Results 1 to 2 of 2

Thread: Chimney

  1. #1
    Registered User JacobF's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2008


    The cold clutched Lucy’s hands as she tried to open the thick glass door to the clinic. Her daughter stood behind her, touching her shoulder.

    Blue veins protruded from Lucy’s hands like vines, which shook when a burst of wind came. Lucy turned to her daughter with an elderly look of annoyance. “I can open a damn door by myself, Mary,” she said, her hands still on the handle.

    “I know, Mom, you just looked like you needed help,” Mary said softly.

    Mary watched her mother pull the handle, the door barely opening. Watching each attempt delivered pangs of nausea into Mary’s stomach. It was more painful than just cramps, Mary knew, as she placed a plump hand on her own belly. Mary couldn’t describe what the pain was, because she couldn’t discern where it came from or where it was going.

    The first time the pain had come was at one o’clock on that rainy night when she picked up the phone and was greeted by her mother’s grim voice. Her mother had confirmed her decision and it was to be carried out the next week. Mary covered her rosy face with kleenex the entire night, the sobs barely seeping through so that her husband would go back to sleep and not hear her. She was kept awake all night by conversations which she couldn’t remember took place or not, or whether they were going to take place. Clutching her pillow as the conversations strung along, her chest hardened with cold. And with this she had remembered why she didn’t recall the conversations very often.

    It was a torturous sight, Mary watching her mother fumbling with the door handle, her eyes intensely fixed. Finally, the receptionist noticed Lucy’s struggle and opened the door for her, smiling, silent. Lucy took quick steps – quick for an old lady, at least – into the doorway ignoring the receptionist, and Mary, looking down as if to say I’m not with her out of shame for her mother’s stubbornness, followed. Though Lucy had already found a seat in the waiting room and morphed into an upright posture, Mary stood in the corner by a rubber plant and sulked. I can’t sit down, she thought. I don’t deserve to. I should stop her from doing this.

    But really, she couldn’t. It was Lucy’s decision, and despite that these days anyone can play God with their own lives Mary wasn’t going to try with someone else’s. Even if that someone else happened to be the person who raised her and cherished her through her childhood which was fraught with wide-eyed confusion. Lucy was the person who told her corny jokes which were funny for the reason they were corny, the person who sat on the lawn and beamingly greeted her arrival after school, and the person who, despite the angry voice of Divorce which echoed into their home from across the country, stayed glowing with happiness.

    Now that person was tearing like old wallpaper. It was a mystery to Mary, and often she tried to discern the looming grey cloud which so suddenly replaced her mother’s halo. Or “the bitter bug” as Mary’s sister-in-law, Sheila, would joke when Lucy left the room for a cigarette at family functions. But Sheila didn’t know the Lucy who Mary once knew, and besides, Sheila was a dolt. She loved to hurl her cheer at Mary like any young obedient Nova Scotian lady. She was insipidly full of herself, and if Mary and her mother agreed on anything it was that.

    Mary wore a crooked smile at this thought, if only for a second, before it disappeared. It’s no use trying to stop her from doing this, Mary concluded. It was destiny, or fate, or maybe just bad luck; Mary didn’t even know how to categorize it.

    Mary’s eyes hovered along the waiting room’s little niceties, which baffled her to the point that she shared her mother’s decay. The clinics in Halifax, she remembered, were antiquated but still homely, furnished with hand-sewn pillows and strings of light which brightened the room. And Mary could greet anyone there. But here, the entrance to the “Treatment Ward” looked like a stainless steel refrigerator; the stacks of files behind the receptionist’s desk may as well have been Nazi liquidation documents; the fountain in the middle of the room, when examined closely, was deceptively shallow; the cold metallic-silver sign at the end of the waiting room which read “Schiavo Clinic,” and at the sub-heading, “A Dignified Passing.” The reflection of her mother’s scrunched face was eerily present in the big “S” for Schiavo, and she wondered if perhaps her mother was right: maybe it was meant to come to this.

    Lucy’s eyes kept still like planets stuck in time. She wasn’t looking at anything in particular, although the bold font of People magazine painted the corner of her vision. She was plunged in her thoughts, until Mary looked at her and she assumed a stern expression. “Don’t look at me like that,” Lucy said quickly, not facing her daughter. “I’m your mother and I know what is best.”

    Mary was already aware of this. After breakfast that morning in the hotel restaurant, Mary had suggested they walk, but Lucy, with that blunt straight-ahead look that Mary noticed had developed over her years of collecting bitterness, refused.

    Look at the clouds. There’s a storm coming. We’ll take the rental.

    You think a little bit of rain is going to matter now? It’s only a block away. Mary said, her eyes full of agitation.

    You think I can’t even make one damn decision without you pestering me about it? Lucy said. Mary did not refute; she paid the bill, stood up, strode across the lobby and opened the door for her mother. Lucy stepped out of the hotel with a crackle in her knees. Her movements were wobbly and ungraceful, her skin looked like molten rock, and she could barely balance because her joints were devoured by arthritis. Measly, but certainly not weak, Mary knew. So why does she want this?

    They drove.

    Mary was still distracted by the frighteningly clean, shiny sign, so she scoped out a place in the corner of the waiting room and sat there. She could not see her mother anymore, although she sat near a tray of pamphlets which with every iota of her conscience she ignored. Instead, Mary side-long observed the fifty-something man who was reading the Globe and Mail. Beside him lay a metal suitcase – the metal looked similar to the sign -- and he made short peeks over his paper as if he were expecting something. Why does he want to be here? There was a creepy calmness to him as he read the business section that, among the scabbed and ill spirits in the room, kindled an unsettling flame. And it roared. Mary wondered then whether her mother, despite her defiant posture, was feeling the effects of her decision yet. That she would not return from this room the same person. She would not return at all. Mary was overcome by a sick vengeance with this thought. You know it all, don’t you? Well, not anymore. When you walk into that room you’ll feel it. You’ll feel what I have felt.

    Mary stopped herself and realized she was digging her nails into her thighs.

    Suddenly a doctor appeared, standing in the doorway to the Treatment Ward. After he paced to the receptionist’s desk and stood there a while, he walked over. Mary prepared herself for the announcement; she wouldn’t cry, no, and she would compose a dignified version of herself just like her mother had. The doctor, however, didn’t make the slightest look in Mary’s direction, and instead shook hands with the man who had the metallic suitcase.

    “I’m glad you’re here so soon. I’m actually in need of a batch right now,” the doctor said. The man stood up. “Follow me and we’ll get this all set up.”

    “Sounds good.”

    They walked into the Treatment Ward. The unsettling flame was still crackling, even burning Mary, despite that the man’s Globe and Mail hung limp over the rack and he had carried his suitcase out with him. Swirling in Mary’s stomach were thoughts, in her mind was nausea, and by her ears she could touch many dangling conversations with her piercing step-sister, with her husband whose television forced him to look away, with family, friends. They were the conversations which had kept her awake. She wanted to escape from them, so she slowly grabbed a pamphlet from the stack beside her and in her mind mechanically agreed to the soothing words, hoping they would fix her malfunctioned senses. Yes, I see, yuh-huh, yes…

    Then they heard it: “Lucy Bird?” To Lucy, it was like the greeting of an old friend from high school. Mary dropped her pamphlet and walked over to her mother who was standing near the Treatment Ward entrance. No more hide and seek. Mary and Lucy took a long look at one another, Mary compassionate, Lucy stern. “Are you ready?” the nurse said. Lucy nodded. “Is this your witness?” asked the nurse, looking at Mary, and Lucy nodded again. “Follow me, please.” They walked into the treatment centre; it was white and silent. The nurse pointed to a room and Lucy obediently walked in, leaving the door creaked open.

    The nurse then ushered Mary into a dim room with a coffee-cream couch, which felt like expensive as she ran a finger along its cushions. It faced a window that looked into the treatment room where Lucy sat on an operating bench, but on Lucy’s side the window was a mirror. Mary’s room was like an apartment: there was a mini-fridge, magazines, everything that was supposed to comfort Mary but instead delivered chills. “Please take a seat,” the nurse said, then left and returned with some sort of manual. Standing over Mary, she began to read from it. “If you witness any misconduct from the doctor or the patient… if you believe the patient is unfit… if there are any doubts… please press the red button by the door immediately.” After the nurse left she sermonized from the same book to Lucy, although Mary couldn’t hear through the thick glass which she tried to avoid like the pamphlets. The couch, as her large body sank into it, stopped giving her chills, and was actually warm.

    The doctor walked into Lucy’s room holding a syringe and a vial filled with pale green liquid. His outfit shimmered and gave a comforting feeling that slowed Lucy’s pulsating heart, though the doctor didn’t even nod at her existence. But finally, she would have relief. Slowly setting the syringe and vial on the table next to Lucy’s bench, the doctor picked up a file – which the nurse had stealthily placed there – and skimmed it. “Lucy Bird, hm,” he said, giving her an out-of-the-manual look of professionalism. No longer was he a doctor but an inspector, an intruder, and Lucy felt blips of palpitations through her veins. She shivered.

    Mary shivered, too.

    The doctor put the file down. “You really think this is the right thing to do, then, hm?”

    “Yes,” Lucy said coldly.

    “Why do you want to die? By the way, I’m required by law to ask this—“

    “It’s not about dying. My daughter thinks that too, but it’s really just about knowing when I die. I’ve done my time on this Earth, and it’s my right. That’s what the law says, eh? I don’t want to turn eighty or ninety or, with all those magic medicines they insist on pumping me with, one-hundred. I want…”

    The doctor stared.

    “Dammit, I want a cigarette.”

    She reached into her purse and plucked a shiny pack of Marlboros as the doctor’s eyes widened. She lit one and the doctor’s white garb was clouded by smoke.

    “Excuse me, there’s no smoking here,” the doctor said, stepping back with a forced cough. “Can’t you see the sign? This is a government sanctioned health facility. If you refuse to extinguish the cigarette we can file a—“

    “You can sue me when I’m dead.”

    The doctor snatched the cigarette from Lucy’s frail hands and stomped on it.

    “Enough horseplay. Let’s just get down to the procedure.” The doctor turned to the shiny syringes and vials on the table, then turned to Lucy as if he’d just put on a mask. A personal, human mask. “By the way, I know plenty of terminally ill patients who would love to be in your situation. They would love to have your health and wit and a daughter to bring them all the way from Halifax to here.”
    Lucy’s insides curdled. The doctor became an intruder again.

    “They don’t take this path because they’re courageous. They want to see life to the bitter end. Now, let me ask you again: why do you want to die?”

    With an expression of defeat, Mary answered: “It’s my right. Those dying patients will get my organs before you folks burn me into a crisp and my body shoots through that big chimney you got out there. And let me tell you a bit about courage—“

    Mary peered at her mother, who was ensconced in what seemed like wonderment. A realization that struck her just as Mary had predicted. A look of shame came upon Mary’s face and she placed her fingertips on the cold glass, imagining that she was holding her mother’s hand. I’m sorry. I was angry before. Please forgive me.

    There was a horrid silence, then, which trapped every decibel in the room and choked it. All Mary saw, through the hot blur of her watery eyes, was a needle enter her Mother’s arm as she lay across the bench. Mary put her face to the glass and it became clearer. Like a snake feasting on fresh prey, the venom went down, and down, and down, and Mary flicked the glass repeatedly. It made the sound of two coins clanking together, the only sound which escaped the vortex of silence. Should she press the red button? Maybe she was dreaming and had chance to wake up and end this all.

    It wasn’t so. The fang slid out of Lucy’s arm and she went still. Momentarily, the doctor signed something in Lucy’s file and walked out, prompting the entrance of two white-clothed young men with a stretcher who rolled Lucy’s body out of the room. All these entrances and exits reminded Mary of the play, The Lion King. Why now? Why am I thinking about that? She recalled one of the dancers, a young black woman, who came up to the mezzanine by a ladder and danced in front of Mary and her husband during Akuma Matada. Mary had always wanted to see that play since seeing the movie, and though her husband fiddled with his Blackberry the entire night there was an unfettered joy Mary got from finally seeing it. Like a prediction that came true.

    “It will be okay, it will be all right,” the nurse said, circling her hand across Mary’s blithe back. She led her out of the witness room and into a large office.

    “Here is the patient’s purse. Take some time to recollect yourself.” Clutching the leather handle, Mary was a ball of fright, as if she had just shaken an electric fence. “Please, take a seat. Call me when you’re ready to sign the witness statement.”

    “I’ll do it now,” Mary mumbled as if she’d been consumed by another person.

    “All right, I will go and retrieve the documents. In the meantime, please take a seat—“


    Steeped in aloofness, the nurse walked to the coven of files and paperwork arranged in giant shelves which stood behind Mary. She fumbled there a long time. She must have been new. Mary curiously poked through her mother’s purse and found a pack of Marlboros, with one missing, and took one. She lit it and took in a deep stream of chemicals, which nurtured her shaking body.

    The nurse returned with a tan folder and looked annoyed. “Um, there’s no smoking in here. Extinguish it in the sink over there, please.”
    And Mary realized with the crackling chimney hanging between her fingers that she didn’t even smoke. Based on her mother’s wishes, she hadn’t in her entire life. But, inhaling once more, she knew that she would grow to love it.
    Last edited by JacobF; 06-20-2009 at 10:25 PM.

  2. #2
    Registered User JacobF's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Anyone have comments/criticisms on this? It's gotten plenty of views, so I'm sure at least one person must have read it...

Similar Threads

  1. 2008 Short Story Competition Final
    By Scheherazade in forum 2008 Contest Archive
    Replies: 48
    Last Post: 08-02-2012, 04:10 AM
  2. William Blake Essay
    By Castaway in forum Blake, William
    Replies: 4
    Last Post: 01-01-2009, 08:42 PM
  3. August '08 Elimination
    By Scheherazade in forum 2008 Contest Archive
    Replies: 51
    Last Post: 09-10-2008, 06:26 PM
  4. Lote-Tree's Fan Club
    By Lote-Tree in forum General Chat
    Replies: 496
    Last Post: 01-27-2008, 04:55 PM

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts