Summer 2011

Table of Contents - Vol. VII, No. 2

Poetry    Fiction    Translations     Reviews

Thane Zander



Open Windows

            He’s alive!  He sees the Tiger hasn’t chewed his legs off.  He realizes the White World has not enveloped his vista and sent him into another demented rambling.  He feels his arse and pinpoints the injections tell tale signs.  He knows he’s just turned sixteen, but what he remembers the most is the dreams and the daytime thoughts that cloud his sixteen year old mind.  He remembers his mother (Gertrude) and father (Hans) visiting earlier, but what they said was a blur.  He remembers their rough English, their German accents still strong after 18 years in Aotearoa.
            The door opened slightly.  He laid still, eyes closed, not wanting human contact.
            “Michael, it’s time for your afternoon meds.”
            This contact was the worst. The nurse was a sweetie, and meant well, but he had this impression he needed to be on his own, to deny he was in Manawaroa Hospital.  He’d heard of the place through friends at school who had ended up there through family admissions.  Now he was here, drab puke green walls, placid pink paneling’s, and pastel blue doors that could indicate the one road to hell.  He felt it was Hell.  He opened his eyes then and motioned the nurse into his room.  He hated the meds, but knew they did help his psychosis.  Heck, even the ECT was helping him regain his former control.  He didn’t hate the place, he thought, he hated that it was he getting the treatment.
            “Ready for another day, Michael?  You have Gym today, and the Pool Table is back in operation.”
            He thought then of Adam, the 27 year old paranoid schizophrenic, and part time crim.  He’d asked Mike for a smoke (he never had his own) and Mike had turned him down.  Adam had then done his nut and tried to whack Mike with the pool cue. He’d ducked, and the cue smashed into the pool table and smashed in half.  He’d then tried to use the sharp end to stab at Mike, but Mike’s senses were attuned and he’d leapt back, barely missing the cues intent.  The male orderlies were on the case very quickly and subdued the culprit.  The nurses also arrived and help placate Mike and recommended he go to his room for quiet time.
            Malcolm turned another page, his homework for Science flowing like a breeze.  It had been quiet for a few weeks now, and knowing his brother was getting the right treatment helped his own mind to focus on his own life.  The past few months had been sheer hell, and his moods and his work had suffered.  Mum and Dad wouldn’t let him come with them to see his older brother.  He resented this reasoning, he knew Mike was worthy of a visit from his brother and part time friend.  He’d argued until blue in the face that he was ok if he could visit.  He stopped thinking about it, and got back to his studies.  Mike had flunked school badly, but now there was a reason for that to happen.
            “Malcolm, are you ok to be by yourself”
            His mother’s accent made him smile.  He loved the lilt and the harshness in one breath, and though she was a wonderful person.  He also thought she didn’t understand her oldest son, and that what was happening to Mike was not actually in his best interest, but ‘hey’, he thought, ‘what would I know’
            “Yes Mum, say hi to Mike for me and tell him I love him and miss him badly. Oh and tell him about my B+ for English, let him know I want to write a story about him for my next essay.
            Gertrude walked through the door to Manawaroa with her husband.  He was usually very silent about these visits and his own mind had trouble attaching fancy to reality.  She knew her husband was deeply affected and he felt that it was duty to see his son, more than a means to gaining a successful treatment.  He was old school; she remembered his comment when Mike was taken to hospital. ‘The boy always had a weak mind’
            She noticed the paint on the walls and doors, the paneling and found it somewhat comforting.  This was their third visit and each visit, for her, was less demanding and more a realization.  She loved her boys, and this admission of her oldest son to a Psychiatric Hospital was having an unbearable strain on her own resolve but she was now resigned to the whole situation.  Dr Avery, her son’s resident psychiatrist, was optimistic about his recovery, saying the treatment was working very well.  She thought about this a as she walked down the corridor to Michaels room. 
            The open door suggested to her things were improving.  She remembered all too well her sons’ petulance with having his door closed at home.  He’d totally shut himself away, and refused anyone entry to his haven.  She’d remembered the fights, the disagreements, the pain he caused her, the frustration she felt for her lovely boy.  She remembered the smiling ten year old in the back garden playing with his brother.  She recalled the shine in his eyes when twelve and passing tests at school with flying colours.  She remembered the fourteen year old starting to place Iron Maiden and AC/DC posters on his wall, and his drive to have a decent stereo in his room.  That was the catalyst, she felt.  Puberty robbed her of her son, and the descent into schizophrenia bought pain to al, especially her Michael.
            She walked into the room ahead of her Hans, and saw the nurse medicating her dear boy.  He saw her then and smiled, and then he saw his Dad and his smile disappeared.
            There were always telephone calls from the Police.  Han’s never handled them, knowing it was about his Michael.  Malcs usually took them when his mother was out and he’d deal with the fall out from his errant brothers’ life.  Sure, he loved his brother, but after fourteen years of distraction, it was starting to wear very thin and even he was showing the strain.  This time Mike was in Dannevirke Police Station after starting another fight he couldn’t win.  He told his Dad, then texted his mother to come home and be ready to pick Mike up again. When he got the reply she was on her way, he made himself and his father a coffee and sat at the table wondering what was going through his fathers’ head.  He never spoke about these events and the harder he tried, the more closed shop his father got.  He didn’t hate his father for not understanding, but he did loathe his disinterested thoughts on the matter.  Often when it was about Mike, all he got from his father was a very dismissive ‘Humph!’
            “Close the bloody windows, Mike!!
            Malcs plaintiff plea could be heard through the door and Mike just shrugged his shoulders for the umpteenth time that morning.  He couldn’t tell if it was his schizophrenia playing up or not but no doubt when Mary Creswell, the key worker, arrived at midday, he’ll know if he is not right.
            “Why do you play this silly game, Mike? .”
            Mike felt the cool breeze on his exposed cheeks and thought it would soon be time to close all the windows he’d opened earlier that morning.
            “Hey Malcs, don’t fret bro, I’ll shut them after Mary has been and you’ll be right then.
            He continued rolling his Park Drive tobacco into a viable cigarette.  Normally both he and Malcs would smoke with the house all shut up, but he had to open them to freshen the place up when they had visitors, which were few and far between.
            His psychosis opened his mind and his thoughts started racing.  First there was the image of Malcs in a motorized wheelchair driving up and down the hallway keeping away from the drafts.  Malcs useless legs, and the accident, and then to him being held by Police in Dannevirke for vagrancy, the reason the accident happened.
            “Ok Mike, I won’t ask you again, you bastard.”
            Mike thought then of that fateful day two years ago, the day after his 34th birthday.  He’d been caught in a deep psychosis and when he was like that, he roamed, though only normally in the lower North Island.  He’d been to Dannevirke and back to Palmy several times with no problems.  Not with the Police anyway.  But this time he’d gone deep, and his mind was overtaken with visions and nightmares.  He knew a mate in Dannevirke that suffered the same and had hitchhiked there in the evening.  But his mate didn’t like the looks of him, and refused him a joint or something to help the thoughts.
            He’d then taken off downtown to the Masonic Hotel to see if he could drown his sorrows, but the psychosis by now was severely debilitating.  Someone looked at him the wrong way and he threw his glass at him.  Next thing several patrons were knocking the shit out of him.  The Bartender had called the Police and when they came, Mike was in the middle of the floor with blood pouring from a split cheek.  They’d taken him then to the Police Station, determined he was psychiatrically disturbed and he needed treatment.  Mike had pleaded with the cops to let his parents pick him up and take him to hospital if they thought he required it, which the Police acquiesced to.
            He’d waited and waited.  After a few hours, the Police rung his parents again, telling him there was no answer.  They then determined to take him to Palmerston North Hospital to be assessed and dealt with accordingly.  The ride in the back seat of the police car was without incident until they had progressed a third of the way into the Manawatu Gorge.  All west bound traffic was banked up, with east bound traffic navigating around a couple of ambulances, some tow trucks, a fire engine and several Highway Patrol cars.
            “Been an accident huh?”
            The cop in the driver’s seat nodded his head, but didn’t speak.  Mike was aware enough to know that any accident in that part of the gorge was pretty serious, the long drop into the river likely to be instant death.  He saw the marks on the Armco barrier where the unlucky vehicle had gone over.  Not once did he think of his parents though he was aware that maybe they should have been in Dannevirke a lot earlier to pick him up.
            “Mike, I know you’re a total arsehole, I need something warm on.  That icy southerly is cutting right into me.  Could you get me a blanket or something else to keep me warm?”
            This time the plea in Malcs voice was pathetic, and ate into Mike’s thoughts. “Coming bro, just wish you’d stop whining.”
            “You know I can’t do anything by myself, why do you always play this stupid game with me.  I know you have mental issues, but surely you could for once be accommodating”
            “Seriously, you think I have issues.  Yeah I have issues! I killed Mum and Dad and got you paralyzed.  Ya don’t think that doesn’t weigh on my mind all the time.”  He took another drag on his cigarette, the smooth sensation of peace clouding his fragile mind.
            “We got the van today Mike?” Malcs suddenly sounded happier, more perked up.
            “Yeah we got the van, three hours today.  Where do you want to go?”
            “I want to go to Mangatainoka and have a beer at the brewery.  I haven’t had a decent beer for weeks, Mike, and I’d really love that.”
            “We’ll have to go the long road, over the Pahiatua Track; you know I can’t drive the Gorge.”
            He flicked the last of the ash to the ground at Malc’s useless feet.  The poor bugger couldn’t feel a thing from his lower back down, and needed constant help for toileting and anything that he couldn’t do himself.
            “No, you have to drive the Gorge, Mike, it’s time you faced your demons head on.”  Malc’s scratched his head, bald since the accident, and always itchy.  He looked at Mike and could see he was nervous and fidgety, and maybe not up to driving. Mike had driven him once a fortnight in the Mobility Van and he appreciated the effort this took, but with the anniversary just around the corner, it was time Mike went that little bit extra.
            The smell of petrol was strong.  The sound of running water below was even stronger.  He lay wrapped around a tree in a staple formation.  He’d moved his arms and head, to try and see where the car was, to see how Mum and Dad were.  The dull ache in his lower back was annoying, but not as annoying as the lack of feeling in his legs.
            “Mum, Dad, are you alright?”  He’d called out several times after being ejected from the spinning car through the rear window that had smashed out.  He hadn’t been wearing his seat belt, and knew he was in the predicament he was because of that.  Mum and Dad always wore theirs, so he supposed they too had survived the long drop off the Gorge Road.  He couldn’t see the car, although the river was scant meters below him.  The petrol smell was a worry, what if a spark set it alight?
            “Muuuummmm, Daaaaadddd, answer me!”
            The sound of a siren in the distance shifted his focus.  Rescue!  He’d point the rescuers down to the car, to get his parents out and off to hospital first.  He could wait.
            Another siren; this one an ambulance.  Good they can save them, get them the help they needed.  The river seemed to be bubbling now, and he guessed the car was slipping underwater.
            “Mum, Dad, get out, you’ll drown!!”
            The smell of petrol dissipated, now he felt the sudden pang of loss.  He also had a vision of Mike being told what he was responsible for.  He tried moving his legs again, to stand up and rescue his parents.  The tree stopped all movement. And then there was his back.
            “Is anybody down there?”  A shout from the road, maybe cop, maybe anybody who could help.
            “Help my parents, help my parents” Malcs urged.  Then nausea took over and he drifted off into unconsciousness.
            “Malc’s snap out of it, you’re thinking about the accident again.  You know you freak me out when you do that. Look I’ve been thinking, what say I make some white crosses up, and we go nail them to the Armco where the car went over.  We both have to deal with this issue and there really isn’t any going back from it.”
            “Good, it’s about time you faced it eh?”
            “Yeah, you’re right, though I doubt anyone will like us stopping the van in the lane though.”
            “There’s a lay-by about two hundred metres from the site, we could stop and make our way from there.  We shouldn’t hold up any traffic walking that distance.”
            A knock on the door suddenly wrenched them from their plans.  The key worker was here to see Mike, so Malcs wheeled himself to his room, shut the door, and moved over to his computer to continue the story he had been writing.  He could hear muffled conversation in         Mike’s room too and felt better when he knew his brother was getting the right attention.  He should be in a good mood to drive this afternoon.
            “So how did it go then Mike?”  Malcs had come out of his room when the front door closed.  Mike was going around closing all the windows, to stop the chill, and to let the cosiness of the home return to normal.
            “Yeah, sweet bro, she thought I was in a good space and seemed to be coping with my own care and your care too.  She’s going to get me to see Dr Hankin to do a slight med alteration, but apart from that, sweet.”  He closed the last window, took a loving look at his younger brother and winked with a wry smile.
            The van arrived at 2pm, as arranged, with the delivery driver explaining all the ins and outs to Mike, which they did every time they got the van.  The mobility lift was an electric one, and thankfully a smooth loader.  Mike placed the two crosses he’d hurriedly prepared in the front of the back section, then loaded his brother into the main section, secured all the clamps, and they drove off, with his window wound down.
            “Close the fucken window Mike!!”
            “Oops, yeah sure, sorry I forget sometimes.” Mike had forgotten about Malcs morbid fear of open car windows, and wound it back up.  He was annoyed by this, because it meant he couldn’t smoke while driving.  They wound their way down Main Street heading east towards the ranges, and the Manawatu Gorge.  They slipped past Ashurst, over the Manawatu and Pohingina Rivers Bridge, and into the belly of the Gorge.
            “Mike, I’m sweating, I’m really petrified mate”
            “Don’t worry bro, I’ve got a major sweat on too, in fact I need to dry the steering wheel fast.” 
They travelled at fifty K’s, holding up traffic, but no way were they both going to tempt fate.  They pulled over in the first lay-by about a 1/3 of the way in, letting the traffic build up slide past.  When an appreciable break occurred in the east bound traffic, they slipped back onto the main road, and driving with care eventually made the lay-by short of where the accident occurred.
            “Are you ok, sir?”  He’d regained consciousness, in time to see a fireman standing metres from his face.  He could see the rope the man was dangling from and guessed that the rescuers were at hand.
            “I think my legs have gone. I can’t feel them.  How are Mum and Dad?”
            The look on the rescuers face suggested not good, but he looked back down below him and then back to Malcs.
            “What’s your name, sir?”
            “Um, Malcolm, how are Mum and Dad?”
            “I’m sorry Malcolm, they didn’t make it.  Right now Malcolm, we need to get you into the ambulance.  We’re going to send down a stretcher soon, and we’ll get you into it and off to hospital. Do you understand?”
            Malcs was panicking.  The fireman had said they didn’t make it, yet they were in their seat belts.  Many things rushed through his mind, the pain of loss, the pain of failure, why them and not him?  The pain in his back too sent him reeling.
            “Yeah, Ok, I think I’m in bad way.”
            The traffic was lighter now, and it made their next journey less treacherous.  Malcs set off first with the chair opened up to full speed.  This job had to be done expeditiously and Mike walked behind with the crosses and the hammer and nails. None of the cars passing them tooted them in rage, perhaps seeing the white crosses they understood what was happening. Malcolm started to cry, his tears staining his cheeks and the memories started flooding back. 
            “How are you going Mike?”
            Silence.  Malcs could hear his footfalls behind him, but in his own way understood that Mike was finally facing his demons, and that this moment would be significant for both of them.  He’d seen Mike had taken time to use a Vivid Marker on the crosses with Mum and Dads names on each cross.  It felt good that Mike felt this way, it helped Malcs cope too.
            “Here are the marks,” Mike said quietly.  Malcs had almost driven past them.  He hadn’t known where they were, but did remember Mike saying he’d seen them from the Police car on that fateful day.
            He started nailing the crosses to an Armco support beam, the sound of an insistent hammer banging solidly on a compliant nail making both brothers feel the finality of the whole episode.  With both crosses up, they both offered a thought or two for their parents, and then returned to the van.  Both were breathing heavily and Mike was showing a sign of a tear or two.
            Mike loaded Malcs and the wheelchair into the van, then he got into the drivers seat and slowly drove east towards the Balance end of the gorge.  As they passed the crosses, each had separate thoughts.
            He was taken to the psychiatric hospital ward, a place he had been several times in his youngish life.  They placed him in the High Needs Unit, where he stayed for a week before being transferred into the day ward.   By now his schizophrenia was under control and he was no longer a danger to himself or others.  Many times during the next three weeks he wondered where his parents were.  He’d tried ringing home but the phone was never answered.  This worried him.  Even if Mum and Dad were out, Malcs was home writing his next novel and doing his Massey studies.  But no one answered and no one came.  What’s more no one had taken the time to telling him what had really happened, presumably to keep his mental distress at a low ebb.
            Then there was the day Malcs finally visited him.  At first the wheelchair didn’t play on his mind, the fact that his brother was here to see him overrode all thoughts.  He’d given up hope of seeing any of his family again.  Then when he told him, his older brother, to sit down and listen carefully, he was reluctant. ‘Mike’s in a fucken wheelchair’ suddenly hit him.  This was news, not good news, but news.
            “Where are Mum and Dad?  I’ve been trying to ring all you bastards and no one answers.  And what’s with the wheelchair?”
            Malcs laid it all out.  And suddenly the memory from the Police car hit him like a ton of bricks.  What hurt the most was the tone of Malcs voice.  Accusatory at best!  Condescending!  Harsh!  He’d even said the he owed him big time.  But worst of all, they both had been willed the house and they had to live there together.  Malcs said he couldn’t move back in until he, Mike, was right again, as he needed fulltime care.
            The enormity of the conversation didn’t strike Mike at all well, and he felt himself regressing.  Malcs said he was staying in the STAR Ward just down the hall and doing physio work in the gym to stop his muscles atrophying.  He would visit more.
            They passed through Woodville heading south to Mangatainoka, to fulfill their original plan. They drove in a dense silence, the sound of rubber on cooling asphalt the only sound both could bear.  Mike wouldn’t drink; in fact he’d not had a drink since the news reached him.         His only two preoccupations were smoking and the care of his brother.  His perverse mind would mean both would fight vocally till either tired.  Blame ruled their lives.
            “Man this would have to be the best beer in the world,” proclaimed Malcs “and with the best brother in the world next to me, I propose a toast.  To Mum and Dad!”
            They clinked pint with plastic coke bottle and tipped the contents down their respective throats.  After three rounds they got into the van and headed off to Pahiatua to do the round trip, avoiding the gorge.  They both swore then they’d never see those crosses again.
            “Mike, close the bloody window”




© Thane Zander

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