Heath Bowen | fiction | Denny & Crystal

Denny & Crystal

Denny Butler lies in a hospital bed. His face badly bruised. His eyes swollen shut. His nose filled with tubes.  

Denny's girlfriend, Crystal, sits in the chair beside him.  

She is wearing a beanie cap. Blue and white. A sweater. Jeans. She is plump. Rosy  cheeks. She is not crying. She is older than Denny. Six years older. She asks the nurses  questions. Too many questions.  

"The lighting is off," she says.  

"It is just fine," says the petite nurse. Her long, brunette hair is pulled back in a  ponytail, dark against her white scrubs.  

"He looks uncomfortable," she says. "The lights. The pillow." 

"He is recovering," the nurse says.  

"When might he be fully-recovered?"  

"In time, ma'am.".  

"Seems vague for a professional." 

"I don't know what else to say," admits the nurse.  

"I took nursing classes. Local community college," Crystal says. "I know bedside manner is appropriate during a crisis such as ours."  

"Your husband has a head trauma," the nurse says. "He almost fractured his neck,  too."  

Crystal liked the sound of Denny being her husband. They had been dating for about a  year. Nothing was deemed exclusive. No labels placed on their relationship. They had  sex. Conversation in between. It was mostly sex. Plenty of sex. She thought a year’s  worth of sex, passionate sultry sex, must have been dating. Right? They were dating, she  thought.  

"He's my boyfriend," Crystal corrects the nurse. "This whole place is  uncomfortable. Needs better lighting," she says pointing at areas around the room. 

"Comfier Chairs. Support for his neck. He looks uncomfortable. Miserable."

"I am sorry about your boyfriend," the nurse says as she exchanges fluid bags.  "And your obvious discomfort at seeing him this way." 

Crystal shrugs at this condolence.  

The nurse continues. "He needs his rest."  

"He has been sleeping since yesterday," says Crystal. "In and out. Eyes open and  shut. Not much happening...for the better, I mean."  

"These are delicate issues that take time," the nurse says. "Time to make sure  nothing is wrong internally...time to heal. Time..." the nurse finishes switching bags. She  hits a button on the machine.  

Crystal flinches at the noise the machine makes.  
"All these sounds are making me fucking nuts," Crystal says.  

"No need to curse," says the nurse. Almost in a whisper. "Remember, time...it is  key in situations like yours. You get used to just about everything... in time."  
That last sentiment doesn't sit right with Crystal. The nerve of a nurse ordering her to  watch her words. She seemed to be talking over her, too. ‘Time’. Fuck that, she thinks.  	Patience is for the feeble hearted. She has no patience for time. Denny needs to get better.  See that she is here waiting on him. She will take care of him as he heals. Away from  these noises and nurses.  

Crystal has taken a few nursing classes. She keeps reminding herself about the few she  took at the local community college. She knows she could treat Denny better. The love  she has for him, she now realizes, is strong enough to bring him back better than the man  he was before. Rested. Recovered. Reliant on her. He will see that booze was a roadblock  to both a successful career and a healthy relationship. Crystal knows Denny better than  Denny knows himself. She sees this all as he lies in bed, bruised and battered. Sleeping. 

She thinks about removing his IV. Shoving that nurse aside. Carrying Denny off into the  hallway, down into the lobby out into the summer sun. She’s strong enough to carry him through the hospital and out into the truck. She would knock down any nurses or orderlies that stood in her way.  

She can take care of him better than any of these nurses. The petite brunette, the one thinking she’s more of a nurse than Crystal, well, she will leave her silenced in the corner of the room. Her words calling out for help drowned out by the beeps of the machines.  

Crystal likes this idea. This reverie has made her smile. Then the nurse shakes her from  her thoughts, saying, "Just call or tap the button if anything changes."  

The nurse exits into the hallway.  

Crystal looks at Denny. Lying there. Bruised and broken. No other sounds fill the room.  Just the beep from Denny's breathing. The machine reassuring Crystal that Denny lives, and reminding her of his tendency to annoy her. The beeping could cause a migraine, just like Denny’s drinking could cause madness. His drunkenness was as incessant as that beeping. The whole reason for him being in the hospital. Her being there with him in the hospital.  

Crystal places her hands on his head. Runs her thumb along his forehead. She then goes back to the chair. She sits in the chair. Looks at Denny. Stands. She begins alternating between the two when her legs get restless. She sits. She stands. She is the only person there, besides the nurses who have seen Denny. His broken nose. Busted eyes. Shattered ribs. Cut lips.  

He had fallen from the second story balcony of their apartment building. He was drunk. According to Crystal, he passed out standing and then just fell over the railing. It was a fall of feet. If he had fallen the other way, he would not have sustained anything other than a bump or bruise from the deck. He fell backward. Flipped right down onto the  paved parking lot. He just missed concrete. The curbed parking steps. He fell an inch shy  of both. He landed in the one small bit of grass that lay just between the building and  parking lot.  

Crystal knew the details. When the cops asked, she said, "He was drinking, laughing, and  I turned to go inside for another drink...then I heard a sound. Silence...then a thump."  

"You mean he just fell backward over the rail?"  

"He must have," she said. "I went to get a drink and he quit talking. I thought it  was distance. He stopped waiting for me or something. I heard a thump." "You did not see it? You were not witness to the fall?" 

"No." she said. "I was getting a drink. Then it just went silent. Then a crash. A  thump." 

"Which was it? " 

"What do you mean?" 

"Was it a crash or a thump?" 

"Is there a difference?" 

"I wouldn’t ask if there wasn’t one." 

"It was a thump." 

He wrote something on his pad.  

"Anyone else around?" the cop asked.  

"Nope," she said. "We were talking and then I turned around. It went silent."

"Before the crash?" 

"Before a thump," she corrected him.  

The blood alcohol level confirmed Crystal was right. He was well over the legal limit. He  conceivably passed out standing up. 

The sound she heard was his body hitting the ground.  

There were no other questions or concerns. The cops considered it an open and closed  case. He would be ticketed for public intoxication.  

He had fallen onto public property because he had drunk too much. It was a simple case. They left Crystal sitting with Denny in the back of the ambulance. Told her to push  sobriety on him when he recovered.  

Crystal was only concerned for what lay ahead. Whether his body was badly bruised or  broken. She was worried about his physical recovery. His drinking could be addressed  later. At that moment, it was his physical well-being that concerned her. She knew then,  sitting in the back of the ambulance, she would need to nurse him back to health. 

He has a brother. He has parents who live nearby. She hasn't called them yet. Crystal  wanted to make sure she knew everything before worrying his family. She does not want people hovering over him, crying. Her tears should be all that matter now.  

She hasn’t shed any tears since the fall. She doesn’t want others to load the room with  their questions. Their fears. She does not like the room. She does not like the nurses. She  likes dealing with everything her way.  

She thought it best to wait to make that call. To know Denny is okay, has been moved out  of ICU and is up and awake.  

Denny will thank her for thinking of him. Sparing his family any pain of seeing him  motionless. Broken. Tubes dangling all around him. 

She cares about Denny. No parent wants the image of their son, broken, wounded,  attached to tubes. Connected to some machine. Eyes blackened. Lips cut open. Crystal  knows she has made the right choice. She was thinking of Denny.  

She wants a future with Denny. She sees that now. Looking at him. The way the nurse  said ‘husband’ made her blush. The sound of it made her want to wake Denny up by placing her tongue along the rim of his cock. Lick around the tubing. Let him feel her  tasting him. Denny always liked the way she could move her tongue. That should wake  him. The beep makes her think otherwise. The beeping keeps her restless. Keeps her  thinking. 

Crystal sees their future. A healthy, happy, loving future. She will nurse him back, better  than ever. She knows this now. This hospital visit is a wake-up call. A harsh one, but a  wake-up call, nonetheless. Denny will survive. He will recover. He will quit drinking because of it.  

He will quit drinking because of her.  

Denny was an artist before he met Crystal. A painter, a carpenter, a mechanic, and he  would dabble a bit on the bass. He was also a drinker. He drank anything that was offered  and he would drink it until either the bottle was empty or he passed out. Crystal thought it  was innocent, at first. The drinking. Then it just got tiresome. Drink after drink. Night after night. Always drunk.  

Before the fall, he had started getting angrier. Their relationship was founded on sex and  when Crystal was not interested, Denny would just leave. He never forced himself onto her. He would just head out. This upset Crystal. It made her ambiguous toward her  feelings. She wanted him but she didn't want him like that, drunk, slobbering, a clumsy mess. She also did not want him to leave her there, standing in the doorway, crying for him to come back. 

Then, there were times, after they did have sex, he would get mad at himself. Angry at  the night. The way the clock shifted. The way a picture hung crooked. His mood was  changing. He was getting moodier. His tone shifted from lover to loathsome fool. He  projected his shame onto her. He would lash out. He would berate her. He would do it all  under the influence of his own failures. Back when they had lived in a trailer.  

"I can't do this anymore," he said.  

"What?" she said, running her finger up and down his bare chest.  

"This," he said, again. This time with more conviction. He pushed her fingers off  his chest and stood up. It was as if he had clarity in that moment.  

"Don't go," she pleaded.  

"Don't tell me what the fuck to do," he screamed back.  

He reached for his jeans. His shirt. His flannel. He hurriedly put his jeans on. He threw  on his shirt. He took the flannel and put his arms through the sleeves as he left the trailer. Almost graceful. It was like he had choreographed his exit beforehand. Everything went quickly and without restraint.  

"Call me," she said.  

He grabbed the bottle by the door, it was just about empty. He drank it to the last sip. He then threw it outside onto the gravel. Watched the bottle bust to pieces. Each broken bit of glass twinkling in the moonlight like a wedding ring.  

He turned around at the sound of Crystal's plea. "I'm thinking of joining the union. UBC. Start my apprenticeship. Become a journeyman in the next few years."  

"Sounds wonderful," she said, joining him outside the trailer.  

"Maybe until then I take a break from it all."  

"From me?" she cried.  

"From everything." 

"Why?" she asked, tears running down her cheek.  

"Why not?" he said.  

He walked toward his car. A beat-up grey Pontiac. He got in, started the ignition, and  sped out from the gravel in front of the trailer. He left Crystal standing in tears, dust, and broken glass.  

Crystal looked at the broken bottle. She noticed a few curious faces peeking out from their doors. Watching her start to pick up the pieces. Crying. Thinking of Denny.  How she never used to fear him. Not even then, as he abruptly left the bedroom and  tossed the bottle. She had feared for him, though. She cared about him. She wanted him to be the Denny she met that one night at a party. The lively young man with broad  shoulders, bright blue eyes. A thick goatee and a working man’s frame. He had been so  full of himself. Confident. Sexy. Strong.  

She wanted that man.  

Denny had lost himself to the bottle. Drinking had begun to make him doubt everything.  His choices in life. To Crystal, this meant he began doubting her.  

The bottle was to blame. She knew that then. She wiped the tears from her eyes. She stopped picking up the pieces of broken glass. She could not bare the thought of Denny doubting their relationship. She could live with not being exclusive, if that meant, somehow, somewhere, she would be included.  

She looked at the peering eyes across the trailer park. "Mind your business Miss  Patterson!" she screamed.  
Neighbors like Miss Patterson always peered at Denny and Crystal. Denny was known to  get boisterous. Crystal was known to scream. 

Miss Patterson had no family. Her TV carried only the daytime soap operas. Nothing  much at night for intrigue except for the young couple bickering on the gravel lot. She  liked watching the interaction between Denny and Crystal better than her daytime soaps. It was real.  

Miss Patterson, hair in curlers, in her worn, red gown, shut her door. Crystal stood alone  on the gravel. Light from the trailers was all that she could see. The yellow and white  juxtaposed against the darkness of the woods between their park and the main road. 

She  knew, then, that she needed to move on, too. Take that road into town. Get herself out of  that trailer park. The one she had lived in for years. Since her daddy died and left it to  her. She could find a better place in town. Denny would come by more often. He would  see that she was worth more than sex. She was more than just a trailer girl. She was  someone that would be there for him. Always. She would take care of him. She needed  him. She wished that he needed her, too. 

She decided then that she needed to move away from the trailer park. That would bring  Denny closer to her. Keep him from leaving all the time. The trailer was the reason he  remained distant. She would sell her plot and move away. Get a place in town. Denny  would like that.  

Crystal looks at Denny, oblivious to the machine beeping beside him, looking wounded,  pathetic in his helplessness, but still cute, with his blue eyes shining through the red and  swelling. Seeing Denny, she feels stronger. She vows two things standing there looking at him.  

The first: No drinking. He will quit. He’s in his early twenties and is heading down a bad  road. Crystal is on the backend of her twenties, and has watched Denny lose himself to  addiction. His life will be short one if he continues this pace of drinking. She’s certain of  this, given his broken nose, fractured skull, and busted kneecaps. 

He doesn’t have to be a drinker, she thinks. He has the personality to be lively without  the help of alcohol. He is witty. Sarcastic, in a good-natured way. He has the charm of a  politician without the sliminess that goes with it. He’s an outdoorsman. A hunter. Fisherman. He enjoys working with his hands. Fixing beat-up cars. He’s active; a good  man. He does not need booze to make him interesting.  

Crystal is certain that with her help, he will be done passing out on driveways. In back  alleys. Side roads. Falling asleep at the wheel in strangers’ cars. On trucks’ beds. He will be done smelling like cheap perfume. Lipstick smears on his clothes. Too hungover to  remember a night when he was too drunk to care.  

The last time he called, before the accident, he was drunk and woke-up in another town.  A small town of about 750 people. Said he'd hopped a train. Was somewhere east of  Missouri. A Midwestern town that had an old western name. He had called from El  Dorado.  

Crystal had picked him up in her rusted red Ford. The one her daddy had given her when  she was sixteen. Almost twelve years before. She missed her daddy. The bottle got the best of  him. Liver shut down.  

She always refused to allow anyone but Denny to touch the truck. He’d provide maintenance here and there. She didn’t want other hands around it. Just Denny's.  

The truck still runs like it did back then. It ran well enough to travel the few hours to pick  Denny up from Illinois. He was not apologetic. He was drunk when she arrived. She was angry on the drive. She was angry when he called. She was not angry when he kissed her  and that led to a passionate moment on the bed of her truck. She heard the sounds of  birds. Train whistles. A distant plane rolling over. Felt Denny climbing on top. His hands running along her legs. His mouth all over her breasts. Denny thrusting into her like he  loved her. She took it all in because she loved him. 

They were not exclusive. She knew that. She could not ask him to be exclusive. She did  not want to scare him away. Force his hand by offering only hers. He was not the settling  type. This attracted her to him from the beginning. He also liked her for not pulling him  in with some sort of confining definition. The need to define themselves to others. He liked her for the liberty she offered. He liked being able to drop by after drinking with some friends. Stay over. Have sex. Talk if he wanted. Not talk, too. He liked her for being there. She would listen to his talks of moving through the ranks. Getting one certification after another. Soon, journeyman was just around the corner. A steady  paycheck had been flowing since he joined.  

He had started to see her differently after she sold the trailer and moved into the  apartment complex. That was a year before. She would see him out at the bar. They  reconnected after a brief absence. Now, many sex-fueled nights had passed since she  brought him back to her new apartment for the first time.  

He promised change. She believed that he meant it.  

Looking at him now, bruised and silenced, she is allowed to think differently of him. She is going to take care of him. Denny will need her.  

Crystal walks over to Denny. She places her hand gently on his forehead. The night of the accident clearly in her mind.  

"I can't do this anymore," Denny had said, beer in one hand bottle in another.

"Just tell me, please...who is she?" Crystal asked. 

"There is no she," he said, stumbling a bit as he talked.  

"I will do whatever," she said.  

"That's the problem," he mumbles. "You make all these changes...I am not worth changes." 

"Do you want me to go back to the park?" she asked.

"I want you to be yourself," he mumbled.  

"Myself is with you." 

"That doesn't make sense," he said. "We don't make sense."  

"I love you, Denny."  

"I don't think you do." 

"I will do anything...anything to prove it to you." 

"Let us end this, then." he said. Stumbling toward the backdoor. “Whatever this is . . . let us end it as friends.”  

That thought alone seemed maddening to Crystal. She would rather Denny be dead than to live a life without her. 	

He could barely walk straight. She reached for him and he fell forward to the door. 

He held tightly on the glass.  

"Please...Please tell me who she is?"  

He turned around. "There's no she," he said, tumbling into her. "Can't you see that...?" 

She tried to hold onto him but his weight pushed her to the rail. "It is you," he says. 


She turned. She thought again about the ease to move on if Denny were gone. No longer living. So she pushed him over as she turned. She watched him fall two stories to the ground. She listened as the bottles shattered. She slipped down from the rail to the  balcony floor. Head between her knees. Rocking.


"The one good thing that came from Denny meeting Crystal," says Denny's  brother, "is that she got him off the bottle." 

Denny tries to smile. It’s a crooked smile because his jaw has been repaired from the fall.  It looks forced but it is genuine. He is sitting in a chair. He has lost sight in one eye so he  has to wear special glasses so the other eye doesn't lose focus. They have tinted lenses. Crystal thinks it makes him look western. 

Denny lost his union job because he lacked the sight to perform the skills needed to be an industrial carpenter. He can't stand for too long without his back giving out due to a spinal adjustment. He now loads and unloads boxes of pet food from a forklift. He goes  from crate to truck all day spinning the lift throughout the warehouse. It is a non-union  job. They offer no health insurance. Crystal has promised him she will begin working  soon, cashing in her few credit hours at the local community college to take care of the  elderly. Denny cannot remember if she ever had a job. His migraines appear whenever he  starts thinking about it. He does not think about it much. 

Denny doodles on his napkin as his brother talks. He tries drawing from time to time but he can never get the angles right. All his lines become crooked. His pictures look like caricatures. For his recent birthday his brother got him a drawing pad. Some notebooks and charcoal pencils. Crystal tossed them out before Denny got the chance to use them.  

"It was an accident," she said.  

Crystal looks at Denny and gives a half-cocked smile. She thinks of her days at the trailer when she enjoyed the surprise. Denny showing up drunk with gas station roses in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. Confident.  

Denny's brother ends his speech on the happiness of marriage. Crystal thinks about how she has not had much to be joyful about in years. She has not felt joy since Denny proposed. The mere idea of marital bliss with the man she longed for was enough to send her drinking in celebration. 

Crystal adjusts herself in her seat as she thinks about her marriage. She can't get comfortable. She wonders if it would be a good time to sneak off to the bathroom to take a shot of her airport bottle of vodka. She has a purse full of them. It is the closest thing she has to comfort or happiness. She just cannot seem to find happiness with Denny. Not anymore. Not since he needs her all the time.

 Crystal shakes her knees. Taps her feet. She looks at Denny as she moves around. Denny looks at her.  	

He knows, doodling on his napkin, he married the right woman.	

Crystal will take care of him.

Beeper Peddle is a writer and healer living on the East Coast. She lives with her partner and their beloved soul puppy. Beeper writes about sorrows, lies, and deep loves. When you read her work, you will dip down into her heart and end up in all manner of body parts. Should you find yourself reflected in these words, it is merely coincidence; however, it does not surprise her you share the same heart. Find her at bethpeddle.com and @beeperpeddle on Twitter and Instagram

Heath Bowen (he/him) resides in the Midwest. He tends to writes stories that act like red pegs on a map stuck through the creased paper of nameless towns of Americana. In “Denny & Crystal,” he tracks an everyman on his redemptive journey through the dust-ups of life, but by the story’s surprising conclusion, we are treated to the values and virtues forged from the ashes of loathsome creatures crushed by life’s dealt hands.