Wounded Spirit Vessel I by John Selvia
Wounded Spirit Vessel I
by John Selvia

Artist's Statement:
I have a Masters degree in painting, but, like many artists, don't limit myself to just one discipline–I also love ceramics and drawing. I have a great interest in ancient culture, particularly Meso-American art and architecture. That was the influence behind my "Mayan Future Art" series, my imagined merging of Meso-American art and technology.
That love of ancient imagery extends to writing and alphabets as well. I'm always sitting around inventing symbols and "letters," and love studying Kanji, hieroglyphics, and other graphic-based writing systems.
I'm currently in an abstract phase (actually an extension of my love of the abstraction of writing systems), having just finished 7 paintings in a series on abstraction.
Not content with just slab building or throwing a pot on the wheel, most of my ceramic work features intricate carvings of shape and sometimes "letters."

ONLY WOUNDED

by Joyce Wakefield

I came to in a field beside my house crawling in the wet grass. There were a dozen or so other people crawling in the grass and it dawned on me that we were looking for something. I kept crawling, feeling my way through the wet grass, stealing glances at my fellow crawlers. I didn't know any of them. The committee in my head called itself to order and began to analyze these facts. Since it didn't have any better idea of what was going on than I did, I adjourned them. Looking around, I picked out a man who looked sane and crawled over beside him. I sat back on my heels and nodded to this stranger. He didn't nod back.

"Hi, I'm Jeannie." I held out my hand.

"Yeah, I know." He didn't take my outstretched hand.

"By the way, what are we looking for?"

"Lance's teeth."

I was sure glad to get that cleared up. I ran the tapes backward in my throbbing head. Last night - the bar - I was playing pool - there was tequila. This morning - Lance's lost teeth. There was a blank spot in there, a very large blank spot. A woman crawled over by me. I didn't know her name either. She had on damp jeans and a tee shirt with ugly little blue teddy bears all over it.

"How did Lance lose his teeth?" I just had to ask.

"I guess it was the fight."

"Alien possession," I blurted out. Only explanation I could find.

The teddy bear woman crawled away from me muttering and shaking her head. I never drank much until Charley left. The night before I was going to throw him out he left with one of those holy rollers from the Church of the Final Glory. My girlfriends took me to the bar that night, filled me full of beer, and let me cry and holler. The next night and many others, I took myself to the bar. I wasn't going to sit at home and stew over that man, not me!

"Hey, Lance, I found them," someone yelled.

We all gathered around as Lance wiped the dew and dirt off his teeth and proudly settled them in his mouth. Lance went around shaking hands and clapping people on the back. Everyone was pleased about the whole thing. When he got to me, he grabbed me and swung me off my feet. My stomach wrapped itself around my head and big black spots whirled in my vision.

"Great party, Jeannie! I guess I better go now and get some sleep. Gotta rest up for tonight," he winked at me. "What time did you say to pick you up?"

"Uh, eight?" I stared at this man who knew me and searched for some recollection of who the hell he was and why he was picking me up. Nothing came.

That's how I started dating Lance. We hung out at the bar most nights. I laughed and pretended to have fun. I drank until I didn't remember much of anything. After a few months of this, I couldn't stand Lance, the bar, and most of all, me. One morning I woke up and knew exactly what I had to do. It made perfect sense and would really show Charley!

I called Lance and told him I had the cramps and would stay home in bed for a few days. Woman things scared him and he quickly said to call him when 'it' was over. I gathered the things I would need - some really strong pain pills that Charley had left and a big bottle of tequila. I put on my pink baby doll pajamas. I wanted to look good when they found my body. I cleaned the house, fed the fish, even straightened the closet. I didn't want anyone to think I was messy. After I took Muffin, my little Yorkie, to the vet, I fixed a big pitcher of margaritas without salt; salt makes me bloat. After a few of these, my idea seemed better and better. I dumped the pills in Mama's antique crystal ashtray. Three or four pills went down easily with a swallow of the booze.

When the doorbell rang, I was feeling so good I answered it. Two large ladies, one tall, the other short, stood on my porch. They had pamphlets in one hand, black vinyl purses in the other. They both had on blue polyester dresses. The tall one had on those knee-high stockings with the elastic showing beneath the hem of her dress. I felt sorry for them, so I smiled and raised my glass.

"Hi, there," they boomed at me. "We're from the Shannon Road True Gospel Church and we've come to invite you to join us on the road to Heaven!"

The giggles welled up and erupted into full-blown howls. I couldn't help it. With tears rolling down my cheeks, I laughed until I was choking. I took a big swallow of my margarita. The tall one backed slowly to the edge of the porch.

"Well, I never," the short one huffed. She shook the pamphlets in front of me. "If you think Jesus is funny, you're in trouble! Big trouble!"

"Ah, you don't understand," I slurred, waving my hand at her. "I think I'm closer to Jesus than you know!"

The two started down the steps, but the short lady wasn't ready to give up on the fight for my salvation. She ran back and thrust some pamphlets into my hand mumbling something about Jesus loving even the worst of fallen women. They got in an old black car and drove away - fast. I held the pamphlets up to my face until the words stopped swirling. I read "The Way to Eternal Life." I figured I had that one cornered. Inside, I poured myself another big glass of booze and tuned the radio to the golden oldies. I plopped myself on the sofa, downed another handful of pills, and sang along with the Elvis song the DJ was playing. Pretty soon, I realized all the noise wasn't coming from the radio and me. Someone was pounding on my door.

"What is this," I muttered, "whole damned town stopping by?" I tried to decide whether to open the door or not.

Someone else decided and the door burst open. It seemed as though a hundred blue uniforms fell into my living room. For a few seconds, we just stared at each other. I moved first, weaving across the space between us. I was taught to be polite, especially to authority figures, so I held out my hand.

"May I help you, Officers?" I beamed my best, normal smile at them.

"Well, Miz Evans," one policeman moved warily toward me, "we got a call from Miz Eyestone saying you might need some help." He eyed the margarita in my hand and the now half full ashtray of pills.

Shortly after, we were at the hospital. After some fool doctor pumped my stomach, I was sent to 39 West - the nut ward! I tried to reason with them; after all, this was my life. They explained that trying to kill yourself was against the law and they just wanted me to rest for a few days. Sounded reasonable to me, just so they knew I was not crazy!

Over the next three days, the doctors and I talked - a lot. We talked about Charley, my folks, my job. They agreed with me that Charley was a bum. Much to my surprise, they decided I was sane and let me go home. Course, I had to talk to them a few times a week.

Everything went well until Charley came back. He cried and I cried and we swore to love each other forever - again. Two weeks later, the lady from the bank called me to let me know that Charley was there closing out our joint checking account! Five minutes later, I stormed into the bank. If Mr. King hadn't locked me in his office until Charley got away, we'd have made the six o'clock news.

When I got back home, Charley was gone - again. So was the TV, my mama's good pearls, and my dog. He took my dog! I'd had Muffin three more years than I'd had Charley. It was really over now. I could go on without Charley - but Muffin? I poured a glass of tequila and paced the floor. An idea came then and I headed for the car. I cut off the vacuum cleaner hose and taped one end to the exhaust pipe. I put the other end in the back window and stuffed some towels around it. Settling into the front seat with the engine running, I cried over Muffin and cussed Charley. I got drowsy, but I wasn't very comfortable. My neck was getting a crick in it. I reached for the steering wheel to shift my position and I guess I grabbed the gear shift instead. Everything happened pretty fast after that. The car lurched through the back of my garage and the fence between my yard and the Santiagos'. The wood crunched under my wheels.

By this time, I wasn't drowsy anymore. The Santiagos were all in their yard having a cookout. Father Dennis was there also. When I opened my eyes, the car had stopped a few inches from him. I'd always liked the Catholic man and I raised my hand to wave. Father dropped his hot dog and fainted. Two of the Santiago kids were jumping up and down and clapping. Mrs. Santiago was screaming in Spanish. I never learned Spanish, so I just waved and smiled at her. She grabbed a cordless phone and dialed three numbers.

Father Dennis still hadn't gotten up and then I heard the sirens. With a sigh, I opened the door and tried to get out. Still dizzy, I fell right on top of Father Dennis. The police untangled us and Father Dennis asked for a drink. I asked for one, too, but the police, seeing the vacuum hose and the path from my garage, opted to take me to the hospital instead.

I stayed for several months this time. I had new doctors and I was in a different ward. The patients here were a lot more fun. One man talked only to his shoe. Sometimes, the shoe answered and he would just laugh and laugh. One day, he laughed so hard, he peed his pants. I was brushing Betty's hair and the pee ran under her chair. She was a queen who had been dethroned and really didn't like pee under her chair.

"Guards! Guards! Where are my guards, you dolt?" Her Highness whacked me on the head.

I really got caught up in this and headed for the door to get the guards. I ran smack into two big orderlies and the head nurse. The orderlies saw the pee; the head nurse didn't. She slid six feet on her butt and crashed into the man with the shoe. He fell into Betty's lap and she threw up on him. We all had to stay in our rooms the rest of the night.

One day in finger painting therapy, I sat staring out the window. I hated finger painting, but I was trying to participate because the doctors were big on participating. I was just watching the leaves sway on a big old oak tree. The tree had lots of thick branches. Some of them brushed against the window. The plan unfolded simply. The hospital walls were old and crumbly and it didn't take too many days to loosen the bolts holding the wire screen over the window.

I was a good patient and all the nurses liked me. One night at supper, I pretended to have a stomach ache and asked to go to my room to lie down.

"Jeannie, we're short-handed tonight. I don't have anyone to take you back to your room." She never doubted my story.

I didn't argue. I just sat, sighing, and pushed my food around on my plate looking as forlorn as I could. I swallowed a spoonful of peas and smiled bravely at my supper companions. I felt a tap on my shoulder and the nurse motioned me to follow her.

"Bless your heart, you really do feel bad. Promise me you'll go straight to your room and lie down? I'll come check on you when the rest of us finish."

"Yes, Nurse, thank - thank you. I'll just clear my dishes first." I let my voice trail off sadly.

"No, don't worry about that. We'll cover for you tonight. You just go to your room and rest."

She was so nice that I had a pang of conscience, but just one. They didn't understand. I did not belong here! I figured I had maybe thirty or forty minutes to carry out my plan. I had stolen some hospital gowns and torn them into strips. I was sure my makeshift rope would hold me long enough to reach the twenty or so feet to the ground. In my room, I got the rope from under my mattress and smiled. No more finger painting!

No one was in the day room and I loosened the bolts in the wire screen. It came off quickly and I shoved it under a sofa. The rusty window clasp finally slipped free and I stopped to listen - still okay. I tucked the rope inside my shirt and climbed onto the window sill. Holding my breath, I lunged for the tree. I caught the branch and eased myself back against the trunk of the tree. I took a deep breath and looked around - still quiet. I tied one end of the rope around my waist and the other around the branch. I was going to shinny down the tree just like I'd seen in the movies. I looked down then and saw that it was a bit farther than I'd thought. I'd have to drop at least six feet from the end of my rope.

"Figures," I muttered.

I heard a screech from the branch above me. I hadn't seen the cat and I jerked back in surprise and banged my head into the tree. I grabbed for a hold on the branch and rocked, unsteady and now shaking. The cat wrapped itself around my neck and buried its claws into my collarbone. I bit my lip to keep from screaming.

In full panic, the cat sank its teeth into my earlobe. I grabbed for the cat and the branch at the same time. I missed both. What I grabbed was a power line. I felt a sharp sting as the cat, me, and the power line tumbled toward the ground. I was pleased though, the rope held. We slowed to a gentle swing and the cat decided to take its chances and jumped to freedom. I watched a furry flash disappear through the shrubs. By now, there were people hurrying from the hospital. A security guard stopped and looked me in the eye. He looked at the rope and the power line. It had landed in the air conditioning unit and black smoke poured out. The guard got a real ugly look on his face.

They were a bit insensitive after that. A fireman finally cut me down. The fire was out and the rest of the patients filed back into the hospital. The nurse who let me leave the dining room alone shoved me back into the hospital muttering to herself. I tried to apologize and explain.

"I want you to shut up and shut up now," she snarled. She pushed me into a different room than the one I'd had. This one had only a cot, a toilet, and no window.

It's been a few months since my failed escape attempt. The doctors insist that I'm in denial about trying to hang myself. I try to explain that I wasn't trying to hang myself - only to escape. They're not much inclined to listen to me anymore. I'm in a different ward now and the patients are not nearly as much fun.

Charley came to see me the other day. Seems the fine church lady he'd left me for ran off with the preacher's son and took Charley's truck. I was still laughing as he stormed out of the visitor's room.

This place isn't so bad. The food's good and they say I might be well enough to leave in a couple of years. At least we don't have to finger paint! Tonight, we get to watch a movie before lock down. It's not one of my favorites, but I guess I'll go. They're showing "That Darn Cat." Not one of my favorites, but it's that or Junior Trivia.

Joyce Wakefield is a freelance writer in Southern California. A native of Oklahoma, she was a member of the Individual Artists of Oklahoma, The Oklahoma Writers Federation, and the Oklahoma City Writers. The story "Only Wounded" won top honors along with her poem "Semetica Major" at the Oklahoma Writers Federation Convention against competitors from six states. She has published two chapbooks, sold several short stories, and many poems. Her poetry has been published in Byline Magazine, Poems Niederngassee, and Tamyfyr Mountain, to mention a few. For editing, design, ghostwriting, and articles specializing in medicine please contact her at the following e-mail: j53wakefield@hotmail.com.

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