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Richard Hartwell

Rick Hartwell is a retired middle school teacher living in Southern California with his wife of thirty-five years (poor soul, her, not him), their disabled daughter, one of their sons and his ex-wife and their two children, and eleven cats.  Yes, eleven!  He has previously been published, both in print and online, in many journals and e-zines.


Mal de Mer

Justin’s current girlfriend, Kismet—and no, it’s not a made-up name just a made-up game of he and she—is long and lean. She is a girl of great latitude and limited horizons. She juts up vertically in front of you, although she is not of the earth nor is vertical her usual posture, which is much to Justin’s delight. Kismet is sun-tipped on top and burnt umber-bronze all over, or at least on those parts exposed to the discerning eye, which means most parts. All this is to the glory and delight of my youngest son, and to his damnation as well, I fear.

Justin is currently venturing among the swells and valleys of an endless sea, at least endless from his perspective. He has discovered his first, fertile, sexual love and he is voyaging, a drunken sailor. He labors hard by day and revels hard by night, learning the basic skills not taught in home-port. At eighteen he is exploring the best of all possible worlds.

My son partakes of Kismet’s delights, which are myriad I’m certain, and gives back to her I don’t know what! She is a bit older, a bit wiser, and seemingly more worldly. At least those are the colors she flies. Justin is struggling in these new crosscurrents of love—real, hard love, his love. But Kismet won’t see him every day. She has others anchored in her memory and occasionally one or another of those vagabonds hails her. She slips anchor and Justin is left adrift without her for a day or two, or a night alone.

Like a slowly sobering drunk, Justin is ill-fitted for conversation during these doldrums of his life. He is taciturn and moody, downright grumpy, blown about by the vagaries of his desires, until teased back by Kismet after others have departed from her once more. Justin refuses to listen to the directions, lore, and fables of older travelers. He considers them too world-weary and staid, with the love of adventure drained away by the years and their hulks left to weather and rot. I want to ask him where he thinks he will be on his journey a year from now, or five, or more, but I know his internal compass is not yet calibrated for that.

Justin loves a bit, he drinks a bit, he smokes a bit, and he works a bit. I only hope these bits and pieces of his youth do not become the flotsam and jetsam of his life. Given his feelings, his spirit, his youth, and his sense of adventure, I can do nothing more except wish him a fond farewell and make certain he knows the way home, and that I leave a welcome beacon in the window. Eventually this voyage will end, as all do. He will have seized the helm and returned safely home, or been a castaway, or jumped ship himself for some exotic land. In all events—if he is true to his nature—after a brief time in port he will book passage for some foreign latitude and ship out once again, and once again learn more about his own nature. That appears to be his current fortune.


Smooth Move

When is the last time you had a good bowel movement? I mean a really good number-two? What was it worth to you? A lot? Your peace of mind? Well, put a price on it! Twenty dollars? Fifty? Come on, I mean we’re talking internalized satisfaction here! A hundred? How about a movement worth four hundred and sixty-eight dollars? Would you pay that much for a piece of… well, peace of mind? I did!

A week ago, I took one of my loved ones, one of my own, to the doctor. He couldn’t really sleep, but just shifted uncomfortably from side to side. He wouldn’t play. He lost his appetite, couldn’t be enticed with his favorite treats. He lost weight. He let his appearance go: his hair was becoming matted and oily. He was dehydrated. He was losing his will to live; his eyes were wet with tears. Within the family, his nickname is Bug.

Well, I took Bug to the doctor. The receptionist finally called us in and the nurse took Bug’s temperature and weight. His fourteen-year history was already on file. She left us alone in the examining room, as they always do, waiting for the doctor. I think of it as part of a plan to verify how serious you are about seeing the doctor. If you’re still there when he finally arrives, then you probably need to see him. Eventually he came in, shook hands all around, read the chart, verified everything again—as if his nurse was incompetent—and began his examination. He poked and prodded and palpitated Bug’s stomach and abdomen.

The doctor quickly assessed that Bug was blocked; he was acutely constipated. The constriction in his bowels was quickly becoming life threatening. Had we tried anything? Yes, mineral oil and exterior massage of his belly. Did anything work? No, nothing!

Now, diagnosis is all well and good, but what of Bug’s prognosis? The doctor had a plan. They would institute re-hydration and a regimen of antibiotics. They would try colonic massage under anesthesia. They would put off until later any discussion of surgery and the possibility of a bowel resection. Bug would have to be admitted, and immediately!

I know it’s crass to ask the cost of medical treatment for those for which you care, but Bug had no insurance and the costs would fall directly on me. So I inquired. Again, we were left alone while the chart was delivered from the doctor to the nurse and from the nurse to the assistant and, thusly, inward into the bowels of the medical facility. I guess when it comes to money the channels of communication are always well lubricated. Perhaps President Truman was wrong. The poop stops here, but the bucks keep flowing!

The perky receptionist showed up next and provided me an itemized projection of costs: x dollars here for y treatment there, times the number of days, z. Barring any unexpected complications and disregarding for the moment the still distinct possibility of surgery, the preliminary subtotal for a projected three-day stay totaled four hundred and sixty-eight dollars.

Well, what was I to do? I paid, of course! Bug was obviously ill and in pain and there was a viable treatment plan available, albeit expensive. For a long-haired Himalayan look-alike, he was advancing in years, true, and euthanasia was a much less expensive option. But I could just imagine my own family talking it over quietly in some tiled hallway and deciding to “put Dad down” the next time I became constipated. So I paid the perky girl and kissed my colon-clogged cat goodbye.

Everything worked out well in the end, so to speak. I bailed Bug out of the vet three days later, with his shaved derriere and maltreated cat attitude. He’s now on the mend, beginning to put on weight, although I check the cat box daily to ensure that his life keeps flowing smoothly.

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