It is with much disappointment that I found out two weeks ago that my entry for the annual Writer’s Digest short story competition did not receive any awards. My dismay has abated a bit, but thanks to my partner’s support, I will continue to chronicle the lives of these distinctly broken and recovering characters.
I present Under Review. May it be a short story you enjoy.
Don Bracher was so livid after the screening and intake that he took decisive and vitriolic action.
Where was the therapist who’d said he’d come back with the Lithium write up?
He stormed through the front door of his home and sloshed through several knee-high stacks of compacted newspapers and magazines to his desk, which also looked like a small detonated minefield.
Telephone number for a patient advocate. Holy hell.
Bracher swept the crumpled bills aside and hefted into a swivel chair that always creaked like it was on its last dying supportive breath. The house still smelled like corduroy mixed with overly ripened bananas.
It took Bracher but a few seconds to Google Sunlake Psychiatric Hospital. His fingers flew across the keyboard. You’d make a surefire bet that his spelling was shot to shit.
“This is the bottom of the barrel wrst mental health hospital I’ve ever been to. Let me first begn by saying I was sent here against my will by a judge who order a mental health warrant for my bipolar disorder. My own private mental health concern!! Asinine how a judge think they have the right to take away the driving priveleges of a man who’s bipolar.
He paused to cock his head. Grady was splashing kitty litter against the plastic walls of the litter box and on the stained underlying newspapers. Dust specked with sunlight floated around Don’s perpetually puffy cheeks and jowls. He righted himself.
“If I could rate Sunlake less than zero stars, I would. Two hours I waited for a intake. Then the therapist gave me a long test for mania. When I politely requested more information on meds he said he recommended Lithium to treat my mania. I agreed, then he left. Guy didn’t even come back! One of his nurses said that I had to come back to pick it up tomorrow! Dr. didn’t even tell me that!”
The splashing of kitty litter stopped. From somewhere far away a siren began to wail. Don listened, his heart pounding in his cavernous chest.
My therapist didn’t even mention talk therapy. Plus my insurance wasn’t accepted at Sunlake. Never, ever admit yourself to this hospital.
His wife had been taking her lunch breaks from her job at the high-end clothing store somewhere other than their home, Don noticed in a dully painful way.
“Indiana. Like the state. Montalvo. M-O-N-T-…”
Of course the lady on the other end knew how to spell her last name, but not her first.
She was lying on her side, eye level with the pistachio shag rug which, remarkably, had no stains, unlike the underlying carpet. Indiana’s dealer’s house had at least two water stains on the ceiling and thick year-old grime on the hardwood floors. But she had nowhere else to Withdraw.
“No, I’m not thinkin’ of killin’ myself.”
Not the delirium tremens or Percocet type of Withdrawal. This was the addiction of urge. Her plight: rampant orgies and flings that her dealer had gladly thrown her into and kept her on every corner between Saxon and Bell Avenue for. She had never even so much as touched a joint, though she smoked cigarettes like a Boy Scout bonfire on the rougher nights.
Indiana didn’t want to kill herself, really. She had felt kind of empowered standing up to Diego.
“I’mma tell you this, and you get the cops right over here, ‘cause I know you gonna need to.”
The dripping just down the hall in the living room had resumed. She could hear every droplet. See the red lines snaking out from under him in her mind’s eye, like his veins had crawled out from the hole in his chest to try and save themselves.
“I done something I ain’t ever comin’ back from.”
By the time Roman was eleven and on his own, he loved posting scathing reviews of every new restaurant on Alot.
It began when his mom had left for Florida one unusually rainy March with a man he’d never seen before, who had a scar shaped like a slice of cantaloupe on the left underside of his chin. His mom had told him a nanny would be by to quote Keep you on track in school and make your meals, end quote. But s/he never came.
Cameron had offered him their home. “My mom’s cool with us adopting you,” he said on the third night of lukewarm Pizza Guy and episodes of True Detective. “I’m gonna make her.”
Roman thought about it now, reminded of his abandonment for some reason by the pork gua bao bun before him. Steam drifted off the thick slices of meat. He dug his fork into it and twisted back and forth.
“Not your type of bun?” Cameron held his sandwich in mid-air, eyes cool but concerned.
“Just thinking back.” Roman did a quick calculation in his head and figured that $2.36 for one gua bao bun bumped his Alot review up a good 1 Stanine. He had wanted to hate this particular food truck for its nauseating Lime Popsicle paint and the grotesque Taiwanese cartoon man plastered on the passenger door. Instead, he found that he liked the quinoa – just moist enough – and the crisp cilantro.
“About your mom?”
“More like her shitty cooking, anyway.”
“Yeah. You’re the one still here.”
“I’m glad as hell I am.” Roman picked up on the intentional poignancy behind Cameron’s words. Seven years they had run together, sleeping around with similar women and sinking their teeth into every food truck and post-modern restaurant within a twenty-mile radius. It was the only thing other than college they’d ever been good at.
Roman’s dad had died from colon cancer. Cameron’s old man served in the Army and came back with paranoid delusions and thoughts of self-harm. So they became brothers.
Roman flicked a piece of bread toward the birds. Cameron sunk back into his usual slouch and scratched at his chin bristles. Roman wondered how many times the smallest traces of grease on his fingers had turned his phone’s screen protector into an oily mess.
“What’s the verdict, bro?”
Roman stared at the bun, phone posed to review in one hand. “A little better than terrible.”
Back at Sunlake, Don’s intake psychiatrist, a former M.D. with Sicca syndrome named Dr. Wagner, sat at his desk and picked at a cuticle while staring down at his notes. He was trying to distinguish with squinted dry eyes whether he had written Librium or Lithium, to no real avail.
The single biggest driving factor for Indiana to call the crisis hotline that day had been her daughter. Alejandra had grown up going to a decent elementary school and had gotten good grades and never had to meet Diego – who was now deceased in the living room – even once, or hear about how her momma had slept with seven men in one night. None of that’d ever touched her little girl.
“Yeah, I’m gonna stay. I ain’t goin’ nowhere.
“I stabbed him with a kitchen knife. Like the biggest one he had.”
Then the outpouring of tears.
“He was gonna rape me.”
The gangbangers had, incidentally, not treated her so badly most nights. A couple of them even stroked her cheek in the least creepy way possible, after it was over.
Indiana tried to go to community college once, but her then-boyfriend made her feel too stupid to function in a classroom, so she left after once semester of biology and went back to working street corners.
The crisis responder was done asking her questions. She sounded caring right up until the disconnecting ‘click.’
And so Bracher took to raking leaves in his yard to blow off more steam. Except there wasn’t enough oomph behind the chore, so he ended up sweeping leaves every which way and thinking that the distended piles were good enough.
“Patient advocate number my ass!”
His next-door neighbor stood in his driveway, one reusable shopping bag in hand, and watched. “You might rake them into actual piles, Don,” he called.
“Not right now Derek!”
Derek watched him throw down his rake and stomp out onto the edge of the vacant street. He lazily wondered whether to get his .38 or not, then shrugged and went inside to leave the poor bastard alone.
The man who came to her was so kind.
“My name is David Hoffman,” he said, squatting next to Indiana so that his belt with his gun and handcuffs barely creaked. “Are you Ms. Montalvo?”
She had watched him direct the other officer, an actual cop, into the living room. Mental Health Officer, this one. His badge said so.
“Would you like to tell me what happened, ma’am?”
When Indiana sat up, she was without dizziness. She imagined the cold clamp of the handcuffs on her wrist, then her daughter’s thin warm fingers interlacing with her own.
“I know I done a bad thing. But I’ll talk to you.”