Granny was a master helmsman when it came to people. She steered difficult conversations and circumstance toward the best possible outcome. That day Granny tuned a broken vase into a discussion about the uniqueness of individuals. How some women were graceful and pleasing to the eye, and all that was fine and good, but the world placed too high a value on the exterior. She spoke of how courage was difficult to come by, and Katy had been born with more courage in a hangnail than most would discover during a lifetime. Granny didn’t dabble on the surface; she dove straight into the soul, probing the depths, searching for jewels to bring to the surface.       

Katy plopped down Indian-style before her grandmother’s stone and wasted no time opening the paper bag. 

“Hey Grammy, brought one for each of us.”

Katy laid a peanut butter and banana sandwich at the base of the stone and took a bite from the other. Katy giggled.

“Met your neighbor, Herman Mortimor, a few minutes ago…a little scary at first, but seems like a nice enough guy.”

Katy reached deep into the paper bag.

“I found a vase to replace the one I broke. It’s purple and the lines are curvy and sexy. I hope you like it.”

The weight of holding up a one-sided conversation worked on Katy’s insides. Tears formed in the corner of her eyes as she placed a fresh bouquet of white daisies in the vase.

“Plain and beautiful, Grammy, just like you.”

Sobs came in uncontrollable bursts, tears carving her cheeks like tiny knives.

“The truth is I miss you terribly. Right now life is unbelievably hard. I don’t have the answers to anything, and you’re not here to help me anymore.”

Katy felt the presence of granny close. She adored the strength of her arms wrapped around her and the peace and comfort seeping into her soul. Katy absorbed every ounce of goodness and encouragement a vision of Granny could offer. She placed her hand on the stone and closed her eyes. The sun broke across the bridge of her nose, warm and inviting.  Katy listened intently to the sound the wind made as it slipped through the boughs of the pines. Wanting—believing desperately that her grandmother’s voice could heal everything.  

As is so often the case in life, Katy did not receive what she believed to be the answer to all her difficulties in life. She was however blessed with a measure of understanding that allowed her to move forward one more day in a positive direction.

Katy returned to her bicycle and skipped across the lawn with purpose. She stood a long while admiring the flowered bicycle basket setting at the head of Herman Mortimor Wagner. She expected to return now and again filling the basket with a portion of the flowers she brought for Granny, and they would laugh at how awkward their first meeting had been.  

Granny smiled deeply as she watched a budding young woman slip through the mist of dusk toward home. Piece by piece Katy would discover that her strength was not founded in a tired old woman, but was budding and growing within. Soon the garden in her belly would flourish to excess. Granny could hardly wait until Katy shared it with another and two generations passed through the gate to lay flowers.