The intrepid souls gather from across the globe to write for a couple minutes and toss their innards on the virtual walls…or just play around for a while. Because it’s fun, right? And fun is good. Until someone loses an eye. If you’d like to read some great spontaneous flash, check out JD Mader’s website and maybe next Friday you’ll come by and help us break the blog. Here are a few of my pieces from this week. As always, lightly edited for your protection.
So what now, you ask the doctor? He smirks and says he can’t help you. Because he can’t write a prescription for what you have, can’t send you to an expensive clinic or find a specialist to excise the memories. Can’t separate the axon from the dendrite, can’t sterilize the synovial fluid to only produce happy thoughts when the cellular wingtips touch. Try yoga, he says, because it helped him. Or eat more roughage. He read that in a medical journal. There’s an herb the indigenous people of New Guinea take to emulate happy memories of childhood; he saw that on the Internet, and will tell you seventeen different websites to track your own vitals. Just stick this patch on the inside of your wrist and go to town. It’s all in your head, he says, without saying the words. You just have to use the words to dig the insides out, like soft muck you no longer need, to make room for the new ones, to purify the balky connections from nerve to nerve, and although they’re working on an experimental drug for that somewhere in Patagonia, using the mold that grows underneath the mossy rocks where penguins nest, it has not yet been approved by the FDA for what you have, and preliminary animal experimentation has only shown limited results. It does render them docile, especially when listening to certain talk show hosts, and we can’t have that. No, we cannot. So until the proper authorities have the proper double-blind studies to prove that ten percent of the population may be helped two percent of the time by this pill that costs three thousand dollars a month, we will not offer it to you. So try yoga. Or deep breathing. You might even try going outside. He heard that cures a lot of things.
After the phone call, the boy bolted out the back door and the frame slapped shut behind him, the breeze sailing his unfinished homework to the floor. She called his name but realized the futility of it. She could only stand on the deck and watch his tall, slender form, huddled and shaking, atop the pile of boulders in the back yard, the sunset bathing him in dull orange light. An ache shivered through her that he had to carry so much pain, that this was only the start of a lifetime of agony and unfairness and unanswered questions, and she wrapped her thin arms around her waist and ducked back inside. Knowing that when he was ready, when he was cold and hungry and in need of comfort, she’d be waiting.
It is the last time you five will get together for this task; the portent of it has flavored the room for the last four days as surely as the smell of old coffee and stale donuts drifting up from the bakery on the first floor. Each event is pressed harder into your memory: the Xacto knife accidents, running out of toner, computer crashes, typos that send your fatigued minds into peals of giggles. Already you are doing the remember-whens. You’ve talked about everything and nothing, four long days out of each month for the last two years, strangers who’ve become friends of convenience. But now all is silent except for the whir of the tiny Mac’s hard drive. You all stare at the screen as the file uploads to the big printer that will put the magazine on its giant presses for the last time. You crowd around as the percentage climbs, the thermometer fills, the last of your work together disappears into an ether you don’t quite trust. Ten percent. Eighteen percent. Twenty-eight. Forty-five. Your pulse pounds in your ears. You don’t dare breathe until it not only climbs to a hundred but the third-shift foreman calls in to confirm that he has everything he needs. The call comes. The publisher smiles and pushes her fist into the air like she does every month at this time. But then just as quickly she pulls it back, realizing, like you all do, that it’s over, that after cleaning up your work stations and throwing out the empty coffee cups and hoisting one last deadline beer, once again you will become five strangers.