Short Story 17 of …

blog post
This is the 17th in this series of those not accepted by journals for publication also has its first line from The First Line Literary Journal. I’m sure that one of these days I’ll figure out for what First Line is looking.



Morpheus Extinguished

Hal couldn’t sleep. Neither could Halie. It wasn’t just at night. Their mother tried nearly every neighbor’s suggestion for relief, and they were taken from doctor to doctor. Without jest in his voice, their father started calling the twins Hal-colic and Halie-colic. Their mother stopped nursing them, but formula made no difference. Their father wasn’t understanding, and their mother was exhausted. His staying at work longer and her not picking up the house became points of contention. No one would be sure why, but when they were put into the same crib when they were about a year old, the night crying stopped.
Hal couldn’t sleep. Neither could Halie. It was their first day at the public elementary school, but the bus wouldn’t pick them up for three more hours. The twins knew better than to go downstairs before their father left for work. He liked, in fact demanded, his quiet coffee, first cigarette, and newspaper time in the morning. Their mother wouldn’t have time for them either. She had a rarely altered morning routine: wake before her husband, brew the coffee, set the table, start the bacon, iron his shirt, and pack his lunch.

From her side of their double bed, Halie whispered first, “Think he’ll stay back and see us off on our first day?”

“Nah,” Hal whispered back, “Not sure he even knows we have to ride a bus now. He never said anything last night. Maybe we can go down a little early and he’ll see we aren’t dressed in school uniforms anymore. Maybe he’ll ask or something.”

“Likely not. He works Saturdays now that we’ve moved into the city, so he’ll probably think today is Saturday.”

Hal couldn’t sleep. Neither could Halie. They still had the same room, but their mother had taken out the double bed and put up a wall of plywood to separate second-hand twin beds. Halie knew Hal had been awake at least an hour that first day of high school. She knocked twice on the makeshift wall saying, “you hear her leave?”

Hal said nothing initially but knocked once in response meaning she could have firsts in the upstairs bathroom, then answered, “a bit ago.”

They were early going downstairs, and as usual the kitchen table was set for two and the bargain-brand cold cereal box was on the middle of the table. There was a note clipped to the box lid.

‘Out of milk – finish up the half-and-half. Don’t forget to rinse your bowls and do your chores when you get home. Lunches are in the fridge. I’ll be a little late – have to pick up a few things from the store – Mom’

Halie took the half-and-half carton from the fridge and shook it. “Not much of this either. Want to mix it with a little water and powdered milk? Or we can just split what there is.”

“Not hungry,” Hal said, “I’ll just have some toast.”

“There’s no bread – I looked. She used it for our lunches. You want the P&B sandwich with the heels?”

Neither liked heels, but as they had in the past, they flipped one of their milk-money quarters.

Hal couldn’t sleep. Neither could Halie. Hal fidgeted on the couch most of the night wondering how he would tell their mother he’d been accepted and scholarshiped at a university, 3,000 miles away. He worried for Halie too. If he took the offer, she’d be the sole caregiver. Their mother’s nearly unceasing coughing kept Halie awake in the double bed she shared with her mother in the one-bedroom apartment. If that hadn’t been the case, her having received the same offer and having the same thoughts as Hal would have kept her from sleeping.

The coughing stopped while the twins were discussing their options over weak tea and dry toast.

Hal couldn’t sleep. Neither could Halie. Neither the lower nor the upper of the bunkbed was comfortable for either of them in the single room of an off-campus house they shared with several others. Their academic scholarships and signing up for ROTC took care of their books and tuition. Part-time jobs took care of the rest but for many months it was one meal a day.

They were in full Army uniform for graduation and commissioning as second lieutenants. They were separated for advanced training but their petition to be deployed together for an Army Corps of Engineers road construction project in Afghanistan was honored.

A large number of the enlisted troops were pulled out, so the most recently assigned newbie second-lieutenant engineers had to pick up the slack. One-hundred-twenty-pound Halie put stakes in the center of a roadbed and 170-lb Hal followed with flags. The concussion mine didn’t trigger under Halie’s weight, but Hal’s weight set it off.

His body showed no sign of physical injury, and she had micro-size sand fragments in her left buttock.

Hal couldn’t sleep. Neither could Halie. Hal’s immediate and continuing problem was marginally treated hemiplegic anosognosia (a clinical condition in which a brain dysfunctional person is not aware of impaired neurological function, which is obvious to clinicians and other reasonably attentive individuals).

Halie’s inability to sleep was environmental. The abandoned warehouse alcove gave no relief from the wind driven sleet hitting her face and uncovered arms. Her only comfort was that the near freezing concrete step slowly eased the pain from the boil on her left buttock.

Halie covered Hal’s fetal curled body with a torn along the seams plastic trash bag and sat between it and the swirling wind to somewhat shield him from the weather. He groaned and mumbled. Halie was the only one who seemed to know what he was saying even when he was on his meds.

Hal couldn’t sleep. Neither could Halie. Inability to sleep is a phenomenon of the living.


As my octogenarianism continues, my mind wanders as I wonder.
Or could it be that my mind wonders as I wander?
It is a fact that I have opinions – or is it?