The Time Is Now

old man h

 

“The time is now!” Albert boomed in a clear,  forceful voice.

Thelma hefted her considerable weight out of her chair. The tattered, thrift store romance novel she’d been absorbed in flew from her hands and landed on the floor with a soft plop.

“Almighty Jesus!” she exclaimed, clutching a fist to her ample bosom. “Lord, but you gave me a scare, Mistuh Albert! I ain’t never heard your voice before, in all the two years I been takin’ care of you! I didn’t think you could talk no more!”

If Albert had heard or understood Thelma’s outburst, he gave no indication. He fell as mute as he’d been a minute ago. His milky eyes stared up at the ceiling.

Thelma’s hands were shaking as she reached for her patient’s medical chart. This most unusual event must be written down for his doctors to read, come morning. But when she glanced at her smartwatch to notate the time, she was startled to see that its digital face was blank.

“What’s wrong with this thing?” She tapped the watch’s face in frustration. Dang, newfangled technology. She longed for her old, wind-up Timex that was ticking uselessly away in her nightstand drawer at home. So much more reliable than these hi-tech gadgets that her workplace forced her to use.

“The time is now!” Albert said again, even louder this time. He turned his head in Thelma’s direction. Although he was nearly blind, due to cataracts which obscured the color of his eyes, he seemed to look directly at her. He flashed a one-tooth grin, which made Thelma’s blood run cold.

Her watch came back to life, emitting two loud buzzes. A gasp escaped her throat when she gazed down at it. The word “NOW” was flashing, in capital block letters. Thelma held her wrist as far away from her face as possible, as if the watch were a snake in disguise, ready to jump at her throat. It felt like the strap of the device was cutting off her circulation.

“What’s happening here?” she asked, addressing no one in particular.

The room seemed to rock from side to side. Thelma, who’d suffered from motion sickness all her life, began to feel both nauseous and dizzy. She was going to faint, she knew it. All she could do was to reach out, in hopes of breaking her fall.

“Thelma?”

Thelma’s eyes snapped open at the sound of her name. Where was she? What had happened? Slowly, she began to remember…

“Hrmmm…” She couldn’t command her mouth to form any words. A stroke? Lord, have I had a stroke?

“Be calm.” A masculine voice said, seemingly inches from her ear.

A blurry face hovered above her. Slowly, it came into focus.

“Mis- Mistuh Albert?” Thelma stared in disbelief.

The frail, withered nonagenarian whom she’d nursed over the past twenty-four months, the very man who could no loner walk or talk, nor control his bodily functions, stood tall and strong before her. His face had less than half the wrinkles as before. Its slack, non-expression had been replaced by a look of eager adventurousness. The thin, white wisps on his age-spotted scalp had been replaced by a full head of wavy, silver hair. His vacant, colorless eyes were now a piercing shade of blue. Most astonishing of all, Thelma thought, was his smile.

“Mistuh Albert… You got all your teeth!” she blurted.

Albert laughed. It was not the dry, papery cackle of an elderly person, but the hearty laugh of a man in  robust health. Thelma’s cheeks grew warm with a bashfulness she hadn’t felt since she was a schoolgirl. But… how? Was she dreaming?

“Are you ready?” Albert’s deep voice interrupted her thoughts.

“Ready?” she repeated. “Ready for…?”

Albert extended his hand.

Thelma looked back at the heavy, middle-aged woman in a nurse’s uniform, slumped in her chair, a paperback novel laying at her feet. Her eyes traveled to the pathetic form of the old man, lying perfectly still in his hospital bed.

“Are you ready?” her new friend repeated.

She took Albert’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.

“I am now,” she said.

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Cinnamons

 

24
“Words were tricky things… slippery, like eels.”

 

 

Cinnamons ©2017 Holly Gaskin

Words were tricky things, Tandie realized. They were slippery, like eels. They were wily, like the coyote. One word could mean many different things. It could be confusing, if you weren’t careful. (Cautious. Mindful.)

Grown-ups used the wrong words all the time. She was always correcting them, but only in her head.

Tandie was six, and smart for her age. (Not that she got to spend much time with other children.) Instinctively, she knew that if she went to school, she’d feel very much out of place in a first grade classroom. She would probably have more in common with the teacher.

She wasn’t home-schooled, but Tandie was self-taught. The TV had been her babysitter for as long as she could remember, and her favorite channels were PBS and Discovery. Books were few and far between in the squalid little home she shared with Mommy and Stosh, but she had her very own thesaurus that she treasured (Loved. Adored.) more than anything else. It had been in the house when they’d first moved in. Tandie had found the thick, dusty book in a corner of the walk-in closet that served as her bedroom.(It was waiting for me to find it! It was meant to be mine!) She knew synonyms for just about every word. (She called them “cinnamons” even though she knew better. She was, after all, six years old.)

Stosh was Tandie’s stepfather. (At least that’s what Mommy called him; Tandie didn’t think they were really married.) He’d come along when Tandie was still in pull-ups, and she couldn’t remember life without him. Stosh was a huge offender when it came to misusing words. He’s a Word Criminal, Tandie thought. The Word Police should arrest him.

What bugged (Annoyed. Irritated.) Tandie most of all was not Stosh’s poor grammar or the way he often mispronounced words. It was the way he used one word when he really meant a whole ‘nother thing. Not even close to a “cinnamon.”

For instance, “let” and “make.”

“Tonight, we’re gonna let you watch,” Stosh told her.

Afterwards, Tandie was infuriated. (Angry! Enraged!) What Stosh SHOULD have said was: “Tonight, we’re gonna MAKE you watch.”

By far, Tandie preferred the blindfold. She was sickened by the sight of Stosh’s fat, hairy body. She was repulsed by Mommy’s slack, white skin, and her saggy boobies that looked like moo cow udders. (I never want those!) Usually, when Mommy and Stosh had “friends” over for the Bad Parties, they made her wear the blindfold, so she wouldn’t see their faces. That was good. The faces, when she was allowed to see, were never handsome or pretty.

“Ain’t very much to her, is there?” a man with hardly any teeth and a filthy Iron Maiden t-shirt had said, looking Tandie over as she shivered in her underpants.

Tandie had felt embarrassed. (Ashamed. Humiliated.) She knew she was ugly. Mommy said so all the time. (“I was gonna name you that, but the hospital people wouldn’t put it on the birth certificate.”) She was also scrawny; her ribs poked out of her sides like the bars of a xylophone. Her diet consisted mostly of Bread And. Bread and butter. Bread and mustard. Bread and ketchup. Mommy was not big on cooking, and Tandie was rarely allowed to share any of the greasy takeout grub Stosh brought home from the diner where he worked. Which was just fine with her. Stosh always smelled like French fries and Tandie certainly didn’t want to eat anything that smelled like Stosh. She would rather have Bread And.

She hated that there were pictures. She wasn’t allowed to go on the computer, but she knew there was a thing called The Internet. She had seen Mommy and Stosh looking at dirty pictures on the computer screen plenty of times. One day, she was horrified to see herself in some of them!

Is that really me? Did I really do those things? Can everybody see me? In that moment, Tandie wanted to die.

“What’s wrong? Don’t like the way you look in pictures?” Stosh had laughed at her shocked expression.

Sometimes, although very rarely, other kids came to the Bad Parties. Mostly little boys. (And some big boys, but not quite teenagers yet.) Tandie was not allowed to talk with the other children. She just Did Things with them… whatever the grown-ups told them to do.

There was “magic juice” that Stosh gave her to drink before she did the Bad Stuff. It was sweet and fruity and made her relax, almost (Nearly. Not quite.) enough to not care what was going on.

But what really got Tandie through these ordeals were her “cinnamons.” She would think of a random word and mentally list all its sisters and cousins.

HAPPY! Joyful! Merry! Cheerful! Mirthful! Jolly! Exuberant! On and on she’d go, until it was over and she was finally permitted to go to sleep on her dingy mattress in the closet. She rarely dreamed.

In the mornings after the Bad Parties. Tandie would hurt Down There. She was sick Down There, she was pretty sure. It was red and puffy and sometimes It leaked stuff. She hated It.

One night, during one of the Bad Parties, the police raided the house. Tandie was so “out of it” from the Magic Juice, she couldn’t understand what was going on.

WEIRD! Strange. Unusual. Extraordinary. Curious…

“Little girl?”

SMART! Clever. Intelligent. Sharp. Bright. Resourceful…

“Little girl, can you tell me your name?”

Tandie looked into the kind, dark face of a female police officer. The face blurred and her voice sounded a million miles away. Tandie passed out.

When she awoke, she was in the hospital. The doctors, the police, and a whole bunch (Multitude. Bevy.) of strangers kept asking her the same questions over and over.

“Can you tell me your full name?”

“How old are you?”

“Have you ever been to school?”

“Can you tell me the names of the people who hurt you?”

“Where does it hurt the most, Sweetie?”

Tandie could give them no answers. Because despite all the wonderful adjectives, nouns, and verbs that filled her head, Tandie had never spoken a word in her entire life.

 

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