Review- Book Marketing is Dead: Book Promotion Secrets You MUST Know BEFORE You Publish Your Book by Derek Murphy

 

 

I know, I am late to the party again with this 2013 release with 2016 forward but… I have a funny story to tell.

First, the Description:

How to sell a ton of books (even if you’re starting with no platform). If you’ve found this book I’m assuming you have or will soon have a book out on the market, and are exploring ways to turn it into a best-selling powerhouse that will slaughter the competition and pay for your retirement. The indie publishing world is thrilling because of the possible returns, and I hope you and your book do well. You’re probably searching for things like “book marketing” and “book promotion” so you can learn how to find readers and convince them to buy your book. But almost everything you read will be wrong.That’s because marketing in general is dead. Advertising is dead. Selling and convincing people to buy: also dead. The new law of book sales is this: if you’re talking about your book, promoting your book, sharing your book… you’re screwing it all up. Don’t make “Old School” marketing mistakes that will sabotage your efforts! This book will help you to…

  • Avoid the common mistakes that kill book sales
  • Set up an author platform quickly that will triple your results
  • Use Social Media (like an expert) without being annoying
  • Advertise for maximum impact (at the lowest cost)
  • Make powerful friends online who can move thousands of books

Before you spend a lot of money on book marketing services or author publicity… Make sure you’ve plugged all the holes in your sales funnel so you’re not throwing money away. If you’re looking for a “Bestseller Campaign” but don’t have a big budget… This book will show you plenty of ways to improve sales without spending a dime.

Now the Funny:

Over the past year, I have seen Derek Murphy on You Tube while searching in a desperate, late-night manner for help with book marketing. His awkwardness and his soothing gravel-voice always put me at ease. I took in and nodded at everything he said.

I’m a good student, I swear. After all, I learned Russian in a year from those ladies at DLI and somehow survived. But I didn’t practice what Derek Murphy preached. While I nodded, agreed, and clicked on more videos, my left hand looked for quick fixes. Those one-time bandits in the book marketing world.

About a month ago, I was on a long stakeout (I moonlight as a Private Investigator) and I had Audible credits burning a hole in my pocket. I searched “book marketing” and found this book.

I did not, however, put the author and the videos I already watched together. Perhaps because I work 3 jobs + writing. Perhaps I am my own worst enemy.

This book is a new template for my Battle Plan. Because I want Letters Never Meant to be Read to be a thing, and because I want Letters pouring in from all over the world, I needed some guidance.

What I Liked:

This book is full of the basic concepts that don’t require an attempt at bludgeoning new readers into advertised submission.

Derek Murphy talks about marketing as we know it far into the actual book. He emphasizes having your pages, cover, reviews, and author platform in place before putting any money up for advertisement.

Also, the concept of stacking marketing efforts is much easier for my military brain to understand and more clever than hoping on those one-offs.

Unlike what most people think of authors, I am an extrovert and I love to make friends.

This is a blessing and a curse. Pitching my book to people is easy in person. Where I have failed in the past with social media is blasting “Buy My Book!” type stuff which Murphy warns against. I now see how silly this is. It’s hard to stop.

Instead, I need to use my talents for making friends and be the all-around likable guy I already am. I NEED to actually meet people on the web, which is awkward for me even though I can talk on the phone for days.

I am doing this, Derek Murphy. I am out there replying to Tweets instead of re-Tweeting after reading articles. I used to read anyway, then just re-Tweet. How dumb. These are difficult habits to break.  I feel awkward sometimes, but I just remind myself that most people are real and will respond similar to what they would in person.

I am also working on my battle plan. I have a 15 short story collection coming out soon, and I will make the stars align just as Mr. Murphy suggested. I will align the free days for Letters Never Meant to be Read, I will run simple Facebook ads for my book page, and I will get reviews. Slowly but surely.

The truth is, I like it better and I get discouraged less by marching the slow ground. The easy solution that my left hand looks for, that quick fix, is always there.

In reality, there is no silver bullet to shoot off when it comes to book marketing. I know that now but I have to remember, daily. Derek Murphy explains so many pitfalls, some I have already toppled into, head-first. I feel silly, but I have to keep moving.

 

What I Don’t Like:

If you’re looking for a “Bestseller Campaign” but don’t have a big budget… This book will show you plenty of ways to improve sales without spending a dime.

Yes, it does this OK. I tallied all of his advice and you would need some chump change. If you want to do it “right” you will need a little more. Every time he mentioned a figure, I cringed when I added it to my total. Not his fault, but I am an unfortunate older millennial with 3+ jobs and “My number is negative, I work for a negative number…” 

Of course, I was looking at it through the goggles of my latest Letters Book and I know what I need to do.

Some tasks I’ve already done since reading this book, like fixing my Amazon page, optimizing keywords, and  adjusting my categories using almostfreemoney on Fiverr. Worth every penny.

I’ve signed up for MailChimp but that is as far as I’ve gone so far, sorry Derek. I HATE pop-ups and I only signed up for yours on CreativIndie because I wanted to. For the most part, I ignore my email. I KNOW that email lists are important and I will come around and find my way eventually.

I also  have a hard time with his other section on reviews. I advertised that I would do book reviews on my blog. I did not solicit or ask for  reviews in return. Most of the books I bought and I will continue to buy with Kindle Unlimited or Audible Credits unless I need an ARC to do the review.

Yesterday, I received a nastygram from Amazon with a warning about reviews which I can only assume are the ones I got from other authors or a marketing campaign. Murphy does warn about this. If authors are in the same category, you can get tripped up. I didn’t think I was in competition with any of the reviewers. The Amazon warning, which is not uncommon, doesn’t give specifics, go figure.

This is less of a knock on Derek Murphy and more of a pleading to Amazon. If I lost access to selling books, I don’t know what I would do. This is my dream, my purpose. Amazon doesn’t care and is likely ran by a robot that has no feelings. Still, I need that mean robot.

I also get the feeling from his latest videos that Derek is getting away from helping authors to work on his fiction. That’s understandable. Perhaps I am reading him wrong here, but I need him to stay with me for a little while longer, or come back someday.

How this Book Changes My Writing:

Collaboration. I am working on a psychological thriller now with AM Hounchell and it is quite exiting. I am also thinking about the next book or series in a different light. I want to write something that will market itself. For some of you that think this is selling out, I don’t care, and neither does Mr. Murphy. I want to be prolific. If that means writing what people want to read for awhile, fine. The Beatles did it, then went on to make what they really wanted. In this case, The Beatles and Derek Murphy can’t be wrong.

5 Stars

Ok. I’ve spent some time here and this is a long post. I love this book and have listened to it 2.5 times in the car and at home. I am making my battle plan and this is my manual of sorts. I will have to buy the print version too so I can circle things and make notes. Derek Murphy does mention in a more recent version that there are some things that might not be valid any longer.

I want to thank Derek Murphy for writing this book. I know he sold a bunch of copies the past four years, but he has given me hope. And that, Dear Reader, is priceless.

Derek’s site: Creativindie  Post after post of helpful guidance.

Watch Derek Murphy on YouTube

Follow Derek Murphy on Twitter @Creativindie

 

 

Check out D.S. Murphy’s latest fiction:

 

 

Buy the Reviewed Book here:

 

My Latest Book:

Book Review: The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

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I recently read, or rather, listened to The 48 Laws of Power on audible. My friend had the physical book and I shuddered at the length in print form, but love long books for my listening pleasure in the car. Enjoy history and powerful quotes? This book is packed full of both.

I must warn you though, most people either love or hate this book. If followed directly, it may turn you into a charlatan, or a politician.

Description:

Robert Greene and Joost Elffers have distilled three thousand years of the history of power into 48 essential laws by drawing from the philosophies of Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, and Carl Von Clausewitz and also from the lives of figures ranging from Henry Kissinger to P.T. Barnum.
 
Some laws teach the need for prudence (“Law 1: Never Outshine the Master”), others teach the value of confidence (“Law 28: Enter Action with Boldness”), and many recommend absolute self-preservation (“Law 15: Crush Your Enemy Totally”). Every law, though, has one thing in common: an interest in total domination. In a bold and arresting two-color package, The 48 Laws of Power is ideal whether your aim is conquest, self-defense, or simply to understand the rules of the game.

 

Powerful Quotes from the book (There are so many)

 

“person who cannot control his words shows that he cannot control himself, and is unworthy of respect.”
― Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

“Remember: The best deceivers do everything they can to cloak their roguish qualities. They cultivate an air of honesty in one area to disguise their dishonesty in others. Honesty is merely another decoy in their arsenal of weapons.”
― Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

“The key to power, then, is the ability to judge who is best able to further your interests in all situations. Keep friends for friendship, but work with the skilled and competent.”
― Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

 

More quotes from Robert Greene can be found and interpreted on Goodreads.

 

What I like about this book:

Historical significance. This is packed with examples from history, quotes, and famous writings. Even if you are not interested in “playing the game”, looking at history in this point of view is quite enticing. If you want to find ways to improve your life as a predator, this book will work for you too.

This is not exactly self-help but applying these tactics with historical backing could really set you apart. To a degree, I believe in this book. I think it is important to take the life lessons from history and apply them to your situation. It is also important to understand how those in power achieve it, and how they maintain. Simply ignoring power plays can leave you feeling stranded and alone. At the very least, one can find a way to watch out for the traps of others.

What I don’t like about this book:

This is for the lone wolf. Yes, it does call for socialization to achieve power, but it does not promote the aspects of teamwork. In this light, everyone is using each other. Not exactly team friendly, right? I’m not always a shark to the people I’m trying to collaborate with. Should I be?

Even though I have the ability to manipulate situations, this book does not address a group mindset unless you are the top dog. You have to be willing to assert yourself and bend the will of others to achieve your goals. What about common goals? What about teammates?

4-Stars

Robert Greene has several books of this genre and over 2000 reviews with 4.6 stars on Amazon for this book alone. Must be doing something right.

Research, I imagine all of his books take years to come to fruition and copious amounts of time spent between other people’s pages. Hats off to him and his work. While I don’t want to read this kind of book every day, I will be reading/listening to more of his work with my Audible credits in the future.

How it applies to writing:

This book is well-written and the narration is gold. This spawned some of my writing marathons the past few weeks that had nothing to do with the content of the book. It is always good to branch out and read another genre, especially a work that is crafted in this way. Might have been the narrator, but the work provoked ideas and a writing fury in me that had nothing to do with the book.

Since I have my own narrator that talks to me too much, it’s always nice when I get a change in voice for the better.

Also, as we are all now Authorpreneurs, it is important to keep a business sense as you go out there in the world. Nothing has to be taken literally, but honing in on some aspects of this book will surely keep you from getting ripped off by the book marketing charlatans, of which there are many.

A hilarious, illustrated summary of the 48 Laws can be found here on YouTube

A blog-style cheat sheet can be found here on Sam Parr’s blog 

A link to buy the book on Amazon here

In Review – Letters Never Meant to be Read

REBLOG: Thank you so much for reading our collection.

Bookishly

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Letters Never Meant to be Read by Marc Crepeaux, Kristi Denker, Joel Dockery, Brandon Lawrence, Meghan Rynn
Published by: Rusty Wheels Media, LLC
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 107
Format: Kindle Edition

4-star


About The Book:

Sometimes angry, occasionally sad and often with humorous quotes, the authors of Letters Never Meant to be Read share their views on life with the power of the written word. In the today’s world of 3 second text messaging, emojis and Facebook, most people don’t know how to write a letter that connects with others. Imagine the effect that you could have on the object of your unrequited love, if you could express yourself through letter writing!

Letters Never Meant to be Read contains a compelling series of writings which have been created by five accomplished authors. Immerse yourself in these amazing letters and allow your full range of emotions to be experienced as you…

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Who’s That Indie Author? Marc D. Crepeaux

Such a great blog for Indie Authors to discover and share. Thank you.

Book Club Mom

whos-that-indie-author
Author name
:  Marc D. Crepeaux

Genre:  Crime, Poetry, Letters and Correspondence

Books: Modern Waste; Worked Stiff: Poetry and Prose for the Common; Letters Never Meant to be Read (collaborative)

Bio:  Marc D. Crepeaux is a curator, editor and writer for Letters Never Meant to be Read. Marc has also authored the gritty, Southern crime novel Modern Waste and the poetry collection Worked Stiff: Poetry and Prose for the Common. He is from Killawog, NY and spent much of his late-teens and early twenties in NYC where he acted like a maniac. He now works as an English teacher and a Captain in the Army Reserves, among other entrepreneurial endeavors, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing. Marc lives in a more calming environment with his wife, two daughters, two dogs, and two fish in Rome, GA.

Favorite thing about being a…

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Why Audible and ACX are a MUST for Indie Authors

With Audible pushing advertising and more people reading on the go, it just makes sense for Indie Authors to add the Audio book to their means of reaching readers.

It used to be that Audio books were limited to CD’s that got lost or scratched in the car. Now, people are consuming books via Bluetooth on their handheld supercomputers  at rapid rates on iTunes and Audible. With membership programs on Audible and decent pricing, the consumer only need to push a few buttons and be entertained during that long commute to nowhere.

For Indie Authors who want an edge as well as another revenue stream, ACX, owned by Amazon, is the best there is. Using their royalty system, an author can sample, audition, and hire professional voice actors without spending any money upfront. Funds, after ACX gets their cut, are split between the author and voice actor, known as the producer. You can hire the producer via royalty or pay their hourly rate. ACX has strict standards, so one does not have to worry about quality control. You can also go out on a limb and produce the work yourself with ACX.

For my first book Modern Waste, I was propositioned by Scott Pollak after hanging my 50/50 royalty split audition out there. The voice of NPR Atlanta, Scott wanted to do my book because it had the North Georgia flavor he knew well and I needed several Southern accents due to my unique and long character list. He did a great job and I was able to ask Scott to edit a few parts after the final product was delivered. The experience was great, easy, and exciting.

Having an audio version of your book for sale on Amazon can help with your professional status. When customers see you have an eBook, print, and audio, it gives a sense of the complete package. One of the challenges I see going forward with Letters Never Meant to be Read is just how to get several voices for an anthology? While this may not be possible in the current configuration, I can rest easy knowing my short-story collection Worked Stiff: Short Stories to Tell Your Boss will one day be read by a professional.

As a rabid consumer of Audio books, I have found another way to consume books while driving and I am able to hone my craft of writing in ways I never thought possible. While writing my next short-story collection, I tore through anthologies and collections to keep myself in the zone and my mind open to the possibilities of the form.

There is so much to choose from on Audible too, from 30 minute erotica for 48 cents to history books that will take you a whole month to listen to on your morning commute. When I get in the car, I can’t wait to push play, especially now, as I am listening to Edgar Allan Poe – The Complete Short Stories.

Read and Write on, Dear Reader, in any way you choose. Do so often, I dare you…

“The Paratrooper” -A Story a Day

“The Paratrooper” first appeared as a poem in my book Worked Stiff: Poetry and Prose for the Common but I decided to give a more meat to those bones and give the young man a little background as he made his decent. Even though I will likely never jump again after my neck surgery, I look back on all those Airborne Days with a great fondness for the camaraderie and exhilaration that is being a Paratrooper. Also the fact that, as a young Rigger officer, I packed my own parachute-twice, and my ocean jump in Tampa. I can’t help but think that I have been a part of the history that started at Camp Toccoa and continues to develop to this day. I would also be remiss not to include this awesome old school Airborne video for your enjoyment.

Feedback is always appreciated.

 

The Paratrooper

 

Time stops but the figures before the man keep moving. On and on, they perform with a lone purpose in mind. The boy finds his body in ritual too, copying their every move and singing. The grumbling beast then turns on its side, just when the birds thought that particular section of the sky was safe. The move for another pass captures the boy’s stomach. His will to ever say no again is gone. The men in front of the line all hook-up and chant, Private Mitchell does the same.

He turns around to see that nobody is there to copy his movements. There is no one there to push him out if he doesn’t seem to have the action required at the door. Mitchell is the last in his line and the time is coming. He knows this to be deathly true as the other men near the door show an inch on their fingers. The chant and sign echoed by the lines of the willing. All were done in ritual before, now this is for real. He tries to pretend it is not real, that this is another rehearsal and he is waiting in the long line on the ground in the hot sun, merely to jump off a pedestal again and again.

The fear inside of Private Mitchell is so great that it reaches absurdity. Boiling over, he can only smile and sheer himself out of his physical form. He can hear nothing. He can feel nothing but death playing the odds, rolling the dice on his behalf. He examines his body and his gear as he hovers above himself. He watches the soldier he once knew as a boy walk towards the door. Mitchell recognizes the boy somewhere in the face, but only a little. The youth he once knew for what seemed like a lifetime in the bathroom mirror of his mom’s house was fading. It was a lifetime, a lifetime that is now vanishing.  Private Mitchell watches himself hand off his static line. His life turned over in trust to another, grittier man’s hands. Time allows only a momentary stare with the man, a real man. This cracks Private Mitchell back into his own body, that knowing look.

He exits the door into a sudden free-fall, and intense wind steals the young man’s lungs. Broccoli and toy trucks below morph into a pause for judgment. The soldier’s mind can only whirl through the many decisions he has made. Did he need to bomb that test? Did he need to take her out? Did he need to buy that car? Those and certain events have driven him into this life, into this panic.

“Well, if you are going to go off and join the godforsaken Army instead of going to college, the least you could do is keep your room clean when you come to visit,” Mom said when he brought home the pamphlets and a way out. She had her way of sneaking in jolts here and there to deal with pain.

“Yeah, I tried to join the Marines once, only lasted about three weeks, had to come home,” Uncle Bill said while they were digging a ditch in his yard the spring before he went to basic. “I was too tired all the time. Your aunt Nadine was the true reason, couldn’t spend one day without her. We weren’t married then, yet, but I worried that she would go and marry Bobby Burleson instead if I never came back. It pained the shit out of me more than any of the exercises and the yelling.”

With the air swirling around, Mitchell thinks of all the girls he flirted with in high school, even the one he met at that party, the one that went to Roschell High instead of his own school. The one that let him in, took his virginity and left. The one he scored. She wasn’t here, none of them were. There was nobody to leave this panic for.

Private Mitchell wonders if it will end. He feels the slight relief that perhaps he could just perish here with the adrenaline soaking in his blood. How romantic. The paper headlines back home would be righteous and his mother would get the four-hundred thousand they promised his beneficiary, the only choice on the form. Maybe she would pay off the car.

No, a snap of his torso gives Private Mitchell dangerous hope. His eyes look in wonder straight up at this moment’s only love. He can only guess this violence of body must mean survival. The pain in his groin from the leg straps and the burning around his neck must mean he has made it. A canopy, a savior, a prince.

Work to do now to ensure the rest goes well. Proper descent is only up to him and the ritual he remembers, wait. The soldier catches a peak of the horizon, the beautiful reality meeting him at his same level. The unreachable is there. Eye to eye, mesmerized to be equal to the Earth and the Sun. The spectacle has captured only him, is only for him. Mitchell’s eyes follow the streaks of light to the ground, past the tops of his trusty boots, an act the ritual warned against. They said he must never ever look straight down as he has just now. He forces his head back to the horizon, his eyes must not betray the work.

The soldier pulls with all his might this way and that. He combats the wind with his silk savior. He looks to the trees for permission. The sign is there to release his only belongings to the feared below. Down the weight of the ruck sack zings on a line, stopping far enough under his feet. He released his weapon case, it doesn’t follow suit. His actions are violent, frantic. It has all gone so well up to this point. Finally, the equipment obeys.

The time is coming, and soon. His eyes were no longer equal with the horizon, they are starting to recognize things that normal men see.

“Be loose! Be loose!” the soldier cries only to himself, his feet and knees together. Mantra, mantra, all the way down. He can anticipate no more or the sheer act will kill him altogether…

“Oomph!” The air leaves his body as he rolls to counteract the hit. Tall blades, crisp and sweet, had no idea he was coming. They are his forced friends now. They are who he will give all his life to. A reassuring fraction of a second without swelling pain is taken as a litmus. That is all the soldier needs to know that he has survived.

He cackles, playful as a child, the spilling parachute covers him like a blanket.

 

 

 

 

“Secrets of a Wife”- A Story a Day

Secrets of a Wife is a short regarding certain aspects of modern marriage. I will be posting a story a day for a good while. These short-stories and shorts will likely be a part of the next collection in the Worked Stiff Series, Worked Stiff: Short-Stories to Tell Your Boss. Your feedback is always appreciated. Happy Reading!

Secrets of a Wife

Back at the house, Linda continued to tidy up the kitchen. When she stashed the cookies and made small preparations for her usual guest, the act felt both methodical and therapeutic. These small actions tended to make her appear human for a change, less problematic. Linda remembered when she hated the domestic portions of married life so much that she opted for a live in maid. This idea had thrilled both her and her husband at the time. Having both adults out of the house fourteen hours a day meant flying over and past domestic responsibilities. The maid filled the void, gave an anchor to the cave that was their home.

She chuckled to herself as she dried the cookie sheets, as her mother had done, the auto washer idle for weeks. She remembered her forty-two-year-old self-setting the clever maid trap for her husband. Yes, they did need someone to take care of them and watch over the house. Yes, they both agreed this was the best solution for their hectic but loving home. She took it upon herself to hire a live-in servant. She also made it a point to find the most beautiful. The top candidate had been a graduate student at her university, in another department of course. She chose a person she felt could be more trusted with her possessions, but not her husband. This was a test, for her at least. Linda thought that she could gauge what her husband, and all men for that matter, lusted after.

As smart and accomplished as she was, in this, she couldn’t have been more wrong. Linda found just the right treat too, someone who was both pretty and smart. The new hire was intelligent, yet easily domesticated and, the most important trait, fertile. This was a test not only of her husband’s affection for other women but litmus for a promise that had defined their marriage. No children, careers prominent. Linda thought that if she tricked her husband by getting him to bite on the pretty maid, adultery would have been nothing compared to the misunderstanding of their shared life purpose, their work.

Linda had obtained two doctorate degrees from different universities, taught geology at a third, won numerous awards, and published works all over her field, spilling into others. For a time when she cared, she was surpassing Michael’s academic success with ease and quiet competition. Michael was so supportive, and still was after Linda turned her back to corporate fortune and decided to stay an academic. Michael knew that in order to make his machines breathe life, he would undoubtedly have to be successful and earn hoards of money. That was his option, but in her mind, she was still smarter for not taking the cake. She reinforced this choice to herself while taking off her apron and worrying about the corporate goons whispering in the shadows, plotting against Michael’s success.

She made her way upstairs in her parent’s old house and stood in front of the mirror. She looked at and touched softly the neck and shoulders seen in the reflection. She hardly recognized these parts as hers. She thought: “How could I have failed to lure my husband between the legs of another woman?” Linda had suspicion all along that what he really wanted was a plaything housewife. All the while, she was ignoring what she still truly desired, to bear children. She tried to prescribe her own cure onto a twenty-three-year-old beauty. It didn’t work. Her stupid, sweet, dog-haired husband had the dapper sensibilities and the eccentric charm to be both the best thing for a young, smart play-bunny trap, and the worst. He was completely oblivious to the advances of younger, attractive women that he struck out already on several known sexual conquests. Michael was awkward. Linda caught him a few times looking in public, especially from behind, so she thought she made just the right choice in maids.

In the end, Linda knew less about her husband’s extramarital tastes and even less about herself. A few weeks after the maid quit, finished with her degree, Michael looked up blank from his toast and asked, “Where’s Cindy?”

Remembering she expected company, Linda changed into less domestic apparel and tucked those facts, along with many other secrets, into a tiny box below her stomach.

 

“Midnight Fare” -A story a day

Here is another for the collection and your pre-football Thanksgiving entertainment. Let me know how you like the ending…

 

 

Midnight Fare

The driver fumbled for his phone, eager to call the number given to him by his dispatcher. Roger Dallingher was anxious to start making money which he would later count in front of his aging wife. She would put the bounty into separate piles to dole out later to other people. That is how it worked and that is all Roger knew, except if he didn’t come home with the right amount, his wife Tina would go on for days about how little Bobby wouldn’t be able to go to camp or Wanda would be without shoes. She might not even make him dinner or let him sleep in the bed if the figure was not correct, so he had to stay out. Roger needed to pound the streets on this hot summer night and stay with the people, stay with the money. He had to fill his back seat to continue getting paid.

“Liberty Urgent Care, how may I help you?”

Roger sighed before responding, thinking of poor people without cell phones trying to pay him an actual fare, let alone tip. “Ah, yeah, this is the driver from A Plus Taxi?” He responded with another question, Roger hated it when other people did that to him, he thought it was a sign of weakness and was unsure why he was doing it now. Roger felt off.

“OK, well, you’re here now are you?”

“Yes sir.”

“Our member will be right out.”

“Member? What is this, a yacht club?” Roger asked out loud after hanging up the phone, he did that more and more towards the end of a long shift. He also realized that he was on the ambulance only side of the facility. His old Crown Victoria lurched and squeaked as it made its way to the “member” side. He saw the guard wave a protective hand, bringing the car in.

The shiny badge ducked away before producing a little old lady with a slow, cautious walk and a brand new sling, set carefully on her left arm. The guard eased her into the back seat.

“Where to ma’am?”

“Well…let’s see now” she looked around her new surroundings, “OK, go to Gadston, yes, and take a right, ah…no, that’s not quite… oh just go out to Gadston, I’ll be able to tell you when we get there.”

“Alright, ma’am.” Roger turned on the meter and rolled out of the parking lot toward Gadston Parkway. The empty restaurants still lit up the sky and left a haze over everything in the humidity. He came to the intersection spoken of and paused his accelerator, waiting for the woman to catch up with her decision.

“Ah, actually, you know what? Just go on straight ahead there, yes.” The woman’s thick accent made her graveled with age voice a little more soothing. She had a deep southern drawl, yet it was proper and kept. “And take a left onto Sulfur Road, yes.” The old woman was marking the time, same as Roger, going through her own directions in her mind. Roger preferred to know where his trips ended so that he could command the vehicle as any professional would, but in this case he obliged her uncertainty.

Recognizing a straight shot for a while, Roger felt it rude not to at least inquire over her injury. He felt that since she was taking a taxi at this hour, she didn’t have anyone to sympathize with her and he sure knew how to pass the uncomfortable time between strangers. Roger also asked because he thought he might even get a better tip.

“Did you break your arm, ma’am?”

“Yes, it’s quite silly. I was putting on my pajamas Saturday night, last night, yes.  I got caught up and fell against my chestnut set of drawers. I went on all day today but realized something must have been wrong by this afternoon, so I went in.”

“Sorry to hear that, ma’am.” Roger’s acceleration slowed again due to indecision, this time, his own. He had thought the next left to be Sulfur Road but didn’t see a street sign to confirm. He cruised past the intersection real slow, not yet committing to the left. He came to a coasting stop just in the middle of the road. No one was out, no one to care. The young man and the old lady were the only two in existence that night for miles. “That might have been Sulfur Road, but it wasn’t marked.” Roger had not felt in line with his own intuition for the past few days, something which he felt necessary for his profession.

“Well…I’m not sure, let’s see here…” She looked around and out of the car as best she could, trying to recognize a landmark amongst the humid haze and the stores that didn’t care at all about their electric bill. “Everything has just changed so much, I don’t recognize anything these days.”

Just then, Roger grabbed a peak at her through the rear-view and noticed the woman’s eyes-they were beautiful, stunning, and as green as the grass on every lawn there ever was. She was an old woman with pale skin, but her eyes gave off just enough of an exotic look to make her unique. Roger knew of old women whose blue eyes faded over the years and turned gray, his mother’s, for example, or even his wife, but this lady was different. Roger began to wonder if all green-eyed people were different like that. He glanced at her red sweater, she sported some typical jewelry for her age, and even though she had been visiting doctors all day, her hair and makeup were still quite perfect.

The driver’s intuition snapped back into focus, he pulled a U-turn as comfortable as he could. “Ah, that was it, don’t worry ma’am, I know where we are.” And just as if they had worked through the problem together, he said with confidence, “Sulfur Road.”

“Ah yes, this is it, isn’t it? Yes, I recognize it now, it’s a wonder how you do this business at night. I’m so glad it’s you…” At that, Roger raised an eyebrow. He heard that kind of before I pass out let me tell you tone from the drunks before. Roger looked in his review mirror hoping she hadn’t fallen off the cliff of drugs and exhaustion in the backseat before giving her address in confidence.

Roger almost swerved clear off the road at what he saw. The woman he had guessed at about seventy was now a serene southern belle in her twenties. Her hair was gorgeous, with a straight part and purposeful curls at the ends. She sat erect, not looking at him, but at the road, lips pursed, with a tad look of concern in her eyes.

Roger’s face snapped forward, he took back ready command of his old Crown Victoria. “Yes driver, in two lights, make a left.” Her voice was not grumbled with age or drugs from the hospital. Her sweet sound swept past her perfect, kissable lips. They were not wrinkled with age around the edges as before. This made Roger’s heart jump, his ears had now confirmed what his eyes had seen. He caught another glimpse, though, only to gain another detail for his mental scrapbook. She wore a string of black pearls on her porcelain neck, her dress of white lace made her brunette curls shine in the night. Roger filled his nose with a deep conscious breath, taking in her classic perfume which filled his once smoky cab. One more sense to confirm his dazzling observations. He dare not speak, nor do anything else but drive. Roger squeezed his hands around ten and two and blinked a few times out the windshield to make sure he was still in control.

“Yes, this- turn here, now- and when you get to an all-way stop, just go on straight through, then make your first right after, yes.” She reassured herself she knew the way, which made Roger know the way too, like a good soldier obeying his orders.

“Yes, ma’am.” He quivered. Roger dare not say anything else, do anything else lest he breaks the spell. Her voice and sweet accent melted his northern ears. He candled in his seat as they approached the four-way. The driver followed her every direction for the next few miles, going through a new neighborhood to an old back road with the houses farther and farther apart.

“Dear, if you could, pull on into the next drive on your right, just a ways down ahead, yes.”

“Alright ma’am,” the driver said, catching glances and feeling her presence. She never looked directly at him in the mirror, allowing herself to be observed. She kept to the distant glare as if driving herself, looking into the turn, even if he wasn’t. The Ford and its two passengers pulled into the long gravel drive. Roger couldn’t see her house by the roadway, great Magnolia trees skirted the property. The driver feared what would happen to her when they reached their destination. He turned down her drive and they crossed over a small bridge traversing a duck pond. The house they finally came to was modest and older with wide porches, chipping and weathered paint-its setting held all the charm.

Roger pulled to the side closest to the front porch, taking in where he was and instinctively put the car into park. He read the meter and turned on the interior light. Delighted Roger found that although he shocked the mood, she was still as beautiful and young as before. He could steal her all in at this moment as she was fumbling through her clutch for the fare. Roger swept himself back to a time he hardly knew. It was 1967 and he was in love at a social with this doll, a true beauty. She had a simple and classic look that women his age now just didn’t understand, Tina definitely didn’t understand.

“Will this do? You’ve been so kind.” She handed him a crisp twenty from the same era as her dress.

“Yes, just fine ma’am.” Roger took the bill from her, not even taking a glance at the once precious bounty. He couldn’t take his eyes off her.

“It has been just a dreadful day, won’t be any better tomorrow I fear.” Roger pulled himself from the chasm of her gorgeous green eyes that pierced his soul and remembered his duty. He hurried to the place he should have been, opening the lady’s door. Just as he pulled her latch he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him again and his heart sank. Gulping down his disappointment, he stood for a moment then assisted the injured woman of seventy with a red sweater out of his backseat.

“There you go,” He strained to get her upright, not because of her weight but he was trying to avoid the injury.

“Oh, you are a nice young man. I’m afraid my purse is still in the car, would you get it for me?” He obeyed, just the same as when she was beautiful. Roger walked her with tenderness to her door but she began having trouble with the key meeting the lock.

“Let me help you there,” he took her keys from her, squinted in the moonlight, unlocked and opened the heavy door.

“Oh dear, thank you so much.” They were close as he reached under her good forearm to brace her as he would his grandmother for that final step. They stood together in the darkness of the foyer, she was at once sturdy on level ground but he was unsure about what to do next. “Would you mind turning on the light over there? You’ve been so kind.”

Roger obeyed. He would do anything to see her young again. As he turned back from the switch, relief filled his veins as he saw her standing there, white lace dress, clutch in hand, staring him right in the eyes with the purpose of anxious and nervous youth. He could smell her, he wanted her. To kiss her meant everything just then and her eyes beckoned him closer. One foot in front of the other, he approached. An awkward gentleman, he almost asked but then thought better of it. Roger took off his driving cap and laid it on the side table. He put one arm around the small of her back and closed his eyes to meet her gentle mouth.

As he made his move, the beautiful southern belle grew and grew in length, meeting the high ceiling with the top of her head. Torso curving, her snake body rose over the puckered up driver. Her dress tore clean off, black pearls scattered across the floor.

Roger opened his eyes, wondering why they hadn’t kissed yet. Instead, he cocked his head up and saw the serpent staring at him from above with those same enchanting green eyes and spiny layers of small razor teeth. Roger just stood there, frozen. The spell she had over him wouldn’t let him even think about running now. With a hiss and a guttural grunt, the serpent opened her mouth shoulder wide. The man just watched, eyes blistering from contact. It was as if this were all happening to someone else. She snapped her large flexible jaws over the top, engulfing half the man in one striking motion. Roger cried out a blood curdle that no one heard. His other half was more labored and took three or four large swallows but the driver’s heels were eventually in the air, taken down to the last. The serpent shuddered a few times to aid quick digestion before morphing back into her youthful, naked beauty. The beautiful, young, naked woman made her way up the creaking wood stairs for a long sleep.

Outside, vines and other predatory vegetation covered the car as the ground beneath slowly sank. The last to protrude was the glowing top light of a known, dangerous profession.

 

“The Nail” -A Story a Day

I will be posting a story a day for a good while. These short-stories and shorts will likely be a part of the next collection in the Worked Stiff Series, Worked Stiff: Short-Stories to Tell Your Boss. This one, “The Nail” will hit home if you or anyone you know has been addicted to opiates. Your feedback is always appreciated. Happy Reading!

 

The Nail

 

I was driving but I couldn’t quite figure out what to do next. Just drive, eat the road, and listen to that tire. The clack clack sounded like someone disappeared inside the hot rubber and was using a monotonous bang in the hopes of getting out. I offered the deputy on duty and the head nurse a less than stellar excuse to leave before I came upon my car and I saw it, that shiny little piece of metal protruding out of my hot tar of a summer afternoon. I immediately said to myself that I couldn’t drive with that tire and my next thought was to commandeer another car in the lot as if everyone left their keys under the sun visor like they did in the movies. Or, I thought it might be just great, even better, if I could steal a Sheriff’s cruiser and put on the lights as I drove mach eight down the interstate. None of these great ideas came to fruition as I frantically tossed my blond hair around the parking lot. I settled on driving my own Chevy Aveo instead.

I thought about tugging at the nail, pulling it right out of that rubber and leaving it to glint off the hot tar. I felt the head of it between my index finger and thumb before I got in and pulled away before I could do more damage. I remembered someone telling me, perhaps my father, when it came to nails or screws in your tire, rule number one was- don’t touch it. Rule number two was- get busy having it fixed, right away. I knew the actual repair would only be twenty bucks or so at any tire shop, of which I passed about thirty of them on the way to my destination. I just didn’t have the time. Every moment that went by left me more and more in a tizzy. I thought about Gabe sitting there behind bars, a victim of county cops south of the big city. I knew what they were like, I worked for them. I could not believe what he had done this time, but the thought of blaming him just wasn’t there. The only track that my mind was on was that of a solid rescue mission.

I worked as a nurse in the female ward of the Sheriff’s county lockup to the north, at least one solid hour of driving to Gabe, and that was without traffic. Most of my days were spent dealing with two extremes, either the overcooked drug user who was lucky just to be  alive and stable, the state really didn’t have the time or money to put them in a real hospital. The other extreme I had to deal with were the fights that occurred and the endless wounds that were their aftermath. Every day, three or four ladies would try their luck and get ahold of some contraband or drugs, but time behind locked, heavy doors made them weak and overreaching. They would fight over whatever it was and I would have to deal with the end result. When I graduated from two years of nursing school, I never imagined that I would take such a filthy job. All nursing was dirty to some degree but this was on another level. I spent so much time putting in stitches next to ones that were already there. My job was demeaning, hard labor, and I never left that parking lot with any kind of satisfaction, never any purpose, until that day.

As I blazed a trail going south on the highway, I thought about Gabe, yes, and how he needed to be rescued. The mission, I was focused on the mission, but I also couldn’t get away from that damn tire. The noise went away after I exceeded thirty miles per hour but I knew the nail was still there. What I didn’t know was whether my shiny metal friend was sinking itself deeper into that small clown circle on my Chevy or if I snapped its head off when I hit that pothole on the ramp getting on the interstate. I drove pretty fast on the regular, usually late to work, and always late to meet a friend as a rule. But I never imagined going that fast in such a tiny car.

My dad bought me that little beast when I graduated from nursing school. He thought it would be good on gas. I suppose he was right, but I know he is also thinking about his lead-foot for a daughter roaming around town in a machine with any kind of power would be dangerous for those around me. Little did he know that I would grind around town anyway as if I drove a Camaro, or my favorite, the Firebird, I always wanted a Firebird. Dad certainly didn’t know how fast I was going then with that nail in my tire. I can only imagine what he would have said if he had been in the passenger seat, holding on for dear life, the way he always did when I drove since those first lessons. His only little girl going down to rescue her boyfriend who escaped from expensive rehab only to be found by the police screaming and carrying on outside of a drugstore at two in the morning.

My parents never approved of Gabe. Heck, he pissed them off when he was sober. But after Gabe broke his jaw driving around the back woods on a four-wheeler without a helmet, he had the unfortunate opportunity of being addicted to opiates. This he took up with a great cause, which affected both of our lives and ultimately made my parents hate him more than I thought possible. For a while, before Gabe got caught with a stolen shotgun, before he got a first offender’s pass and went into court-ordered rehab, I knew I hated him too. He stole my iPad. Well, to be fair, he actually ordered my iPad, a nice birthday gift months before his accident, before everything changed. If he did sell my present for real money, it would have been pennies on the dollar. The only kind of currency Gabe really wanted was pills.

I remember it was hard for him to eat at first because he could only have the shakes that I made, his parents weren’t around to take care of him, nobody was. I tried to make a hamburger shake one time but he preferred the peanut butter and jelly overall. It was so nice for a while, having a boyfriend who couldn’t yell and complain about my cooking. All of his meals went to a little bit of slurry that he sipped through a big giant straw that the hospital gave out. Eventually, Gabe did complain about pain and about not being able to sleep or the position of his head. He would moan through the wires in the night and I would try to help him, but I knew what he really wanted, what he thought that he needed. He wanted more pills. I was a young nurse but I had seen it a hundred times. Doctors prescribe them and they do their job, but nobody ever thought about the after. Pills that he started eating in powder form were crushed up in my shakes. I tried to ration him as best I could, but he would get cranky and I wasn’t there all the time. I didn’t know that while I was at work, Gabe was finding the stash, crushing them up and snorting them straight to the dome. After a time he graduated, without my knowing, he began stealing syringes for my work bag.  He would crush up the pills, burn them like a free baser and inject the sweet juice directly into his veins.

This was the point when I started to freak out. I had known Gabe almost my entire life. We grew up together in the same neighborhood, we played in the same cul-de-sacs, and we jumped on the same trampoline. We went to the same school and eventually we both grew up, only in different ways. Gabe didn’t necessarily have any kind of direction in his life. His parents split during our senior year and they both left. Funny, at least one of them usually stays. His family’s pipe fitting business that Gabe was destined to one day lead was busted up too, most of the proceeds going to the attorneys I guessed. I begged and begged, and my parents let him live in our basement and finish out our last year of high school. That decision was against their better judgment, especially my father’s. He didn’t want to see his only daughter pregnant before he felt ready, but at the time, I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I even threatened to drop out and move in with Gabe. How gallant and how naïve I was then.

We made memories together, prom, driving, and sex for the first time that cold winter break afternoon when my parents were at work. Gabe and I seemed to be both lost and satisfied about being lost, the same way most teenagers are. I bought into the whole college thing, but I was the only one who talked about going. I did go and Gabe and I were serious, beating my Dad’s odds that I couldn’t do both, be serious with a boy and go to college at the same time. Gabe usually held one or two part-time jobs and I carried most of the burden of rent, groceries, and bills with my college money. This was where most of the animosity toward Gabe started, my parents’ feelings for charity had run out and they grew tired of supporting them. This was always a point of contention between us but I was used to throwing fits and getting my way.

After I finished my short but useful degree, we were both twenty, living together in a one-bedroom apartment in a complex, but only I had a job. A job with prospects that I hated but it was always there. I was paying my dues by working at the jail. Gabe always had some kind of harebrained scheme that he was cooking up, the next great investment strategy. He was susceptible to those pyramid schemes, usually confusing them for a real job. He never really concerned himself with keeping steady employment, starting a career. I tolerated this because, well, I suppose I didn’t know any better. Gabe reminded me of the innocence of our youth, lost to the world’s consideration of young adults. I could see my young, playful self in him and I knew he saw the same in me. I loved him. I loved him and we both had a singular passion- a game we’ve been playing since the start- an online fantasy world where we could continue growing and playing together, just like in the cul-de-sacs of our youth.

This fantasy world we shared every day after I got out of work. We played for hours together, even on separate machines in the same room, as if we were kids all over again. Sure we were kids, but after we were done with games for the night, we got to drink real alcohol and had real sex, our feet playfully straddling the doorway of adulthood and innocence. What a life.

I thought about all these things, our short but warm history as I blazed a trail down the interstate. I wanted things to go back the way they were before his injury and my mind tossed between that wish and the hope that my tire would hold until I got there to save him. I never had a tire blow before, only heard about people who had to wrestle with their steering wheel after a big blow, especially on the highway. I had seen them before, poor saps clinging to the side of the road, defeated and waiting for rescue or trying to find all of the tools to put on the hopeful spare.  I was driving down the far left lane, dodging the odd car that refused to move over despite my petty honking from my little car, my little bat out of hell. I hated those people who hung out there, who drove just above the speed limit and thought it would be enough to justify themselves in the left lane. Whenever I could, I would take the carpool lane just to maintain speed and zing by traffic, even if I had no one else with me. I passed another car who refused to submit to the left position and sped up even more as I thought about Gabe going crazy in that county jail. He didn’t belong there. They didn’t know his problems, not like I did.

He was probably going insane now or was already after causing a ruckus outside a pharmacy last night after escaping from rehab. I have no idea why he did that, how he thought that would help his situation, but the drug had obviously taken him back over. His needy brain was like some kind of a three-year-old whose toy got taken away.

I saw this behavior many times before in my own county lockup. There was really no difference between women and men with regard to addiction except that women seemed to be a little more cunning when it came to hiding contraband and getting drugs on the inside. They would readily use their female prowess to get what they wanted too, I heard about it happening at my own jail. What was that sound? I thought I heard the clacking again but it couldn’t be, not at this speed. I pushed harder on the little pedal for good measure, just to be sure my little bubble of a car knew who the boss was.

I assumed that Gabe didn’t find a source on the inside, rehab can be a good thing, and I’ve seen it work for those who are ready. It was obvious that Gabe wasn’t ready, even after the judge gave him a pass on the possession of a stolen firearm charge and let him go to rehabilitation, instead of jail. Rather than accept his good fortune, he was found screaming at otherwise empty storefronts at two in the morning before being picked up by the cops. At least this was what his mother told me. She called frantically, crying into the phone, and I knew that she just couldn’t go down there to get her boy, wouldn’t go was more like it. Both her and his father considered Gabe another failed aspect of their marriage, a product of tragedy. They both moved out of state long before he had problems and always gave the attitude that Gabe made his own dirty bed, and all his favors from his parents were already used up. By now, they both simply pointed fingers at one another for the shortcomings of their offspring, disowning their only son in the process.

His mother counted on me to go down there and fix the problem so she wouldn’t have to be bothered. We got the wind that she was about to be married again anyway, a fresh start, a clean break. I was aware that she knew that I would try to fix this. Every minute that went after she called during my smoke break was far too long for Gabe to wait. I knew this due to my keen understanding of the penal system. Gabe wouldn’t last long in there. He would likely dig a deeper hole for himself, which was why I was still weaving in and out of cars. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about that damn tire and I felt like I was walking with a cane or something, an ailment that gave me a limp, but I ran anyway.

 

I already emptied my bank account, somewhere in between the highway and work, knowing that it would take at least two grand to get Gabe out of jail and back into rehab where he really belonged. I had the money and I would just have to deal with how to pay rent later. What I absolutely did not have was a true understanding of what I would do with him once I got him in my car. Would I ask him to fix my tire before going back to rehab? Gabe would probably say that he wanted to get a cheeseburger and duck out the first chance he could get at the drive through, giving me some kind of excuse later. These things I didn’t really know, the proper way to handle a junkie who was also your lover. I wasn’t a psychiatrist, I wasn’t a drug counselor. I was only an underpaid nurse who was really good at stitching up drunks. Everybody knew that I was cutting my teeth at the county jail, that’s what most nurses did before they went to work at the hospital or another place. Once I started that job, I did go a little crazy because I was still so green. I hadn’t seen firsthand addiction, abuse or any of that other stuff that used to just be in the textbooks, assigned homework for those who cared. We were overworked, underappreciated, and underfunded. Could that experience possibly prepare me for dealing with Gabe? One thing that I did know was that in his hysteric state, he would say anything to get me to help him find what he needed.

I wasn’t a complete idiot and I knew that Gabe would not be Gabe when I picked him up. I knew that I would want the previous version of him, that version that stayed up with me until two in the morning playing games, drinking and having a good time before going upstairs for a knock on the bed post. Or, an even more innocent one if I was going to be nostalgic, the Gabe that taught me how to ride a skateboard in our driveway when we were nearing graduation. I wanted some kind of version, one I knew I wouldn’t get if I made it there if this tire held just long enough. Heck, I could distract him even, a girl in distress, make him put on my spare while I cried and thought about the real plan to trick him back into rehab.

 

The thing that made me ponder what kind of hellcat version of my lifelong friend and current boyfriend I would find, was what he said about a year ago when I told him that I might be pregnant. I couldn’t really figure out the right time to bring it up. I knew that while I could inch by myself somehow, supporting our little family, like some women these days have to, I also knew that he simply wasn’t ready for that kind of change. It was hard sometimes to get him to stop doing whatever he was doing and just talk. I think because we knew each other as kids, we would talk to one another like we were still kids. We treated each other as children and it made us both happy, all part of the appeal. We had our games, but the one day I interrupted one of these games to tell him that I was late, that I got a test from the drugstore and that I thought I was pregnant. I looked through his eyes and saw fear. I didn’t peer into the kind of fear most men have, like in the TV shows. That innocent fear mixed with joy and happiness. I saw a kind of complacent fear and I felt sorry for him. Pity rushed over me while I looked at his reaction as he still held that game controller for dear life.  He looked away from me, back to the TV and it was then that I knew I couldn’t have his child.

That memory wrapped in sadness caught me off guard and I felt myself slow down as the creeping heat of bewilderment stormed in like a toxic gas in my little car. That night still represented a very real and very timely memory of my lifelong love who told me with the blink and twitch in the eye that he just didn’t care. Sure, he bucked back once he saw my reaction, but by then it was too late. Of course, he didn’t say any of the right things at the time. He decided nothing after hesitation, instead of giving me one-liners. He made promises like he would go out and find himself a real job and how he would be there for me, for us, and we could start a family and blah, blah, blah. It was just like Gabe to take something and go too far, get exited out of nowhere and make big plans that would never come to fruition. That conversation dragged on for about thirty minutes before he was back playing games again. I went upstairs and cried and I knew I should have ended our relationship right then and there, kicked him out like his parents did, but I loved him and I couldn’t make myself do what needed to be done.

As it turned out, I was late and scared the over the counter test because I just changed birth controls. I tested positive for being pregnant because I have no idea why. These things are made by humans, tested on humans, bought by humans, we are all to blame. I said something like that when I got the real news of my non-pregnancy from my OBGYN and she just stared at me with an empty smile, like she was happy that I wasn’t pregnant. Maybe she thought I was too young, well I was too young and the truth was that I was happy too, relieved.

I wanted to let him go right then and there, even started to think about some kind of exit strategy, a way to get him out of my apartment. After all, I paid for just about everything. While our lives were so intertwined, I was still in charge where the buck stopped, I wasn’t completely stupid. It was just about the same time that I was getting up the gumption to kick him out of my apartment that he had his big accident. The accident, which was not falling down the stairs or scraping your knee, was completely his fault for not wearing a helmet. I and other females in his life told him so after the fact but I just couldn’t help myself. I had to help him, it was part of my nature.

I nursed him along and made his smoothies after working all day, basically doing the same thing for strangers. That was Gabe, we grew up together and I owed him at least a good healing before dumping and sending him back to somebody’s couch. Even while he was in rehab, I fought the urge to go there at night and read a bedtime story and tell him everything was going be all right. I wanted to be the one to give him his medicine, bring him his laptop so we could still play games. He was actually pretty darn nice to me when he called after the second week of his dry spell. He even apologized for selling some of my things, especially my iPad. I still can’t believe he actually did that. I so want to find that stupid drug dealer who has those pictures of me which are probably being sold somewhere too.

While not entirely a beauty queen, I have always been proportional, even while being a tad overweight. That card comes with the territory of being a nurse. I sit around a lot and I smoke. Unfortunately, when I go home, I sit around and I smoke some more. I’m still very pretty but thick where it counts and I can only imagine some drug dealer jerking off to the pictures I had saved on my iPad, which were supposed to be for Gabe. Gabe, who sold my iPad, knowing that the pictures were on there. Gabe, who was slowly and steadily losing his mind to that drug once prescribed by his family doctor, our family doctor.

He was so sweet during the first few weeks of rehab. I think he started to realize just how lucky he got after getting caught with the stolen firearm which was used in an actual armed robbery. That armed robbery case, where witnesses swore to the police that the person who had brandished the sawed-off shotgun in front of the gas station counter was black. Otherwise, Gabe would have easily been charged with that as well, judges and prosecutors just love to clump charges together in order to make at least one of them really stick. He must have begun to realize this in rehab and I thought that he was really happy, he sounded happy when he called. We didn’t get to play our favorite game on the computer when I visited but we did get to play chess at least. He was in such high spirits and happy to see me when I visited. He also wrote me a couple of really sweet letters when I missed his call while I was at work. These letters I hoped to read to our children one day, about that time when we needed to explain and show the dangers of drugs like one of those cheesy family sitcoms that tackle real problems head on and in a positive light, the ones we grew up watching as kids.

I was willing to take him back at that time, make it work. I would help him like I always did, nurse him to good health again and we could move on. There was one thing that I couldn’t stop thinking about, that little itch that bothered me, what I mentioned before. That look on his face when I told him that I thought I was pregnant. I wasn’t pregnant at all but the flush over his eyes was sort of like the nail in my tire, it wasn’t immediately dangerous but I knew it would cause me hell later on. It wasn’t some kind of lone gunmen waiting to pull the trigger at any moment from a distance, killing his target instantaneously. It wasn’t the desperate bite of a rattlesnake in the swamps-killing you before you ever happened upon an ambulance. His look, his initial look after I told him I was pregnant, was about like the shine on that nail, glimmering in the hot sun as I walked out of work to save him. Shining like the little undoing that it was and saying:  you had big plans today but I’m going to sit here because I already was here and because somebody put me here or you ran over me where I was accidently on the ground.

Who knows why I saw that shiny nail that day and not another, it could have been there for three weeks for all I knew. I parked in a gravel driveway at home and the way it had been raining, I might not have noticed that perpetrator until that day, that time when I was to save Gabe, the maker of nails. That look, Gabe just had to give that look, the same look you hear about when people bolt out their door and tell their neighbors that they set their own house on fire, never thinking to grab the fire extinguisher from the top of the fridge to put out the blazing grease. They don’t, they just stand outside and watch it burn, watch the firetrucks come and watch their lives disappear. Flames lick through all their small pictures and all their keepsakes and all they had to do was pull out a nail.

I could see Gabe’s head on that nail going around and around and around, tick tick as I left the parking lot. I wondered if it happened on purpose, I wondered if one of those stupid, nosey nurses tried to save me after my smoke and tried to blow my tire. I thought about the shiny bastard sinking deeper into my tire, penetrated each layer, pulsing further and further in with each turn of the wheel. Just like a man, I thought, all shiny and nice for the sole purpose of getting as far up into you as they could go.

Removing the nail in that parking lot before I left was like trying to remove Gabriel from my life. Both were dangerous and necessary. This decision to stop, to let Gabe be and go about my life, I fought with for a moment, the struggle all I could fathom, that is of course until the tire actually blew and I completely lost control of my car.

I remembered the moment when I was thinking about turning right around, going back home and cracking open a bottle of rum and just calling it quits. Sure, I could do that and only that, at least until tomorrow’s shift, take it one day at a time. Then, I could get back to work, get my mind back to something other than Gabe and forget the fact he was ruining his own life, not mine. That thought crossed my mind and if there had been near an exit ramp I would’ve got off right then and there, crossing over the divide and headed back north to my house. I was already plagued with him anyway, I might as well take the time to really think about all the events and choices that I’ve made so far, really think about Gabe the way he was, the way he looked at me that day.

Of course, his mother would be sobbing to me on the telephone later but I wouldn’t have to answer the call right away. I could just tell her like it was, that mousy bitch, that if she cared for her son, she would have gone there herself without her husband’s permission to pay the damn bail. That was my last thought, Gabe’s stupid mother and what I would say to her in the split second before my tire blew. That or I would call my girlfriend Jennifer. We might have some daiquiris and sit outside, get a tan in the backyard of my townhouse. She could come over and the only rule would be that she couldn’t talk about Gabe, nothing about Gabe. We would laugh and giggle, even take our tops off, drinking strong daiquiris until we would order pizzas by eleven and watch some kind of scary movie. That’s exactly what I wanted to do, what I was going to do if there was an exit ramp right there. The thought of Gabe’s mother and my big plans hurt my brain when the moment struck through the steering wheel, into my arms and I wrestled with all of those petty decisions.

Instead of an exit ramp, there was a blown out tire. I remembered thinking oh shit here it is, here’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for folks, like some kind of game show host in my brain.  This is a reroute dummy, you thought about your life too much, time to come back down and realize you’re gonna die. My arms gave up the fight, I was doing at least eighty-five when the tire blew, and I had another moment’s pause, even wished I could just continue the rescue mission as planned. What happened to the plans?

What a jerk. That’s what I thought of him, the same feelings about that nail in my tire which had to be there to hold the air in but never should have been there in the first place. I confirmed this comparison for my own peace of mind until another fear struck and all I could see was that curved guardrail coming at me like a freight train. Or was I charging toward the guard rail?

Was I truly out of control? My arms, they gave up on me as the steering wheel did whatever it wanted under my tired hands. I don’t remember anything after that, I don’t remember the flash of memory like people talk about. I guessed it already happened. I don’t remember the moment my airbag went off, so comical and small, that stupid small car that my father bought. If he really wanted me to be safe, the stout body of giant SUV would have been better, even if it guzzled gas. If my father really wanted me to be safe, he would have told me to absolutely go ahead and see that nice boy Gabe. If he had just called Gabe a nice boy at least one time, I might not have struggled to begin with. Instead, he forbade me to see Gabe in the first place, he bought me that small death trap and there I was.

I had no sense to blame myself, I sat in my car with the guard rail cutting metal over my head and complained about my own father. I suppose that is my right as an ungrateful daughter. I remember the guard rail, my car wincing and smoking at the sudden stop of life. I know some people who have a really terrible car accident that survived the horror, they only remember coming into the ambulance or the hospital.

I remember waking up all by myself I couldn’t move my head, my airbag went off and it was small, like Steve Urkle’s balloon airbag in that stupid show from the nineties. I remembered it had gone off right in my face, my pretty nose taking the brunt. I also couldn’t move my head because above my head was my almost killer, a guard rail cut straight through my windshield and right over my pretty blond hair. I knew that I ducked, somehow, instinctively, saving my own life but I’m not quite sure. I do know that if I had better genes that would have made me a few inches taller, I probably would’ve lost part of my head, brains splattered all around the seats of the car.

Speaking of my car, a Chevy Aveo is not necessarily something you want to blow a tire in, especially going eighty-five plus down the highway in the left lane. The last thing you want to do then is run headfirst into a guardrail. These cars were clearly made to fit into the gaps between the hot cement and metal protectors. I don’t know why anybody thought they should make that car and as I came to, I felt like a dummy going through a simulation crash. That crash test without curtain airbags and all the other safety features, only plastic and a hope for the best. In a bright light, the heat of the day squelched my bruised body and I could feel. Yeah, I remember that being good, the ability but not what I could feel, that wasn’t good. I stirred but I couldn’t hear anything, and I was alone.

I also thought that any moment, some idiot texting could smash right into me. I was pretty relieved when I heard the sirens because I couldn’t move my head and because I knew I would be with company soon. I couldn’t move, didn’t want to move and just stared at the hot metal of the guard rail inches above my head.

Someone came in a uniform and spoke softly to me. I don’t know what he said but I believed every word. I felt safe but tired, my mouth tasted like blood and my nose still stung something awful. I remember the loud creek of my door being pried open and instead of pulling me out like a rescue dummy, I stepped out of my car myself, as if I was in a hot parking lot and forgot my keys but still needed to get groceries. I was checked out by a cute paramedic while still in my own scrubs and I thought we could be friends. I passed the concussion test and he put some ointment on the small gash above the bridge of my nose and the one above my eyebrow. They were amazed at how clear and fluent I was, I amazed myself too, clarity had set in along with the high of adrenaline. I no longer bared the burden which put lead on my shoulders, I did not think about Gabe.

I denied the expensive ride to the hospital and asked the cop who was writing in his little notebook to call me a cab instead. He looked to the paramedic who gave him the thumbs up between taking off his two rubber gloves and complied after I promised I would take the taxi to the hospital.

I remembered sitting in the back of the car, the cab driver and I both marveled at the cheapness of its all, Styrofoam and plastic which had popped out all over the place after my little Chevy took a turn to meet the guard rail head on. I didn’t think than what was beyond the metal, what my fate would have been had it not been there. I only thought if I just had better posture or been a little bit taller and beautiful, I wouldn’t have a head. The sweet cab driver was concerned for me after seeing what I had just been through. He thoughtfully mentioned a nearby hospital after pulling away from the scene. I saw an empty wrecker with its lights on, coming up the other lane past the center divider, and I wondered what my father would say about the wrecked gift, and whether I would tell him about the shiny nail sticking out of my tire so many miles ago.

“No,” I said, “I want to go home,” and gave over my address. He persisted, taking a hard, concerned look in the mirror at my face with the gashes and the trauma. “I’ll be fine,” I said, “I’m a nurse and I’m ready to go home.” The taxi driver complied with a sigh and rambled on for a bit about my car, the lost cause destined for a junkyard. I never thought about that nail or Gabe again and I never looked back.

 

“Survivor” -A Story a Day

I will be posting a story a day for a good while. These short-stories and shorts will likely be apart of the next collection in the Worked Stiff Series, Worked Stiff: Short-Stories to Tell Your Boss. This one, “Survivor”, should hit home if you or anyone you know has had cancer. Your feedback is always appreciated. Happy Reading!

 

Survivor

 

I am a survivor. No, I don’t have bumper stickers and I don’t go on the walks. I absolutely hate the color pink. I’m just not that kind of survivor. Marjorie tried to get me to go on some kind of fundraising march to nowhere one weekend, only a short time after my hair started to grow back from the radiation treatments. Sure, I registered for the walk, I paid the fee, and I even received a packet in the mail with a t-shirt. But that crisp Saturday morning when Marjorie first texted that she was on her way to pick me up, I tried for my good friend, but I just could not make myself go. Of course, that meant that she couldn’t go either, at least she felt that way because she never had breast cancer. She tried to convince me over the phone, caressing my wits, telling me that I deserved the recognition, that there might be more people like me. More people like me, I loathed the thought.

The truth was I didn’t want to meet anyone else like me. I wanted to forget any of it ever happened. I didn’t want to go back to work until I could at least manage avoidance of my husband Bill, and most days I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I was in the bathroom one morning, Billy in the shower with the heat pouring out, covering the glass with his wretched steam. I feverishly tied the bathroom door shut with my bathrobe belt and managed to undress in front of the full-length on the backside of the door. I did not feel empowered by my survival as I looked at what was left of my body that morning, or any morning and Marjorie didn’t understand.

The problem with people around you when you’re sick is that they pretend to comprehend your level of suffering. The truth is that I never wanted anyone to care. All I ever wanted was someone to talk to me like I was normal. It made me wish that I never told anybody after I left the doctor’s office that first day. That first day when they told me that I had a sixty percent chance of survival and that they would have to do more tests. I thought later that maybe they didn’t tell me the sixty percent part but that’s what I heard. They told me that I had a malignant tumor the size of a key in my left breast and it was a very, very good thing that they found it then, at that exact moment, rather than later. I was apparently lucky. I do not consider myself lucky and the truth, the truth that I could never tell Marjorie, was that I would rather have not known.

From the first day in the office, after my general practitioner felt a lump, I felt like I was a victim of one of those snipers in the movies on the big screen. A confirmed kill, that’s what I was. From that day, throughout the chemo, before and after the simple mastectomy, through to some of the recovery, I truly wanted to be a survivor. I did make friends with some of the ladies there who were also getting the drip. I joined support groups before my hair started growing back, but little by little, I secretly wanted nothing to do with any of it.

Marjorie wouldn’t hear any of this sad talk, but I figured that she knew anyway. God bless her heart, she tried to do so much for me and she really cared about being there in a spiritual sense, support for my backbone. But the truth was that I had no backbone, not anymore. Yes, I appreciated her rides when I was too weak to drive myself. I appreciated her talking to the nurses and doctors when I began to not care. She thought that was because I was too fragile when that simply wasn’t the case, not physically anyway. I just grew so tired of talking about me. How do I feel? How was I getting along? How is my digestion? Did I wake up in the middle of the night? How was my sex life?

Oh that, well, sex ended long before my first horrifying appointment. My sleaze ball lawyer for a husband and his 22-year-old paralegal made sure of that before they gave one of my love cups the old snip snip.

Sure, Bill was real nice when we were just coming up or should I say William S. Montgomery Esq. as he was known to his even more sleazy clients. Did I marry an injury attorney? No, of course not. I married the man that I met first, how stupid. Worse than that, I lost my virginity to him. Both my parents are dead and gone now so I am free to call them what they were, stupid zealot Catholics.

Growing up, I was what most people thought the opposite of the Catholic school girl, I actually was good. I truly believed that I was to go to hell if I did not behave. And I also believed in that ridiculous princess story about saving myself for the right man. What all that religious fervor didn’t prepare me for was just what the right man looked like, acted like, how he was to speak. I thought when I was a freshman in college that he looked, acted and spoke like Billy. Oh Billy, with that swaying brown hair that he combed only to meet me, with that worthy smile that you could just pin down and capture, put in a box and just look at it. He sure was charming alright, but William S. Montgomery was not doing any charming to me now.

Bill was the first one that I told in a fire of foolishness. I rushed right on home, calling him all the way. He didn’t answer and I still have no idea why I expected him to. Sitting there, giving the urgent message to call me through my car’s Bluetooth, listening to his tacky, official voicemail greeting. That was when I knew that I was alone. He could say he was in a meeting, with a client, or in court. Sure, he could say that, and did all the time. While that may have been true, I knew that at least half the time he ever gave me that line, he was porking Sandy, that little blonde heartache of a paralegal that sat out front, the gatekeeper for Billy’s office. She probably stopped wearing underwear to work after the first week, if ever at all.

I imagined him trying out his paralegals during the interview process. I could see Billy fondling them for youth, caressing their breasts, their breasts without tumors, their perky B-cups. No, perhaps he remained totally professional, an air of innocence until one late night of working and trial victory all fell into place. That’s what Billy was, a right-place, right-time man with the plausible deniability to boot.

I found out for the first time when I pinged his phone, called it too and she answered, got him to take the call and then he lumbered along telling me some kind of excuse with a totally different location. One must love modern technology and a shared phone plan.

Bill had been sleeping with Sandy, if not a few others, at least six months before that first diagnosis. He was cold to me long before and my expectations weren’t any different after I told him I had breast cancer. No, I would’ve probably hated him even more if he promised to stop screwing Sandy and actually fell through with it. I didn’t even let him try. He told me in his lawyer tone that everything was going to be all right and that he was truly sorry and just when he started to say that he was going to stop seeing Sandy, empty promises of this and that, I held out my hand and told him to shush.

Bill thought I was looking for sympathy, just like the rest. How foolish. What I was ultimately trying to say, or rather, inform him was that I would be out for a while. Out of work, out of the house, out of life and that he would have to adjust accordingly. He replied by saying whatever you need and even tried to hug me, how sweet and what a sap.

All those people were saps. The only ones I really felt comfortable around were the nurses, especially the older hardened ones. They had seen it all before and I wasn’t going to render any sympathy from them and I was appreciative. All I ever got from those nurses were tough love and medicine and that was all I ever needed.

I truly just wanted to give up. Just like other times in my life, finishing college, getting married, having a kid, I was just going through the motions of what was acceptable within modern society. Acceptable was getting senile. Acceptable was feeling like I wanted to die. Acceptable was losing my hair and better yet, losing one of my tits.

What I really wanted to do, after that first appointment, before ever telling anybody else about my problem, was go home, clean out all of our bank accounts and safety deposit boxes, set the house on fire and just disappear. I would take my seldom used passport and find some spot on the map where there was both sand and legal weed for someone in my condition. This was my right. It was my life, it was my tumor.

Why couldn’t I just take my tumor, left breast intact and sail off into the sunset? What the hell was wrong with that? How come the doctors and nurses didn’t give that as an option? Why wasn’t there a financial advisor after the appointment, hell along with the divorce attorney too? We could sit down and discuss my real options. Where was that box to check? Where was the form for my bucket list? Was I too young? Was forty-five too young to just step out, exit stage left?

At least I had Marjorie. I really appreciated her help but didn’t show it. She did more talking about me to other people I think than talking to me, something I hated but never told her. I knew that she meant well. Marjorie and I talked about the affair and she was quick to give me advice on the state of my marriage. She had already been through a divorce and I was there for her, so she felt like she owed me or something. I was always interested in being there for other people in times of fright or injustice or a gun barrel or cheating. But if any of these things ever happened to me I wanted to be like a good loyal dog, trot into the forest and die alone.

Marjorie had quite the run with her ex-husband too and I figured in the man department, neither one of us were meant for excellence. Her doctor husband had been cheating on her with an older woman, the thought of that, an older woman, can you imagine? His mistress was ten years older than Marjorie and a goddamn patient too. After the divorce and after Marjorie got nearly everything on account of one of my husband’s friends taking up her cause, her doctor man headed down a real slippery slope. Marjorie’s ex ended up getting sued for malpractice shortly after their divorce and was later found by one of their kids snorting coke off a stripper’s tits in the bathroom of a nightclub. Oh, the tangled webs we weave.

Speaking of tits, after the state-of-the-art treatment, I only had one. I remember a day or two after, when I was still laid up in bed, the first time I came out and sat on the couch and had some chicken soup, Bill tried to broach the subject of getting implants. I assumed he was on some kind of hiatus from Sandy or whatever else he was growing in his slick office. Out of a sense of posterity, he showed some type of concern for my body. He hadn’t shown that level of concern for my body in five years. Sure, we had sex during that time but not one of us was ever there. It’s difficult to say that it was all his fault, or that he lost interest in sex with me because of me, but he must have been sleeping around for a long time. Money and power will corrupt any man.

The truth was that I lost interest in the subtle dance of our youth. Sure, I put on makeup, the same as everybody else. I wore nice dresses for an office party or anniversary. I played the part of the lawyer’s wife.  I worked out at least two or three times a week, I ate pretty healthy considering what most Americans call food these days. I was still pretty skinny too, no gray hair showed that a box wouldn’t fix. I was what most people would consider a milf, that’s the term, right? Mother I’d like to… The truth was that Bill didn’t lose interest in me, at least not right away, I lost interest in me. It is so cliché but I felt like there was something missing. I devoted my life to my husband, his career, our son Daniel who is now in his first year of law school, a horrifying spitting image of his father.

I devoted my life and what did I get? A tumor, I got a tumor. I guess some might say that I got a big house in a nice neighborhood with no crime to speak of, a bank account that I never had to worry about, a Jaguar like I always wanted, and a walk in closet all to myself. For the people in this world that think that is justified compensation for giving my life to a sleazy, no good injury lawyer who put on the charms to my little virgin Catholic ass have got another thing coming.  Billy scooped me up with a wide shovel like a cleft of snow thrown out of the walkway and I just let him.

To justify my existence by all those material things would basically label me as a whore, a prostitute begging for affection. Was I a prostitute? If I was, I was expensive. Sure, sure, I was a mother and that was important. I love Daniel but let’s go and cover what I accomplished. I was an instrument and I bread another identical copy of him. Not only was Daniel following in his father’s footsteps, he spoke like his father, he smelled like his father, he drank scotch like his father and he used the same phrasing that his father did on poor innocent women. Was this all the women were good for? A vassal for the preponderance of sleaziness? I beg to differ.

I bet nobody ever talked about this in the support groups or the walks. I bet all they ever wanted to talk about was how hard it had been, how afraid they were, how difficult it was to fit into a real bra now, and how hard it was to go back. I experienced just a taste of all of this, which was why I never made it to more of those meetings. I was never afraid, just heartbroken. I do miss my left breast but I didn’t want to go back, I was pissed.

For a while, when my hair started to grow again, all I really ended up doing was sitting by the pool. It was kind of nice. I had my Kindle, I had my morning smoothies that Greta our new aging housekeeper would make. I listened to music and took a dip whenever I wanted. There were no mirrors out by the pool either. Splishing and splashing was kind of fun, it felt like summer vacation and I was a little girl again. Actually, what I really felt like was a teenager. I smoked some weed that I hid from Bill, I stayed up all hours of the night watching movies and eating ice cream. I swam and read all day and I had no inclination of ever going back to work. It was great. I could have lasted a long time just like that.

Bill would come out in the evenings, smoking a cigar and always with his scotch. Sometimes, he would take notice of my toned body as the sun began to set. How do you wear a bikini with one breast? I didn’t care to ask. One could wear a special garment, but my C-cup right baby was just enough. I felt fine within myself, that didn’t mean I wanted to go stare at myself in the mirror and look at my empty left chest. But I felt dignified, tanned, even skinny from the chemo, and I knew I still had a nice ass and I knew that Bill was somehow curious about me. He must have known at least a little but I would never sleep with him ever again.

When I first came back from the hospital, an expensive hospital bed was set up in the lower den which overlooked the backyard, the game room where Daniel used to play pool, watch movies, and entertain friends. I stayed put right there, even after I fully recovered, even after I could tie my hair in a small ponytail. I had better access to the pool from that room anyway.

I would have lunch with Marjorie and we would gossip, do our usual thing at Café Santa Monica, the absolute best place to get a tuna melt in a hefty pita that I’ve ever had. Even when I went to the chemo, I never lost my appetite for tuna. It was the only thing I could eat for a while. It was at Café Santa Monica where I saw him, or rather, he saw me first.

Marjorie said that a waiter assigned to another set of tables kept looking over at me. I told her she was crazy. I moved my hair behind my ear, adjusted my top and blushed anyway. I refused to wear a prosthetic which called for a few strangers looking here and there, especially when I wore a tank top like I did that day and figured it was just that, a double-take for the viewer’s satisfaction, a guess that the eyes saw what was actually missing.

His name was Edwardo, he was Dominican, young and handsome. His shaved bald head and thin mustache gave him an out of place look as a waiter despite his youth. That first night and several others, I got a hotel room, only the finest would do. Edwardo became a part of the luxury, an amenity that I did not care about, other than that he pleased me. He pleased me and I made him and I liked the cold yet titillating feeling of using a man. He kissed my scar as he did my other breast and I loved him for that and only that. I cared nothing for his hopes, his dreams, or his future. I lived in the moment. I got massages by the pool, ordered Daiquiris and giggled with Marjorie and texted Edwardo when I wanted, when I felt like I could use him and steal his moments, make them my own.

I moved out and into the hotel shortly after I met Edwardo, but not because of him, I did it for me. I divorced Bill and put the squeeze on him so hard, that hidden money rained down like every day was Mardi Gras. It was all for me. Bill gave me everything I demanded, his guilt ruining his bottom line and I liked the feeling of putting the screws to him, getting what was rightfully mine and then some.

I live in the Bahamas now, the sand and the ocean and the seafood with occasional joint all calm my soul, my own being. Marjorie visits, sometimes for a month at a time and we drink and laugh late into the night. I call Daniel on occasion, he even visited me once but he brought a girl, some floozy paralegal he thought he could impress by bringing to the Caribbean.  I kindly asked him to leave and never return. I see tourist come, tourist go, I have become a part of the scenery. I talk to some of them now and then, I take on lovers when I want and I swim, oh god do I swim. Every day, I move my arms and legs, pushing and pulling the ancient water to my will. I love the water with the fish and the crabs. The surf is there for my enjoyment.

I swim naked most of the time, letting the waves push me down the shoreline the way they do, away from my starting point, my permanently rented cottage in Abaco. When I emerge from the surf, tourists and fishermen gaze in astonishment. I show my wears, one pretty scar and one breast. I walk with purpose and not a care back to my towel left quietly on the sand. The towel always looks different when I come back. Saltwater returns to the ocean, dripping off my tanned, powerful legs. I just smile at them all and wave.