Things are not always what they seem...
Gothic Novel Reading
I walked down the hall, the din of final bell clanging in my ears. Dyed black hair fell into my eyes, obscuring the floor. I chose not to look at anyone, they were all so focused on inane things. Prom, cars, sports. My dressing all in black, from clothes to hair and shoes and fingernails, reflects my opinion of high school. No one chooses to think about life and how best to live it.
My locker was between two jocks; they always shoved me if I went to retrieve a book or my lunch, so after a few days I stopped using it. I carry everything I need for the day in a red torn backpack. The bus to uptown stops outside school near the fenced basketball area. I waited under the sign. This bus was never full this time of day. I liked to sit in the back, turn on my music and ignore the world.
I pulled the cord, the hospital loomed in front of the driver. He gave me a nod as I exited. I stowed my CD player in the backpack and threw my hair back into a ponytail.
The entrance to St. John’s wasn’t as fancy as the suburban hospitals. The building was grey stone. Years of grit and grime coated the windows and doors. You had to open the door with care, watching at all times for wheelchairs coming down the ramp.
“Hi Josh! You’re early today.”
“Yeah, the driver didn’t have any other stops. How are you Gail?”
“Just fine, hon.”
“How is he today?” I leaned on the nurse’s station counter, the backpack at my feet.
“Pretty restless, but I think it’s from the new medication. He’ll be fine, now that you’re here.”
“OK, then I’ll go back.”
I walked down the hall, waving to people in their rooms. It was too early for supper.
In room #10, I saw Mr. Maxwell. He was sitting in a recliner, one of those that will automatically eject you as it rises. He lets me sit in it sometimes.
I knocked before entering. “Hey, Mr. Maxwell, how’re you doin today?”
“Josh! Good to see you!” He looked at me, his blue eyes rimmed in red.
“Very funny! We need to start at chapter 10.” I walked to the folding chair beside the recliner.
“What was the name of this gloomy little book? You picked out a doozy this time.”
“It’s called ‘The Castle of Otranto’ by Horace Walpole. It was the first gothic novel ever written.” I picked up the book off the sliding tray and started reading.
“Not a very nice story so far, Josh.”
“Yeah, but I’m hoping it will get better before the end.”
Mr. Maxwell’s unseeing eyes stared at me, his thin hands quiet in his lap.
We stopped at chapter 15. It was time for his supper, and I had to go home.
“Gotta go, Mr. M. Same time tomorrow?”
“You bet, Josh. But next time bring something a little happier, huh?”
I turned to leave.
“Yes sir?” I faced Mr. Maxwell again.
“You never told me what you looked like. I need to have a picture of you up here.” He tapped on his bald head.
“Well, who is the most handsome man you know?”
“In my time, I guess it would’ve been Clark Gable, or some movie star like that.”
“That is who I look like, Clark Gable.”
Mr. Maxwell laughed, “Oh, go on, get outta here!” He waved me out of his room.
Janie was still at the nurse’s station as I walked by. “Coming again tomorrow?”
“You bet, same time OK?”
“You know you’re always welcome anytime, Josh.”
I waved as I set the CD player’s earphones back on my head. The downtown bus picked me up across the street. I settled into a back seat and smiled.