Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Novel Experiment

This is part of the first chapter of a possible novel. I'm not sure if I should pursue the story. I'm welcoming all comments! Thanks!

Once Dead, Twice Shy

If someone tells you that death is the be all and end all, that when you’re dead, you’re dead…don’t believe a word of it because it just isn’t true. I’ve been dead, and I can tell you from personal, first-hand experience that all kind of activity was going on over on the other side. For one thing, the place was full of dead people. Dead kids were romping and playing like there was no tomorrow. Dead adults were milling around, talking, laughing and enjoying their “retirement”.

It was, quite simply, overwhelming. When I found myself there, I was instantly surrounded by crowds, everyone checking out the “newbie” to see if I was someone they needed to welcome. I was miraculously calm; not my normal self at all.

I searched the crowd for what seemed a good five minutes, and much to my delight, my grandmother emerged from the throng, a huge smile on her face. She gave me a bear hug…the kind she always doled out when she came to visit us long ago.

“Grandma!” I said and I started to cry.

“Good Lord, you haven’t changed a bit, Deenie…still weeping at the drop of a hat! You’re certainly not ready to be here, so stop your sniveling and go back where you came from!”


She pushed me backward until I tripped over my own feet. So much for a warm and welcoming reception!
As I struggled to regain my footing, someone tapped me on the back. I whirled around to find my 8th grade English teacher?

“Mrs. Handeyville?” I asked, my voice dripping with incredulity.

“Deena dear,” she said and handed me a term paper with a big red “F” scrawled across the top. “That was a very nice try, but you’re just not working up to your potential. Now you go back home and do it right this time.”

She turned and walked back into the crowd; I stood there with my mouth hanging open, the F-laden term paper dangling from my hand.

The next and most unlikely surprise was Mac. From the time I was started kindergarten until we moved out of the city right after third grade, Mac was the beat cop with the kindly face that manned the crosswalk as I walked to school. I hadn’t seen him or thought of him in more than 30 years. Although he only looked vaguely familiar to me, I knew who he was the moment he firmly grabbed me by the arm.

“Go that way, Deena” he said, pointing me away from the light. “You’re not finished there and lives depend on you.”

“Lives depend on me? What do you mean ‘Lives depend on me’? What are you talking about?”

A little more information would have been helpful, but all he did was give me a hard shove back into the darkness.

Suddenly I was gasping for air.

I opened my eyes. Everything was white. I reached out and found a sheet over my face. As I pulled it away, the sterile hospital-room environment came swirling into view. What the hell happened? And what was I doing here?

Gingerly, I felt my arms, head and upper torso. Convinced I was still intact, I pushed myself into a sitting position. Were my legs working? Yes, I could feel the sheet on my toes. I swung my legs over the edge of the table before I realized I was buck-naked. Then my eyes and stomach began to swim and I lowered my head between my knees and took slow, deep breaths, hoping to regain my faculties. After a few very long minutes, I inched my way up until I was sitting normally again. Where were my clothes? I slid off the edge of the table and touched my feet to the floor, tentatively, wrapping myself in the sheet as I tested my ability to stand.

I walked forward a few halting steps, using the cold tile wall as my crutch. When I turned around, I saw a telltale, blue plastic hospital bag under the table.

“Thank God!” I said, aloud.

I opened the bag and extracted the remains of my clothing. My running shoes and jeans were intact, but my brand new L. L. Bean T-shirt, my favorite Victoria Secret bra and the matching panties were cut to ribbons.

“Damn! I only wore that shirt once. And my undies! Don’t these people believe in unfastening?”

I slipped into the jeans, sans the underpinnings. It was my first, and hopefully last, experience with rough seams rubbing and chafing in places unmentionable. I was over 40; it was hardly the time to start going panty-less, and although I wasn’t sagging as much as most of the over 40 crowd, going bra-less was not very appealing either.

With the sheet draped over my form like some kind of oddly huge sarong, I made my way to the wall of storage bins and cupboards. I flung open all the doors and drawers until I came across a stash of clean hospital gowns. After fastening all the appropriate arm snaps, I put one of the cursed things on backward, rolled it up above my waist and tied it under my unfettered bosoms, sort of a large hospital-gown dam, keeping the twins at bay. Dumping the remaining contents of the plastic bag on the table, I retrieved my cell phone, my purse (which amazingly appeared to be untouched) and my car keys. Then I slipped into my shoes and bravely stepped forth into the hallway.

“Excuse me,” I said to the only other human I could see…a nurse with her nose in some charts. “Could you tell me where I am?”

She didn’t even look up. “Metro.”

I guess I hadn’t yet made an impression.

“Would you mind telling me what happened, how I got here and who cut up my L.L. Bean T-shirt and my Victoria Secret undies?”

She looked up. The sarcastic retort she intended was choked off by a blood curdling scream. Then she hit some kind of button that set off a security siren.

Policemen and security guards came running, guns drawn. They found the nurse cowering in a corner and me, clad in jeans and my makeshift bustier, purse slung over my shoulder, leaning on the chest-high counter at the nurse’s station.

“She’s dead, she’s dead!” screamed the quivering mass of supposed medical knowledge.

“What’s going on here?” one policeman demanded.

“That’s exactly what I was asking. Then she started screaming and pushing buttons,” I said.

“You must have done something,” he said.

“Well I did. I woke up naked and covered with a sheet in a room down the hall. I found my shoes and jeans and what was left of my brand new L.L. Bean T-shirt and my gorgeous matching Victoria Secret bra and panties in a plastic hospital bag under the table. I got dressed as best I could and came out here to ask what happened, how I got here and especially who cut up my clothes. She took one look at me and went ballistic. I think the guys in white coats need to come take her to a safe place.”

“She’s dead, she’s dead!” the nurse continued to scream.

“Give it a break, lady,” I said. “You’re not the one who just woke up naked and covered from head to toe like a cadaver.”

Drawn guns followed me as I walked to the other side of the hall and sat down in a chair.

“I’m not leaving until someone tells me how I got here and who destroyed my clothing.”

The rest of the day will live in infamy, at least in my mind. I was detained for hours as the hospital administrator grilled me. I was re-examined at considerable length by the doctor who had declared me dead only hours before, as well as by his superiors and multiple other colleagues.

Upwards of 95% of the medical staff wandered in and out of the room gawking at the ‘miracle woman’ who had awakened from the dead. I was poked and prodded, quite literally, up one end and down the other. Finally, I was told that I was brought in by ambulance after suffering a severe allergic reaction…to crab cakes.

After about 8 hours of insanity, they put their collective medical degrees to work and came up with two conclusions that no lay person could ever possibly have figured out:

1) I was most definitely not dead and
2) I should avoid eating crab cakes…duh.

I never did find out the name of the culprit that slashed my clothing…and no offer of reimbursement was forthcoming. I wondered if I could claim the pricey undies on my insurance.

Eventually, I was released on my own recognizance. In other words, I refused to stay any longer. They had no legal right to keep me there. As I climbed into the cab that would take me back to the restaurant where the fatal crab-cake incident had occurred, I saw the screaming nurse, strapped to a gurney, being loaded into an ambulance marked Haverford Sanitorium. How fitting, I thought…and smiled.