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  • Airy Nothings
  • Kelley Shinn (bio)

As imagination bodies forth / The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen / Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing / A local habitation and a name.

—Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

1991, City Hospital, Akron, Ohio. Week three battling the airborne bacteria meningococcemia and sepsis. Sixteen years old.

Holy Spirit in the sky, or in the tomb, or wherever in hell you might be, because you certainly are not here right now—let me just tell you, I love the morphine. Thank you for that, at least. All I have to do is wait ten minutes and push this little button clipped to the sheet here, and it’s like a whole boatload of fuck-yes—a warm, tingly blast of yes-I-cans. It’s on a timer, so I can’t push it a moment before ten minutes. My life is being built on ten-minute intervals. The drug doesn’t do much for the pain. I can tell you that. I don’t know what it does when it goes flinging around doing its thing inside my body, but that pain is ever present like my beseeching of the Lord. I think it alters the brain in a way so that I don’t think about the pain too much. That’s only good for about the first six minutes. The last four minutes are like hell-and-how-do’s, watching that round clock on the wall tick and fucking tick, testing the button just to make sure you ain’t missed the time, waiting for that blast of pseudo-relief again. That’s how I spend my days.

Today, my mother has brought Yiayia with her to my room. Yiayia sits in the corner chair looking all nervous, like I’m that girl from the exorcist movie, but I’m sure she hasn’t seen that, so maybe she’s just scared like she’s got a right to be. My legs are distended, swollen three times bigger than they were [End Page 85] three weeks ago, and if I weren’t so fucking high one moment and religious the next, I’d probably be scared, too.

Well, dog my cats, there’s Gary Brown in the corner.

“Reverend Brown, what do you think of this big fucking mess?” I ask him, glancing toward my mother. “I’m sorry, Mom. I don’t mean to say fuck.”

My mother looks at Yiayia and says in a half whisper, “She’s been talking to those Mylar balloons for the last three days.”

I’m going to ignore that. She pisses me off a lot in here, and I’ve got to pick my battles, and the biggest ones are right here in this bed with me.

“Reverend Brown, you should try this little button.”

Reverend Brown ain’t much in the talking mood, which is rare for him. Yiayia is wiping her eyes with an embroidered hanky.

“Yiayia, are you crying? There ain’t no crying in this room. Mom, tell her the rules. No crying in this room.”

My mother asks Yiayia if she wants to go back to the waiting room.

And Yiayia ruffles up those old Greek feathers and says, “I do not. I will stay right here.”

“That’s my Yiayia,” I say. “You’ve got to fight, old gal.” I shake my fist.

Sumbitch. I got excited by her fighting words and twitched, and now I’ve got to wait this long pain out. They’ve got these spikes sticking in the side of my feet and below my knees, like some kind of scaffolding, like they’re rebuilding the fucking statue of Pallas Athena on the Acropolis. Only this intensive care unit is far from the Parthenon, and every time I move, my skin just rips, and the bones feel, well—nailed. I’m not made of marble, not painted with gold.

I think of Jesus a lot. I think of that poor man up on that cross. I think of the wind blowing up the dirt of Gethsemane, and it getting up in his nose and making him sneeze, and him...


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