M. L. Roth
V3:E3 Mar. 2001


"Help in three-ten! Help in three ten!"

A fossilized machine, a bright morning. I'm biting the bit, hunkered at my typewriter taping keys and lightly slapping the return lever. I enjoy the act of typing, the clicking and snapping of letters.

            "Help, somebody! Help in three-ten!"

Momentarily I rise from the chair and stretch, yawn and step to the window of my second floor apartment. I shake stiffness out of my legs, first one and then the other. Outside there's a lush, overgrown Banana Palm, and next to that a row of potted plants burgeoning under the shade of the palm's rubbery leaves. Inhaling that first morning breath, I smile to myself…"Help in-" and shut the window.

            It happens often - only a muffled noise, a desperate plea in the distance of  an otherwise beautiful universe.

            Adjusting my position in the chair, I pursue a twenty-four hour battle with a  paragraph. Should I save the object sentence for the end, turning it into a dramatic resolution, or open with it and then expound? Perhaps it could be shortened. Is it even germane to the story? When in doubt, sayeth the experts, slash, dismember, amputate syllables like felling trees in a rain forest. Edit with blood in your teeth. No such animal as the sacred word. A small thing, but it's these trivial bits which transform a writer into an artist. To succeed, the ability to witness the death of one's best ideas must come easily. A good writer is ruthlessly objective.

            However, the perfect quotable sentence - it is the nature of the beast to spend a lifetime searching for the perfect quote which will immortalize - an Atlantean piece of narrative, can change a reader's life the way mine has been twisted by passages digested over the years.

            "Help in three-ten!"

            Her voice is weakening. She's old, tired, and spends days pasted in a chair watching television.  She's nursing a bad hip and is tied to the whiskey bottle. That's why she periodically falls out of the chair. There's a gentleman friend who visits everyday.  He delivers the juice and is no great shakes. He drives a lemon yellow Buick with a tennis ball stuck on the radio antenna - a real sport.  Last week he collapsed in a drunken stupor downstairs by the mail boxes and the paramedics came.

            "Can you breathe?"


            "Breathe for me, old timer, or their gonna throw yuh's in a box and nail it shut."

            He sputtered and spit-up. "No hospital, please."

            "Yuh want I should let you lie here and die? You'd like that."

            "No, no hospital, no-"

            He's a distinguished looking gentleman with most of his hair and a silver mustache. She can still snatch an older Adonis because she used to be a knockout - the Coca-Cola Girl of 1945.

            Some time ago, when she lived sober, she'd invited my wife up to her place for tea. The old lady brimmed full of life before Cutty Sark became an appendage. That afternoon she sat Ann on the sofa with tea and pound cake. Her eyes lit up and she driveled incessantly, as if she hadn't a visitor in eons. Above the sofa hung a glass shrine containing Coca-Cola memorabilia: bottles, painted serving trays, calendars, all with her pictures on them - her supplication to the gleaming toothy American dream.

            "Oh my, yes, I was very popular, what with the U.S.O. dances and armed services tours. You know," she spoke with a glint in her eye and a hushed tone, "they used to pin my pictures up on the barracks.  I gave that Betty Grable gal a run for her money!  You're cute too, dear."

            Afterwards, Ann ran off at the mouth, breathless.

            "Max! She's famous!"

            "That's nice." A good writer distances himself from the subject.

            "No, really! She's got a giant poster of herself drinking Coke out of a glass bottle with some army Major So n' So from the forties. A glass bottle, no cans, and she's wearing a jacket with padded shoulders and a hat with a feather in it and everything!"

            A week later Ann had a chance meeting with the Coca-Cola lady downstairs by the mail boxes. By then it had started. She was buttressing the wall with her nose, disoriented, whiskey aromatic at eleven o'clock in the morning, and then she saw Ann.

            "If it isn't the li'l hippie whore, huh!" Ann was crushed. "Now we gotta live with fuckin' hippies in the building!"



I should change the exposition to dialogue. That's it. I rip the paper out of the machine and crumple it into a space ball. How exciting , a new beginning. My fourteenth fresh start. What a life, to be a writer.


            It's a peaceful, contemplative existence. The telephone rings. My people know better than to disturb me during working hours. The good writer is disciplined. It's usually one of Ann's friends.

            "Oh, you're writing. How nice for you. So, I didn't take you away from anything important?"

            "Actually, I'm just completing an in-depth examination into the creative, cognitive, and ruminating processes of the third frame of my subconscious mind. I'm also trying to write a paragraph." Maybe the bitch will hang up. The Coca-Cola lady is screaming again.

            "Look, I've got to go pick up someone off he floor."

            I climb the stairwell to the third floor. I would have taken the elevator but Adonis has taken it earlier. He got her soused, got his rocks off and then left while he could still walk. I know the elevator now reeks of urine, Aqua Velva, and Ripple. It's their plot to die together, a grotesque Romeo and Juliet - double cirrhoses of the livers. It will be a conclusion with no respect, no love - prolonged suicide. Might make an interesting story. The good writer is always scratching for a story.

            I approach the screen door to three-ten and peer into the darkness of a tomb. The death chair with mummy blanket strewn across it is empty. The television is blaring afternoon soap opera. Pictures are crooked and walls are stained nicotine yellow. Liquor bottles grow scattered in groups, half empty or full,  depending on your point of view, and sticky. Trash overflows. The stench of rotting flesh wafts a perfume of finality. Gawd, she's dead. Then I see her in the shadows, sprawled on the carpet: a sack of bones with blue veins, a piece of meat with two cavernous eyes, a tubercular vision by Edvard Munch.

            It wasn't so bad that she called Ann a whore.  It's sad, her life a tragedy. And those eyes wide open and staring at me, frozen. The Coca-Cola lady raped by American culture until her tits collapsed, cast out as corporate refuse because her teeth no longer twinkled. Above the chair hangs an old tin serving tray with her likeness painted on it. She's smiling and young and the bottle of cola in her beautiful perfect feminine hand is only a dime.

            Now, she lies head propped against the chair where she's fallen, skin loose and gray, and those eyes.

            "Don't just stand there, help me, asshole!"

            "Jesus!" All pity takes a hike. A good writer knows when to change game plans, to go with the flow as it were.

            "I need my chair! I need a drink! You gonna help me, or what?"

            "No. I was just checking."

            "Assbite - creep!"

            "Fine, have a nice day. Someone will come along and pick you up."

            Occasionally a fresh point of view is called for. At times like these the writer must stand back  from the page as the painter distances himself from his canvas. I'm not speaking of avoidance, but inspiration.

            To be vulnerable to life. Ah-hah! A tree outside my window. A sturdy oak blowing in the wind, its leaves gently rocking back and forth. This will be fine for at least five minutes, and if a bird lands in it maybe seven or eight.

            "Help in three-ten!"

            I circle the desk but avoid looking at the paper still in my machine. I can't help her. She's too old. If I pick her up the wrong way I might break her bones, crush a vertebrae or something. I glance at the paper. The paragraph is still there. God hasn't taken care of it. Across the street, city workers shatter asphalt with jack hammers. That's interesting. Maybe they'll paint some lines. I wonder why they always wear blue jeans two sizes too big. I wonder if they know about the blushing butt crack showing whenever they bend over.

            "Okay, God, fine! I'm a son of a bitch! Is that what this is about? Is that why I can't write this paragraph? Fine!" I spy on the traffic below. It's mid-day and cars are inching along. This is Southern California. Half the cars are Mercedes convertibles, the other half Hondas. I move slowly to the telephone and dial 911 emergency.

            "There's an invalid upstairs who needs help getting back into her chair."

            "What's the apartment number, Sir?"

            "Help in three-ten!"

            "Got it, Sir."

            Can't write now. An old lady's life is at stake. I've got to supervise the paramedics, make certain they find the right apartment. What if she dies? Poor thing. I jog down to the mail boxes and wait. They pull up, a deafening siren and flashing lights. Two men with starched white shirts jump out, and carrying oxygen they race past me up the stairs.

            "See, God? I called them. I'm righteous. Now how about it?"

            I wait the long wait until her screen door clacks shut and they ride down in the elevator. Leaping stairs two at a time I press my nose against the Coca-Cola lady's screen. She's pasted in the chair watching television and then she notices me.

            "I'm glad you're alright. I was worried sick about you and -"

            "I don't recall saying, 'Asshole, call the paramedics!'" A blue vein pulses out of her forehead. "Idiot! Do you know what this is going to cost me!"



            Back at my window, I wonder how many stories there are from one red light to another. The muse is gone. I'm losing the battle. Sometimes, the good writer has no option left other than to make a deal with God - to request the immoral, the unthinkable, just this once. Ann's key turns in the lock. When she pops open the door I notice a bit of commotion outside.

            "What's the haps, Ann?"

            "The Coca-Cola lady got struck dead by lightning. Well, her television antenna was struck. She was changing the station on her set when she fried. It's strange, you know? Not a cloud in the sky."

            "These inexplicable happenings, these things we dare not fathom," I warn. I return to my typewriter and finish the paragraph. God is not dead. He drives a blue Mercedes and He's listening.



Email: litarts@pacbell.net
Website: http://www.successliterary.com
Publications: Stirring V3:E1, V3:E2

Stirring : A Literary Collection

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