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Rated: E · Short Story · Contest · #1613693
for quotation contest. When is living not worth the effort?
An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.
~Charles Dickens

Author's notes: On a local TV station website, I read some letters from viewers commenting on how they were handling the problems of the economy. One wrote that he was expecting an eviction notice any day from the bank and was afraid for his family, not knowing where they would go. A mother wrote that she was feeding her family cereal for supper because that's all she had. Letter after letter showed their woes, their fears, their despair. I had to quit reading before I broke into tears. I was burdened by their consistent lack of hope.

That burden led me to the following short, short story. It begins quietly with a person already in this state of despair and hopelessness. She grapples with her feelings of failure and inadequacy, her guilt and shame in her circumstances. As it flowed along in my mind, I didn't know whether she would end it all or come to some new resolution. I began to recall people I knew who had committed suicide or attempted it. I would alter the story to protect the families, and go with this story. Then another one would come to mind. I had never realized that I personally knew so many persons or an immediate family member of a person who had committed suicide. They all came from different walks of life, different age groups, different circumstances, but all were backed into a corner of pain that made them feel they had no other option.

It is the simple interruption by a park ranger that jars the character from her daze that's allowing her to back into that same corner. There is no new revelation, no salvation, no happy ending. It is my belief that the needs of everyday living and the familiarity of daily routine that keeps the masses moving.

Where Thoughts Lead

Lynn sat in her 5-year old car, motor still running, at a wayside on Afton Mountain. A university radio station was playing Mozart selections. The view of the valley was dimmed, but not obscured by the mists below. She wasn’t worried about the descent if the fog grew worse. The speed limit was controlled better here than most places, and the fog lights on the road were excellent. Only ice presented a real problem for the last few decades, and this was the wrong time of year for ice.

A car accident. Now that would make her life complete. A year without a job, a stinking economy, no eligibility for any assistance, no income. And all those health problems. She wasn’t even counted in the unemployment statistics. What a burden she was to her family. Insurance, medicine, doctor bills, as well as housing and food, car maintenance and gas. She had no spending money, unless someone had pity and stuck a ten in her hand. She had to beg for shampoo, or toothpaste, or deodorant from family members. It felt so degrading. It’s not easy to swallow your pride and beg; it’s the opposite of empowerment- a popular word in the new millennium.

Here she was, over 40, well almost 50, with a B.A., a failed marriage, no children, no money, no retirement, declining health, and a deflated spirit. No one needed her, and apparently they could all live without her just fine. Lynn Johnson didn’t make any difference in this world. She merely added one more person to care for and to feed.

Lynn lowered the visor and looked into the mirror. Her eyelids were still pretty good, not drooping yet, but some terrible vertical lines were forming underneath her left eye. Her upper lip was getting wrinkled, and her pale skin was getting discolorations. Her sensitive skin had always burned instead of tanning, and now was paying her back for too many hours on the beach, or for riding in the car without sunscreen. She rubbed her hand on her arm and confirmed that she was getting old lady skin-soft but no elasticity. She looked back in the mirror. Yep, that was it. Elasticity. Her face was looking old because her skin didn’t have that bounce back quality. Resilience—maybe that’s what the ads for expensive products called it.

Then there was her hair. She couldn’t afford hair dye or a haircut, so there it was: the multi-colored mop on her head. It was still shiny and soft, but it was streaked with gray, while still holding the red highlights when natural light hit it. Medium golden brown was the primary color, but probably not much longer. And it was too long for a woman her age. It was hardly dignified. She looked like a mother-in-law on the Jerry Springer show. And the hair along her jaw was getting longer. Soon she would have long silver jaw hairs just like old ladies she had known.

Like a lot of “mature” women, she had a small magnifying mirror at home, all the better to tweeze eyebrows. At least she did not have unruly eyebrows. But the mirror, 10X, made pores look like cavernous pits. It was horrifying, but Lynn just had to look on a daily basis anyway.

So now, she gently pushed up the visor, and resolved never to leave the house again without foundation, blush, and at least a hint of eye liner. The disadvantages of age. She had always hated make-up, but had adjusted to using “preservatives” as she called it. Now she would resort to a little more, but it wasn’t war paint in her case, just camouflage.

The interview had not gone well today. She felt it even as they spoke. The interviewer wasn’t the kind to hide his reactions with good manners and a handshake. He was distracted, and now that she thought about it, he was rude. The trip was wasted time.

She had lived in Roanoke for the last 35 years, but now that she was divorced, there was nothing to hold her there. She’d move wherever there was work, and housing was affordable. She hadn’t expected to get the job, but she was hoping it would have been a little friendlier, a bit more positive than it had. Job-hunting was depressing for anyone, but a year of it was mind boggling. She felt weary to the soles of her feet. Surely those kind hearts supporting her were thinking that she must be lazy or not trying hard enough. Maybe they were ready to drop her.

Her last job didn’t help her state of being much either. That last year, when the company was making all those changes, they hired all those young people. Not just regular young adults, but sassy, know-it-all adults who think anyone over 35 is retarded. They had been abrasive and disrespectful. They had succeeded in getting under Lynn’s skin and making her feel worthless and ready to be put out to pasture. even though she had more education and more experience than they. She took it as long as she could because she liked the owners. Finally, she had to quit. And then everything, not just the housing market. fell. Lynn’s timing, as always, was less than perfect.

Looking down into the valley with all these thoughts going through her mind, Lynn wondered what it would be like to be Thelma or Louise. She leaned over the steering wheel. The trees on the side of the mountain would only allow a person to be crippled. With her luck, she’d never hit a tree full speed head-on and just end it. Besides the railing was extra sturdy to avoid such things. Being an invalid or a paraplegic for decades to come was bleaker than her current situation.

But there was jumping. As a matter of fact, Lynn knew someone who had jumped off the Parkway. He had walked out to some rocks and plummeted below. His life was in better shape than Lynn’s, at least from appearances. He had a job, a house, insurance, a family, and plenty of money. There were rumors, but none validated taking your own life. The truth was never shared, for the protection of his family.

Lynn began to recall others who took matters into their own hands. There was the businessman, successful, well-off financially, involved in church. But his wife said that he had been depressed and seeing a doctor about it. Maybe, he had a chemical imbalance. Lynn had only met him a few times, but his name came up a lot because her boss was friends with him. Now she could not recall exactly how he did it, maybe a gun.

Then there was an old lady in church, the mother of a close friend, who couldn’t deal with the physical pain she endured. Lynn couldn’t remember what she had, just that she was in agony every day with no hope for relief. Her daughter didn’t even know her mom had a handgun.

And one more, a man she had worked with. He was only a few years older than Lynn. He was in trouble financially. He owed money everywhere, and his wife didn’t know it. He had received two foreclosure notices, but had managed to save the house. His wife kept spending like there was no problem, since she didn’t know. She thought she was helping him, entertaining his friends and family, buying him new golf clubs, giving to charity in his name. All because he had too much pride to share his burden with this partner, his wife. The life insurance was still valid with suicide, so he shot himself in the bathroom at work. He left a note, telling his wife that he would be helping her and the kids more dead than alive.

Lynn massaged her temples and considered her money problems, her health problems, and the burden she presented to others in the face of her non-productivity. Was there any reason to be alive? And was it normal for a person to know so many people face to face who had ended their own lives? Maybe she was meant to be one of them.

On the radio, the low, mellow voice, almost monotone like most classical radio stations, announced that a new hour had begun, and was followed by the strains of Aaron Copeland. Lynn suddenly recalled a good friend from her college days. He had attempted to slash his wrists, but had been found in time. When she met him, he was in therapy. They had become good friends. Eventually, he met a nice woman, got married, raised kids, got a master’s degree, and apparently lived happily ever after. He was a great guy, and it was always nice to remember him. Lynn’s life on the other hand, had gone in the opposite direction, and she would never know his contentment.

Her face was in her hands. She thought her moisturizer was working pretty well. She might look old, but at least her face felt smooth and soft. She kept her face down in her hands as she recalled the day she had walked into the living room to find her then-husband sitting with the rifle in his mouth, and tears running down his cheeks. She had run to grab it from him, and was relieved it didn’t fire as she moved it. She had been careful to grab the barrel without touching his hands. She asked herself later if that had been more for the drama than a serious consideration. Another reason to leave him, if he was willing to play her that way.

A tap on the window jarred her. Lynn looked up to see a park ranger. She lowered the window a few inches. He politely asked, “Everything okay?”

“Yes,” she said as she forced a weak smile.

“You’ve been sitting like that so long, and you didn’t seem to be napping. I just thought I’d see if you needed assistance.”

“Thank you. I’m fine. I just had a bad job interview, and thought I’d come here for some quiet time before going home.” She shrugged to look like it was no big deal.

“I’m sorry to hear that. If you’re sure you’re okay, I’ll leave you in peace.”

“Yes, thanks, again.” Her smile was fading, and she was slipping back into her own personal fog. She kept sitting for a while. Then looking at her cell phone for the time, she started the car.

Feeling numb, she forced herself to wave to the ranger, who was still in his car. She must not have convinced him that she wasn’t having a breakdown. She pulled onto the road, heading back in the direction she came. She focused ahead, and turned off the radio.

After hours of driving, she found herself in front of the house where she was being sheltered by relatives. She couldn’t remember how she got there, getting on or off the interstate, or turning into this subdivision. Lynn pushed open the door, thinking about the laundry waiting for her in exchange for paying her car insurance. She moved blindly toward the house, dreading discussing anything with them.

Inside they were all busy. Someone yelled out hello. She answered and went to her room to change. Hours of laundry waited downstairs. She passed through the family room, where one teen gave a half-hearted wave from in front of the TV, and the older teen ignored her, eyes glued to the screen. Lynn nodded and kept going. In the laundry room, she blindly sorted clothes while sorting through her tasks for tomorrow. She felt tired, but the laundry had to be done before bedtime.

1958 words

Author's notes: On a local TV station website, I read some letters from viewers commenting on how they were handling the problems of the economy. One wrote that he was expecting an eviction notice any day from the bank and was afraid for his family, not knowing where they would go. A mother wrote that she was feeding her family cereal for supper because that's all she had. Letter after letter showed their woes, their fears, their despair. I had to quit reading before I broke into tears. I was burdened by their consistent lack of hope.

That burden led me to the above short, short story. It begins quietly with a person already in this state of despair and hopelessness. She grapples with her feelings of failure and inadequacy, her guilt and shame in her circumstances. As it flowed along in my mind, I didn't know whether she would end it all or come to some new resolution. I began to recall people I knew who had committed suicide or attempted it. I would alter the story to protect the families, and go with this story. Then another one would come to mind. I had never realized that I personally knew so many persons or an immediate family member of a person who had committed suicide. They all came from different walks of life, different age groups, different circumstances, but all were backed into a corner of pain that made them feel they had no other option, whether their pain was physical or emotional.

It is the simple interruption by a park ranger that jars the character from her daze that's allowing her to back into that same corner. There is no new revelation, no salvation, no happy ending. It is my belief that the needs of everyday living and the familiarity of daily routine that keep the masses moving.



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