The White Lines – Poem

 

The white lines began to blur

as my wrists folded under

the comatose chest

pressed

against the mirror

by the thin liquid

the razorblade drew

on accident.

 

Crumbling into the bright white

brought the happy numb

that felt like seventh grade

on the last day before summer,

when she gave you her number

on that old beige bus,

that you left,

absolutely elated.

 

It didn’t last long,

and neither did the next,

or the next,

one could go on

until this love

which crumpled my chest.

 

I’m alive again

alone

in the dark,

forgetting about dad,

about mom,

and her

when the white lines blur.

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God’s Forked Tongue

And so it was one day before this, he decided to roam among the trees as he often would in such difficult circumstances. Walking around and over the contents of the dead forest, as it were around this time of year, he stumbled upon a flower. However, this was no ordinary flower. This flower was divine life among an abundance of forsaken foliage. His sun-brightened denim sank in the cold dry leaves as he knelt before the radiant blue blossom. Far beyond the flower’s beauty was his desire to pick it, perhaps, to help soothe the somber situation from which he had escaped momentarily. He carefully clipped the bottom of the stem with his deadly fingernails and held its grace in the air to get a proper look. It had to be perfect. He spun the blossom between his fingers ever so carefully and took in a deep breath of the cool mountain air.

“Maybe I can fix this,” he thought. This flower did bring him a wondrous sense of optimism with its rarity. He turned about, and hunched over the flower, protecting it from anything that it may touch. The trees’ low dead branches loved to pick and snap at the face of any given wanderer. Even through his extensive examination, he could not match the allure of the blue petals to anything he had ever seen before, and he was quite learned in Mother Nature’s children. But, his elation was interrupted, not long after he began his return. A loud hissing from below alerted him of danger made very vivid. He immediately stopped where he stood; knowing that what lie on the leaf-bed was a rattlesnake. Slowly tilting his eyes downward, and then his head, he looked down upon a small, bright, multi-colored serpent. The snake slithered under a stack of leaves and then back to the surface. It eyed him with its little triangular head the entire time he eyed it. It moved closer, twirling and gliding between his feet. Coiled, and ready to strike, it looked up into his eyes once more for a cold, terrifying moment, then back down, and jolted his ankle.

He screamed, and immediately collapsed onto one knee, clamping his leg with a rock-hand. He rolled onto his back, cracking and crunching the deceased sticks and frond. He panted and sighed loudly, leaking warm breath from his lung. It floated visibly in the air before him, giving him a chance to savor the beauty of the swirling cloudy breath, as he knew he would most certainly die. He lay his head down onto the freezing forest floor. The snake stood above him on a large rock, coiled once more, and stared below into him.

Of course, with the dryness of eyes, came the man’s urge to blink, and the closing of his eyes. He opened them to find the lifeless canopy above distorting itself, flickering and shifting like static. There was music too, there, accompanied by a sharp ringing. It sounded beautiful. The music, being quite pleasant, echoed of groovy drumming and crunchy pentatonic guitar scales. He blinked incessantly and stared back into the bright snake as the world melted before him.

The forest became consumed by darkness, with an occasional red or purple streak leaking from the trees. The music quieted and he began to choke and cough on his own saliva. Realizing that he could no longer move his body, or breathe, he panicked.

“Where is my flower?” he heard a deep voice ask politely from behind him. He struggled to speak, but could not, and wrestled himself on the ground.

“Do not try to move… this will only kill you faster.” And so then, he conjured the strength to quit struggling. He sighed, and the snake appeared in his field of vision, moving directly towards him. Its skin was much darker in complexion then, and appeared in a very glossy, semi-shiny coat. It was also much… much larger. The snake pushed its nose into the man’s space, and breathed slowly through its tiny nostrils.

“These are our tests, and as you can see, they are quite effective at weeding out the… non-believers.” Losing oxygen, his eyes began to close. He panted heavily as the snake slowly slipped and danced away from him – as snakes do – into the darkness of the melted forest.

“Goodbye,” the snake said, out of sight then. He closed his eyes for the final time and a bright flash of light struck him almost immediately. He could no longer tell where he was, but it certainly was not the forest. Sometime in an expansion of the everlasting paradigm in which he briefly crossed, his legs became fully extended and his body shifted upright into the standing state. Wherever he was, in that bright land of warm traitors, he sank into its base surface. Attempting to walk, he fell to his hands and knees again, as an infant would – often resorting to crawling – which he did. When he finally opened his sticky tired eyes, he looked below himself to see that he had been placed within an ocean of sand, but this was no desert. The ocean’s concept was certainly not one of transparency, as there was none like it on the face of the earth. The sand rippled as water would, in small waves, crashing here and there. They crashed all about him, sending small clouds of sand-mist into his air, and he constantly coughed inside the unforgiving nature of miniscule crystals. Still on his knees, he looked above to see a wave the likes of which his brain had no capacity to imagine. The enormous column of broken pebbles rolled over its allies directly towards him. It moved slowly, but contact was eminent. Showers of glimmering sand fell from the wave’s crest into the surface below. He looked upon the wave in horror as it came ever so near him, and he closed his eyes. A sudden smacking of gritty sandpaper scraped across his face, and caved his chest inside itself in an instant. Yet he did not die, and he felt every bit of pain that the sand had prepared for him. It threw him around in circles, breaking bones and tearing skin within the tumultuous swell for quite a while, until the sand’s waters became calm again. There he lay, as a pile of organs and bones, loosely held together by a skin coat inside a vast world of dune-matter. Unlike water, however, the sand was not kind enough to leave his semi-lifeless body floating, but instead, swallowed it whole into a pit of dark, wet pain.

“Why are you not listening?” said the snake from inside his head. The man could not speak as he was sucked into the blackened hole, inside of which there was no daylight. Only ricochets of the fire’s reflection remained inside this old land, within which he regained his consciousness and his ability to move. A great fire raged on, bearing lifetimes of suffering upon everything in its path. He could see he was in some sort of city, or town rather, but its inhabitants could do nothing to escape their homes, and they withered and burned. Looking on, his eyes skipped from building to building, apartments, small businesses, large businesses, government buildings; anything that could be found in the average American town. It all burned in the fire, that scorching scarlet beauty that engulfed all that humanity has worked towards. There were no goals anymore, no money, no friendships, and no families; it all died before him in screaming melting pain. All of those goodbyes that had not been said, the unrequited love, the missed celebration, and all of life’s beautiful surprising splendor was cremated. The snake spoke from behind him:

“You see what you have made for yourself, here. Think and it shall be truth.”

He could not do more than stand where he was and look on in shock at the smoldering ruin of community. He knew then what must be done, but it was too late, and the snake had already bitten him. He could not return home, nor live as he saw fit, now, and had no chance to take another path.

“I cannot change man, but I have tried,” the snake said, slithering to the man’s right side. Everything became quiet then, yet the flames still raged on, and the screams and the happy crackle of the hungry blaze persisted. He stood there, still until he felt a snap upon his neck, and his vision went black. The snake had bitten him once more, this time around his neck. His feet twisted from the ground and he fell on his chest and face.

It seemed that years had passed before he awoke, returned to the forest. It was much brighter than he remembered, as he noticed the very second he opened his eyes. He gradually lifted his sore body into a sitting position and rubbed his palms about his body. He knew that he was alive, and gave a sigh of relief before lying back down on the forest floor. Remembering, suddenly that he had been bitten; he raised back up quickly and grabbed his leg. He peered into his ankle; the bites were miraculously gone. Turning around, he saw the snake, tiny again, still sitting coiled on the same rock as it was before. It stared him directly in the eye just before sliding off between the trees. It was right then that he decided he would stand up and walk home.

The Train

I’d like to get off now… off of this train. So bold is it to hold my head against its glass and taunt me with nature’s magnificence, and expect me to stay aboard. Yes, I’d like to step off into the bright red sun, into a river or a forest perhaps. I could wander and wander and wander until I was lost. It’s been so long since I’ve removed myself from beneath these abrasive anxieties and lived without so much worry. The docks above Maryland’s glistening rivers might be a good place for that. Not often have these picturesque landscapes been disrupted by the invasive nature of man’s machinery, and that is good. Yet, I have quickly fallen in love with the quiet nature of the small towns between these mighty mountains; the ancient hills upon which masterfully carved churches sit seem to call out, telling me to climb, to observe not their reason, but their way. There are no cars on the roads, and there isn’t one other soul on this quiet, quiet train. I hope one day to walk those sidewalks from the small towns’ ends, maybe seeing a passerby, perhaps two, to whom I would smile and wave, as a sign of mutual understanding in that liberating solitude. Maybe then would I be free of these worries. I worry for myself, yet not as much as I long for those too far from me now. I miss my mother, my father, my dear brother, and I miss my love. Somehow, I feel I might find her in the forest, or in the river, or on the top of some ancient hill in small-town America. I can’t escape my hatred for these longings, though I’ve locked myself away inside a dormitory, attending to the teachings of things that do not interest me. Such teachings amplify my worries. So I would like to get off now, and walk into the forest, if only to forget for a moment or so. I’d like to swim in a river, or walk some lonesome wrinkled street.

This century is not a time for a man like myself.

I could hunt and fish and build myself a home from strong thick trees, none weak, as that is where my current abode sits. But I do not want the life of a wildman; I only want peace. Send me into the forest, and I’ll find it.

So once more, I’d like to get off now, and I would, but there’s no conductor on this train.

-E.L.

The Forest (poem)

No matter when or where, I’m always alone

when I pull my car up to the side of the road.

I step out, clasping cold metal and broken glass

my black boots crunching the frozen black grass.

I take a look to my left, in the black and white woods

exposing the world, without all the good.

I take a walk down the path crafted from shattered dreams

each step polluting the air with a thousand screams.

The trees let go of their bright white frond

reducing to black, as they sink in the pond.

The water’s cold and lifeless, emotions are grim

if I had something to lose, then I’d go for a swim.

Just to stay dry, I keep on the trail

and wait for every chance I get to exhale.

It’s the only point of relief in this desolate place…

holding a hood over my head, and hands over my face.

I ensue for some time, feet moving with technique

Until I notice her familiar dark physique.

I stare at her pale face, as she’s shaking her head

flooding my brain with inexhaustible dread.

I don’t say a thing, and neither does she

With unspoken feelings, we silently agree.

The solution will never be found

the only problem is me.

The Hope

Andrew Fulton – Age 34

 April 9th, 2261 – Sec. MR5-91, Virginia:

For the past few months now, the weather has been unnaturally cold. It’s April for God’s sake. There has been news of people dying in Russia and Canada… I don’t really know how to feel about the whole thing. I’d say it’s probably around 28 degrees Fahrenheit out today. My thoughts are really all over the place; I don’t know what’s happening with the earth. Everything has begun to die, and I fear there wont be any life much longer. Things started to really pile up after the Gas War in China in 2180. I can remember seeing pictures of the practical embodiment of death. Thousands of people, or rather, millions in China were dead. They all had those damn masks over their faces. You couldn’t even tell what they looked like. I want to weep for these people. Seven hundred of their towers collapsed last week; I couldn’t believe it. All those years of work were for nothing now. The towers in America still look fine, which is quite fortunate. I heard that things weren’t looking so good up north, though. Lloyd said that five towers collapsed in Canada yesterday, and a cousin of his died… what a shame. That wasn’t even too far from New York either. I hope dad’s alright. Things seem to be going downhill pretty fast.

May 10th, 2261 – Sec. MR5-91, Virginia:

Three million people gathered in Germany and committed suicide yesterday. We saw the whole thing. Everybody saw; it was fucking horrible. I can’t say I’m not becoming depressed myself. It’s beginning to look like sunset all the time. Apparently, nineteen towers in Canada, and six towers in New York and Pennsylvania collapsed yesterday. I barely want to live. It’s so hard to sleep now, and I can’t go outside. I’ve been injecting myself with small doses of morphine over the past two weeks. I hope dad’s alright, and I hope the kids are fine. I’ve been thinking that I’ll take the Railix over to Margret’s and see the kids. Ever since the divorce, they’ve been upset, and how could I blame them. I’m just the same. They like to keep away from reality, staying in those virtual landscapes. They don’t even get up for half of the day, but hell, I don’t want them to see what it looks like outside. It’s only a matter of time now.

 May 11th, 2261 – Sec. MR5-91, Virginia:

As leaked today, the government has been working on an experimental form of protection since 2232. How the hell do they keep it a secret for that long? I don’t even know what the fuck it means… they say it’ll stay in orbit, further than a satellite. I hate going up there. If they send me up there again, I’ll snap. Down here, however, I just can’t seem to get things straight. Wherever I am, I’m not safe; none of us are. It looks like I’m going to be stuck on this fucking morphine for a while, but who cares; we’ll all be dead in a month. I think it’s clouding my brain. It hurts like a motherfucker when I run out. I started vomiting yesterday because I ran out; I was sweating, too. I had to scream at the EMTs to get the fuck out of my room. You stub your fucking toe and they’re up your ass. Anyways, I’ve decided to go see the kids next week. Hopefully they’ll want to see me. Life is gray. I’ve sat in this room for weeks now and I don’t think I can take it much longer. I can’t really see the sun anymore. I sleep through the only time it’s out. People have started to move down south… to where, I don’t know. The Railix is jammed tight, but since they’re all headed south, I should be able to see the kids without a problem. It was snowing when I woke up, and it was dark. I can’t believe this is happening.

 May 19th, 2261 – Sec. MR5-91, Virginia:

I’m going to see the kids today. My God, how I miss them. We used to have a four-person block. It was big enough for all of us, and then some. Now I’m stuck in this fucking one-person block. The walls are gray, the sun is gone, and I’m not sure if I’ll off myself soon or not. My watch says the Railix is real tight anywhere south, but the Kentucky towers aren’t too far from here. Speaking of towers, twelve more in New York and sixteen in the Great Lakes Union collapsed today, and I haven’t heard anything from Canada, but I know damn well that they’re fucked, Russia too. I’m leaving for the Railix now. I don’t know how long I’ll be there, probably only an hour or two. I hope the kids recognize me.

I got back an hour ago from Kentucky. The kids barely even wanted to see me. Margret is just as much of a bitch as she ever was. She kicked me out after I tried to convince Max to stay with me. I cried the entire way back here. I love him so much; I love them both so much. This pain is unbearable. I just want some goddamn company. I don’t want to die alone.

 May 22nd, 2261 – Sec. MR5-91, Virginia:

They put it into space today; whatever the fuck it was, it was loud. I saw a picture of it, and it looks like a goddamn mirror… or a collection of mirrors… I hope it can save us. They said it’ll begin orbit early tomorrow morning. I’m so scared. I can’t stop breathing fast. I don’t know if I’m sick, or if it’s the morphine fucking with me. I can’t stop it. I passed out and hit my head on the desk yesterday. The EMTs told me I hyperventilated and gave me a tank of oxygen. Fuck those fucking people. I talked to dad this morning. He said everyone above the Canadian border is dead. He said he was scared… my father. He wept on the phone, and I wept with him. Dear God, what the hell is going to happen to us. I told dad I would see him this week. After all, I’m not sure how long he’ll last in Boston. I’ve heard that the oceans are freezing.  But I don’t know what to think of it.  I’ve heard everyone in Russia is dead.  But I don’t know what to think of it.  I’ve seen pictures of towers collapsing in Germany, France, China, and Greece just to name a few.  But I don’t know what to think of it.  Apparently there’s a parasite in India now. It’s a quick death, but God, I’m scared.  I’ll keep feeding myself the morphine.

It’s becoming hard to see outside, with the snow and all. The wipers clean the mirror ceilings, but only for a little bit. It’s just me and my thoughts here, alone, deserted, left for dead. I’m worried I might do it tonight, but I need to see dad… one last time.   I miss you, dad.

 May 23rd, 2261 – Sec. MR5-91, Virginia:

I went and saw dad today. I left early this morning. Railix security was all over me of course, because of my “impulsive” decision to go see him. He didn’t look so good. I asked him a million times if he was okay, and he always said yes. Dad said he wasn’t leaving Boston. I can’t believe it. He’s too stubborn to leave the city, and he’ll die there because of it. I think he’s ready to go. Christ, ever since mom died, he’s barely been able to make his way. It makes me want to cry, but I know that’s what he wants.   I just can’t let go of him. My entire life he’s been my dad, and my friend, too. I can’t bare the thought of him leaving… but if that’s what he wants, I understand. I’m becoming accustomed to the morphine, but damn it still feels good. I’ll play the waiting game now; hopefully it’ll all give out soon.

May 30th, 2261 – Sec. MR5-91, Virginia:

I saw it today. The thing… whatever the fuck is in the sky… it’s here. I heard that it could be seen, so I headed to the top of the tower, along with thousands of others. I saw it peek over the horizon before heading directly over us. I must say… it was beautiful. I’ve never seen anything in my life quite like that. It floated above us, looking like a giant mirror. It bent, or it was bended. I have no clue as to what this thing may be doing. It seems to be purely experimental almost. But my God, what an experiment it is. The horizon from what seemed like a far away land gleamed upon its figure, handing us the sunset. It had an orange and red glow, fragmented by the small lines across the satellite. Thousands of people at the top of the tower could not say a damned word collectively. It was so warm, too. I was hoping the dome would be lifted, so I could see this creature in all of its enthralling gorgeousness. It reflected on us, the reflection of ourselves, the reflection of our mistakes, success; it reflected the seas, the clouds, and the mountains. But so quickly as it was here, it was gone. I have faith in this thing, and so does everybody else. None of us want to die.

 June 3rd, 2261 – Sec. MR5-91, Virginia:

It’s falling apart. All of it is falling apart. It’s burning and dying, there in the sky. I couldn’t help but watch. It fell in pieces. I’m sure it killed some. I hear that the kids are okay… but dad’s dead. I don’t know what to think of it. I’m cold, and the tower’s cold. Six people here have killed themselves since the death of our new hope. I fear that I’ll do the same.

-E.L.

A Victim of Society

In 2011, about four months after my father’s passing, I was fired from my job at the local aquarium, where I held a position watching over the rays. I was told that because of my lack of attentiveness, I was no longer as much of an asset as I once was. Living with my mother, and desperate to find work, I turned to an ad in the newspaper for a position in a retirement home; no experience was required. After calling and speaking with my (current) employer, I was hired with acceptable pay and room to climb the company ladder. I started as a caretaker for a certain four or five people, whose names have faded from my memory. I woke at eight every morning, and was required to work eight-hour shifts from ten to six, Monday through Friday. Yet, as horribly uneventful as my work was, I met a man, in my days there, who held a somber, yet compelling story – untold until we met.

I first met Jeremiah Byler in July of 2011. It was about four o’clock on a Friday, and I left the main building of the complex to smoke a cigarette in the park not far from the main entrance. I sat – in uniform – on a bench, watching out over the small park. I was tired, and I pulled on my cigarette in quick, close drags. The trees swayed softly in the wind and the birds’ chirping choir and the earthy taste of tobacco soothed my sore nerves and made the afternoon easier. Leaning back, I heard a soft electric buzz emanating from aside the bench. I looked over to see a slightly overweight, feeble senior hunched in a sort of sorry manner inside of a dull mobility scooter. I slightly turned my head to look over at him for a half a minute or so, observing his features. He sported a ruined white cap, which covered his wrinkled, defeated face. His shirt was a faded maroon red – his pants were fresh khakis, which I assumed his caretaker had ironed for him earlier. I didn’t particularly like old people, and I will say that I didn’t get a good first impression from him.

“Good day today.” He said, staring forward. I looked at him completely, and then turned to face forwards.

“Sure is,” I said, “How is yours?”

“Fine. It is as they always are.”

“I don’t believe I’ve met you,” I started, “What’s your name?”

“Jeremiah,” he moaned.

“It’s nice to meet you, Jeremiah. Do you live here?” I said, waving back towards the complex. He nodded. “Who takes care of you?” I asked softly.

“The short girl,” he paused. “With the crazy hair.”

“Jessica?” I asked, sure that the answer was yes. Jessica was a fellow employee who seemed pretty well off. She drove a new Acura to work every day, and was never seen with anything simpler than designer apparel. She did have a sort of crazy haircut; it was a short, pinkish flat that often parted to the left. An absolutely horrendous liability Jessica was, though. It was quite apparent that she kept the job only for the sake of appeasing whoever may have paid for the Acura, designer clothing, and haircut.

“Yes,” he grunted.

“She does have quite a-“

“They fired her this morning, I suppose.”

“Oh, my. I haven’t heard of that.”

“Yes. I will say that it serves her right for my manner of treatment.”

“I’m sorry?” I inquired, confused about his statement.

“She was awful… always late, horrible work ethic, constantly on that damned cell phone. She left me alone, mostly.”

“Well, why don’t I see if I can help you out? I’ll talk to the manager. I’m sure I could take another person!” I looked back at him, smiling. His head drooped and his eyes were closed. His eyebrows were shaped in such a fashion as to expose what he was feeling – thinking even. I could tell he was in pain. I thought the least I could do was to help him out. “Who else did Jessica take care of?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Surely you must have met them,” I said. “Haven’t you?”

“I have.”

“You don’t spend any time with them?”

“I don’t.”

“Well, I’ll make sure you have a little bit of fun around here, as much as you can, anyways.” I immediately regretted saying that, for with the words ‘as much as you can, anyways,’ I had reminded him of death’s eminent approach. I felt horrible. There I was, on the bench, quietly smoking and talking to another person with thoughts and feelings and dreams just like my own – a person however, who would die relatively soon. The thought sickened me. But how could I have known that behind this man’s wrinkled physique, there were tales of a lifetime of suffering.

He did not respond.

“Well,” I began, awkwardly. “I’ll have a talk with my boss, make sure everything works out.” I stood up and began to walk past him before he said:

“Thank you, young man. I haven’t talked to anyone in quite a while.” His voice was shaky.

“It’s no problem, Jeremiah.”

“I don’t believe I’ve caught your name, friend.” He said. I smiled and looked back at him:

“I’m Joel. It was great to meet you,” I said, before returning to my duties.

And so I did talk to my boss, and he was delighted to see that I was becoming engaged in my work. Also, with Jessica gone, her patients were separated amongst other caretakers. He assigned me the care of Byler, beginning the next workday.

He buzzed for me no later than eleven o’clock that Monday, and I climbed the stairs to his room. Room 242 it was. Before I knocked on the door, I looked at the wall bracket, where nameplates were held. He was the only person living there. I knocked. In those few moments, I began to wonder if he had had a wife, or if he had ever been married. What would this woman have looked like? When was her passing? Did he have children? Pets? Cousins? Brothers? Sisters?

He opened the door.

He was no longer in a scooter, but had a loose grip on a frigid metallic walker. He had been awake for quite a bit, I could see it in his posture.

“How are you this morning, Mr. Byler?” I asked, walking inside.

“As I always am.” He answered, lazily.

“How long have you been awake?” I asked, moving into his kitchen area.

“Three or four hours I suppose.”

“You surely could have buzzed in earlier. We would have had breakfast sent up to you.”

“I did not want to be a burden.” He said, sitting down on his bed.

“Nonsense, that’s our job!” he didn’t reply.

I looked over to see him slouched upon his bed, as he was the Friday before in the park. I assumed he hadn’t eaten…

“Are you hungry, Jeremiah?” I asked him.

“I am.”

“What would you like to eat?”

“I think eggs would be nice.”

“Alright,” I said, and reached into the refrigerator for the eggs. I began the frying process, and attempted to make small talk, but it quickly grew larger.

“So, tell me a little about yourself.” I said.

“I’m a lonely man.”

‘Shit. Why did I ask.’ I thought.

“Why is that? I’m sure there are plenty of people around here who would love to make your acquaintance.”

“I don’t think I’m much for friendship, or conversation even.”

“Hey, we’re talking right now, aren’t we?” I asked, flipping one of the eggs.

“My life has not been a good life, Joel. I’m an old man waiting to die. I don’t need any company.”

‘My God,’ I thought, ‘This is the most depressing man in the universe,’ so I didn’t answer him, and instead, pretended I wasn’t listening. We sat silent before I decided to say anything else.

“Where are you from?” I asked, trying my best to change the subject.

“Pennsylvania”

“Oh, really? What part?” I said, pretending like I knew anything about Pennsylvania.

“You wouldn’t know.”

“Why’s that?”

“I didn’t come from city life.”

“Ah, the outdoors!” I started, “What a great place to live. Did you live on a farm?”

‘That was stupid.’

“I did. I was Amish.”

“Oh, I never would’ve expected!” I said, trying to dismiss the gloom in the air. And that was true, I never would have expected. However, I had never met an Amish person before, so I don’t know how I ever would have known just what to expect. He didn’t… seem Amish.

“Yes, I was an Amishman.”

“Aren’t you always Amish if you grew up Amish?” I asked, ignorantly.

“Not if you’ve been shunned.” He answered.

“Oh my. Why…” I began, before backing out of a potentially touchy subject. “Never mind.” I concluded. I had finished the eggs, then, and was preparing them for him to eat.

“It was my wife.” He said.

“She… she shunned you?” I asked.

“She did not.”

“Oh,” I responded.

“No, the community decided that I was useless, after all, after my wife died.”

“I’m so sorry…” I started.

“No need to be.” He answered.

I was ashamed of what I had gotten myself into. I felt that I was practically forcing this man to talk about the death of his wife, and the exile from his community. How rude.

“She had the… the… cancer, that’s right.” He said, collecting his thoughts.

“Did she have treatment?” I said, bringing his breakfast to his table. He tried to stand up before I swooped over and helped him to the table.

“She did not.”

“Why was–” I began, truly embarrassed with this whole conversation.

“We were Amish.” He said, cutting me off. “All of this technology, the electricity and the satellites and radios and such, we did not have.”

“Oh,” I responded. I didn’t know what to say. I got up from the table to fetch him his silverware, hoping that this would somehow deter him from dwelling on such things.

“We had children. Mary was the first. She was fifteen when my wife died. My son, Isaac, he was only eleven.”

He was still looking down.

“She came with the tumor late, the growth, it was horrible. Her pain, it hurt me – it hurt us all. Mary always insisted that we take her into a hospital, but I wouldn’t do it.” One solitary tear came about his right eye. There was no way I would continue the conversation. I couldn’t take it anymore; this man’s story was so incredibly heart wrenching… I had to leave.

“Excuse me, Jeremiah. I have to tend to another patient,” I said, shakily.

“That’s alright,” he paused. “Joel.” He said, as I was leaving.

I turned around.

He looked up at me.

His eyes were a bright red and his bottom lip folded in. His hair was quite a mess because of his nervous fiddling, and his hands shook upon his knees. Yet he still managed to look me in the eye… what a brave man he was. Agony and regret poured from the essence of his being into the air and worked itself into my conscience. What he said next stabbed into me even further.

“Thank you for listening.”

‘Jesus, I feel so bad.’

I squinted, clinched my jaw, and responded:

“You’re welcome.”

I turned around and walked down the hallway, down the stairs, and outside to smoke a cigarette in the same spot, once again. I finished my cigarette and returned to helping the other elderly for the rest of the workday. Jeremiah did not buzz for help again.

That evening, I decided to do a little bit of research on the Amish. I had been far too ignorant concerning the subject to even attempt to have an intellectual conversation about the lifestyle, and the research did help me understand Jeremiah’s situation from a different perspective. He didn’t want to be where he was. The Amish people are free, much more free than we could ever be. Cell phones and computers didn’t ruin their lives the way they do ours. They talked face to face; they worked hard to live, they believed strongly in God’s will, and treated each other with respect. Their dirt is our steel, our plagues are their feuds, they buy from nature, and we buy from man; our parties, possessions, sex, and drugs, would be no more pleasurable to them than the warm red dusk, which bled farm water: life. I decided to watch the sunset myself that evening, and as I looked into its indisputable holiness, I found myself at peace, as I’m sure Jeremiah was until it was taken from him.

I returned to work the next day, knowing that there were more stories to come. I was not worried, but excited, rather. For I knew, then, that his appreciation for the earth was far more real than I could fathom. He buzzed in at the same time – eleven o’clock, and I climbed the stairs to his door. I knocked. He opened the door. He gripped the same cold walker he held the morning before, and wore the same robe.

“Hello, Jeremiah. How are you this morning?” I asked.

“As I always am.” He responded, walking to his bed.

“How ‘bout some more eggs? Some toast maybe?”

“Fried eggs are fine.”

“I’ll get on it,” I said, sliding the frying pan out onto the stove. I looked up around his room as I waited for the pan to heat and stared at a painting for a moment or two. It was of a man and a woman standing side by side. The woman held a child in her arm. She had the appearance of a particularly strong woman, yet gentle, as any mother should be. In a way, she reminded me of my own mother, a strong willed woman who would never hesitate to punish me in my earlier days, but a woman who I was glad to have as a mother nonetheless.

“That’s my wife, there,” he began, “in the frame.”

“I can only assume that’s you next to her.”

“Yes.”

“She looks like she was a good mother.”

“She was.”

He looked down once more.

‘Here we go.’

“Joel,” he continued, “My children hate me because of that cancer.”

“Er… I’m s–“

“Mary wanted to take her to the hospital, but I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“That’s not how we do things where I’m from. It was what God had planned. All of these… these damned machines, killing and reviving. God did not want that for me, nor my wife, or my children.”

I was speechless. I cracked the eggs over the side of the frying pan and watch them sizzle. I didn’t have the courage to look up at him.

He sniffled a bit before he began again:

“You can’t reason with children. They told me I killed her. They told me that every day.”

“What happened to your children?” I asked softly, still staring at the stove.

“They left. Went to some godforsaken city. They left me there alone. It wasn’t enough to take my wife away, my children had to go too.”

“Where–“

“A man’s life may bring him through hell, but I never would’ve thought it would be this way. That was all I had. We never wanted anything more than a family to love and cherish, a family to grow and break and make other families for the same. I haven’t seen my children in years. I don’t even know where they are, and I’m sure they don’t know where I am either.”

Sadly, they did know where he was. They were the ones that put him there. They just chose not to see him. The eggs were finished, then, and I put them on a plate to bring to him. He stood up from his bed, and again I helped him to the table, where he didn’t touch his food.

“I think that–“ he began, before I interrupted him.

“We don’t have to talk ab–“

“Let me finish.” He said, pausing for a moment, sniffling even more. His eyes were teary once again. “I was shunned after they left. I was too bothered to do a damn thing. An Amishman outside of his home is a sore sight for our lord.” I looked right at him now. There was no going around this conversation. “Now, I’ve been taken into the company of all of this machinery. They say I can’t even move without it. I’d rather be dead. This is not what God wanted, not at all. They stab me with needles and sit me in rolling chairs, they put me in moving beds, cover me in sticky squares that beep every two seconds. They say my heart is bad.”

“They’re just trying to make you well,” I said, hopelessly.

“That’s not what God wants. And that’s not what I want. I want to be free of these things. They won’t even let me die, Joel.” He looked me in the eye, and I could see his lip and his brow quiver. “And when I do, they’ll zap me and bring me alive again. I never wanted this.”

He kept repeating that, ‘I never wanted this.’ It was obvious that he didn’t, and it was obvious that he believed God didn’t want it for him either. Maybe God doesn’t want that for any of us.

They say we are free here, but Jeremiah isn’t.

They took him and put him in this white box with a bed and a table and a television for the remainder of his life so that he may whither away “in peace”. I couldn’t help but feel empathy for him. So constant was the annoyance of these ‘machines’ that I would often find that he wouldn’t get any sleep.

He didn’t do anything to deserve that.

After he said what he said about the defibrillator, he cried for a moment or two, trying to hide his face from me. He put his head down onto the table and I looked upwards outside his window, watching the trees gently sway with Mother Nature’s beat. The birds’ song was dead, muffled by thick brick, insulation, and drywall. One could not even feel much heat as the window’s glass was specially treated. I sat there with him for a moment, until he stopped crying.

“God has a plan for you, Joel.” He said.

I smiled, “Yes he does,” I said, “yes he does.”

He dismissed me from his room after that, and I did not see him for the rest of the day. As for the rest of the time I spent working in that retirement home, I took care of Jeremiah, until he passed away in May of the next year. I made sure that I marked ‘do not revive’ on his emergency treatment information. I hope he went with some dignity. I quit my job after that, and found a managerial job in a small local business some months later. I attended his wake, and was one of six people there. We stood above the ground in which this victim of society, Jeremiah Byler, was to be buried. There were no machines there, no loud noises, no cars, or street lamps. There was only his carved wooden casket, the ground, the swaying trees, and the eyes of God above him.

-E.L.