Oh Wait! It’s Good for You

“If you pay attention, it all comes full circle,” said Dorothy. “First it was eggs. Don’t eat ‘em, the cholesterol will clog your arteries. Then, after the egg industry cratered and many innocent chickens lost their jobs – and for a chicken, that’s a life or death matter – it was, oh, wait! Eggs are okay. In fact, you can eat an egg every day if you like.”

“Yes,” said her friend, Gladys, “and remember butter? We were supposed to eat some kind of yellow faux spread because butter fat would kill us. A few years later, the faux stuff was out because it wouldn’t melt and butter was back.”

“And don’t forgot hormone replacement therapy: the doctor told me I’d stay on it the rest of my life because it would prevent cancer and heart disease. Then a few years later, he said stop taking it at once because it would cause cancer and heart disease. Now we’re somewhere in maybe/maybe not limbo. All I know is, hot flashes aren’t much fun either.” Dorothy fanned her face vigorously.

“Then there’s exercise,” Gladys said. “Run for the aerobic workout. Don’t run, too hard on the joints. Exercise for no less than thirty minutes a day. No, ten minutes is enough. You’ve gotta break a sweat; no, just walking is okay. Treadmills, yoga, exercise machines, weights – the only safe thing to do is sit quietly and eat a candy bar.”

“What about flu shots?” Dorothy demanded. “There’s all that stuff on t.v. about how your life hangs in the balance unless you get one, and if you’re old you need the super shot. But some years the vaccine doesn’t match the virus, and then the Centers for Disease Control says that if you’re over 65 your metabolism isn’t much good at making antibodies anyway.”

“Yeah, and don’t even get me started on tooth brushing,” Gladys said. “Brush up and down; no, just down; no, brush sideways. Use an electric brush; no, a manual brush is just fine. Floss, even though there’s no evidence that flossing makes any difference. Use mouthwash with alcohol; no, without; no, not at all.”

“I was so happy when I heard that coffee, wine and dark chocolate were good for me,” Dorothy said with a gusty sigh. “But now I hear they’re not.”

“They’re not?”

“Nope. AARP magazine said not.”

“Dang!”

They discussed the claims of vitamin supplements and products with “natural” ingredients, agreeing that both were more likely to affect purses than health. They shook their heads over the fact that smoking really does kill, but people still smoke, and obesity actually can shorten lives, but people keep right on gaining weight.

“Humans are funny,” Gladys said. “I’ll have a cheeseburger, hon,” she added to the waitress. Sure, I’ll have fries with that. And a diet soda.”

“Diet sodas will kill you,” Dorothy reminded her.

“This week…next week they’ll be good for me.”

The waitress wondered what the two old dears at table twelve thought was so darn funny.

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Living the Dream

Kate awoke from her same-day surgery in pain. Groggily, she requested and got a dose of pain medication, drifting off thankfully into the blessed relief of sleep. To her surprise, there was so much going on in that twilit world. She felt amazed and gratified to finally see what she’d been missing.

“I never dream,” she’d often declared, daring someone to contradict her. “No, I mean it: I have never, ever had a dream, at least not one that I could remember when I woke.”

Kate’s friends recounted many colorful dreams in tiresome detail. She’d suspected they were making things up just to get attention. But now she understood what they’d been talking about. Life was magical in dreamland.

“Water, now,” she said to her water bottle, and it magically filled itself.

“Bradley Cooper, over here,” she called, and there he was. She lost herself in his amazing blue eyes. Lounging at the edge of the azure pool, she sipped fancy drinks and enjoyed a foot massage. What had she been missing all these years? When she felt chilly, Bradley draped a cashmere robe around her shoulders, settling it with a playful tickle on her neck.

“Kate, wake up. Wake up, Kate. We have to get you up and moving. Time to go home.”

How rude, Kate reflected. I just had surgery; don’t I get to at least sleep off the anesthesia?

Apparently not. Reluctantly, she allowed herself to be jostled and half-lifted into a sitting position. Her mouth felt like a desert.

“Water, now!” she rasped.

The nurse looked at her strangely. “Okay, sure. Here you go.”

“Where is he?” Kate demanded. “I want him to drive me home.”

“Who?”

“You know, Bradley Cooper. He was here a minute ago. And I want my cashmere robe.”

“We’re fresh out of movie stars, honey. And you didn’t bring a robe with you. Here, if you’re cold we’ve got these heated blankets.”

Over the next few days of recovery at home, Kate kept dreaming despite having stopped taking the pain medication. She could hardly wait to go to sleep now. It was so interesting!  Little dreamscapes, strange, delightful or scary, stuck in her memory like shards of glass in a kaleidoscope. A pizza pan caught in the branches of a tree. Traveling in a car, discovering she was in the back seat and no one was driving. The return of a long-dead pet. She actually looked for that pet when she awoke, it seemed so real.

One night she had a dream within a dream:  she found she could summon the azure pool and Bradley all over again, only this time she could influence what happened. She was beautiful; she and Brad lived in a mansion; they went to the best parties; they spent long, langorous afternoons in bed. Part of her mind reminded her she was dreaming. Wasn’t she?

Daytime began to seem insubstantial, while dreamtime became more and more vivid. She no longer knew nor cared where the dividing line fell between the two. Sleep stretched out to ten, twelve, fourteen hours at a time. She missed work, dates with friends, appointments. When she didn’t show up at her job on the third straight day, her boss called the police. A rookie cop broke through the door and found Kate, but she couldn’t be roused. Paramedics arrived with remarkable speed, almost as if they’d been just around the corner, waiting

“Is she…dead? Or in a coma or something?”  The young policeman’s voice was unsteady. He’d never seen anything like this.

“No,” said the guy with the stretcher, “she’s just sleeping. We’ll handle it from here.”

He had the bluest eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Luck Would Have It

Deana maintained she was the unluckiest person alive. She was sure nothing but bad things ever happened to her, and she’d tell you all about it.

“I was just there to get my teeth cleaned, right? And the dentist finds what she says is a cracked molar. Said she couldn’t believe it wasn’t killing me.  So of course, she’s got to fix it right then and there. Just my luck. I don’t know how I’m ever going to pay the bill.”

Deana never stopped to think of the painful hours she’d been spared that day.

“I can’t catch a break. I made a special trip at lunch time to cash my paycheck and the bank was closed. Imagine that, the door locked on a perfectly normal weekday. How inconvenient!”

The bank was locked down because inside three armed men were hard at work robbing the place. Five minutes either way, and her perfectly normal weekday would have taken a nasty turn.

“My boyfriend promised me to take me to see that new movie everyone’s talking about. I waited and waited, but he didn’t show. Leave it to me to pick a loser.”

Deana’s boyfriend got arrested earlier that day when he slugged his other girlfriend – the one Deana didn’t know about. She never saw him again, and figured he’d dumped her without a word – bad luck again.

“I got this dog because there have been a lot of break-ins in my neighborhood. He’s supposed to be a guard dog, but he’s crazy. He growled and barked at nothing all night long. I couldn’t get any sleep. Naturally, it’d be my luck to get a crazy dog!”

The home invader lurking outside Deana’s window didn’t consider the dog lucky, either. Not wanting to confront the snarling beast, he moved on to easier pickings.

Deana had a cranky old grandmother who demanded that Deana do her grocery-shopping and clean her house. “It takes up almost my whole Saturday, and she never even thanks me. What a waste of time. Wouldn’t you know I’d get stuck with a mean grandmother.”

When Grandma finally passed on, Deana inherited enough money for her dream trip to Hawaii. That could have been considered a piece of good fortune, but: “I dread that long flight. Bet they lose my luggage, too. No telling what all will go wrong.

When the plane’s engines coughed and sputtered, emitting flames and smoke on its nose-dive into the Pacific, Deana wasn’t even surprised. She had time to remove her oxygen mask and say to her screaming seat-mate, “Well, wouldn’t you just know it. I bet my flotation device won’t work. Probably sharks in the water, too. Unlucky again.”

She was right.

 

The Girl with the Sympathetic Face

“And then he says, ‘I’ll leave when the kids graduate high school, and we’ll get married.’ But when that time came, his wife was sick, had to have an operation and he didn’t feel like he could leave then. It was always one thing or another, and now I’m forty-five and I’ve wasted the best years of my life….”

“Mmm-hmm.”

Lily had a face that attracted confidences. Her bus ride to work was filled with revelations from total strangers. They made a bee-line for the empty seat beside her. Lily neither invited nor rejected these stories, some of which continued over days and weeks. In fact, she seldom commented. Yet the stories poured forth. To her, they seemed like the patchwork quilts her mother used to make: splashes of color, recognizable scraps of cloth, but assembled in a different way.

“The doctor said I gotta quit drinking, but I told him I’m no quitter!” said one bulbous-nosed fellow-traveler, wheezing out a cloud of alcohol-laden laughter.

Lily recoiled from his fumes, but she only said, ‘Mmm-hmm.”

She did her best to remain detached from all the stories, but sometimes detachment didn’t feel good. A weary young mother confessed to locking her little ones in the car while she grocery-shopped.

“I know it’s wrong, but it’s just so hard to lug them all into the store and settle the fights about who rides where in the cart. And they pull things off the shelves; I never know what I’ll have to pay for when I get to check-out.”

Lily bit her tongue. She wanted to say, “Don’t you know how dangerous it is to leave them alone? Can’t someone watch them while you shop?” But that would sound judgmental, and her opinion hadn’t been requested. So she said, “Mmm-hmm.” She worried about it all day.

Lily would try to avoid contact by bending intently over her phone, or  holding up the printed pages of a newspaper like a shield. Didn’t matter. Someone would sit down beside her, say “Good morning,” and of course, she’d respond. She couldn’t not respond. Then the story would begin and she’d resign herself again to the role of listener.

His eye was multi-colored. There was an oozing red cut on his forehead and his lip was puffy. Obviously, he’d taken a beating. Lily hoped against hope that he’d pass her seat, but inevitably he sat down beside her and started talking.

“Bet you wonder why I’m not in school,” he began. Lily shrugged. “I’m not going any more because I’m in this…club, like…and I’ve got things I gotta do.”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“My mom, she was all up in my face crying and stuff when I got jumped in. She don’t understand, it’s tough on the street, you gotta have homies to watch your back.”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“So now, I gotta show I can be trusted. Like, I hafta deliver this package to a guy.”

Lily could guess what was in the package. She felt a need to speak that could not be repressed.

“Don’t you think you’d be better off staying in school, maybe learn a trade and get ready for life?”

“Huh! You sound just like my mom.” The young man glared at her, got up and changed  seats.

The mother dumped her toddler like a sack of potatoes in the seat next to Lily, with a slap to stifle his tears. The little boy looked to be about two. His nose was bubbling with green mucous, and one eye was crusted shut. He gave off an unpleasant odor of unchanged diapers and sour milk. The mother plopped herself down across the aisle and pointedly looked away.

One blue eye, the one that could still open, looked up at Lily. Then he bent forward and vomited on her shoes. In the ensuing commotion of searching for tissues and wiping up what could be wiped, Lily never noticed the mother leave. When she glanced across the aisle, she saw an empty seat.

The hopeless slump of the little boy’s shoulders made something turn over in Lily’s heart. His probable future flashed through her mind: police, social workers, foster care, a string of homes and schools, maybe life in an orphanage, or worst of all, his horrible mother reclaiming him. No more, I can’t take any more, she thought, as she carried him up to the bus driver, a seven-foot journey she knew would change his life forever.

Lily took the next day off from work and nine a.m. found her at a car dealership. “I’m here to buy a car,” she told the salesman. “I’m done riding the bus.”

“Of course,” he replied, happy to have a solid prospect sitting in front on him. Just then his cell phone rang. He excused himself and stepped into the hall. When he came back, his face was creased with worry.

“Sorry,” he said. “Trouble at home. I’ve got this teenage stepdaughter. That was her school; she’s not there again today. She needs a firm hand, but her mother goes ballistic if I try to discipline her.”

Lily knew at that moment she might change her ride, but she couldn’t change her face. She settled down to listen.

“Mmm-hmm.”