Two Flash Pieces
Lisa Mae DeMasi
I’m standing at the stove, frying a couple of eggs, sunny-side up, in the enormous kitchen of our rented apartment in a two-family Victorian in Norwood, Massachusetts on a wintry morning. It’s 1989 and the place is drafty. Wind whistles through the upper and lower sashes of the windows, brittle brown leaves whirl and bat against the glass. The appliances are mismatched and awkwardly placed about—stove (harvest gold), refrigerator (avocado green), dishwasher (wood tone). Wallpaper and linoleum curl up in places; the trim is scuffed. A classic first residence for a young engaged couple that with the snap of Martha Stewart’s fingers could be transformed to modern utility—spatially efficient surfaces and stainless steel appliances. Keith says for me to forget about Martha and learn to like it, improvements mean the rent goes up, surpassing the cost of the combined salaries of an executive assistant and desktop support technician. I tug the tie around my robe tighter.
We never discuss our mistake, the what-ifs, had we had the baby. Made the sacrifices. A pregnancy had been so far from our immediate plans that I ignored the possibility of its realty for twelve weeks, a formidable circumstance that led us in utter desperation, to locate a doctor to perform an abortion, take part in our murder, the secrecy, the lies.
We don’t know yet that our marriage will end in divorce in five years’ time because Keith wants to procreate, on purpose, when he’s established in his career, and we’ve bought a cute little Cape from a sweet elderly couple with the type of kitchen décor that reminds us of our first apartment. That passion will never truly ignite between us, and I cannot build a baby in my insides seeded by him, a man-child who shares no spirited resemblance to my former beloved, his best friend who enlisted in the military a month before meeting me, or respectively, I will become a cheater, an adulterer, swooned by a man my mother’s age.
All I know is what’s in front of me: the delicate orange orb that’s intended to nourish a pullet’s developing embryo frying in the pan.
My impulsiveness, a guise for guilt, a sense of claustrophobia and the headiness I crave in independence will simmer away beneath the layers of my flesh when I’m twenty-five, twenty-seven, twenty-nine. Midway through my thirtieth year, the angst will spout like a geyser, and I’ll find myself behind the wheel of a large automobile gunning it from Massachusetts for the California coastline. Untethered, unleashed. The road will open its arms to me, invite me on the journey, provide the opportunity to roam for a home. Behind me I’ll leave loved ones hurt, worried, confused. Time will be wasted. In lieu of mining the solitude for nuggets of gold in self-understanding, I will try on a number of people and places and come to dwell in the barrenness of the desert, miles and miles from home, barren inside.
Still ahead for Keith and me, wrapped like the wedding champagne flutes in tissue paper, wait our grown up, sometimes fragile and complicated lives: my episodes of illness, surgeries and procedures as a result of a car accident four years before, get-togethers with our in-laws, my mother’s assertive opinion, stripping the avocado-colored wallpaper from every room in the house, graduate school, uninspired sex, our unhappiness and tenuous connection with one another. There’s no hint in our expressions on the mantle, Keith wearing a tux and me in my mother’s wedding gown, that suggests anything will go awry. At twenty-three and twenty-five we are perfectly naïve.
Outside the ER it’s a winter wonderland. Snow pelts the ground. Visibility is practically nil. Two men dressed in bright lime-colored gear, crisscross one another gathering snow in the plastic blades of their shovels. The sliding doors retract and close; the sensor dumb to their indiscreet footsteps. Sirens scream into the dense moisture-laden air; an ambulance appears in the circular drive. Its beacons intermittently strobe the exterior of the entryway. EMTs hop and pop from the circus of lights and noise, emissions choking out of the vehicle’s exhaust; open the rear doors wide to wheel out the wounded.
It’s the perfect sort of day for a boy and a girl to curl up with Grandma’s crocheted afghan, a movie, and bowl of hot soup, one of the EMT muses. Cop a feel when a parental unit isn’t paying any attention. Watch the snow coat the ground and evergreens with a fresh blanket of white. Stay out the elements, keep safe and sound. Like what Barry Burbank, WBZ’s weatherman, said this morning.
Keep safe. And sound.
I am not aware of the siren screams, nor the strobes and snow falling, the men shoveling and carting in damaged bodies. I don’t recall that I’m in the midst of college break, it’s right smack midway through the glorious eighties, I’m nearly twenty and leaving my teens behind. I don’t know my first love, the one I’m supposed to be curled up with and swatting his hands away from my breasts, is reluctantly chatting with his mother in the small ER waiting room designated for loved ones of the injured about which new car she’ll buy since the Jaws of Life just destroyed her other one.
I lay comatose in an adjacent room. My mind, the faculty of my consciousness and thoughts, remaining numb to stimuli. There’s no perception, no transmission; it’s void, dark, deadly quiet. My brain is busy sustaining that void, deploying an arsenal of chemicals to compensate for the split in time, suppressing the sensory receptors from the blunt trauma—my broken bones, the hit taken to my abdomen that’s pulverized tissue and organs, and punctured veins and arteries. My heart, the renegade, the betrayer, as always, is not listening to my brain—its pumping blood out at a spastic rate through the holes.
An external disturbance registers. A voice. It’s relentless, miraculously breaking through that mechanism of my brain’s fortification, bringing me into the present. Breathe, Lease, breathe, it commands. There is only one person that calls me Lease. My mother. The person who heard Burbank’s forecast and eyeballed the elements herself and tried to protect me so my brain wouldn’t have to. I am granted a fleeting window of awareness. But not through my eyes. My lids are heavy, steel traps. A depiction of involuntary desperateness is felt in my body. Each gasp caused by my choking, thrusts a knife’s blade deep into my gut. Choke. Stab. Choke. Stab.
Something foreign is tickling the back of my throat. I listen to my mother, it’s a precedent. I stop resisting. Succumb. A tube slips down my windpipe. I can breathe. The stabbing doesn’t abate, giving rise to the melodramatic statement, it only hurts when I breathe. And not breathe. My brain is wrestling, calling me back to unconsciousness; the pain galaxies beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before, flirts with my semi-consciousness, invites me to become fully awake. It’s a struggle. A shot of morphine provides no contest. My brain, working in concert with my mind, fires the artillery it has left. A barrage of fireworks ignites behind the closed lids of my eyes. I fall into that quiet dark place again.
About the Author: Lisa lives in Newton, Massachusetts, with her partner Dennis, cat Charlie, dog Sabrina, and gecko Pillow. She lives to write (memoir, personal essay), eat (pasta), and drink (Ketel martinis). Her creative work has been featured in Slippery Elm (12/16), Foliate Oak, The East Bay Review, and Shark Reef, several media outlets, and her personal blog, Nurture Is My Nature. She considers Massachusetts her home, but has lived in Connecticut, Vermont, New York State, and two other planets called Wyoming and Arizona. She earned a B.A. from Regis College and an MBA from Babson College. She also holds a Master certificate in Reiki.