That’s right. A whole new novel with a whole new theme and even a whole new genre is in the works. If you’ve read my blog long enough, you’re familiar with “Ride for Life.” However, it’s been rewritten and revamped into a surrealist story involving “Kid” and “John Birmingham.”
Here is Chapter 1 of “Ride for Life”:
Screams came from beyond the door.
His smile quivered with knowledge that these screams could just as easily be ones of joy as those of a more distressful nature. Like Schrodinger’s cat, knowing which was truth and which was mere fantasy dancing in his head required opening that door. Before reaching for the knob to determine which cat was behind it, something slapped him on his already tense shoulder.
“What’s the matter, Kid,” a voice asked.
Turning, Kid saw his boss. A tall, stout man with graying long hair loosely tied in the back and a canyon-wide smile. He held an aura of both intimidation and friendliness. Kid did not respond. Instead, he simply rubbed his hands together as best he could with a small notebook filling one, considering what he should say.
“Ya look scared,” he said as he smacked Kid’s shoulder again. “Don’t worry. He’s a handful. But if you’re half as good as your resume suggests, I know he’ll be in great hands. C’mon.”
Following the man with long hair into the sterile white room, just beyond the door, it was difficult for Kid not to notice the mess of a man at the head of the table. The dirty man’s beard was a forest of debris and grisly brown bristles. His eyes, however, held an air of something less disheveled, something familiar. It required all his energy to pull his gaze away from the man’s familiarity to notice the only other person in the room. A middle-aged woman with short peppering hair who did not look up from whatever she scribbled on her stack of paperwork.
The man with long pulled back hair sat opposite the cloud of dust of a man. Before Kid sat, his boss introduced everyone.
“So, this here’s John’s new Direct Support Staff.”
With an open hand, the boss pointed to the woman who finally looked up over her glasses, but only just, “This here is our regional Intake Physician. She did John’s, well, intake.”
She stood just enough to extend her hand in courtesy. Her curt cold half-smile sent a shiver down Kid’s spine. Shook Kid’s hand, then sat back down, jotting more information with seamless precision.
“And this here,” the man with long hair bellowed as if speaking to someone in the next room, “is the man of the hour, Mr. John Birmingham.”
Somehow, the boss’s smile widened further. Out of assumed need for courtesy, Kid walked over to the beastly John Birmingham, extending his hand. John leaped up, tipping backward before grabbing the edge of the table for support. The look of fear on his face shifted to surprise and then relief in an instant. He snatched up Kid’s slender but inviting hand. With the intensity of a siren, John squealed from a gaping mouth missing more than its share of teeth before choking on something. Then a scent entered Kid’s nostrils as thick as gel and as pungent as Limburger cheese in a small, humid attic. His stomach curdled.
John’s free hand vibrated wildly as it pointed to their handshake. Fearing he might appear put off, which he was, Kid caught himself before taking a step backward in surprise. It was his job not to appear taken aback by John’s quirks. It was his job to teach John the niceties of life, no matter how difficult that task may be.
At this close range, Kid could not help staring into the dirty man’s eyes. Emerald green floating in a sea of deeply bloodshot sclera. A distant memory flickered just out of view in his mind as he tried to decide why they appeared so familiar. Whatever it was, it evaded him. He shrugged off his inability to find the right memory to being forced to fight the urge to turn away to relieve his curdling stomach.
Wheezy ear-piercing chortling followed by more coughing emanated from John before he calmed enough to give Kid back his hand. Kid caught his boss beaming with a proud smile as he made his way to an empty chair across from the Intake Physician. His face felt warm.
“John, you can sit down again if you’d like.”
This loud comment sent John reeling again. His face turned red. Kid worried his new client would drop dead of a stroke before his first paycheck. Eventually, after tiring of pointing at his new staff and pretending to straighten a non-existent tie around his bushy neck, he sat. His hissing laugh faded away but his nearly toothless smile remained.
“Because this really is the first time I’m meeting Mr. Birmingham for any great length of time,” the man with long hair said, “I’m just going to turn this meeting over to our lovely and talented Physician. Please, tell us a little about Mr. Birmingham here.”
The boss leaned in leaving all his attention on John, though Kid did not know exactly why. He had clearly spoken to the woman across from him. Taking off her glasses and dropping back into her chair, she began.
“To be honest, we know very little about the individual thus far. I haven’t had the opportunity to conduct a thorough examination on…”
“You mean, John,” asked the boss.
Kid looked up from the notebook he jotted nuggets of information in as he heard them. His boss’s smile had not shrunk but it felt somehow different. He wondered if he stepped into an already feuding team. That was the last thing he wanted. With his free hand, Kid rubbed his writing hand trying to release some tension, if only his own.
“To whom else would I be speaking about? That is why we’re here? Isn’t it?”
John’s Intake Physician leaned forward to meet the man with long hair half way. The long haired man turned away from John and stared back at her. Her smile melted away. His did not.
“Ah. Right,” said the boss, maintaining his cheerful tone, though Kid wondered if he heard something else also. The man’s attention returned to John, Kid’s returned to his notebook, sweat already collecting on his brow.
“As I was saying, we know relatively little about the individual in question.”
Then the boss cut in, “Although we have not ascertained much about John here,” Kid peered across the table without lifting his head trying to keep a low profile as he watched his boss briefly bring his attention to the Physician and returning it to the dusty shell named John Birmingham. “We have determined the individual’s gender and his name, strangely enough. It is therefore fitting to reference both while speaking either to John or about him in his presence. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“I was merely stating fact,” her voice cracked.
“As was I. I’m sorry. Please. Continue.”
Rolling her eyes, she picked up her glasses and twirled them between her fingers.
“Most of what we do know, we received in the police report. The individual…”
“…was arrested when an anonymous caller requested a safety check on someone sleeping in the alley behind their apartment complex off of North and 12th. Because it was found that the individual…”
“…was no threat to others, he was released into state custody. It was determined, and I concur, that the individual…”
“…is still a threat to himself due to his diminished mental capacity. And, since its apparently cheaper to place someone in our care than in the prison system, here he is.”
“Well, Mr. Birmingham,” the boss bellowed, “You’ve probably been out of work some time. Right?”
John’s only response was to spread his smile across his bushy cheeks.
“Maybe one of your first goals you can work on with your new staff here would be finding you a job. How about it, John?”
John screamed an ear piercing ‘Yeah’ to which the short haired Physician cringed in discomfort. The boss never lost his smile nor flinched. Everything in his body begged him to cover his ears, but Kid refrained, resigning to pretend to jot down information in his notebook.
“I thought you might. Well, John, this young man here is going to help with that. His job is to teach you anything you wanna learn.”
The boss slapped Kid’s shoulder again. By this time, he wondered if his shoulder was not bruising or if this smacking was to remain a habit for his boss. John reached over and did the same, mimicking the only person in the room he appeared to vaguely understand. His laughter started up until he chocked on something and coughed himself back into submission.
“Let’s not get carried away with ourselves here,” she glared at the long haired boss, “we still have no way of knowing what this man is capable of.”
“His name is John Birmingham. Please use his name. He’s sitting right here.”
“As you can tell, he can’t hear a damn thing we’re saying.”
“I can. Please, for me. I confuse easily. So, what do we know about Mr. Birmingham’s health?”
“Well,” she cleared her throat, “Mr. Birmingham has clearly been transient for some time. His oral hygiene requires immediate attention. I fear he will have to lose most, if not all his remaining teeth. He does have mild M.R.”
John’s direct support staff, who kept his nose in his notebook fearing getting stuck between his boss and the short haired woman, looked up.
“Mild Mental Retardation, Kiddo.”
Kid blushed. Fresh out of school, he expected suggestions of ignorance. He knew what M.R. was, and he was getting a little bored of the ‘Kid’ nickname. From his boss, his apparent new name felt like a sign of his boss’s upbringing, perhaps even a form of respect. The Intake Physician across from him made it feel degrading. Rather than lock horns early given the already tense situation, he returned his eyes to his notebook, darkening the sketched ‘B’ and ‘i’ in John’s last name.
“And without knowing more about…Mr. Birmingham here, I can only assume he also has a mild case of Cerebral Palsy. And he has very little hearing in either ear. If any. Beyond that I really have little to give you in terms of assistance at this juncture. There are suggestions of drug abuse. His eyes are glossier than one might expect. His appetite is muted, though he doesn’t appear to have eaten much before he was admitted either. That’s the primary reason why I don’t think we should have him. We don’t need drugs in our facility. That’s what the penal system is for. We’re not some damn cheap babysitting service. We serve the Mentally Retarded.”
She dropped back into her chair, looking rather satisfied with herself. She tossed her glasses onto the table again, “Good luck with this one, Kid.”
“John,” said the boss loud enough to ensure he would hear, if he could hear at all, “How would you like to say ‘hello’ to a new beginning for you? This is your new Direct Support Staff.” The long haired man pointed openhanded at Kid to John’s left. Kid looked up to find John staring at him. Peering long enough to make his new staff sweat with discomfort, he gurgled what Kid assumed was John’s way of saying “Thank you” without the fine motor skills necessary to form such complex sentences.
They smiled at each other. Kid continued to be perplexed over seeing something beyond John’s caked on sweat and unkempt beard. What it was remained just out of reach. There was a sense of longing in John’s gaze that gravitated from John’s eyes to his own. Unable to place a finger on it, he attempted to convince himself it was nothing more than his brain seeking familiarity in this new place. After all, it was a new job, with new colleagues, in a new city, in a new state, with a new client. There was no way he actually knew John prior to today.