Posted by: Jennelyn J.M. Natividad | April 29, 2009

An additional “Surprise”

Here is the piece that is up for the workshop this week. I have written, re-worked and agonized over it, but I know I simply must let go. Now, I just wait for the scrutiny to end and then (hopefully,) for constructive feedback. If you’ve read the Three Vignettes (Fear, Anger, Pleasure) before, just skip to the last one entitled Surprise.


Jim could not catch his breath. He feels a heavy weight on his chest. His left arm and lower limbs are similarly pinned to the ground. His right arm is the only thing he could move freely. He really needs to reach his phone, but he doesn’t have the strength to push against the massive force weighing him down. Jim feels his whole being grow simultaneously hot and cold. If only he could move, his whole body would be shaking, instead of just his chin. His lips feel cold and parched, and his mouth is bone dry. He could feel the surge of adrenaline rushing through his body causing his heart to beat faster than it has ever done before. He has never felt this frantic, not even for Shelly. His heart raced when he first saw her, but that was some time ago. He remembers that during their early dates, he would struggle to not sound breathless as he tried to converse with her. He strove to be at his most witty and interesting to impress her, but ended up just talking way too fast. Only three weeks have passed since his heart did a flip as he watched her daintily float down the aisle to meet him. It was quite a day. Presently, he wonders, will I see her again? I’ll always be hers, no matter what. He thinks this with conviction and fiercely holds on to the thought. Everything else feels transient and uncertain. He closes his eyes against the sun’s piercing brightness. He wishes he could also block out the harsh Santa Ana winds. The blustery, rushing sound of the strong winds is deafening, and he loses his concentration. He thought he might have shouted for help, but his voice sounded small and broken. He tries again, much louder this time, “somebody, get me out!”


The boss’ face is flaming red. His nostrils are flared. He yells at the top of his lungs, “whoever thought of that stupid, giant gorilla will be fired!” Nobody sitting around the break room dares to look him in the eye. He paces back and forth in front of a captive audience. “I, Rube Rubens, am a self-made success! I have built this dealership from nothing. You guys cannot even imagine how I poured my blood, sweat, and tears into this place.” Rube takes a deep breath, but the beating pulse on his right jaw does not go away. “Now, I’m going to lose all of it because some moron decided that a thirty-foot, green gorilla would be just the thing to attract customers! Why did I listen to you marketeers, marketers or whatever you musketeers call yourselves?” He marches over to the window and peers out to the lot. He sees the massive, inflatable gorilla distorted and half-collapsed among countless trucks for sale. Almost to himself and with a voice heavy with bitterness he says, “I should have dealt with my insurance bills on time, instead of paying all of you.” He abruptly turns around to face his employees. All are silent, with heads bowed low. Upon seeing their submissive postures, Rube rides his second wind with gusto. White, foamy spit gathers around the corners of Rubes’ mouth, “why did Jim have to stand out there in the parking lot next to that monkey balloon? I tell you, Jim Saunders is one of the best salesmen in my employ, but I will not let a lawsuit be the ruination of Rube Ruben!” Rube rakes his fingers through his coarse, sparse hair. He continues his tirade, “I mean, common sense should have told him not to stand too close to an extremely large object particularly if it’s windy outside, right? I mean, I didn’t go on to higher education, but I know better than that,” he scoffs. He looks around the room wild-eyed, “does anybody know what kind of injuries Jim sustained?” He appears disgusted by their lack of response. Rube’s eyes narrowed as he surveys those in front of him. The look he was throwing their direction was sharp, hot and condemning, “I am asking all of you. Didn’t anybody, a-ny-bo-dy ask the paramedics?”


The high-pitched sound was cut off as soon as Shelly was able to reach the kitchen timer. It’s time to see the result of all that careful measuring and exact adherence to instructions. She excitedly opened the oven door. The delicious, heady scent of bananas engulfs the galley kitchen. Shelly stares at the banana bread she made and can’t help but fall in love with its golden brown color. She notes that running through its center is a crack. Steam comes out of the irregular break from the otherwise perfect rectangular loaf. She inhales deeply, and continues to get a fruity, nutty whiff from her creation. She looks at the round, retro-inspired clock on her bright green wall and thinks to herself, Jim would be home any minute now. The banana bread sits on top of the white kitchen counter, cooling. Shelly decides that she’ll need to dress it up a little. She remembers how she used to tart up her dessert creations whenever she and Jim would have dinner at her old apartment. She reaches for the canister inside the refrigerator. She opens the lid and digs in with her bare hand. Her fingers sink in and touch the cold, pebble-like shapes. She digs deeper. It is an exciting yet familiar sensation. She pulls her hand out of the container and a multitude of dark chocolate chips fall through her fingers and into a bowl. When she has had enough, she gently lays the bowl over the shallow pan of simmering water on the stove. The tiny, brown pebbles start to melt and she carefully pours a steady stream of thick cream into the same bowl. She whisks the two ingredients until they meld into a shiny, glistening ganache. A similar, mysterious chemistry is taking place within her as well. She perceives the day’s tiredness melting away. Her neck feels less tense. She could feel her shoulder muscles relax, their knots unraveling. Shelly picks up a spatula and slathers the smooth concoction with abandon. The unctuous mixture enrobes the banana bread. This made her think of bathing in chocolate, and the absurd thought makes her giggle. The now dark, shiny loaf looks and smells heaven-sent. Jim better appreciate this, and her heart warms at this thought. She knows full well that he would. She checks the time again as she waits in her kitchen, quite content.


Philip gets out of the ambulance and the harsh wind whips across his face. He sees it right away and tries hard not to laugh. I thought I’ve seen it all, he thinks to himself. The ambulance dispatcher who forwarded the call was more or less accurate. Philip wonders, how did this man find himself underneath this giant figure of a dinosaur, an upright iguana, a monkey or rather, an ape…but why is it green? A frantic man in a pinstriped suit waves him over to where the man lay. He quickly assesses the situation and asks, “Sir, are you alright?” The man was pinned to the ground by a partially deflated, oversized advertising balloon and Philip realizes that he just asked the man a ridiculous question. But then again, he thought, this was a ridiculous situation. He refuses to pursue this train of thought which forces him to attend to the situation at hand. The man’s breathing was a little labored, but he was able to mention the name Shelly a few times. Philip was getting annoyed. He pointedly asked, “what is your name?” Again, the man utters the same name. The babbling tells Philip that he is still capable of breathing on his own. At least he’s got that going for him, thought Philip. He felt the man’s pulse, and found that it fluttered against his fingertips too fast. Abe, his new partner, handed him the sphygmomanometer so he could take the man’s blood pressure. He found that it was alarmingly on the low side. “This one’s in shock,” he tells Abe. Philip says to the man, “Sir, you’ve been hurt. We’re going to take you to the hospital.” With a nod, the newbie hands him a collar to stabilize the man’s neck, just in case. The loud wail of sirens announces that the fire fighters have arrived just in time. Soon after, they somehow manage to lift the deflated part of the balloon enough to slide the man out from under the enormous figure precariously dancing in the wind. Once inside the ambulance, he gives the man Oxygen through a mask. Almost immediately, he observes that the man’s breathing is no longer labored and his once ashen pallor now looks drastically better. His complexion has returned to a dark shade of caramel. The man grimaces, abruptly tries to pull off his oxygen mask and begs, “call wife, call her for me!” Philip ignores this, “sir, where do you hurt?” He grimaces again and whispers, “head, my left hip.” Philip emphatically says, “first we’re going to take you to a hospital!”

In a matter of minutes, they wheel him through the emergency room doors. The man is on the fast track to get a brain scan. Philip heads over to the control desk to give the triage nurse his report. He knows Lorraine from when he first started working in the hospital years ago. The blunt, hard-as-nails, older woman treats him casually. He likes her manner, brusque, matter-of-fact, and a penny short of rude. She reminds him of nurse Ratchet in appearance and demeanor, except she never forgets to offer donuts to the ambulance crew every time she’s on-duty. This earned her a cushy spot in their collective hearts. “So Fong, what do you have for us? Starting us on a Friday night special eh?” Philip answers, “I don’t know Lorraine. This isn’t the usual. I bet you’ve never seen this before. We found this man under a partially collapsed, 30-foot advertising balloon.” Philip paused and expected a laugh or at least, an expression of incredulity, but apparently she has seen it all. Lorraine, all-business, dismissively says, “give it to me.” At that, Philip starts giving her an official report, “36 year old African American male, found down on the ground, obtunded, breathing room air at 94% so we put him on Oxygen at 6 liters per hour, tachycardic, pressure’s low…” At this point, the nurse abruptly cuts him off, “wait, is the balloon a green gorilla holding a tire, right by the highway?” Urgency in her voice and the deep concern on her face tells Philip to hold back the wisecrack that he was about to dish her. “Yes, the guy works at that truck dealership down Duquesne Drive.” Lorraine looks stricken. “What is it?” She takes a steadying breath, “Fong, my husband owns that place!”

It was at this precise moment that Philip notices a figure fast-approaching the point where he and Lorraine were standing. Her walk was rather like a glide, purposeful and steady. It was remarkable to him how a giantess of a woman could float so. The closer she got, the more she resembled the goddess Athena, at least to Philip. Her face mirrored the stricken expression on Lorraine’s face as she inquired at the desk. Philip overheard just enough to learn that she was asking about the man he brought in. So this was Shelly. Philip didn’t say a word. It wasn’t his role to disclose information to this female. He marveled as he looked up at her, she must be over six feet! That’s at least four inches taller than me, he thought. He really should be leaving. It was two minutes prior to shift change. As the golden-haired giantess held the pen against the form on the clipboard, Philip simply could not look away from her left wrist. It was thick, strong, yet delicate. Her wrist gently undulated with every turn of the pen as she filled out the necessary information which confirmed her thorough knowledge of the man having his brain scanned. Lorraine pleaded, “Fong, could you please show Mrs. Saunders to a seat in the waiting area?” Lorraine looked drained. “Follow me ma’am,” he looked up to address the woman. Her eyes arrest his attention. She looked at him directly, trustingly. They were wide eyes the color of soft gray, which were now twin watery pools of frightened sadness. The giantess leans on his arm, he assumes, because she cannot see through her tears. In their proximity, he smells something faintly cloying, familiar and sweet. What is that smell? This question nags him. At last, he spots a vacant seat in the crowded room and she sits. He could tell that she is overcome with emotion even though she makes no sound. He feels compelled to put an arm around her and offer her words of comfort, but he thought that this would be inappropriate coming from him. He looks at her seated, dejected form and feels a surge of protectiveness towards this female. He is afraid that such a feeling would overcome his better judgment. He tells her not unkindly, “ma’am, just wait for them to call you, okay? Wait here.” He does not wait for her answer, nor for a question perhaps. He resolutely walks away, and just as he reaches the exit doors the answer to his own question occurs to him with certainty: bananas, it’s bananas! His elated laughter could be heard in the crowded room he left behind.


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