I write short fiction

Tag: Cape Cod

Mannequin Monday – Help me. Please!

Distance runner Maggie Murano spends her first night in rehab after knee surgery.

And quotes from a book I finished reading this week. Welcome back to Mannequin Monday. Draping the blank form with the beauty of words.

What I’m Writing

Another story bite, this one a first night in a rehab facility. Enjoy a moment with Maggie.

Help Me

Bob Gillen

“Help me, please….someone help me.” A man’s voice.  Loud. Wailing. 

Maggie Murano startled awake. Lying on her back in the lumpy bed, only a dim lamp lighting the room, she could barely twist to see the door. Her first night in a skilled nursing facility, rehabbing after knee surgery. Maggie was a distance runner. Mobile. Agile. Flexible. The surgeon told her she needed rehab for a week before she could go home. “I want you to get physical therapy. More than you can get from a home health agency.” She had fought him. Hard. Finally gave up and picked a facility near home. 

“Someone help me. Please.” 

The voice seemed to come from a room across the hall. 

Maggie felt pain from the surgery kicking in. She pressed the call button. Waited. And waited. 

Credit: Forbes

“Help me. Help me, please. I need to get up. Please help.”

No one responded to the voice. The staff must be busy with other patients, she thought.

Twenty minutes later no one had responded to her call button. And the man was still calling out, “Help me. Please, someone help me.”

“Shit, I’ll never get any sleep here. How is this therapy?” Maggie muttered aloud.

“He never stops.” A voice from the doorway.

Maggie turned as best she could. A woman in a wheelchair rolled into the room. She pointed a gnarled finger toward the hall.

“Every night. He does this every night. When his son is here wheeling him around in the daytime, he never says a word. As soon as it’s bedtime, he starts shouting.”

“Can’t they quiet him?” Maggie wondered why the woman was still up and roaming the halls.

“Nothing works. If they fuss over him, they’re neglecting other patients who need their attention.”

The woman wheeled closer to Maggie’s bed.

“Sorry, I didn’t introduce myself. Everyone here calls me grandma. Mostly because I know everybody’s business.”

“Hi. I’m Maggie.”

“Yes. I saw you come in this afternoon. I was too busy to say hello till now.”

Again the voice, “Someone help me. Please.”

Maggie nodded toward the hall. “What about meds? A sedative?”

“They say they can only give it for pain.”

“He’s a pain!” Maggie said.

The woman huffed. “At least you’re only here for rehab. Most of us are never going home.” 

Maggie tried to shift in the bed. Ended up wincing from pain. 

“I saw your call light on. You need meds. Let me find a nurse for you.”

“Can you close the door on your way out?”

“Sorry, honey. Rules are, door stays open if you’re alone in the room.” Grandma wheeled out into the hall.

“Help me. Please help me.”

Maggie let her head fall back on the thin pillow. I go home in a week. Grandma’s here till she dies.

***

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Mannequin Monday – This can’t be fixed.

Our mannequin carries a heavy burden this week, clothed in grief, little consolation from words of wisdom. Only a couple of sentences to light the way: “Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.”

What I’m Writing This Week

I offer you another story bite, “The Talk of People in the Sea.” This one is inspired by two sources. One, a quote posted by my friend Caroline Farrell. The quote comes from Tim Lawrence, from his blog The Adversity Within. The quote: “Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.”

The second inspiration is the book I’m currently reading, Henry Beston’s The Outermost House. All about his year-long stay in a beach shack on Cape Cod. I hope you enjoy my story.

The Talk of People in the Sea

Bob Gillen

A friend let Dylan borrow his beach shack. Isolated. Miles of sand in either direction. Dunes that changed shape almost daily. Grasses moving with the wind. A surf that was never silent. Long past Labor Day, when all the tourists have gone home. When only the stoic year-rounders hung on. Most had a purpose. Fishing, boat repair, construction, retail. And him. With no purpose. Just here.

Dylan had lost his love. Gone, passed on. Died, his word of choice. Now he lived in a cloud of grief. Not so much grieving, as a verb. Grief, the noun. Not a fluid kind of thing. No, this held a man in its grip. Tangled him in roots. Held him like quicksand. Held him but did not pull him under. Too easy that way. Kept him half buried. Hard to breath. Vision limited to the muck in front of him.

Tonight was Dylan’s third at the beach shack. The night air brought shivers, the fireplace down to embers at one a.m. The inside of the shack felt like the inside of an urn, holding the ashes of his memories. He crawled out of his sleeping bag, warmed leftover coffee in the microwave, sat out on the tiny porch, wrapped in a faded blanket.

Above him, stars. A cliché to say “countless stars,” he thought. Looking at them on this moonless night he wondered, the stars are perhaps the only changeless thing in this universe. Changeless, from his perspective. Of course, a scientist would say that the universe was in constant flux. But he could not see that from his spot on this beach, on this night, his time of emptiness.

He set his cup down on the porch floor, rose, pulled the blanket over his shoulders, walked to the beach. At the water’s edge he stood, listening, seeing only the white slashes of the crashing waves. With his bare feet he probed for a dry spot to sit down. He cocooned himself in the blanket, closed his eyes, marveled at the unique sound of each wave.

Credit: Mary Spears

He sat for an hour, listening, hoping the crashing waves would wash away his grief. Purge it from his soul.

Dylan caught a new sound coming through the surf’s roar. A whisper, a voice. He opened his eyes. There was no one. Of course, there was no one. Not here. Not at this hour. Again, the whisper. He strained his eyes to see out beyond the surf. For a boat passing off shore. For fishermen calling out.

Too dark without a moon to see beyond the surf. There were no silhouettes on the horizon. No shape that could be a ship.

Another whisper. In between the crashes of the surf. Two words. He strained to make them out. A woman’s voice? Soft, calm, at peace. Two words. You…? Carry…? 

He shuddered in the night’s deep chill. Tossed the blanket aside and stood. What was this voice? He kept his eyes open, looking for a source. There was nothing to see.

Again, you…carry. This time a male voice. Deep, booming under the roiling surf. 

More words spilled into the air. Several voices together. Tumbling. Can’t fix…only…

He dug the heels of his hands deep into his eyes. Rubbed hard. Stared at the surf. Looked up into the infinite spray of stars above him. He searched for a constellation. Found none. He was never good at spotting them anyway.

With no warning, no hint, grief welled up as from the bottom of his soul. Tears poured down his face. Disappeared into the sand at his feet.

And the voices rolled out of the surf. Softly, over the roar. Deeply, under the roar. The words clear now.

This can’t be fixed, my love. You can only carry it.

***

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Mannequin Monday – Ah, forgive me

An elegant restaurant, a special date…and it all goes downhill after meeting the chef. A tale of aversions. My current story bite.

This week I’m re-reading a book I first discovered almost 40 years ago: The Outermost House, by Henry Beston. He spent a full year on a Cape Cod beach over 90 years ago.

What I’m Writing This Week

Another story bite I’d like to share with you. Thanks for reading.

Inked

Bob Gillen

After six months of waiting for the right moment, Raymond Martin had finally asked Rose Malloy from the marketing department out on a date. She said yes. He made reservations at the posh Owl Tree restaurant, offering fine dining and live music. 

Raymond and Rose stood at the hosting station at Owl Tree as a maitre’d in a one-size-too-small black suit confirmed their reservation while simultaneously giving them the elevator glance to determine if they were worthy of eating there. He found them worthy. Barely, by the pinched smile on his face. He led them to a booth near the kitchen. Raymond was about to object to the kitchen proximity when Rose said she loved the plush seating. 

Their table featured tented white napkins and a flickering tea light. A server took drink orders immediately, then brought a tiny tray of even tinier rolls and butter.

“This is delightful, Raymond.” Rose smiled, glancing around at the dimly lit dining room. Crystal chandeliers graced the large room. At the far side of the room a jazz trio played quietly over the hushed conversations of the patrons.

Raymond lit up. “I’m so happy you like it. I’ve never been here before. It’s actually a bit elegant for my tastes.”

Oh god, did he just say that?

“You seem pretty elegant to me,” Rose said, as she sipped her white wine.

Raymond felt his face redden. He hoped she couldn’t see it in the dark.

The server returned to their table. Rose chose a seafood pasta. “Does the accompanying salad use only organic greens?” she asked the server. 

“Only the best, miss.”

Excellent choice.

Raymond said, “I’ll try the oven-braised chicken meatballs.”

“Excellent choice.”

Halfway through the meal, the chef, resplendent in white jacket and toque, approached their table. 

“I am Maurice, the chef here at the Owl Tree. I hope you are pleased with your meal?”

Raymond waited a second for Rose to reply. She did not. He said, “The chicken meatballs are cooked perfectly. Very tasty. Thank you.”

“And you, madame?” The chef looked to Rose.

Rose was staring wide-eyed at a stain on the chef’s sleeve, something a deep red and quite obvious.

The chef followed her gaze. “Ah, forgive me. I splashed sauce on myself. It is quite impossible to remain spotless in a busy kitchen.”

He promptly rolled up the offending sleeve, then the other. Rose stared wide-eyed at the chef’s two arms, covered in tattoos, black ink from his wrists to above his elbows.

Rose looked away. She covered her mouth with her napkin. She was trying not to wretch. The chef glared at Rose. He stepped back, turned and hurried off to the kitchen. The server dashed over.

“Is everything all right, miss?”

Raymond attempted to hand his napkin to Rose. She brushed his hand away.

In a weak voice she said, “I can’t stand tattoos. They disgust me. I can’t eat any more. Raymond, take me home.”

She rose, grabbed her purse, and headed for the door.

The maitre’d now approached. “Are you all right, sir?”

“Apparently not,” Raymond said to no one in particular. “A couple of tattoos just ruined my dream date.”

The server said, “May I box up your meals?”

“Yes, please,” Raymond said. 

He gave his credit card to the server and looked for Rose. She was sitting in the lobby.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“No, I am not okay. I hate tattoos. I find it disgusting that someone would be covered in ink and cook for the public.” She was still holding the napkin to her face.

“I have to get out of here,” she said.

“Okay. I’m waiting to get my credit card back…and the takeout containers.”

“Takeout? Seriously? Do you want me to throw up in the car?”

Raymond sighed. “I paid a lot for this food. I’m taking it home.”

Rose stared at him. She reached for her phone. “I’ll call Uber.”

He nodded. Sat down next to her. Why do I do this to myself?

***

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