Note: This is a short piece I've been working on recently, technically a part of a comic book idea that, barring an artist or a complete script, I thought I'd take a stab at it in prose. There are already a couple things in it I'm not wild about, but it came together as its own story well enough that I'd be interested to hear what anyone else thinks.I've also sort of felt lately, with the quality of good work I've been seeing on other folks' blogs like Ian, John, and Hannah Miet, that I wouldn't mind joining in and posting some stuff of my own.
The first crack at real insurance Shannon had, and he found himself in a chiropractor’s office. In the past five years, uncovered and unprotected, riddled with every sort of minor health problem you could possibly conceive, Shannon would have killed for such an opportunity, but as things go, he naturally found he was in relatively good health as soon as care was something he was able to provide for himself.
Well that, he supposed, was a little misleading, and he thought of what Lacey might think if he’d said it out loud. The very implication that these provision came from anything he’d done, barring finding Lacey and screwing up the courage to talk to her again – that was as much of a hand Shannon had in his new-found insurance. It was only by sheer luck that Lacey was still young enough, just 22, covered until 23, to be a part of her family’s plan, and that luck extended to him by the fact that she had a younger brother who, in a pinch, Shannon found he could pass for. Yes, despite the age gap, because thankfully to a receptionist or anyone in a suit, 20 looked pretty much like 27 even when you’d lived like Shannon had.
This meant, as a couple, they could be like “real” people, like responsible people. The prospect of it was raised over dinner one night with her family, that Shannon, who was around at least as much as the other young male who supposed to be at their dinner table, might need the benefits of such a plan, after such a prolonged time outside of “the system.”
So, yes. Shannon did not provide, Lacey did – rather, her brother – rather, her family, but hell, Shannon was sure he could pass that buck all the way down the line from Lacey’s father’s employer to whoever it was that had given her father the shot to work for said employer, to whatever person or persons were ambitious enough to give that employer the chance to sell whatever wares it was that made them successful enough to insure their employees in the first place.
Given enough time, Shannon thought maybe they could work in someone as far back as Roosevelt. Or Lincoln. The irony, he figured, being that all this time of being exceptionally poor, he needed to look no further than the largest denomination of paper money he ever had in his pocket for a savior.
But none of this was the point, Lacey had said, and she didn’t particularly care when he’d go on like this anyway – she said it reminded her of being six, and waiting for someone to come to pick her up at school, only to see the familiar car with the familiar face opt to circle the block again before stopping. And it’s not that she minded the wait, it just felt disconcerting, standing there, knowing but also hoping he’d come back around again. So, Shannon tried not to do this, and did his best to be compliant and keep it silent when it was decided a young man in his position, left uncared for so long, should take advantage of this service her parents were offering, because dammit, they paid the deductible anyway, after all, and someone should. And there was just no convincing anyone in the family that after four plus years of more or less living out of his car that there wasn’t something Shannon needed to see a doctor for. There was a time limit on being fussed over, and they all decided he was due.
And Shannon tried. He checked every tooth the morning after, but found no pain, no mark. If there was one thing he usually had no difficulty in finding while on his own, it was floss. It wasn’t, after all, like anyone who bought it actually used it with any great consistency, and Shannon even remembered ganking most of a roll from a friend, and seeing their face light up when they believed they’d actually dispatched a whole packet on their own. An accomplishment a year in the making, and Shannon had not only sped it up for him, but struck a blow against tooth decay. At least his own.
After his mouth, Shannon wasn’t exactly sure what to check – mentally, he felt as stable as he every felt comfortable enough claiming to be, especially now that he wasn’t beset upon by any of the great many problems he had while sleeping on the worn vinyl of his back seat. With regular showers, the acne went away – he even felt like, in his dashboard mirror, he might have been exaggerating it. His allergies, he noticed, were gone as usual with the end of the summer months. And no matter how hard Shannon had tried to at least look clean, he hadn’t attracted a great number of dalliances before Lacey that required any sort of… cream or shampoo, or other treatment. He was fine. Exemplary health, for someone whose principle environments were the public library, and a Lincoln Town Car.
Lincoln. Shannon chuckled as he came full circle on his… well, earlier circle. A mental figure-eight, he guessed. It was, Shannon thought, the byproduct of his isolation, of days spent in public places where the public wanted nothing to do with you, and nights spent staring at the roof of a car that kept the rain off, but was an awful companion if you weren’t willing to pick up the slack. And that’s where, he was sure, all these little roundabout thoughts came from, from him, up late at night, gazing restlessly at his cracking leather interior or the map of Washington, care of 1985 – his birth year, and the consolation prize [the map] for dropping five hundred dollars on a boat of a car that had went out of style years ago – trying his best to fill in the gaps of the conversations he had now that there was no one to converse with. And like a writer making up for plot, too comfortable in clever, chatty repartee to be bothered with such things, these long talks with himself got a little too derivative, a tetch too intuitive, until Shannon was complimenting everything he said with something equal self-referencing. The results were the kinds of conversations everyone else thought criminals, best-friends, and lovers had. The kinds of conversations that all three were likely disappointed in rarely, if ever, achieving.
He pictured Lacey, rolling her eyes at him, calling it whimsy, a funny word that always seemed distinctly feminine to him, which was something else he would avoid saying. Lacey knew he should know better, as she’d sat beside him in their Gender Studies program so they could be dually vigilante of each other’s faux pas by tearing into one another every time they said something misogynistic, ignorant, or unintentionally unspeakable. And it wasn’t just her to him this policing went; it went both ways.
This, they would later giggle, just wasn’t funny at all.
That was college. That was… six years ago? Seven. She was a freshman. He was a senior. The gumption of her telling him anything was, at the time, both insulting and incredibly attractive. It wasn’t something that ever happened at Shannon’s school, wasn’t something he’d have dreamed to even try with a senior in his first year. She had made the first move, they had connected. Which was why, he told himself, all those years later, finding out she was only one logging town over, he’d made the first move to reconnect with her. And he remembered the nervousness he felt, waiting for her to show up and take stock of him in the same faded clothes and unrealized potential he’d had in school, and imagined it was least similar to what she must have felt sitting down next to him with her first syllabus clutched in her hand.
Not imagined; maybe hoped. Had Lacey not told Shannon otherwise, he may not have believed he’d ever made her nervous at all.
It was the source of his own apprehension, all these thoughts harkening back to his college years, to better times [supposedly], that had made him finally decide to take his girlfriend’s brother’s identification and their father’s insurance card to this chiropractor. It was a simple enough idea, to take stock of his life since he considered himself at all accomplished, and look where the permanent holding pattern he’d tried to keep up had slipped and fell. Other than his temporary residence in a motor vehicle, his clothes were the same, his opinions had not changed. And there was nothing anyone could really do about the redundant manner in which he now talked to himself. Certainly there were worse consequences to all that failure than just a sore back from making his middle sit bitch when he slept.
Shannon circled that a few more times before he came back to it – in a slightly more literal way. There was that, he realized, the radiating burn in his gut, the twinge he felt when he turned, the needling pricks that reminded him he’d really destroyed anything resembling lumbar support early on into his foray into homelessness. Lacey had told him often of wooden boxes outfitted with metal rods, arcane devices that sounded suited for torture which had singled-handedly diagnosed every student in her middle school with scoliosis. The years between them must have been the buffer to when such tests had become mandatory, and Lacey said she’d suffered the weight of academia for years, something pre-Lincoln Shannon had trouble believing. He had no such trouble now – though his had come once that weight had been lifted.
Privately, Shannon blamed the family of four. No, not Lacey’s, and not the one who had no doubt owned his town car before he did, but the theoretical family of four, the family ideal that decided two kids were enough, that one boy, one girl, or perhaps a pair of twins was all that was needed to make a family complete. If only they’d aimed higher, put in for it just one more time. Yes, a fifth was what they’d needed, a middle child, not in the sense of the second of three children, though that one or any of the three were welcome to sit in that middle position, unprotected from crashes by the absence of the shoulder strap, growing up fat and happy, and wearing down the cushion so that one day Shannon could have slept perfectly horizontal on what everyone considered his worst days.
All of this spun three-sixties in Shannon’s mind as he sat in the waiting room, passively lying on his intake form. In his head, he twirled through his and Lacey’s conversation from the night before, her funny little suggestions, which came quietly in the night, almost always post-coitus. If he was lying anyway, she said, they might as well have fun with it, and let him not be a man who spent four Washington winters sleeping on a fold-down in an inverted “u” [or a proper “n”], but let Shannon be a boy who spent four years with the love his life, who every morning would wake him with some carnal act that would bow him upwards on his head and elbows, to look not upon cracked vinyl or outdated cartography, not at wood paneling or crank handles, but rather his lover’s antique headboard and her plush, feather pillows. Four years of this, every day, unbridled by the boredom that most lovers start to feel – this was what had left him arched, and turned him crooked. She thought it sounded like the kind of thing a doctor would find romantic, that so much pleasure had caused his pain
Shannon derailed Lacey when he reminded her in this lie she was his sister, and tried to get her to pontificate as to just who this new mystery lover of theirs was. She had no intention of accompanying him on that train of thought, however, but that would probably be okay; in time, he’d be coming back around.