An experimental piece I wrote for a college class 

 

Mr. Livingston

By Ronald Cypress

We come upon Mr. Livingston on a mundane evening, one where we can find him sitting at his desk in the room he turned into an office years ago and reading a book that he has already read several times. The room is not adequately lit for reading, but this does not seem to bother Mr. Livingston. His body sits completely still as his eyes go over the printed words, and there is a look on his face that suggest Mr. Livingston is thinking about more than what is on the page. This is how we find Mr. Livingston.

The phone began to ring just as Livingston was close to finishing a chapter. It usually only took a couple of rings for his wife, Minnie, to answer it. More than likely it was someone calling for her. This time the phone rang longer than usual, and it was during the fourth ring that Livingston hurled his book across the room and into the wall. He mumbled a few obscenities to himself after the act. The fifth ring came, and Livingston sat still, appearing to be baffled. Minnie answered the phone before the sixth ring came.

“Oh, Sue. Hi.” Minnie’s voice traveled from their bedroom. “I was waiting for your call. I just need to go over something with you real quick. It’s about your order.”

Livingston didn’t move. He stared at the book he had just thrown, still confused about what had caused him to do it. The outburst wasn’t him. He didn’t know what it was, but it wasn’t him.

“Great,” Minnie said. “I’ll talk to you about it more tomorrow.”

Livingston remained frozen until his wife appeared in the doorway.

“That was just Sue,” Minnie said. “She placed a pretty big order today. It was for her cousin’s wedding. Honey, are you all right?”

Livingston rotated his chair so that he was facing his wife. He didn’t know what to say about what he had just done. He couldn’t explain what he felt.

“I’m fine,” Livingston said. “I was just thinking about something.”

“Okay. You kind of look like you just saw a ghost.”

Minnie left it at that because there was nothing else to say. She moved down the hall and left her husband alone to ponder more about what he had just experienced. It was like Mr. Livingston to think extensively about the smallest things. When he was working as a high school teacher, Mr. Livingston had constantly worried and wondered about the people around him. Years of being a worrier had played a big role in Mr. Livingston retiring earlier than he planned. It was something that could have possibly been changed, but ultimately it was part of Mr. Livingston and would never go away.

Livingston got up from his chair and walked over to the book he had just thrown. He bent down to pick it up, and as soon as his hand touched it a strong feeling came over him. Something terrible had just happened; Livingston was certain. He dropped the book and walked out of the room. A call was about to come, and Livingston knew it. The phone began to ring just as he entered the kitchen. It rang once and that was all.

Livingston answered the phone in the kitchen. “Hello?”

“Mr. Livingston?” It was a female’s voice.

“Oh, God. What is it? What happened?”

Livingston began to weep.

There was no explanation for how he knew about his daughter’s accident.

He and Minnie rushed to the hospital after Grace’s friend informed them that Grace had been run off the road and her car had flipped over. Grace had managed to make it out of the car and had called the close friend after speaking with police. The friend had driven to the site of the accident to check on Grace, and when she arrived the friend discovered that Grace had suddenly lost consciousness and had been taken away in an ambulance. The car that had sideswiped Grace was gone, and the only person at the accident was a tow truck driver who had informed Grace’s friend about what happened and then refused to talk anymore. The whole thing was quite strange and obviously unfortunate.

By the time they got to the hospital, the Livingston’s were able to see their daughter who had been placed in a room where she was the only patient and plugged into what was needed to keep her alive. The doctor informed the Livingstons that Grace was in a coma and assured them that the hospital staff was going to do everything they could to save her. She spoke some about the possibility of brain damage and the chance that Grace would never wake up. It was just a matter of waiting and seeing what transpired. It was all they could do.

Livingston tried to explain the premonition he had to his wife as they were standing by Grace’s side.

“It’s the strangest thing,” Livingston said. “I just knew.”

“Those things happen,” Minnie said. She was too devastated to give much thought to what her husband was saying.

The couple remained at the hospital for a few hours before returning home. They were both tired, and Minnie went straight to bed, quietly sobbing as she went through her usual nighttime process. Livingston went back to his office and paced around. He kept thinking about what had happened earlier. Livingston was a very suspicious man, and if something didn’t seem right he couldn’t just let it go. Many would call this a drawback to Mr. Livingston’s character, but it was part of his nature.

Eventually he got too tired to stay up and continue thinking. Livingston quietly went to his bedroom, changed clothing and got into the bed. Minnie was already asleep by the time he lay down. His mind kept going over that day. Livingston had a feeling that something else was getting ready to come into his life, something he couldn’t explain. It stayed on his mind until he fell asleep. He was asleep for a few hours when the phone began to ring. It was the normal ring, but something was different. The phone in the bedroom was silent; only the phone in the kitchen was ringing.

Livingston checked on his wife and saw that she was still sleeping. He got out of the bed and began to make his way towards the kitchen. The phone had rung several times before Livingston got to it. And it kept ringing, going well beyond the amount of rings that were necessary before the answering machine took over. Livingston stood by the phone for a few minutes, listening to the ringing and contemplating whom it could be. He stood there until he no longer had an option and was forced to answer the phone.

We are here.

 

“Hello,” Mr. Livingston says.

“Hello,” I say.

“Who are you?”

“I am a friend. Just a friend.”

“Are you…” he starts and pauses. “You are him?”

“I am just a friend, Mr. Livingston.”

“What do you want?”

“I just wanted to let you know that.”

“You’re something else,” he says.

“I am just a friend,” I say. “That is all.”

“Are you going to kill Grace? Why did you put her in an accident?”

“Those sort of things happen, Mr. Livingston. It’s beyond my control.”

“You can make her better,” he says. “You don’t have to kill her.”

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I think you’re giving me a power I don’t have.”

“But you do, and you know it,” he says.

“I just called to tell you I am a friend, Mr. Livingston. That is all.”

“I’m going back to church,” he says. “I want you to know that my wife and I have talked about going back to church regularly again. We’re really good people. Hello? Hello?”

 

Mr. Livingston took the phone away from his ear and stared at it. The voice was gone, and Livingston knew that it wouldn’t call again that night. He returned to bed and quickly went to sleep. He and his wife got up early in the morning and began preparing to return to the hospital. It wasn’t until they had gotten in the car and were driving to the hospital that Livingston asked his wife about the possibility that she had heard the phone ring during the night.

“I didn’t hear it,” Minnie said. “Did it ring?”

“I thought I heard something, but it was just a dream. That’s all.”

The two arrived at the hospital and found Grace in the same condition that she had been in the previous night. The doctor working that morning gave the Livingstons an update on their daughter. They were still just waiting to see if Grace would come out of her coma. The Livingstons waited around the room, both believing that their daughter would wake up soon and recognize them. One of them was completely sure that Grace would be fine; the other one was filled with doubts and anxieties.

Mr. Livingston tried to sit still and wait for his daughter to awake, but something was nagging him again. The unknown thing was coming back to him. Suddenly, Livingston sprang from his chair as his wife was telling him about her job and how she had called her boss and explained why she wouldn’t be at work that day.

“I need to get something,” Livingston said. He rushed out of the room, leaving his wife alone and puzzled.

Livingston was frustrated as he unwillingly walked towards the elevators. He got on, and once he was on the ground level he continued walking without a purpose. Someone had control of him again. Livingston felt that it wasn’t fair, being forced to move against one’s will.

“For God sake.” he spoke out loud. “There’s nowhere to go.”

A thought came to Livingston, and he suddenly had a new purpose in his life. Livingston wanted a red bowler hat. It was just what he needed at that time. Where could he find one?

“No.” Livingston almost whined.

His walking pace began to slow as he moved away from the hospital. He wasn’t too familiar with the area around the hospital, but he believed that there had to be a clothing store nearby. The hard part would be finding a store that had a red bowler hat in stock. The hat was a necessity. Livingston thought about how he would acquire the hat and then go back to sit by his daughter’s bedside with the red glory on his head. He would smile and tell Minnie that everything was going to be just fine. Grace would slowly start to open her eyes. They would open, and she would look directly at him.

“Hello, my dear,” Livingston would say.

Grace would look at him for a few seconds, her eyes still adjusting. Then she would break out in laughter. Minnie would start laughing a few seconds after her daughter did, and then he would join them. They would all be laughing, and everything would work out for them.

“No.” Livingston wanted to fall to the ground and cry. He didn’t want to move anymore. There were two types of pains fighting within him. “You’re a monster.”

The red bowler hat would have to wait. Livingston needed to get back to the hospital to support his wife and daughter. He turned around and slowly walked back. The red bowler hat remained on his mind as he dragged his feet.

“Honey, are you okay?” Minnie asked as soon as Livingston entered Grace’s hospital room.

“I’m fine,” he mumbled.

“Where did you go?”

“Made sure we were parked legally.”

Minnie left him alone, understanding that her husband wasn’t in the mood to be bothered with answering questions about his odd behavior. The two sat quietly and watched Grace. After he became assured that no one else was going to take over him, Mr. Livingston asked his wife about his appearances.

“Do you think a red bowler hat would look good on me? One that’s all red?”

“A bowler hat?”

“A red one. Would that look good on me?”

“I don’t know. I guess it depends on what else you’re wearing.”

“My head is kind of big, so it might be hard to find on that fits me.”

“Your head isn’t big.”

“I feel like I have a pretty big head.”

“What? Your head is a perfectly normal size.”

“Well.” Livingston’s voice got lower. “Something is telling me that I’ve got a big head.”

The Livingstons remained at their daughter’s bedside until that evening.

Days would pass and Grace’s condition would remain the same. Friends and some extended family came to visit her. The Livingstons were usually there when visitors arrived. They would all say similar things; they were going to keep Grace in their prayers. Every time Livingston heard about prayers he nearly scoffed. There was something wrong with Livingston’s faith. It wasn’t as strong as it had been in the past, and he seemed to hold some resentment towards a higher power.

As the days went on, Mr. Livingston withdrew more from his wife. After returning home from the hospital, Livingston would often retreat into his office. He would sit alone at his desk. Sometimes he would quietly weep, trying to hide his face and tears. But he was crying. It was easy to see. Sometimes, after his wife had gone to sleep, Livingston would go into the kitchen and pick up the phone even though it hadn’t rung.

“Hello?” he said. “Are you there? Can you hear me?”

No one responded to Livingston, and he was left feeling disappointed.

He found it hard to sleep. Grace was on his mind. The red bowler hat was on his mind. Both of them caused worrying and doubts. Livingston began to wonder about his brain. He considered the possibility that he could be going insane. Livingston tried to rationalize his thoughts, but his mind was against him. The desire for the red bowler hat wouldn’t go away, and he couldn’t convince himself that Grace would survive.

Almost two weeks had passed when Livingston managed to finally get ahold of the hat he desired. After stopping by several stores that did not carry red bowler hats, Livingston realized what he needed to do. He would have to get on the computer and order the hat online. That was exactly what he did. A few days after placing the order the hat arrived in a box; it was waiting for him when he got home from the hospital.

“What is that?” Minnie asked when she saw the box.

“Just this thing I ordered.”

“What?”

“It’s a surprise.”

Livingston took the box into is office and opened it. The red bowler hat glowed from inside. He slowly removed it from the book and placed it on top of his head. The hat fit perfectly. He didn’t even need to make any adjustments; it just fell right into the proper place. Livingston smiled as he walked out of the room and towards his bedroom. Minnie was standing by bed when he entered. She immediately looked up at the hat.

“So,” Mr. Livingston said. “How do I look?”

Minnie remained silent for several seconds before bursting out into laughter. She laughed and laughed without saying anything else besides, “Oh, honey.”

The laughter went on even after Livingston exited the room. He returned to his office and sat down at his desk. He took the red bowler hat off of his head, set it in his lap and began to cry. It didn’t make sense to him. Livingston cried until he was ready to go to bed. He left his new hat sitting on his desk and exited the room.

The phone in the kitchen—only the one in the kitchen—would ring that night. Livingston woke up knowing who it was. He made his way to the phone and stood by, allowing it to ring and ring. He didn’t move until this: Livingston grabbed the phone and answered it.

We are here.

 

“Hello,” he says.

“You sound tired,” I say.

“I am tired,” he says. “You know that.”

“Well, I’m sorry to bother you.”

“What are you doing to me?”

“I want you to know that I feel for you,” I say. “I’ve come to really like you. I almost love you in a way, but it won’t be long. This has to end.”

“Are you going to let Grace live?”

“I’m really not a bad person, Mr. Livingston.”

“Why the hat?” he asks.

“Symbols, Mr. Livingston.”

“What?”

“Or maybe the subconscious. I saw this picture recently. Never mind, Mr. Livingston.”

“I love Grace,” he says. “You can’t take her away from me.”

“You could have been an absent father,” I say. “You were almost a drunk who didn’t know his daughter even existed until she was an adult.”

“No.”

“It’s fine, Mr. Livingston,” I say. “You are who you are now, and soon you will be indelible to a certain extent.”

“Let Grace live,” he says.

“Whatever happens, I do care.”

“Then let her live.”

“The story will go how the story goes. We should get back to it. Goodbye, Mr. Livingston.”

“So long,” he says.

 

Mr. Livingston hung up the phone and went into his office. He picked up the red bowler hat and carefully examined it, trying to figure out what it could mean. Livingston worried about the possibility that he was missing something. He considered the chance that the hat could be the key to Grace’s survival. Livingston lifted the hat into the air with both hands and placed it on his head. The hat no longer fit well. It was too small for his head. He tried to pull it down to squeeze more of his head inside, but the hat was too little. Livingston removed it from his head and examined it. The red bowler hat appeared to be almost half the size it was when he first took it out of the box.

“Damn fool,” Livingston said to no one in particular.

He dropped the hat on the ground and left the room.

Both landline phones rang the next morning. Mr. Livingston answered the phone in the kitchen. It was the doctor who had spent the most time with Grace in the hospital. She was calling to let the Livingstons know that Grace had woken up for a brief period and had responded to a few questions.

“She asked about you guys,” the doctor said. “I told her you would be over really soon.”

“Thank you,” Livingston said, tears coming from his eyes.

He would continue to say thank you after the phone conversation ended.

The Livingston went to their daughter’s side. She awoke again when they arrived, and they were able to speak for a few minutes before Grace went back to sleep. The doctor told them that Grace would need some time, but she was expected to make a full recovery. Livingston was suddenly filled with faith again. He believed that everything was going to work out. Later that morning, he stood by the window in his daughter’s hospital room and thought about all the things that could have happened and all the people he could have been. The concluding thought was that he was happy to be who he was, and the story wasn’t so bad. There were things he didn’t comprehend, but Livingston still felt as if he were in good hands.

 

We leave Mr. Livingston sitting at his desk on an average morning. The office is well lit, and he is reading a book that he has never read before. The entire house is quiet, and it provides a good atmosphere for reading. There is a look on Mr. Livingston’s face that suggests he is thinking about more than what is on the pages he is reading. The look indicates that the thoughts he is having are quite pleasing. Mr. Livingston is almost smiling, and this is how we depart from Mr. Livingston, a good man for these times.