A journal of narrative writing.
Charlie Benson Sees the Ocean
by Ronald Lands

Charlie studied Amy. Scraggle spent most of his time chain-smoking cigarettes and watching porn on his VCR. He couldn’t walk ten feet without getting short of breath. He couldn’t have chased her if he tried.

“I looked back once. He looked like I’d hurt his feelings.”

“Perverts don’t have feelings. What was you thinking?”

“I wanted to get to Myrtle Beach,” she answered. “My mom’s new boyfriend was getting too friendly, and I was getting in her way.” Her voice dropped almost to a whisper. “I was goin’ to look for one of them summertime jobs waitin’ tables.” She studied the napkin on Charlie’s tray. “People say I look like a college girl when I dress up a little.”

“You don’t sound like no college girl,” Charlie said.

“It just took a ninth grade education to save your pitiful life,” she said. She resumed torturing the peas and potatoes.

“Plus it’s September.”

“Be nice.”

Charlie relaxed a little and leaned his head back on his pillow. He’d heard enough, but Amy continued. “It was real dark. I wouldn’t of noticed your trailer except when I walked by, I saw flames shoot up in one of the windows. It was so sudden, I wasn’t sure it was real. I ran over and looked in your window and saw your heater had just set fire to your bedspread.” She put the spoon on the plate and wiped her hands on Charlie’s sheet. “So I let myself in and saved your life.”

Charlie tried to shrug his right shoulder, then tried to flex the fingers. “My arm’s gone to sleep,” he said.

“It ain’t asleep,” she said. “You had blood clog on your brain from where you hit your head. Doc Corless says you same as had a stroke.”

Charlie wiggled his feet. The right one was a little sluggish, but he could manage. He tried his hand again, barely got the fingers to grip.

“Where am I?” he asked.

“The hospital.”

“Any particular one?”


“Did they fly me over here?” Charlie had never flown anywhere, so if he had, he would have been disappointed to not have known it.

“Naw, you didn’t rate the helicopter. They sent you in an ambulance.” She stuck the peas in her mouth and chewed slowly, as if considering how best to continue the story. “The emergency doctor thought you was just drunk. He tried to make Slim take you to jail.” She loaded the spoon again. “Slim told him you’d had a seizure on the way in, so it was against regulations.”

Charlie was pretty sure he’d had a seizure in the drunk tank before. No one had paid much attention to it.

“The emergency doctor called Doc Corless to admit you to the hospital. Doc saw right off that something more than just being drunk was wrong. He yelled something about a ‘blown pupil.’ Next thing I knew he had shaved the side of your head, drilled a hole in your skull, and drained a blood clog.”

Charlie rubbed the side of his head. There was a bald patch and a sore spot that felt like it had staples in it.

“And you was standing right there,” Charlie said. “Bullshit.” He closed his eyes and imagined someone with a power drill to his skull. He’d had a few headaches that felt like that.

“The neurosurgeon here said Doc had prob’ly done a million of those when he was in Vietnam. He was real nice. He thinks I’m your fiancée, by the way, in case anybody asks.”

Charlie looked around him. “How long have I been here?” he asked.

“Long enough that they’re talking about sending you to the old folks’ home.” Amy had another spoon full of peas aimed at his mouth. “You ain’t talked in days. They think you’ve got permanent brain damage.”

Charlie felt nauseous again. “I ain’t ready for that,” he said.

“The home?”

“The peas,” he said. “You finish ’em. Looks like you’re ’bout to anyway.”

“Thanks,” she said. “I am kind of hungry.”

Amy ate like a machine. She finished the peas before moving to the potatoes, finished the potatoes before she sliced the meatloaf. “They send you a tray three times a day. It seems like a sin to waste it,” she said.

How can she be this skinny when she eats like that? Charlie wondered.

“Kind of puts me in a bind,” she continued. “As long as you are out of your head, I get to eat pretty high on the hog. You get better and I got nothing again. Funny, ain’t it? The way things even out.”

“So are they gonna put me in the home or not?”

She dabbed at her mouth with a paper napkin before she cut a sliver of cherry pie. “This’d probably be too rich for you,” she said. She loaded it on her fork and hesitated. “You want to try a bite?” she asked as she put it in her mouth.