Babysitting T-Rex

Here’s a short story I wrote. Enjoy! (And if you don’t enjoy it, tell me what could make it more enjoyable, eh? Let’s be constructive with our criticism . . .)

Mrs. Halsted is a trip. A lot of our dementia patients have colorful personalities, but none of them are as rude as her. What happens to your brain when you get old is that the prefrontal cortex starts shrinking. That’s the part that filters out the horrible things you’re really thinking before you say anything or do anything you might regret. That’s why we’re not surprised to see the patients with dementia sharing beds in the morning. Without that prefrontal cortex going strong, they simply forget they have spouses and can’t hold back their animal instincts toward the other silver foxes.

But I don’t think Mrs. Halsted’s prefrontal cortex filter was ever very strong. Let’s just say you don’t want to get on her bad side, and the only way to do that is not to have a penis. Honestly, the only time I ever regret not having been born with a penis is when I talk to her. And today I will have to talk to her because Craig’s out sick.

“Hey Brie.” Ronnie lets the staff room door slam behind him and he throws on a mint green canvas vest over his faded David Bowie t-shirt. The coffee percolator sneezes out a puff of steam and surrenders its final drops to my mug.

“Hellooou? Brie? Anyone home?”

“Oh, hi, Ronnie.”

“I see someone was up late last night. Chatting up potential suitors online again?”

“Jesus, am I really that predictable?” Ronnie tilts his head forward and raises his eyebrows.

“Ok, fine, maybe that’s my routine, but lately I’ve only been talking to one suitor, Alex.”

“Alex–as in ‘Alexander’ or ‘Alexandra’?”

“Just ‘Alex,’ as far as I know.”

The door bursts open again. In comes our supervisor Brenda, and out goes any fun. She charges toward us in her putty leather tennis shoes the same way she does for any announcement, firing an employee or handing out compliments (of the back-handed variety).

“Good morning, Ronnie. Now Brie, you know you’re going to have to keep an eye on Mrs. Halsted today? I’m letting Craig go home now because he’s coming down with a nasty cough. Can’t have that hovering in the air, especially with lunch service starting soon.”

“Sure, but maybe Ronnie here could watch her instead. We all know Mrs. Halsted prefers the men around here.”

“Brie, when I ask you to do something, I need you to do it. Ronnie’s got enough on his plate today with Mr. Carlson coming back after his hip replacement surgery. Mrs. Halsted’s granddaughter is coming to take her out to lunch, so you just need to check on her a couple times between now and then. Is that such an outrageous request?”

“No. I’ll be out in two minutes when my break is over.”

“Good,” and with that Brenda rushes back out the door. I’m not sure the door is completely shut again before I can’t help but mock her little squeal: “Is that such an outrageous request?” For working around a bunch of old folks, we sure are a childish group.

“So this Just Alex person,” Ronnie continues nonchalantly. He’s not the one who has to spend the morning with the building’s T-Rex. “What’s Just Alex like? Does Just Alex have a job?”

I sigh. This conversation will be mighty cumbersome if I don’t start using pronouns; “She is very philosophical.” Ronnie claps his hands and points at me upon hearing “she.” His grin takes up an abnormally large portion of his baby face. I go on, “I don’t know what kind of job she has.”

“You chat with her for hours and hours every night and you don’t know what she does? What on earth do you talk about?”

“I don’t know. Things we like? I guess if we liked our jobs, we’d talk about them.”

“Good point,” he mutters before an uncharacteristic pause. “Is she hot?”

At this time I’d like to tell Ronnie that he’s being shallow, but the truth is that the curiosity is eating away at me, too.

“Actually, I don’t know. We haven’t exchanged photos, but we’re planning to meet for a drink tonight.”

“No shit? Well in that case, I wish you the best of luck. Though, from the sound of it, you don’t really need it.”

“We’ll see, but in any case I will need a lot more luck to survive my time with the T-Rex this morning.”

“Don’t let Mrs. Halsted get you down. The last time I checked up on her, she said I’d actually be handsome if I lost sixty pounds. So you see, she is capable of being complimentary.”

“She said that, and you’re one of the few people she likes around here. I can’t wait to hear what she has in store for me.”

“Good. Because our break is over.” Ronnie frowns at his wristwatch. “I gotta make sure that Mr. Carlson got in okay.”

“Right. See you later, Ronnie!”

“See ya, Brie. Keep your chin up.”

Ronnie rushes out. Just the morning shift today. And somehow in my zombie state, five hours have passed already. Working in a retirement home certainly requires a lot of interaction with people, but at a certain point, all the interactions become scripts. Each shift is just a dress rehearsal for the next. The cast rotates, but my bit part stays the same day after day.

I leave the dregs of coffee to darken the permanent stain in my mug, and I fumble around in my cubby hole, looking for my phone. No texts from Alex. Not since the 2am “goodnight.” Heck, I don’t blame her. I would have slept in this morning if I didn’t have the wrath of Brenda to deal with.

I manage a fake smile and head back into the baby powder-scented daycare for forgotten dinosaurs.

“How are you doing this morning, Mrs. Halsted?” I say, my voice just under a shout. The T-Rex is sitting in front of me with the home’s single, very battered romance novel. Her fuchsia lipstick knows no bounds this morning, voluntarily swiped well-over  her lip-line and involuntarily feathering into every surrounding wrinkle.

“Oh, you know, fine, Brie—just the same as anyone in this shithole. Good thing I’ve got Craig around. You know that tall glass of water looks just like my third husband?”

“No, I didn’t know that, but I have to tell you something–”

“Yes, just like my third husband. And you know what they say about husbands: the first one you marry for love, the second you marry for money, and the third you marry for sex.”

“Oh is that how that goes? I was unaware of that.” I have to cut her off. I cannot permit myself to think about geriatric sex before lunch. “Well then I’m sorry to tell you that Craig got off early today.”

“Oh, I bet he can get off.” Oh dear God. So much for my appetite.

“Your hair looks very nice today, Mrs. Halsted. Did you go to the salon recently?”

“I go every week, Brie. They put these big ol’ rollers in there. And they wash it, too, even though I tell them it doesn’t need washing.”

“Well, I would trust them. Your hair always looks very nice.”

“I don’t know if a compliment coming from someone with hair like yours is really a compliment, but I’ll take it anyway. At least you don’t have one of those lesbo haircuts. My granddaughter’s got one of those.”

“Oh, you mean those short pixie cuts? You don’t like those?” We’re treading in dangerous waters, here. I think she may have seen me cringe when she said “lesbo.”

“Pixie? Call it what you like, but a dyke’s a dyke whether she’s got a pixie or a lesbo cut. Revolting, is what it is.” I cannot let this go further. My forced smile disappears in one fell swoop.

“Mrs. Halsted, you do know that Craig is gay, right?”

“Yes, but what does that have to do with anything?”

“And you don’t think Craig is revolting?”

“Heavens, Brie, how could you even suggest such a thing? Craig is such a nice young man. You know, you should be looking for a boyfriend like him. So polite. So fun. Not at all like you.”

“You’re right,” I feign agreement. “Now if you don’t mind, I’m just going to check that Mr. Carlson got back from the hospital all right, and I’ll be back in a little while.”

“Oh, I don’t mind. I’m fixin’ to start a round of bridge in any case.”

“Ok, see you later then.”

I storm down the hallway with no particular destination in mind before stopping at the front desk. I pretend to look for a file in the giant tower of former, deceased patients as I collect my thoughts. How can someone be homophobic regarding lesbians but not gay men? Oh right, penises. Why does Craig get along with her so famously? Oh right, he’s got a penis.

Behind me I hear someone talking to Brenda. I’m not in an any state for interacting with her. I duck under the front desk and start to search for an imaginary paper clip on the floor.

“Hi, I’m here to pick up my grandmother, Mrs. Halsted, for lunch.”

“Right this way, honey. There’s your grandmother playing bridge. Just sign this, and you’re free to go.” Brenda brings her clipboard back to the front desk.

“Brie, what are you doing here, still?”

“Oh, I’m just looking for something.”

“I can see that, but your shift has been over for twenty minutes.”

“Oh, really?” This is the first time I’ve ever not left the building within one minute of my shift ending. “Thanks for letting me know. I guess I just got carried away with some paperwork. See you tomorrow.”

“Yeah, and maybe try coming to work well-rested?” Her last words trail off as I nearly break into a run getting to the staff room. I grab my purse and jacket out of my cubby. My telephone is blinking. One text. Received half an hour ago.

Hey, Brie! Sorry I didn’t text you earlier. Just woke up and now I’ve got to take my grandma to lunch. Can’t wait for tonight! xo Alex

Jinkies

Hey folks,

I’m currently in LA for a bit, and I’m taking a sketch comedy writing course at UCB. I’ll be posting some froot loops of my labor here. Week one sketch:

JINKIES

INT. JINKIES BOOKSTORE AND CAFE – DAY

ROGER walks into Jinkies, a bookstore/café. He is greeted by cashier VELMA, who looks like Velma from Scooby Doo.

VELMA

Hi, welcome to Jinkies Bookstore and Café. How can I help you, sir?

ROGER

Yeah, I’m on my way outta town, just looking for something to read on the plane.

VELMA

Sure sure sure. What genre?

ROGER

Oh boy, you know, I’m not picky. Any suggestions?

VELMA

How about history? I’ve got a great new one that just came in.

ROGER

Oh yeah? What’s it called?

VELMA

Ruh Roh: the Humble Beginnings of Scooby Doo.

ROGER

Oh. To be honest, I’m not a huge Scooby Doo fan. What else do you have?

VELMA

Do you like mystery?

ROGER

Oh sure! Love it.

VELMA

Then do I have a classic for you!  It’s called The Hounds of

ROGER

The Hounds of Baskerville? What a great classic! I’ll take it!

VELMA

It’s actually The Hounds of Zoinksville.

ROGER

(looks and sounds annoyed)

More Scooby Doo?

VELMA

You betcha. It’s way groovier than the original.

ROGER

No no, something else, please.

Maybe I should just see if you have a specific book. Maybe some classic British literature.

VELMA

Sure! Which one do you want?

ROGER

I can’t believe I don’t remember the name of it! The one with the orphan, you know, and he’s all like, “Please, sir, I want some more!”

VELMA

We’ve got it! It’s right here!

ROGER

Oh great. I’ll take it! Oliver Twist! That’s it. Can’t believe I forgot. Oh Charles Dickens, you either love him or you hate him, isn’t that — Hey this isn’t Oliver Twist.

VELMA

Heavens no. This one’s much better: Scrappy Flees the Pound. One of our best sellers.

ROGER

I said no Scooby Doo!

VELMA

We have a large selection of books, sir. If you don’t want this one, we can find you another.

ROGER

No thanks! What kind of a weirdo are you?

VELMA

Sir, I ask that you refrain from raising your voice unless you want me to get Fred, my manager.

ROGER

You know I’d like to speak to your manager! I’d like to let him know how incompetent you’ve been today.

VELMA

Fine by me. Fred!

(Fred walks in. He looks like Fred from Scooby Doo.)

FRED

Hey Velma, what’s the problem?

VELMA

Well, our client here is having a hard time finding a book to buy.

FRED

Huh. What kind of book are you looking for, sir?

ROGER

I’m not going to find anything to my liking here. I give up.

FRED

Gee, I’m sorry you feel that way, sir. Why don’t you get something to nibble on? It’s on us.

ROGER

Really? That’s so nice of you. I am starving. I’d take anything: sandwich, muffin, Cliff bar. What do you have?

VELMA

We have a large variety of Scooby Snacks, sir.

ROGER

Forget it. This is the last time I’m coming in here.

FRED

Sorry we couldn’t help you, sir.

(Fred walks back offstage. Roger starts to walk out of the store but stops when he sees a copy of the The Giving Tree.)

ROGER

The Giving Tree?! I love this book! I’m surprised you have this!

(Roger takes the book to Velma for her to ring up.)

VELMA

You’re not going to like it. Very childish.

ROGER

Well I know it’s a book for children. But that’s okay, it’s just some light reading for the plane.

(Velma takes his money and hands the book back to him.)

VELMA

I’m telling you it’s not your type.

ROGER

Shel Silverstein is a master! Best book you have in here.

VELMA

Whatever, have a great day.

ROGER

Fine. I will.

(Roger walks out with the book and sits down on a bench nearby.)

ROGER (CONT’D)

What the . . . This isn’t The Giving Tree!

(Roger rips off the dust jacket of the book.)

ROGER (CONT’D)

And I Would Have Gotten Away with It, Too If It Weren’t For You Meddling Kids: A Collection of Villainous Poems.

(Roger throws the book on the ground and storms offstage. Blackout.)

Six Near-Death Experiences

1. “I think we should talk to other people.” No, these words were not coming from an evasive lover but a good friend with whom I went to a writers’ conference. “It’s good for networking!” I will die, I thought and maybe even said out loud. Talk to strangers? I certainly have nothing in common with this room full of people who are all fiction writers trying to get published. I only write because I love being alone for extended periods of time. Just like that, my friend mosied over to the far end of the room, and I was left to my own devices. “Hi, my name is Ellen,” a woman said, presumably to me, in line waiting for coffee. “Hi, I’m Christin,” I countered. Time was running out. If the conversation had an awkward pause that ran too long, I would spontaneously combust. I was sure of it. “So, what do you write?” And just like that, I once again stared death in the eye and valliantly conquered.

2. We get to the lake. Who’s crazy idea was this? Yes, I was on board for skinny dipping under the stars, but no one warned me that we would have to cross a death trap to get there. I mean, I was already brave enough for agreeing to trespass on private property (the university golf course, closed up at night) to get to said lake. The one floating dock is on the other side. With a steep seawall and uninviting bushes surrounding, there was no other good place to jump inside. So we have to cross the dam, just to the left of which is a not-insignificant drop into brambles and to the right of which is a significant drop that would lead to certain death. In this group of friends, I am always the overly-cautious one, and it was beginning to show. The adrenaline rush blurs my memory, but by the time we get to the other side, disrobing in front of my platonic friends and jumping into freezing water proved no longer to be the scary part of the trip as I had originally predicted.

3. One morning, when I was in college ( . . . ) I woke up to the glorious smell of freshly baked bread. Sure enough, in my black-out state, I had baked the only loaf of bread that ever rose correctly in my kitchen, and it was divine. Fluffy honey-oat bread. Never to be replicated. It was the magic of the drunken bread, and I am too smart to ever do that again. (I hope.)

4. I sat crying, shaking my head as the roller coaster kept going up. Why did I come to Cedar Point with my brothers and dad? Didn’t I realize that would involve roller coasters bigger than the ones at the Aurora Farmer’s Fair? I wasn’t brave enough for those, why would I be brave enough for The Gemini? Earlier in the day, I had almost gotten on a roller coaster, but as I stood in a line that went five flights of stairs up, I looked down and saw a girl about my age (11) get off the ride and immediately start puking everywhere. I did not alert my elders of this. That was her cross to bear. She did not need witnesses. At the front of the line, my family boarded, and before they could contest, I yelped out that I would wait for them at the end and bolted away. But The Gemini was another story. I said I would get on a roller coaster that day, and I was running out of options. Surely if I rode next to my brother Bob, my entire family’s 16 year-old sage and caretaker, I would be protected. But it kept going up! We sat in the first car because Bob had learned in his first physics semester that it was the cars in the back that actually got whipped around the worst. My sobbing could not have been comforting to everyone else behind us. And then the sobbing turned to screaming. When all was said and done, I didn’t stop shaking for the rest of the day, and that was the last roller coaster I rode.

5. The last two months of my teaching career, I spent every Sunday night tossing and turning, convinced the next day would finally be the day they finally decide to gang up on me and pull me apart limb by limb. They didn’t. They just picked at my reserve of self-esteem crumb by crumb until all that was left was an anxious mass under a squishy comforter. Death thwarted. Again, narrowly.

6. Like death by forced social interaction, death by embarrassment also involves spontaneous human combustion. This occurs most-often during the teenage years, and I, myself, only just survived this social phenomenon. Here I was, sitting in a classroom of my peers and teachers, laughing with them when everyone else was unknowingly laughing at me. Allow me to explain. During the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, at the age of 17, I went to stay with a host family in France for seven weeks. I went with a program full of other kids from my state. We took French classes on the weekdays. Prior to my departure, my mother went over all the proper etiquette rules I would need to follow in order to prove to my host family (and therefore all of France and the rest of the world) that Americans weren’t barbarians. There was a lot resting on my shoulders. For example, when eating breakfast, I shouldn’t slurp the milk out by drinking directly from the bowl, but rather, I should tip the bowl toward me, spoon it away from me, and eventually into my mouth–as if I were eating the fanciest pea soup at the fanciest restaurant that ever existed. (The French family drank the milk from the bowls, but I stuck to my weird fancy ways to show how fancy I truly was.) The most important etiquette rule was to do my own laundry. Which I never did at home in Indianapolis. And if the mother in the host family were so gracious as to offer to do my laundry (which of course she did), then I could aquiesce but under no circumstances was I to give her my dirty underwear. How improper! Someone besides me or my own mother putting my dirty underwear in a washing machine! Inconceivable! So during my stay, I stockpiled my dirty underwear in a very gross plastic bag with the intention of one day discreetly washing them in the sink with shampoo and finding a secret hiding place to air dry them. After a few weeks of this (I brought a lot of underwear with me), my host mother asked if I had given her all the clothes I needed washed. Knowing by all the clothes, she really meant “underwear,” I turned bright red and said yes. Because I’d wash my own underwear. But I wasn’t about to tell her that. All the efforts of my mother were going to waste. This surely led my French host family to believe that I was so dirty I never washed my underwear.

But no story of embarrassment would be complete without public humiliation! One day at school, the teachers gathered all three groups together to talk to the 30-some kids about some of the concerns the host families had expressed to the teachers about their guests. They were all quite funny. Ha–taking long showers? Who in their right mind would take a long shower? How rude! Sending long emails–gasp, in English–to family members in Indianapolis. Well, I never! And then one teacher, the one I secretly had a crush on because the other options (kids my age) were too realistic, presented the funniest complaint of all. Apparently, one of the students was not giving his or her underwear to his or her host mother to wash! Hilarious! Everyone was laughing! The teachers all knew who this student was! That’s even funnier! Let’s spend the rest of the day laughing about that smelly kid! How gross! Ha ha ha! What a loser! Ha, no, it’s not me, who would do such a thing, etc.

By some miracle, all the fake laughing I did helped get out some of the heat building up inside of me–because spontaneous human combustion was nigh.

Application to Join the Quivering Quill Scribe Society

1) Why would you like to join this writers’ group?

a. I just bought a new beret to go with my wayfarers, and I feel overly pretentious wearing them amongst the general population. Could I bum a cigarette off of you?

b. I once wrote an essay that won a Daughters of the American Revolution award. I was eight. I’ve been trying to reproduce this glory ever since.

c. I’m new to town, and I’m looking for some people to go riding with.

d. Everyone in my family is finally dead, so now I can start writing my memoir.

2) What are you reading right now?

a. I take at least two hundred Buzzfeed quizzes per day.

b. I’m in between books. The last one I read was Oh the Places You’ll Go. A bit presumptuous. I’m still waiting to go someplace.

c. Are you talking about my bedtime book? Or my morning coffee book? Or my transportation book? Or my lunch break book? Or the eBook tab I hide every time my boss walks by? I just finished my bath book.

d. I’m reading this application.

3) Who is your favorite author?

a. Me. As soon as I’m published.

b. Seriously. Nobody else understands this generation as well as I do.

c. Yesterday I casually used the word “avuncular.” Who else can do that?

d. Whoever’s work is being published by the publishing house I’m submitting to.

4) What do you write?

a. Is polyamorous historical romance dystopia a genre?

b. People say my emails are quite clever.

c. Ornate grocery lists.

d. Nursery-rhyme thrillers.

5) What does your writing process look like?

a. 99% cooking, 1% saying I’ll start in a minute.

b. 99% saying I’m writing a novel, 1% cursing the inexistent plot

c. My alarm goes off at 4:26am every morning. I take exactly 11 deep breaths. I get out of bed and put on my wizard’s cape. I write for three hours. At 8am I am the first customer at the donut shop. I get two raspberry donuts, drape my wizard’s cape over a table to create my wizard’s tent, where I rock back and forth while eating my donuts and reading my morning’s work.

d. I just finished my novel, but it disappeared on my computer. And my dog ate the print-out. The rewrite is going slow because of my frustration.

6) Choose the type of critique that you think best helps a writer:

a. Yeah, this is truly beautiful. Incredibly original. I can’t believe you trained your toddler to write like this. Oh wait—you wrote this?

b. This is garbage. *wink* You should give up. *smile, wink* No, seriously—I hate it.

c. It seems very stream-of-consciousness. Like you clearly didn’t spend time editing this at all.

d. This is good—maybe the best work of yours I’ve read. But I just feel like it could have been . . . how do I put this . . . better?

#RIPCelebrity

Hello friends,

If you are the type of person who makes lots of references to pop culture in conversation, you probably would have no fun talking to me. I don’t have a TV. My internet is too slow for streaming stuff. And in general, I don’t give a hoot about celebrities and what they care to do in their free time. I can’t say I’m completely unaffected when celebrities die–it’s just that my remembrances of them often miss the mark in regards to their accomplishments. So, without further ado, here are some fake tweets about mostly fake celebrity deaths. (It may be glaringly obvious to you that these are written by someone who’s never used twitter.) Please write your own in the comments!

#RIPMadonna. Dear Madonna, I will always remember you for your stellar swing dancing performance set to “Flyin’ Home No. 2” in A League of Their Own. Wearing saddle shoes in honor of your passing. #thisusedtobemyplayground

#RIPSteveMartin. Can’t believe Steve Martin is dead. His dry-humping scene with Queen Latifah in Bringing Down the House will be forever etched in my brain. A true affront to barriers in intergenerational and interracial love.

#RIPQueenLatifah. Gutted Queen Latifah is gone. Her dry-humping scene with Steve Martin in Bringing Down the House will be forever etched in my brain. A true affront to barriers in intergenerational and interracial love.

#RIPPrince. Don’t even know any songs by Prince because of his music sharing policies. Now that he’s gone, I can finally show my love for him by posting everything he fought to protect. #creamsheboogiebop

#RIPPrince. Known for his short-lived affair with Zoey Deschanel’s character on New Girl, Prince has been pronounced dead at the age of 57. Nick Miller is doing his best to restrain his sentiments of relief. #jessandnick5eva

#RIPDavidBowie. Jim Henson welcomes his former colleague, David Bowie, at the pearly gates. Bowie’s legacy of wearing bulge-worthy tights and throwing babies will remain unbeatable. #cryinghardasbabecouldcry

#RIPBeyoncé. Beyoncé, your brave performance as the fairy queen in the animated movie Epic has changed the way everyone thinks about forest ecology. #watchwhereyoustep

#RIPChristinaRicci. I don’t know how many times I rented Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain on VHS from Blockbuster. So sad to hear about Christina Ricci’s death. She taught me that true friendship is worth its weight in gold. Literally.

#RIPChristianBale. Newsies. #neverforget

#RIPBillyJoel. Your robust performance with Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street taught me that you must love all people, even if they’re mean to you. I have no self-confidence but my trash can overfloweth with friends. #justthewayyouare

#RIPMichaelStipe. The story of how Michael Stipe started out playing a bit part as an ice cream man and moved onto creating a hit song featured in Tommy Boy has always been an inspiration to me. True talent cannot be boxed into one art form. #igrewuponpeteandpete

#RIPGeorgeForeman. Goodbye to a true hero, who finally provided a platform for the quintessential dorm room debate: Is it worth it to sacrifice true bacon flavor in favor of easier cleanup? #whatdoidowiththegreasetray

Copyright © 2016 Christin Neary. All Rights Reserved.