Three Stories

Three Stories
Death Can Be a Beautiful Thing

Mark smells the shit before he sees it. Mrs. Friedman is naked on the beige carpet, leaning on her loveseat covered in flowered upholstery, her silver hair staining red. She is holding a dirty diaper in her hand.

“What were you doing out of bed, Mrs. Friedman? Looking for a midnight snack?”

“It’s none of your fucking business.”

“Well, Mrs. Friedman, it is my business.”

“Are you one of these whores who spy on me all night?”

“I’m not a whore, Mrs. Friedman. I’m a nurse.”

“Oh, quit playing games and tell me who the hell are you!” She leans her head back, leaving an indentation and some blood on the fabric.

“I’m Mark, Mrs. Friedman. I work here. I thought we were friends.”

“Well, I didn’t recognize you. You look like a girl with that silly mop on your head.”

“Noted. So you think I need a haircut, Mrs. Friedman?”

“Are you getting smart with me?”

“Never, Mrs. Friedman. I like you. You’ve got spunk.”

“A lot of good it does me here. Help me up!”

Mark places a folded towel on the seat of Mrs. Friedman’s wheelchair. He puts his hands in her underarms.

“Ouch. HELP! He’s killing me!”

“I need you to work with me, Mrs. Friedman. We’ve done this before. Many times.”

He tries again. Mrs. Friedman’s legs support her for the few seconds it takes to get her seated.

“We’re going to put some clothes on you,” he says.

“Why? Who’s going to see me?” she asks.

The aide who found Mrs. Friedman on the floor of her room walks to her closet and gets Mrs. Friedman’s favorite gray sweater.

“Can you put some underpants on her too?” Mark asks.

“You mean a diaper, Mark? Tell it like it is.”


Mrs. Friedman is sitting in her wheelchair in the nursing office, holding an ice pack to her head, when her daughter walks in. The fluorescent light brings out the yellow tinge in Mrs. Friedman’s skin, from the pancreatic cancer that’s spread to her liver.

“Mom, what happened?”

“Who knows? They tell me I fell.”

“Where are your pants?” Her daughter points to the custom-made blanket, with an image of Mrs. Friedman’s dead Rhodesian Ridgeback, Tripper, covering her legs.  Her feet, purple and blotchy with gray curled toenails, stick out from underneath the fringe.

“What did you do with my pants, Mark?” Mrs. Friedman smiles at the night nurse. Bits of dinner are stuck between her teeth.

“Even with a head wound, you’re just too much, Mrs. Friedman.”

“This lovely man with a ponytail came to my rescue.”

“I’m glad he did, Mom.”

“Have you met my baby Rebecca yet, Mark?” Mrs. Friedman thinks her daughter is in her 20s though she is 53.

“Many times, Mrs. Friedman.”

“She’s single. Did you know that?”

“You have mentioned it before, Mrs. Friedman.”

“She has the loveliest hair, doesn’t she?”

“Yes. She takes after you.”


Mark wraps the scarf he asked Rebecca to bring from her mother’s room around Mrs. Friedman’s head. They hope it will hold the bandage in place. Her lined shrunken face, blood caked brown on her cheeks, peeks out from the pink, purple and aqua fabric that Mark has secured with a knot on the side of her head.

“You look like a pirate, Mrs. Friedman.”

“A what?”

“Mom, you look like Keith Richards!”


“You know, the Rolling Stones? Mick Jagger?”

Mark starts singing the chorus from Sympathy for the Devil. Rebecca joins him. Mrs. Friedman is staring at them.

“Not my kind of music. Or what I would call noise.”

“You look so cute, Mom!”

Rebecca takes a picture on her iPhone and shows it to her mother.

“That’s not me. That lady’s old!”

“It is you, Mom.”

“How did you get a picture of my grandmother on your phone, you lying bitch?”

“Your daughter’s not a bitch, Mrs. Friedman. You’re lucky to have her.”

“Oh, she can be. And a filthy whore too.”

“Can we talk in the hall, Rebecca?” Mark asks.


Mark and Rebecca conclude that it’s best to keep Mrs. Friedman in the memory care facility, not to confuse her with a trip in an ambulance, a wait with other sick people, questions by hospital staff with no dementia experience.  Mark will give her a dose of Tramadol and tuck her in bed with a reminder not to get up on her own because her legs can no longer support her.

“The problem is that she wanders at night,” he says. “She can’t settle.”

“Can’t you give her something to really knock her out?”

“I know she’s difficult, Rebecca, but we prefer to let nature take its course here. Death can be a beautiful thing,” Mark answers.

Rebecca’s cheeks flushed.

“I’ve given up my life to be here. I’m on an unpaid leave from work, all I do is visit her and go home exhausted. I would never ask you to kill her!”

“Well, you’d be surprised how many family members do.”


Rebecca goes to her mother’s room to clean up a bit before Mark sedates Mrs. Friedman and wheels her back. She sees the worry beads her niece brought Mrs. Friedman from her semester studying in Greece on the bedside table, the framed photo of her dead father with whom Mrs. Friedman thinks she shares the single hospital bed. She gathers the dirty diapers her mother hid under her pillow and bed, puts the shit-stained sheets in a trash bag, to wash when she gets home. She hasn’t yet found the beauty in this but she will return the next day and the next, hoping to.



“Bobby’s not coming to class today,” George, the education director at Granite Valley Correctional Facility, tells me about one of my students. I am the professor who has come to teach a class called The Sociological Imagination.

Bobby refused to leave his cell after he had found out from a buddy that his dog died. He didn’t want to go to breakfast. He didn’t want to line up for the daily head count. He wanted to grieve alone. But the guards, eager to try out what they learned a few weeks before from the Dynamic Tactical Training guys, had a different idea.

We had been in the visitor’s room, the one with the glass wall where you can see inmates reading bibles brought by gray-haired ladies. We were talking about race. Steven, a 19-year-old white kid with missing front teeth said, “I don’t see color.” Carl, a black student, shook his head. “What I mean is that it makes no difference. Look at us, we’re all locked up here together!” Steven’s father is in jail. So is his grandfather. Carl was looking at me and I was hoping Alice, my TA, would chime in, when three, wide and tall, wearing helmets, carrying batons and shields, with guns in their holsters and handcuffs on their belt hooks, walk past. The guys with their back to the glass instinctively turned around. We forgot what Steven said.

These large men had come to this small jail, sandwiched between an elementary school and a cemetery, to lead a day-long seminar on Professionalism Through Protocols. The Dynamic Tactical Training team taught the guards at Granite Valley to call themselves “corrections officers” and to beat the inmates they didn’t like and call it “cell extraction.”

When Bobby refused to leave his cell, the corrections officers extracted him and when they did, they threw him back in his cell, bloodied, as punishment for making them extract him. A day in the hole type thing but this jail doesn’t have segregated housing though there is the makeshift wing for the dangerous guys who aren’t allowed to come to my class. “What they would do to you!” Roy Mooman, the volunteer coordinator had said to Alice. “What about me?” I thought. But I knew that I was like the Christian ladies: a diversion that got them out of their cell but nothing worth taking a risk for.

Bobby was missing the second to last class. “You should see what they did to his face!” George said. I planned to celebrate the final day with donuts so I was taking Delluci’s Bakery orders. The guys shout out: Boston cream, maple glazed, chocolate frosted, old fashioned, apple cider, cinnamon sugar. Someone wanted a cruller. I asked George if he could check with Bobby.

I got an email that night: “Blueberry jelly, powdered sugar.”

Bobby takes his donut from the box. His hand is trembling; he drops it. The deep purple innards slowly ooze into the gray carpet. “Calm down, now,” George tells Bobby. “There’s more!” I got a few of his favorite, an extra treat for Bobby, but George looks at me and says, “He’ll clean the floor up and eat what’s left of this one.”


Lichtenberg Figure

That June afternoon when dark clouds came over the water, when tanned lifeguards blew their whistles and motioned with their arms for everyone to get out of the Atlantic Ocean, when officers from the Bethany Beach police department drove on the sand in their dune buggies commanding through megaphones for everyone to clear the beach, when families who hastily packed up umbrellas and brightly colored plastic shovels scurried away from the water with toddlers in their arms, when flashes of light in the sky came closer, when grumbling of thunder got louder, a teenage boy grabbed his girlfriend’s hand and ran toward the water.

The fern-patterned imprint that an electrical current leaves on the surface it strikes is named after the German physicist who discovered and studied them. These rose-colored scars resemble the branching shape of the lightning causes them. Called Lichtenberg figures, some will fade hours after contact while others will leave a permanent mark.

Jack and Christy wore matching silver bands on the fourth finger of their left hands. It was his idea. When his friends teased him about it, his face turned red. “I just wear it to let other girls know I’m taken!” Christy, a quiet girl with blonde hair, was happy when he suggested it. They had gotten into different colleges; this was his assurance that they could survive the distance and four years. Jack wanted to marry her, have a family, be a young, cool dad.

I was standing on the rickety balcony of the motel where my family was staying. My two brothers shared one full size bed, my parents the other, and as the youngest, I had the cot with the thin mattress; I could feel the metal springs poking me throughout the night. Everyone had to get off the beach but my parents let us sit outside and watch the storm from a safe distance. I saw two people near the water and a lifeguard running toward them. “What idiots!” my brother Kevin said. At 7, I looked up to him so when the dark cloud crashed overhead and the thunder boomed and he broke the screen door frantically trying to get back inside, I realized I too should be scared.

As the stragglers scurried to safety, Jack edged towards the ocean. He was not going to miss this rare chance to enjoy an empty beach, just him and his girl. Christy was rolling her eyes and shaking her head. You could imagine a lifetime of this dynamic, she the responsible one. A lifeguard ran towards Jack and Christy, his bright orange bathing suit bunching at his crotch, his feet kicking up clumps of wet sand. “Get the fuck away from the water!”

My mother had turned on the radio in the room. John Denver was singing, “You fill up my senses…like a sleepy blue ocean.” I saw the girl pull the boy’s hand, trying to get them away from the white foam at the ocean’s edge. The sky exploded again. There was a glow like a halo around her slight frame. She moved as if dancing then fell face forward in the sand; the boy stumbled backward, stiffly, like a robot.

With a direct strike of lightning, a portion of the current moves through the body, damaging the cardiovascular or nervous systems; in some instances, the heart cannot survive the sudden jolt of electricity. A flashover is an indirect current that moves along the skin, causing damage to its fragile surface. Flashovers are believed to have no lasting effects on the heart but can cause headaches, memory loss and prolonged depression.

That June afternoon, when the sun came out again, when people went back outside for the last few hours of daylight, treading as if on glass, the sand now unfamiliar, when shovels were unpacked without glee, when parents snapped at kids for little reason, when people approached the ocean with awe and care, when a teenage boy was on the beach wailing as an EMT tried to soothe his burns, putting cold compresses to the pink web of scars on his arm and chest, when a commitment ring had seared a black circle into the boy’s finger, when the boy’s girlfriend was lying motionless on the beach with a blanket covering her body, I sat on a rusted metal chair on a motel balcony. I watched the sky turn light blue then pink. I watched as the clear sky slowly filled with glittering stars and a glowing crescent moon.


About the Author

Rebecca Tiger teaches sociology at a college and in jails in Vermont. She's written a book and articles about drug policy, addiction and celebrity. Her stories have appeared in Bending Genres, Dorothy Parker's Ashes, Emerge Literary, Peatsmoke, Tiny Molecules and Zig Zag Lit, among others. 


Image by Alexa from Pixabay