This week, we have "Diary of a Chameleon" by Travis Schmidt. Originally from New York, Travis now lives in Vermont, where he spends much of his spare time pondering the meaning of life. He hopes to finish a degree in Philosophy soon, since he has ambitions of becoming a professor someday.
Diary of a Chameleon
You pick a piece of lint off the table and flick it into the air. It lands in the middle of Elaina’s chest, but she doesn’t notice. The code to the supply closet is imprinted in your brain like a time card, stamped and filed away amongst other memories. You could live there, in that supply closet. No one knows where you are. Just let the minutes tick away until there is nothing left of your time here on Earth.
Coffee Shop Lady has her hair in a bun today. She greets you with a smile and starts discussing the topic of Pluto, defending its status as a planet with a passion normally reserved for religion or abortion. She digs her fingernails into the Styrofoam cup as she speaks, her lips trembling like a departing dandelion seed.
“The usual?” she asks.
You nod and she dumps some sugar into the cup. She stares sideways at the coffee as she stirs it slowly.
“In another world,” she says. “In another world I’m a dancer.”
“Interesting,” you say. “Maybe in another world I’m a chameleon.”
She smiles and rings up the sale. A man with a suspicious mole on his neck shuffles up behind you.
The morning sunshine is pouring through the window as you hold the cold metal against Wilkes’ chest and listen to the monotone thumping, like a drum beating too fast.
“Bastards,” he mutters, rubbing the sleep from his swollen eyelids. “Waking me up at all hours.”
The sky outside forms an interesting blue. You think about the atmosphere, the intricate chemical reactions occurring everyday, the electrical impulses firing in your brain every second to make you who you are. God, it’s all so beautiful.
Words pour into your mind when you write at night, thoughts that you can’t stop. Theories about why everyone exists, why humans desire what they desire, these are things that plague your mind before you sleep. You scribble a short progress note into Wilkes’ chart and place it back into the slot. You’ve never felt more alive than the time you dangled your feet from the roof of the hospital. Cole slaw is the most common product in restaurant trash cans. If only we could find a way to use every cell in our brain constantly, we’d all be geniuses.
Elaina is tugging at your sleeve. She paged you fifteen minutes ago. Wilkes’ heart is beating too fast. This is an ongoing problem.
“Call Cardiology,” she says. “Please.”
“Give him another point five of Lopressor,” you say. “He’ll be fine.”
“He’s heading for a code,” she says. “I’ve been here ten years. I’ve seen this before.”
You hear the words, but they slam against a brick wall which you have constructed in your mind. When you were younger, you used to enjoy old western movies on television. You had popcorn jammed between your teeth and your eyes stared at the bright lights flickering on the screen. The cinema industry has enjoyed a brilliant success since the invention of motion pictures, providing entertainment and employment for so many people.
Your attending is on the phone. Elaina holds the receiver towards you like a dog treat.
You are about to open an imaginary door in your mind as you reach for the phone. You twist the smooth brass knob with your fingers. You brush your palm against the oak door and push it open slowly.
“You’re a bastard,” he shouts.
There is silence on the receiver. You can hear his nose whistling subtly.
“Say something,” he says. “Tell me I’m wrong.”
Respiration persists in both a voluntary and involuntary way. We are able to hold our breath when needed, but then allow our bodies to take over control of breathing when we have other things to do. Evolution has equipped us with an auto-pilot. Deep breathing can help calm the body, and you should do this routinely. Try to exhale just slightly more than you inhale.
“Fool,” he grumbles.
He hangs up.
Elaina is looking at you. She has AIDS. You heard her on the phone once, talking about medications and appointment dates. You put the pieces together. You think about this when you see her, wondering what it would be like to know what is going to wipe you off the face of this Earth. Like you could be sitting there one day, and then be struck down by a bunch of cells malfunctioning in your own body.
“You’re a piece of work,” she says.
Someone is yelling at coffee shop lady. You are sitting in a threadbare chair outside the lounge when it happens. If you were a superhero, you’d come to her rescue. Your white coat would flow behind you like a cape, and you’d slide across the counter, allowing the words to bounce off your chest. But words are invisible, man-made concepts, and no one can stop them, not even a third-year resident on his last strike.
The unhappy patron storms off, clutching his hair as if it were a grab-bag of candy. Coffee Shop Lady wipes the counter with intent strokes of the cloth, her eyes fixated on the chrome countertop. The superhero would console her, tell her everything will be alright. These things happen. But you know, deep down inside, that it would probably just be a lie.
Your pager cuts through the silence like a tiny knife. You can feel it in your brain. There is a numbness there, next to your right ear, that won’t go away.
She catches you staring and smiles, then wipes the bangs out of her eyes.
“I have a rash on my ankle,” she says. “Could you take a peek?”
You walk over and look down. There is definitely some irritation.
“You need to wear socks with those shoes,” you say. “You’ll be fine after that.”
You receive another page, this time it is a 911 page.
Running is difficult on the human body. Our knees could evolve more, but don’t due to our technological standpoint. Knowledge is one of the most important things in life. Through studies of physics, the fact is well known that one can use a fulcrum to make lifting a heavy object off the ground much easier. There is a scientific possibility that fish can rain down from the sky.
When you enter the room, Wilkes is sprawled out on the bed. Elaina is doing chest compressions rhythmically. She counts off the compressions in her faint accent, each word trailing a little.
“Oneeee. Twoooo. Threeee.”
You feel fingers tightening around your arm like a vice. Looking back, you see your attending glaring at you.
“Get the hell out of here,” he barks.
Some feel that Hell is a cold place, because it is so far from God’s warmth. Throughout history, humans have struggled to find out what happens in the afterlife. How can any of use really know? The security guy takes your badge and deactivates your parking access. You step into the elevator and press the button.
There is a warm cup of coffee still in your hand as you get off the elevator. Insulation technology has improved dramatically in the past few decades. A warm breeze hits you as you step onto the ledge. Trade winds to the south only move in one general direction. So many things in nature seem to work hand in hand, making things come full circle, like components of a carousel. The carnival industry thrived in the nineteenth century, providing entertainment before television. You take a step and are in freefall, holding your hands out in front on instinct, something you can’t rid yourself of, even as the ground closes in on you.