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A Sense of Place


She had wanted to surprise him, to prepare dinner and get everything ready. He had wanted to go out, but she had a better idea. What idea, he had asked, but she told him he’d have to wait. And so, she had taken a half-day off and left work early, but the freezing rain had come unexpectedly, and the roads had not yet been salted. He wasn’t sure that anyone at the time knew it was needed since the temperature had dropped so suddenly.

He left the college late, unaware that his wife was not yet home. He usually called her before leaving, but had been distracted by a student wanting a last minute conference. He didn’t think much about it since he’d home soon enough.

The ambulance was gone by the time he arrived at the spot where her car had skipped into a tree, an old maple that stood skeletal against the fading light, but the sheriff was still there. The red and blue flashers on his cruiser had cast alternating shadows as he walked toward the professor, who waited in his car.

What’s going on, Sheriff, the professor had asked, but then saw the car.

I’m sorry, the sheriff had said. She’s alive, but that’s all we know. I’d better drive you. The professor nodded, handing his keys to a deputy who would bring his car later.
At the hospital he learned that she probably wasn’t aware of the cold when the hypothermia overtook her, having been knocked unconscious when the airbag failed.
That, perhaps, was a blessing.

A blessing, he agreed numbly.

She had been found too late; there was nothing to done.

He continued to nod, mesmerized by the lights and beeps of the machines that were getting his wife alive.

Do you know if she had a DNR? No, he had said. No, she did not.

She’s an organ donor, according to her driver’s license. What do want to do?
He stared at the doctor, uncomprehending. The machines continued to beep and blink.
When he finally got home, he found that she had purchased all of his favorites including a rolled roast for the rotisserie; it eventually spoiled and had to be thrown out.

He took all the leave he could, then a sabbatical, declined summer classes. She lay in her bed, unmoving, wasting away. He worked her arms and legs, massaged her muscles so they wouldn’t atrophied, preparing for the time when she would finally wake up. A time he knew would never come.

His world narrowed to his home, now empty and hollow, his wife’s hospital room, and the vistas offered by history books. The ancient past was safe, a comfort. Those people were not dying; they were blessedly long dead. Traversing his own past, their past, that was now dangerous, a constant reminder that “they” were now a statistic.

By fall, he had to return to the classroom. Everyone murmured the proper, empty words. Time to return to the living, his friends had said. He’d nod and thanked them, appearing to agree. He knew he would not rejoin the living until she did, which she would not.
He offered only his standard classes, the ones he could teach in his sleep, the ones he could phone in. It would be his last semester nonetheless. He should have seen it coming.
The end came on the heels a girl, a sub-par student used to getting by on her wits and charms, which included ample breasts the strained against her always too-tight blouses. She knew he was married, knew his wife was in a coma, but thought she could work that to her advantage. When she was unable to seduce him, when he refused her offer of sex in exchange for a passing grade, she went to the administration, accusing him of what she had offered.

Her actions were so blindly selfish he could barely fathom what had happened. He lost his position, and with it, his insurance. The machines keeping his wife alive were expensive to run. He would soon be forced to pull the plug.

The student eventually recanted, but it no long mattered. The damage was done and he knew he could go back to that or any other school. It didn’t matter that he was innocent; one does not get out from under such charges. And besides, his wife was dead.

The day he was packing up his office, the student came to see him, begging forgiveness. Instead, he thanked her, saying he too had been selfish. He wanted to strangle her.
Through the entire ordeal, he had managed to hold it together, the days and nights beside her bed, the endless cups of bad coffee, the lack of sleep, the green line going flat, the green line screaming.

She had not believed in embalming so he was spared from seeing her dolled up, looking so natural.

During the prayers and eulogies, the trip out to the cemetery, even the lowering of the polished box into the earth, he held it together so well that he began to wonder if wasn’t he who was dead.

But then came the dirt, throwing the dirt into the hole, the dirt that would cover her forever. He couldn’t do. With both hands full, he sank to his knees and wept. Someone, he didn’t know who, tried to console him, to get him to his feet, saying it’s not what she would have wanted.

He shook them off and continued to howl.

By the time he had spent himself, everyone had gone and the sun was low in the sky. He stood and looked around, saw a shovel leaning against a tree, took it up and stood next to the hole. Some moments or hours later, a workman, an old black man he’d seen around town but had never spoken to, appeared at his side, and with more kindness than the man thought possible, said, here, let me do that.

The professor shook his head, saying no, he had to do it, but all he could do sink back to his knees and resume weeping, holding on to the shovel for balance. He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up expecting to see the old man, but instead found the face of the girl, the student.

He felt her hand on his arm, urging him to his feet. He could not comprehend why she was there, what she wanted, but he stood willingly nonetheless. He let go of the shovel, allowing it to fall to the ground. She took his hand, beckoned him to follow. He hesitated but then complied, allowing her to lead him into the gathering darkness.
He was hunched over his coffee, looking grumpier than usual, which was quite a feat. He hadn’t seen me yet, so perhaps I could make good my escape. I hesitated a half second, but it was all it took. He’d seen me and now I was trapped. I had assented to being here by showing up. I guess I should follow through. I walked to his table and placed my knapsack on one of the vacant chairs.

“Bloody hell,” he said by way of a greeting.

“I’m going to get a coffee,” I said. “You good?” He waved me off and returned to his glowering. Apparently his skinny latte had committed some great offense and was receiving the full brunt of his icy stare. Perhaps he was trying to convert it to a Frappuccino. Perhaps he had mis-ordered and this was the source of his urgent gloom.  He had called me ten minutes earlier, simply saying, ‘Can you meet me?’ ‘What? Now?’ I had asked, but he had already rung off.  He knew I’d come if I could; the Starbucks was just down the street.

I waited for my coffee, chatted up the barista as best I could with my limited Japanese, lingered by the magazines as long as I could, then resigned myself and returned to the table to find out what the Sith Lord was so bummed about.

As soon as I sat down, he was off and running. “That woman,” he started, but then stopped. I should have known she was the reason I was here.  ‘That woman’ was his wife.
“‘That woman’ is not a complete sentence,” I said. “You have a subject, but now you require at least a verb and an object.” He was, like me, an English teacher so he should have known this. “I’ll give you an example. ‘That woman was abducted by aliens.’”

“I should be so lucky,” he said.

“Okay,” I said in my cheeriest ESL instructor’s voice, “let’s try another exercise. Complete the following sentence. ‘That woman is . . .’ See, I’ve given you a verb. The rest should be easy.” Had I a whiteboard, I would have diagrammed it for him.

“That woman,” he started again. I thought it was going to be a long night, but finally, he got to the point. What foll0wed was rather garbled, but I didn't catch something about a “lead farthing.”

What the hell was a farthing? Sounded like some kind of bird, and I had to agree that a one made of lead wouldn’t be worth much. Maybe bludgeon if it was big enough.  

“Okay,” I said. He finally looked me, obviously expecting something more, but what could I say. I liked his wife. Hell, I’d introduced them. Not on purposed, but I was guilty nonetheless. Still, I had to give him something, so I latched on to the one thing I heard properly. “What’s a farthing?”

Exasperated, he launched into a rather pedantic, drawn-out dissertation on the farthing, its history, usage, and ultimate demise. As it turned out, it was an old British coin. Brass, actually.

“Dude,” I said, when he finally finished, “what’s with the Limey accent? You’re from Cleveland.”

“Just trying it on,” he said in the flat tone I was used to hearing from him. He looked at me expectantly, but I just shook my head. He shrugged and said, “Helps with the writing.”

He was working a script. He was always working on a script. He’d worked on several, though I’d never read any of them. It occurred to me that perhaps the scripts were a cover; perhaps he was the writer version of Ford Prefect, an alien in disguise. That would account for his wife’s abduction.

I could have asked him what the script was about, and perhaps avoid discussing "that woman," his wife, but that’s why I was here, so the sooner I heard what he had to say, the sooner I could get back to gazing at my navel.

“So, what about her, eh, ‘that woman’?” trying my own hand at the ol’ British accent; being completely tone-deaf, I had no idea how it sounded.

“Your wife is Japanese,” he said. “You know.”

Had our wives been Americans, he would have never said this, but he labored under the silly assumption held by many American expats that while western women are individuals, Japanese women are, well, Japanese. Homogeneity being something of a religion among the Japanese, it’s an understandable, albeit preposterous, assumption.

“Yes,” I said, “technically my wife is Japanese. Her passport says so, anyway.”

“She’s fairly Americanized, I know,” he said, waving vacantly, “but still . . .”

“But still Japanese, you mean.”

“Exactly. Got it in one.”

My only response was to grunt since her being ‘Americanized’(another preposterous idea) was not what I meant. According to her and despite calling herself "Jap" without a touch of irony, she would tell you that she is not Japanese; she is simply herself, maniacally so. I call her "She," as in "She Who Must Be Obeyed," but that’s another story.  

“Your wife being Japanese is not the problem,” I said.



“So what is the problem?” he asked.

“The problem,” I said, “is that your wife is an artist. One should never marry an artist, or any other creative type, and expect to live a contented life.”

“Your wife married you,” he said. Unlike him, I was always writing a novel.

“And see how well that worked out for her,” I said.

Daily Deviation!

Journal Entry: Sun Apr 1, 2012, 5:04 AM
I know that I have since November all but abandoned my many friends here, and for that I apologize, but it was for a good cause. I successfully completed NaNoWriMo this year, my first time out of three previous tries, and I completing that novel, The Crossroads at Forgotten Lake, most of  which you can find in my gallery. The requires at least another 20,000 words to be told properly and most of my artistic energy going toward that effort (with an occasional political salvo across the brow of Big Brother's dreadnought).

The first installment of The Crossroads at Forgotten Lake . . .

The Crossroads at Forgotten Lake 1I had just passed the smallest dot on the map, a crossroads with a diner and a gas station, when the car started to overheat. I pulled over and looked under the hood. Once the steam cleared, I could see that the water pump belt had snapped. Strange. I'd check everything before starting this trip. I closed the hood and looked around. The road stretched out ahead of me, woods on either side. Looking back the way I came, I couldn't see the crossroads, but I knew I could not have come far, and I'd seen a tow truck parked next to the gas station, so I headed back. I soon passed a sign naming the town. It was shot up and rusting, but I could still read it:

And as if that's not enough, I decided to participate in  Script Frenzy, the less grueling cousin of NaNoWriMo. I'm this to motivate me to finish a full-length animation script, The Fire Maiden, that I began a few years back, and could be described as Princess Mononoke meets Avatar as imagined through the legend of the Japanese Sun Goddess, Amaterasu. I'll post the treatment here later (as soon as I write it).

In the midst of all of this, however, I thought I really should get to deviantART and respond to the messages that have piled up (again, sorry). Upon logging in I found to my astonishment many more messages that I was expecting thanks being awarded a Daily Deviation of my flash story 'Space Camp'.

Space CampHe found himself standing in their daughter's room, staring at the dusty mobile of the planets, unsure of how he's come to be there. He looked at her bed, her desk, the unfinished homework. He considered opening the window, but the thought slipped away before he could act on it.
He wandered into the living room, looked out the window. The grass needed cutting. Did it? He wasn't sure. His wife would know, but she'd already left for work. Seems she left earlier every morning and came home later each night. Another thought occurred to him, something about each in their own way, but he couldn't hold it. Perhaps she was having an affair. He wondered at how he might feel about it if she was, decided he wouldn't feel anything.
He went into the kitchen, looked at the table, littered with unopened mail. He took a bottle from the cabinet and sat down at the table. Was he starting later than yesterday or earlier? He wasn't sure it mattered. He opened the bottle, but found he'd forgotten to get a

I wrote this story for 52/250 A Year of Flash (which has been completed but where you read many really great flash stories), but beyond that, I cannot say where this story came from, other than the fevered working of my imagination. I'm especially pleased that this story was selected because of all of my flash stories, I am most pleased with this one.

And so, many thanks to my friend and DA lit community powerhouse :iconliliwrites:, who is herself an excellent writer, for suggesting it, and to :iconthorns:  for featuring it.  I'm not yet familiar with :iconthorns:' work, but I will rectify that once I catch up here a bit.

And many thanks for all of those who have :+fav:ed the piece, for all of the very gracious comments, and mostly for all of the high praise. You've given me a boost of positive energy when I most need it. In addition to this general thanks, I will answer all comment, it just might take me some time to get to it.

And now, some recent favorites . . .

Hello by Tordo:thumb290000858:The secret by ABDportraitscross 2 by DanNeamuS P O O K S by burningmonkEnd by mpjawkaThe Way of the Cat by STALEH4NDWinter Shadows by artistwilderKatsu Curry in the Sun by STALEH4NDThe Creator by retransmissionAlice by KanchanCollage:thumb262328247:Matisse by comteskyeeRosie The Riveter by Miss-DreaSounds of the Cosmos by GorremAnother World II by AgnayaLeave me alone by Alexios78red cross by sploomphBehind the Window 2 by EvaPolly:thumb208113979:

Tropical Reminiscence by acutelyVW Beatle 1973 by madlynx7 by intelkuritsaHier allein by metusatroxAntagonic dreams by HRomanoFirst Snow and VW by cameraflou:thumb185426816:tao of physics 2 by hanciongBehind Closed Doors by MordsithCaraSticks and Stones by jennymajeskeGold Rush by Dave-EllisHeart Of Darkness by Dave-EllisAgainst The Grain by TaNgeriNegreeN1986Heavenly by realityDreamDesert Storm 2 by hougaard

Determination, Fukushima March 2011 by ABDportraitsgone with the wind. by justina-mBlack Throated Diver 9 by Starfall00sertar de femeie by trimbulindLovely Bones by lady-viciousCargo by iramHIstory's Shadow. by DVanDyk:thumb217424929:05262011-3 by hoaxeyelightning... by robotek87Behind the Window 2 by EvaPolly:thumb183508584:

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almcdermid's Profile Picture
Al McDermid
Artist | Hobbyist | Literature
I'm a novelist (who also writes short fiction and poetry); I take a few pictures as well.
Current Residence: Tokyo, Japan
Favourite genre of music: ambient
Favourite photographer: numerous
Favourite style of art: conceptual, abstract, Dada
Skin of choice: deep-fried chicken
Favourite cartoon character: me
Personal Quote: If you're taking it seriously, you're doing it wrong.




Final cover for All That Is: 81 Meditations on the Tao Te Ching 

10 deviants said All That Is Cover by almcdermid
7 deviants said Thank you, everyone, for the very helpful feedback and tips.


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analillithbar Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
:iconthankyoujump::iconthankyoujump1::iconthankyoujump2: :iconfavouriteplz:
almcdermid Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Most welcome, always.
partiallyHere Featured By Owner Oct 7, 2014
thank you!  :thanks:
almcdermid Featured By Owner Oct 8, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Most welcome. :)
scheinbar Featured By Owner Oct 5, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Why hello my dear thanks so much
almcdermid Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Most welcome, always.
AlecBell Featured By Owner Sep 23, 2014
Thanks for your :+fav: Al
almcdermid Featured By Owner Oct 5, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Sure thing. :)
EintoeRn Featured By Owner Sep 22, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
:iconbigfav4plz: :icondragonawakeplz:
Many thanks, Al !
almcdermid Featured By Owner Oct 5, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
My pleasure.
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