Jim Bates

Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories and poems have appeared in over two-hundred online and print publications. His short story “Aliens” has been nominated by The Zodiac Press for the 2021 Pushcart Prize. His collection of short stories Resilience is scheduled to be published in early 2021 by Bridge House Publishing and Short Stuff a collection of his flash fiction and drabbles will be published by Chapeltown books in 2021. In addition, Something Better, a dystopian adventure, will be published by Paper Djinn Press in early 2021. All of his stories can be found on his blog: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.

Gadolinium

Hi. My name’s Leslie. It looks like Sherry fell asleep writing our science report, so I’m going to take advantage of this opportunity and chat, since I don’t get a chance to talk much to people other than her

First off, I have to tell you, I hate science. Chemistry in particular. All those elements and compounds with their electrons and protons and neutrons? I have a tough time with that stuff. And then you’ve got your quarks and other subatomic particles. I don’t think so. I’m a believer in what I can see, not what someone tells me to believe. I guess I’m kind of a poet that way. Or maybe an artist, except I can’t draw.

            But I digress.

            Don’t get me wrong, I like my chemistry teacher, Mr. Jordan. He’s a nice guy. It’s his second year of teaching, and he’s enthusiastic about science, which is putting it mildly. He does an experiment at least once a week. I wish he did more of them, but the ones he does make the class go by faster, and, I have to say, they’re pretty fun. Like the time he put a whole bunch of steel wool on a cookie sheet, and then touched the steel wool with a regular flashlight battery. I guess the electricity in the battery heated the steel wool and got it to burn, sort of like tiny sparklers on the Fourth of July. It was kind of cool.

But then one day he said that there was something out there called the Higgs-Boson, a teeny tinny little bit of energy that you could only see if you had a Hadron Super Collider and tons of equipment to get a reading. It seemed a kind of far-fetched to me. Color me skeptical, but I guess I’ll have to leave stuff like that to the science geeks. Give me something I can see and touch any day.

            Speaking of science geeks, though, that would be Sherry. When she and I drew the element gadolinium for our science report, I was not excited. The report is this thing Mr. Jordan does (I’m sure) to get us non-science kids a little bit more excited about chemistry. Well, let me tell you, it was going to take a lot more than that to get this girl interested. Not only had I never heard of gadolinium, but I could barely spell it. In fact, I was about ready to forget the whole thing, take an “F” and move on, but then I remembered there was more than just me and my willingness to accept a failing grade on the line, there was my best friend, Sherry, to consider. She likes science. Wait a minute, ‘like’ is not even close to describing her passionate feeling for the subject. She LOVES SCIENCE.

            Sherry’s quite the girl. Where I’m outgoing, thin and blond, like a runway model (something I’d never want to be, thank you very much), Sherry is quiet, has long auburn hair and is a little on the chunky side. I like tight jeans and skimpy tops, and she likes those old hippy, flower power dresses, the more colorful the better. I wear contacts, and she wears granny glasses. You get my drift, we’re different.

            In fact, two more opposite looking people you could not find. Ever. But we’ve been best friends going back nine years now. We were on the same hockey team that winter. Yeah, hockey. I love it. I loved it then when I was seven, and I love it now that I’m sixteen. In fact, that’s how Sherry and I first met and became friends. I played center and she was defense. She was pretty good, if I do say so myself. Me? Well, I hate to brag, but I will. I was kind of the star on our peewee team.

Anyway, we’d had a rare outdoor practice (usually they’re indoors), and I was in a good mood, jabbering away at Sherry’s dad like there was no tomorrow. He was driving us home from practice that night. There wasn’t too much traffic, so what happened next really shouldn’t have happened. That’s what the police said, anyway. But it did. Her dad hit some ice coming up to a stop sign. He pumped the breaks but ended up sliding right into the intersection where he got broadsided by a pickup truck fleeing the police. Sherry survived, but her dad was killed. So was the driver of the pickup truck. So was I.

Now, hold on. I know it sounds weird, but stick with me. Sometimes things defy logic, and this is one of those times.

            In addition to me, Sherry’s dad was killed instantly. Sherry might have been, too, but for a fast-thinking pedestrian who applied pressure to hold back the bleeding in her neck until the paramedics arrived. She still has the scar.

            While Sherry was recovering in the hospital, somehow, I showed up right there beside her, keeping her company. Of course, other than Sherry no one could see me, but that was okay. At least she and I were together.

Sherry’s mom stayed with us most of the time, but when she couldn’t my mom did. As my mom told us the first night she stayed with us, it was the least she could do. I guess it made her feel good or something, helping Sherry and her mom out. Anyway, throughout our stay in the hospital, my mom and Sherry’s mom became close friends, and, after we got home, she came by often to visit. It was always good to see her, but what I really liked was being with Sherry. We got along great, like two peas in a pod, right from the start. It was probably because she was different from anyone I’d ever met. We soon became best friends.

Mom was sad with me being dead and gone, and I probably should have been sad, too, but having Sherry as my friend helped a lot. Otherwise, let me tell you it could have been one big cry fest. But it wasn’t. My mom and Sherry’s mom spent lots of time together, ‘Working things out,’ as they said. They went to some counseling sessions for survivors of traumatic events, and that helped them. They even brought me and Sherry a couple of times, but we were pretty young and what the counselor said about learning to live with loss and stuff like that didn’t make much sense to either Sherry or I, so our moms quit taking us. We were glad they did because that meant we got to stay at Sherry’s place with a baby sister and watch Netflix, and that was fun.

            What really helped us become such good friends, though, was that I liked to read a lot, and Sherry liked to tell stories. Picture these two seven-year-old girls sitting around, one reading to the other, and then the other one telling made up stories to her friend. It not only passed the time, it took Sherry’s mind off the tragedy of losing her father. It also helped us become even closer.

Sherry’s favorite story I read to her was an abbreviated version of “The Wind in the Willows”. She liked the character The Mole the best because even though he was shy, he was not afraid to be adventurous. My favorite story of hers was just about anyone of them, but the one she made up for my tenth birthday is still one of my all-time favorites. I wrote it down to keep in my diary. It’s a story poem and it goes like this:

The Minstrel Boy and the Woodland Fairy

By Sherry

Their legend lives on unto this day,

Of the minstrel boy and the woodland fairy,

How they saved the village of Evendale,

Near the landing called Glyndon Derry.

The boy’s name was Rasendal

He born with a deformed leg,

And lived with his mother quietly,

Near a stream called Babbling Eeg.

Though he walked with a limp, the boy had a flair,

A singer of songs was he,

A gift that was known on the day he was born,

For he sang and never cried, you see.

His voice was as sweet as honey,

And brought joy to those far and near.

Before he could talk, he sang all day long,

Songs of beauty and joy and good cheer.

Though the child knew naught of the words that he sang,

He became a legend both near and far.

And as the years went by, though he was quiet and shy,

His voice grew clear as the brightest star.

One day while exploring deep in the woods,

With the help of a staff he had made,

He came upon a wonderous sight so rare,

A fairy singing in a woodland glade.

Entranced, he paused and listened,

To her song so delicate and divine,

It was as if he’d had fallen under a magical spell,

Her lilting voice so gentle and softly sublime.

Emboldened was he when she finished her song,

He tipped his hat as he stepped to the fore,

“Fairy maiden my name is Rasendal,

I’d love to hear you sing some more.”

She blushed as she smiled and spoke to him,

“Your kind words have brightened my day.

In fairy language my names is Dxannixr,

But call me Doneemore, it’s easier to say.”

She was a wisp of a girl with a necklace of flowers,

And raven hair of the brightest sheen.

She had a smile that would light up the dullest day,

And wore a dress colored emerald green.

There was one other thing, the young lad saw,

Something unique to his curious eye,

While Rasendal was born with a limp from birth,

Doneemore had wings that wouldn’t fly.

Shyly he pointed to her shoulders and said,

“I see that you are flightless and bound to the earth.”

She answered him directly, for she was not afraid,

“Yes, sadly, I’ve been this way from birth.”

He felt a kinship with her then, so boldly he asked,

“Would you like to become my friend?”

She said, “Yes,” and his heart soared as high as the sun,

It was a friendship that would never end.

Pretty cool, isn’t it? There’s a lot more about the village getting attacked and Rasendal and Doneemore saving the day, and it’s really exciting. I know it by heart, and we even act it out sometimes. Sherry’s kind of shy about things like that, but she does a pretty good job. She plays Doneemore and I’m Rasendahl.

            Oh, shoot. Sherry’s waking up. I gotta’ go. Bye…

***

“Sherry?” Mom said, gently massaging my shoulder. “Honey, are you okay?” she asked. “I thought I heard you talking to someone.”

I shook my head to clear out the cobwebs. And my dream. They are so real sometimes. It took a few moments before I was finally able to pry open my eyes. Mom was standing next to me, and she pointed to my phone with raised eyebrows. I felt my face flush as I came fully awake. “Uh, no, Mom. I…I…”

            “Was Leslie here?” she asked, quietly, her voice nearly a whisper.

            Embarrassed, I nodded. “Um, yeah, I guess she was. I think I saw her in my sleep.” I hung my head. “I’m sorry.”

            Mom kept rubbing my shoulder. It felt good. “Don’t be sorry, sweetheart. I know it’s hard. I still miss your father. I know you do, too.” She shook her head sadly. “And Leslie, too. I know how much you miss her. I wish that accident had never happened.”

            Dad had been driving me and Leslie home from hockey practice when he’d lost control of the car on an icy patch of road. That much had been true. But he’d been speeding and had had a few beers under his belt which contributed to the accident. It was something I found a few years later. I still have trouble accepting it, but the fact remains that in one tragic night, I lost both my dad and my best friend.

            “I still miss them,” I told Mom, tears leaking from my eyes. She knelt down next to me, and I leaned back into her arms. “I miss them so much.” Mom held me close and I could smell the scent of the herbal soap she bathed with.

            “I do, too, sweetheart,” she said. “I really do.” She rocked me gently and I closed my eyes.

It’d been nine years. Dad’s memory was fading little by little over time, but Leslie has stayed with me. She has grown with me, and not only been my best friend, but my constant companion. I’m a shy, introverted person. I’m a little chubby and have stringy auburn hair. In my mind Leslie is everything I’m not: thin, blond, pretty and outgoing. In my best moments, I feel like we make a good team. In my worst moments…well, in my worst moments, I’m sometimes so lonely, I feel like killing myself.

            Mom got up off her knees, pulled up a chair and sat down. She pointed to my desk and asked, “What are you working on?”

            I reached for my paper and showed her. “It’s a report for science. Mr. Jordan’s class.”

            “Your favorite teacher, right?”

            “Yes,” I said perking up. I felt some energy running through me. Just talking about science made me happy. “I’m excited about it.”

            Mom hooked a loose strain of hair around my ear. Her touch felt nice. “What’s the report on?”
            “One of the elements on the periodic table. Number sixty-four. Gadolinium.”
            “Never heard of it. It’s an odd name.”

I smiled. “It is. It’s named after the mineral gadolinite which was named after the Finnish chemist and geologist, Johan Gadolin.”

”Interesting. What’s it used for?”

I turned to Mom. It felt good to talk to her. “Remember after the accident, and I had those horrible headaches? They put me in that MRI. That magnetic resonance imaging machine?”

Mom brushed my cheek with the back of her hand and said, “I do remember that, sweetheart. That was a tough time.” She paused and clasped her hands, kneading them in her lap before adding, “For both of us.”

I reached out and hugged her. “I know mom. I know.”

“But we’re strong women, aren’t we? We’re doing okay, right?”

I grinned. “Right, mom.”

I’d read enough about psychology to know that parents were supposed to say those things. But, still…mom was right. We were strong women. And that counted for something. It counted for a lot.

“Well,” I continued, “gadolinium is used in those MRI’s. It’s kind of like a magnet and helps make the image.”

Mom grinned. “I never would have guessed. You are so smart.”

Which made me blush. “Mom….”

She pointed at the report. “If you’d like, you can read it to me.”

“Really?”

“Sure. I’ve always wondered about gadolinkenfelter or whatever you call it.”

I laughed, which felt good. I have tell you, sometimes Mom knew just the right thing to say. “Sure, I’d love that,” I told her. “That’d be great.” I picked up my report.

One thing was true, I liked science, and I loved chemistry. I liked its predictability. And I liked its mystery. Leslie didn’t like school so much, but she tolerated my passion for learning. We were good for each other that way. Her outgoing personality and love of art and poetry balanced my withdrawn, analytical side. Like I said, we made a pretty good team.

I flipped through a few pages of my report. “It’s not too long,” I said.

            “I don’t care how long it is.” Mom smiled and stood up. She reached out and took my hand. “Let’s go down to the kitchen and fix some hot chocolate. Then you can read it to me. Deal?”

            I smiled, “Deal.” Then I had a thought. “Oh, Mom?”

            “Yes, dear?”

            “Can Leslie come with? I think she’d like some hot chocolate, too.”

            Mom smiled and hugged me. “Sure,” she said. “Absolutely.”

            Mom led us out of my bedroom. I turned to Leslie and gave her the thumbs up sign. She winked, gave it back to me, and we followed Mom downstairs to the kitchen.

Me and Leslie, best friends for life.

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