CreakyJoints is thrilled to introduce the new CJ Poet’s Corner (and Artists Too). We hope you enjoy the poetry, short fiction and photographs submitted by our community. Many thanks to CJ Poetry Editor Brenda Kleinsasser, a longtime CreakyJoints member and friend, for helping make this possible. We welcome submissions from all of you—poems, flash fiction, eye candy—whether it’s highbrow artistic and literary expression or just plain silly and fun stuff. To submit your work, email Brenda at: [email protected]
From Our Editor
My hope for the Poet’s Corner is that it will truly be a place, where you can feel free to showcase your talents. I want everyone to feel free to join in. Variety is the spice of life, so let’s mix it up and enjoy this wonderful adventure. I look forward to seeing where this takes us.
CJ Poetry Editor
In this Issue:
A Little Frosting by Stephanie Wood (Photograph)
When Gladys Came To Call by Jill Malloy (Fiction)
Hugging Nature by Brenda Kleinsasser (Poem with photograph by Jarrod Valliere)
The Fragility of Love by Cynthia Allen (Fiction)
Stephanie Wood is an amateur photographer who tries not to let poor health get in the way of her creativity. She bought her first DSLR in September of 2009 and has never looked back since.
Jill Malloy was 39 when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Here she uses her experience of the debilitating condition to write When Gladys Came To Call, which reached the finals in a writing competition. She has lived with rheumatoid arthritis for ten years, but still tries to make her story lighthearted.
When Gladys Came To Call
by Jill Malloy
I was thirty-nine when Gladys came to stay. She came first thing in the morning like a bloody gas bill that had been posted by a sweaty postman all heaving and sighing; she dropped on me like a ton of bricks with no prior warning or invitation. She came with massive baggage and a constant stream of expletives.
She irritated me from the start. I didn’t want someone else in my house. I wanted a quiet life for once. But what could I do? I wanted to show her out, throw her out, but she wouldn’t listen or answer me. She was an ignorant old cow.
I want to tell you that I did not let her in. No way! She just found her way in. I screamed at her but it fell on deaf ears. Why couldn’t she have gone somewhere else? She chose me and I had to put up with her. At least she didn’t smell; that was one consolation.
I thought she would soon pack her things and go and I could be normal again, but no such luck. When my friends called around she wouldn’t go, she would just sit there like a cabbage in between us. I think my mates thought I was losing my mind; they were sympathetic, but they couldn’t understand what I was going through.
She started to have a negative effect on my everyday life. I didn’t even see her coming down the path, or I would have hidden in the darkest place ever, even though I am still terrified of the dark – I’ll save that story for later on.
I suppose, though, she would have still found me. Gladys was very persistent; what did I do to deserve this? She was a pain in the arse; she started hassling me from day one. To begin with I couldn’t make a cup of tea or take the toothpaste lid off or even pull my knickers up without her being there, gloating. It was embarrassing. She loved to see me squirm. I had only just met her and she was in my face; I didn’t know what to do. I discussed it with my husband and he said don’t worry about it, she will go soon. I wasn’t sure that I believed that.
Well, first it was hips, then elbows, then to top it all fingers, yes, fingers. That’s when I wanted to kick her out, but Gladys was stubborn like concrete. She was here to stay. She was an interfering old hag who tried to control my life. I’d only just encountered Gladys, but she was determined to get to me in every possible way.
I wondered if she was from my family from way back and came to find me to wreak vengeance somewhere. I didn’t recognise her; she wasn’t familiar. First thing in the morning she would be there like clockwork, not like morning sickness, if you gave that a biscuit it would go away. No, Gladys kept a painful stranglehold watch over me; her straitjacket of doom firmly gripped my joints. I couldn’t take the bedcovers off. I felt imprisoned in my own home.
Enough was enough. I didn’t like it, nor did I want it. She even came to an audition with me and that was the first time I knew Gladys would always be with me, every waking moment. How selfish, and what had I done to deserve this monster?
At the audition I was meant to perform using physical theatre, the one thing I was good at due to my hyper-flexibility. I really wanted the part; I knew the director and how he works; I had prepared for this role, and just as I was ready to go in Gladys the soothsayer coiled herself around me in a tight vice and my hips wouldn’t work. I couldn’t believe it, not now! How embarrassing! She wasn’t there an hour ago; I thought I had left her on the train.
How will I explain this to the people in the room and the director? I felt like I was naked and having to explain where my clothes were.
I thought she would go when I got home, but Gladys stayed, and she is still here. She has her quiet moments, but she still likes bugging me to death. I’ve tried to kill her in the early days when I didn’t know who or what she wanted, but I lost my thread.
I sat on the bed with lots of medication. I wanted rid of the bitch, but what then, what would my family think of me murdering someone? To say I was angry was an understatement. I was only 39 and had to endure the wrath of an old woman who was poisonous and evil. Yes, I call my disease Gladys. Rheumatoid arthritis is her real name, but for now and forever that’s what I’ll call her. You see, I don’t associate myself with having RA; it’s just a word to me. It took me a long time to find out I had it.
Blood tests were inconclusive doctors would say I’m sorry we don’t know what it is ‘Goodbye’, same with hospitals I would go into casualty with my broken bones as I thought, ‘No sorry we can’t find anything wrong with you’, several appearances in casualty left me reeling I was always sent home with a sympathetic glance of I’m busy but what can we do look?
Or God what next? It was like I was innocent being sent down for a crime I haven’t committed. Why wasn’t anyone listening? Did they take the Hippocratic Oath? Desperate, I booked into BUPA. I was given a free cup of coffee. It was much more relaxed than a busy hospital, no wonder, given the price, but there is nothing more important than your health. Hopefully you will never be ill.
The specialist there told me to touch my toes and bend in all sorts of ways. Weird, no one has asked me to do that before. I don’t want to join the circus. “Mm, you’re very flexible, a bit too flexible,” and that was an indication. He looked at my fingers, Gladys wasn’t there that day. I think she knew where I was going and decided to be elusive. Sneaky little bitch. The only time I wanted her here, she stayed in plotting her next move.
One day I woke up and my fingers wouldn’t work. I found that a very strange experience, painful but strange all the same. The next day my fingers swelled up like big sausages. I couldn’t do anything. Even small things like wiping your behind, taking the toothpaste top off were out of the question. I kept my hands firmly in my pockets out of view.
I always had a thing about being fat and I didn’t want these sausage fingers on display. Suppose that was vain of me. What was wrong with me? Had I eaten something I shouldn’t have? I don’t remember banging them or trapping them, yes it must have been something I ate. Was it the curry from the other day? Or the brown bread I scoffed without a care for my figure?
All these questions kept going over in my head. From then on every day a part of my body felt like I had been stabbed and the knife was left in just to annoy me a little more. I went to the doctor over and over but the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong, they even put it down to psychological problems and gave me drugs to treat schizophrenia.
I know I’m a bit wacky but come on I would take them and I didn’t know I had pain. I didn’t know what day it was. I was in that mess for a while until I sat in bed with Gladys and said; right, this is enough, I’m going to kill you and then no one will have to get me bloody dressed in the morning or pull me up off the toilet.
It’s funny how your mind plays tricks. One minute you’re crying in agony and then the next you want to end it with a few mad tablets. Then I thought what a mess to find and they would only have to clear up around after me again anyway and who would sort my wardrobe out. Oxfam would have been so happy.
Since Gladys came I couldn’t stop buying clothes everywhere …
CreakyJoints asked me to share some of my poetry with you. This is a poem that I wrote in honor of Show Us Your Hands! and its creator, RA Guy. I had the wonderful pleasure of being involved in several of their projects last year.
Hands That Matter
by Brenda Kleinsasser
Although our hands may swell,
and hurt like Hell!
Our badges of honor,
we no longer hide.
Thanks to RA Guy,
for being our guide!
Our hands can do,
so much you see.
Create, caress, or
hug a tree!
So the next time,
your hands may ache.
Remember, they matter,
for your own sake!
This is a wonderful short story of fiction entitled: The Fragility of Love. Cynthia Allen is a writer engaged in a daily battle with inflammatory arthritis. A former public relations consultant, she has taught college composition and literature and written for a variety of lifestyle and business publications. Cynthia is pleased to be part of the CreakyJoints community.
The Fragility of Love
by Cynthia Allen
A tiny replica of The Hand of God occupies a special place on Gabby’s writing desk, wedged between the flat screen monitor of her desktop computer and whatever books have found their way there. She balances the sculpture in her hands, bending her right wrist upward to align her fingers with God’s, then presses the back of his hand into her palm. She imagines herself forming life from a lump of clay. Two faces emerge from the earth, straining to kiss. Eve’s hand caresses Adam’s head; his arm encircles her loins; their legs intertwine. Sensuous and tender is Rodin’s vision of creation, cradled in the hand of God.
Gabby wishes her marriage had such passion, but days go by without Ian touching her. After shutting down his IPad, he takes a pair of ear plugs from his night table drawer and carefully shapes each for a snug fit “to drown out the sound of your snoring.” He sleeps with his back to her, one arm dangling along the edge of the king sized bed. She fingers herself in silence, remembering how they used to give each other pleasure. When they were young, their lovemaking was playful, even naughty, as they pulled off the road to make love in the Bloomingdale’s parking lot on the way home from work because they were both too excited to wait. Other times, Ian would surprise her in the ocean, slipping inside her bikini bottom as she treaded water, anticipating the perfect wave to ride to shore. When she asks him what has changed, he tells her he doesn’t know.
“Is there someone else?” she asks. This he denies. She doesn’t have to look in the mirror to know she is still pretty. He tells her all the time. “Then what is wrong?”
He shrugs and walks away. “I don’t know.”
Gabby believes it is her illness that plagues him. They have been living with her arthritis for twenty years.
Two years ago, they held each other’s hand, as they waited for her to be admitted to the hospital for back surgery. “It’s going to be fine,” Gabby assured Ian. They were facing the tall, tinted windows that look out across the East River of Manhattan onto Roosevelt Island and beyond, to Queens. Ian had skipped breakfast and refused coffee offered by the volunteer with the complimentary beverage cart. His normally ruddy complexion was wan, his hand moist.
Gabby would be fifty in June. She had never been in a car accident, and never played contact sports. At her pre-surgical appointment, she asked why she had developed spinal stenosis.
“No one knows,” the doctor said. “A fall? Childbirth? Heredity?”
Then she held out her hands to show him her misshapen knuckles and thumbs.
“I have chronic pain,” she said.
“The back has nothing to do with your hands,” he said. “It’s a separate issue.”
Ian will tell her later that when the operating room doors swung closed a terrible panic seized him. “I thought, oh my God, I may never see you again.” Since that time he keeps his distance from her in bed, but is in continual contact with her during the day: texting and calling to be sure she is there.
“You’ve got separation anxiety,” she jokes.
Before the doctor closed the door to the operating room, he asked Ian for his cell phone number. “It’ll be four or five hours,” he told him. “You may as well go somewhere.”
“Where?” Ian wondered. Without Gabby, he was lost. The hospital was in the neighborhood where Gabby once lived, in a five story walk-up on East 71st Street. Ian checked the ringer on his cell phone, then walked out of the building, toward her old apartment.
The spring after Gabby’s operation, Ian surprised her with a trip to Paris for their twentieth anniversary. At the Musee Rodin she first heard the story of the unfinished sculpture of Eve, how her form kept changing in the artist’s hands. Unbeknownst to Rodin, his model had new life growing within her. “An accident – happy for me,” Rodin reportedly said about taking a pregnant woman for his model. Gabby wondered if that is how it was for God, if man was evolving in the moment of creation, and that is why some of us are whole and some of us are sick, why some spines are straight and others in need of revision.
Gabby monitors her recovery closely, alternating her exercise regime with yoga and strength training. On the weekends, she and Ian bike along the Palisades. Some mornings she is at her desk earlier than other days, depending on how well she slept the night before. She types on a special keyboard, her hands supported by splints. Gabby is doing the best she can, but her splints and gloves and bottles of pills are a constant reminder of the fragility of
their life together. She imagines Ian’s fear when the operating room doors closed behind her, and knows that is why some days he inserts his ear plugs, and is unable to love her.