Episode 4: Donna Quixote

The key under the planter had rust stains, little splotches like the liver spots on the backs of her hands. She tried to brush them off with her fingers to no avail. She’d clean it when she got inside the house. She scanned the vacant street behind her. The quiet abandonment of workdays and school days meant she was alone for the moment. She felt free from the eyes of the neighborhood.

The door knob popped when she turned the key. As she stepped through the door, her foot hit something solid. The package. The EMTs must have placed it inside her door when they took her away. She bent down slowly to pick it up and cradled it in her arm as she walked to her kitchen. She sat it next to the other package on her counter. Like that package it had no return address, but she could tell they were from the same person because the handwritten labels were very similar.

As she took her medicines and chased them with cold, unexpired water from her refrigerator, she stared at the packages. She wondered who sent them and why. Once the blood pressure cup released her arm and she had written the reading down in her log, she returned her attention to the packages. She tore open the first one.

Inside was an old Folgers coffee can, not the new plastic ones, but an old tin one with scrapes and dents. The color was more burgundy than red with gold writing across the face. She imagined she had seen this before, but she couldn’t recall where. She had stopped drinking coffee years ago. Something rattled in the can when she pulled it from the box. She removed the plastic lid, which had been so stretched over the years that it almost fell off unforced.

Pictures and letters were stuffed the inside of the can, so many that she almost couldn’t get her hand inside to pull them out. She pinched the edge of one of the letters and pulled it from the can. She recognized her writing and the address right away. Her heart beat in her throat and her eyes welled. She had to sit down.

She cradled the can in her arms as she sat down in the recliner. The letter had been addressed to her ex-husband, one of many she had sent to him after he had left and taken her children away. She peeled back the flap of the yellowed envelope and removed the folded paper. This letter had been a short one, only two pages. She flipped open the letter, which was dated October 5, 1979.

As she read the letter, the old feelings returned. The sense of loss overwhelmed her. The words on the page wailed at her much like she had mourned the absence of her husband and her two daughters. She only read the first paragraph before she folded the letter again and shoved it back into the envelope. She stuffed it into the rattling can. She shook the can again and peered into it trying to determine what was bouncing around in the bottom. She turned it upside down and shook it until a sparkle of gold tumbled from its lip. The ring landed in her lap. She pinched it between her fingers and took a close look at it. A moment passed before she realized she held her ex-husband’s wedding ring – the one he had worn when they were married.

The plain, gold band had scuffs and scratches on its surface, but it still gleamed in the light like a twinkling star in the night. She rolled it between her fingers. A flood of emotions pushed her back into the squeaky recliner. She stared at the ring a bit longer before she dropped it back into the can and replaced the flimsy, plastic lid. She sat, breathless and bewildered, wondering why her ex-husband would send her these things.

Donna retrieved the other package from the counter, but before she opened it, she examined the handwriting. It didn’t look like her ex-husband’s writing. He could barely write the way it was. If she remembered correctly, his handwriting was bulky and shaky like that of a child’s. The writing on the package was rounded and decidedly feminine like hers would have been had she ever focused on such things.

She tore open the package carefully as if she were afraid of what she might find. Her fingers slid along the edge of one of the box flaps as she opened it, and she winced in pain at the paper cut opened on her index finger. At first, it was just a slice of skin on the side of her finger, but then, blood flushed the superficial wound. Pain radiated through her hand. She put the finger to her lips and held it there until the pain subsided. She put the package aside and ambled into the kitchen to attend to the wound.

With a fresh bandage on the cut, she returned to the package and opened the flaps. Another letter, not ancient like the others, sat on top of several wooden picture frames. She ignored the letter for a moment and pulled the pictures from the box. The first one showed her and her husband on their wedding day on August 5, 1971. She stared at it in disbelief. A tear trickled down her cheek.

She peered into the box at the next framed photo, which was her with her two daughters, Emily and Ann. They were still little girls then. The picture had been taken in the backyard just beyond the wall in front of her. She looked that way as if she could peer back in time and see them playing on the tire swing that hung on the big oak for so many years even after they were gone.

The last photo in the box was a family portrait taken just before her husband left with the girls. Donna looked at the pained expression on her face. She remembered that day well. She put the pictures back in the box and pulled the letter toward her face. She squinted at the swooping words on the page as she slowly read it. Her heart thrummed in her chest and her breath hitched until a sob escaped. She crumpled the letter in her fist and crammed it back into the box before she pushed it to the floor at her feet. She sat back in the recliner as tears rolled down her cheeks. The refrigerator purred to life filling the anguished silence for a moment. Her ex-husband had died.

Episode 3: Donna Quixote

Before Donna opened her eyes, she could sense the unfamiliar around her. She’d had a dream of her mother and she hoped that by keeping her eyes closed she could linger in the dream just a little longer. She missed her mother dearly and thought of her every day. The day her mother died had been the second worst day of her life.

A low hum droned next to her head on her right, a faint chatter echoed somewhere away from her, and she could feel someone next to her. She slowly opened her eyes. A young Indian man stood next to her cloaked in light blue scrubs and a white coat. She took him in with half-closed eyes and blinked hoping that he’d go away, but he remained next to her making notes on a tablet.

“Good morning, Ms. Scott. I’m Dr. Kolachalam,” he said. Her name rolled off his tongue in a strange way, but she understood him. “How do you feel?”

Donna turned her head to the side and felt the stiffness from her shoulder roll up her neck. She felt pain in her expression. “Where am I?” she asked.

“Eastside Hospital. You had a fall and hurt your shoulder. The EMTs brought you here this morning.”

She thought about this for a moment. She remembered falling and pain radiating up her shoulder. She remembered the tinny voice on the end of the line when she dialed 9-1-1, and she remembered wondering if the dispatcher recognized her voice.

“You’re lucky it wasn’t worse, Ms. Scott. It appears you fainted from low blood sugar and fell against your kitchen counter. You’ve got a sizable bruise on your shoulder, but it should heal in time. Have you been taking your insulin as prescribed?”

She couldn’t remember when she last took her insulin, but she usually took it at night before she went to bed. “Last night,” she replied. Her voice croaked as if she hadn’t had anything to drink in a very long time. “Can I get some water?”

“Sure.” The doctor turned to the space behind him and poured some water into a plastic cup. He pushed the cup toward her lips, but she stuck up her hand and he put the cup in her hand instead. She swallowed large gulps of water as he watched.

“You should be fine, but you need to ensure you take your insulin. The bruise will hurt for a few days, but nothing is broken. The nurse will be in to discharge you. You can go home.”

“Is the ambulance going to take me home?” she asked.

“Do you have someone who can take you home?”

“No. I live alone.”

“Oh, let me tell the nurse. She can help you.” A look of sympathy washed over his otherwise stoic face. His eyes lingered on her a bit longer before he turned and disappeared behind the room’s swinging door.

Donna pushed herself into her pillow and looked away from the fluttering door. The machine next to her bed had been disconnected from her and turned off. She wondered what her blood pressure reading was. She wanted to compare it to what her own readings had been to see if she’d been getting incorrect numbers. These thoughts rippled through her mind as a wave of exhaustion washed over her. She closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.

A murmur of hushed conversation woke her from her slumber. At first, she just heard the disembodied voices hovering over her, but as she slowly opened her eyes, she could see blurred faces. It took her a moment to realize her eyeglasses had slid down her nose. She pushed them up to her eyes and took in the two women staring at her.

“Ms. Scott,” the nurse said, “your daughter is here to take you home.”

Donna looked at the woman beside her. She had aged a good bit since the last time she had seen her, but she still had that dismissive look on her face, one that she had worn so well for so many years.

“Ms. Anderson called me and said that an ambulance had brought you here. I’m glad you’re okay.”

Donna blinked and looked away toward the skinny window in the room. The light outside had dimmed.

“Are you ready to go home?” her daughter asked.

She turned back toward her daughter. The nurse had left the room. “You didn’t have to come here.”

“I know, but I thought I should. Ms. Anderson was very worried about you.”

“She needs to mind her own business.”

“Donna, be glad you have a neighbor who cares.”

“She doesn’t care. She’s just nosy.”

“You haven’t changed a bit.” Her daughter shook her head with a look of disdain framing her face. Donna looked toward the window.

“Alright, at least let me take you home. Otherwise, it’s going to cost you. Can you get dressed, or do I need to call the nurse back?”

Donna shifted her gaze back to her daughter and then winced in pain as she tried to sit up.

“I’ll get the nurse.” Her daughter turned and left the room, and a few moments later, the nurse returned smiling a bright white smile that even made Donna want to smile in return.

After the nurse helped her get dressed, she sat in the lone chair next to the bed. Her shoulder throbbed, and her heart pounded in her chest. She grasped the bottle of pain medicine the nurse had given her. The door swung open and her daughter’s sour face hung above the bed in her line of sight.

“You ready to go?”

She nodded.

“Do you need help, or can you walk yourself?”

She nodded again and stood up as if to offer proof.

“Let’s go.”

Donna took a tentative first step and then shuffled toward her daughter. Silence engulfed them as they rode the elevator down to the main floor and walked out to the parking lot. Her daughter walked in front of her and she followed her broad back down the aisle of cars and through a line near the back of the lot until her daughter stopped at a small, red Kia.

“This is my car,” she said. Donna stopped and backtracked to the passenger side. She waited for her daughter to unlock the door, and then, she slid into the passenger seat, which felt like it was almost on the ground in the small car. When her daughter cranked the car, the radio came on louder than Donna cared for, but she didn’t complain. The piercing noise of the music drowned out the words left unsaid.

The drive to her house only took about ten minutes. Years ago, when she had her children, the nearest hospital had been almost an hour away, but in the intervening years as her neighborhood became something she didn’t recognize, the town around her grew in importance, enough so that it now had its own hospital. Donna watched the world go by outside the passenger window, a blur of buildings and houses, some new and some old blended into a smear of colors in the late afternoon.

The car came to a stop in front of her house. Donna almost didn’t recognize it from the outside since she rarely looked at it from this angle.

“Do you want me to help you?” her daughter asked.

Donna shook her head without looking at her daughter. She took a breath and opened the car door.

As she stood up and before she could shut the door, her daughter said, “Donna…”

Donna bent down and peered into the car at her daughter. Her daughter froze as if she had forgotten what she was going to say.

“Take care of yourself,” she said after an awkward pause.

“I will,” Donna replied. She shut the car door and turned toward her house without another word or glance at her daughter. She heard the engine hum and the crackle of tires on the asphalt as her daughter drove away. She felt a sense of relief mixed with exhaustion as she walked toward the planter on her porch that hid the key to her house. She couldn’t get back in her house soon enough to get away from the world that shunned her.

Episode 2: Donna Quixote

A creaking sound woke her, one like that of someone stepping on a squeaky floor board. Her eyes opened wide absorbing only the soft glow from the faint night light that she kept plugged into the wall opposite her bed. She kept still except to pivot her head toward her bedroom door. The slight glint of the meager night light shining onto the door knob winked at her. Her heart, the drum beat of her fears, pounded in her chest. She slowly placed her right hand on her heart as if to soothe it. Her ears remained on alert, but no other dissonant sounds greeted her.

She panned around her room. All of the shadows looked familiar. The chest of drawers stood as dark as tar in her sparsely-furnished room. In the opposite corner of her room, the cushions on her comfy chair, the one where she’d nap on occasion reflected an unseemly yellow in the exasperated night light. The block numbers on the tiny clock on her night stand glowed a blood red. She sat up and reached for her glasses on the night stand. Once she put them on, she could read the blurry red digits on the clock – 4:45.

Her heart beat had settled down, but she felt light-headed from sitting up. She was tempted to lie back down, but she knew she had to check her blood pressure. She couldn’t miss any signs that may put her in peril. She kicked her feet into her worn house shoes and padded across the room to the door. She slowly opened it as if she expected someone to be on the other side, but she was greeted with nothing but more darkness and more familiar shadows. She shuffled down the short hallway to her kitchen.

She kept the light above her stove on all of the time. It comforted her to descend into her kitchen at night to see the soft dome of light coming from her stove. She didn’t need any other light to see what she wanted. The blood pressure cup sat on her kitchen counter near the edge of the light. She picked it up and wrapped it around her left arm. Going through the usual motions revealed that her blood pressure had not changed since her last reading. She viewed the display skeptically and considered taking it again until she realized that the package that her neighbor had left at her door still sat outside. She hadn’t opened her door to retrieve it yesterday because she didn’t want her neighbor to see her.

It had almost become a game for her, one in which she tried to avoid seeing her neighbors. She didn’t really know any of them because the neighborhood had changed so much. Many of the people she had known had either died or moved away. Even some of the houses that she had known so well had been torn down and replaced by unfamiliar structures often much larger than the small homes that had been the setting for much of her life. It felt as if the neighborhood had changed around her without her consent, so she avoided these new people that she didn’t know by only venturing out during the day on weekdays when most of them weren’t home and couldn’t spy her.

She walked to the front door and opened it peering out onto the dark street. The county had never installed street lights in her neighborhood, so she could only see the ambient light from the houses across the street including the Anderson’s house. They had installed a series of small lamps leading from their driveway to their front door. Theirs was one of the houses that had replaced a much smaller home that had been there since she was a little girl. She remembered the old couple that had lived there once. The wife had died first, and then, the husband had died a few years later. The old house sat vacant for a few more years before it had been unceremoniously razed to make room for the Anderson’s big, new house. She missed the old couple.

The package, a small box wrapped in plain brown paper with a single, white label attached, sat at her feet on the worn welcome mat she had at her front door. She quickly grabbed the box and shut the door behind her. The label showed her name and address, but the return address had no name, just a street she didn’t recognize. The weight of the package suggested something substantial within it. She shook it slightly, but the sound did not betray what might be inside. She hadn’t been expecting anything, and she wondered why her neighbor had had her package in the first place. Was it delivered to her by mistake? Or did one of her children take it and she had returned it?

Donna placed the package on her kitchen counter next to the blood pressure cup and walked into her living room just beyond the reach of the stove light and sat in her recliner. She felt a chill in the stale air, so she pulled the blanket from her chair and covered her arms as she lay back and closed her eyes. Her ears remained on alert, but no sounds greeted her other than that from the cranky refrigerator. She drifted off to sleep.

A knock at the door startled her awake. She sat up quickly, the blanket fell into her lap as she rubbed her eyes. Light pushed against her tightly closed blinds, but the sun had yet to descend into her backyard, so it was still before Noon. Another knock. She stood up to a chorus of her years with pain blaring in her hips and her shoulders causing her to stoop and shuffle to the door slowly. By the time she made it to the window to peer onto her porch, the man at her door had already turned and walked back to the street. She only caught a glance of the back of his light blue shirt as he disappeared from view. She angled the blinds to look down onto her porch, and there sat another package. She sighed and closed the blinds tightly.

The pain in her shoulder radiated through her back. She couldn’t lift up her arms up because it hurt too much, so she dropped them to her side and shuffled back to her kitchen as if her head were an unbearable weight. Leaning on the counter, she began her morning ritual of taking her medicine. She had three pill boxes stacked upon one another, each with 14 compartments for AM and PM and the day of the week. She took the first pill box and flipped open the lid labeled “W-AM”. She popped the pills in her mouth one at a time and swallowed with a sip of water. After she had downed the contents from the third pill box, she took her blood pressure again. The static reading concerned her. She wondered if the electronic panel had broken and was giving false readings.

She took one step back and her leg gave way. She grabbed the counter to steady herself, but she could not grip anything before she fell to the floor. She came down hard on her shoulder and the pain reverberated through her like a shock wave. She felt dizzy and maybe she blacked out for a moment. As she lay there, she looked up at the single dome light in her kitchen, stained from years of use such that the outline of the bulbs could be seen through the opaque plastic of the dome. She wondered when she had last changed the bulbs and if the light would burn out before she was able to get up.

She rolled her head to the side and stared at her phone on the wall. The long cord curled and twisted up the wall to the yellow plastic case. The end of the cord dangled just above the floor in her line of sight. She summoned the energy to crawl toward the wall, and after much effort, she reached the end of the cord. She tugged on it. At first, it just rattled in place, but after she gave it another, more forceful tug, she pulled the receiver on top of her. The receiver struck her stomach as it fell to the floor. She pulled it to her face and punched 9-1-1 on the key pad and waited for the voice to respond on the other end of the line. The female voice sounded familiar, or maybe she just imagined it so. When she hung up, she hoped that the EMTs that were dispatched were different from the two men who had come last time. She didn’t like the way they talked to her. They didn’t understand. Few people did.

Episode 1: Donna Quixote

The refrigerator purred to life startling Donna Scott as she padded across the cheap linoleum floor in her kitchen. She took a deep breath to settle her frayed nerves and placed her hand above her heart feeling for anything that seemed abnormal. Her heart thumped and stuttered and her chest tightened. This was it. The end she feared had come and caught her off guard in the late morning in her kitchen. She grabbed the edge of the counter to steady herself, to wait for the inevitable wilting to floor. Her knees wobbled and her breath hitched.

The kitchen brightened in her widened eyes. Her pulse shot fireworks in her field of vision, which blurred at the periphery. She glanced at her blood pressure cup folded upon itself on the counter next to the row of medicines, vitamins, and assorted herbal remedies she had yet to consume for the day. None of it had helped. Nothing she had done had really mattered in the end, and this was the end.

The refrigerator clicked off returning the room, the whole floor of her tiny house, to the silence she craved. Her heart still thumped wildly in her chest, but she felt a surge of meek determination that pushed her across the small kitchen to the counter near her neat line of vials. She grabbed a bottle and shook two pills into her palm. She popped them in her mouth and swallowed. She did the same for each bottle in the line, pausing briefly to ensure she had swallowed each pill.

After she had finished taking all of her medications and supplements, she feared that some of them had become lodged in her throat. Suddenly, she couldn’t swallow. This was it. She would die from a clogged esophagus. She hadn’t considered that possibility. She stumbled to the refrigerator and grabbed a bottle of water. She checked the date she had written on its side before she opened it and drank half the contents. She thought the water had dislodged the blockage in her throat, but she wasn’t sure. She considered calling the doctor or perhaps 9-1-1, but then she relented as the air hissed from her inflated fear.

Satisfied that she wasn’t under immediate threat, Donna grabbed the blood pressure cup from the counter and snaked her arm through the loop. She pulled it snug around her bicep and pushed the button on its electronic panel. It inflated and cramped her arm before it slowly deflated. She could feel her pulse cranking in her arm. The tiny screen on the panel blinked and beeped until it displayed 117/78. She swallowed hard as she wrote the reading onto her notepad she kept on her counter. She compared the current reading to the four readings she took yesterday, and her worst fears had come to fruition. Her blood pressure was dropping. Her high blood pressure medication had overcompensated and forced her into a state of hypotension. She’d have to call her doctor as soon as possible.

Before she could do that, she needed to shower or at least clean up. She couldn’t remember the last time she had showered. She tugged the sleeve of her night gown and inhaled. The sour smell of sweat and body odor greeted her. She needed to sit down because the gush of thoughts in her mind made her dizzy. She shuffled over to the old recliner near the edge of her living room and dropped herself onto its tired cushions. She could feel the grit of food crumbs at her seat beneath her thin night gown. She caught a whiff of something she couldn’t name, something tangy and sweet but unpleasant nonetheless. She pushed back into the recliner and closed her eyes.

A beam of sunlight shot across the room from an opening in the tightly closed blinds. Dust particles floated through the beam as if someone had beaten a path down a dusty road. Donna watched the dust float in the sunlight as her eyes adjusted to the brightness. She had fallen asleep in the recliner and most of her day had passed her by. The sun was already in her backyard, which faced the western sky.

She kicked at the footrest trying to push it down, but her weak legs couldn’t move it. She pushed herself up with her arms and leaned all of her weight onto the footrest until it folded beneath her. She sat up and her neck and back ached. A pain shot through her arm as she reached up to massage her stiff neck. She needed to get an x-ray of her neck and spine. She had too much pain there for it to be nothing other than cancer or some sort of early onset of paralysis. One of her medications had warned of potential paralysis or was that an article she had read in some magazine? She couldn’t be sure, but her doctor had to know. He wouldn’t dismiss her concerns this time. The evidence was clear.

The clock on her wall read 5:30. The doctor’s office was already closed. She’d have to call tomorrow. Hopefully, he’d be able to fit her in this week like he did most weeks. She put her hands on her knees and pushed herself up into a standing position slowly. She felt all 62 years of her existence on her shoulders as she stood up. She grunted as she straightened herself as much as she could nowadays. Her night gown stuck to her shoulders and her torso dampened by sweat.

She glanced at the digital thermometer on her wall, which displayed 76 degrees. The evening sun usually raised the temperature in her house during the spring and summer, but she couldn’t open any windows. She didn’t want to give any thieves or rapists an opening to get her into her home. Instead, she turned on an oscillating fan that sat on a table behind her sofa. The fan cut the thick air with its small blades giving her a temporary respite from the heat, which dissipated as she walked away from the limited radius of the fan. She sighed and wished she had AC, but then, she remembered that AC makes people sick because it recirculates stale air that has become saturated with germs. She couldn’t afford to get sick at her age.

She left the living room and ventured into the darkened foyer leading to her front door. There were no lights on in her house at the moment. She didn’t use lights during the day because she wanted to keep her electric bill under control. She also suspected that the electric company was over-billing her, so she kept her usage to a minimum. She unplugged all of her appliances when they weren’t in use except for that loud refrigerator, which, unfortunately, had to be plugged in all day. She had considered replacing it with a cooler, but that would require her to leave the house to buy ice every day. She only left her house to go to the doctor or to buy groceries from Old Man Smith’s store down the road.

At the window beside her front door, she stuck her fingers in between the slats of the blind and peered out into the street in front of her house. In that instant she recoiled and pulled her face back. Her neighbors across the street were in their driveway. She feared they had seen her looking at them. Curiosity got the best of her and she looked through the blinds again. The wife pulled bags of groceries from the trunk of her car and carried them into her house. One of her kids helped her. Donna watched as they made the trip back and forth until the trunk was empty. The wife slammed the trunk shut and paused a moment. She looked Donna’s way and seemed to stare directly at her. Donna jumped back from the blinds and gasped. Her ears burned as if she had been caught doing something embarrassing. She checked that the blinds were firmly closed and she walked back to her kitchen.

When she had grown up in this house, when her parents were still alive, there had been no black people in her neighborhood. Now, there were black people across the street from her and elsewhere in the neighborhood. She had seen them walk or drive by on occasion. The couple across the street had moved into the neighborhood over 15 years ago. They had been the first black people she had really seen in her life. Over the intervening years, she had said very little to them and they to her. Of course, nowadays, she rarely ventured outside for them to say anything to her.

A sick feeling settled into her stomach. Stomach cancer? She wasn’t hungry. What else could it be? Her doctor had not taken her earlier concerns seriously. Yes, he had done x-rays, but he claimed there was nothing to see. He had even shown her the x-rays, but she couldn’t make sense of the cloudy images.

Before she could return to her recliner, someone knocked on her door. The reverberating sound took her breath away and she almost gasped before she stopped herself. She stood very still as if the intruder could see through her front door. She finally willed herself to turn back to the door and crept up to the window next to it. She poked a finger at one of the slats on the blind and lifted it just enough to see the woman from across the street at her door. She let the slat down slowly and stood back from the blind. She didn’t know what to do.

Another knock. She jumped at the sound.

“Ms. Scott, it’s Jamie Anderson from across the street,” the woman said through the door.

Silence.

A shadow moved across the blind on the window by the door and Donna froze as if the woman could see right through it. The shadow paused, and then, Donna heard another voice, a young boy’s voice, before the shadow moved away. Donna let out a breath and her chest heaved in relief. She hadn’t realized that she had been holding her breath.

After a moment passed, Donna stepped back toward the blind and slowly lifted one of the slats to peer onto her front porch. She jumped back as someone walked away from her door right in front of the window. Her heart raced in her throat. She stumbled backward and caught herself against the wall next to the door. Someone was trying to break in. She tried to calm herself so that she could hear what was happening, but the thumping of her heart drowned out everything around her. She was too dizzy to move.

She held onto the wall, her palms braced against it ready for the impact of the intruder as he came through her door, but after a while nothing happened. Her terror subsided, and nothing but the humming of her refrigerator shushed away the silence. The light of the day had receded further behind her house and cast the usual shadows through her living room. The dust carried on as if nothing mattered. She stepped back toward the blind and lifted a slat with her shaking hand. No one was on her porch nor was anyone visible on the street in front of her house. A car passed by, a red smear of metal as it rolled down the hill. She panned left and right as far as she could see. Nothing.

She pulled on the cord of the blind and flipped the slats downward so that she could see the floor of her porch. That’s when she noticed something sitting at her door. She held her breath again. The woman had left something there. Curiosity burned her thoughts, but so did fear. She didn’t know this woman. She had only spoken to her reluctantly a few times in the early years after they had invaded her neighborhood. A frown creased her face. Now, she had something else to worry about.

Push – Final Episode

Marvin Cantor pushed his way up the stairs leading out of the subway station. He felt like he was swimming against a school of fish that had surrounded him. Most people dodged left and right to avoid him as he rushed up the steps. He felt his right shoe flapping loosely against his foot, and he feared that he’d lose it, but with a thousand dollars waiting for him, he didn’t have to worry. Or did he? What if the strange man wasn’t waiting for him in the alley as he’d promised? A moment of panic washed over him. Had he killed another man for nothing?

The daylight flashed against his face as he stepped from the station’s exit. The crowded sidewalk crushed him, but people made way for him as he turned left and headed toward First and Macon streets. He turned left again and hurried through a narrow alley until he came out on 10th Avenue. He stopped for  a moment and observed the rush hour crowd walking by. He hesitantly turned and looked down the alley, but no one was following him as he had feared. He took a deep breath. The sweat beneath his layers of clothes chilled his skin. He’d use some of the money to spend the night in a hostel, maybe even get a shower. He couldn’t remember the last time he had taken a shower.

He walked as casually as he could down 10th until he passed in front of Schulz’s. He peered through the big windows, but he didn’t see Schulz. He walked by and turned down the alley next to the deli. Down a ways next to the dumpster, stood a dark figure leaning next to the wall. Marvin felt as if someone had trespassed into his home. This was his alley. He spent many nights here.

He had a sense of unease as he approached the dumpster. He could barely see the man’s face as he approached him. He waited for the stranger to speak to him as he stopped a few feet before the metal trash bin. The door to Schulz’s deli was to his left. The man stood up straight and took a step toward him.

“Did you do it?” he asked.

“Yes.” Marvin’s voice shook.

“Did he die?” The man seemed agitated.

“Yes.”

“Did you see the body?”

Marvin hesitated. “No, I had to get out of there before the cops came.”

The stranger sighed. “How do you know he’s dead?”

Many thoughts raced through Marvin’s head. His memory flashed back to the moment he had pushed the man onto the tracks. He remembered distinctly the wailing of the train’s horn, the screams of the crowd, the rush of the riders as they went to and fro on the platform. He had heard a sickening thud and a screech of metal on metal, but he didn’t turn around to see anything. He’d simply hurried away, too scared to see what had happened as a result of his actions.

The truth was that he regretted what he had done. He didn’t know the man that he had pushed onto the tracks, and the stranger hadn’t shared anything about the man to justify his killing, but Marvin was desperate. He needed the money.

“I heard the train hit him,” Marvin replied.

“I need more proof than that.”

“He’s dead. Now, where’s my money?” Marvin tried to sound confident, but it came out weak.

“You don’t get to decide when I give you the money.”

Marvin took a step back and stammered, “I did what you asked.”

“You’re nothing but some worthless homeless guy. You don’t get to decide anything.”

“Come on, man, I just need the money. I didn’t want to kill someone. I don’t even know why you wanted him dead. I don’t care. I just want my money.”

“I’ll tell you why. Because he was a worthless husband. His wife hated him. She wanted him dead.”

Marvin kept his eyes on the man. A fear rippled down his spine. He felt a breeze to his left and turned to see Schulz opening the back door to the deli. He thought to tell Schulz to go back inside, but as he turned to the old man, he noticed a long shiny object in his hand. Before he had time to react, Schulz plunged the knife into his chest. Marvin stumbled backwards and looked at Schulz in shock. He felt the warm blood run down his chest. He put his hand on the handle that protruded from his body, but he was too weak to remove it. The stranger moved closer to him and sneered at him as he fell to his knees.

The alley spun around him alternating between light and dark. He thought he could hear the rush of blood from his chest. He tried to put his hand on his wound, but both of his hands were too heavy to lift. Time seemed to slow to a crawl. Feet shuffled near him. A car horn honked in the distance. The din of traffic echoed through the alley.

He heard muffled voices over him, but he couldn’t discern what they were saying. He opened his eyes and strained to see, but his eyes were blurred by tears. He tried to say something, but he couldn’t force any words from his mouth. He heard footsteps moving away from him. Nothing but the usual sounds of the city engulfed him as the blood drained from his chest.

His breathing became labored and his chest hitched and jerked before he took his final breath. His last thoughts were of the sound the man’s body had made when the train had hit him.

 

Push – Episode 5

Fred stepped through the door of his home into the dark hallway just outside the kitchen. The garage door rattled shut behind him piercing the silence that otherwise engulfed him. Another dreadful week had come to a close ending with him exhausted and ready to go to bed at 8 PM. He crossed the kitchen diagonally and beat a hasty path to his office where he dropped his briefcase onto an empty chair. He shrugged off his rain coat and hung it on the hook behind his door before he returned to the kitchen.

He took a deep breath and surveyed his surroundings. He listened for any signs of Shelly, but he knew she was out with friends for the night. She did that a lot lately, more so than she had before Alan moved out. When Alan lived with them, she spent more time at home with their son, cooking meals or just watching TV with him. They’d always been close, so much so that he often felt like a third wheel or an interloper in his own home. That had changed now.

The light above him struggled to fend off the darkness in the living room. The house felt somber and abandoned without his wife or son around. Fred pulled open the cabinet near the refrigerator and removed a bottle of scotch. He filled a small glass with the honey-colored liquid and gulped it down. The burn made him exhale loudly. He poured another and held it above his head, staring at the liquid through the kitchen light before he sucked it down too. He quickly lost track of how many drinks he had poured.

He hadn’t eaten anything since lunch, and although he was hungry, he didn’t feel like eating. Exhaustion weighed on his shoulders and the alcohol made it worse. He felt lightheaded. His stomach rumbled like a volcano spitting hot lava. The scotch wasn’t settling well. A burp threatened to erupt into vomit. He braced himself against the countertop. In spite of it all, he downed another glass.

He didn’t want to end up on the floor again. Shelly had yelled at him before for passing out in the kitchen. He stumbled a bit as he stepped toward the stairs, but he managed to navigate them quite well. His feet felt like they were trudging through wet cement. His head undulated to a dull ache as his stomach protested. The door to his bedroom stood open, but it seemed smaller than usual. He bumped his shoulder against the door frame as he entered, which temporarily diverted his attention from everything else that ailed him. He yelped and rubbed his throbbing shoulder.

He stumbled to the bed and tried to remove his shoes before he fell on top of the comforter. His face smashed against the plush material of the bed covering making it hard for him to open his right eye. He couldn’t move or he didn’t want to move. The weight of the day overwhelmed him and crushed him into the bed. He just wanted to sleep, to give into the forces that threatened to drown him at that very moment.

Before he drifted into an intoxicating sleep, several thoughts drifted through his mind, but he was too drunk to understand them or grasp the consequences that lay before him.

Shelly wasn’t out with friends. She was having an affair with another man, a younger man. He knew this man but couldn’t picture his face.

Alan had left him a threatening message, but he had deleted it before he heard his son say what he had been thinking all along.

Paolo had accosted him outside his office at lunch. The big man had not been happy about losing the lawsuit and accused him of seedy tactics to win one for his wealthy client. He could still smell the cheesesteak on Paolo’s breath, and it made him sick.

His life spiraled out of control. He floated above his body and saw himself sprawled out on the bed below him. He looked around him and saw his wife embracing the younger man, his son loading a gun beneath the kitchen table, and Paolo walking toward him with a big stick in his hand. He turned away and drifted into a fitful sleep.

Push – Episode 4

Fred sat across the table from Paolo Fenta and his lawyer, Ricardo Montes. Montes looked ridiculous in his over-sized, double-breasted suit. The shoulder pads hung over the edge of his jaunty shoulders. His skinny neck struggled to fill the collar of his shirt. He looked like a bad mob character from the 1980s with his garish mismatch of colors – dark, blue satin shirt, pale green tie, and forest green suit. He was beyond naturally tanned and had dark hair greased back like some beatnik from the 1950s. The visual dissonance made Fred queasy.

Paolo offered no relief. He wore a tight, floral-patterned, short-sleeved shirt and dress slacks that were probably a size too small. Unlike Ricardo, he threatened to burst from his clothes given his considerable bulk. His belly protested against the table as Paolo leaned on his elbows to listen to what Fred had to say. Ricardo sat back as if daring Fred to say something that he didn’t like.

“This is my client’s final offer,” Fred announced as he slid the paperwork across the table to Ricardo.

Ricardo eyed him suspiciously as he pulled the paper toward him. “Where is your client?”

“He wasn’t able to make it today. He had an important meeting at work.”

“I’m sure he’s making six figures whatever he’s doing today. Meanwhile, Paolo here had to miss another day of work thanks to your client.”

Fred exhaled exasperation. “It’s a good offer. It’s much more than you’d get if this goes to court.”

Paolo leaned over his lawyer’s shoulder to glance at the paperwork. “How much is it?” he asked. He leaned in further almost pushing Ricardo aside.

Ricardo seemed aggravated but he quickly scanned the page. His eyes darted left to right until he hit the part of the page that warranted his attention. He paused and stared for a moment before he said, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“What? How much?” Paolo asked sounding like a kid whose parent wasn’t telling him something. Ricardo pointed at the amount on the page as he turned it toward Paolo. Fred could see the anger boil up in the big man. His face turned red and his eyes narrowed. “Fuck that!” he said as he looked at Fred.

“Mr. Gillian, there’s no way we’re accepting this offer. You must take us for fools.”

Paolo’s anger grew in intensity, but he seemed to struggle to find words to express it. He leaned into the table against his moaning gut and stared at Fred. His fists clenched. Fred heard his chair slide back against the carpet every so slightly.

“Mr. Montes, the accident was very minor. Paolo’s car wasn’t even totaled. He wasn’t even admitted to the hospital for his injuries. How can you possibly think you’ll get more in court.”

“I’ve missed a month and a half of work!” Paolo yelled.

Paolo threatened to bound from his chair, but Ricardo put his hand on his arm as if to calm him or restrain him in some way.

“Your client is immensely wealthy. This is chump change for him,” Ricardo said.

“My client’s wealth has nothing to do with what’s fair, Mr. Montes. That offer is more than reasonable given the circumstances.”

“Then, we’ll see you in court.” Ricardo stood up. When Paolo didn’t move, he tapped his back to get him to stand as well. Paolo kept his eyes on Fred, but Fred ignored him.

“Rachel will show you out,” Fred said to the men as he walked to the door of the conference room. Paolo maintained his angry stare and huffed as he walked past Fred into the waiting room. Rachel stood and greeted the men before she led them toward the exit. Fred shut the door and took the opposite direction toward this office.

He sighed as he returned to his desk. He hated dealing with the despicable personal injury lawyers. They gave other lawyers a bad name, especially when they sought big payouts for minor things. Fred knew Ricardo simply wanted a big payday for himself, but he also knew that his offer had been very fair. Any jury would see right through Ricardo and Paolo. He felt confident he’d win the case and that the men would receive far less than what he had just offered them. They’d regret their stance. He would make sure of it.