Thursday, June 3, 2010

The World in Miniature: Obvious Signs of Death

by Oscar Anon

Obvious Signs of Death

Jamal is sweaty and dense, round as a pie. He moves as though he is pulling his feet out of thick mud. After a few days of EMT class he is visibly in love with me, his pie face glowing softly as he turns his shining pie eyes to me, which he does every few minutes, sure of my ability to unlock the mysteries of the world. Today is compression day which should take only forty-five minutes but since there are ninety students in the class and eighty-nine of them are not the sharpest tacks in the box it will take us four hours, until lunch, and then after lunch we will have to review, and then it will be time to go home. At the break yesterday Jamal brought his registration packet to me, all twenty-four pages, and said, What does this say? and I looked at it and then at him and then I took it, as though I were going to read it out loud to him, and then I said, It doesn’t really say anything at all. You know it’s, like, not your responsibility, says my roommate Savannah, bugging out her eyes in the mirror and drawing thick black arcs across the lids. There’s, like, only so much you can do for people, and you’re, like, paying for this class too. Just don’t, you know, sit next to him tomorrow. She looks at her pumpkin-colored mouth for a long time and I look at her face in the mirror and wonder how I got here, to this moment, in this bathroom, in this life. Do you think this is, like, too orange? I don’t think I can wear orange, I can’t believe I bought this lipstick, it cost sixteen dollars, can you believe I bought it? I should have made them put it on me in the, like, store.

Later I call my father and tell him about the earnest and gentle face of Jamal. It took me a long time to explain the registration packet to him, I say. And then I realized he can’t read, I say. Amy, says my father, Amy, I am so proud of you. I could see my father in my head, rheumy and wheezing, wedged into his favorite chair and wearing a weeks-dirty shirt. I could see him pouring himself a drink, and then another, and then just one more. But I’m not sure I’m going to have time to help him every day, I say. I mean, there’s a lot of homework and stuff. It’s not like he can do the reading, I say. Amy, my father says, I think it is a wonderful thing that you are sharing your many gifts with this young man.

The next day I sit next to Jamal again.


JustineDell said...

I love the part about the students in the compression class. It made me laugh. Hopefully people like that don't actually pass EMT class and work on people. I would prefer someone with a brain working on me if my guts are hanging out from a car crash or something.

Thanks for sharing!


Mira said...

This is just terrific.

Oscar, are you male? Because you captured a female voice here - very nicely done.

I love how you revealed the complicated motivations that go into someone taking on a caretaker role and the struggle to not get sunk into the mire of someone else's needs (nice metaphor in the second line - pulling feet out of mud). Compassion vs (almost) revulsion; guilt vs self-preseration; not wanting to be shallow vs. keeping things in perspective; and the underlying struggle between living up to her father's expectations vs. feeling trapped. You also showed the origin of all the caretaking with her father's alcoholism.

One comment - I got alittle confused in the dialogue section between the two roommates - you may want to use quotation marks.

Nice psychological study in such a brief piece - I really liked this.

Matthew Rush said...


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Great voice! And I love the tug of emotions - although for a moment I was confused when she said she didn't know if she would have time to take care of him - I thought for a moment she was referring to her father with his multiple shots. Was that intentional?

I like the brief last line. :) Nicely done.