Original Short Story: Urella Manking’s Brain Stem
"It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere."
Today is the first day in five years that Urella Manking will walk out to get the mail and not be accosted by Hubert Wilburs from across the street. You see, Hubert died last night at the local hospital. He was 78 years old and had suffered from a rare blood disease for a decade or two.
Nanette Looks In
Nanette Manking looked in on her mother three or four times a week, asking her question after question about how she did her laundry, what foods she was eating, if she was still ok to drive to the grocery and to church.
Urella's Little Trek
Urella did not know about the blood disease, and now on her little trek to retrieve the mail, she does not know that Hubert will not pop his head out of his door and yell at her: "Hey, Urella! How’s it going today, Babe? You gonna come over and make me some breakfast? I got something for ya. I think you’ll like it. Don’t tell Benji and Crawler, they’d be jealous!" Just once, Urella happened to glance over at Hubert as he was calling to her, and she saw him clutching his crotch. She gasped and from that time on, never looked over at Hubert again.
After Hubert had started making these strange remarks to Urella some five years ago, she thought she would amble on over and see what was going on. She knew that Cassy Deekens, the granddaughter of a former town council member lived in that house, and she assumed that Hubert might be her uncle. The grandfather-council-member had died a couple of years before Hubert appeared. Urella guessed that Hubert was just a senile, old uncle who had no place to go, so Cassy took him in.
Funny, how time sometimes passes and you never get around to asking the questions about things that puzzle you. But that’s what happened with Urella; she had planned to have a little visit with Cassy, who had lived in the house across the street for about two decades. But she didn’t get around to it. Nobody in this neighborhood did what some call "neighboring"— they all kept to themselves, and everyone seemed to live happily ever after.
Nanette Looks In Again
Nanette had suggested that Urella might want to spend some time with her friend, Chloe Edwards, in Florida, but Urella reminded Nanette that Chloe had died two years ago. Try again, Nanette. Why don’t you just leave me alone? Good God, find a man, for Christ’s sake, or a woman. It’s ok now you know. Nanette would poopooh her mother and then show up again, two days later.
Popping Into Her Head
Urella retrieved her mail and then just before stepping back inside her house realized that Hubert had not accosted her in his usual manner. She looked at the time and saw that yes, same time as usual. She felt a strong tug to go knock on Cassy’s door and find out what gives, but then she thought, "Oh, well! Maybe the old fool has come to his senses and realized what a jerk he had been making of himself."
Still she continued to wonder as the day wore on. It would pop into her head and then she would dismiss it. Then the next morning, it happened again, meaning it did not happen again: Hubert did not appear with his crotch-grabbing message. Urella scanned the papers for any news, an obituary. She went back through the papers from the preceding days. Nothing. After several days of ruminating on the issue, Urella decided to forget it and enjoy the fact that an old fool was no longer forking her trip to the mail box. She became quite tranquil enjoying the quiet of retrieving her mail.
Nanette Looks In Yet Again
Nanette shows up, brings a plant for Urella. Oh, I see, someone gave you a plant, and you don’t want to take care of it. OK. Leave it on the table. I’ll do what I can to keep it alive.
Then one morning, feeling the cool breeze of fall approaching, surrounding her with its embrace, Urella goes for the mail, and opening the mailbox, she hears a strange, little voice behind her: "Hello, Mrs. Manking, how you are today? I’m Guffy Wilburs. I’ve come to live with my Aunt Cassy."
Somewhat startled, Urella turns around and finds a little boy standing there with a bouquet of marigolds. He hands the flowers to Urella. She takes them, and says, "These are lovely. Where did you get them?"
"Aunt Cassy’s garden. Oh, you can’t see it from here. It’s in back," said Guffy. "I didn’t think she would mind. She has so many."
"Well, thank you, Guffy! They are lovely. I’ll go place them in water," said Urella, grabbing the mail and starting back to her house. She turns around to say good-bye and thank you again to Guffy, but then she realizes he is following her.
"Thank you, Guffy! I really appreciate the flowers," said Urella.
"That's good, I’m glad you like them. I thought we could visit for a while if you don’t mind," said Guffy. "I don’t know anyone else in the neighborhood, and since you were such good friends with Uncle Hub, I thought you would be the perfect person to make friends with."
Urella was confused. "Such good friends with Uncle Hub"? What does that mean? Urella knew then what she had to do and she proceeded to do it.
"Well, Guffy, welcome to my humble abode," said Urella, as she and Guffy crossed the threshold of her home. "Why don’t you just sit right down at the table, and I’ll rustle up some breakfast for us. How about some hot chocolate? Little guys like you love hot chocolate, right?"
"Yes, ma’am! I love hot chocolate even when it’s hot outside," said Guffy.
Nanette arrived around 2 p.m. and Urella is taking a nap. What time is it? It’s around 2. You always take naps around 2? How will you sleep tonight, taking naps around 2. Oh, Nanette, why don’t you get a life? I can take naps anytime I want to. I’ve been retired for twenty years. Mother, you’ll be the death of me with your goofy ways. What a douche!
Urella continued to pepper little Guffy with questions, and he seemed to enjoy supplying the answers.
How old are you? Eight.
Where do you go to school? I don’t go yet. I think Aunty might homeschool me.
What do you like to do? I love to walk down by the river. Collect marbles. Listen to rock music. Eat watermelon and ice cream. And play with my thing.
"Play with my thing"? Urella was on a roll, and she decided to let nothing stop her, all questions had to be answered.
Nanette arrives to check on her mother and sees she’s looking a little pale. Mother, I think we should take you to the emergency room. Have you been bleeding again? You look pale. Nanette, I haven't bled since the last time I cut my finger on that damn can of sweet potatoes you brought over. Sweet potatoes in a can! Whoever heard of such? Sweet potatoes are best fresh. Can you say "fresh," Nanette? Can you turn on an oven to bake anything? Nanette leaves thinking, why do I bother?
"Wait! What 'thing' are you talking about?" asked Urella.
"Well, it’s hard to describe. It’s kind of like a transformer. It can change from a car, to a suitcase, to a building, to an airplane, to a planet, to an almost human-like being. And I like changing it to see how many things I can make of it. So far . . . well . . . I’ve lost track, but it’s a lot. And nothing in the whole world makes me feel as good playing with my thing makes me. It’s only about six inches long, but it’s a real doozy."
"Oh, well! I did not know about such things, Guffy. It’s good to have you to fill me in on things I don’t know about," said Urella. "I’ll bet all your friends love their transformer things too, huh?"
"I don’t know. The only friend I have died last year of leukemia," said Guffy. "His name was Aaron Brochet. He lived in the duplex next to us. My mom didn’t like me playing with him, but we’d sneak out behind the old barn on Fairfax Road and do all kind of things. I really miss Aaron, but my thing keeps me busy."
Urella finally had breakfast ready. She had whipped up pancakes, scrambled eggs, hash browns, and as they ate, Urella keep asking question after question, until she realized it was almost lunch time. The little visit was interrupted by knock at the door.
Urella goes to answer the door and sees Cassy Deekens standing there with a concerned look on her face. "Mrs. Manking, I’m sorry to bother you, but have you seen Guffy, my nephew?"
"Oh, yes. he’s here. We just finished breakfast. Come on in, Cassy," said Urella.
"Medication? What kind of medication is he on?" asked Urella.
"He has a rare blood disease, like his uncle, and he has to take medication for it. Come on, Guff. You don’t want to have a seizure now, do you?" Cassy and Guffy left Urella’s home, leaving Urella to ponder what had just happened.
Cassy spies Guffy and immediately begins her harangue. "Young man, don’t you know you had me scared out of my wits. I had no idea where you had gotten off to. I went down to the river and checked every house on the block. What are you doing here?"
Before Guffy could answer, Urella says, "Oh, Cassy, I’m so sorry, I had no idea. Guffy gave me some beautiful marigolds and was so kind as to have breakfast with me. I do apologize for causing you such alarm."
"Well, Mrs, Manking, it’s not your fault. Guff should have let me know where he was. Come along, Guff, it’s time for your medication," said Cassy.
Auge im Himmel
The Sky of Consciousness
Urella did not have to wait long for all of her answers to come tumbling down from the sky of consciousness.
"Is my mother going to make it?" asked Nanette, of the neurosurgeon, who had just performed the most harrowing surgery of his life. You see, the medulla oblongata is a part of the brain that is the most sensitive and unknown to modern medicine. Dr. Struther Blackman knew this, but also believed that he might be able to defy the odds. He had studied the medulla for decades and thought he had discovered the secret to plumbing it depths.
"Miss Manking, of course, I cannot guarantee anything, but without the operation, you know your mother could not survive; with it, there is at least some hope. You know that no one has ever performed this operation before, and so all we can do is wait and see."
A Pimple on the Brain Stem
Urella Manking had clung to life for over five years in the intensive care unit at Ball Memorial Hospital, in Muncie, Indiana. Her medical diagnosis was a pimple on the medulla oblongata. That is all modern medicine could find that was impeding her health, keeping her in a coma, and baffling the medical profession world-wide. Doctors from all over the world had been called in to give their opinion on Urella’s misery. No one could offer anything that resembled a viable plan, until Doctor Blackman entered the picture. He was an Indian trained in Kolkata, and he was not sure he could help, but he was the only one brave enough to try.
What did Urella know throughout the whole ordeal? She just poopoohed the whole thing, continuing to live in her neighborhood, retrieving her mail, keeping her house, reading, watching, TV, and doing some knitting and charity work for the locals. Her life of work at the local furniture factory had prepared her to endure all things. That was her philosophy: Endure all things!
About three weeks after the fateful surgery on that inoperable medulla oblongata, Urella opened her eyes and greeted her daughter, Nanette. "Oh, why are you here?" she asked.
"Don't you even know where you are, Mother?" asked Nanette, sarcastically.
"It must be hell, if you are here, Nanette!" Nanette would have bristled at that remark any time before the surgery, but now she realized that her mother was the same old bitch she had always been.
"Well, no, it’s just the hospital, but I guess that’s all the same to you," said Nanette.
"You got that right," said Urella.
No More Mail, No More Nanette
After being released from the hospital, Urella decided she would stop the mail from being delivered to her house every day. She decided to go to the post office and fetch it once a week.
The first week she appeared at her mail box inside the post office, she encountered a gentleman, who was retrieving his own mail: "Well, hello, young lady! Haven’t seen you here before? You new in town?"
"No, I’m not new, and I’m not going to make breakfast for you or your little grandnephew. And if you grab your crotch, I’m going to punch you in the face with all the power I have in my 99 pound body."
From that day forth, Urella was not accosted again while retrieving her mail. And she lived a tranquil life. Even Nanette decided to leave her alone.
Urella left her body many years later in her sleep, dreaming peacefully of never having to ask questions or to answer them.
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes