by Alice Benson

Fingers gnarled and twisted, broken oak branches after an ancient storm. Legs missing, long ago amputated to stop the poison, still they throb with a drumbeat of hurt no one else can hear. Arms held close to bodies, movement encumbered by tendons strung tight as rubber bands, ready to snap. Muscles atrophied, small and shrunken with disuse, unable to hold, to lift. Vertebrae cracked like walnut shells, spines shattered and deadened, extremities sandbag heavy. 

Leaning on canes, bodies curved like question marks, backs screaming curses. Bent over walkers, drooping willow branches laden with ice. Slow, shuffling feet whispering sit, sit, sit. Some bring their own chairs, pushed by caregivers, waiting as others scurry like ants to rearrange the seating. Poverty is another participant, surrounding the room like a cloud of gnats circling a bloodstain. Noses and throats are filled with the stink of it. People are seeking vital services, explaining their lives, hoping for justice. 

Pride is swept away into the stormy sea of questions, answers choking on bile and salt water. Dignity is clutched in both hands. Holding desperately in tight fists, still the self-respect dwindles, disappears slowly like sodden tissues, disintegrating into tears and snot. Over and over, it feels like begging, pleading for what’s needed, justification for basic requirements, a supplicant unable to kneel. 

Words and experiences hang gravely over the room; drapes, heavy with portent, drawn back to reveal once simple tasks now become Herculean. Some ask questions clumsy as a long-legged newborn colt trying to walk and understand. More are ugly and drip with venom, a cobra’s fangs waiting to sink into soft, exposed flesh. 

The questions end and they move into deliberations. People gather tattered selves and wait, hours crawl by. On this day, at the end, someone hears and appears to understand; empathy provides a small victory, and services continue intact. A warm sense of vindication flows, the cover is soft and fleecy and pulled tight around shoulders. For now, it’s a blanket, not yet a shroud. 

Alice Benson lives in Wisconsin with her partner and their two dogs; she discovered writing as a passion in the third act of her life and now spends much of her time in pursuit of metaphors. Alice’s first novel, Her Life Is Showing, is set in a domestic violence shelter and was published in January 2014 by Black Rose Writing.
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