“Fiction gives us a second chance that life denies us.”
She knows she can make him laugh; she knows he can make her cry.
She studies him from the shine atop his shaved bald head to his black sports socks. She realizes she forgot to put socks on that morning and worries her case worker will notice and bother her about dressing for the winter weather and write a report about it. She checks her own shaved head to make sure she’s wearing her wig. With a sigh of relief, she realizes she indeed has hair.
She watches him as he slouches on the waiting room’s sofa rubbing his temple than his scalp and occasionally shaking his head “no” to things only he could hear.
She wants to say something light.
She knows she can make him laugh; she knows he can–
High heel clicks in the hallway come closer.
She knows she only has a few seconds to help him.
She opens her mouth. Nothing comes out. She closes it and grinds her teeth. She wonders how many seconds her mouth has been silently hanging open.
The door to the waiting room opens, and her caseworker Katy enters telling him that a recovery team member will be with him shortly.
Katy asks him his name.
“Thomas White II.”
“Mr. White, it was brave of you to come here today. Just sit tight.”
Katy smiles at her (as usual) and says she will be just a second. Katy is never just a second. Katy doesn’t notice her lack of socks.
Again, she is left with Thomas White II. Part of her wants to say something– offer a word of encouragement, tell a joke, anything to drown out the voices she’s sure are yelling at him in his head. But, she doesn’t want to get involved in yet another–
“Let’s go,” Katy says.
They run errands, and Katy tells her a silly story about Katy’s crazy aunt, drunk uncle, and their high strung dog.
When Katy brings her home, she writes…
“Letting the Dog In”
Sitting in my frozen position, I wonder if I have to slow my heart rate too.
She repeats, all breathy, “Ok, Ok! Nobody move! I am going to let the dog in.”
I wish I’m any place but here.
I wish I’m outside with bad boy Doc howling at the moon in his piece of crap Camaro on blocks in the front yard.
I want to smile at the neighbors’ outraged faces, but I don’t want to upset the dog.
In her whirl of writing, she almost forgets about Thomas White II. Almost.
She decides to do nothing about or for Thomas White II and instead reads her favorite blog about seconds spent in a place called Charlottesville, Virginia, USA.
Mid-morning in Nelson County, Virginia, USA
“I’m late, because I overslept. I overslept, because I was trying to be a good student and study for my geography test.”
“I’m sure the other kids in your class studied just as hard and didn’t have a problem making it to school on time.”
“Jesus, lady, be a b-”
“Never mind,” I mumble taking the pink tardy slip wondering how I would hide the detention time gap from my mother.
12:00 PM EST
I cram useless information about the Gaza strip in my head. I was born in Nelson County, and I will probably die here. What’s the point?
12:22 PM EST
School is evacuated due to a bomb threat.
So, does that mean I won’t have the test or detention?
6:21 PM EST
My Dad starts watching the news, and my brothers and sisters start to scatter. He gets bossy with us and demands we watch it with him.
There’s a bombing of a school today in a country far away from Nelson County.
A bunch of Muslim kids are dead.
When it’s real, there are no warnings.
My little sister asks if something like that can happen here.
My Dad doesn’t answer.
And, I just tickle her back until the commercial break.
She remembers her own bossy father. She remembers the second she realized his voice was the one in her head telling her she could not succeed, telling her she could not be loved, telling her she could not.
Today, she would not give in to that voice.
“Oh, my God! It’s ending!” she screams.
“The news or the world?” I wonder as I begin to walk to the front room. Then, I feel it too. I trip as I run to be with her. I hear the front door open over the dishes rattling.
I am in slow motion. I can’t get to her quickly enough.
Then, I see her through the window.
She is running barefoot with arms raised through the fields with her pink housecoat flapping open in the wind.
And, I laugh.
First, it’s a chuckle, then a guffaw, then near hysterics.
Then, I am engulfed in the old sobs.
She remembers running barefoot, naked. She remembers her mother’s tears as she called the police. She remembers the second the policeman tackled her onto the ant hill. She remembers the police officer refusing to uncuff her so she could get the ants off of her exposed belly and chest. She remembers rubbing the angry bites for days as she waited for sanity in the mental hospital in New Port Richey, Florida.
Overcome by the misery and memories, she has forgotten Thomas White II.
She can no longer read, because tears blur her vision.
She lies down and pulls the covers up to her nose. She cannot sleep. She has spent too much of her life asleep.
She again reads…
“Divine Charlottesville in Two Takes”
January 22, 9:23 PM
Infuriated at what he feels to be his lover’s ineptitude and lackadaisical nature, he decides not to read aloud to her and instead sinks into dreamless sleep.
A single snow flake alights the window and slides, leaving trails of its tears, along the glass.
Here, bells of alarm clocks sound.
The next morning she decides to skip her psychiatric appointment to write. She stares at the screen. Narrative is blocked for hours. She puts away her dreams of becoming a writer. She lies down and sinks into dreamless sleep.
“Where is he? If we don’t get this shot now, we are done for the day, and I can’t afford to re-shoot.”
He waits another ten minutes, sighs, and tells everyone to go home.
“Damn, Billy,” he mutters and goes home to get wasted and to forget how close he came to making something meaningful.
A Market Street Market cashier loses his job as he yells at a frequent customer for loudly complaining about not being able to redeem an expired coupon. As he walks home, he knows it was never about the coupon.
Downtown, two older men and one middle aged woman walk to the stop as the free trolley approaches. They yell for the trolley to wait. No one hears them. Angry, they begin to curse. Another man approaching with a young child asks them to calm down and stop cursing. Arguing ensues. A fight breaks. The child is pushed into the street too quickly for the car to brake.
A single snow flake caresses the tragic baby’s brow as she lies on the asphalt.
Here, bells of sirens sound.
January 22, 9:23 PM
Although he ruminates about the apparent poor state of his affair, he knows she loves to hear him share stories with her each night. He reads to her about the importance of participation and fulfilling obligations. She knows this is hard for him and hides a grateful smile as not to embarrass him. After an hour of reading, he and she sink into dreamless sleep.
The next morning she guiltily decides to skip her psychiatric appointment. She wants to write. Her computer freezes. She reconsiders and goes.
As she sits at the bus stop by the ice park, she sees two of her friends and a woman from the shelter bundled up and hustling quickly to the stop. She sees the trolley approaching and motions it to stop. As the woman gets on the bus, the two smile at each other.
Surprised to be moved, the older woman cries quietly for the first time in seven years. This time she knows she has left her hard man for good. She slouches on the wooden trolley seat marvelling at her new found bravery and resolution.
“Billy, are you coming in or going out?” she asked.
“I am actually trying to leave but I can’t carry everything to–”
She has already picked up two of his bags and accompanies him to his car.
Billy packs everything for the shoot in the backseat, hugs her, and drives away blending seamlessly into the light traffic.
Billy gets the epic shot in the last of the light before the winter storm.
Lunch rings up $4.59. Still pleased at seeing her favorite photographer, she pays with a five and places all of the change in the give a penny, take a penny jar.
The cashier stops stroking the penny in his jean pocket and begins to look slightly ill. She doesn’t notice, thanks him, and goes on to her next errand.
“What does it mean? I make a deal with God I would reconnect with my Dad if I had exact change for a single stamp two seconds ago– knowing all I had was a penny. And, this lady drops in exactly forty one cents?”
Nodding his head slowly. he takes out a tablet from under the register, uncaps his pen, and begins to write.
Brushing the snow from her hair, she arrives home, restarts her computer, and begins to write.
All is right.
God takes a deep breath from her diaphragm, blows a kiss to them all, and Cheshire cat grins.
Here, bells of laughter sound.
She gets it.
She calls the psychiatric ward asking for Thomas White II.
She listens to the silence for a few seconds.
“Thomas, you don’t know me, but…”