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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Life as We Know It

      Life as We Know It
   As Andrew Watts waited in the elevator to be brought to his lab, he thought contentedly of his life. His beautiful wife, Lauren, was working at their lovely new home. His medical career was finally starting to take off. He had almost paid off his student loans. When the elevator rang to announce their arrival, he felt invincible.
            He began to hum a song he had heard on the radio when his alarm clock had gone off. He didn’t know the name, but it was some catchy tune he frequently heard Lauren sing as she cooked dinner. He sat down to look over some new cancer data, still smiling to himself.
            After about an hour of review, the smile had faded from his face. Before him was the impossible. Years of research undone. He rose from his desk to go find the chief cancer doctor, Dr. Shaw. Few words had to be said to convince Shaw to come inspect the data.
            “I’ve never seen anything like this, sir. I thought we had cancer down concerning its genetic make-up…but this, this has no pattern.” The mustached doctor peered over the Andrew’s shoulder to inspect the data.
            “And you procured this specific strain from where, Andrew?” The man asked, and Andrew hesitated. He glanced at the data again before responding.
“We’ve found it in three separate cases, sir. No relation between any.” The silence of utter disbelief rang through the lab.
            “It’s not contagious…” The doctor inquired.
“No. But it seems to be found in all types of cancer patients.”
            “For example.”
            “Well, sir, we had a 50 year old woman with breast cancer. A 38 year old with lung cancer. And…a 7 year old with leukemia.”
            Disbelief again.
            “This is bad.”
            Andrew went home that night defeated. He accepted the medical life as one that included death. One just couldn’t let it get to them. But fear hadn’t been covered at Johns Hopkins University. Nor in any resident classes at Mass General Hospital. This was new. He had never seen Dr. Shaw appear as disorganized as after he had showed him the research. However, Shaw had gotten himself together enough to plan an immediate, emergency meeting with the best and the brightest from across the nation. There was nothing else to be done, but wait and fear.
            By the following Monday the entire medical industry was in uproar. The media had gotten a hold of the story of the incurable cancer, and was running headlines like
            “Cancer Takes another 1000 Lives, Doctors Speechless”
“Gap in Medical Education? American Doctors Unable to Stop Epidemic”
“Why the Government Planted the Mutant Strain”
            But in a small town newspaper in Dorchester read, “Deadly Cancer Takes Local 7-Year Old Life.”
            Andrew was suffering from a constant barrage of questions, especially after people discovered he had initially uncovered the disease’s mutation. “I really have no idea what’s going on.” Was all he could say.
            Three more weeks passed and even the media could not sensationalize the story beyond reality. Thousands of people were succumbing to it everyday. Andrew was in the hospital for 72 hours straight, merely trying to keep dying patients comfortable. There was a moment of hope when one patient went into remission, but it seemed a fluke accident. No specific drug or treatment had been the cause. Andrew clung to that hope for days until he received a phone call from Lauren.
            “Hey, I really can’t talk right now. You know how it’s been.” He began to hang up when he heard tears in her voice.
            “Darling, I haven’t seen you in three days. You can’t fix this. Just come home.” She pleaded.
            “Who are you to say I can’t fix this? I found it! Of all people I had hoped you wouldn’t doubt me.” This time he really did hang up. He was so overwhelmed with everything going on; he didn’t realize his current patient was listening. He was an older man, who Andrew guessed had about a week to live.
            “Son, you should go home. I’ll try not to die in your absence.” He whispered.
            “I can’t sir. This job is my responsibility, as are the lives of everyone in this hospital.” Andrew replied.
            “That’s quite a burden you have then. But a marriage is a responsibility as well. And, God forbid, should either you or your wife be in my position, you would regret this.”
            Andrew could only bear to nod. He was so exhausted that arguing was too taxing to continue. “Fine, I’ll go home.”
            “I’ll be here when you get back, at least my body will.” The man chuckled at his morbid humor.
            The rhythm of driving home almost lulled Andrew to sleep, but he made it home alive and awake. As he walked in the door, he almost gave up right then. He had left a hospital full of dying patients to come home to a crying wife.
            “What’s…wrong?” He asked, nearly falling asleep midsentence.
            “You came home.” She said.
            “Yes, yes. But really what’s wrong.”
            She started to bawl. “Oh, darling. I went to the doctor’s today. I’ve…I’ve been diagnosed.”
            Arnold crumpled. “You’re lying, you’re lying.” He half-stated, half-begged.
            “No. I wish I was.” She managed to say between sobs.
            “I’m going to fix this.” He said, rushing out the door before she could protest.
            The ride back to the hospital was a blur. The fight through a mob of patients and visitors was a dream. The long elevator ride left him in only a deeper trance. He finally arrived at Dr. Shaw’s office.
            “Sir?” He yelled through the door.
            No reply.
            “Dr. Shaw!”
            “I’m very, very busy. I’m sorry.” A voice came from within.
            “Sir, its Arnold Watts.”
            The door opened to expose a dejected man. He appeared as if he had the weight of humanity on his shoulder. In a way, he did.
            “How can I help you, Arnold.” He asked,
            “Sir, my wife. She’s, she’s been diagnosed. Are you…closer to a cure?” Arnold pleaded.
            Dr. Shaw closed his eyes. “Oh, Arnold. Please don’t make this personal.” He replied.
            “I’m sorry sir. But I can’t change it.”
            Arnold. There’s not I can do. There’s nothing anyone can do. It’s over.”


            Sam Dories was a perpetually bitter man, but his wife had accepted this long ago. Yet when he had invited her to accompany him on a night time fishing trip she thought it might be a romantic gesture. While Sam went out to the boat to prepare everything and bring out the dinner Marie had prepared the night before, she secretly sprayed a perfume that was kept in the china cabinet for special occasions only. She had even put on a nice dress usually worn to either a guest’s house or church on Sunday. When her husband called for her from the dock she took a deep breath, preparing herself for a night she hoped she would never forget.
            As the Sam turned on the motor than idled out of the harbor, the only sound was the wake behind the boat. The smell of her perfume quickly faded as the permanent fishy smell of the boat clung to her skin and her hair and her dress. But Marie did not care because she was full of expectations.
            After a few more moments of silence she attempted conversation. “How has the cod fishing been this weekend, darling?” She threw in the pet name as an after thought, secretly hoping he would return the favor. But Sam just looked up in surprise at the unexpected term of endearment. He said something under his breath before replying, “Oh it was fine. Just fine.” Again silence consumed the vessel as he guided it deeper into the black ocean. “Where are we going Sam?” Marie asked warily, for she had realized that as much as this might be a romantic attempt Sam had never been one to sweet talk. “I don’t know yet. We’re just going.” He replied before turning away from her and focusing on an object Marie could not see from around his body.
            She sighed in resignation. She was beginning to run out of patience for whatever game Sam was playing and was bothered by the fact he found some inanimate object for exciting than his wife. Although they were both aging, Sam was almost sixty five and Marie was just about to celebrate her sixtieth, she still found her husband attractive and had never once regretted her decision to spend her life with him. She was aware of the fact Sam had not always been the most faithful of husbands but she had forgiven him of his liaisons.
   Suddenly Sam turned away from the item he had been playing with, and instead turned his attention to the controls of the boat. “We’ll just stop here,” Sam said gruffly. Marie just nodded and made her way to the railing around the boat’s edge. “Oh look at the moon!” She said, glancing to see if Sam even looked at the lovely orb floating above the water and reflecting into the ocean depths. He had turned his attention back to the object from before. “It’s a full moon…” Marie whispered to herself, continuing to gaze into the night sky. Finally she heard movement behind her and caught herself wishing Sam would come up behind her and envelop her in his arms. She stayed perfectly still, not letting her mind convince her anything but that would happen. Suddenly she heard Sam’s voice behind her, uttering two words that were so quiet she almost did not catch them above the ocean breeze. “I’m sorry.”
            She turned around quickly and then screamed at the sight before her. Sam was standing before her with a hand gun pointed at Marie’s heart. Again he said, “I’m sorry,” before pulling the trigger. The shot rang out into the ocean but was consumed by the vast distance between the boat and land. Marie’s limp body fell over the side of the boat and Sam leaned over to watch her disappear.
            As she sunk into the ocean depths it came to him in a sudden realization that he had just killed the one thing he had loved in this life more than himself. The events that came next were not part of the plan but they were suddenly that much more necessary than abiding by his own rules. He was in fate’s hands now.
Sam had planned this day for years, the moment he would be free of Marie’s iron fist and her attempts to rekindle a love that had died almost twenty years ago. But maybe it had not died; maybe Marie had realized something more than him.  Maybe after his long line of office affairs and, as he had gotten older and lost his youthful look, prostitutes, they had not lost their love. Sam Dories put the gun to his head and positioned his body in such a way that he was tilting over the edge. And as he began to pull the trigger he suddenly moved his hand so that the bullet ripped through his heart. And Sam Dories drifted to the bottom of the ocean as peacefully as his wife had only moments before.
When the police came all the found was an empty boat. The gun had fallen into the ocean after Sam had, and was pulled onto shore by the tide. No one was able to link the lonely boat with the lonely gun. And the bodies had gone to the fishes…all the evidence just disintegrating away. The disappearances of Sam and his wife were also not linked with the stolen lobster boat. Sam’s true fishing boat had stayed in harbor. Marie had not noticed the difference. Sam had prepared for their mysterious disappearance. He left a note saying his wife and he had gone to Europe to start a new life for themselves. Everyone in the fishing town had been aware of their tight money situation and even tighter marital situation. It made sense. No one would ever know anything different.

Our Dock

Our Dock
            It was the darkest night I had ever seen, but the air was so clear it made everything feel fake and translucent rather then intimidating. The only light guiding our handlebars was the pricks in the dark velvet blanket that was the sky above our heads. The whole bike ride to the beach was draped in silence; the only sounds were of the crickets and “peepers” filling the night with an orchestra of summer. The only time we spoke was when the leader, Ella as usual, approached a speed bump and yelled back a warning. Finally we got to the beach and lay down our bikes quietly, as any sound could call the hired policeman, Ted, to the scene. Our feet were cut and blistered from weeks of bare feet on pedals and white hot sand, but as soon as walked upon the boardwalk to the pier the pain subsided and we ran. The soft thud of our feet on the black boards was in time with the crash of small waves onto the beach. We looked down into the water, the color of twilight, and thought of being in it and being swallowed into the depths. It was not until we got to the end of pier and we were standing before the diving board that one of us spoke.
            “I’m not going in tonight. It’s too cold.” Jocelyn said first, as if off of a script.
            “I don’t want to either.” I replied, shivering at the thought of the freezing water on my skin.
            “You are all ridiculous. I’m going in, but I’m not jumping.” Genna said, but she made no movement to fulfill her statement.
            We all looked over to Ella in anticipation of her comment. But she was already reading the stage directions and had taken off her clothes, and was currently standing before the diving board. Then with a scream full of life and terror and expectation she ran and jumped. Then there was a splash and the water lighted up with the phosphorescents. Then she yelled up at us “Get your butts in here!”
            And as if on cue we all quickly shed our clothes and ran to the board just as she had. The water hit your body like a wall, but a relenting wall that enveloped your body with cold and comfort. We were all shrieking at the temperature and the tiny lights about us that signaled thousands and thousands of tiny jellyfish. We swam for our lives out to the dock. Summer had officially started now that we had finally jumped. We all lie on our backs next to each other and let the clear air make us as translucent as the distant houses and boats rocking on the water. Ella looked up into the sky and quietly said, “Do you think that in another galaxy on another planet there are four girls named Ella, Liza, Jocelyn and Genna lying on a raft looking up at the stars and contemplating other universes?”
            For a second none of said anything, all thinking about the possibility. Then Jocey said, “No. This is our summer, our dock.” Silence again. “Our memory.”

No More Anne Hathaway

No More Anne Hathaway
            I knew today would be my best day because I did not have to wake up with cookie crumbles in my bed. It had been three days since Lauren had moved out of the apartment and her habits had left with her. Yet, even with the pleasure in waking to smooth sheets lacking mysterious crumbs, I knew losing her as my friend and roommate would not be easy. But today was not just an average day to mope about the past. I had my first real interview post-college. It had been nice waitressing for the past year, but I knew my parents were anxious to see my Bachelor's degree from Smith be put to use. But they had to admit it was through my current job at Joe's Steakhouse I had found my new career opportunity. The father of one of my usual families had found out that I was interested in communications. He gave me the contact information of a company in need of a public relations assistant, accompanied with a letter of recommendation. With no Lauren, no drama, no cookie crumbs, I felt as if nothing could go wrong today.
            “Lauren, can’t you please use a plate when you eat in my bed?” I begged as she sat next to me, her hand full of Oreos.
            “Don’t worry Hannah; I won’t lose any crumbs this time.” She replied, but I watched as the black pieces fell into the folds of my comforter. I didn’t say anything, it was no use. I could never understand why it bothered her so much to use a plate, but I didn’t want to start another fight, especially after the one at dinner. I sighed, and we continued to watch Gossip Girl. Each one of her bites made me cringe.
            I shook the Lauren thoughts from my mind as I approached my destination. A large sign out front named the place I hoped to soon be working at. “Franey Communications.” I could already hear myself at parties, talking about my new name. “Oh yes, I work at Franey… Yes, they are doing such great work… I work in public relations; I’m like a consultant to the companies that come to us… Why thank you, I like your sweater as well.” I glanced down at my resume and once again assured myself there was no way I could not get the job. Diploma from Smith, graduated with Honors. Various volunteer jobs that were concerned with communication, parents infamous in the attorney world. I had it all for this job.
            I entered the waiting room, and went directly to the receptionist. “Hello. My name’s Hannah Reedy. I’m here for an interview with Mary Hampton.” I said.
            “Of course. Ms. Hampton will be with you in just a moment, she is finishing up another interview,” she replied, and motioned for me to sit down. “All the magazines are next to potted plant.”
            I wasn’t planning on reading trashy literature, but I found myself with nothing better to do after reviewing my talking points and resume three more times. I found myself staring into the face of Anne Hathaway. Of course. Lauren’s favorite actress.
            “C’mon, you love Jane Austen. Can’t we watch Becoming Jane?” Lauren pleaded with me, attempting to give me a puppy dog stare. It hadn’t worked before, and it didn’t work this time.
            “Jesus, Lauren. We watched that like, last week,”
            “Don’t say like! You’ll never get into communications if you say like!” She shrieked, laughing as I considered lunging at her throat.
            “Shut up. Can’t I finish one sentence without you freaking out at my grammar” I said. But Lauren just smiled.
            “We’re watching it.” She grinned even larger.
            “No Lauren! I have 20-page paper to write for Wednesday, I need some quiet. Can’t you just leave me alone for once?” I shouted. The smiled faded quickly.
            “Fine. Whatever. I’m going out.” She mumbled, secretly begging me to ask her where she was going, and to stay instead. I said nothing, so she walked out the door, slamming it behind her.
            “Miss Reedy? Ms. Hampton will see you now.” The receptionist pulled me out of my memory.
            I just nodded, and stood up. I was out of it now. She always seemed to do this to me. She distracted me when we were room mates and now it was just worse. When I had explained what was happening to my friend Brian, he just laughed. “Look, you guys had a pretty big fallout, and she was nutso to begin with. Don’t worry about, you’ll forget about her soon.” That didn’t seem to be the case.
            I picked up my briefcase and walked towards the hallway leading to the offices. But one last memory made its way into my head…
            “Lauren, I really think it’s time you moved out. You distract me, you pester me, you make a mess of everything. My grades have gone down, and I don’t even have time to sleep after getting everything done then having to clean up your mess afterwards. You should start looking for a new place.” I forced the words out, the thing I had needed to say for a long time now. Lauren just stared at me.
            “You’re joking. Come on Hannah, we’ve been friends forever! We’ve been having so much fun.” She replied, and tried to go in for a hug. I coolly moved out of the way. She then began to panic.
            “Han, I have nowhere to go! And I need you to take care of me. You keep me moving; make me do what I need to do.”
            “That’s the thing. You haven’t been doing anything. I’ve been doing it, giving the illusion that you actually do shit around this apartment.” I wouldn’t let her talk me out of it. She had been successful in talking me into buying a huge T.V., stocking the pantry with disgusting Oreos, and watching countless Anne Hathaway movies. She would not talk me out of this.
            “Fine. If that’s how you really feel. I’ll pack up my stuff now. I’ll stay with my other friends. But I’m taking the T.V.” She retorted. I knew I could argue that I had paid for most of it, but for right now I just wanted her gone. So I just nodded.
            “I need your key.” I said. That’s when I saw tears in her eyes. But I just told myself again, I had to do this. She pulled the key out of her purse and handed it over.
            “You’re going to regret this.” She whispered. I pretended not to hear. And an hour later I finally had peace and quiet.
            I laughed at the scene now.  What could she possibly do to mess anything up for me. No cookies in bed, an Anne Hathaway free house, what more could I want. And now this, a chance at a job that would finally get me into the communications world. I knocked on the door that read “Mary Hampton.” As I waited patiently, my nerves subsided and I thought again of my newly employed self at parties. “Oh I make quite a bit more that! What am I going to do with the bonuses? I was thinking a trip to Hawaii, but there are so many possibilities.”
            I came out of the pleasant day dream when the door opened. That’s when I heard the all too familiar voice. “Thank you so much, Ms. Hampton. I mean, I know this was an interview, but I just really enjoyed talking to you as well.”
            “Of course, Ms. Grimley. It was a pleasure to meet you.” A new voice replied. I was able to see her now.
            “Lauren.” I whispered. She just smiled, and walked away.
            “Did you say something?” Ms. Hampton said.
            “Oh, uh, no. Sorry.” I replied, caught off guard. She pursed her lips, and then motioned me through the door. It was too late to realize I hadn’t even introduced myself. I had also forgotten all my talking points.