Following the Senses

“The beginning of human knowledge is through the senses, and the fiction writer begins where human perception begins.  He appeals through the senses, and you cannot appeal through the senses with abstraction.”

–Flannery O’Connor, Mysteries and Manners

Describe a morning in your life primarily through your sense of smell. Repeat, describing the same morning, primarily through your sense of hearing. Repeat again, using your sense of touch and the tactile world as the point of view.


  1. Barbara Keller says

    This is one of those mornings in which there doesn’t seem to be time to play, in which the voices are hollering at me – “get to work and stop fooling around.” So this will be quick and dirty.

    I woke up and it was freezing. Things in my bedroom smelled funny, but I couldn’t identify the smell, something like over cooked popcorn. I wondered if I smelled like that, or if it was from a very cold nose. I went outside, where it was a touch warmer and collected some dill, and the smell reminded me of an old boy friend, from 55 years ago, who prided himself on putting dried dill in his egg salad. So I thought about him for awhile. Should I call him? Nah, he’s not the same guy and doesn’t care about me at all. A memory of dill can only take you so far. I let my dog onto the deck and gave her some food and realized that even though she needs a bath, I can’t smell her on a fresh, cold morning, and that’s fine.

    I woke up and considered the day. I couldn’t hear the wind chime bells my mom gave me when she gave up her house. My brother gave them to her, but she stuffed them with cotton. She didn’t like the noise. I love the sound. When I can’t hear them, there are three bells, I know the wind isn’t blowing. And if I can’t hear the wind mills next door shushing endlessly, that’s another proof the wind isn’t blowing. I just heard a car come up the drive which means Pedro is here, and I better stop playing.

    The bane of my existence is the CPAP machine. I hate it completely and I believe it’s proof that humanity is not progressing as fast as it would like to think. Blowing air down someone’s throat to keep him from chocking and gaging can not possibly be the best solution to sleep apnea. So when I wake up in the morning I consider whether the discomfort under my side means I’m lying on the damn hose, or if it’s going to spit water at me when I pick it up, or if the little headache I feel is from not sleeping long enough with the damn machine strapped around my head. I always wonder why my earing gets twisted and painful only when I have the straps around my head. I take a long time waking up, feeling glad to be in the warm bed, and not wanting to face the cold house. 58 degrees is really pretty cold. And I long for the time when I can just go to sleep without fighting with the damn machine. Aggrevation from having it on and guilt when I don’t.

      • Barbara Keller says

        thank you so much. I read it to my writer’s group here in Baja California, and they had nothing but criticism. Wish you were here.

    • says

      I loved this piece, especially the dill and the cotton in the bell. Your writing is vivid, funny and captured my senses. Thanks for the quick, dirty reply (I agree–it didn’t feel quick and dirty to me!)

    • Ilana says

      I really enjoyed this piece. I liked how each section told its own story. I also enjoyed the informal, musing, feeling when you talk about the old boyfriend. “Should I call him? Nah, he’s not the same guy and doesn’t care about me at all. A memory of dill can only take you so far.” Great piece, IM

    • Debbie says

      Barbara – I also enjoyed your inner musings and the way this whole piece felt like a conversation you were sharing with us.

      • Barbara Keller says

        Boy I must be hard up for praise. I read these comments and started to cry. Thank you all for appreciating. It certainly makes it worth the time I stole from the “real” work I had to do that morning. I think it myself as a writer, but I couldn’t tell from the response I get from my small, bitter, ingrown writer’s group. Maybe I better stop going. Thanks.

        • Laura Davis says

          Yes, perhaps it is time to move on. You have to feel like your writers group has your back, and that the criticism is coupled with at least a modicum of kindness–and that being in that group is moving you forward as a writer.

          • Barbara Keller says

            Laura, you’re something, right on top of all the input and ready with good, kind advice. Thanks.

  2. Adrienne Drake says

    Always slow to wake, it is the smell of coffee that tells me I have waited until the last possible moment to get up, my roommate having started the morning brew. Today, there is no tart smell of coffee. I hear no stirring from her room. I touch something furry in bed with me; my cat feels soft and smooth and is usually up by now, having smelled the food my roomate puts down for her; my dog feels rough and wirey and won’t get up until I do, since she loves the feel of warm blankets and body heat in the morning. Rough coat and smooth coat are still in bed. Fetid dog breath and tickling whiskers in my face are what rouse me.

    I hear no roommate, smell no coffee. The air in my room becomes uncomfortably warm. Something is wrong. I fly out of bed and race down the silent staircase. She lies soundlessly in bed, hands crossed over her quiet chest. The sent of her favorite perfume fills the air, and for a brief second I think, ” Is this how I will always remember her?”. I place my head near hers and hear a faint wheeze. My touch on her burning forehead wakens her. Only now do I feel my heart pounding as I say, “You really should have gotten a flu shot!”

  3. beverly Boyd says

    The sun radiating through the early morning sky is already warming the earth and sending heat up into the day. Sitting on the wide cool railing around the still shaded front porch I put the plate of rolled peanut butter balls I fixed for myself beside me and with guilty pleasure I roll them again between my fingers before savoring their rich flavor and scent. Mother told me its not a polite way to eat peanut butter, but here in the early morning as I do anything I can to stay quietly engaged while the rest of the family still sleeps, I know nobody will see me. I can tell that the shirt and shorts I chose to put on are going to be too warm for the already hot day and I plan to change into a sun suit when I don’t have to worry about waking others up.

    Grasshoppers are already calling from the half-acre garden behind the house inviting me to try to catch them if I can. I try to quietly take my plate to the kitchen, but opening the back screen door with the tell tale squeak of its spring and quick slam as I forgetfully let it slap back into place disturb the silence. I cross the yard to the garden, picking a few bright red berries of the Japanese box hedge on the way. Mustn’t eat them; they might be poisonous. The tall grasses by the hollyhocks bend under the weight of the grasshoppers resting there. I creep up behind them but they magically seem to know and leap out of sight at just the last moment. Tiring of the game and drawn to the hollyhocks, I select a lovely fully bloomed pink one and another still in a tight bud to make a dancing lady. As I walk around selecting flowers to make more ladies I sing “I went to the garden alone, while the dew was still on the roses. And the voice I hear falling on my ear…” I wonder if the person who wrote that song really heard a voice. I hope so as I sing the rest and hope I will hear the voice, “And he walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own…” I feel a little silly singing that song. It is my secret as I spend those mornings of my sixth summer as bright and clear to me now in memory as they were seventy years ago!

    • says

      Beverly, these were such sweet memories. How innocent–to have peanut butter balls be your “big sin.” I loved going back in time with you. I’m really enjoying this prompt–it’s nice to have the focus on the senses–rather than primarily the emotions.

      • France's says

        I totally enjoyed your writing.
        I wanted to come and join you on the porch.
        I would love to have some peanut balls with you.
        You brought me back to mornings of my childhood.

      • beverly Boyd says

        Thank you Laura,
        It ws fun doing this prompt and I’m having even more fun doing a rewrite for m y Senior Writing Class!

    • Ilana says

      So great! I had pictured a grown woman the whole time. I loved the description of the peanut butter balls and figured it was something from childhood that you were reliving. The same with the idea of catching the grasshoppers. What a delightful surprise to find that the woman in the story was a six year old girl. Just one question, how do you make peanut butter balls? Powdered sugar? Cocoa powder? Gotta know :) IM

      • beverly Boyd says

        Easy! You just take that stiff stuff on the bottom of the jar that has lost most of the oil. I’m sure you could add other things or roll them in sugar sweetened cocoa…Yum, but mine were plain. At six years old I thought I was “cooking”!
        Will you join Frances and me for virtual peanut butter balls on my front porch?

    • Debbie says

      Beverly, I really liked this line “Grasshoppers are already calling from the half-acre garden behind the house inviting me to try to catch them if I can”. It reminded me of the tree frogs that would start up during the warm, southern summer evenings. I never saw a tree frog, did you? But I could sure hear them late into the night.

  4. Diana says

    Uuuuhhhhhh! Why do mornings have to come so early? My senses start to come back alive. I smell the exotic spicy scent my recently shampooed hair left on my pillow. I venture one arm from under the covers and notice the yeasty smell of my T-shirt. Night sweats again. A smoky dark rich aroma jolts my nostrils fully awake. Good, my husband made coffee. That’ll get me three more minutes under the warm covers. I draw the covers back up to my shoulders and a waft of musty dog reaches my olfactory nerve. With the readjustment of the covers, Libby stretches and I hear the jangle of her tag and color as she shakes off the night’s sleep. In the next room, there is the muffled banging of drawers as they open and close. I hear the modulated whir of the bathroom fan as Lulu goes into the bathroom. Two more minutes I tell myself and I settle deeper under the covers. I dread the inevitable chill the cool morning air will bring to my dampened body. Suddenly, there is the high gentle click as the door handle is turned and opened. “Mom?” , Lulu whispers. “No more minutes. Time to get up”. I throw the covers back. Burrrrrrr. The cool air to my moistened body sends a revitalizing chill to all my senses. I reach my fingers down deep into Libby’s thick, course Poodle/Terrier coat. I hold out my other arm to my daughter. “Hugs”, I say in a voice still of the Land of Nod. She draws close to me. My hand caresses the smooth skin of her arm and I draw in the clean air of her hair and freshly brushed teeth. Her gentle voice says, “How was work last night?” My senses, now of this world, I open my eyes and take in the sweet welcoming face of my little girl.

    • Ilana says

      Diana- I really enjoyed this piece. You pulled me in with the first line by echoing the thought that goes through my head almost every morning. Your descriptions are so vivid that I felt like I was there. Nicely done. IM

    • Debbie says

      Diana – what fun! I could so identify with the desire to stay snug and warm under the covers. And I loved the imagery of this line “The cool air to my moistened body sends a revitalizing chill to all my senses.” Brrr! And good morning!

  5. Hazel says

    “What is that smell?” My fuzzy brain groped for an answer. It definitely was not the aroma of the coffee that my husband always had waiting for me when I awakened. It was pungent. I recognized it as the antiseptic smell of alcohol, adhesive tape, pinesol, and sterile things of a hospital, but why was I smelling them. It seemed as though my eyes were stuck shut and that smell was so strong in my nose. This must be a very bad dream. I felt a little more awake but the smell did not go away, maybe this was not a dream after all. Oh crap! my mind began to come around. I am in a hospital! I wonder what time it is; what day it is. “nmbstch!”

    “Honey, I’m here.” I recognize the voice but I cannot place it. “Do you want some ice chips?” Why would I want ice chips for breakfast? What is going on? Oh, that smell, I think I am going to be sick.

    “Mmmrbch . . .” I answer and close the tiniest slit in my eyelids that had begun to come open. I turn my head to the other side and slip back in to the world of silence and smell. But, they will not leave me alone. Someone is patting my shoulder, “Hazel! Hazel! Wake up Dear.” that was not my husband, he would never be so demanding. It was a nurse, her icy cold hands run across my forehead. “Mmmnn. . .” I try to respond but I am in a quagmire of opiates and something has my left leg weighted down. It must weigh a ton. I struggle to move. “Don’t move Dear, just open your eyes!” I drag my heavy eyelids open a small crack. Why can’t I move? “Okay, there’s a good girl; wake up.” I don’t want to wake up, leave me alone! “Have some ice chips.” my throat is so dry so I open my mouth just a slit. She shoves the ice chips between my teeth. Oh, that does feel kind of good. I open my mouth a little more. Again it is filled with cold chips that begin to melt and trickle down my parched throat. Then I am gone back into the black world of that constant smell of sick, of hurt, of healing with occasional expletives of the sound of metal on metal and soft squishy soled shoes of the healers.

    The sheets are rough and cold. and pillow is too stiff, this cannot be my bed! Why can’t I move my left leg? I run my left had over the tape and gauze that is wound tight around my left thigh. Somewhere deep down there is a pain but I am not going to think about that right now. What day is it? How long have I been unconscious? Where is Peter? I begin to panic, my heart beats faster, and I moan. “Hi Honey. Are you back?” I hear his voice, but he sounds tired. He puts his hand on my chest and I put mine over it. I run my fingers over his fingers just to make sure they feel like his knobby knuckles and around his fingernails are the frayed cuticles he can never quite trim flush. His hand feels big and strong under mine. I start to cry. He bends to cover my chest with his as he kisses my face. I feel safe. I slip my left arm around his neck. “Stay.” I croak. “I will.” his voice is thick as he sobs into the curve of my neck. We hold each other for what seems like a day. Then he slips out of my grasp, standing, holding my hand as I float away into the dark odor of sterilization.

    Sometime later I awaken to the sun shining into my room. I look around, there are a couple of other beds which are not occupied at this time. I am cranked up with my head slightly elevated and pillows propped all around me. I feel the stick of the IV needle that has been inserted into the vein in the crook of my right arm and I see that my right arm has been taped to a board to keep it straight so the IV does not come out. I am just getting my bearings when a man with his shirt sleeves rolled up wearing rumpled suit pants enters my room. I think, why is the janitor coming to my bed?, I brace myself. “Hello, Mrs. Muller, I am Dr. Dunlop. We saved your leg but another 1/4 of an inch and we would have had to make bolony.” I was shocked! I began to run my left hand down to see if my leg was still there. I felt a large tube coming out of what must have been the knee but I could not reach below that. I pulled the coarse sheet and blanket back and my leg was there, I think. That was a relief, of sorts. I thought, what a cruel thing to say, but he did get my attention. “Will it be all right?” I asked. “I don’t know.” he answered. He left and I cried for a long time.

    • Diana says

      Wow Hazel. I loved this piece. As nurse I am often the one doing the waking. You gave me a vivid picture of what it is like on the recieving end of my instrusive, but often necessary interventions. I love the gentleness you conveyed of your husbands prescense.

    • says

      Hazel, what a vivid portrayal of life under painkillers and in the hospital. I love how you so accurately conveyed the point of view and the perspective of the patient. i was spell-bound.

    • Debbie says

      Hazel – this was a very powerful piece. I got mad at the doctor trying to make a joke at your expense. And was really impressed by the way you described slipping in and out of consciousness.

  6. beverly Boyd says

    WOW, Hazel. The way you told this story was so powerful…not letting us know any more than you did. Your description of your husband through his touch and his hands and your relationship was palpable. Thank you for telling it.

    • Hazel says

      It was easy to write as it really happened, what seems like a hundred years ago, but it was in reality only 42 years ago. It is as clear as yesterday.

  7. Nancy Qualls-Collins says

    Walking out of the kitchen door of my aunt’s farmhouse I am immediately enveloped in the cold dampness that preceeds the first snow of winter. I smell the ammoniated essence of pigs and cows. I do not smell the chicken coop as I pass by. Continuing towards the barn there is the sweet smell of alfalfa growing in the field on my right. The barn smells of rotting wood, oak a century old. It is full of hay that gives a fresh scent. During the twice daily milkings it smells of warm milk, like smelling butter. Achoo!

    It is 5 a.m. and the cows are anxiously awaiting their turn to be milked, all mooing, some acpella others solo. The pigs are grunting contently as they munch on last nights leftovers. There is an occassional squeal as a youngster tries to nudge in on the eats. Some older, larger pigs are lounging in a mud puddle and I can hear them crunching corn off the cobs. A litter of kittens follow me as if I were the Pied Piper, with light mews in hopes I will give them some of the cows fresh milk. I hear a faint, high pitched “whir” and see it is the wind blowing through the oats. Out in the barn is the “putt putt putt putt” of the milking machines, one “putt” for each tete., as they relieve the girls of their heavy udders full of milk and the “clang, clang” of the stainless steel 50 gallon milk cans. Lady, the collie, is barking as she herds the cows in from the back pastures.

    Growing up in the desert southwest I am accustomed to the dry atmosphere. Here on the farm the air is cold and damp, the snow flakes melt on my face leaving little water droplets. Lady is damp and her coat is matted after long days work but she always has time to run her sandpaper tongue over my face, the perfect exfoliant. One of the mother pigs allows me to pet her bristly hair, much coarser than a horse tail. Her babies are soft, warm and cannot stop wiggling. I can feel the little grunts through their entire bodies. I love how they snuggle up to my neck and put their nose up to my ear. In the barn I fall down into the hay to hold the soft kittens whose mews are continuous, knowing there is an endless supply of milk. One of the cows had a calf last night so I go visit the holding pen. She nuzzles her cold, wet nose into my hand, her hair is still damp.

    This is my first day on the farm, the first time in decades since I smelled the animals, the earth…the first time I felt an animal (other than a horse)…the first time, since my early childhood, that I felt snow or produce waiting to be picked. It was the beginning of a love affair with the life of a farmer, the simplicity, the naturality….and best of all, the warm, loving arms of my extended family.

    • Ilana says

      Beautiful, Nancy. I love the way you begin with the vivid descriptions and slowly bring in your emotions. Then you crescendo with the beautiful phrase, “…and best of all, the warm, loving arms of my extended family.” Great read. IM

      • Nancy says

        Thank you both. I really appreciate these writing exercises you give us. I feel they have opened me up (to a certain degree). This was my first writing effort after a month long case of writers block. I knew you would bring me out of it, thank you.

  8. Jan says

    The alarm, set for 6 a.m. rang. I sighed a long, deep sigh and was rudely greeted by my own morning breath. I lay quietly, smelling the heat from the furnace begin coming through the pipes to warm our room. Then I remembered—Friday morning, breakfast with the girls, time to get up, only twenty minutes to be there. My mouth watered as I imagined the smoky smell of bacon mixed with the aroma of fresh brewed coffee. Then I thought about the sweet smell of maple syrup that would slather the lightly browned French toast. With that I slipped from bed and headed toward the fresh spring-green smelling scented soap, hoping a quick wash would awaken me. Next there came the minty-sweet smell of Crest on my brush and the tingling inside of my mouth, followed by the dentist recommended super mint mouthwash that also awakened my nose. Wow, I’m awake now! Quickly pulling on my clothes, I dashed to the door. Stepping outside was a shock. Icy weather crept under my light jacket, the smell of winter rose from the all around me. It wasn’t exactly a smell, but more like a memory of snow. No longer could I breathe in the beloved fragrance of the old rotting leaves. Instead the wood smoke of nearby chimneys invaded my sinuses and spoke of winter. But as I hopped into the cold leather interior of my car, I remembered as if in a dream, the first wonderful whiff of sunshine on pine needles that always signaled the spring and knew it wouldn’t be long.

    What was that strange ringing sound just barely reaching through my dream? Oh, the alarm. Morning already, I thought, while my brain complained, “It’s hardly light out.” I could still hear my husband breathing the breath of one who still slept on. When I nudged him gently, he let out a small groan, turned over and shut off the pesky ringing with a snap of the button. My dreams fled. I no longer heard the voices that had been creating such a wonderful story only to be interrupted. We both struggled to sit up and while I turned to the sink, he shuffled slowly out to the kitchen where the sound of coffee dripping slowly into the glass carafe meant morning had arrived. Just then I remembered it was Friday, the day of my breakfast in town with my girlfriends. The sound of water running in the sink made me have to pee. Flushing the new toilet, the one that hardly made more than a swish, I quickly washed up, then clicking on the closet light, threw on my clothes, zipped up the pants and dashed to the door. As I entered the cold, my feet crunched on the icy deck. Wow, winter has come I thought as I opened the car door and settled myself in the cold seat. As soon as I backed out of the garage, the familiar whir of the heater began and I knew it would soon blow strongly and loudly, warming me up once again,

    “I love this”, I exclaimed in my dream as I ran barefoot through the silky green grass on a warm spring morning. Just then a ringing entered my ears and brought me back into my bedroom where I lay deliciously curled up on warm flannel sheets with four blankets weighing down on my relaxed body. Oh, that’s right, I set the alarm for 6 a.m. today I thought as I slowing rolled over and reached my arm into the cold air of the bedroom. I’m due at the restaurant in just a few minutes. Pushing the heavy blankets off, I reached for my soft terry cloth robe and hugged it to me with the attached belt. The feel of my familiar toothbrush and minty paste awakened my mouth, while the super minty mouthwash sizzled on my tongue. Will this freezing water ever warm up? At last a stream of heat met my hands and I quickly splashed the water on my face, waking myself completely. It must be cold outside I thought to myself and reached into the closet for my velvety soft purple sweater and warm jeans. Set to go, I stopped to give my husband a peck on his whiskery cheek and hugged his warm body before dashing to the door. As I stepped out onto the deck, a cold icy wind wrapped its fingers around me, making goose bumps under my jacket. I opened the car door and cringed as I sat down on the icy leather seats. Thank goodness for seat warmers in weather like this I told myself. The tires crunched on the driveway as I pulled out, ready to go meet my girlfriends for our usual Friday breakfast. I looked forward to the warmth of a hot cup of tea held in my hands as they slowly thawed, and the warm hearts and hugs of my friends as we caught up on our week,

    • beverly Boyd says

      What a great job on this prompt. I was fascinated by the way you kept each part separate and yet created an engaging and complex scene using just one sense at a time. I was just as interested the third time, maybe more so, because I already knew “the story” so it was fun to see how each treatment worked. WELL DONE!

    • Debbie says

      Jan – I must admit I was waiting for you to sit down on the cold leather seats! You did not disappoint. I also really liked this line “As I stepped out onto the deck, a cold icy wind wrapped its fingers around me,” Very strong imagery.

  9. Ilana says

    Because I am Helping Someone and For Me, That’s Such a Rush

    Surprisingly, I never wonder why I do this every two weeks. There are plenty of good reasons but it does have its drawbacks. They usually come to me toward the end of the process, when I’m trapped there and have been for a while. Still, I don’t regret it. Even then, when I’m tired and want it to be over, I’m looking forward to the next time. I doubt anyone else feels this way about giving blood but that’s okay. This is about me. This is how I experience it.

    Walking into the building a crackle of excitement runs through my stomach. It’s an enormous building, overwhelming, if I pay attention. It seems to swallow me up and I feel very small; just a drop in the bucket, if you’ll pardon the pun. Most of the building is for Bonfils employees; lab, offices, I don’t know what else. It’s a mystery to me. I look at the receptionist stationed at the entrance to the building. “Good morning.” I chirp happily. “Good morning.” She smiles back. “Thank you for coming in today.” I’m already appreciated. The excitement in my stomach grows.

    Then I walk into the donation center, smile and hand over my donor ID card. “I have a 10:00 appointment for platelets.” She double checks my address. I sit down to fill out paperwork and wait. Finally, they call me in for the finger stick and weigh in. I hate this part but she’s quick and efficient. It only hurts for a second. “Do you have any questions?” He fingers are cold against my wrist as she takes my pulse. “No. I’ve done this so many times. But will you please tell the person who does my draw that I need to use the washroom at the last second, right before they put the needle in? Otherwise I may not make it until the end.” She nods and gives me an amused smile. “And I need a few blankets and my hot packs switched out every fifteen minutes. No matter what you do I’ll turn into an ice cube but that does help.” I’m nervous that she’ll think I’m asking too much but being cold is the worst part of it. “I understand.” She smiles again. “They keep the anti-coagulant at room temperature. It makes everybody cold.” For anyone who hasn’t donated platelets, here’s how it works. You sit for an hour and a half to two hours while your blood is drawn and cycled through a machine that removes the platelets. Then the, now colder, blood is returned through the same needle. They add an anti-coagulant to keep you from clotting and thus slowing down the process. The other side effect is a terrible bitter taste and dry mouth but I can’t drink anything because I’m afraid I’ll have to go to the bathroom. As I said, the process has its drawbacks. Still, I’m helping someone and for me that’s such a rush. The phlebotomist catches the anxious look on my face. “It’s really no problem. Don’t be afraid to ask for anything you need. That’s what we’re here for.”

    With one last smile she leads me back out to the waiting area and I pull out my lap top to write a little before they’re ready for me. If only my hands were free to type while I’m hooked up to the machine. The time would go by so much faster. Ah well, movies, music and books on disk it is.

    At long last every question is answered, every form filled out. I’ve gone to the washroom and I’m ready to start. Laying on the plastic coated recliner I try to make myself comfortable. “How’s the arm rest?” She clicks it into place. “Just fine.” I nod. “Thank you.” Out comes the rough alcohol sponge and she starts to rub the inside of my arm, staring at the clock. No less than 30 seconds and it starts to sting after the first ten. “Alright. If you want to look away, now’s the time.” I close my eyes and try to relax. It’s a big needle and I don’t bother trying to hide my grimace as it stabs into me. “You okay?” She asks. “Yeah. I’m fine. It always hurts going in.” I don’t open my eyes. “I’m sorry.” “Don’t be. It’s not your fault. Have you covered it up yet?” I feel her tape a piece of gauze over the needle so I don’t have to look at it. “Yep. You’re all set.” I open my eyes and smile. “Thank you.”

    She hovers nearby for a while, checking tubes, tucking blankets around me and putting hot packs on my shoulders and in both my hands. I watch the one inch plastic cube fill with my blood and drain back into the tubes. My arm goes cold. “That’s your first return. How does it feel?” “Just fine.” I answer. I know I won’t feel every return. The first one is the most uncomfortable. “Great. Your counts are back and you’ll be on the machine for 102 minutes today. That has you done at almost noon.” The longest I’ve ever gone is two hours but this is pretty average. “I’ll set up your disk now.” She fits the head phones over my ears. “I’ll be back in 15 minutes to change out your hot packs. You let me know if you need anything before then.” I nod my thanks and I close my eyes to listen to the music or story. I don’t like to watch movies because the light glares off the little screen making it hard to see. Besides, if I can fall asleep that would be a good thing.

    I close my eyes and faces begin to float across my mind. Lots of people have told me that they receive platelets and appreciate that I donate. The most memorable, though, is the hygienist at my dentist’s office. I can see her broad smile so clearly. “Thank you so much for doing that, Ilana. It’s such a gift to those of us who need them.”

    The blankets are heavy but somehow not enough. The hot packs have grown cold and my arm is already stiff. From time to time the needle sends a dull pain up my arm and then it fades away. I look at the clock, a little over an hour left to go. The phlebotomist moves around the room, taking care of other donors and comes back every so often to check on me. “How are you doing? Ready for a warm up?” I nod. “Yes please.” She takes away the hot packs and gives me a foam heart instead. “Don’t forget to keep squeezing, every three to five seconds.” She walks away and returns a few minutes later with the reheated packs. “This is a little warm.” She pulls my shirt over my throat to protect my skin. “How’s that?” “Perfect.” I lie. It’s too hot but I prefer it that way. Soon enough it’ll cool down and hotter is better. Again she reminds me to let her know if I need anything else and walks away.

    The expected bitter taste enters my mouth. I know what’s coming next. My lips and tongue go numb. It’s not always this bad but sometimes there’s no escaping it. The next time she comes by to check on me I ask for something to eat. “Of course. Would you like some peanut butter and crackers?” I smile. “That sounds great.” She puts them by my free hand where I can reach them and I try to eat as slowly as I can, to make it last. Peanut butter pushes away the bitter taste and numbness. The relief is luxurious. I finish my snack and doze lightly, listening to the book on disk. The phlebotomist stops by every so often to change out my hot packs and check the needle. “How does it feel?” She asks. “It hurts a little but that happens to me a lot.” She presses her cold finger to the spot on my arm, testing to see if all is as it should be. I can’t explain why but that pressure eases the pain some. “Well, everything looks good.” She glances at the clock. “You’re almost there. Are you ready for something to drink?” I nod again. “Yes, please. Could you make me a cup of hot chocolate?” “Sure.” Soon she and puts it by my free hand. Trying to warm myself from the inside I burn my tongue on the drink.

    By this time I’m watching the clock. Seconds tick by. My arm hurts. I long to pull it into my chest and rub the stiffness away. Finally, the machine stops whirring and beeps. The phlebotomist comes back and looks at my donation. “We got a double unit from you today.” I smile. “I’m glad.” She nods. “We’re really in need of platelets. This will help a lot. Thank you for coming in today.” My heart is warmed, this is what keeps me coming back in spite of the discomfort. I turn my head away and close my eyes. She begins to pull off the tape that held all those tubes in place. I bite my lip to keep from whimpering. When I feel the needle come out I open my eyes. She’s pressing a folded piece of gauze, hard, to the place where the needle was. “Hold pressure here.” She says and I take over. “What color bandage do you want?” She’s looking through the drawer. “I want you to pick.” She wraps my arm in lime green as she goes through the list of thing I should not do. “No smoking for at least half an hour, no heavy lifting and no alcohol for 24 hours.” I nod my head and at last I’m off to the rest room. She is still cleaning up the station when I come back to gather my things. “Grab some more snacks before you go and remember to drink plenty of fluids today. Have a good day and thanks for coming in.”

    On my way out I make my next appointment. “Two weeks from today, 10:00 again.” I request. Why do I do this every two weeks? Because I’m helping someone and for me that’s such a rush.

    • says

      I love the way you used this prompt to tell this story. It was very vivid, very immediate. It immediately brought back to me my chemo infusions….something I don’t often like to remember!

      • Ilana says

        Thanks, Laura- Sorry to trigger you. This piece felt really good to write because I know it’s a little weird that I love doing this so much with all the ‘drawbacks’ as I call them in the piece. I found the line, “But that’s alright. This is about me. This is how I experience it.” extremely empowering so to then get positive feedback instead of “Are you crazy?” really added to feeling. Thanks again, IM

    • Terry Gibson says

      Ilana, I feel like I’m cheating and that’s because I met you. As I read, I can just see you and the pure joy you get from being so generous to other people. It’s a lovely inside scoop. The story is fascinating, covers all senses, and reminds me that if my medicines aren’t a hindrance, I’ve always wanted to do the same thing. Thanks so much! :)

    • Debbie says

      Ilana – as I read your post, your descriptions were so clear, it felt like it was me. The detailed level of your writing really added to the power of this piece. There is something else about it, too. An added sense of confidence, maybe? I like it. Thank you for sharing this piece.

      • Ilana says

        Terry and Debbie- Thank you so much for your comments. As I said, I was afraid the response to my piece would be “Are you crazy?” So it was really great to hear that I was successful in communicating how important this is to me. I watched my cousin die of cancer and did my first platelet donation in honor of a friend who was having major surgery at the time I was donating. It was a powerful experience and she really appreciated it. Good news is that friend is doing just fine now. :) Thank you both so much. IM

  10. Debbie says

    Gradually it occurs to me; I am no longer asleep. I have traversed that misty terrain between slumber and awakening. Lying still, with my eyes still closed, I catch the earthy smell of spring rain. I inhale deeply of the fragrance slipping in through the window left cracked open last night. The aroma of musty earth being pushed aside as young buds, soon to be the season’s first flowers, extend their necks into the expansive space above the ground’s surface .

    The first sounds are those of rain drops, falling lightly on the season’s fresh new leaves. There are heavy drips, collecting and cascading from the trees intermingled with the more gentle, regular rhythm of those water droplets coming directly down from the sky. I wait, expectantly, in the early morning light.

    At first there is only one. Almost a shrill call, the conductor calling the orchestra to order. It is urgent. An opening solo. Almost immediately the birdsong symphony begins. As I lay listening, it rises and swells with life and greeting. I have come to know the unique voice of a dozen species but there are so many more.

    There is no postponement due to rain. The background of raindrops only seems to highlight the tempo, the variety of the serenade. This is the morning reward, the true heralding spring for which I have waited. As the birds slowly migrate back to their mountain home, the orchestra grows along with the music. A smile plays around the corners of my lips.

    Slowly I extend my legs and stretch. The flannel sheets warmly embrace my naked skin. Heat from the body beside me beckons. Gently I slide my fingers through my partners fine, silky hair. There is no change in the rhythmic breathing.

    I must be quiet now, or the dogs will stir and the spell will be broken. Moving ever so slowly, I pull my left leg up and over the right one reveling in the movement of muscle and bone, willing it to go undetected. Pausing, I hear no collars jingling nor tails wagging. So I complete the shift, now lying on my right side.

    Breathing the scent of my lover, I let my left arm drift ever so lightly across her body, tracing the curve of her shoulder, hip and thigh. Stirring slightly, she shifts back into me. I am overcome with gratitude and longing. As the last vestiges of darkness slip away, I am here, in this moment, my senses full.

    Outside, the birdsong symphony reaches its crescendo

  11. Terry Gibson says

    Smell –

    Wednesday morning. After slipping in and out of sleep, I awake. M, my partner of twenty years, is stirring enough that I know she is also greeting the day.

    I lift my left arm and do the sniff test. It was okay, so I made room for her. “Come under my wing?” We start and end most days holding each other. These moments give each of us a bit of strength to get through whatever will happen or already has. We’ve been struggling of late; words that never used to entangle us are now doing so. Still, we both cherish feeling warm, safe, and quiet. As I bury my face in the nape of M’s neck, I get a faint whiff of hair gel and our peach scented shampoo. Emotionally, I yield to the familiar scent of her skin.

    My brain wakes up. I am aware that I will work this very prompt later on. I search for more. Is that the aroma of coffee wafting in from the kitchen? No. Breakfast? No. Not unless a rogue and most generous chef broke in while we slept. Commonweal!

    “Claire?” I allow a moment of silence in her honour. I mean, she might be struggling right then with which coffee mug suited my morning. “Is that you?” I squawk. My eyes are closed and I wait. A kitchen is a dangerous place. Anything could happen! Damn. Nothing.

    Wait a minute. I’m at home where I’m lucky to distinguish any smells at all.

    Suddenly, I encounter the reason for this state of affairs. I smile. It’s Teika. She’s our gorgeous orange-black-and-white long-haired Main Coon cat and the source of my waning olfactory skills. Her feathery soft fur flies like rumours through the digital age. It is everywhere and no matter how often I dust and vacuum, her essence still manages to reign supreme.

    Wait. Another detectable odour just entered the fray. Cat litter. Paco, Teika’s first mate, just said “Good Morning” in her own special way. God help us.

    A few minutes later, M. has showered and I’m in the bathroom brushing my teeth. Teika followed me in and jumped up on the bamboo hamper. As I brushed on, I turned from the mirror to look at my little companion. “What’s wrong with your eyes?” I ask, when I see they are only open to half-slits. Oh! My toothpaste’s odour is too strong for her; she reacts as if I was peeling onions.

    After nurturing the enticing aromas of coffee, toast, and freshly peeled bananas, I decide to have an orange. Almost before I slipped my fingernail under the bright orange peel, there was Teika on the kitchen floor staring up at me with her eyes almost closed. I giggled at how pathetic and adorable she looked. Then I was mad at myself the instant I did it. Citrus had the same effect on the poor little thing.

    Hearing –

    Two days after I returned home from the Memoir Retreat, it’s Wednesday morning. I am drifting in and out of sleep. I listen to the breathing and light snore of my partner, and watch the slow rise and fall of her chest against the background of sun streaming through the window. Trucks and cars roar by as usual but, in the steady rain, their decibel power had dropped to a whole lot of slurping. Suddenly, a whale of a snore escapes my spouse. I hear myself laugh and take a mental note to tease M. about this. I joke with her about talking in her sleep as well, that I always have a mini-recorder at the ready.

    The bed squeaks slightly as she turns over. “Hi,” she whispers. There it was and I was so jealous. She didn’t even need to clear her throat first; from the first syllable uttered, M could head into a sound booth. She has a radio voice I’d kill for. I told her this when we first met and it was reaffirmed when Co-op Radio interviewed me about one of my projects; M. was there too and Dorothy, our interview, similarly complimented her.

    “Come under my wing?” I ask, scooching over and making room. As we lie holding each other, I realize the mail guy is outside. He drops his mailbag with a thud and unlocks all mailboxes at once. SLAM. He ends the repetitive motion by shoving the mail in and relocking the panel.

    My already-jittery inner-self felt slapped. M. laughs a bit. I know it’s because of our planned-but-always-fleeting quiet moments. Some of the racket around us always blew in through the open window, slithered in under the door or reached us by way of proximity.

    I smile as I hear an attempt at a meow, a squeak really, still hovering in Teika’s throat. She’s our gorgeous Main Coon cat and the receiver of my undying affection. Her feathery soft fur hangs like a nebulous cloud of cotton candy. It is everywhere and no matter how often we dust and vacuum, her essence reigns supreme. And why not? Everybody loves her,

    Oops. What is that? Like I don’t know. I hear Paco, our half-Siamese cat, saying “Top o’ the morning to ya” in her own special way. I hear her digging through her litter—as if looking for a prize—and making a huge racket. Think gravel flung against a wooden door and hallway wall.

    Touch –

    Wednesday morning. After slipping in and out of sleep, I fade in. M. is stirring enough that I know she is grudgingly greeting the day.

    I lifted my left ‘wing.’ “Protection from the wind, madam?” I said. We always start and end the day holding each other. I bury my face into M’s full head of hair. Like any self-respecting wildebeest, I chew on her spiky hair, while its sharpness pokes in my face. M. laughs and I can read her mind, “Way too much Animal Planet.”

    I feel the softness of her skin. I reach for her hand, which always feels five degrees warmer than my own. I explore the varied terrain found there. There are several areas where arthritis has deformed her fingers slightly. For an artist, the calluses are normal and they remind me of when we first got together; she had just taken up sculpting marble. I thought the noise would drive me insane and became worried that she was six and a half years younger than me. Life had been slightly more gentle to her and I was way beyond my years. After seeing her work develop, I forgot everything. When I witnessed M. release from that material, the shape of a voluptuous woman lounging on a sofa, I was mesmerized.

    As my fingers wander the entirety of her hand, I encounter its softer areas and touch with the fascination of the tactile person I am. I make a mental note to hold and admire that as-yet-unnamed lady. At home, I feel the textures of dried paint on M’s palette, some bulldogs and wiener dogs she makes and paints, a tiny Gibson mailbox she made me (with little envelopes addressed to me inside), and splotches of red and green on her black apron, all raised a half-inch like little volcanoes. Yes. At home, art is created and admired in every way one sees fit.

    Suddenly, I remember being scolded in The Musée Rodin in Paris when I was 21. I didn’t know you shouldn’t touch but I had to try and cup my small hand around that colossal calf muscle; I found that irresistible. “Touche pas. Touche pas.” I hear a security man addressing me, rushing toward me. “Je m’excuse.” I dropped my head like a punished kid. “Pas du toute. Pas encore,” I reassured him, while slipping my hands quickly into my pockets. However, I continued admiring though and do so to this day with no reservations.

    With my right big toe, I seek out my left foot to scratch an itch. Suddenly, I feel nothing but hair. What? Has Movember caused a beard to sprout on top of my right foot? Yuck.

    I smile. It’s Teika. At least she’s doing something for breakfast. I feel very light stirrings of our down comforter. She’s kneading our bread dough. “Good girl!” I praise her. “Meow,” she squeaks, barely audible. She’s such a quiet, gentle little beast that I think she is just an economical poet. If only her fur were a little more butterfly net-able.

    Paco, the other reigning feline, just said “Good Morning.” She’s flinging litter at the walls. They landed much like a snowball with lots of stones in it. Smack. She’s digging.

    A half hour later, M and I have womaned our posts for a few minutes. We’re up for some fun and – dare I say it? – work.

    She sits before her canvas that now has a yellowing sky and high wire thing going on. On her table, I see Linseed oil, wax medium, four palette knives lined up like her beloved black licorice, a few dusty sanding blocks , a wood stapler, and a container of Gesso. I also noticed a vase full of old paint brushes, with their ends brittle and wilted like dead flowers.

    I commandeer my laptop, my universe, with my eyes as alive by the bright screen as a baby’s first view of a shiny mobile dangling over her in the crib.
    I-Tunes is on and we’re both singing freely to Jack Savoretti’s music.

    “What ever happened to the dreamers? / Who always looked beyond the sky. / To a world they could believe in. / But only when they closed their eyes.” Jack Savoretti

    • Terry Gibson says

      It’s late to post this but, in my continued sickness, I just had to do it. There’s some funny errors from my flu-head (sunny and raining in first paragraph 😉 but at least now I can see them. Adding sensory detail is a real struggle for me, especially after decades of learning to shut all that off to cope with life. Still learning and practicing. Thanks for reading, if anyone happens to wander back this far.

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