Heads up: this week’s blog post contains some language.
It Comes When It Needs To
by Benjamin J. Law
“I hadn’t taken a shit in nearly two weeks. I mean, I’d had a pebble or two. But nothin’, you know, worth speaking of. Six months that thing had been all messed up inside me, forming stones and giving me digestive troubles. I was up to two painkillers, some nausea meds, and three stool softeners a day before they finally let me get the demon organ cut out of me,” Pip paused, sipped his coffee. “‘Three small incisions,’ the doctor had said. I ended up with four, and a whole lot of pain.
“I couldn’t stand by myself, couldn’t fix myself a cup of tea, or drink coffee, or eat anything besides bananas and oatmeal. One morning I got stuck in my bed, couldn’t sit up, couldn’t move. I felt more at the will of nature than I had the night I’d woken up with a stone clogging my intestine, makin’ me feel like I was giving birth. I laid there, and I sobbed until someone was able to come over and pull me up. A week later, when I’d gotten to feeling better, I ran out of the nausea meds, quit the painkillers, tossed out the stool softeners. That day, I had to rush to the bathroom at the store, undoin’ my belt as I did. It was like an awakening, the rest of the demons gettin’ exorcised from my body. I saw God’s face that day, I swear.”
“When is the cable coming back on, Barb?” Ken asked, having listened idly to Pip’s story.
“Why don’t you ask someone who cares, Kenny?” Barb was hollering from across the house. She was too busy to be bothered.
“I hate everything,” Ken muttered.
Pip, tucked into the recliner across from Ken in their humbly furnished living room, was wrapped in a blanket from the waist down and wore a sweater that read, Coffee makes me poop. He stared wistfully out the window at the blizzard attacking the town. Pip knew that somewhere out there the lakes were frozen, the river was splashing into icy mist, and the hills were morphing into snow mounds. He imagined those brave enough were already leaving tracks in the parks, trudging to the playgrounds and sledding slopes with coats the size of bears and gloves thick enough to caress a frying pan. Pip sighed. He longed for it.
Ken hated winter.
The cable and internet had been out since 11:00 AM, and Ken glanced into the kitchen behind him to find that the stove now read, in unsettlingly green numbers, 9:00 PM. Ken didn’t want to leave the house, or look out the window. He didn’t really want to watch TV either. He was in the midst of writing a fiery summer romance novel, which he kept online and needed the internet to write. He needed the internet to do anything.
Ken didn’t go out much and kept his friends at the safe distance which the internet provided him. Pedro, for instance, was Ken’s best friend, a penpal from Mexico who was currently visiting South Korea. Pip always had friends over, a bit too many friends, Ken thought, for a twenty-four year old to have over all the time. Pip thought that Ken, at twenty-seven years of age, was too old to only maintain long distance friendships.
“Barb,” Pip called, “what are you up to?”
“Stuff,” Barb called back. “And things.”
“Probably talkin’ to Becky,” Pip whispered. Ken shrugged. “Hey, Barb, wanna play a boardgame or something to pass the time?” Barb didn’t answer. “Hey, Ken, wanna talk about your book or–”
“Can you just be quiet for two minutes?” Ken groaned, and Pip, blinking and biting his lip, fell quiet.
“Sorry, Pip, I’m busy,” Barb answered finally. “Working on this report.” She appeared in the doorway to the living room then, her dark curls up in a frizzy bun and grey sweats covering every inch of her body from the neck down. “Just because I’m stuck here in this frozen hell doesn’t mean my instructors are giving me the first week of the term off.”
“Barbara West, the next great mathematician,” Pip announced with gusto.
“Pippin West, the next great barista,” Barb responded in kind, though her tone was more biting. Pip shrunk into the recliner and sipped from his cup. Ken glanced over at Barb with the lightest shake of his head.
“You should do what you love. Pip happens to love coffee,” Ken said sharply.
“Calm down, Robocop,” Barb scoffed and marched into the kitchen. Ken rolled his eyes and hugged a pillow close to his chest. “What do you two even eat around here,” Barb mumbled, yanking the refrigerator open to find it sparsely occupied.
“Food, most generally,” Ken spat.
Pip looked to the window again. He admired the Christmas lights still on the houses across the street.
“Kenneth, why don’t you stop shitting on everyone else and go get us some food?”
“I’m sorry, do I look like a delivery boy?”
“No, but you don’t look like a cook either.”
“What do you guys want?” Pip smiled, looking back from the window. “I can run get it.”
“That’s okay,” Barb and Ken said simultaneously. They glanced at each other. “You don’t have to, Pip,” Barb added.
“It’s no big deal. McDonald’s?”
“Pip, you don’t need to,” Ken sighed. Pip stood, throwing his blanket onto the chair behind him and pulling his jeans up to keep them from sagging.
“Pip, you can relax,” Barb said. “I’ll see if Pizza Hut is delivering in this end-of-days storm.”
“The end of days doesn’t scare me,” Pip said, starting towards his boots at the front door.
“Yeah, he saw the face of God when he pooped one time,” Ken murmured. “They’re pretty close.”
“When mom died she asked one thing of us, guys,” Barb growled. “She asked us to keep our faith. Sacrilegious little craps.”
“I wasn’t being sacrilegious,” Pip said quietly, his eyebrows creasing. He slipped his boots on.
“Pip, you don’t have to go,” Barb said.
Ken looked at the ceiling, closing his eyes in distress. “Pip take the boots off.”
“Yeah, Pip. I’m ordering pizza, see?” Barb held up the phone. Pip opened the door and a wall of snowflakes smashed into his face. He shivered and grabbed his coat off the hook by the door. “Pip, wait—“
“Pip, get back here—“
The door slammed behind Pip.
Ken leaped from his chair, barely beating Barb to the door. They yanked it open, the snow attacking them too, and they saw Pip running down the icy walkway, knee deep in the snow. “Friggin’ high desert blizzard,” Ken snarled, yanking his tennis shoes on, the only shoes he had by the door. He charged out, Barb stepping into her untied boots to follow. “Pip, stop! Wait,” Ken was hollering.
“Pip, it’s really okay—I’ll order pizza,” Barb added. They reached Pip, each grabbing an arm, but Pip writhed away.
“I can get the food! Leave me alone,” he shouted, stumbling away and slipping on the ice. Next, he was disappearing into the snow, and Ken and Barb were falling after him. The snow packed down beneath them and they landed hard, Barb and Ken on their stomachs and Pip staring straight up into the sky. He breathed heavily.
“Pip, for gosh sakes,” Barb bemoaned. Pip blinked and tears welled in his eyes.
“Pip, buddy…” Ken paused, his teeth jittering. “Have you taken your meds today?”
“They took the gallbladder out,” Pip sniffled. “I don’t need the painkillers anymore—“
“No, Pip,” Barb interjected softly. “The meds for your head.” She lovingly brushed the dirty-blonde hair from his face. Pip laid still, and then shook his head.
“Come on,” Ken said, standing back to his feet and feeling the snow melt between his socks and his shoes. “Let’s get you your meds, and Barb will order some pizza.” Ken extended a hand, and Pip solemnly nodded before taking it. Barb rose up after him, and they returned to the house together.
“Sorry you’re stuck here with us, Barb,” Pip said in a low voice, the words interrupted with short breaths and sniffs. He wiped tears from his cheeks, where they left subtle trails of ice.
“No place I’d rather be than with my brothers,” she answered.
“Sorry that you’re havin’ a hard time with your book, Ken,” Pip said.
Ken smiled lightly. “It comes to me when it needs to. That’s how everything works, Pip.” They entered the house again.
“Maybe we can help,” Pip said, motioning to Barb. “We’re all we’ve got now, with Mom gone, too.”
“Maybe. I’ll get the meds,” Ken said.
“Okay.” Barb shook the snow from her sweatpants. “I’ll get the pizza.” Then she shut the door, leaving the winter where it belonged.
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This week’s writing prompt (email me your results for a chance to get them shared on my blog):
The winter had arrived, and with it, she’d finally returned…