You have so many things to rant about you can’t figure out where to begin so you decide to just jump in like this typing without stopping Just now you were thinking about acting Not acting like an actor but acting like a survivor That’s what survival is right it’s just acting Here I am standing on this ledge and I should jump I should really jump but then someone comes around the corner and says Hey, how ya doing, how was your weekend, and then you’re talking like everything is cool and you’re telling this guy about a movie you saw without mentioning that you wept through the whole thing clutching a beer and a tub of popcorn with the windows open listening to the pack of raccoons that lives in the woods behind your house the pack you have nightmares about sometimes the nightmares that usually involve burglary and danger and fear but Yeah that movie was great and the actress was amazing She should have won that Oscar she was really robbed You just don’t see great acting like that anymore and yeah thanks You have a good day too Hello Hi yeah it’s a beautiful day Yeah everything is just fine Yeah I can’t wait to get started on the next thing The next really important thing we all need to do Let’s get to work let’s get that thing done because that’s why we’re here This place is the best and we are all doing Just Fine.
Mary Lynn Reed’s fiction has appeared in Mississippi Review, Colorado Review, The MacGuffin, Whistling Shade, Jellyfish Review, and Smokelong Quarterly, among other places. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Maryland.
I remembered being here last Tuesday, and that’s why I didn’t have to look up to know that the wispy sound of scrubs swishing towards me belonged to the nurse, a far too chipper woman who had a glow to her skin that indicated that she still had dreams.
“Sweetie, can you follow me back to a waiting room?”
Stretching as I stood, I shuffled across the dingy dark blue carpet until I crossed the threshold into the tiled and sterile medical portion of the building. Everybody looked up from their desks as I passed through the halls and waved, not out of kindness or due to friendly dispositions, but because I was a far too familiar face.
Dr. Graham was already waiting in our usual room. I sat across from him and awaited a verdict.
“Your tests are still coming back positive.”
“Well yes, that’s because I’m still using, I already told you that.”
“It’s just, if you’re talking about taking fifty or sixty milligrams every other day just to stave off withdrawal, I’d probably want you taking ten milligrams of an analog five times a day. You know when you start to feel it wearing off you can excuse yourself and take another five, it’s all about self-awareness.” Dr. Graham pulled at the cuff of his starched and ironed coat and sighed as he picked up the puce colored office phone. “I think we need a third opinion, I want to talk to a specialist.”
As Dr. Graham dialed I stared straight ahead at the wall, uncomfortable with anyone being so enthused about something that, for me, was a really big problem. Once a doctor starts talking about specialists, that’s when you know you’ve made a mess and it will take you a while to dig your way out of it. I looked up at the clock, slightly off-center on an off-white wall. As hour three of my visit approached, I wondered how many other students spent two days a week in the health center and required third opinions and a four-inch thick folder of records. Dr. Graham sketched while he was on the phone, the pen scratched through the paper and hearing it against the soft plastic counter top made me slightly nauseous, or maybe it was just about time for another dose. I wiped the salty grease from my hands on my wrinkled basic t-shirt.
“Well kiddo, here’s the deal, I really need you to see a pain management specialist so we can raise your dose, and then we’ll keep you on that heightened dose, five times a day, for the next few months. After we get you stable we can lower it and start to wean you off of it completely.”
“A pain management specialist?” I wasn’t in any pain. I felt my lip twist and my nostrils tighten. Dr. Graham’s manicured and tanned brow rose in response.
“A pain management specialist, yes, they tend to deal with opiate addictions–they’re certainly better equipped then I am. I did my residency with this doctor, you’ll like him.”
We both knew I didn’t get a choice in the matter, and whether or not I liked him wasn’t worth addressing. Dr. Graham’s cufflink met the clipboard nestled in the crook of his arm and the dense clicking sound confirmed it to be plastic, not the polished brass that it so expertly mimicked. I glanced at his sketch; it was me reaching for a carrot.
“What’s that carrot represent?”
“It’s your transition, and the path to the carrot is your sobriety!” He smiled.
My throat tightened and I felt my tongue flick against my gums. The sticky oral sound of my disgust was sharp in the small sterile cubicle. I reached into my pocket to rub the pill hiding in its folds between my fingers, just knowing it was there comforted me.
“Well, you know, not to make light of it, but I was just sketching … and it’s just how I think … and it’s just I don’t really get interesting special cases that often.”
The light reflected off of the shrinking black rim of my green irises and played in the pool of my black pupils and I knew my lack of amusement was clearly conveyed. “You don’t say,” I scoffed. We were practically drowning in sarcasm; this room was too small for my defensive attitude.
“Let me walk you out.” Dr. Graham’s shoulders slumped, one with concern and the other in defeat.
“Would you like to see me Thursday?” My voice was soft but I held it firm. He reached to touch my shoulder and I arched back. His fingers brushed my jacket and fell to his side in limp defeat.
“Oh, look, it’s snowing out!” Dr. Graham looked out the window with the same smile I would imagine he used to have on frosty Christmas mornings. I nodded a goodbye as I made my way out. While I waited for the shuttle, I watched my past flurry to the ground and melt on the pavement through the industrial glass window. It isn’t that I was particularly unhappy; it’s just that nobody pays much mind to the snow unless they’re thigh deep in it. I would have seen that coming. I could have shoveled myself out. It’s the ice, what you can’t see, that will cause an accident.
Izaac Bacik is a 22-year-old student pursuing degrees in sociology and creative writing at UNCA who predominantly focuses on poetry and short creative non-fiction pieces and essays centered around identities as autistic and transgender. This short essay deals with surviving coming off of drugs in order to begin gender transition.
One morning my hair started to fall out, just like they said it would. I needed to shave my head, so I got up and went to the hair salon down the street. It was supposed to be a quick operation, except a beautiful Norwegian woman—clearly of Viking descent, but hunched back like she’s ashamed of her lanky body—arrived at the same time for her appointment. There was some mix-up with the schedule and the hairdresser didn’t have time to attend to the both of us.
I was about to give up my turn. Not because she was beautiful, but rather because of some sense of fairness, as she had claimed to book her appointment a week before. I just called that same morning and told the hairdresser it was time.
But this is Granada, Spain. Things have a way of taking care of themselves. A man, supposed to be after me, dropped by to cancel.
So the hairdresser, a Swedish pixie in her forties, who has lived here longer than any of us, the misfits who failed their families according to northern European standards, encouraged me to stay. She’s sorry about all the mess. It was her fault, really. Her boyfriend absolutely begged her to take another day off. Apparently, they don’t have enough sex. Can I imagine that?
The Norwegian woman got settled in the chair. Now what are they going to do with that thin, blonde hair. The hairdresser touched her head and moved it from side to side, looking for answers. Then, she embraced her shoulders, shaking them gently to make her smile. A solution was found.
The hairdresser hovered to the back room to mix some color to dye the blonde hair even blonder. On her way she took down a book from the shelf and gave it to me. It was a photography book about nature in Andalusia. I slouched on the couch and flipped through the pages.
With her back to me, looking at me through the mirror, the Norwegian woman asked if I wanted to adopt two cats.
She’s hardly spending time at home, two months on and two weeks off, and she’s got a couple of dogs, too. Her circumstances have changed in so many ways, do I get the picture? The dogs are fine with their regular dog-sitters, but the cats are suffering.
I put the book face-down on a double spread of a lake just an hour away from Granada. I’ve been there once and I wanted to get back to that page.
The Norwegian woman continued: it’s a catering job, oil drilling rig in Norway. She was lucky to have it, they just keep making cutbacks.
Every two months she lands in Oslo and a helicopter takes her to a drilling rig in the middle of nowhere. She looks after the 118 workers who live on it. There were 120, but two of them drowned in their sleep; an explosion, god rest their souls—their nook just fell into the water. But there’s no need to worry, it rarely happens.
She has three shifts a day: prepares the food, serves it and cleans afterwards. It used to be easier, but now the catering company is so stingy, it’s ridiculous. They laid off half her staff.
It’s only two hard weeks every two months. Still worth the money and the long vacation in between. She recovers pretty quickly, but the cats make it more difficult than it should be.
She looked helpless in that black gown, tight around her neck. A floating head with no body, just awareness. I promised her I would think about adopting the cats. She nodded: poor cats.
The hairdresser came back with the color and wore her latex gloves. She assured the Norwegian woman it’d be amazing. I returned to the book. Andalusia’s nature is breathtaking, but what’s the point of having it around if you can’t go there.
When it was finally my turn I hopped on the chair. The Norwegian woman touched her new hair, beaming. She looked so pretty. The two women kissed each other goodbye and she waved at me. She’ll take my number from the hairdresser; maybe I can meet the cats.
I ran my fingers through my hair for the last time. Thick red strands fell on the floor, defeated. I didn’t want to shave my head anymore. I wanted to take those two cats and name them after the two rig workers who drowned in their sleep. I wanted my circumstances to change in so many ways. Then, the hairdresser took the book out of my hands.
Noa Sivan was born and raised in Israel and is currently living in Granada, Spain. She is a graphic designer and a writer. Three of her pieces were published in 2005 in an anthology edited by award winning Israeli author Yitzhak Ben Ner. In 2013 Sivan published a digital book of micro stories called “Semantic Satiation,” that was translated into English by Yardenne Greenspan. In 2016 she started writing in English. Her stories were published on the Jellyfish review, Eleven Eleven and FRiGG. Sivan’s first story, “Plaza Trinidad,” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
A pack of cigarettes, Kools. What the black guys smoke. Pack open, cellophane wrinkled, one butt poking out. The pack is on the “coffee table” with a bottle of whiskey, a pistol, and a stone. Usually there’s a coffee there, too. Having coffee is touching base with the routine back home.
Three soldiers sit around the table in their low-slung, sandbag bunker where almost everything is that drab green. Black girls smoke Newports but there are none here. No Newports. No black girls. The girls are back home. Cedric’s girl is the furthest thing from a soldier–fiercely individual, not hardened or armed, unique choices in clothing, funny in the way a drill sergeant isn’t.
Cedric leans into the coffee table, moves the whiskey bottle, moves the stone Orlando pulled from the river bottom to bring home and show to people, grabs the ready-to-go butt. The bottle is half-empty, the stone is rounded from the water-borne pebblets that scour everything but the mud from the Mekong, the butt is filtered. Nobody smokes the unfiltered Kools.
The small room is hazy with smoke, Orlando is puffing now, Cedric getting ready to, Leonard just done. The half-finished bottle is like Cedric’s tour, what will he do after, he wonders. His girl smokes Newports. But he doesn’t talk about her. The married guys talk about their wives. The single guys get Dear John letters. The wet sandbags smell like a bad day at the beach.
There’s a .45 semi-automatic pistol on the table, the drawn-back slide ready to bolt forward and ram in cartridge when the catch is released. When you pick up a .45, your index finger slides onto the trigger while your thumb slides up the grip to loosen the catch. When Cedric holds his girl, one hand slides down to her backside, the other up her back to unzip her dress.
A geologist who’d been drafted says Orlando’s stone slowly washed downstream from an origin in China, just like Communism. He said something about flecks and colors and density. Orlando is from L.A. and sees only concrete. This round stuff has him baffled.
Cedric nestles the unlit cigarette between his fingers, thinks of his girl, and holds the whiskey bottle up into the shaft of light that osmotes through the entryway like everything else. The golden color of the low sun and the nervousness of Cedric after patrol make the whiskey shine like a jar of wedding bands. He’ll be wearing one soon, he thinks. Then he hopes. Then he prays. Then he takes a long pull and hands the bottle to Orlando. Leonard shifts on the ammo box under his butt and eyes the bottle.
The coffee table is an expanded metal surface produced by the war machine. It’s basically a rectangular steel sheet ventilated during manufacture by a thousand punches then stretched laterally and longitudinally. Cedric used it for a shrapnel guard on a Swift boat. Because you can see through the table, in addition to the shell-holes that is, you can’t put anything under it without it being seen… and because it can easily be seen by an officer coming in the entryway, the marijuana is kept inside a sock casually laying under the table. Too obvious, thus easily overlooked. Had the American military understood schemes like that, they would have won the war years ago.
Cedric puts the cig between his lips, Orlando hands the bottle to Leonard, the three cots that line the three full walls soon will beckon. The pistol has been on the table since Osgood left without it when he was transferred to Khe Sanh. When asked which way Khe Sanh was, Osgood had spun the pistol to point toward it. It seemed like it would now be bad luck for Osgood if one were to point the pistol at someplace else. Oz is a short-timer and in a month no one will worry about which way the pistol points.
Everyone in the Army keeps the cellophane on their cigarette packs. A hit to the chest might create a pathway to the lungs and that’s a bad thing. If you hear a sucking sound coming from the chest, you take the cellophane off the pack and press it over the hole. It’s supposed to help, somehow.
Movement from under the table, a two-foot snake has found the marijuana, its tongue flicking at the drab green sock. There’s no triangular head to the snake, so there’s no problem. Snakes are no problem really, but a triangle-head means poisonous and that could be bad news on a bad day and the hell with the snake and the hell with Oz… if that slithering thing meant bad business, the .45 on the table would be pointed at it. Come to think of it, the hell with Osgood, says Cedric. He spins the pistol so it points back home, toward his girl.
Cedric adjusts his cig to the perfect spot, a notch in his upper lip, a notch created from smoking since age twelve. He thinks about how harsh and metallic his environment is, he thinks about the silky curves of his girl. He leans toward Orlando, moving slowly, reaching for the cig Orlando has in his mouth. With soft fingers, he grips Orlando’s cig and holds it steady for Orlando while Orlando inhales. Cedric waits for Orlando to set his chest tight, inhale complete, he pulls the cigarette away. Lining up the business ends of the two cigs, Cedric takes a draw and both cigs are glowing. He carefully places Orlando’s cig back between Orlando’s lips and nods to him. As he exhales, the thought comes to Cedric that he will design ladies’ dresses when his tour is done.
Jefferson Rose is a published short story writer and essayist and was the first humorist for the ITV television and F1 magazine partnership where he wrote a weekly column on one of his early loves, Formula One Grand Prix racing.