The Power of “Not”
by Morris Marshall
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
After Dean’s disclosure, I didn’t want to spend any more time with him. I put the necklace on and walked back to my car. Sliding into the driver’s seat, I revved up the motor and turned on the lights. The bushes in front of my car shuffled. Probably some animal startled by the noise.
As I drove down highway 11, the trees on either side of the highway flew by like thin black matchsticks. Alternating strips of darkness and light from the streetlamps overhead flooded the car. Staring at the taillights of other cars down the highway, my mind shifted back to what Dean had said. Three wishes. Only there was a twist. They had to be something you didn’t want to do or be.
“Accentuate the positives and negate the negatives,” Mrs Darcy, my grade five teacher, had always said in her high-pitched voice whenever we did something wrong. After all these years, I could still see her standing at the chalkboard, her grey hair tied up in a tight bun, secured by a pencil.
Rumor had it that she had eyes in the back of her head. Apparently, gum-chewing had been a negative for Mrs. Darcy. It’s a ghastly habit unbecoming of young ladies and gentlemen and will not be tolerated in my class.
Once she caught me enjoying a piece of Hubba Bubba strawberry gum during a math lesson. She raised her hand and motioned with her index finger for me to come to the front of the class. Smiling, she reached into her desk, pulled out her pink plastic goody bag and held it out for me.
Following the drill, I took my chewing gum out of my mouth and stuck it on my nose. Then I reached into the goody bag and plucked out an old piece of purple gum that someone else had already chewed. I put it in my mouth. It was hard, but after a few good chews, it softened up and really didn’t taste that bad.
What don’t I want to do? I thought, staring down the highway. Not be poor, for starters. A million bucks would be a good start. But that’s selfish. What about some inner characteristic I’d like to change?
My students told me that I sped through lessons without giving them an opportunity to ask questions. My wife claimed that I would interrupt her while she was speaking instead of listening to her. On my way to and from work, I’d always be first in line to get on the subway and would rarely let anyone board before me. If only I weren’t so impatient...
I took my right hand off the steering wheel, reached for the infinity necklace on the passenger seat and put it on. I don’t want to be impatient.
The traffic ahead slowed to a stop. There must be an accident, I thought. I grabbed my cell phone from the passenger’s seat to call Andrea before realizing that she was at a weekend business seminar.
A police car with lights flashing and siren blaring sped up the shoulder of the highway. Normally, under such circumstances, I’d curse and bang on the steering wheel. This time I took out my favorite Queen CD and hummed along to Bohemian Rhapsody while beating out the rhythm on the steering wheel. When the song was over, I leaned back in my seat and rested my feet on the dashboard.
While waiting for traffic to resume, I took off the necklace and stared at the detailing on each side. The outline of the infinity sign was gold while the circular parts had been filled with what appeared to be light turquoise. There were several rows of letters on the back of the necklace. The last eight were RMDGPDLC.
What else could I ask for? With two wishes left, there had to be something else that I didn’t want to do, some characteristic that I didn’t want to have.
I don’t want to be like my father. That was true, but too general.
I don’t want to be lustful. That was a possibility. How many times in the past year had I visited porn sites on the Internet or gone on late-night eating binges while Andrea slept?
When I was a child, my parents placed locks on all the cupboards and freezers to keep me from raiding them for food. In spite of what I’d said to Dean, alcohol was also a problem. I’d always been a social drinker, but that had escalated to the point where almost any event provided a reason to drink. A good day, a bad day, a mediocre day...
I reached for the necklace and slipped it over my head. I don’t want to be lustful.
Several minutes elapsed. I put the necklace back in my front pocket. Frustrated by the still snarled traffic, people got out of their cars. I eased open my door, walked back to the trunk and removed a case of 24 beers that I’d purchased earlier that day.
Minutes before, I’d been looking forward to having one when I arrived home, but now I found myself opening the cardboard box and removing bottles. I twisted each one open and dumped the beer into the gutter along the highway. Then I placed the empty bottles back in the trunk.
By the time I got back into the driver’s seat and put on my seatbelt, traffic had resumed its crawl. I was only at Huntsville and still had a two-hour drive ahead of me. I had one wish left and with a month remaining, there was no rush to claim it. Still... I couldn’t resist dreaming.
Now that I’ve conquered my impatience and lust, what else don’t I want to be?
I’d had anger management issues ever since I could remember. If someone even glanced at me the wrong way, I’d ask if he had eye problems. I’d fume when my students forged doctors’ notes to get make-up exams, missed classes for no reason or cheated on tests.
As I reached into my pocket for the necklace, a strong force slammed my car from behind. Inertia took over as my wheels screeched and skidded forward, launching me toward the back of the car ahead...
Bright lights and indistinct voices. Machines beeping. Slowly ascending out of blackness into consciousness. Every breath was like inhaling fire. A guy in blue fatigues stood over my bed, talking. It took several seconds for me to process his words.
“Mr. Daniels, you’re in Huntsville Health Centre. You were in a car crash. You’re going to be okay, but it’s important that you be patient, keep perfectly still and rest right now.”
I don’t want to be in this pain, I thought. No problem. I still have one wish left. My necklace. It’s still in my pants pocket. Where are my street clothes? I sat up in bed, wincing at the burning sensation in my chest.
“Please lie down,” the doctor said. “You’ll break the sutures. We’ll give you a sedative to help you relax. Six milligrams of Valium should help.”
“It’s strange,” the nurse adjusting my IV said.
The doctor looked at her. “What is, Linda?”
“I’ve been trying to quit smoking for years using patches, cold turkey, pills... everything I could think of. Today, when I was on my break, I went to light a cigarette but couldn’t. I felt sick just thinking about it. I tore it up and threw it away.”
Fighting the sedative, I forced my eyes open and stared at the nurse. Grabbing the bed’s metal sides, I slowly hoisted myself up. I tried to yell, but all that came out was, “My... my... my...”
“He’s hyperventilating, Linda!” the doctor said. “Watch out!”
I reached for her, but she stepped out of the way just in time. The bed almost capsized as my hand sailed past her.
“Are you okay?” the doctor asked.
“I’m fine,” Linda said. “That’s not the first time a guy tried to grab my chest.”
The doctor smiled. “I think he was reaching for your necklace. It’s a unique one. We’d better up his Valium to ten milligrams.”
“Joe, the ambulance attendant, gave it to me,” Linda said, touching the necklace. She inserted the medication into my IV.
The warmth was pleasurable and consuming. This time I didn’t fight it.
Copyright © 2015 by Morris Marshall