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Oedipa Maas, 03 Jul '12

Nursing Home

The trains went by for their final time yesterday. Sepia toned muscles of rust and iron and grease. Fred had been in the Marines for eight years and now he was not. He tightened the neck of his rucksack. The gun breathed with its own life in there. A gun. The prick of bullet.

The world had ended only a few weeks prior. And when he rose on the day where that began, he rose up among the barrels of fire in the cold with all the cast-offs of men gathered around them. They were, perhaps, the last men left.

He left them and wandered the plains and then the coasts for a very long time. Trains everywhere sat silent. Impotent. After a few months, he found a nursing home and knew his grandmother was in there. There were people alive there. A few men, a few women of various ages. They seemed unconcerned except for one man. He was tall, slightly stooped with a mustache. His eyes were concerned, but Fred doubted his motives. He doubted everyone’s.

The man said, “I’m Cory and I’m the psychiatrist here.”
Fred recalled his grandmother might be there. ”Is my grandmother here?”
“Yes. She’s been waiting and frankly we became worried you wouldn’t show up.”

Fred sat in the waiting room. People came in looking disheveled, wearing rags, clutching empty bottles. They asked in whispers about their kin and orderlies disappeared down the long white hallway. Then, after a spell, their grandparents or parents, siblings or even friends, were wheeled out and handed over to them.

Fred waited. Later in the day, a tremendous dust storm rolled through. White sand spilled through the broken windows covering everything shroud-like. A woman who seemed to know the psychiatrist slowly glided from the front room to the waiting room and then to the psychiatrist’s office and repeated this for a few hours. It was unsettling and mesmerizing. Eventually Cory reappeared wheeling Fred’s grandmother. She was dead.

“She passed while waiting for you,” Cory explained and without another word, joined the woman and they proceeded to talk in low voices with his office door closed. The dust storm had subsided and the air outside was now still. Fred was covered in white.

Fred looked at the desert, a strange desire stirring. Then took the gun and gave it to his grandmother. He put it in her hand, a hand that was already losing warmth, and closed her fingers around the barrel. And then he waited. In a way, he wanted to be told something, given directions, offered orders. He was stateless. Gazelles galloped past outside. Since when did Africa make it into this desert? Surely, they had to be in what he had once known as California.

But he wasn’t sure.

Cory appeared by his side. He looked at Fred and slowly sat down. He handed him a book.
“This is the last instruction manual,” the doctor said, “so keep it close and use it when you can. There are dangerous people out there,” and with this he stood and pointed out the window and they both watched as two giraffes plodded past, “and you need to know some things.”

“I know some things,” Fred replied, “I was in the Marines.”

“I know,” Cory said and nodded at the tattoo on Fred’s right arm.

Cory stood next to Fred and thoughtfully stroked his mustache. The sun was setting and smoke from the fires bloodied the horizon.

“We were here when it happened,” Cory said, “Many died of shock in the first day. The heat killed off the others. My wife and I knew of a place, a small farm in the woods where we could hide. So we did and we tended to ourselves and cultivated a small shrine to memories of ourselves, our people, things we had once known.”

He paused. The moon lifted a ragged visage over the desert. Carcasses of cars and animals and people lay dark underneath the bland light. A bone scattered garden.

“And she and I, we wrote things down with the last pen we could find,” he reached over and gently took the book from Fred. He opened it. Smiled sadly, closed it, and handed it back. With that, the doctor stood and walked swiftly away from Fred. He joined his wife and the both of them stood for a moment in the dark of the waiting room gazing at him. Then they were gone.

Fred could see them, the two impossibly small figures holding hands and stumbling over the land of annihilation. They were gone into the mouth of the moon within an hour.

In the distance, Fred though he heard a train. A faint chugging sound and possibly a horn and then all was silent.

So, he opened the book.

Comments · 3

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  • Anthony Blackshaw said...

    I wanted this to go on just a little longer, at the end I felt like I was on the verge of figuring out what was going on. Great debut @Oedipa Maas, welcome to Burrst.

    • Posted 7 years ago
  • Oedipa Maas said...

    Ah, yeah. Flash fiction. Little vignettes. Getting the hang of it.

    • Posted 7 years ago
  • Jessica Cambrook said...

    This story confused me. I liked the style of writing, it was really descriptive and poetic. However I found a few flaws with the actual contents. Fred says he knows his grandmother is in the nursing home, and then he's not sure. The world ended a few weeks ago, but the trains only stopped the day before. The psychiatrist wheels his grandmother out and although she has tragically died just moments before they could see each other, he shows no emotion at all. He spent months roaming the coastlines instead of trying to find anyone he knew or loved before the world ended, then it seemed like he stumbled upon his grandmother's care home by accident.
    So I'd probably sum it up as you've got a really good style of writing, describing things in a unique and pretty way but I think if you thought it out a little bit more and did a tiny bit of characterisation, you'd be brilliant.
    Also, I liked the ending, how it was ambiguous with a hopeful twist.

    • Posted 7 years ago