Practice: Fish out of water… – 15 minutes

C3, a sere riverbank of the River of Life. The old women abandoned fish groaning, gasping for a last breath, minute by minute losing moisture, lustre dimming, lie abandoned in the ward-room. Water, tepid in plastic carafes, is available on their bed-side tables but largely untouched – doled out by an attending nurse, whenever and if she remembers they are unable to pour a cupful for themselves. The vases on the windowsills contain disheveled flowers and need their water changed, their shrivelled offerings removed.

First order of my chores this morning – remove the vases from the room, then remove and replace the water jugs with fresh ones. I move along the aisles between beds with a rolling cart collecting these. The lady who sings every morning sits on the side of her bed, her spindly white legs swing in tempo with “Camptown Races” she warbles in her reedy soprano. She grabs my hand and makes me dance beside her, swings my arm up and down, smiles and looks pleased with this contact. I grab her carafe with my free hand as she lurches me around like an unwilling dance partner. Then she releases me and grabs an end of her bed-sheet which she swishes like a trailing large scarf. I like her. She brings a note of life to a largely passive group of unidentified women huddled in their uncomfortable hospital beds.

Mrs Mah, some distance away, seems more faded today. She looks smaller than she did yesterday,her already tiny arm seems ready to lose her increasingly large plastic bracelet.  i know her name. i have checked her chart hanging from the foot of her bed a couple of weeks ago.  She doesn’t speak English, but seems to want to say something to me whenever i come nearby, whether to wash the floor, tidy her rolling table or change her drinking water. Increasingly, daily, she has yellowed, her fine pocelain skin has become wrinkled parchment – yet her eyes, clouded as they are by the morphine she is given, shine like polished black pebbles at the river’s edge. She reaches out to be touched. I hold her hand, although i am not supposed to touch patients. i hate the thought of coming in one day and not finding her steady gaze on me as i work near her.

Unedited, but such a challenge to write.  This prompt, like all of the others posted on Red Ravine for practice, can be revisited many times and is a good way to explore possibilities in writing practice.  Thanks for the opportunity, Red Ravine!

8 Responses to “Practice: Fish out of water… – 15 minutes”

  1. ybonesy Says:

    Wow, G. This unedited piece flows in and out of your own connection to these women and their unnatural (yet natural) lives. It’s vivid, grounded, and yet not a chronological narrative that starts with you entering a nursing home or anything like that. Suddenly we’re there and we’re not quite sure how we got there, but we are solidly there. I really like that about writing practice. It’s just as real as a more conventional narrative, yet much more alive to me.

    My great-aunt and Jim’s grandmother were both in nursing homes. I could feel the grasp of those women’s hands on my wrist as I walk by. Not the women I went to visit, but the others. The ones with dementia or extreme loneliness.

  2. pmousse Says:

    A wow from me as well. I can imagine myself there, and the ending shocked me. The idea of being denied touch, at that point in life. How tragic. I love the image of the unchanged eyes within the changed face. Beautifully written.

  3. the individual voice Says:

    I am hereby tagging you for the Mem: List your five greatest strengths as a writer.

  4. mariacristina Says:

    I enjoy Red Ravine’s writing practice too. There’s always something that hooks me.

    The first paragraph of your story reads like a poem. I see a woman who actually sees, recognizes, and loves these “fish out of water”. Great post, great writing.

  5. Nita Says:

    I was going to say something and then I realised that Mariacristina had already said it. That the first para reads like a poem. I wonder if you have tried your hand at poetry.

  6. suburbanlife Says:

    ybonesy – i know what you mean “to feel the grasp of those women’s hands” on your wrist. They are so starved of the comforts of contact. Thanks for replying with something from your experience! G

    pmousee – how horrible a thought, to be denied touch at any point of our lives. touch is so essential to well-being. G

    tiv – can think of many reasons why I am not a strong writer, strengths are much harder to identify. Thanks for the prompt and your intention to help those you tagged to find ways to think about and recognise writerly strengths. G

    Christine – Red Ravine is such a supportive community to have found here in blogosphere. G

    Nita – thanks for visiting and your comment. i do sporadically try to write poems, but really have little idea of what I am cobbling words together very much the neophyte. G

  7. QuoinMonkey Says:

    G, thanks so much for practicing with us. This writing practice is so alive and so sad at the same time. But it has so much hope. And the detail is just great. There is a lot of energy for you there in this subject area. You can always grab a line from this practice and do another. Thank you for sharing this.

    Some lines that called out to me (Recall):

    old women abandoned
    fish groaning, gasping for a last breath
    minute by minute losing moisture, lustre dimming
    lie abandoned in the ward-room

    The lady who sings every morning sits on the side of her bed
    her spindly white legs swing in tempo with “Camptown Races”
    she warbles in her reedy soprano

    her already tiny arm seems ready to lose her increasingly large plastic bracelet. i know her name (love this)

    she has yellowed, her fine pocelain skin has become wrinkled parchment – yet her eyes, clouded as they are by the morphine she is given, shine like polished black pebbles (and this)

  8. suburbanlife Says:

    quoinmonkey – Thank you for the recall – it is so much an aspect of workshopping work that i have missed since taking Elizabeth Bachinsky’s writing class – the sense of community, the generous encouragement in stating what exactly may be the stronger parts of each other’s writing. I shall, also, do recall from now on when reading others’ posts on writing practice. i feel lucky I’ve tumbled into an amazingly supportive working group of writers, and am learning so much reading your site. Pinch me! G

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