Protection. A Story

When I was a kid, I liked to watch as my father welded pieces of metal together. He’d wear that big dull grey mask that always seemed dusty and, when I tried to lift it, felt as heavy as the world. That was his protection. It saved him from going blind due to the overly bright light.
It worked – he never did go blind from welding. But as time passed, and my young eyes, accustomed to being wide open when I watched him at work, gained more focus, I began to notice a different blindness in his movements, opinions, and habits.
He’d go tired for days. I could see it in his movements: the fatigue of the muscles; of the mind, perhaps; the back pain that stooped him more and more every day. When he watched the news, he did it without the agitation he once showed at the mention of any one topic that stirred opinions. His own opinions froze. He stopped paying attention to what he ate. Lard sandwiches day in, day out – he didn’t care what it was doing to his heart.
I think he was blind to it. His heart, I mean. It sounds foolish but what else could make a man shut himself off from friends and family and go on like he was the only person in his own world? Not talking for days, not sharing any of his pain, physical or otherwise? It must have been blindness. A wise woman once told me people go blind due to bad experiences because they don’t want to look back at them.
It’s fall, and I’m remembering him again: his muffled voice when he explained to me about welding from under the mask, the prolonged periods he had of being alone with books, which later turned into days, weeks, months of not talking at all, the shaky gait and eyes that were forever avoiding us.
I wish I had that welding mask of his but I couldn’t find it even though I’ve tried to every November when I come to see our old home after visiting his grave. When fall comes in, I start to feel unsure. I spend evenings thinking of how, as a kid, I saw a man go blind and become a different person. I’m worried this could happen to me; to my future, which then would get as if erased; to my family, who’d probably be scared.
I need some sort of protection against it. At those times, I have this silly idea that the mask would help.
But it’s just a mask that a man mislaid somewhere and died. I must come up with something better.

Cat Lover. A Story

That night I dreamt that my boyfriend became a cat. I just woke up to a beautiful winter day, and I felt a cat was lying by my side, his head cuddled against the nape of my neck as we were spooning. He purred, and I knew it was Peter saying “good morning, love” to me, as he always does. So I turned around gently, so as not to hurt him with my elbows. “Good morning.” And then, we kissed. It was a frisky sort of kiss. But I woke up in the middle of it.

I felt Peter stroking my side from top to bottom. His hands were warm, and he didn’t have to say anything. At that moment, I knew that Santa doesn’t fulfill every (stupid) wish you have, and that Peter hasn’t become a cat this Christmas. I have sometimes wished he was a real, small, furry creature that would curl up on my laps and tickle my hands with his whiskers. But then, I know that Peter, in a way, is a cat. So I turned around gently and, as he tried to say good morning, I closed his mouth with a kiss.

The Terrifying Story of a Girl Who Wasn’t Excited About the New Star Wars Movie

Note: this isn’t entirely based on facts but it could be.

The story begins in the 90’s in a village in southern Poland. Get a blanket to cover your eyes with in fear because it’s terrifying.

The girl spent her young years doing stuff. Reading books, drawing, riding a bike, learning, playing football and computer games. But somehow, she didn’t once have the chance to watch any of the Star Wars movies.

It just didn’t happen. Some things have a way of not happening that doesn’t make them special but it’s still worth noting, or maybe it isn’t.

Then at some point in her life, the girl learned it was odd to never have watched the Star Wars.

“Oh, well,” she thought.

Time passed, and she continued to do stuff. Only it was slightly different stuff ’cause she was older. Not that it’s important, though.

Then at some later point in her life, she watched half of the Star Wars episodes with someone she loved.

“Oh, well,” she was thinking half of the time.

Then the fuss about the 7th Star Wars episode started to intensify all around her, and she could hear it everywhere that the premiere was a big deal, and everyone had to go see the movie, and how much excitement and money it generated.

It seemed sort of stupid to her that some people could earn so much on other people’s media-fueled excitement.

“Oh, fuck it,” she just thought and went about doing stuff.

A Door in the Life. A Story

I close the door behind normality and enter the children’s psychiatric ward I work in. A young girl who came in ten days ago after a suicide attempt says hello as she passes me by in the corridor. So she started to speak – that’s great, I think.

It won’t be long, though, till I get discouraged and unable to feel happy about my patients’ small steps. It happens every day: I come to work geared up to help patients fight their illnesses – which I always wanted to do – and then I get disgusted by them. The children start to scream like they’re mad, they fight, cut their wrists with pieces of broken mirror, it turns out one has been molesting some of the younger ones.

They’re mad, I say to myself. They’re ill, the other nurses say to each other. We can’t do anything is what we all want to tell ourselves.

I must measure the blood pressure of those with psychosomatic illnesses, ask everyone if they’ve pooped, administer the pills – look into those unhappy faces as they take the cups from me… They look particularly unhappy in the morning, maybe it’s the anticipation of another day here, or maybe it’s compassion that makes me see them this way at this time of day.

I’ve been watching patients for the last seventeen years, and although all of them have had different personalities and different illnesses made them suffer in different ways, I’ve learnt that after some time spent here, there is one thing all of them have in common: shame. Somehow, some way, the shame of being treated in a psychiatric ward infiltrates and slowly poisons the life of each of these children.

It might be through their parents, who can’t keep the shame to themselves and eventually spill one cruel comment or another when visiting. It might be school, or the media. Or it might be us, the staff, who sometimes also fail to hide our reluctance to the mentally ill, and let it come out in monstrous ways.

A colleague is shouting at someone angrily. I’m sitting in the nurses’ room filling in reports. Are you out of your mind!? she shouts at a child but I’m not coming out to see which one it is. Right now, I want to shut myself out from it – so, filling in reports. The colleague will come in a while to tell me what the child’s done, anyway.

All of us, I suspect, have some attitude issues. I actually have to fight: fight with my latent aversion to those children whose long-term neglect, deconstructed personalities, unhealthy notions of their own relations to others, often show in appalling acts of self-harm or violence.

This is why when the door to normality closes, I feel like I’m walking inwards… not into the ward, but onto a battlefield. My own private battlefield where my fists are my weapons, and I clench them not to use them against anyone, but to stop the feeling of sickness.

Around noon, it comes in a flood. The patients go to dinner, and I watch over them. Some of them scream they’re not hungry, some throw food on the floor and then step on it. Once a boy with Tourette’s approached me with a fork in hand and said he’d stick it in my eye if I don’t call for his parents. His parents had stopped visiting a week and a half before, saying they’d come back for him when we’ve fixed him. Just like the little boy, I felt as enraged, I felt helpless, I felt sick.

Today, sickness lets itself be felt physically. There’s gravy for dinner, and one of the anorectics is smearing it over the edges of her plate to have less of it to actually eat. I stifle my disgust and tell her to stop, but she’ll be doing that again when I avert my eyes – which I’m doing without delay, thinking again that I can’t do anything.

There’s some peace after dinner, usually. Some of the “slowed down” – either due to depression or the strong sedatives we use on them – even go have a nap. Sometimes, one or two of them refuse to take their afternoon pills, but they give up rebellion as soon as one of the staff mentions the doctor who we can always go and fetch, and he’ll come with a big dose of sedative to be injected intramuscularly.

But generally, I have time to think about how sick I am of it but need to carry on, and how this job isn’t for me, nor am I good enough for it, but what can I do now, and how relieved I am to think it’s only three hours more to go home, but then again I’d come here for another round the following day.

My mind is sleeping after I’ve gone through the same thoughts for the fourth, maybe fifth time this afternoon. But somebody wakes me: it’s this girl who, ten days ago, swallowed too much pills but it still wasn’t enough. She’s standing at the nurses’ room’s entrance, leaning on the doorframe. She looks like she’s come to speak to me. Speak to me?…

She didn’t want to do it, she says. At the moment, she wanted to just go quietly, but now after she’s caused so much pain to her parents, the only thing she wants is to curl up in the hospital bed, drown in shame and never go home. But she wants to live, she assures me, she wants to live now.

It’s fascinating, the mixture of emotions children attempting a suicide get thrown into: there’s sadness in plenty, there is anger, but then there is the shame, and something like repentance – those promises they make that they will want to live when they only get better – and more sadness, and maybe… It might be only on my part, but maybe there is also hope that deep inside, there is a will to live.

The girl is crying. Says she couldn’t bear it any longer, so she came to speak to me. But I can’t say anything. I’m turning my face slightly away so that she doesn’t see I’m crying, too. I would hold her but I’m not allowed to. For the millionth of times, something came upon me in a flood.


 

My story has also been published here. Check out this site for some merrier stories!

Still There. Short Not-Even-a-Story

Autumn makes things poetic, romantic, and stuff.

***

“There’s the cinema,” he said, as if to reassure himself, and her, that everything was in its place, everything was the way it’d been the day before, and there was no need to worry.

She noticed little drops of sweat on his forehead, and smiled. Always checking, she thought. Checking if she’s back from work already, checking the weather in the far-away town his mother lives in, checking if the guy next door still likes MMA. In all places, looking for confirmation: “This is for keeps. No one’s going to take it away from you.”

The cinema was there, the moon was barely visible through the smog, but still there, with the footsteps and craters, her hand, as they walked, from time to time brushed his. There were toothbrushes in the cup, and stuff, she wanted to tell him, and that she’d never forget that night, or whatever, she wanted to scream yes, it’s there.

Then she looked at him, saw love and apprehension, still there. Suddenly, she couldn’t utter a word — instead, she looked down confusedly, caught his hand, and pressed it for a moment.

The Open Notebook. A Story

The crayons had colour in them, at least. Sharon could switch off the TV set, busy herself with drawing, and stop listening to how people die around the world.

But she wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about it anyway. The speaker was just telling the story of two children abducted from their parents. Sharon didn’t know the word “abduction” but the pain on the couple’s faces felt familiar. Were her parents abducted from her, too? Would it help if she went to television and tell about it?

The black one was half-used-up; she had been drawing her father’s bearded face with it time and time again. And besides father’s, there was Abigail’s face: pretty, but the colour of ash, marked with short slanted lines, and dead tiredness were more conspicuous than the regularity of features.

“The kidnappers threaten to kill the child,” added the speaker with a neither-here-nor-there smile that signified a happy family life. Killing again, Sharon thought drearily, and replaced the black crayon in her hand with a brown one.

On the piece of paper before her, trees were growing one by one in the foreground, hiding her father. His face was still visible behind them — one more — it wasn’t.

She put the brown crayon back and heard sobbing from the other room. Not loud, but Sharon was expecting the sound, and so she heard it as soon as her mother began to sob.

“Gail?” Not knowing whether to stand up and go to her, or stay put in front of the TV, Sharon froze. “Gail?” she asked again, not realising that what came out of her tightened throat was really a whisper, and that her mother couldn’t hear her.

She didn’t in fact want to go. Abigail’s room was dark with the curtains drawn and no light on, and Abigail was probably sitting on the bed with her head drooping low. Sharon didn’t like hearing her mother cry. Neither did she want to see her sitting in the dark.

Sharon had tried time and again to bring Abigail to the middle room, make her talk, and wake her up from the state of sullen slumber she’d been in since the news of father’s death was confirmed. They didn’t even go to collect the body, or do anything about arranging the funeral; uncle Jim took care of everything.

So it had lasted for seven weeks, and all of Sharon’s attempts passed to the repository of failed-things-you-do-for-love, which she didn’t even know existed in her mind.

Gail wasn’t calling for her. She was just sobbing quietly, and apparently didn’t hear Sharon’s voice. The girl turned her attention back to the news speaker.

It was war again. This time it was taking place at a university. 148 civilians got killed, and Sharon wondered why. It made no sense to her although it managed to produce worldwide agitation — it had been on the news for three days in a row.

She began to feel restless hearing about war again. Each time it made her think about why it had to be her father — just why it had to be him travelling in that targeted car. He wasn’t even a soldier. He was a rescue worker. Why didn’t anyone —

Sharon didn’t notice when the crayon she was holding slipped from her hand. She was getting dizzy from trying to understand; stupid from going over the facts; weary from questioning death. Reaching for the settee for support, she stood up and slowly went out on the porch.

It was so bright out there she squinted immediately, but before a minute passed, she was able to see objects distinctly again. The beautifully decorated columns around the porch; the flowers, which haven’t died so far only because aunt Mary came once in a while and watered them; the round wooden table and, standing on it, father’s ashtray, now filled with rainwater. It glistened in the sun; for a moment, Sharon wanted to call on Abigail to come and see it.

“It’s so beautiful here, Gail,” she whispered, and the well-known fear gripped her again. She was scared of going back inside to hear her mother cry, see her lying on the bed for hours, slipping away from reality; but she was scared of leaving her in the house alone for too long, too.

She turned to the door and opened it. Again, she had to wait a minute until her eyes got used to a different kind of light. In the living room, the crayons lay scattered on the floor, and the TV was still on — she forgot to switch it off — showing some cartoon. Abigail must have been there to change the channel.

Coming up to the settee in front of the TV, Sharon noticed there was also an open notebook left there. The cold grip on her chest tightened even more when she stooped to read the notice scribbled there in Abigail’s handwriting.

“Sharon Will you go from here with me? I can’t bear any longer Sharon I need to find him”

***

And Sharon knew for sure that death was here to stay. Apparently, he felt welcome here in this house. She also knew that she would have to take better care of Abigail now so that she doesn’t “go find him”.

And that from now on they would go hand in hand with death; like partners; like enemies.

Winter Notes. A Story

Erica Hopper "Winter Notes"
Erica Hopper “Winter Notes”

‘It’s coming,’ the boy says.

‘What is?’ the girl doesn’t seem to understand.

‘The time when the common cold becomes a major fear and they all start to wear the same dull jackets day in, day out, without ever changing. All those women wrapped up in black. Shapeless. I can’t stand it.’

She’s not sure whether she should laugh or not, but bursts out with a nervous titter anyway. I warm up as I pass by them: they make such a nice couple, and the boy is so smart.

People make nice couples – and trios, groups and individuals, too – in general. I could lose all my rigidity and sense of self if I hung around with them too much.

But here, it’s not a possibility. This couple of months I spend here is just enough time to make them a bit more lazy, a bit more dissatisfied, and perhaps a bit more irrational at times, but not enough to get in any way attached.

Hey, how am I supposed to be cold in all this rush? Woman, what the heck are you doing? She elbows me in the stomach and almost knocks me down at the entrance of a Tesco shop. A trail of three young children, all wrapped and capped and scarfed, is following her. One of them notices me as I gather the folds of my robes, and calls out:

‘Look, it’s the White Lady from the legend!’

As I said, irrational. But smart. The mother is not such an outstanding specimen, with only the first trait of character raised to a high level:

‘Hurry up, we’re gonna miss the Christmas bargains! And don’t you talk to strangers!’

The child smiles at me radiantly and follows the shopping robot she has for a mother. Don’t smile back, I say to myself. I need to get colder because it’s already 10th December, and smiling back at children won’t help with that.

I think I should change the area. Go back to the park, maybe; there won’t be any nice boys and girls sitting on the benches now, it’s got too dark. Perhaps I would meet someone bad, and crooked, and scheming a very illegal scheme to rob, rape, or rub out someone else? It’s so easy to be cold with such scum.

But in the park at night I only meet old, poor, disappointed people. They set their ruin down on the benches and try to put it to sleep. Most of them are male, and most of them are not too smart.

But some can see me. I approach one such person, and kneel down beside his bench. His eyes widen as I give him a cold hug. We look each other unswervingly, and the hardest struggle in the world begins: he will be trying to fall asleep in my freezing embrace, and I can’t let him. Not so fast. I’m not ready.

I breathe at him and tell myself: I can be so cold. In fact, I have to because that defines me. And this man will die this month. I’ll take care of it.