Thomas Elson’s writing has been published in numerous venues, including Ellipsis, Better Than Starbucks, Cabinet of Heed, Flash Frontier, Short Édition, Sandy River Review, Bull, Litro,Journal of Expressive Writing, Dead Mule School, Selkie, New Ulster, Lampeter, and Adelaide. He divides his time between Northern California and Western Kansas.
Her Toast Untouched
Her toast sits untouched Pills not taken Orange juice glass on the counter Where they remain during the day And the next And the one after that Toast, pills, and glass untouched Not mentioned By their daughter when she visits To help To talk To assess To clean the counter To return her mother’s glass To replace her pills in their containers To leave her toast for the remaining birds To take her father to visit his wife scattered by the river.
• Those closest will leave • Be quick to take offense • Smiles are transitory • Friends even more so • Hold back screams • The heart always races at times like this • An exploding heart doesn’t kill • Dreams of safety do not materialize. • There are no answers • You can’t disappear • Over-sensitivity and hyper-vigilance must be permanent • Punching a mattress is the best stress reliever • Avoiding others is not recommended but ofttimes is advisable • Hands over the ears will not stop the voices and the pain • Covering your eyes does not stop you from seeing • Sometimes a primal scream is all you can do … INSIDE THE WHITE ROOM with assorted tubes, bags, and electronic panels, several machines whir and beep at regular and irregular intervals. It was thirty minutes after shift change, and she would not see a nurse for another hour. She curled her hand, then wove her arm through the siderails of her father’s hospital bed; caught herself and pulled back. She decided to press one of the buttons on the control panel. Might as well raise his head and back a little. No point letting the blood pool or whatever the hell it does. She leaned back in the god-awful hospital chair that gave her a headache, and closed her eyes. Her father had taught her to be assertive – she learned to never display her temper, and, once on the offensive, stay there. In life, defense loses. Years earlier on a Saturday morning, she went with him to his law firm – the firm he founded – and discovered files missing, books gone, desks and chairs absent, divan cushions scattered on the floor, and a note scribbled across a ripped piece of cardboard. Her father froze, momentarily recovered, and asked her to wait in the hallway a moment. When she heard him tell a client he was having the furniture and rugs cleaned - she learned to hide her fear. That morning her father paced, his right hand clenched and his left pressed against his mouth. He walked out of his office side door into the men’s’ restroom. After what to a child seemed forever, he emerged rigid but smiling - she learned how fleeting friends are. The morning her father left their house with the beautiful furniture, playroom, and piano room, he told her he was in a hurry. I’ve got a hearing this morning. She found out later that was the morning when the Sheriff executed a search warrant of his offices - she learned of the façade necessary to walk outside the front door each morning. When she witnessed her mother and father’s shouts, recriminations, and accusations - she learned how to take offense early and often. On Father’s Day when she was seven, after he had just been told by her mother she planned to get a divorce, her father hugged her. She would have to leave her school, her piano, and her cats - she learned that promises and loyalty are merely words. When her father walked past a homeless mother and her daughter, and, later, when he neglected to give comfort to a homeless man who had sought shelter on an icy, twelve-degree, night - she learned avoidance and neglect. When she discovered he had almost laid waste to his life one evening in an abandoned shed in southeastern Nebraska with a shotgun in his mouth - she learned that terror hits even heroes. And two days ago, when he finally told her of his diagnosis – the same diagnosis his mother, father, and grandfathers for three generations had died from – she learned mortality. But tonight, in this hospital room, amidst bitter, artificial odors, and the rattling sound of her father’s hollow breath - she learned life is fleeting and heartache is permanent.
I’ll be with you tomorrow as you asleep. And later when you arise. Again at twilight.
I’ll come to visit – for as long as visitation is allowed.
When it’s silent and you catch my voice; when I touch your soft hair, caress your gentle spirit, admire your grace to those in need.
When you feel alone. When I’m lonely.
When you drive across town; walk from car to store and reach for my hand; when you’re unmoored and wonder if our connective rope is frayed.
I’ll visit you as you sit alone at our dinner table, book in hand, and pick at your supper. When you mistakenly set a place for two. When you sit on our divan and feel a touch – a caress, a hug – it will be me.
I’ll visit at night when, asleep, you scoot toward my side of the bed. When you feel a brush, the touch of skin against skin, it will be me.
I’ll stay with you – holding, touching, talking – until my visitation is revoked; then I’ll wait for you, until we never need to visit each other again.