Not that different, maybe amplified

A short story by Andy Brilliant

It is 6:30 in the morning and first light is flooding the living room.  Cheryl is taking advantage of the Stop and Shop hours for the elderly and people at risk.  He has been sitting in this chair since 6pm the day before.   Paralyzed since the President’s last Rose garden “presser”. He could not go with Cheryl. 

They had food enough for how long? And toilet paper but it couldn’t hurt to go get more.  Samantha their daughter in LA had sent a big box of paper towels. So they were okay on that front.   Cheryl could not sit still.  So going to the Shop and Shop was just the right thing for her.

Drawing by Carol Palmer Brilliant

He is sitting in his mother’s chair, which he and Cheryl inherited 25 years ago when Shirley passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. The chair is older than he his. “It has got to be at least 70 years old.” He thinks.

When they got the chair, it was worn out, and threadbare with some interior springs bulging and pushing through the worn material. Cheryl had it redone in matching “off white” similar in color to the “sectional” pieces they had also inherited.

He is looking out past the “coffee table,” also inherited from Shirley, which is piled with books, a few magazines and photo albums . He does not remember the last time there was coffee on the table.

The coffee table is square and brown colored, its wooden legs are milled in the same style as the chair he is sitting in. Beyond the coffee table is a section of the sectional inherited from his mother. It is the same color as the chair, close in style but not an exact match. Perhaps at one time this was called Danish Modern.

He has heard that in Scandinavia that this “thing” is not as bad as it is here. He realizes that he might be mistaken. The sectional sits in the bow-front with three windows behind it. The sectional is curved so it is nested in to the bow-front.

           His throat hurts. And it is time for another lozenge.

A CVS  MENTHOL COUGH SUPPRESSANT  Temporarily  relieves cough and soothes sore throats. Soothing Relief. 200 drops. Compare to the active ingredient in HALLS

There are sheer white curtains in front of the three windows. He can see through the curtains to the Hares house about 40 feet away. Sally Hares home office window is directly across from the windows.   There is another window to the left of her office window. It is a frosted window.  Now he is thinking it is ground glass like the lungs of his friends.

He can see when someone is in there. He can see the shape of a human when they are in the bathroom.  It is an amorphous moving shape—shitting showering shaving he guesses. He imagines the activity but can’t really tell what it is.  Except that, it has to be a human form.

Just outside his windows and crossing this view, there are six wires of different diameters almost parallel and angling down 45 degrees from where they connect to the tall street post — they are rubber coated electrical wires, cable, a landline which he hardly ever uses, and FIOS. He has no idea what they are all for.

Drawing by Carol Palmer-Brilliant

He remembers his physics — a current running through a wire generates a field around it —an electro magnetic one.  Light is electromagnetic.  30 odd years being so close to this magnetic field, it is a weak force no doubt, but still what has it done to his kidneys, his pancreas, liver?  His heart?

He struggles to remember when it was when he first thought he was getting old.  That first bout of night sweats.  The back pain that went away and then years later came back that time when Cheryl was gone for months.  It came back two days before Cheryl came back. That was a joke between them.

His weight gain, his high blood pressure, the low ph of his blood, being pre-diabetic, the kidney spot, the random bleeding, this is what getting old means.  It was okay, really, he could maybe deal with it, be more conscious of his diet, exercise more. And if he does not live as long as his 98-year-old father-in-law, well, he made it this far and anything more is gravy.  He thinks this. He is not that old, not as old as the chair and still useful the chair is.

He knows he is “at risk,” he was at risk before this.  But now it seems worse.  He can still work, some of what he does is essential.  He can’t go out, he misses things. He misses his friends. 

He could infect or be infected, either way it sucked.

So being paralyzed in the chair did not seem like such a bad idea.  He could move and he could get up to go the bathroom, wash his hands, but after a minute or so he had to go back and sit in the chair.  

He could not remember where the chair was when he was a child in his mother’s house. He could see the coffee table in the den. He was lucky, he lived in a big nice house. With a living room and a den. The den where he learned from his older brother, Harry, how to nudge the couch in front of doorway to the den.  So just in case anyone wanted to get in there, when he had brought his date home, they couldn’t. The door did not have a working lock on it. 

He could not visualize where that chair was in that house.  He could see his old stepfather asleep in the chair in his mother’s tiny last basement apartment.  Besides seeing Sam in the hospital, it was the last image he had of him.  He could remember the doctor telling him then that Sam was running on “2 cylinders” instead of his usual 8.

He had read somewhere that just before you die, floods of memories came to you. Are these the involuntary memories that we think of when we use that word Madeline?

Are we all dying? He might be dying he thought. He was just paralyzed is all, he could get up if he wanted to. But why?

Just before Cheryl left that morning she read him this while he was sitting stunned in his mother’s chair:

Such situations might include, being unable to offer, or continue, ICU treatment and/or ventilator support for patients who, based on the most objective and evidence-based criteria available, have a prognosis too poor to justify using those limited resources in ways that deprive care to other patients for whom there is greater likelihood of benefit.

It was from this story—

She was not smiling and he could tell she was pissed that he had not slept in their bed and that he was so clammed up and that he was not going shopping with her at the STOP & SHOP old peoples 6 am hour.  

He shot back to her: “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and we are at last compelled to face with sober senses the real conditions of life.”

She shot back: “ASS hole you know that is not exactly what it says,— fucking men, boys, saying the first thing out of that tangled mess of a brain of yours, just to get out of doing anything”

She ran down the stairs to the car before he could say anything else.

He hears Cheryl at the front door.  She is back from the Stop and Shop.  He decides to get up. He meets her at the door. He opens the door. She is smiling.  “I got more toilet paper, the last 4 rolls, they had the cheap Stop and Shop pasta and I got you more bags of beans. And BACON”

He grabs the two heaviest bags and follows her up the stairs.

Cheryl says.

“Nick, remember him, our son in law, sent this to me while I am in the car. I told the car to play it like you showed me the other day. Check it out. Maybe it will help you get going today.”

Andy Brilliant is a photographer, writer, estate agent, husband, father, uncle, brother, son in law and strives to be a much better friend to all his friends. His work has been published in many venues for some time now. You can see some of his photos online at  the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Harvard Art Museums. You can follow him on Instagram at andrewbrilliantpictures.