Wednesday, October 27, 2021

A Halloween Story: The Angel Deeb, published in Deadly Treats in 2011

 


 

                                  The Angel Deeb

                                   Patricia Abbott

         “Mr. Deeb?”

A middle-aged Asian woman stood in the doorway, looking around. She’d no reason to know who a Mr. Deeb was in midst of the crowded room, but spotted me immediately. I was the only white man in a threadbare clinic in the depths of Detroit. I rose, following her into one of the cubicles.

“What brings you to see the doctor today?” she asked, motioning to the examining table. I looked at it warily; things were getting too real. Me, sitting on that paper sheeting, hearing the telltale crinkle beneath my sweating thighs after weeks of putting it off.

            I cleared my throat, debating whether to tell her the truth. The facts were so ridiculous that I decided to be vague. “I’m having some problems with my back.”

 I was mumbling and she leaned in to hear me. “Lower?” she asked, jotting something on her clipboard.

            I pointed to the spot. Both spots to be precise.

            She looked at me over the top of her glasses. “When you say problems, do you mean you’re experiencing pain? Do you have difficulty in raising your arms, for instance?”

We looked each other in the eye.

“A bit.” There was some tenderness in the area, but that was the least of it.

She waited for me to continue, but when I didn’t, said, “Would you please take off everything above the waist, Mr. Deeb?” She handed me a gown, took my temperature, checked my blood pressure and pulse. “The doctor will be with you in a minute.”

The door closed behind her, and after hopping off the table, I began to read the cautionary literature covering the walls. Thirty-five minutes later, an Indian doctor, roughly half my size and weight, entered the cubicle.

“Mr. Deeb?” he said, holding out a delicate hand. I shook it.

He promptly washed his hands, glanced at the clipboard, and said, “Sorry for the wait. Back pain, yes?”

I swallowed, nodding. “Probably see it all the time. Right?”

I was badly in need of some reassurance after the literature I’d just read. It was hard to believe anyone got out of here without a grim diagnosis.

“Yes, back pain’s a common complaint. Can you tell me more about your particular problem?”

I don’t know why I was so reluctant to tell him. Was it fear of a dire diagnosis or embarrassment at my particular problem’s oddity? For several weeks, I’d noticed a growth on both sides of my upper back. Felt it more than saw it, of course, because it was in one of those places that’s hard to spot for the affected person. No matter how I positioned myself and my mirrors, it mostly eluded me, taunting me almost.

“I seem to have some sort of… enlargement.” The word growth seemed laden with implications I didn’t want to introduce into our conversation. “See?” I flexed my shoulders and what were actually “enlargements” appeared.

The doctor’s face grew pensive as he began to examine my back. After a minute or two, he straightened up. “It’s called a winged scapula. Or, in your case, scapulas. Your shoulder blades are pushing out. Have you always had them? It’s often congenital.”

 “Noticed it for the first time a few weeks ago.”

 In fact, I’d turned over in bed one night and rocked on one of the little nubs. Twisting left, I quickly found the other one. I was a virtual rocking chair.

“Did you hurt yourself on the job recently?”

I shook my head.

“Play sports?”

“No.”

The doctor sat down on his wheeled stool, planting his heels on the floor to steady himself. “Well, you must have done something. Your thoracic nerves are damaged. Someone slam you into a wall?” I shrugged and he sighed. “What do you do for a living, Mr. Deeb?”

That was a question I didn’t want to answer—maybe the real reason I’d put off coming here. Telling a doctor you’re a pickpocket doesn’t earn anyone’s respect. I’d never been asked about my occupation by a doctor before, but I had my share of queries from other sources and remembered the look on their faces. I was a thief, a petty criminal, a small-time crook. None of these terms garner admiration.

“I’m unemployed at the moment.”

Not so unusual in Detroit in 2010.

“I used to load trucks,” I added, suddenly inspired. I loaded trucks for the Free Press in the nineties. It was the best, if not only, legitimate job I ever had.

The doctor smiled, pleased to have an explanation to hang my winged scapulas on. “If you heaved weighty merchandise up, you may have done some damage. Odd that it didn’t develop before now, but still….I’ll give you some literature on your condition along with a set of strengthening exercises. Let’s give it three months to see if things have improved. Of course, call the office if the condition deteriorates.”

The word deteriorate hung in the air like a bat in flight.

He had me push against a wall, flex various muscles, raise my arms. He took several photos, even pulling a video camera out of a filing cabinet. “First time I’ve seen wings on both scapulas,” he muttered, mostly to himself.

The nurse showed me out, giving me several leaflets with exercises to do. I made another appointment, paid my bill, and left.

I read the literature thoroughly and began the recommended exercises. Thinking back on it, my natural ambidexterity was probably why it was a two-sided condition. And I decided it was reaching rather than throwing or lifting that had brought about the condition. I’d reached a lot over the last ten years: primarily into pockets or to grab purses dangling from shoulders or hands.  I’d reached my hands across aisles and through windows on cars, buses, subways, trains. Lots of times, well, most of it, the object I was reaching for was on the move: a man or woman walking down the street, occasionally someone on a bike. Once or twice, a car took off before I extract my hand. Grabbing a purse, for instance, was rife with problems if it didn’t easily detach. My long arms, which had served me well, turned out to be weakly ligatured.

I decided to stop reaching for things as much as possible, but I only had so many ways to make a living. I contented myself with mailboxes, the ones people install by the road. Problem was, often some wing nut would swing around the corner just as I stuck my hand into one—or the front door would open despite the bogus mail carrier’s uniform I wore. I began to wonder if I was losing my touch. My hearing wasn’t good enough now to pick up a car’s motor before it closed in on me. My intuition also seemed to be faltering. I was the beneficiary of a declining skill-set in every way at forty-four years of age.

Despite doing the exercises, regardless of getting more rest and modifying my behavior, the wings continued to grow—alarmingly. It became difficult to lie on my back so I slept on my stomach with a pillow between under knees to ease the pressure. I needed to go back to the clinic and ask to see a specialist, but I didn’t. It was just too damned weird. I’d built my life on being as invisible as possible, on fitting in without a fuss, and now I didn’t. My shirts began to look odd, so I purchased larger jackets with shoulder padding to hide my growths. Soon I moved on to capes. More than once, I thought of the Kafka story I’d read in tenth grade. Was I turning into something else? Was a metamorphosis taking place?

After a half-dozen wasted efforts (empty mailboxes, ones filled with flyers or magazines), I finally stumbled on a box on a quiet suburban street the next week. Red, gold and orange leaves drifted over the macadam as I studied my quarry from behind an evergreen. The size of the mailbox attracted me. The residents must be receiving packages of some heft to install this behemoth contraption. A scarecrow stood propped beside it, its arm draped around it. A plastic black cat nestled nearby.

Halloween was a holiday that meant very little to me as a childless man, and its decorations even less. Somehow over the years,  it had become an extravaganza rivaling Christmas. Creeping up, I pushed the stuffed doll aside, but luck wasn’t with me. I heard the front door opening before I’d even fully pulled the mail out. Fleeing, I took the entire contents along—sticking it under by arm. Back to the car and departure post-haste.

Had the occupant of 5 Pillsbury Road spotted me? I was pretty non-descript except for the bulge under my cape. Back home, I sorted through the sizable packet of mail. What I was hoping for, of course, were checks I could quickly cash or financial information I could make use of. There were rarely any saleable items in mailboxes. No stray pieces of pricey jewelry or expensive electronics. Constant references to mail theft by the press had seen to that.

Today, there was a good-sized package from a medical facility, however, and although I generally kept my distance from drugs because of the people they attract, I opened it. Selling drugs might tide me over—painkillers, anti-depressants, Ritalin, anti-anxiety drugs. There was a market for almost any drug and I knew a guy or two who would middle-man me.

It was drugs, but the wrong kind. Along with the medication, the styrofoam box was filled with Polar packs and air bags. The accompanying pamphlet advised it was insulin for Type One diabetes. The instructions addressed the issues in administering the medication to a child. I’d intercepted a shipment that would soon expire if I didn’t return it. A child was waiting for this at that house at 5 Pillsbury Road. It would have to be returned. None of my activity had ever endangered a child, and I was not about to go down that road now.

I parked several streets away that night, not sure if my car had been spotted in the afternoon by whoever opened that front door on Pillsbury Street. It was a good night for loitering being Halloween, and it grew dark quickly the way it does in late October. I made my way along the suburban streets, just another costumed reveler among hundreds. Hadn’t E.T. gotten away with this stunt thirty years earlier? I’d left my cape at home despite the chill temperatures and my wings were freed for once. A hint of euphoria came with it, too.

“Look, an angel,” a small boy cried, pointing. But I’d disappeared before his father could turn and question the height and weight of that angel.

 My goal was to set the box on the porch, ring the bell, and disappear. It anyone spotted me I’d be just another costumed trick or treater. I made my way to 5 Pillsbury Road. The front walk was festooned with lighted skulls and tombstones, and I nearly put my foot inside an overturned squash.

“You’re here then,” a tiny but assertive voice said from the bay window nearest the door. The child was about six, I’d guess, and dressed like a princess. A gold crown perched lopsided on her head. Her hair was too short and messy to pull off such an elaborate headpiece though.

“Me?” I said, after looking around. “I think you have the wrong guy.” I placed my package on the step and turned to go.

“Then you aren’t my guardian angel?”

She adjusted her crown, using her reflection in the window for a mirror. A line of winking pumpkins on a table outside lit her view.

“No, I’m just trick or treating. Same as the rest of ‘em.” I motioned to the distant hordes and began to skulk down the walk.

“Not me,” she reminded me. “I’m to stay inside.” She paused. “And that’s sort of ridiculous, you know.  What you just said. A grown man trick or treating.” She peered at me through the dark. “Those aren’t real wings then?”

“Nope.” I was nearly at the gate and turned. “Hey, see that package on the porch.” I pointed. “It’s for you.” I pointed again when she didn’t move. “You might want to fetch it and take it inside.” Where were her parents? “It needs to go in the fridge.”

 “I can only open the door if you’re my guardian angel.” She was quite adamant. “I’m not allowed to open it to strangers.”

I sighed. Maybe I could be her guardian angel for the length of time it took her to open the door. “Okay, I’m your guardian angel.”

“I thought so. And those are real wings?”

I nodded and fluttered them, rising a few inches from the ground at the same time, something I hadn’t even known I could do. I heard a deep intake of breath, and then she smiled and disappeared, opening the front door a few seconds later.

“You shouldn’t open the door to strangers,” I said as she picked up the package. “I'm the one exception. You need to get that package into the refrigerator pronto.”

“I know what it is,” she said, sounding bored. “It comes every week. I was hoping you’d bring me a greeting gift.”

“A greeting gift?”

“You bring one to your hostess when you come to their house the first time. Something like guest towels, flowers, or coasters made of tile.” She frowned. “Or in my case, perhaps something more suitable for a princess.”

“Never heard of that custom before. Look, why don’t you shut the door now and I’ll be on my way. You’re going to catch a cold.”

She did just that, returning to her position at the window before I could escape. “What’s your name anyway?”

“Deeb,” I said, without thinking.

“That’s a funny name for a guardian angel. I suppose I can get used to it though.”

“Sure, call me Deeb.” What did it matter if we never met again?

“You can call me Princess Isabella.” I nodded. “And next time you come, try and remember to bring me a greeting gift.”

I nodded again. “I’d better be off.”

“I especially like barrettes if you can’t think of anything else.” I was at the gate now and held up a hand. She waved back. “See ya.”

The streets were filled with children by now. Taking a circuitous route in case I was being followed, I made my way back to the car. There was a tattered wallet on the road beside it. It had fifty bucks inside and nothing else. I pocketed the money surreptitiously. Well, even angels have to make a living, I told myself. And one good deed a day was enough.

Or at least until I grew into my wings.

 

 Kevin Tipple

George Kelley

Richard Robinson 

Jerry House 

 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

News

Because I dragged you into my breast cancer diagnosis, I want to tell you that the surgeon was extremely positive about it.. So my treatment will be a lumpectomy, three weeks of radiation, and a then an estrogen-blocking pill. I had some choices but this was the course he recommended. I also participated in a genetic testing initiative by spitting into a tube. Boy, you don't have much spit when you mouth is dry with fear.


Monday, October 25, 2021

Monday, Monday

 

I have tried to keep busy this week. Saw BERGMAN ISLAND at a theater, but it was gone the next day. There were two of us in there. I don't see how theaters are going to survive. At least not ones that show movies like this. I think it is available for streaming though. Also watched FOUND on Netflix, the story of three Chinese girls adopted by US families and their attempt to reconnect with the mothers forced to give them up with China's one child policy of the past. Watching THE MISSING, Season 2, which is very good. It's on Amazon Prime but you may have seen it on Starz already. 

Still reading the Hailey Mills memoir, which is kind of annoying. Does everyone she meets have to be wonderful and brilliant. Although I keep reading it so it must have something going for it. I watched her in THE PARENT TRAP to see how it holds up and what holds up best is Brian Keith's interesting performance. Child actors today are a lot more natural than she was in the part.  I am not sure if I ever saw another one of her movies, but I did see THE FLAME TREES OF THIKA on Masterpiece many years ago.  

The Lions. Eek! Doesn't Detroit deserve one good football team in a lifetime.

So what's up with you?

Friday, October 22, 2021

FFB: STATE OF WONDER, Ann Patchett



State of Wonder, Ann Patchett

I cannot say I found this an entirely successful outing for one of my favorite writers. This is the story of a trip by a female scientist to a primitive part of the world. And the best part of the book is the evocation of that world. How alien it seems to us. And to Dr. Singh. Snakes, rats, cannibals, disease, drugs that are almost as difficult as the problems they solve. It's part of her assignment.

When a scientist for a pharmaceutical company disappears, his death is assumed, and another employee is sent to check on the details. The company is investigating the ability of a group of natives to both resist malaria and to have babies into their seventies. The second ability has the most cache for the company. Dr. Singh meets up with an early nemesis--the doctor who presided over her failure as a gynecologist. Now she is part of the research taking place in this remote place.

I found much of this book interesting, but I have to say the characters seemed more like voices for the moral quandary the doctor finds herself in than fully fleshed out characters. There is too much discussion of the morality of scientific research to fully engage the reader. And yet, I finished the book so it had to have something. Maybe you will find it too.

Yesterday I heard a discussion on THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW podcast about books that attempt to address societal ills to such a degree that they lose the advantage a novel has over non-fiction. Creating characters that touch the reader. There are a lot of non-fiction books that address problems. The problems in novels should be mostly character-based. This came from Thomas Mallon and after struggling through THE OVERSTORY (Powers) and this, I agree.

 

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Stories from THE SUMMER BEFORE THE SUMMER OF LOVE, Marly Swick

 

This has been one of my favorite collections of stories since I came across it in the nineties. Marly Swick, now a retired English professor in Missouri (I think), seems to have written all of her stories and two novels in the nineties and early 2000s. Since that was the time I was writing mainstream short stories too, I bought a lot of collections. Swick's are very straightforward, easy to read stories. 

The title story is about the breakup of a marriage and much of it takes places during a trip to see the Beatles that the mother takes her daughters on. When she leaves the hotel room in the night and her slip is returned in a paperbag the next day, it drives the older daughter out of the house. It also changes the daughter's taste in music overnight from the Beatles to the edgier groups. 

The second story "Ghost Mother" is a favorite of mine. Two screenwriters are adopting a baby from a mid-western teen, who moves into their house for the end of the pregnancy. It is a very poignant yet not sad story and some of it is framed in how the writer might write it in a screenplay.The reader expects the surrogate mother to be exposed in some way and this never happens to our relief. 

Just noticed we have been doing this for more than a year. Don't feel obliged to keep it up if it's getting old. 

Kevin Tipple

TracyK 

George Kelley 

TomCat

Monday, October 18, 2021

Monday, Monday

 


Saturday night my family and I went to see CLUE at Meadowbrook Theater. I have gone there for many years although recently they are inclined to show far lighter fare than they did in the past. I guess this is true for a lot of theaters. This was a very young audience, maybe composed of students from Oakland University which is on the same campus. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Although the plot is not great, the staging and acting was terrific. So many clever bits with choreographing it. 

Friday I went with a friend to the DIA and we concentrated on parts of the museums I usually miss: African and Islamic art. The museum was fairly empty but it is a huge place so it takes a lot of people to make it feel full. The Detroit Film Theater was beginning this weekend showing the documentary about the Velvet Underground, but we didn't stay for that. 

Kevin is still enjoying school. Friday night his economics teacher took a group to play laser tag. It raised money for the food pantry his classes run. Kevin seems to be enjoying his classes and the camaraderie they seem to foster at this school. 

Been watching GOLIATH, which I am not crazy about. Also MAID, which is depressing too. Hard to find a series that isn't a bummer nowadays. So I end up watching SEINFELD quite a lot. Looking forward to SUCCESSION tonight.

What's up with you?