Lost Leaders, the Betrayed, & Wild Escapes

Photo by note thanun on Unsplash

This is the fifth day of #writingsprintchallenge from @tuftin.reads on Instagram. The prompt today is a quote from James Joyce from his compendium of stream-of-consciousness writing, Ulysses.

Yesterday I lay upon a gurney in a makeshift operating room in the back of an abandoned building not too far from my home, but today I take my place with my fellow classmates as we prepare to meet the 51st President of the United States, Allen P. Alcorn. It’s an honor, our teacher says, especially for the twelve of us who were actually going to be onstage with the President. We need to be on our best Ps and Qs—whatever that means. Today, I finger the button on my insulin pump, careful not to press the button. Not yet. Not until I’m on the stage and the president has shaken my hand. Then I press the button. But not before. Before today, my life has been a meaningless compilation of hospital visits and one surgery after another as doctors and nurses shook their heads over my frail little body. It has always been so, from back and back and back, since the cradle. I know, though they wont’ say it. There’s no hope for me. I will never live to see my twenties. I’ll never drive a car, kiss a girl, go on a date. I may not even reach manhood at the almost universal age of thirteen. Someone like me is given one shot, one tiny little window of opportunity to make a difference, to make my mark on the world. I could ride the wave until it carries me to that not too distant shore, or I can choose to take matters into my own hands—with a little help. What was it, a month ago? Two months? I can’t remember. But we were approached by someone who gave my poor mother a way out. As an immigrant in this unwelcoming country, they offered her a new name, a new start and all the money she could want. That, and a quick ending for her boy. She didn’t want to do it, but I piped in and had my own two cents worth. It’s my life, isn’t it mama? Should I get to decide? She finally agreed, though she didn’t want to, she did, for me. Now the President is finishing his speech and the crowd is clapping, the cameras flashing, he’s flashing that famous smile and turning towards us, starting with the first student in line. The stitches in my side ache from where they cut me yesterday. But that won’t matter soon. He moves to the next student, exchanges words, half turns towards the cameras and smiles. Click. Flash. Moves on to the next. One more, then it’s my turn. I’m not political. I don’t dislike this man. I don’t really care. I just want to be remembered. I want everyone to say my name. It doesn’t matter what they say after that. Shake. Turn. Smile. His smile is nicer than in the pictures. I can smell his cologne. His voice calming. Shake. Turn. Smile. It’s my turn. He stands before me. Takes my hand. “How are you, young man? I understand you’re quite the fighter. They say you were in the hospital just yesterday.” I mumble softly my reply. “What was that? I couldn’t hear you.” he said, bending closer. “I said, ” I say, looking him right in the eye, “My name is James Joyce O’Brien.” I press the button. I feel nothing, but the pump, instead of pumping insulin, pumps some liquid that acts like a lit fuse, touching off the explosives sewn into my body the day before. I grip his hand tightly and say, “Boom!”

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