11.30.2008 | By: Alisa Callos

Small Beauties

It is winter in more ways than one, thought Johanna as she stared out across the newly fallen snow from inside her room. She sighed and closed her eyes for a moment noticing how the reflected light turned the insides of her eyelids a brilliant pink. Opening her eyes again she looked away from the window and around her room with it’s sterile white walls and institutional hospital bed. Today she couldn’t see the small beauties.


Her sixtieth birthday—the irony of it struck her again. She’d had a speech to give that evening on the importance of good nutrition in early childhood. New study data to go over, a graduate student to mentor, papers to grade…a busy day planned. A day I didn’t get to live, she thought. The end of her life really. She remembered the paralyzing fear and confusion when she realized she could not feel her left arm. The agonizing pain that struck her head so suddenly she fell to the floor unknowing for a time. The awakening in darkness and frantic desperate scramble for the phone to call an ambulance. But worse, the desperate knowing that this was the end. Knowledge is an evil thing sometimes.


That had been ten years ago. It seemed like fifty some days, trapped as she was in this wheelchair. She stared down at the rolled white washcloth limply clenched in her left hand. She could smell the sweaty rancid odor of death. Her nails were getting a little long, maybe she’d ask the aide to trim them. Thank-goodness tomorrow was bath day. Anymore it was the highlight of her week. She loved the sensuality of the warm water running over her skin. When she’d been a whole person she’d bathed everyday. Now she was a half person and got a weekly bath…she tried not to think about it for it was an issue that could make her fall.


In her mind, everyday was walked on a precipice. On either side the deep abyss of depression with its siren’s call of darkness. The trick was to not fall. She’d fallen many times and the climb out was agonizingly difficult. One never knew what it would be. Yesterday it had been the Jell-O. Lord, how she hated Jell-O. They served it here practically everyday. Where was the apple pie, chocolate cake, blueberry cobbler? If only they knew how it was made, she thought. It had been one of her favorite nutrition labs to teach. Grinding up the cow hooves and bones, purifying the collagen, adding flavoring. The ‘eeww’ factor for the students had always struck her as funny…and she was sure none of her students had ever looked at Jell-O quite the same way again.


Today the snow had helped her climb from the abyss. A thing of beauty, she thought. So fresh and bright and new. It dazzled her senses. Beauty was her saving grace in this lifeless place. It was her most often request. “Bring me something beautiful.” She’d say to her caregivers. Her windowsill contained a cornucopia of beautiful things…a bluebird feather and a small purple stone, a prism with its rainbow splashes of color, a small book of poems and a twisted piece of driftwood. Her small beauties.


Her thoughts drifted, tomorrow was her birthday. She’d be fresh and clean from her bath…she gazed at the bright light out side, suddenly brighter. She looked away and blinked her eyes rapidly, transported dreamily back—back to when she was young and whole—to when she had her whole life in front of her. She remembered the laughter, the loving, and the birth of her daughter. It is over, she thought. Lovingly she gazed down at the bit of sunshine that Dr. Gibson placed in her arms. Pure beauty. Yes, she thought, winter is a lovely season to be born.

11 comments:

Mae said...

What I love most about this story is the use of contrasts; from the darkness of depression juxtaposed to the bright newness of the snow, to the sinister nature of jello compared to the joyous feeling of a bath, and of course the opposite nature of birth and death. I think it nicely illustrates the constant changes we are continually faced with in life in which we have no control over. Also liked, in the first paragraph, the imagery of the reflecting light on her eyelids and how it sets the tone of the story for when she reflects on her memories. It's a very tight short story. Good job!

Linda Jacobs said...

This is a professional piece! That last image of the sunshine in her arms took my breath away! Wow!

Valerie Geary said...

This was beautiful! I enjoyed it!

anthonynorth said...

Excellent, and the ending was tremendous!

tumblewords said...

Excellent writing! The imagery is fresh and vivid and the tension controlled. Bittersweet, it's a lovely read.

anno said...

I keep returning to this post -- a gorgeous arc of a story, and a true winter's tale in many ways. Beautifully done, and lovely to read.

BJ Roan said...

Brilliant piece of writing. I especially enjoyed her beautiful things...and the "bit of sunshine" in her arms.

alister said...

Oh gosh, Alisa, I liked this so much like everyone else here! Mae said it best in big wow way, so I say ditto Mae!!!
missalister

present said...

Your piece speaks to the devastation of losing oneself (whole or part)... be it in a catastrophic event or as a response to everyday occurrances. Either way, we can be blocked from the beauty of life. And yet, beauty is the thing that can pull us from the abyss. The ending is sorrow and acceptance, painful and bitter sweet.

Tammie Lee said...

Oh my goodness, such a well written piece. You captured me completely. Your tales rocks many feelings deep inside.

*~sis~* said...

this was lovely...the sunshine in her arms made me smile :)

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