Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Brown Paper Bag

I am compiling a group of stories centered around my experiences in the field of home health. Of course, I won't use real names or details that would break confidentiality. Today, the first piece, Brown Paper Bag, was published in Estuary Literary Magazine. I'm not sure when I will have enough stories to put together the book, but I will submit pieces here and there until I do.
I can't do a direct link to this one. It's in issue three under "Story Corner".

Brown Paper Bag

    I’d been worried about the home health visit since the moment I received the phone call asking if I could add the patient to my case load.  I had never been choosy about which patients to take but was anxious about going to this particular area alone.  I pulled the clipboard from my bag and checked the address, scanning the road signs as I did.  Just when I started thinking I must have missed the road, I spotted the faded green sign.  Only three of the letters were visible from behind a thick vine that ran along a chain link fence then up the pole, before wrapping itself around the sign.  Two half-deflated helium balloons hung from a ripped poster board secured to the fence.  Big, boxy letters in neon red and purple announced,

“Birthday Par…”

My mind was busy filling in what was missing from the ripped poster as I made the right turn onto Pink Street. 

   Dirt driveways running through clusters of rusty mailboxes opened up to randomly placed mobile homes positioned in all directions, the back yard of one running into the front yard of the next.  There was nothing to assign any of them to the addresses on the sides of the mailboxes.  The tree line bordering the road opened up to reveal rows of identical white-framed houses.  The yards were bordered by chain linked fences or picket fences missing every other section.  Broken-down cars littered every other yard.  The missing tires served as flower bed borders, leaned against rusty tin auto shops, or rested on top of trash piles.  An abandoned couch sat in the yard of the last white house in the row.  In front of it was an electric fan on a long, beaten coffee table.  A cord ran from the fan to an orange electric cord that disappeared into a cracked window on the side of the house.       
   A small dot in the road ahead grew larger as I drove slowly toward it.  It evolved into a middle-aged man with his head bowed as he walked along the jagged pavement along the side of the road.  In his left hand, he carried a small brown bag that was twisted at the top, probably around a bottle that was contained within.   A 12-pack of toilet paper hung from underneath his right arm.  I slowed the car to a near stop, but when it didn’t look as if the man would look back, I pulled up slowly beside him.  I ripped the bottom from the first sheet of paper on the clipboard, quickly jotted down my patient’s name, and leaned across the passenger seat to hold the piece of paper out the cracked window.  When the man stopped, I waited for him to look up.  When he didn’t, I spoke,
   “Excuse me, sir, but could you tell me if this man lives on your street?” I asked hesitantly.
   “Of course,” the man answered as he glanced at the name then finally lifted his eyes and met mine.  “He certainly does.  Follow me.”
I let the car coast, allowing the man to ease back ahead of me.   He cast his eyes down to the ground and continued walking. 
    The street was quiet except for the occasional passer-by and a dog that barked in the distance in regular ten-second intervals.  Wavy lines of heat hung just inches above the black pavement.  In moments, they were swallowed by clouds of steam as the first drops of rain began to fall.  I inhaled deeply as the air circulated through the open windows.  The man pulled the paper bag nearer and sat the toilet paper down as he reached back and pulled a hood from the flimsy gray jacket over his head.  He gathered the tissue and continued walking.  I pressed the gas with plans of catching up to the man and offering a ride, but when I saw him pull the bag even closer, my heart hardened against him for what I knew must be inside.  The man stopped abruptly and looked back at me, nodding toward the next house on the left.  I waved, mouthing a “thank you”, and prepared to pull into my patient’s drive.  As I gave the dingy white- framed house and surrounding yard a visual inspection, I heard the squeals of children and the creaking springs of a screen door, followed by a loud pop as the door snapped back into place.  Three dirty, but beautiful, children ran down the front steps, into the rain, and straight toward me.  I waved them back as I prepared to pull in between the two vehicles already in the small drive in front of the house.
    As I opened the door to greet the children, the first one ran right past me.  The rest of them followed close behind, each one screaming separately one word that ran together in coherency.
What?  I must have missed my patient out by the road, perhaps checking the mail or trying to get in from the rain.
I glanced back toward the road just in time to see all three children attempting to jump into the man’s arms.  He dropped the 12-pack of toilet paper and held his right hand out, palm up, as if to tell them to do the same.  With a toothy grin, the man untwisted the top of the brown paper bag and reached inside.  He rummaged around until the children began laughing and urging him to hurry, then pulled out a handful of candy and dropped a couple of pieces into each one of their open hands.  He continued this process until the last of the candy was distributed then wadded up the bag and crammed it into his pocket.  He then stooped to pick up the toilet paper one last time before following the children into his home, stopping only to glance back and wave me forward with his now empty left hand.

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