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Monday, April 23, 2012

Different Train Station; Same Baggage

"Get rid of the past. Let it drop on the ground like a bag of rocks." or something to that effect. That's what I heard tonight on the tv show I used to like so much, "The Big C". It's about a woman who goes a little cuckoo at first after learning she has an incurable version of cancer. She does all these crazy things and then tries to not be so crazy.

I started watching because in the beginning; it mimicked so much of what I had felt when all this illness started in my body, or at least when we first figured something wasn't quite right. I remember laying in the hospital bed after six weeks and being told they were going to transfer me to UCLA in Santa Monica and saying something like, "Really? It's that serious?" as though the previous six weeks hadn't clued me into that. I just couldn't fathom that anything I had happening to me physically could be that serious.

But it was/is that serious. A lot of people die from this so quickly they never find out what's wrong with them until the coroner tells their family.

So, tonight, this character starts talking about dropping the past and letting it go and it reminded me of a recent report on NPR about a new procedure they had come up with so that people could forget horrible bits of their lives (rape, abuse, etc. - although, I knew already that if the abuse is bad enough, you don't need no stinkin' laser to help you forget. Your gorgeous brain will do the honors for you.).

Anyway, I though what an awful idea. Sure, it might help you forget some atrocities you saw in Kabul or most of junior high, but didn't it also erase some of the very things that made us who we are at the moment, some years later? Didn't it also put us at risk to have it happen again? Like, if you can't remember the event, can you not remember the person who did whatever to you? And then, what happens when you turn the corner and the dude is there in your face? You don't recognize him so you don't run. But he recognizes you. And you ain't carrying around no sign, lady, saying you paid to ditch these memories...

And what about that book you were going to write about what happened to you, turning yourself into the material of a fictional family? You're not going to write that because you don't remember it now. So what happened, Mr. George Bailey, when you're not there to write that book that some women need to read so they can recognize themselves on the page and finally leave the men who are using their words, fingers, and fists to reshape their insides and outsides? What then?

Sure, I think these scientists have their hearts in the right place. They want to rid us of the pains of these experiences. But when I burned my hand in a fire, I learned not to do it again. Take that away, that memory, and I might do it over and over again, and yet wonder where the first scar came from.

Dropping the baggage of my past, eternally erasing my past to make an exceptionally clean mind... these things I do only if to erase myself, not physically, but mentally. And really, what's the point if I'm truly not here?

copyright - All rights to the work posted on this site are retained by Cass Van Gelder. If you'd like to use some of my work, please ask. To do so, the permissions must be spelled out in writing...from me...I meant it. I have mean cats; don't make me use them.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Prisons and Graves

Slowly, pieces of the story are coming into view and falling where they ought. It's a struggle to write, having spent so many years being told over and over not to ever talk about these things, at least, not outside our family. When a girl I hung out with briefly had become witness to the aftermath of a particular struggle, she confronted my mother in front of a lot of my friends, dangerously and recklessly so. I left on the arm of another friend who had been sheltered from any of the true goings-on in our house. My mother caught up to me as we left the building, whispering in my ear, "I told you not to tell anyone. Now look what you've done."

I was often reminded that telling meant breaking up our family, disjointed and fractured as it was. So, I naturally kept quiet. I had seen enough "Burning Bed" movies to know, it don't end so well for the victims who told or fought back. It's either the grave or prison for us. And every day above ground has got to be better than one behind bars.

It's no wonder I struggle now to dig into the garbage of my past. The mess is worse than week-old mayonnaise and over-ripe bananas mixed in with used sick baby diapers, gravied with vomit. But I don't know how else to get close enough to my characters to let them tell the truth.

So, my fingers dig into the mushiness warmth, staining my fingernails and making my gag. But if I pull it back, maybe the characters can breathe long enough to tell the story that prevents one girl from saying "yes" when everyone else knows it'd be better if she ran screaming from the page, yelling, "no!"

This is the ladder, though, that allows me to climb out. If I dig long enough, I can leave myself with enough strength to toddle up and breathe, too. I just have to find a way.

copyright - All rights to the work posted on this site are retained by Cass Van Gelder. If you'd like to use some of my work, please ask. To do so, the permissions must be spelled out in writing...from me...I meant it. I have mean cats; don't make me use them.

Monday, April 16, 2012

First Day of Rehearsal

I don't know that I've ever been the first on the schedule for a play. Certainly, I've been the first for a read-through, but then everyone is. I think it might have been all the way back to when I was in high school and doing work at school and at the Community Arts Center (which sounds impressive but was really only a few steps up from a double wide mobile home. For a town of 36,000, it was fine... acceptable... okay... disappointing.).

I remember seeing my first play there, first one for me with grown-ups in costumes and not kids in outfits made of pillowcases that there moms threw together the night before. Not our mom, however. She always sewed everything she could. She loved it when the schools sent home patterns (yes, friggin' patterns!) for the moms to sew together for a Christmas play. There was one year and one year only my sisters and I all went to the same school because I was almost 5 years older than my youngest sister. That year, we all had to have angel costumes made and not one of us had a real part, not even Chez, who was considered the most beautiful and who the teachers all tripped over themselves to do things for her. They were horribly simplistic patterns but the material was so good, all of us wore them for years as our pajamas. We were identical except for our heights and the fact I was so dark, I looked like the maid's kid. Eh, it was a running joke. A joke they laughed about, mind you..

Anyway, my first real play to see was at the Community Arts Center. I remember being so dumb about the whole process - where to clap, where to stand - all the little things that show you've been here before and aren't a total ninny, in other words all the little gestures and whatnot we use - yet again - to judge each other by. Anyway, when intermission came scurrying by in "The Glass Menagerie", I thought it was a weird place to end a play. I didn't get it. Of course, I have never seen a play with two acts. I was a kid, for Pete's sake. I never saw plays I wasn't in.

Anyway, I thought about that the other night as we were getting ready to rehearse. About how I went from someone participating by force to someone watching to someone participating by choice. Even that was a bit tempestuous. I started out working backstage, getting yelled at by The Lion in "The Lion in Winter" because he was, in his words, " character and you were in my bloody way!"


Then the following year, my sister's boyfriend's older sister was directing "Sleeping Beauty" and asked me to sing for Sleeping Beauty. You read that right. I was to sing for her; not be her. Apparently, the girl cast was beautiful, which I was not, and I could sing my head off, which she could not.

I knew it had to be embarrassing for her, but look, I was the one being forced to be backstage not because I couldn't act but because I wasn't as pretty as she was. Still, she would do weird things onstage to throw everything off. She would speed the song up and make it brighter than necessary, making my haunting version of the song sound like it didn't match. It was just bizarre. I mean, hell, I wasn't the one who gave me this weirdo role. It wasn't my fault I could sing better than her but she could look good in a bathing suit without a cutoff girdle...not that I did that...much.

Who am I kidding, man, I used to wear girdles and tights IN HIGH SCHOOL when they were most certainly NOT in fashion. I used to wear them so tight I got gas and had a glorious muffin top I'd hide with baggy shirts, thereby subtracting the very reason for wearing the gas-inducing girdles. 

Anyway, I knew eventually I'd find my way around the stage. It happened by accident. I was the prop master on my high school's version of "Story Theatre" when the director came to me because a girl in the cast got kicked out of not only the show but also out of school because she'd been drinking. She asked me did I want to take on the part. She said, "I don't even need to wait for an answer, You look like you're jumping out of your skin to take it. It's yours."

I had done other parts in junior high, but this was huge. Huge, huge, huge to me. I got to do something like four or 5 parts because of the way the story was structured, my favorite being The Fisherman's Wife. I don't even remember the story for that scene, I just remember the costume and how my family took incessant pictures of me during the play's short run, every single night.

And I loved that part, I loved being asked. So what if I got it by default. It wasn't going to say that in the programs. So, I acted my friggin fanny off AND still got all the props together, including seven edible mice (Twinkies painted with a gray mixture of food coloring...and on the last night, injected with a syringe with red food coloring into the gooey parts... yes, I am a bit macabre... what of it?).

So, here it is, almost 30 years later, and I'm still doing this. It just felt weird walking into the rehearsal room, just me and John, the director and the stage manager, and starting to talk about the characters we were going to dig our fingers into and mold. I could almost hear Norma Desmond voice from the empty piano room beginning, "I don't know why I'm frightened. I know my way around here...." But, it felt good. So good, I think I'll go back.

We are currently in rehearsal for "Oliver!", directed by the British National Theatre Company of America and produced by Super Summer Theatre. This will be at Spring Mountain Ranch Wednesdays - Saturdays beginning July 11-28, 2012. More information at

copyright - All rights to the work posted on this site are retained by Cass Van Gelder. If you'd like to use some of my work, please ask. To do so, the permissions must be spelled out in writing...from me...I meant it. I have mean cats; don't make me use them.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Critique of "Untitled"," Waking Dream", and "For Better or Worse I Give You Me"

Critique of “Untitled”, “Waking Dream”, and “For Better or Worse I Give You, Me”

I preface these critiques by firstly saying, I dragged my feet on these. I don’t know if it was the Not Wanting to Let Go of My Spring Break Blues playing in my head or the material, though I suspect it was the former rather than the latter. I was pleasantly surprised by this week’s crop, including the fact that two of the writers had coincidentally (not ironically as all the old Alanis Morrisette listeners would have incorrectly labeled it) given their main female characters the same name, right up to the spelling – Lori. However, I’m never one to chase anything less than an “A”, so I dug in and did my work.

Waking Dream

 The writer made some interesting choices in this piece – twins, waking coma, struggle over keeping someone around just because you want them not because it’s what’s good for them. These were some nice choices. However, the follow-through for most of the choices just weren’t there. For instance, the whole thing of them being twins never gets played out properly. Why make them twins if you’re not going to really use that to further your story? It’s like putting a gun in the room – if no one is going to fire it, why is it there?
The writing was pretty good. The descriptions of the waking dreams were fairly detailed and engrossing, which made other parts confusing. When it came time for Brooke to talk about them as children, she had nothing specific to draw on. She made sweeping remarks that sounded like she was describing a stereotype, remarks that an outsider might make, definitely not someone with inside knowledge. For instance, (and could for the love of Pete, could somebody please start using page numbers I their work? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve accidentally dropped a pile of printed out sheets and had to guess which order they were supposed to be in – which is another telltale sign of a troubled story line. If you can drop the pages, mix them up, and not tell automatically where they go without page numbers, then you’ve got a problem…), in the section where Greta starts asking questions about the twins’ connection, Brooke merely responds, “Twins, we have always been inseparable. We even swore when we were kids that we would never be apart, that we would grow old together….” Unless she’s closed up tighter than a drum, she’s probably going to give away a more intimate detail. For instance, she might remember them being in a treehouse their father built the summer before he left their mother. Reember, she’s in a vulnerable state at this point. She’d be more open to accessessing these intimate and personal memories than if she were in a boardroom or at the grocery store chatting with the clerk. Her sister is likely dying. It will cause a person to drudge up all sorts of memeories, ones you’d likely thought you’d forgotten. You’ll remember smells and the feel of a dress’ fabric. And, yes, there’ll be odd memories mixed in with the bunch.
You’ll also forget to eat. It one of the worst kinds of diets, but your head is so filled with trying to capture everything you’re sure you’ll lose when that person passes that you can’t think about doing everyday things, simple things like eating, or putting gas in the car, or watching the series finale of a show you’ve watched for eight seasons.
I liked that you included Vivienne’s process through this journey. It seems to be a story of both sisters coming to terms with Vivienne’s death – Brooke wanting to tether her sister in this world while Vivienne is trying to muddle her way into the next. For me, that part of the story needed to be stronger. It was hidden beneath too little specific detail.
And when I say “too little specific detail” I mean in places where you reuse the word “gray” over and over in one paragraph, but don’t give use anything new to help expand the vision of what either girl is seeing. I have nothing against “gray”. “Gray” is a great word to describe loneliness, depression, gloominess, but it doesn’t tell your story alone. If it did, you could just write “gray”, turn off your laptop, and go sip on some Tequila Sunrises by the pool instead of writing anything more. Give us another angle to see the picture you see.
The ending was pretty abrupt and for all the previously drawn out process, this didn’t match. It would be different if it were something like Brooke had to sign some papers to allow them to pull the plugs. She might do that in striking and hurried motions in order to jump from the desperate feeling of wanting to keep her sister alive to being okay with letting her go. However, that’s not what you’ve written. If you want to stay with what you’ve written, it’ll need more there.
I liked your opening line. First lines are always the kicker. You need to write them in such a way that draws people in, but also makes them want to find out more. Like I said, I liked your first line.
(By the way, you describe the twins as being inseparable at least twice that I can find without looking hard. Find something new to say about them. Anyone can say they are inseparable. I want to read what you have to say about them, what you found unique and interesting enough to want to write about them. Something drew you to these two characters and made you want to put them on paper so they wouldn’t be forgotten. So, make them unforgettable. Tell us what makes them stand out. Point them out in the crowd with your pen and paper.)
Keep going at this one.


This was a cute and interesting story. Seriously. It was engaging and the pacing was good. I liked how she slipped in an out of what she said aloud and what she said to herself. This is a very quiet piece, something that lends a hand to underscore traits of your main character. The ending need sot be rework a little. It’s too pat. Plus, the way the story begins, it seems more like conflict between Lori and Marissa (sorry for my comment earlier. I go the characters’ names mixed up. Lori is a secondary character in this one, not a main character… but I digress.).
I have very little to say about this because I think you’re fairly close on this one. You’ll need another draft or two to get it closer to home, but it’s definitely there. You have the usual grammar problems we all find when we’ve worked on a piece for too long. There are a few punctuation issues, but nothing that can’t be fixed. The main thing is you have something that, in my opinion, is on its way to being a beautiful sketch of a simple life and a hurried resolution.
I definitely would want to see what you do with this, even if you don’t use it as your final piece in class.

For Better or Worse, I Give to You Me

Ever seen Switch? It’s film with Ellen Barkin and Jimmy Smits. Your story reads like a married version of this film. It’s rife with misandry, which is a dangerous road to go down. It’s pretty tricky stuff to alienate a good chunk of your reading audience (see: Zachary Kinsey’s critique of this piece for a typical internal dialogue of someone you piss off, someone who in most cases has just bought you book/story/manuscript and is now searching his/her apartment for their Barnes & Nobel receipt.) Am I saying you shouldn’t write about this? Nope. I’m one of those rare writers who really believes – and doesn’t just say s/he believes – that a writer should be free to write about anything. It doesn’t mean I, the reader, have to buy it, though.
So, let’s dig into this piece, shall we?
First, I like this humorous take on role reversal, but again you might want to make it a little less one sided. Imagine you’re on a see-saw when you’re telling this story. You don’t want the other side to leaving you hanging, or worse, drop you suddenly and very hard to the ground. You want him to go along with you story. Remember, you’re not just talking to the women who are fist pumping along with you, you are (seemingly) trying to make the other side see something new about themselves, something you obviously think they need to change or improve. Comedy is a great way to approach touchy subject like that. But, people tire of being the butt of the joke. They like it better when you can laugh at yourself, too. They’re more willing accept the criticism and listen when you smile and tell them they have lettuce in their teeth. You’re not telling them to hurt them. You just figure they didn’t know and probably didn’t want to go to their next meeting, grinning with their lunch gunking up their freshly bleached chompers.
Secondly, find another doctor’s name. Likely, if anything happened with this story, the real Dr. Laura would have a probably case against you. You’ve put her in your story that, while obviously parody, does not parody her enough to make someone believe it couldn’t be her (Although you could argue with the whole giving-an-unknown-patient-vials-of-drugs thing, though even that might not go in your favor.) The point is this – avoid a lawsuit if you can. Pick another doctor’s name. Her being named Dr. Laura really adds nothing to the story and you don’t parody her enough to make it worth the possible hassle.
The Dr. Laura call in the beginning had a lot of good dialog, but it needed to be trimmed. It also needed to be formatted correctly because Lori’s responses were mixed in with Dr. Laura’s questions. That can be easily straightened out. Go back in and look at what you can remove from the dialog that doesn’t take away from the story line. What details can you afford to lose?
Listen to one of these calls in shows a couple of times. You’ll hear how the radio personalities are very adept at directing their callers. Most callers are prescreened, but even when they are, radio hosts have to be able to structure and push and pull a conversation to make it interesting. Dr. Laura would be doing most of the talking. If someone flips through the channels on their way to a country station, they want the listener to be ale to identify them easily and stop rather than slide on down the dial.
The transition from Dr. Laura asking Lori questions to asking her if she’s willing to do anything is too abrupt. She’s not even asked her what she’s done so far, and certainly nothing Lori has revealed would convince anyone that the situation was at such a crisis that voodoo was the next logic step. I realize you’re looking for a quick fix to get your story going in the direction you want, but you rally forced the wheel on this one. Nobody’s remaining in the car with you on this one – you a crazy driva’, as my 2 year-old niece likes to say.
Okay, I buy that maybe Lori is at her wits’ end, trying to save this marriage, and while when she’s on the phone she might be whipped up into a frenzy that’s frothy enough for her to go along in that immediate moment with what Dr. Laura is saying, but no way that with the simple written instructions that are sent along with the vials do you have me believing that Lori is still in that same mental state. She’s had ample time to come back down to Earth. Maybe if the box arrives, she discards it because she does realize it’s crazy, but then her husband does something so egregious that she feel it’s the last straw. She goes to the closet, grabs up the box, pops the tops on the vials, pours it in his favorite beer, and goes smiling to deliver it to him, apologizing as she does – he thinks for the arguments, she for what she about to do to him.
You want funny? Take another crack at describing Lori’s first attempt at peeing like a man. Ask your husband/boyfriend for funny stories about it. The funniest ones I’ve heard were ones about after a guy’s has sex at night, but forgets about it when he goes to pee in the morning. Apparently, it clogs the “drain pipes” and causes the urine to go flailing in multiple directions, completely uncontrollable. Now, that’s funny – to me. Maybe you end the night before by her sighing and giving in to having sex him, figuring the potion didn’t work and she’s stuck with the same old same old. The next morning, she’s painting the walls with his pee.
I like the nicotine bit. I’ve never smoked, so I don’t know what that intense, instinctive drive to light up feels like, but you described it aptly for my tastes, or lack thereof.
The phone call to the brother is completely believable. Of course, she wouldn’t know what she sounds like! She has spoken yet! Good call on that detail.
I’m with the reviewer who said if you’re going to use slang and/or cuss words, spell them out. We’re grown-ups. We can take it. And if we can’t, there’s a nursery in the main building where someone can drop us off until after class.
(Besides, this is a perfect time for Lori to start feeling the testosterone coursing through her veins, and grow her some balls – or maybe feel the ones she grew the night before).
Brandon’s greeting of Sean (“Are my sister and the kids all right?”) is stiff. Likely, he’d call her by a pet name or a shortened version of her name. I know, I know, he name is already short. But think about it. The relationships, unless strained, between Sean and Brandon is likely to be very intimate, for guys. He probably knows more about what’s going on in their trouble marriage than Lori does.
I like that his previous ailments – his bad elbow, for instance – are issues she has to deal with now. (By the way, Subway in this case is the name of a company. Go ahead, capitalize it.)
I love the details about being in line and getting a hard-on for the barista/counter girl. Here’s a detail you might want to use. There’s a product truckers use that’s basically baby powder and it’s to help with chaffing. It’s called Anti-Monkey Butt. I kid you not. We have a container of it at home. It works great, and had a fantastically hysterical name, especially for a short story.
The bits about all the stuff she had “him” do that he would never do are great. Here’s a great detail. Instead of nicotine gum, consider having her pick up his old prescription for Chantix. Not only will he stop smoking, he’ll have God-awful nightmares.
Of course, the problem by this point is that you’ve now heaped a lot of flaws on Sean and not a one on Lori (though without you telling me, I can point out she’s a controlling bee-yatch who needs to take it down a couple of notches, but that’s just me. Maybe she needs to pick up her old prescription for Xanax.)
Maybe she finds out that he is arranging for a standing order of monthly flowers to be delivered to start on hr next birthday, or while searching for the maps in the truck, she finds a book she’s been going on about that’s out-of-print that’s he’s bought for her. You’ve given him enough flaws. Let her use this as a chance to find out the things she’s stopped looking for - the things she chose him for. She loved him once. Is it possible she’s becomes so blinded by what she wants that she can’t see the loveliness of what he’s giving her?
Cut all the stuff from Sean’s point of view. This has been Lori’s story from the beginning. It’s too abrupt and doesn’t add enough, unless this is a straight out revenge story (which is sounds like it’s shaping up to be.)
I’m guessing you have an ex-husband in your near past, or will about to have one, at least if he reads this.
For instance, Sean jumps up and can’t find Lori or his body, but immediately assumes she did this. That’s not a logical leap or conclusion. A logical one, even if he hates her, is to first consider something he did to get in this mess. He probably wouldn’t even notice her missing until he starts thinking about where his body is. Once he notices that, he might freak out because he doesn’t know if something happened to his body or if it’s gone for good. Calm and adapting would not be in his wheelhouse at this point.
The “Hey go f@#* yourself man don’t be look’n at my wife” bit is great. But here’s the thing…if she’s getting his spontaneous hard-ons caused by his testosterone, then he’s not going to be turned on by her body. Likely, he’d be turned on by the guy who just cussed out. And that, that is funny.
When Lori’s dad shows up, we get that they’ve switch bodies. You don’t have to reexplain it to use. We get the awkwardness of Sean hugging up on his father-in-law while Lori glares at her dad and husband.
You gave away your ending, though, and that just killed it. You had this great, funny ending, and you told the punchline six paragraphs too soon. In fact, you bury the punchline by giving it away TWICE before it’s even necessary. Ugh!
The lines coming out of Dr. Laura’s mouth off the air are offensive. I get it that maybe that’s the way you want her character to be, but she sounds like a parrot of Lori, so it sounds like it’s coming directly out of the mouth of the writer – again, you’re reading audience is looking for their receipt.
The ending paragraph is rush and sounds like you were trying to beat a deadline and needed to tack an ending on.

Okay, all this to say, you have a conflict – the “magic” changing them into each other and their struggle to get through it and Lori’s struggle to change them back. You even resolve it in the last few sentences. But you’ve alienated the majority of your audience by this point – if they’ve stuck around for the ending, which you gave away like a sixth grader who can’t stay behind a curtain without sneaking an arm out to wave to the newly seated crowd.
Go back, make some changes, and come at this again. This could be good fun.

copyright - All rights to the work posted on this site are retained by Cass Van Gelder. If you'd like to use some of my work, please ask. To do so, the permissions must be spelled out in writing...from me...I meant it. I have mean cats; don't make me use them.

"Waking Dream" by Cherie McKinney

This is a story by Cherie McKinney, who is part of the Writing Fiction class I'm taking. This is her lastest story. I'll post my critique that I submitted on this story and others right afterwards.

Thanks for reading.

Waking DreamBy: Cherie McKinney
 The day that Vivienne woke up was a moment missed by even those paying close attention. She had been in a coma for over six months following the incident. The room crowded with many bodies moving around busying themselves on various machines and charts within the room. Beeps, slamming cabinet doors, ruffling of pages of papers, and the feeling of cold and warm as the blankets were moved off of her body and placed back shortly after.
Who is there? What is going on? She could hear their feet scurrying around and voices mumbling various questions and statements from several different voices buzzing around her, she laid locked in pitch-blackness, unable to see what was going on around her. Why can I not see anything? Can anyone hear me?
Then there was sunlight, blinding and bright. Someone was lifting her eyelids one by one, shining a white light beam in each. She could feel his breath on her face and smell the onion scent that still lingered from something he ate before attending to her. He must be a doctor, she thought. The doctor and a few nurses continued speaking to each other in cryptic phrases about her condition. She watched them walking around the room, one nurse that was taking notes left the room. Then she was lost into darkness again, someone had closed her eyelids once more.
 She could not remember why a doctor may be seeing her now or why she could not move or speak aloud. Last thing she remembered she was at home reading a book on her patio, smoking a cigarette, and drinking coffee. Her sister, Brooke, was supposed to visit her to go shopping for their parents’ anniversary presents together. She wondered what the date was and how long she had been there.
 Vivienne and Brooke were inseparable, something expected from twins. They were best friends, although very different, they still managed to maintain their twin connection. Brooke was a married woman with three children and the typical husband who brought home the bacon. She spent her days with chores, sports with her boys, ballet with her daughter, and planning dinner. That sort of life was not for Vivienne, she dreamed of travelling the world, improving her photography career, and maybe finding romance, but a family was furthest from her mind. She was a free spirit, a quick-witted daydreamer; her life was destined for mystery and adventure.
“Is my sister improving? Have you noticed any changes?” She heard her sisters’ voice over the chaos around her, the frustration and fear in her voice prominent. “When will she be able to come home? Do you have anything to give me today?”
“I am sorry, Mrs. Miller, I have no updates for you as of yet today. We are hopeful that she will respond soon, she has been improving more and more every day. I will call you as soon as I have more to inform your family. Excuse me,” The doctor replied before clicking his pen and walking out the door.
Vivienne laid there in darkness trying to hear if her sister left the room with the doctor. Then she felt a hand on hers, it felt familiar and warm. I love you Brooke, she felt but could verbalize.
“I am so scared Viv, I need you to wake up. It hurts my heart seeing you here. It has been months since I heard your voice, saw your smile. I miss you so much. Please wake up,” Brooke, sounded awful, her voice cracking, she began crying and sniffling.
Oh, Brooke, I am so sorry. I wish I knew what happened. I do not want to be here either. I wish someone would open my eyes again so I can see you. I miss you so much. Vivienne felt her face getting wet, was she crying?
“Nurse…someone, help!” Brooke stood up and ran for the door to find help. She could not believe that she finally got a response after being here every day trying to break through to her somehow.
The room was alive once more with the sound of voices, feet bustling, and more beeps from the machines around her bed. The voice over the intercom rang with codes, followed by someone leaving the room. Vivienne laid there wondering what was going on around her. She hoped to be free of it eventually, trapped inside darkness, and unable to break free was a fear she had not yet overcome in her life.
“I was talking to her…I cried, then she cried. I have been here every day since she got here and never got a response until today. Maybe she is waking up. Does it seem as if she is?” Brooke asked one of the nurses that was studying Vivienne’s vitals on a machine to her left.
“It is quite possible. We will need to run more tests to be sure, but we are hopeful that she will have a full recovery. I have seen many people who have gone into a comatose state who have recover with minimal complications. Some even after being under for many more months or years even. We will watch for any subtle changes and will be in contact once our findings are finalized.” The female nurse had a voice of power, but lacking in compassion. She must have been the one in charge, they always seemed to sound bossy or mean, from the years of wear and tear on their reason for becoming nurses.
“I have faith that she will be fine,” a younger sweeter voice appeared and filled Vivienne with a feeling of peace and joy. She remembered feeling this before, the voice seemed familiar, but she could not place it with a face. Then her eyes were open once more, both. An angel she must be, she heard my prayers, she thought. “Hello, Vivienne, can you hear me?”
            Yes! I wish you could hear me! Vivienne thought as she made many feeble attempts to move her mouth, her face, anything to show them that she was indeed there. It seemed impossible to move anything, not even her eyes. Her entire body felt numb and failed to answer any of her commands. She wanted so much to be free of this cage…salvation.
            The kind voice soon showed her face while trying to examine Vivienne’s pupils for any changes since she last checked. Her pupils were slightly dilated, but responded to light that the nurse flashed over her eyes several times. “Some improvement, it seems. Her eyes were unresponsive earlier this morning. Her vitals were good, but she was not physically responding to in of our queries. Sometimes the eyes will water themselves to keep the eyes from drying out, even in coma patients, but this seems intentional. This is a good sign,” she sounded even more hopeful.
            “Thank you, nurse…Greta,” Brooke read her nametag. “My family will be happy to hear of it. This is good news. Seeing her tears roll down her face made me feel hopeful, but I wanted to make sure.” Brooke smiled, pink rushing to her cheeks, she was overjoyed could not wait to tell her parents the news.
            “I will get Dr. Leonard to come in once he is finished with his other appointments this morning. We will be in touch. In the meantime, you look as if you can use some rest. You can go home, we will call you as soon as we have more,” Greta placed a caring hand on Brooke’s shoulder.
            “Ok,” Brooke turned to Vivienne’s face. “I will be back to visit tomorrow Viv, I am so happy that you are starting to surface. I love you,” she kissed Vivienne’s cheek, just over the line of tears that had previously flowed, then left the room.
            “Good afternoon, Vivienne.” Greta smiled at her as she sat down on the bed next to her. It was obvious that she was newer at this, being a nurse. She was kind, hopeful, compassionate, and seemed determined to save her from the darkness. “This is indeed good news,” she said wiping the tears from Vivienne’s face with a soft warm rag.
            Greta’s face was round with full cheeks that seemed permanently blushed; it appeared completely natural, beautiful. She could see the pores on her face in detail whenever her face got close to hers during an examination. She was one of those optimists that people tended to roll their eyes at or made jests behind their backs about them being delusional. Vivienne found her to be beautiful in form and character and enjoyed her presence.
            Greta took a syringe out of a plastic package with an intimidating needle at the end of it, plunged it into a small glass vial of clear fluid. Once full, she poked the needle into the port of the tube connected to a hanging bag filled with a mostly clear liquid that was keeping Vivienne hydrated. “Vivienne, I have just given you a dose of pain medication to help you rest. You may feel a slight tingling sensation, if your nervous system allows, and you may get drowsy shortly. Do not be afraid, just try to rest,” she squeezed Vivienne’s hand, “I will be back once you wake to feed and bathe you for the night.”
            She closed Vivienne’s eyelids once more, then whispered, “Sweet dreams”. Vivienne could hear her footsteps growing distant, the sound of the door closing. Then moments later, she fell into the darkness of her dreams once more. Her dreams were anything but sweet. Prior to the light returning to her eyes today, nightmares ruled her darkness. She dreamed once that she was a body stumbling aimlessly through a gloom. Another time she was without a body, only a suspended head floating over a glistening pool of water. The dreams were her reality for so long, once she woke from them, the real world did not seem quite real anymore.
            Swirling into dream once more, she found herself in their childhood bedroom. Brooke was scribbling in her diary, as she always did. Being twins they chose to share a room, they never wanted to be separate. The girls shared everything, secrets, pain, clothing, and one time Bobby Fran from down the street. He could never tell them apart, unless they were side-by-side, he was not very intelligent, but he was very handsome even at age twelve.
“Viv, let’s promise to never be apart! We will be two old ladies in a huge house with our cats,” Brooke laughed. Being old women with cats reminded them of the “crazy cat lady” at the end of the block. People said that she had at least twenty cats running around her house. It always reeked of urine and feces. Most children that passed would laugh and point at the crazy cat lady’s house. They did not expect that their future as old women would be anything like that.
“Of course we will silly! Born together, we will never be apart. Of course, I was born first, but…” Vivienne giggled, she loved rubbing that in.
“Yeah, only by a few minutes jerk!” They both laughed and ran outside to play.
            Her dream shifted into a gloom. She felt an overwhelming sensation of guilt. She had to fight this, she had to live, she promised. Vivienne could see her feet walking upon a grey colored ground. Everything was in shades of grey, the sky, the sun, even the grass. It felt cold, yet damp, as if she were in a swampy area. Empty it appeared in all directions, other than trees and mountains off in the distance. Then she saw, far off on the horizon, what appeared to be grey blurry figures walking slowly towards her. This seemed extremely familiar, except for the gloominess.
            “I’ve been here before,” she gasped.
            “Yes, you have,” a deep male voice replied from behind her.
            She quickly turned to find another grey blurred figure standing before her. The voice did sound as if a man was standing behind her, but the figure had no defining shape to indicate gender. It was of a slender stature and taller than Vivienne by about two feet. The grey seemed to be blocking her view of what the figure really was, as if it were hiding.
            “Where am I, who are you?” She asked out of fear and confusion, but the figure did not answer her. Then the scene changed again to the darkness.
            Vivienne’s memories were sporadic, only bits and pieces were surfacing at a time. Then the existence of the room around her came back to her senses. It sounded empty, but someone left a window open, she could feel a warm breeze and the sound of laughter. There must be children playing outside. The children’s laughter reminded her of seagulls circling above the beach on a warm day, perfect for swimming. It had been a while since she went to the beach. Then sudden memories flooded her eyes. Warm sun, sand between her toes, and Brooke building a sand castle by her mother’s feet. These memories were unfair. The more she dreamed, the more she felt as if her dreams would be all she could have. Maybe I am…her thoughts trailed back into darkness.
            Then the voices grew louder around her…”We were able to isolate the cause of the breakdown of her central nervous system, which led to her comatose state. It seems that a pesticide called methyl-S-demeton poisoned her,” the wrinkle between his eyes scrunched. “This is a high grade professional pesticide; she would’ve needed experience with lower grades before handling something like that. Does she keep many greenhouses at home?”
            “No, she has a medium sized garden in her backyard, it is not substantial. I have seen Vivienne grow tomatoes, carrots, pumpkins, maybe even herbs, but she refuses to use pesticides. My sister is a green person, she believes in minimal impact to the environment, she would not use anything like that stuff.” Brooke declared.
            “It is possible that it may have been carried into her yard. Over an extended period, years of exposure even in small doses can eventually affect a person’s body. From our testing, exposure to this substance was through both ingestion and skin contact. If she did not expect pesticides to be on her food, she may not have washed them thoroughly, and ingested contaminated food unknowingly.” Doctor Leonard did not wear the face of the doctor she has spoken to over the months; this man had a different air about him. It worried Brooke.
            “How bad is it, Dr. Leonard?” Brooke had her arms folded tightly to herself.
            “Your sister’s central nervous system may have extensive damage, but we will need further testing to determine the extent. From the various scans, blood tests, and examinations, we have found that the traces found were considerable. Honestly, I have never seen anyone hold on as well as she has, even with less contamination. It is a unique situation.” He rubbed his forehead. “Mrs. Miller, it is a possibility that Vivienne may never walk again after this. I would suggest an immediate transfer to physical therapy once given leave of the hospital. In similar cases, some patients have either remained catatonic or in a vegetative state. I am not trying to frighten you, just inform you of the possibilities. She may come out of this, she has made progress today…still the results are conclusive.”
            “Oh my goodness,” The whites of Brooke’s eyes grew in size, her mouth still hung slightly open from shock. “But she may live. And she could try physical therapy to get it all back?”
            “It is a possibility, nothing is certain until it is. She could come out of this with minor complications, or it could be worse. I just want you to brace yourself for either outcome. I am going to consult with a few specialists that deal specifically with chemical poisoning. I will get back with you soon,” Doctor Leonard shook her hand and left the room.
            The room fell silent. Vivienne was unsure if she was alone or if her sister remained. At that moment, Brooke’s sighing broke the silence, and then she was crying. “I do not know what to feel anymore. One day they say everything is looking good, and then it is back to them being unconvinced. I don’t know what to do Viv,” she continued to cry.
            I am so sorry Brooke, I am sorry this happened; it was somewhat foolish looking back now. I am usually an overly clean person too. Vivienne wanted to hug her sister, comfort her. This situation was throwing everyone she loved off balance, a crushing idea. She hated feeling as if she was a burden on someone else, even her sister. She did not have to run back here, I do not want to keep doing this to her, this has to change soon. She thought.
            “I am sorry, Mrs. Miller, but visiting hours are over now. It is time for her dinner,” Greta was so polite, she could probably make the rudest thing sound courteous.
            “Right, I was just about to head out,” Brooke bent down to hug Vivienne, fighting back tears. “I love you buddy, see you tomorrow.”
            Greta waited for her to leave before she brought in dinner. “It is not meat and potatoes, sadly, but it will be all the nutrients you need.” She held a clear plastic bag filled with a thick creamy substance. “This is what is called a Nasogastric Tube; we insert it through your nostril and down your esophagus. We had one in before, had to switch it out earlier while you were sleeping, but now that you are aware, I feel I should inform you. It will just take a moment and may be irritating at first.”
            Once Greta was finished, the fluid began to move slowly up the tube. Vivienne watched it oozing and then felt the tube adjust inside her nose due to the spatial shift. It was a strange sensation. She missed food already, pizza, and burgers especially. From what she overheard earlier, life would never be same. She may never get to do all the things she had not yet done.
            After her bath, it was time to rest again. Greta provided her ease to fall back asleep. Once under the cover of her eyelids, she faded back into her dreams, her new life. She was in the same place that is usually grey, except it was brighter, peaceful feeling. She could now see the faces of the figures, they looked happy. She wanted to run to them and have fun as well. Could she run? She walked at a regular pace, and then tried picking up speed. Soon she was running, frolicking, swirling, and she even did a cartwheel. This is unreal. It was a pleasant dream, she felt alive.
            The next day, while Vivienne was still in a different world, her sister sat watching her sleep. Greta entered to begin the waking process and administer breakfast. Caught off guard, she almost dropped what she was carrying, not expecting anyone in the room just yet. “Sorry, I did not expect you to visit until around lunch time,” She noticed that Brooke had a disheveled appearance now, it concerned her, “You look as if you could use some rest yourself. Are you all right? Have you spoken to the grief counselor we spoke about?”
            “Just had difficulty sleeping, felt as if she needed me here. I can leave if you need me out of the room for that,” she gestured towards the bags in Greta’s hands.
            “This is just breakfast, just switching the bags,” She replied as she began replacing them.
            “I am frightened for her, that is true, but I am frightened for myself more. Having separation anxiety, I know, but I do not want to take to a counselor. I can handle this on my own, just struggling. I want her to be better, but I fear I am being selfish,” she fiddled with her fingers. “If she does come out of this, she may be scarred for life, she will be miserable. I do not want that for her. It is not a life that anyone would want someone else to have to live. I am so afraid of letting go though.” She began crying.
            Greta placed a hand on Brooke’s shoulder and began lightly brushing it as Brooke continued crying, “Loss is difficult, but we always get past it, eventually. It builds us, molds us, we are what we are because of everything we experience, not just good things. Have you both always been this connected?”
            “Twins, we have always been inseparable. We even swore when we were kids that we would never be apart, that we would grow old together. I really do not want to lose that,” she wiped the tears away from her face with tissue from the counter.
            “Studies have shown that sometimes twins are so connected that they can truly feel what the other is feeling at times and even read each other’s minds. Twins are fascinating. Perhaps that is why you could not sleep, or even why she is doing so well. She may be more aware than we thought. She may be actively trying hard not to slip away.”
            That did make sense. Brooke thought. She grabbed Vivienne’s hand and put her mouth up to her sister’s ear, “Viv, if you are holding on only for me, I am sorry to cause you so much pain. It was selfish of me. If you are not afraid to let go, please do…I will not be upset. I will miss you, but you will always be with me no matter what. I love you so much. I cannot bear to watch you suffer like this anymore. Please forgive me.”
            “I love you B…” she managed to push the words through the heavy wall that was her lips, followed by the sudden loud beeping noises coming from several machines.
            “Her vitals have dropped. She is going into cardiac arrest. Code blue!” Greta yelled running from the room. “I need a crash cart in here!” The room was flooded with bodies clad in white, pushing Brooke out of the room as they made themselves busy trying to bring her back. Brooke watched from the hallway, knowing that she would not be back.

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