written by lauren d. h. miertschin

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Walk this way? Think not, how about RUN? (Or at least trot)

This is not a "Simply Fictional Tale." This is merely meandering . . .

I laughed when Bugs Bunny said, "walk this way," and some other character copied his haphazard walk. I laughed harder when Eyegore in Young Frankenstein said it also to Dr. Frankenstein, who imitated his limp in order to "walk this way." Aerosmith sang those words also when I was in Junior High, or was it grade school? Doesn't matter, I thought it was cool.

Now . . .

I don't want anyone telling me to "walk this way." I'm not certain that I ever did. Sure I thought it was funny, thought it sounded cool before. Heck, I didn't really know when I was a kid -- I couldn't verbalize what I felt. But I felt it. I felt: don't tell me to "walk this way!" Why? Because I can't! It feels awkward, it feels wrong.

Thing is . . . or rather, problem is, it's always been said: WALK THIS WAY! The Greeks said it to Socrates, and because he wouldn't, he had to drink the poisonous hemlock. The Pharisees said it to Jesus, and because he wouldn't, he had to carry his own cross to be crucified upon. Martin Luther lucked out when he nailed his 95 theses upon the Catholic Church doors. John Calvin wasn't so fortunate. Neither was Martin Luther King, Jr.

I cannot put myself anywhere near the people mentioned above, and even countless others. But I can say: I CANNOT walk this way. I have never been able to walk this way! And I suspect this is true for most people. They just don't want to say it. Isn't it so much easier to say, okay, sure, I can walk that way? It's easier than being branded a rebel, an outcast, nerd, a geek, an idiot.

Easier yes -- but as far as I know, we only grace this earth once (perhaps more, but I'm not gonna count on that -- and besides that -- so what if we visit more than once, we certainly have no recall of other lives here). So, why not go ahead and refuse to imitate that limp? Run if you want to. Heck, how about skip? Or even gallop? This is your life after all, give it YOUR best. And don't care whether you can walk this way! Run even if you're too big or too old. Carry a spare pair of shoes on your hands if you feel like it. Embrace a dorky picture of yourself. Wear white open-toed sandals in the winter! Trot down to the store, run down to the store, crawl down to the store, drive your S.U.V. down to the store (if you are so lucky) and forget about walking this way!

(c) Lauren D. H. Miertschin (As if it needs to be (c)! I'm not sure that anyone's reading these blogs. Prove me wrong, and feel free to comment, especially on the fiction : )))))

Saturday, November 21, 2009

My Top 100 Favorite Books

I could rearrange this list from week to week. And there are many other books that I've read worthy of making this list. I doubt the top 3 will ever change -- though it is possible.

(Omitted from list: Holy Books, friends books, children’s books)

1. Uncle Tom’s Cabin / Harriett Beecher Stowe

2. Black Boy / Richard Wright

3. Brother’s Karamozov / Fyodor Dostoevsky

4. Corelli’s Mandolin / Louis De Berniers

5. Grapes of Wrath / John Steinbeck

6. The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank / Anne Frank

7. The Catcher in the Rye / J.D. Salinger

8. Les Miserables / Victor Hugo

9. 1984 / George Orwell

10. The Color Purple / Alice Walker

11. Notes from Underground / Fyodor Dostoevsky

12. The Good War / Studs Terkel

13. All Quiet on the Western Front / Erich Maria Remarque

14. Dracula / Bram Stoker

15. Uncle Tom’s Children / Richard Wright

16. Eight Men / Richard Wright

17. Cry, the Beloved Country / Alan Paton

18. Berlin Diaries / Marie Vasilnikoff

19. Anais Nin’s Diaries (all of them) / Anais Nin

20. The Good Earth / Pearl S. Buck

21. To Kill a Mockingbird / Harper Lee

22. Boy / Roald Dahl

23. Native Son / Richard Wright

24. The Island on Bird Street / Uri Orlev

25. Going Solo / Roald Dahl

26. The Screwtape Letters / C.S. Lewis

27. The Winter of our Discontent / John Steinbeck

28. East of Eden / John Steinbeck

29. Memoirs of a Geisha / Arthur Golden

30. Tortilla Flats / John Steinbeck

31. Brave New World / Aldous Huxley

32. The Outsider / Richard Wright

33. The Long Dream / Richard Wright

34. Illusions / Richard Bach

35. Blue Beard / Kurt Vonnegut

36. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café / Fannie Flagg

37. Taras Bulba / Gogol

38. Cat’s Cradle / Kurt Vonnegut

39. Bird by Bird / Anne Lamott

40. Surprised by Joy / C.S. Lewis

41. Me Talk Pretty One Day / David Sedaris

42. Cold Sassy Tree / Olivia Burns

43. Reflections on the Psalms / C.S. Lewis

44. Naked / David Sedaris

45. Franny and Zooey / J.D. Salinger

46. Raise High the Roof Highbeam, Carpenters . . . / J.D. Salinger

47. The Glass Harp / Truman Capote

48. A Grief Observed / C.S. Lewis

49. Til We Have Faces / C.S. Lewis

50. Savage Holiday / Richard Wright

51. A Pen Warmed Up in Hell / Mark Twain

52. If I Forget Thee Jerusalem / William Faulkner

53. The Four Loves / C.S. Lewis

54. Breakfast at Tiffany’s / Truman Capote

55. Of Mice and Men / John Steinbeck

56. The Reader / Bernhard Schlink

57. Lawd Today! / Richard Wright

58. Over to You / Roald Dahl

59. Letters to Children / C.S. Lewis

60. My Uncle Oswald / Roald Dahl

61. Cannery Row / John Steinbeck

62. The Crucible / Arthur Miller

63. The World According to Garp / John Irving

64. Diary of a Madman & Other Stories / Nikolai Gogol

65. Tom Sawyer / Mark Twain

66. Crime and Punishment / Fyodor Dostoevsky

67. Don Quixote / Cervantes

68. Wuthering Heights / Emily Bronte

69. Stones from the River / Ursula Hegi

70. The Tin Drum / Gunter Grass

71. House of the Dead / Fyodor Dostoevsky

72. Fahrenheit 451 / Ray Bradbury

73. Candide / Voltaire

74. Robinson Crusoe / Daniel Defoe

75. The Odyssey / Homer

76. Crime and Punishment / Fyodor Dostoevsky

77. Lolita / Vladimir Nabakov

78. A Clockwork Orange / Anthony Burgess

79. A Prayer for Owen Meaney / John Irving

80. The Sorrows of Young Werther / Geothe

81. Mother Night / Kurt Vonnegut

82. Nine Stories / J.D. Salinger

83. The Slave / Isaac Bashevis-Singer

84. Like Water for Chocolate / Laura Esquivel

85. The Aeneid / Virgil

86. The Inferno / Dante

87. The Bell Jar / Sylvia Platt

88. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest / Ken Kesey

89. Midnight Cowboy / James Leo Herlihy

90. At Play in the Fields of the Lord / Peter Matthiessen

91. A Literate Passion Anais / Nin/Henry Miller

92. Angela’s Ashes / Frank McCourt

93. The Long Walk / Slavomir Rawicz

94. Tale of Two Cities / Charles Dickens

95. Johnathan Livingston Seagull / Richard Bach

96. The Underdogs / Mariano Azuela

97. The Great Gatsby / F. Scott Fitzgerald

98. Things Fall Apart / Achebe

99. The Chocolate War / Robert Cormier

100. Anna Karenina / Leo Tolstoy

101. Exodus / Leon Uris (Oops, I just had to sneak one more in : )

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Excerpt from" Beyond the Pale," Chapter 9

Chapter 9

1890, Kiev, Russia

Jov Baklanov tossed a tattered, leather boot at the black, long-haired mutt perched up against the sofa. She barked wildly out the window at a white cat that pranced about in the littered alleyway, seemingly enjoying the dog’s frustration.

“Someone shut that dog up. Before I kill it.” Jov said. He winked at the dog, as in actuality, the two were best buddies.

Her tail curled under, the dog whimpered and ran along the old, but well cared for sofa, jumping into Axel’s lap.

“She’s all right. Aren’t you lady?.” Axel stroked her back then growled at the dog to play along with Jov’s puffed up aggression.

“Dasha, get this dog out of here. Damn it!” Jov fought back a toothless grin and continued delving into his stack of papers.

“Like I said . . .” Axel cleared his throat. He felt embarrassed rushing his friend. “I need something right away.”

So far, it looked as if Saint Petersburg was his only answer. Contacts might shed news on the fisherman; they’d have a rundown on safe houses, some printing sources, possibly an exchange for a few gems.

“Sure, I understand. Important business our friend has.” Jov thumbed through some more papers. “You’re masquerading as one of us then, eh?

“One of you?”

“A gentile.” Jov smirked. “I barely recognize you comrade.” But neither the absence of a beard nor mustache really threw Jov. After pawning a diamond for a mere fraction of its worth, Axel had a new look tailored in town, something more “establishment”, less traditional – stiff, high collared white shirt, black trousers, matching vest and coat. Getting around in Saint Petersburg meant looking the part.

“Of course, a gentile.” Axel tugged at his bow tie in discomfort. “Something to get me across the border,” he admitted, then butted noses with the dog he had known since she was a pup.

“Well, I’m your man.” Jov waved a piece of paper about. “Here’s one Filip Kakovka . . . No, he’s sixty-five.” Jov shook his head before he cleared his throat and spit into a tin can on the table. “How about Mishenka Rachek? Thirty-six, Moscow. Sure, he fits you. Brown hair . . . eyes brown. What color your eyes comrade?”

“His eyes are blue,” Dasha said. She surprised the two as she stood in the doorframe and silently admired Axel’s affection toward her dog. “Steel blue.” Dasha smiled and waved to Axel, not to further interrupt her husband.

“Good to see you Dasha.” Axel pushed the dog from his lap and stood to greet the woman.

“There you are. Now get that mutt out of here.” Jov sneered at the dog before returning to the task at hand. “Errr. I know I’ve got a perfect passport for you somewhere.”

Fiddling with the waistline of an oversized, second-hand dress, Dasha took a seat next to Axel on the sofa. “This new look suits you,” she said. “If I hadn’t known, you’d gone and found yourself some kind of official position – with the government perhaps?” She patted her leg for the mutt who jumped up into her lap and showered her face with kisses. “Oh, Sabina, that a girl. Calm down. Yes, calm down, puppy.”

“How about Fyodor, thirty-one? Wait . . . no good.” Jov eyed the dog and shook his head smiling. “Good; I’m glad to see that what the man of this house says goes.” He pulled another stack of papers from the floor and barked at Sabina. The dog yiped back, to which Jov let out a hearty laugh.

“You should come around more often,” Dasha said in a lowered voice. Her dark hair fell on bare shoulders where the neckline had slipped off. She blushed and looked away, using one arm to quickly pull it back up over her milk-white shoulder.

“Stefan, twenty-nine. No . . .”

Axel squeezed Dasha’s hand. Her eyes darted to her husband who shuffled still through his jumbled stack of counterfeit papers.

“Always a pleasure seeing you both. You know that.” Axel patted the couch for Sabina who eagerly switched laps to shower an abundance of licks upon his face.

“That damn dog still here?” Jov swatted at a fly that lingered about his face. Suddenly his hand shot up and snatched it midair.

Dasha shuddered, Axel’s grin displayed some amusement.

“Damn Fly,” Jov grumbled, and threw it to the ground where it lay lifeless. “Now where was I? Dog out, fly dead. Yes. Here it is,” he said. “Alek Raskolnikoff, thirty-six, brown hair, blue eyes.”

Dasha threw her head back and laughed. “Sounds like a character out of a novel,” she said. “But then again, our friend here is just like a character in a novel. Wouldn’t you say, Jov?”


“Dasha, our resident romantic.” Axel shook his head in mock pity for all poor romantics amongst Mother Russia. Funny he didn’t realize he was one himself. Romantics seldom ever do. Sabina hopped from his lap, her tail wagging, she nudged at his feet as if she agreed.

To signal that Dasha knew darn well Axel was a romantic too, she sneered and rolled her dark eyes away from him when she stood to grab at her dog. Who in the movement wasn’t a romantic? One had to be in order to take the crazy risks involved with subversion.

“Come on Dasha, knock off that book stuff will you? We’ve got business to conduct. Take the mutt and leave.” Slapping Dasha’s rear with his spare hand, Jov handed Axel his new identity.

“Oh, she’s harmless, let’s go Sabina.” Dasha leaned forward and hugged Axel. “Stop through on your way back,” she said. “Stay a few days.”

Jov agreed and extended the welcome. He slapped Axel hard on the back. Then with both hands he grabbed his friend’s shoulders and turned him to face head to head before he kissed both of Axel’s cheeks.

Axel embraced Jov a bit longer than customary. He didn’t leave before he paid his friends generously – a quarter-karat diamond for their services, double what he’d planned on paying. Said he hoped he’d be back by fall. Then departing, he sadly reflected on whether he’d see them again, or whether like the fisherman back home, and so many like him, they’d disappear in the night.

* * *

The train parted a thick layer of fog as it rolled into Saint Petersburg. Axel peered out his compartment window, scrutinizing strangers’ faces. A small group of people walked in and out of the mist on the platform. An old man sat hunched over the stool of his shoeshine, reading a newspaper as he waited for the morning rush.

Axel waited for a good portion of the travelers to exit the train before disembarking himself. When he did, he made a deliberate attempt to appear confident – as if he belonged there. He had mastered the look. His strides were long, his attention forward, in a straight line for the dispersing crowd. The conductor’s uniform a dark blob in the corner of Axel’s eye, vanished with distance.

“Paper! Get your paper here,” hollered the paperboy who was not actually a boy. Thinning, gray hair indicated middle-age. Yet he measured a little over three and a half feet tall.

“Get your paper here!”

A policeman emerged from the fog, casually meandering toward the train. He stopped to chat with two women who waited for their luggage. The women were pretty and young, batting eyelashes at the officer as he lit his pipe. The officer’s presence did not appear to shake Axel, who kept up his pace on past the “paperboy”. He would have kept on walking right through the station and out, directly to his contact’s flat downtown, had a single finger tap on his shoulder not stopped him short.

“Excuse me,” the conductor said looking over the rim of his glasses. Axel sensed a tinge of hostility in his voice. “Please sir. What does it take to get your attention?”

“I’m terribly sorry,” Axel said. “How can I help you?”

The conductor sighed. “Double checking passports,” he said. “You walked right past me on the ramp. Now, please. Your passport, Sir.” He held out his palm.

“Why, certainly.” Axel set his bag on the ground. Making an effort to appear unconcerned, he stepped back from the conductor to gain some space.

“Mandatory re-check. With this cholera outbreak, never can be too sure. Just last week we caught a quarantined family of four trying to enter our city with false papers. Can you imagine?” The conductor shook his head, apparently disgusted.

“I can assure you . . .” Axel pulled at his tie, then abruptly stopped fiddling.

“Passport?” The conductor held out his hand again.

“Paper! Get your paper!” The paper boy held the headline page up above his head. “Twenty-five traitors face the firing squad . . . Read all about it here!”

His attention torn between the news and the conductor, Axel reached into his coat to retrieve documentation. With it he pulled a watch from his vest pocket. “I’m already running late,” he said feigning annoyance by the delay. His strategy: intimidate with a slight air of authority. That usually worked for him. Only once did he need to outrun a touchy situation. That happened in Kiev when he was twenty-five years old, ten pounds lighter, and his feet could carry him practically as fast as a horse. Axel wasn’t so confident he could do it again.

Briefly looking up from Axel’s finely counterfeited papers, the conductor waved over the officer who still chatted with the ladies. “Ah, Mikel,” he hollered. “I have one for you to clear.”

Excusing himself, Mikel lit his pipe and made his way to the men. “On time for once,” he shouted. “I believe that’s some kind of record. Three times this month, if I’m not mistaken.” The officer let out a laugh and continued so laughing until he reached the two men on an increasingly crowded platform. “Let me have a look.” Mikel took a puff from his pipe and grabbed the passport. He looked over Axel, then diverted his eyes to the bag beside him on the ground.

“Alek Raskolnikoff is it? And what are your plans in our fine city?” He puffed on his pipe, staring intently at Axel.

“Why Gentlemen.” Though Axel didn’t as much as blink, his gut tightened, tiny beads of sweat formed at the back of his neck. “I have the pleasure of visiting your gorgeous city on a matter of business . . .”

Mikel exhaled a puff of smoke at Axel’s face. “Business of what type?”

Axel fanned the smoke away with his hand. The hair at his nape seemed to rise. And he could feel the sweat beading at his temples. He also felt the presence of someone standing behind him, but dared not turn around. They had him trapped now. His best chance, he thought, was to grab his bag and try to outrun these goons. But he’d have to move quickly else lose the element of surprise. A strong hand pressed down onto his shoulder before he could make that move.

“Professor Raskolnikoff, there you are.”

Both the conductor and police officer recognized the man behind Axel. No doubt, Axel recognized Stefan’s voice at once – just like in their school days, Stefan’s influence preceded him.

Axel’s shoulders relaxed. He took in a breath, ready to play the game. But he couldn’t help but wonder what the chances were of meeting his friend again so soon. How could Stefan possibly have known he’d be there? He had after all, deliberately misled his friend about his travel plans when they met on the train.

“Paper! Get your paper here.”

“We were afraid you didn’t make it.” Stefan leaned into Axel and kissed each of his cheeks. A neatly groomed mustache and well-combed hair contrasted the disheveled drunken Stefan he met on the way to Kiev. Though a hint of vodka lingered on his friend’s breath.

“Appreciate you meeting me here,” Axel said.

“Ah, Stefan.” The officer cleared his throat. He puffed out his chest. “You can vouch for this man?”

The conductor eyed Axel suspiciously.

Stefan put his arm around his friend and with the other picked up his bag. “Why certainly, we’ve been eagerly awaiting to hear more about the professor’s thesis at the university.”

“Is that so?” The officer gave Axel a look over again and glanced behind his shoulder to the conductor.

“Say, Mikel,” Stefan said, “you might have caught his piece in The Petersburg Quarterly

“The Petersburg Quarterly you say.”

“Certainly, you must have seen it – “Why the peasant refuses to better his lot” – I know you appreciate the intellectual articles.”

“Oh sure, now that you mention it,” he said not looking directly at either of the men. “It’s a pleasure making your acquaintance, Professor Raskolnikoff, is it?” Mikel’s face reddened as he returned the passport. “Sorry to have kept you.”

“Not a problem,” Axel said, anxious to take his chance at an exit. “Just doing your job.” He adjusted his bow tie.

“Come.” Stefan slapped his friend’s back. “I have a coach waiting.”
(c) Lauren D. H. Miertschin

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Don't Touch The Glass

I don't know about this one -- I figured what the heck! Post it, then file the story away.

Danny lurched from his mother’s vomit-stained lap. He hit the floor with a thud. Face tensed. Eyes widened, he pulled at his stomach, yanking, yanking, like something tore at his flesh. The wail that escaped his lips woke Ericca from a fitful sleep. Yet no one else seemed disturbed. Except for Danny’s mother. Except for all mothers. Some turned in their sleep. Others simply hollered for no apparent reason.

A stern-faced guard looked on as Danny cried into the floor. His mother pulled him into her arms. Then she sat inches from Ericca’s feet and cradled the six-year-old while he moaned a low, steady hum.

Ericca smiled, yet deliberately refused eye contact with the boy and his mother. Didn’t want to make them feel uncomfortable. No. She didn’t want to feel uncomfortable.

“The air,” the boy’s mother said. “Why don’t they turn off that damn air?” She balanced her son with one arm, with the other pulled a black shawl from the chair and covered him. “Middle of winter for chrissake.” She nestled back in the chair, whimpering son solid in her arms.

A soft breeze blew outside the E.R. on this cloudless night. The clock above the nurse’s window read 11:58. It seemed like it read a couple minutes before midnight, all night. Ericca covered the blood on her white button-up blouse with a torn People magazine. For sure, she thought, a rib poked through. A dull throbbing radiated from the bandage taped across her ribs.

“They’re trying to freeze us,” she surprised herself by muttering out loud. Clearing her throat, she scanned the room. Who are these people? She sensed they were here every night, different faces, familiar bodies, murmuring in low tones.

Ericca hugged her ribs, tensed, then coughed. Danny flinched. “I’m sorry,” she mouthed then fought against the tickle at the back of her throat. She shifted her weight and looked away from the boy. Hell. What kind of infectious bacteria had seeped in by now?

Outside the ER’s neon EXIT that flickered against a black night, Ericca found a smoker hovered over the trashcan – a boy, probably nineteen, wrapped in a faded denim jacket. “Got an extra smoke?” She held her ribs firmly applying pressure where she was certain that the rib poked through.

“Last one dude,” the kid said. “Want a drag?” He held out his half smoked cigarette.

“Ah, that’s all right.”

The boy chortled. She knew what he was thinking. Cold stone bitch, that was what he was thinking, and she ached to defend herself, but weariness pervaded. Thirty-nine years old, she’d had grown weary of lots of things. Bike rides, a simple pink flower, a bright sun . . .

Inside, a runny-nosed seven-year-old girl had taken Ericca’s seat. A pockmarked boy took up the two chairs beside the girl. His head propped up on a letterman’s jacket, his right leg hung to the side. The other foot rested on the next seat. A bag of ice had all but melted over his swollen foot. Double take on the feet. God, he had big feet.

Across the aisle, a family of five surrounded an elderly man in his wheelchair. A woman leaned in and adjusted his yellowed shirt collar. He stared vacantly at the aquarium, home to a translucent anemone and lone clown fish. A teenage boy stood gazing at the orange and white striped fish. He coughed on the glass, and then wiped the mist away with his bare hand.

Coughs meshed with whispers across the waiting room. Danny let out a soft yelp in his sleep. His mother cringed. Staring again, Ericca couldn’t help herself.

Danny opened his bloodshot eyes and forced a half smile for his mother who refused to relinquish him from her cradle. Yes, she kept her cool, but the strain in her eyes revealed a front ready to fall.

Danny’s eyes squeezed shut. He moaned then grabbed his stomach again.

“Can someone help this kid?” Ericca took a stance in the middle of the room, arms hugging her waist. The nurse behind the glass partition didn’t look up. Even the armed security guard who stood diligently aside, ignored Ericca. Everyone in the room ignored her. Even Danny’s mom. Even Danny.

Double doors opened. Heads turned toward the nurse who emerged. A tennis match came to Ericca’s mind. Back and forth. Back and forth.

“Mark Jo . . . han . . . o . . . san.” The haggard looking woman double checked her clipboard, eleventh hour of a twelve hour shift. Wisps of blonde hair hung haphazardly from red plastic barrettes shaped like bows. Her scrubs were badly stained, new stains, brownish-red.

“Mr. Johanosan?”

Wheels squeaked as someone pushed the elderly man’s wheelchair. Ericca took a breath and held it as as the old man who erupted into a into a coughing fit in his sleep, passed by. Slowly, she exhaled as everyone returned to their preoccupations. Two women thumbed through strewn about stacks of outdated celebrity magazines. Alternately, the ladies snapped their chewing gum without reservation. They neglected to notice the man with a heavily bloodied and bandaged arm who jerked with each snap. All the while, a delirious two-year-old boy, happy to be up well past bedtime kept his mother busy, running back and forth across the room. The boy’s mother finally caught him by the sleeve.

“We had a little head injury tonight,” she explained to Ericca. “He was vomiting.” The boy yanked on his sleeve to no avail. “Looks okay now,” she said as if apologizing. “No. Don’t touch anything,” the woman said and pulled her son away from the magazines. She rummaged through her purse, one hand still gripping the boy’s arm, he gave a tug and ran off toward the automatic doors. “You’re in big trouble now, Mister,” Mom said and gave chase.

Another hour passed: same people, same scene. Besides Mr. Johanosan, one other patient was summoned behind double doors – Danny and of course, his mother. Relieved. Ericca didn’t have to look at them anymore.

2 AM. A young woman, mascara smeared across her face, stumbled to the nurse’s window. Her hair was dyed orange, meticulously formed into spikes. “Please! My father.” Tears streamed down her cheeks. “They brought him by ambulance,” she cried. Without a word, the nurse buzzed in the girl.

The air conditioner blew a couple notches colder as the two-year-old’s mom struggled to keep her son in her arms. She carried him to the aquarium, his legs wiggling, wiggling. “No. Don’t touch the glass,” she said. His fingerprints had already left smudges.

Double doors opened. Heads turned to see the new nurse on duty. Her flower patterned scrubs clean – pressed with no stains, complimented neatly tied back gray hair.

“Ms. Stevens,” she said. “Ericca Stevens?”

Ericca moved forward and looked back at the room as if to say good-bye to longtime friends. Gum snapped, magazine pages crumpled. The clown fish swam circles at the water’s edge. And the two year old boy’s mother restrained her son as she rubbed his fingers clean with antibacterial wipes.

A new world appeared behind the double doors, an underworld revealed. Lights brightened. Radiologists, respiratory therapists, RNs, LVNs, interns and orderlies moved back and forth like well oiled cogs. An unattended long haired man’s wheelchair faced the wall. “They’re killing me,” he screamed. His head abruptly dropped. “I told you to fucking shut-up!” he said before he banged his forehead against the molding. An orderly knocked into Ericca as he rushed to the belligerent man’s side.

“Crazy night,” Ericca’s nurse said. “Fraid there’s not much room at the inn.” She smiled then directed Ericca to sit in a chair between two occupied gurneys in the hallway directly across from room D. “All we have for now, Dear.” With that, the nurse checked Ericca’s name on her clipboard list and disappeared down the hall, but not before crossing her shoulders then chest in the sign of the cross with her fingertips.

Some adults, a few children sat outside Room D. A few of them wept, while others’ eyes revealed a swollenness that only arises from extra-duty weeping. Two men dressed in simple dark suits sat clear-eyed and somber just outside the group.

Phones rang. Ericca clutched her ribs. The man who lay in the gurney beside her coughed and hacked for a solid ten minutes. Brown chunks of phlegm fell to the floor. Ericca held her breath, then tried to synchronize breaths with the gurney man so that she might not breathe in what he breathed out. She was grateful that the woman in the gurney to her other side slept soundly.

Somewhere outside the E.R. someone smoked a cigarette. The aroma smelled divine, a reminder of simpler times for Ericca. The door to Room D opened and out walked a teenage boy. One swollen-eyed woman rose from her seat. She hugged the boy as he passed on her way into the room.

“Miss Stevens? Ma ‘am?”

The man on the gurney increased his hacking. A respiratory therapist stopped by to administer oxygen from a tube. Little pieces of phlegm fell onto her white lace-up shoes. Down the hall a woman was barking.

“Ma ‘am?”

“I told you to shut up, godammit!” Thud. Thud. The nurse didn’t react to the head banging down the hall.

“Code nine. Code nine.”

“Ma ‘am?”

She was asleep, or at least she figured so. But Ericca could see everything – the nurse, silent to her ears, simply a woman standing in front of her opening and closing, opening and closing her mouth. The door to Room D opened and a weeping woman walked out, her face buried in her palms. A man moved her hands away from the face, kissed them, then disappeared behind the door.

“Miss Stevens?”


The two year old boy darted by, mother in tow.

“Don’t touch the glass,” Ericca said.

“Pardon me?”

“Ah . . . I’m sorry.” Ericca shook her head, reminiscent from earlier that evening when she tried to keep herself from falling asleep at the wheel.

The man exited Room D, hand clenching a handkerchief. He took another neatly folded one from his pocket and he handed it off to the next man entering the room.

“Are you the doctor?”

Room D’s door opened to allow three more visitors all at once.

“No. Just here to check your vitals.”

Then out in the hallway while a doctor pressed onto Ericca’s ribs, the teenager with orange spiked hair entered Room D. Ericca tilted her head to watch the door while a doctor wrapped her ribs with fresh gauze. She spent maybe five minutes total with Errica, then ordered x-rays which revealed three cracked ribs, none of which poked out.

While Errica waited for discharge papers the orange-haired teen emerged from room D. She let out a wail when the small group of people surrounded her. Slowly they began to lead her off. Room D visitors ceased. The door remained closed. And the group outside dispersed, except for the two suited men.

The woman down the hall was still barking. Phones rang. Nurses murmured about a troublesome patient. The hacking man to Ericca’s side snored loudly. An orderly wearing green scrubs had rolled away the sleeping woman in the gurney for a cat-scan. The two dark-suited men rose from their seats. They stepped through Room D’s door with not as much as a look to each other. And a few minutes later they emerged. One man on each end, they rolled away a gurney that carried a body covered with a white plastic sheet.

On her way out, Ericca walked behind the mother carrying her two-year-old who was finally asleep. She fought an urge to pet the boy’s head. Familiar faces remained out in the waiting room. She stopped to pay the clown a visit. He seemed to swim gleefully about, his orange and white stripes turning in and out, rippling like a belly dancer. No wonder they called them clowns, Ericca thought. She ran her hand along her bandages, then placed her hand on the finger smudged glass. The clown wiggled his fins then darted into the anemone that closed its protecting translucent fingers around him. Then Ericca breathed in the smell of the E.R., Lysol, Band-Aids, antiseptic, before walking out the doors to a sky that glowed orange, welcoming the day’s new sun.

(c) Lauren D. H. Miertschin

Monday, November 2, 2009

Colbalt Green

This short story is another one from the archives -- I'm guessing that I wrote it about ten years ago. First clue that it's an oldie, again: First person point-of-view (and once again male). And the second important clue that this one is an oldie, is that it's mainly a narrative (which like the 1st person pov, I'm not into anymore).

The story was originally tittled "Strange Water," and I loved that title. In fact, I titled this story before I even knew what I was going to write. Then three friends read the story and all three said that this should definately be called "Colbalt Green." My husband agreed. Now I'm not one to change a title just because someone suggests it, but four people out of four? That convinced me. So, I'm wondering, what do you think? Colbalt Green or Strange Water?

Colbalt Green
(Strange Water)
By Lauren D. H. Miertschin

Nature’s Tonic. Dad, Mom, Deb, they loved the stuff. Couldn’t get enough, you know. Like, who cares about water? For me, tap’s good as anything. Don’t trust none of those fancy waters.

Mom started first. The Dame said, “Single best thing you can put into your body.”

Couldn’t fool me. I saw the effects of that strange water right off.

You should have seen her – singing to laundry, dancing down the hallway. Called the family to dinner in a damn song. Nature’s Tonic turned this place into some crazy musical extravaganza. A regular music hall, for godssake.

Sure, first it was only humming. But then the whistling started. Mom dug out these bizarre boxes she called eight tracks. Before I knew it, she bought a stereo, a pile of cd’s. You should have seen it. The Dame put radios in the bathrooms, one in the kitchen, another in the hall. She bought Deb singing lessons. Even had the piano tuned. Dad couldn’t believe how fast Mom picked it up again. Said he never heard her play so good. He was sure one to talk. I never knew Pops even owned a fiddle.

And Dad, Mom, and Deb – they thought I was the crazy one.


Say, what self-respecting water comes in Cobalt Green bottles anyway?

“There’s no such color as Cobalt Green,” Mom and Deb said.

Distraction: the oldest trick in the book. Well, not exactly the oldest. “There is so a color Cobalt Green. It’s the color of Cobalt Blue, only green,” I told ‘em.


Wouldn’t have been so bad, you know, if it hadn’t been day in, day out. Don’t get me wrong, I like music and all. But damn, it wasn’t just Pops singing in the shower, you know. Dad, Mom, Deb, they sang at the kitchen table, sang to the T.V., performed concerts in the living room. You should have seen it. Mom at the piano, Dad with his fiddle, Deb beltin’ out a song. Who knew she had a voice like that? The water I tell ya. Heck, she’s only a kid. A kid with a stack of awards . . . not to mention that date to sing the anthem at the Hollywood Bowl.

We were becoming a regular Partridge Family for godssake.

She tried to get me musical, you know, The Dame – drums, tambourine, anything . . .

“Here, have some water. Just play along, Sweetie.”

“Not likely,” I said, not to hurt her feelings and all. But what could I say? I was a well-adjusted, happy guy, you know. No way you’d catch me singing and dancing like some damn fool.

The stuff this family put me through . . .

In broad daylight, smack in the middle of the grocery store, for godssake, Mom broke out into a sing-along with intercom music. You can be sure that I was out of there by the second note. What were people going to think?

The dame’s whacked, that’s what they thought.

Mom really went nuts when Deb won that scholarship and the whole family that crazy, European Musical Masters Tour. You should have seen it; when Mom found out she skipped around town singing at the top of her lungs. I couldn’t show my face outside the house for days. You would have thought it had been her life-long dream to see this guy Bach’s harpsichord, or Beethoven’s grave.

You should have seen them. “La, la, la, lalalala,” they sang.

Dad, Mom, they threw a big bash to celebrate. Aunt June, Uncle Jack, Mom’s friend Rita, they all came. The Adams next door even showed. Suspicious all right. As far as I knew, the Adams had never set foot in our house. I’ll tell you, at the rate Mrs. Adams gulped down that Nature’s Tonic, I sensed she’d be back.

“It’s the single best thing you can put into your body,” Mrs. Adams said.
She’d been talking to The Dame.

I call that night the turning point. The twelve packs of sodas, not a single one touched. Hardly a brew cracked all night. As a matter of fact, the next morning I checked and counted all but three beers gone. And two of those I took myself. Slipped out to guzzle them underneath the house. Wasn’t even missed, you know.

You can believe they sure did guzzle the ole’ Cobalt Green though. You should have seen it. Had ourselves a regular jubilee. Deb took up the mic, Uncle Jack strapped on the accordion. In and out, in and out. Aunt June jumped up and down banging a tambourine on her hip like some lunatic. Then there was Pops. He played that fiddle like a mad dog, Mom beside him at the piano – grinning like some sort of schoolgirl. Then Mr. Adams pulled up a chair and whipped out a harmonica. Mrs. Adams got so damn excited, she danced around her husband’s chair, real sexy like, sitting on his lap sometimes to bump and grind to the music. Talk about embarrassing.

Then about midnight the cops finally showed. “It’s about time,” I said. I called about that strange water half a dozen times before. But if you can believe it, they didn’t come knocking about the Cobalt Green. No, they showed because of the NOISE.

“How about a beer boys?” The Dame asked in a sweet, hospitality-like voice. An obvious attempt to win them over. She actually played “The Theme from Dragnet” for the cops. Can you imagine?

“Mighty kind of you to offer, Mam’,” one of the cops said, “sure you understand, duty and all.” Well, to make a not so long story even shorter, Mom, you guessed it, passed them the ole’ Cobalt Green. They had no idea . . . unsuspecting victims, you know. Never saw it coming.

Before I knew it, those two cops were dancing a jig, whistling to some Irish Folk tunes off the new stereo. You should have seen it. They left last among the party goers, two in the morning, for godssake.

You can’t blame me. First things first, you know. I fired up the internet to find out just who made Nature’s Tonic. And here’s where it got even stranger. The bottle said that the ole’ Cobalt Green was pumped from natural springs in Texas and bottled in Corina, California. Funny thing though . . . there’s no damn Corina. There’s a Corona all right – out near San Bernardino somewhere, dairy land. There was also a Covina, Los Angeles County, some god forsaken place. But no Corina.

The Dame said I ought to try another map. That I did. In fact, I checked twenty-five different websites. And as I suspected, not a single one listed a Corina. All had a Corona though, and each one, a Covina.

“Look,” I told The Dame, slapping my stack of printouts before her. “What do you have to say for your ole’ Cobalt Green now?”

Mom giggled.

“Obviously, they’re hiding something.”

“Oh, Sweetie,” she said. “I’m sure it’s just a typo.” Then tap, tap-tap, tap, she proceeded to drum out a jig.

Typo. Yeah right.

I’ll tell you what I thought. It’s like the Pied Piper, you know, only this time he’s bottled in Cobalt Green. No, the Piper didn’t whistle the family off to Europe. It’s the Pied Piper who’s gonna call them back. After that, I don’t know. Maybe it’s some kind of communist plot to lure us out to the country, get us all rural again. Maybe the government just wants to put us out graze. Hell, who can tell? For all I know, Hollywood’s behind that strange water, the ole’ Cobalt Green – some crazy scheme of a talent hunt.

Well, I didn’t bite, that’s for sure. The night before they all left for Europe, I waited until The Dame and Pops fell asleep. Then I crept into Deb’s room to break the news. As I figured, she was still awake, checking her list to make sure she packed everything. She was humming a tune over the headphones. I remember the song: “Bridge over Troubled Waters.” Apropos.

I told her that I hadn’t really been packing and all. That it was all a facade.

“But your suitcases,” she said wide-eyed.

“Stuffed with blankets.” Had no intention of traveling to Europe – not with this whacked-out family. I said that I was sorry and all, but I thought she ought to know. She’s my baby sister, you know. Didn’t want her to worry.

“But what about Mom and Dad?” Her eyes welled up with tears real sad like. “Andrew! They’ll drag you along if they have to. Ohhhh,” she whimpered, “if you make us miss the plane, they’ll kill you.”

“That’s the beauty of it,” I assured her. “Mom and Dad, they won’t miss the flight for the world, you know. Tomorrow when they see I’ve left, and you won’t say a word,” I told her, “you all will just have to leave without me.”

My news came as a shock. Poor Deb. She looked like she might burst into tears. So I, very gently, you know, covered her mouth with my hand. “Don’t worry,” I said, “I’ll be back home once you’re all gone.”

I could tell that Deb didn’t like my plan. She cried, despite my hand covering her mouth. Fortunately, The Dame and Pops didn’t stir, and I got a promise from her that she wouldn’t holler as soon as I left.

At three in the morning when I was certain the entire house slept, I laid out the note about how I wouldn’t be going on their dream vacation, because it was so dorky and all. I didn’t mention that the family was just too damn whacked to be seen with in public – even in Europe. Didn’t want to lay it on too hard, you know. I ended the note with something about how in a few days, they could reach me at home. Then I grabbed a sleeping bag, a couple those leftover beers and headed for the storage cupboard in the basement to hide out.

Heard a couple of doors slam. Pops made some grumbling noises. Couldn’t make out any words, but I could have sworn at one point Pops was singing.

After a couple hours I finally I heard the van pull out of the driveway with some classical tune blaring from the stereo. I can’t tell you how glad I was about my decision. Besides, attached to the note upstairs about how furious they were, how they’d call me, and how I’d better stay out of trouble, was Mom’s bank versatel card for my “basic needs.”

I got quick to work as soon as they left. Pulled up a list of every bottled water company in the damn U.S. Thirty-seven of them, you know. Who would have thought? Yet, not one of them Nature’s Tonic.

Wasn’t surprised.

Finally I phoned the grocery store manager. “Can you please give me the name of your Nature’s Tonic Distributor,” I politely asked. “I really love the stuff and can’t get enough.”

“Listen punk,” she said, “You call again and I call the cops.”

I waited a day and phoned again. Said I owned a café in town, needed fifty cases of Nature’s Tonic. I only needed to know when they expected their next shipment, you know. Damn, you’d have thought I was asking them to explain Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Meanwhile, I hit the library to research strange water situations. No luck at all, when this grandma-like librarian showed me an article on this funky film, nothing more than a pain in the ass to load up on some square dinosaur box. It talked about a drug called Lithium that’s found naturally in some water. Well, Lithium’s this drug they give manic-depressed patients, you know – those people who one minute are perfectly happy, then in the next practically suicidal. I know a few myself.

Anyway, the article went on to say that the Fountain of Youth that ancient guy from Italy searched all over Florida for, was probably this Lithium water. Didn’t mention though, about the drug keeping you young. More likely, you might not care so much about getting old. Well, from what I could make of it (you know those academic types, gotta use ten sentences when they could say it in one), Lituium makes you feel evenly fine. Fine all the time, in other words. You know, like nothing is terrible, nothing is wonderful. Just how life is naturally, you know.

The article went on to say that there were pockets of Lithium water all over the country. Towns sometimes boomed around the water. The rich and famous dudes vacationed in these towns, drank and swam in pools of the stuff. Then when it dried out for some reason or another, well the town just died. Hotels closed, people moved out, the place became a regular ghost town.

Certainly a case of strange water you know, but the article made no mention about Lithium making you sing, nothing about dancing, or playing the fiddle. Awfully nice of the librarian to find me the article though. Without her, you know, I might never have realized the solution to our strange water problem around here.

I decided to put an end to the Pied Piper myself. Decided to dry this town out. Sure I might turn this place into a ghost town. But that was just a risk I had to take. And fortunately for me, time was on my side.

For an entire week, I watched the grocer’s shelves. Customers grabbed up the ole’ Cobalt Green by the case. When I saw the supply falling low, I grew giddy knowing soon I would make my move. Giddy, can you imagine? And then finally, one Monday afternoon it happened; I arrived to fully stocked shelves of Nature’s Tonic. Four shelves high, Cobalt Green glistened down the side of an entire aisle. There was an old woman humming some church hymn who reached for a six pack. A mom with her baby strapped across her chest, sang “Sunshine, my only sunshine . . .” as she loaded her cart with the stuff. Truly a sad sight.

Well, I returned to the store an hour before it closed. Waited by the newspaper stand outside so I could enter with other customers. Didn’t want to stand out, you know. So later, when I slipped into the back, ducked down between some crates, I would be scott free, and no one would ever realize that I hadn’t exited the store, being no one noticed me enter.

Didn’t have to wait long, cramped down there on the floor. Within the hour, I’d say, the place pitch black, death quiet, except for freezer motors running and shit, I decided to make my move. I pulled the ski mask over my face, bolted up and made right for it. First in the back, I located a hundred or so cases of the stuff neatly stacked. I took a short running start and pushed my weight head-on into it. You should have seen it, the entire stack fell as one chunk, smashing the bottles into a million Cobalt Green pieces. Tremendous noise, I’ll say. Surely someone must have heard. So I rushed off like mad to the front of the store to finish the job.

I huffed and I puffed and I pushed all my weight into the aisle. That damn thing wouldn’t budge. So I just started kicking bottles off the first shelf all the way down the aisle until I reached the end. Then I turned and made the trip back bent over and all, and pushed the bottles off the second shelf. I did the same for the third shelf, this time, running upright. Then I gave it another try, maybe now the aisle was light enough to tackle. Yes, indeed. I pulled it down in three sections, crashing the last of the Cobalt Green to the floor.

Except for bumps and bruises to my head from bottles that fell off the top shelf, my plan went down without a hitch. Without wasting any time, I burst out the back door, sounding the alarm. I sprinted two blocks to the mall. Took in a movie before I headed home, victorious over the ole’ Cobalt Green.

Victorious, until they restocked a week later. On a Sunday this time. Who delivers on a Sunday? But I was prepared, you know. I did the exact thing again, hid out until everyone had gone, donned my black ski mask, then destroyed all of that strange water. There was much improvement in my speed. Accomplished the deed in half the time, with half as many knocks to the ole’ knocker.

I had to act cautiously after that, you know. There’d been a write-up about me in the paper and everything. “Water Bandit,” they dubbed me. No doubt, everyone expected the culprit to show up the night of the next shipment. But you can be sure I didn’t make an appearance. The beauty of it was, I didn’t have to make an appearance. The Post Office did it for me. In fact, the grocer got my letter in a day. Oh, you should have seen it, the entire aisle of the Ole Cobalt Green taped off. They didn’t allow anyone near the stuff. That was, not until those dudes figured exactly which two bottles had been tainted. Of course, they didn’t find any. The letter was just my genius hoax, you know. Where’s a kid like me gonna get cyanide?

After hoax number one, I printed up a flyer, five hundred of them to distribute throughout town – in mailboxes, newspapers, church confessionals, all about how Nature’s Tonic was dangerous to your health. I put in some clever stuff about how the company’s procedures were unsanitary and all. “One customer even found a rat’s skull in her bottle of water,” I wrote.

After the flyer, I had more planned, you know. I’d dry this town out yet. Had been practicing with gunpowder, learning to make a bomb, and all. I swore I was gonna blow that damn aisle down. Then maybe they’d learn – stop it already with the Cobalt Green. I won’t quit, you know, not until I’ve chased the Pied Piper out.

The Dame, Pop’s they’ll be back real soon. Sure, I guessed they’d be back sooner. Any day now, they’ll rush through the front door. Back for a bit of the ole’ Cobalt Green. It’ll be tough for them once they find out we’re just about dry. But I figured they’d get over it all right. Until then, I’ve got myself some peace and quiet. No more strange water. No more silly song.

(c) Lauren D. H. Miertschin