Dan Berkey

© Copyright 2002 by Dan Berkey

The tiny hospital room smelled of antiseptic. There was crying and the soft scrape of cloth on cloth as bodies milled around the bed. White and black forms moved in and out of the sharp fluorescent light, like moths in the spotlight up at the lake.

The light danced.

I chuckled softly..."It's a hoard of moths with sticky feelers, sticky wet faces," and they spoke, "There, there good to see you. You're looking so Fine!"

Damn liars!" I thought.

I didn't want this...wasn't my scene. Death? Dying? What was that? An irritation. I stood in the shadows with my arms folded and stared at the foot of the bed.

"My father wanted me here," I thought, "so here I am, goddammit! Big deal!"

I fidgeted.

I wanted to get back to the driveway where Fred and I were playing 'Death Frisbee', a special game we invented in the 5thth grade during recess on April 8, 1965.

We dug it. Every summer we played, every day. Dawn to dusk. Mercenary whackers. Five years later, a thousand frisbees were dead. It calmed us.

We'd been playing all afternoon. Our hands were blistered and raw. They bled. Our arms ached. It was sweltering hot, humid and still. We were parched and hungry. We choked on dust. No matter. We persisted, passionately cleaving the air with our bats, blasting those damn frisbees out of the sky. We were on our 5thth frisbee. Pieces of the slain lay strewn in the rusty gravel, blue, green, yellow, red shards of plastic. With delirious whoops and shrieks and wild leaps, we were going at it, like devils on a vulnerable Lutheran Preacher, when my father got home at 6. The car roared down the long drive.

"What's up?" I wondered.

Fred and I had to jump out of the way. My father braked the car in the turnaround. He sat behind the wheel a long minute before turning off the ignition. Fred and I watched him, nervously. He sprang out of the car and glared at us. He didn't move. It scared the hell outta me. "We'd done nothing wrong," I thought. "He knew about Death Frisbee." He'd even seen us play.

"What gives?"

My father looked anguished. I turned to look at Fred, but Fred was running up the driveway, red dust pluming in his wake. I didn't blame him. "But, where do I run to?" I thought. I felt trapped. My father approached me slowly. I thought, O boy, here it comes!" I braced myself. Instead, he took me gently by the hand and led me inside the house. The screen door banged. Blackbirds cackled. A jet roared overhead.

He told me, "Take a shower, and put on a nice shirt." I had no idea what he was on about. He looked at me simply, and said, "She wants to see me, and it would be nice if you were there, too."

"You mean Gramma?"


Not another word was spoken 'til we got there.

Dad vanished in the hoard around the bed, and I stayed as far away from that bed as I could get. I pressed myself against the wall. It was all a lie.

Hoards of insects chittered, "How are you, Greta? You look wonderful," and on and on...

"Goddamn liars!" I thought. "Shut up!"

Finally, from beneath the sheets, something rasped, "Ginny, Bob...Danny? Where's Danny?"

"I'll get him, Mom," said Ginny.

In a panic, I slipped away in my skull. The frisbee flew. I gripped the bat. Swung it wide. Hard. Flesh found blue sky...dust and sweat...trees and the lake... My mother's voice yanked me back, "Danny!!" I tried not to listen. I thought, "...gotta get back to Fred!"

The frisbee became my Gramma's face. I was pulled toward it.

Mom nudged me. "Well, what do you say, Danny?"

I stared at the tiny ripple on the bed. I felt the bat still in my hands.

"What now?" I thought. "Jesus."

"There's Gramma, Danny."

"That's not Gramma! That's a hunk of kindling!"

"Say Hello, Danny."

I wanted to run.

"It's Gramma, Danny," she snapped. "Say Hello!"

Large shadows moved over me. Hands shoved me closer to the bed. A stale breath blew in my face. I thought, "I'm gonna be sick," and fell to my knees, eyes clamped shut. I smelled something sweet. Cookies? I opened my eyes, and I was kneeling on a bright linoleum floor in front of a laundry chute door lined with old matchboxes full of many colored rubberbands, bright tins of oil, detergents and bottles of powders. Gramma was cooking. I picked up a blue rubberband, and ran my hand over its worn length. I smelled the musty, oily rubber. I pulled it taut, too far. An angry hand dragged me toward the bed. "No, goddammit!' I screamed in my head...and a flash of faces turned into frisbees...cracked out of my momma's hand...on my cock...into the bat I swung in the heat...Fred running through the dust my blistered hands ...rowing the boat on the Dad roaring home in the car...rushing me through the streets at the dying Lie on the bed...screaming, "NO NO NO," leaping through the window in my head to the wild smells of cooking and summers and laughs with the Old Woman years ago when no other woman was good to me "Yes" to the laughing she gave me without madness "Yes" to the sticks of candy, sodas, twinkies, cookies, ham, salami, corned beef, cheese sandwiches, chicken, blintzes and wiener's from Porte's General Store that supplied the days and nights of the teeming neighborhood from its cobbled corner of Snelling Avenue and Allan Street that bustled with the traffic, smoke and scurrying people of St. Paul who never seemed to notice me, but Gramma; she noticed me, that large, perpetually jovial woman who invited me inside a loving world without rage "Yes"...

Someone nudged me, roughly.

I felt the bat still in my hands. I looked on the bed, and thought, "That is not a frisbee!" I tried to drop the bat, but it was stuck to my hands.

A nurse bent close. She gently touched the old woman's hands and smoothed them out on the starched linen.

Blue gray pulsed slow on white.

I stared at them.

Someone grabbed me. My mother hissed, "Behave, bad boy!," and I slipped the yellow kitchen tossing rubberbands down the chute, while Gramma carved sandwiches out of blocks of meat and bread with hands that worked out fishing line tangles, rowed the boat, carried trays of hot cookies, moved the Monster Hoover, held my sweaty head through nights of sickness and fear...

"How could they be the same hands that lay here?"

Someone slapped me.

"Those miserable strips of gray leather are not my Gramma's hands. Goddammit! They don't belong."

A sharp voice told me to take those hands.

They lay motionless. Waiting. Pale shadows. Lies. Lies. Lies.

"I will not touch these lies!"

Everything in the stinky room was a lie.

I started to cry.

"No, goddammit! Dan, stop it! Don't give them the satisfaction. This is not Gramma. This is not real."

I closed my eyes. Several hands grabbed me.

"Get away Get away Get away..." I yelled in my head. Please find me Gramma, please!..." Then I smelled the lake. "Yes" I felt the sun low on the horizon warm on my wet face "Yes"... The boat rocked...She laughed I laughed...Her hand flashed against the sky full of flopping silver falling in the boat...her smoothly gripping it up...laughing while She deftly took the Hook out of the Flopping Bass she caught and my laughing... "those are Gramma's hands Yes Yes Yes..."

I laughed.

"Why won't he take her hands?!" hissed my mother. "Stop laughing, Danny!"

She hit me and grabbed me by the hair. "Take Gramma's hands, Danny!"

She shook me...

"Bob help me, he isn't moving...Danny! You take your Gramma's hands, this instant, and say goodbye!"

My sleeve snagged on something. Surprised, I jumped away, but it was only the oar. Silly. I plunged my hands in the water to get the fish I caught, and grabbed it. I held it high. Gramma would show me how to get the hook out.

My face was hot. My eyes burned. No. It was good to have caught the fish. Why am I crying? Is it because I can't take the hook out? No. Gramma took it out. I have it here in my hands. My hands? Where are they? They were here a minute ago.

"That's right! Keep his hand on hers...Bob, he's not doing anything. Push him closer."

The fish feels gooey. It's still alive, Gramma. Can I keep it? I'll put it in a can and take it home. No one will know. I'll keep it secret. Sure feels weird, Gramma. Look at those eyes. I wonder what their seeing?

"Make him bend over, Bob. Let Gramma see him. Come on!"

The eyes stared up at me, and I wanted to swim inside them. They stared up at me, and I didn't want to be me any longer. No I wasn't me. I was a fish, and I'd found my mate.

"We should be swimming, fast, not floating around this swamp. Let's see if they can catch us. I bet they won't."

Hands grabbed me.

Danny, kiss Gramma goodbye."

I gripped my mate so he wouldn't get away.

"Someone will try to take this away."

I held on tighter. My mate's eyes stared into mine. The wriggling stopped. I heard the whispering. I bent to listen. Words came too slowly. Too softly.

"Bob, push him down!"

"I can't hear Gramma. Something's pushing me down."

"Stop pushing. I want to hear!"

The hand shoved me hard.

"I'm fighting, Gramma. Help!"

I pressed my ears to my mate's mouth, but I couldn't hear. My face burned. I gripped my mate. I fell into its eyes. It's eyes of boiling milk. They burned. I couldn't see.

I panicked.

"Bob, he's flailing. Make him stop. He'll hurt Gramma. Danny, stop it right now. Danny!! Take him out, Bob!"

Something slugged my face. My arms were caught in the fishing line. Oars swung hard. They knocked the fish out of my hands. I reached for it, but the air became a whirling wind of slugging, stung my legs and back. My arms lunged wildly, but I couldn't find my mate. I couldn't hear. I couldn't see.

"I knew you shouldn't have brought him here. See what a mess he's made. Mom won't stop crying."

I squeezed my eyes shut.

Lungs ached for breath.

"That's enough, Bob. Stop spanking him. Let him lay there."

Dark Bodies moved through shadows.

Voices were without meaning. Shadows were spectral. They could not touch me. Only Gramma. Gramma could touch me.

My body was moving, but I didn't care. I let it move. It couldn't hurt me anymore.

"You should pray for forgiveness, young man. You should be ashamed!" Suddenly a tiny voice in the distance began to sing. A soft whirring noise accompanied it.

"I know that sound." My back itched. "The carpet!"

I rolled against the stiff burrs. The whirring noise grew louder. "The Hoover!"

A screen door banged. I heard the familiar noise of traffic along Snelling Avenue. I jumped up.

"It's almost finished, Dan. Why don't you run out back and pick a flower to put on the table. We're going to be the first ones to taste the bread."

"Sure, Gramma!"

I put on my sneakers and raced out the back door into freedom. She had found me.

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