Thomas Elson’s short stories, poetry, and flash fiction have been published in numerous venues such as Calliope, Pinyon, Lunaris, New Ulster, Lampeter, Selkie, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, and Adelaide Literary Magazine. He divides his time between Northern California and Western Kansas.
“Again.” “Again.” “Again.” “Once more.” Her son slid down the wall onto the hallway floor. He saw what they did. ‘Oh, God.” “Jesus.” He was helpless. Helpless - while the woman who bore him was laid out with chest exposed and shocked with paddles by men overfilling their pale blue uniforms.
Helpless – while the woman who walked him to school, who intervened at school, who repaired his injuries, provided inoculations, taught him how to use a spoon, throw a ball, speak in public, who worked third shift to support him, visited him in confinement, never condemned his behaviors; his one constant amid the turmoil he created; as that woman who was never helpless was laid out on the floor, surrounded a stranger who said, “Again.” Silence. “Again.” Silence. “Stop.” Then, lifting the paddles, said, “Time of death…”
One hundred and forty-eight people gathered in the hall. One person could not make it but sent a three-page letter. One hundred and forty-seven signed the book. Only one did not. One hundred and forty-one, over the years, had spoken with her about children, spouses, abuse, rapes, fears, shortcomings, debts, dreams. One hundred and thirty-seven had been hired by her. Twenty-three had their jobs saved by her. Four had been fired by her but came anyway. Everyone knew it was the last time. One photograph was taken. One woman in the center of the photograph. All were smiling. One hundred and forty-seven signatures on the back of the photograph. Twelve words on the front: From all those you saved at St. Matthew’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
* Divinity: collective noun for a group of neonatal intensive care nurses.
THE END -
RULES IN HEAVEN
Before you get too comfortable here, let’s review the rules. First, there are certain verities: All of you are different. Each one of you was wrong. There is no adoration. Fawning does not work. I am not that small. Do not pray. Prayers do not matter. I never really listened to them anyway. Your arrogance offends me – as if I required reminding what you need. Besides that, you failed to ask for the right thing. For kindness and empathy: read Matthew. If you only acted out of self-interest, at least you did something. There are two main rules: Do not do anything you did before. What you did not do does not matter here. THE END
ON HER THIRD STEP
A right turn onto Seneca Street, left at McCormack, past the high school - where it began with adjoining lockers – then up the small hill, over the railroad tracks, the stop light, over the Arkansas River, look to the right and see the spillway, then more railroad tracks, past her best friend’s house, two more blocks east, turn left, go north for a block and a half, then on his left the numbers, 1045-1043 – the street numbers of the duplex. Only three steps to the shared porch. The same route he travelled years earlier, first hesitantly, then eagerly, then greedily. The street was both lush and bleak, scattered with vehicles without bumpers, fenders, doors, radio antennas, wheels, or hubcaps. Vehicles in streets, front yards, elevated or embedded a few absent tires, others absent axels. Vehicles once for use now for cannibalization or neglect. # That night was terminal. He didn’t know it yet; but more likely than not, she had an inclination. He would see her only one more time. He didn’t know that either. On the third step of a shared porch they had rested on, stood against, and lingered near for years - her widowed mother’s half a house. The kind of slap-dash housing folks lived in back then. Housing where wind could be heard through the windows. The wind a low whine, sometimes mellow, more often shrill and mean, but always demanding. Winds that delivered consecutive blows with such force that memories long tucked away were shaken loose. Houses modeled, remodeled over generations until they stood as they were in the beginning with pitted white siding, unpainted porches, two halves with two doors and two windows facing the street. A visitor could be shotgunned through the door, into the living room, kitchen, past bathroom, then into bedroom and out the back door without being invited inside. Their lives charted by a single path dictated by the times – the early sixties which means the fifties, but learned from the forties, and dictated during the thirties. Her grandmother’s life sewn into her seams. His grandfathers’ life a trumpet that would lead him his entire life. Both carried expectations as blinders. The only issues were the peripheral vision allowed with those blinders, and how long until they were yanked off. Her world remained as small as her house – one classroom in one city with one spouse and one set of friends. From house to high school to college to classroom – a life within eight city blocks. His world had multiple roads – graveled, paved. Rutted. Smooth. Mapped. Unknown - until, years later, after paneled offices near the Potomac, the Mississippi, and San Francisco Bay, he was on the same street in the same town where he had begun. He, in his bespoke suit, had seen a current picture of her – a weighty, dyed or maybe wigged blond of a color not found in nature, her posture boisterous, ankles and wrists thick wearing a checkboard of orange and white that emphasized everything wrong. He preferred the black and white version when she was erect with dark hair framing an eager face, eyes focused on the world in front of her. # That night on the left side of the third step of the duplex was their last time whose first time began with adjoining lockers and the door she opened that struck his head as he turned to look at her. No words, just mutterings. No actual plan, they just were drawn together, just yes and yes, then yes. There were no smiles on that terminal night only attempts to recapture better times. Times of firsts, of anticipations, feelings, touches. One year, two years, three years. The school years, Christmas vacations, summer jobs, the nights, dates, parties, movies, games, arguments, parking – airport, drive-ins – parents’ cars, permissions, acceptance, then graduation. Then, their final night as a couple. Three years. In all that time he was never invited inside. For years he carried her in that empty spot. They were broken by something forgotten, never understood, mendable had they a few more years of maturity and experience. On that night, when futility hit, he rose from the step, kissed her, held her, kissed both cheeks, kissed her again, took her hand, and did not let go until distance and time released her for him. THE END
He loved this park above all others – far surpassing Central, Golden Gate, Riverside, and all in between – this pocket park with swings, monkey bars, small merry-go-round, sandboxes, a forbidden maypole, and the water tower next to the wading pool all within walking distance of his family home, the family businesses, and the church. It was the wading pool he remembered as he drove by and saw himself stepping into the shallow water dressed in yellow shorts and matching yellow shirt holding his mother’s hand. He saw himself and his mother with her reassuring and encouraging smile, when, for the first time, he stepped into water not in a bathtub. Now old, ailing and worried, a full life of multiple degrees, with more initials after his name than letters in it, careers blown away by himself or time, multiple adventures on either side of a judge’s bench, forays on either side of bars horizontal or vertical, he prayed he were able to discard the shadow side – just eliminate it, take a scalpel and destroy that side of his life. If only he had not produced that forensic financial audit; if only he had not made those deposits; if only those accounts had not been created; if only he had behaved better, been better; if only he could do, not do, undo things; if only he walked and made decisions in sunlight, eschewed the shadow, opened the books, took the notes, asked the questions, accepted the answers, held the hand, held his own hand, held any hand, repressed that certain word, answered that certain call, did not answer the other call, saw more, said less, said nothing; if only he could begin again as that little boy with his mother in the wading pool at Zerger Park. THE END