by Channie Greenberg
A prickle of hedgehogs killed the author, Isabelle Perkins. Had her descendants not brought those awful animals to the hospice, where she spent her last weeks, she might have lived a month or two longer. As it was, her kids believed they were doing her a favor by bringing, to her place of palliation, inscrutable champions of gardens, that is, vanquishers of slugs, snails and grass grubs, more generally, small, bristly diurnal darlings.
Perhaps, had Belle not insisted on branding herself with those peculiar foragers, her expiry, like her life, would not have been imprinted by their presence. Whereas the dumping of live hedgehogs near her death bed proved that her children remained cortically compromised, the matter of their thoughtlessness was both related to Belle’s celebrity and distinct from it. Apparently, none of her offspring grasped that backyard beavers ought not to be brought to dying parents. As it were, the last scent that Ms. Perkins inhaled was the musk of a self-anointing hedgehog.
Before entering into gasping respiration, that is, before beginning the labored breathing that indicates organ failure, Isabelle had considered that her sons and daughters ought to have remembered that their mom had fashioned an association between herself and those furze-pigs as a marketing strategy, nothing more. They should have recalled that she had no more love for small, spiky mammals than she had for capybaras or for red-crested tree rats. Those grown loved ones were supposed to have understood that their company, not the companionship of a bunch of sharp, gimmicky mammals, was what the author had most desired. Yet, her children failed to educe that concept.
While Belle made strange vocalizations and experienced involuntary muscle twitching, those men and women neither removed their thorny rats from her bedstead or embraced her with their arms or words. Rather, they talked amongst themselves about how she had selected hedgehogs as her icon because those undersized quadrupeds made her book covers fun, her swag cute, and her readers comforted. Isabelle Perkins’ “alliance” with hedgehogs, both real and imaginary, became the engine that drove her book sales.
Isabelle’s children seemed to have forgotten that their mother’s chief goal, as an inventor of printed possibilities, had never been popularity or visibility, but smart writing. At the same time as they were yet in diapers and preschool, she had created stories that while literary treasures were financial failures. Warning her against the cost to her career of her continuing to generate wretched profits, her publishers had instructed Belle to employ a “sexy” means of garnering an audience.
After harrumphing and otherwise snorting at those men and women, who produced and disseminated her writing, Belle agreed to cooperate to a moderate degree. She wanted to be bracketed with strong, exuberant, assiduous work, not with tomes that glow when the lights are off, or with best sellers, whose worth quickly plummets to that of kindling. Before the tie to hedgehogs, her writing had been wonky, spunky, sophisticated, and fun.
If she hadn’t needed those backers, Belle would have left those lummoxes to twiddle in their pecuniary anxiety until their noggins fell to their knickers or their navels came out the other side of their bottoms. The choice was not hers to make, however as, at the time, self-publishing was not even in its infancy. She knew that in the literary world, cash cow authors were regularly offered up as sacrificial beasts. If Isabelle remained unwilling to work with the presses that represented her, they would stop funding her projects.
Isabelle liked getting published. She liked having guaranteed outlets for her ideas. She like that her publishers rarely argued about her works’ contents.
Therefore, she linked her name to that of the squat, spiny mammals. Hedgehogs are cute. Hedgehogs are plentiful. When anthropomorphized, hedgehogs are likewise opinionated. Fortunately, for her, that lone marketing feature sufficed to swell her book sales.
Thereafter, many presses offered the “The Hedgehog Lady” book contracts. It didn’t matter if she penned poetry, fiction, or nonfiction. Suddenly, “everybody” wanted to promote Isabelle Perkins.
Belle’s “fifteen minutes” stretched into three decades.
Inauspiciously, the more popular the author became, the less time she had to write. Every morning, when she opened up her email box, she found, in all one hundred of her accounts, that her received messages had flooded her inboxes’ capacity. It did not matter that she had used a random number generator program to create one hundred passwords; such gatekeeping pertained to accessing her email, not to creating messages for her to read.
In addition, her private phone numbers did nothing to deter the dozens of industry folks who left her phone messages multiple times per day. What’s more, no one cared that she had an aversion to “fancy” media; Belle was bombarded with texts and with instant messages, too.
When, she salvaged writing time by answering no one and opening nothing, it was her children, who were studying at various points around the globe, who were most adversely impacted. To a one, they could not figure out a means of communicating with their mom that was not also attempted by some large number of business people.
Consequently, for years, Belle’s children only interacted with her when they visited or when she instigated Skype sessions. Given that the attacks on Isabelle’s concentration were unrelenting, those moments became progressively farther and fewer in-between. Her sons and daughters failed to notice that would rather interact with them than with all of her publicists and publishers.
Despite their lack of interface with their mother, those young men and women dutifully grew up, found sound partners, and presented Belle with grandchildren. All the same, they continued to suppose that she cared more for her book cover creatures than for them. Even when Isabelle bought a cross-platform mobile messaging app with which to exchange news with her family, her boys and girls never chimed in.
Isabelle aged. Increasingly, she supplemented: her writing chair with a heating pad, her breakfasts with green tea, her lunches with milk thistle and other liver tonics, and her dinners with kohlrabi salad and chia pudding. It didn’t help that Isabelle ate all of her meals at her keyboard, rarely left her home, and skipped medical checkups with regularity. She still longed to make prodigious scripts and to find ways to prevent people from featuring her face on Pinterest and Buzzfeed.
Belle’s life partner also aged. He died.
The stress of losing him brought her worse health. Her spouse had been like a precious denim skirt to her; his companionship had wrapped her in familiar comfort. Together, they had enjoyed soy ice cream and had ironed his tighty whities. As a team, they had defeated a colony of moths they had found in the back of the only closet of theirs that was devoid of cedar, and had triumphed over sell-by dates on Greek yoghurt. A twosome, they had harvested dandelions for their cooking pots and had planted Dutchman’s pipe for their trellises.
Unlike Belle, her husband had been adamant that his choices reflect his true self. He pitied his wife for the concessions she felt forced to make. After each book launch, he had insisted on massaging her toes, preparing her favorite tuna salad sandwiches, and tucking her into their bed after first fluffing up their blankets in the way that Belle’s mother had done when Belle was young. He had allowed those primed covers then to fall, one layer after another, onto his weary wife. He had kept his vocation, that of making toys, traditional. Her man had frowned on plastic shells and on artificial fiber fillers. His lions, tigers, bears, lobsters, ants, and anteaters all were crafted from fine, natural materials. He had been good. He had lived authentically.
He was gone.
After completing the initial phase of her mourning, Isabelle once more became involved in book promotions. She was interviewed on Blog Radio, written about in Authors and Poets, and profiled on a cable television program. Even though “The Hedgehog Lady’s” health was failing, her popularity was not.
Her work grew dark in tone. That expressed despondency, in turn, made Isabelle much more appealing to the masses; Goth had come back in style.
Isabelle’s “team,” delighted in their newfound riches. Her kin, meanwhile, found ways to further absent themselves from her life. They told her grandchildren that “Granny is too busy for company.” Belle’s home, from whose mirpesset hung a giant banner, which depicted the hedgehog that graced the cover of one of her recent books, remained empty.
The author suffered a series of pains and other maladies. Finally, she kept a doctor’s appointment since she figured that her ills grew from her unrelenting stress and that her doctor would excuse her from work for a span. If the trip to her care provider failed, she weighed daring to tell her bosses to jump in something of boiling temperature.
While awaiting her lab results, Belle, anyhow, gave her publishers the verbal finger. She also fired her subordinates. Additionally, through the workings of an extremely expensive lawyer, she cancelled all of her unfulfilled book contracts.
The entertainment media frenzied over Isabelle Perkins’ newly fledged uppitiness. Once more, the writer was deluged with individuals who insisted that they were entitled to access her time. She backed an overnight bag, donned a hat and sunglasses, and took to the road.
Traveling under an alias, Belle toured Burlington, Brooklyn, Raleigh, St. Augustine, and Madison. She chose those locals not so much for their architecture or for their natural wonders but in the hopes that her children, who lived in each of those respective towns, might invite her to visit. Then again, the troubled writer had forgotten to communicate her travel cell phone number to her children, and they, having become accustomed to not answering unrecognizable electronic summons, never picked up when she rang. Even at each of their front doors, so successful was her disguise and so debilitated was her body, that she gained no admittance.
More awful was that in route back to her home in Pittsburgh, a woman who watched Isabelle adjust her beret and sunglasses in a restaurant’s loo and who took a cell-phone snap of Isabelle, brought the media to the camouflaged author. “The Hedgehog Lady” was pressured to pose with hedgehog exhibits in the zoos in Racine, Fort Wayne, and Akron.
Back home, Belle’s test results and thousands of other emails awaited her. Daunted by that onslaught, Belle failed to open up the single message that informed her she had pancreatic adenocarcinoma and that her chances of living out the year were small. In fact, it took her significant weeks before she got to read the dire news and to call her doctor for treatment. By then, the aggressive cancer had metastasized.
Isabelle tried to contact her children. They continued to disregard her mediated communications. So, she hired a retro telegram service and was at last able to garner their notice.
Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy followed. Unfortunately, her carboplatin treatments caused a stroke. One complication of that cerebrovascular accident was that Isabelle endured locked-in syndrome. Her children were finally gathered around her, but she had no means, not writing, not gestures, not even voice, by which to connect to them.
Desperate for some sign from their failing mother that she had ever cared about them, those grownups thought to interact “at her level.” Wrongly, they brought live hedgehogs into her room and, more specifically, onto her bed. They had decided that they had not tried hard enough to accept her for who they thought she had been. Never did they realize she hadn’t ever wanted to be “The Hedgehog Lady.”
The large release of adrenaline, which Isabelle experienced upon watching her children dump actual hedgehogs on her bed, narrowed the main arteries that supplied blood to her heart. She had a heart attack, which proved fatal.
After the funeral, the cost of her books, for a time, increased. Her incomplete texts were auctioned by her agents. Her notes were compiled into best-selling treaties. Her established titles ran through many reprints.
Isabelle Perkins’ children never knew that they were the most precious part of their mother’s life. They only knew that they had become wealthy orphans.
Copyright © 2016 by Channie Greenberg