out of the ashes

Friday, January 21, 2011

Marvin cleans himself up


I freaked!
I thought I'd lost half a dozen chapters I'd written last summer. Of the thousands of hardcopy pages I located in my mess of an office (laughing about that term), I had six or seven of Chapter 35, another half dozen of 36...and so on.
Thank God for Time Machine. The files weren't in my documents; nor in my working draft, but they were in that amazing backup! And thank God for my wife who suggested I look there!!!
So...Marvin is within a few tie-in chapters of being complete.  I needed to get him cleaned up and off to find Amy.  He doesn't know it yet, but the woman he is being sent to find isn't Amy at all.  Anselm needs to get him out from underneath the loading dock and into a more "permanent" address.  400 East 8th Avenue--the home of the governor...and Maribeth Harris:)


Nine

      Marvin returned later that day with a new sense of purpose to the place he loathed more than the inside of any confessional.  The Salvation Army Mission on Tenth Avenue and Bannock.  It was only six blocks away from Civic Center Park, and had many years ago been a large private residence covering two full-sized city lots, plus another fifty feet on one side where lawn and flowerbeds and Weeping Willow trees grew in wild abandon. The Army had purchased it a dozen years ago after the eccentric widow—a certain Mrs. Marybelle Stump who maintained it like a macabre Hollywood movie set—finally left the world for supernatural parts unknown.
      An hour after sitting through the reading of the will, her smiling heirs promptly threw it into the hands of a real estate broker, who promptly threw it out to the public listed as “…one of Denver’s finest, charming old haunted houses, with a view of the Pacific.”  He meant Rockies.
        No one of the Army believed in ghosts, although they were certain, to a Major, that God existed, that He had a Son, and that the Son desired them to buy and renovate the ramshackle dwelling (the home of rats and spiders and cockroaches…and ghosts).  They were intrigued, also, by the promise of a stunning view from the west-facing balcony.
      The overgrown lawn, the trees that bent their limbs clear to the ground, and the weed-infested flowerbeds disappeared soon after the new spiritual owners got their hands on the deed. The dilapidated wrought iron fence encircling the corner lot was ground up into a huge rusty ball and carted off to the dump.  Inside, moldy carpet was whisked away revealing solid oak floors beneath.  A host of memory-laden doors with children’s names etched into the edges and on the six inch-wide casings were treated to sledgehammers, and then lugged away in splinters.  Lathe and plaster walls fell in storms of dust, and in their place a grand central dining/gospel room emerged, complete with speckled linoleum tiles that an army (so to speak) of indigents could not possibly damage. 
      And an unornamented wooden pulpit.
      The pulpit stood imperially, despite its plainness, dead center of the room at one end, between a pair of grand windows that had once belonged separately to two of the six bedrooms of the house, before the wall dividing them was unceremoniously removed.  A King James Version of the Bible sat prominently on the top of the pulpit, and it was opened and read from by the major in charge of those souls whose bellies he and his staff had just filled—three times each day.  The same as any of the great preachers of old would have done in his stead.
      The issue for Marvin: if you were here in the cafeteria, you were obliged to listen to the word of God—and it sometimes included the dreaded book of…
                                  Numbers !
…wherein, “…of the children of…” quickly lost all meaning, except for biblical scholars and genealogy sleuths, of which very, very few sat in the folding chairs in front of the Major.  It did not seem to bother the Major during any of these readings that the snoring was often louder than the spoken word of the Almighty.
      Marvin tactfully entered the front doors at 4:45 p.m.  The Men’s shower would most likely be silent, and another hour would pass before the dinner bell rang.  All he needed to do was slide down the long hall to the admissions desk, wink at Ms. Garcia (who, he imagined, would be manning her post behind it until the Lord either returned, or said phooey to the whole Second Coming idea), and show her how filthy he was.  That would be easy enough.  Despite his feelings for the mission in general, he had always gotten on marvelously with the attractive little woman.  A few times, too marvelously.  Though he knew she was quite…no, somewhat religious (A Roman Catholic, of all things, he discovered during the second season of his stay), she sometimes let her tongue slip while working away at the desk behind the counter.  He caught her muttering one day—a colorful expletive in four letters.  F-Major.  The bond between them was born at that instant, and in those leaden days, when fools roamed the halls expounding on every stupid thing under the sun, he visited her at her station frequently for reality checks.  Duets of questionable grammatical taste that began andante, and when he was lucky, ended adagio sensuoso.
      He liked her.
      And so, he tiptoed down the long, dark hall to the counter.  A fluorescent glow flooded the open space and the dull formica surface—which Marvin always thought made it look like an eerie doorway into a frightening nether world.  Ms. Garcia was lost somewhere inside the bright haze, doing something that caused her to utter a string of F-Majors, soto voce, allegro appassionato. 
     Precious thing.
     He leaned forward with his hands on the countertop and gazed in at her.  There she was, bent over, her trim posterior aimed high at him.  Ms. Garcia was tugging right and left, left and right, right and left, at a stubborn drawer stuck in an ancient wooden filing cabinet purchased at Goodwill.  The motion, but not the swearing, made her appear to be doing a Latin dance step.  A Mambo or a Rumba.  Her brilliant Mexican Puebla dress, embroidered with stunningly beautiful florals, winding vines, stick people dancing, patterned needlework, and other colorful decoration, draped over her like a splash of moonlight over a garden of roses.  Its hem ended just above her calves.  All of this would have been ravishing today had there not been thorns on those petite stems.
      Lovely thing.
      He watched her for a moment or two, wincing at various notes, smiling at her down-to-earth saltiness and the rhythm of her movement.  At last he interrupted her.
      “Hello, Pumpkin!”
      She started, leaving the drawer quarter-opened and cock-eyed, straightening like a balloon stretched over an erupting geyser.  Ms. Garcia whirled around to face the voice that had finally caught her defiling the Mission, so close to the sanctuary.  Her eyes were coals of dread set beneath almost masculine, thick eyebrows.  Her mouth had dropped half-open, exposing the faint beginnings of snow-white, perfect teeth, but within a blink she regained her composure, sighed, and then made a quick sign of the cross.  She smiled at Marvin.
      “Holy Mary, Mother of God!  Marvin Fooster, you scared me half to death.”
      “And you tickled my imagination!” he replied with a wink and a tiny twist of his head.  He might stutter and stammer and stand on his own feet in the presence of Amy whoever, but the older, thicker ice of Ms. Garcia had already been broken.   He was comfortable and at ease around her, like being inside an old pair of shoes.
      Shoes.
      “Essie, I need a shower.  I gotta’ go shoppin’.”
      “Shopping?  You?”  Esmeralda Garcia, a year or maybe two younger than Marvin, stepped to the counter and put her arms on it, eyeing him impishly.  “What for?  And with what?  You don’t look like you’ve come up very far from where you were last time I saw you, Marvin, mi diablo pobre.”
      “I can’t tell ya’.”  Marvin leaned forward and placed his own arms onto the countertop close to Esmeralda’s, his nose close enough to hers to catch her rising, warm exhalations.
      “Tell me why,” she cooed, “or I won’t let you in.  You will have to go back to the gutter you crawled out of and wash up there.  What is it you’re up to, you rascal?”
      “Essie, my delectable pumpkin…”  He glanced at a stick figure on her shoulder, dancing across the fabric of her dress.  The strange little boxy head and starred eyes made of stitching.  The enigmatic little smile on its thread mouth.  “…My little Mexican dancer, I can’t tell ya’.  I just gotta’ clean up.  Can I use the shower?  Please, sweet-cakes?”
      Esmeralda giggled.  “My.  I am pumpkins and ballerina…and what else?  Well, I suppose so.  Clean up…Madre de Dios.  What next?”  She leaned across the counter and checked the hall in both directions, biting the edge of her small lip.  Ten feet away the entry doors to the cafeteria stood closed.  Across the hall lit by the afternoon sun squeaking through the small glass panel of the rear exit door, the men’s bath lay.  Beyond that, the women’s, and nearest the rear of the building, the office of Major Jeremiah Forsythe.
      “What’s the matter, plum lips?”
      Esmeralda withdrew her face into the room and looked at Marvin.  “He’s gone.  Hurry, then.  Go take your shower.”
      “What does it matter if he’s here or gone?” Marvin asked.
      Esmeralda scurried out of the room, grabbed his elbow, and tugged him toward the bath.
      “None at all, caramelo.  None at all.  I’ll get you a fresh towel.  Hurry.  Go, go now!”  She shooed him to the door and then left for the linen dispensary, a wide, deep cabinet set into the hall wall between the men’s and women’s baths. 
      Marvin stood for a moment at the door and watched her.  He shrugged, then opened it inward with a squeak of the hinges.
      Nothing much had changed, he noticed.  The sofa with a tear in the fabric to his left just inside the door was still there.  A plain, rectangular table between two slip-covered, overstuffed chairs against the wall opposite the door and the sofa.  Atop the table a clear plastic rack containing a wealth of brochures and tracts reminded those who used the facility why they were using this bathroom and shower, and not the one they might have had in a home or apartment of their own.  Above the table the venetian blinds covering the lone window had been drawn closed three-quarters so that a narrow sheet of light with gently moving specks of dust lit the room in a somber glow.
      Marvin closed the door behind him and walked to the room adjacent, a long narrow space where three stalls stood. Their plastic curtains were drawn open, tucked inside the smooth, painted cement curbs.  On either side of the framed opening, two rows of industrial-d├ęcor sinks stood supported by thick, scratched chrome legs.  Behind each sink a long mirror with a narrow shelf beneath it provided a starkly functional shaving station for the transient boarders. 
      He peeled off his coat and shirt and tossed them onto the edge of the sink to his right.  The pants, cinched close to his hips by a belt scavenged from a dumpster, went next, followed by his boxers.  He left them on the floor, moving white and naked to the middle stall, thinking how nice it would feel to be clean again.  It had been a long time—three months, soon—since his last sojourn into this room.  But back in April he had shared the pleasure of a hot shower with Simon the opera singer, and cringed at each flat note.  The other shower had been occupied by someone he had never met, who was dispelling bursts of noisy gas in a consistent way, maybe a metronomic accompaniment to Simon’s serenade.  Outside in the anteroom there had been scattered clips of conversation among the men who anxiously, or not, waited their turns.
      This afternoon they were elsewhere, gone from the building to do what they were best or worst at.  The opera singer, he hoped, had found a choral group of like-voiced crooners—the impresario of oom-pah maybe a bottle of Beano, somewhere far away.
      The only sounds came from the showerhead whistling the pleasant notes of steamy-hot water, and the gurgling of the drain beneath his feet.  Standing with his arms crossed over his chest, his hands resting on his shoulders, his head leaning backward to catch the water splattering the grime from his face, he began to wonder about the woman whose name was Amy for the hundredth time today.  What would she think of him dressed in a brand new suit, with shiny black shoes, and a clean-shaven face?  Would it make much difference?  In reality?  No.  But then, what?
      I’m gonna’ reverse my age.  Did I say that?  Yeah, I think I did.
      And pigs are going to fly to the moon.
      He finished the job.  The water went silent, save the final elongated whoosh down the drain, and Marvin stepped out, clean and ready to shave the gray stubble away.  He lathered at the sink, contemplating the striking image staring out at him from the cloudy mirror, hollow-eyed, with skin like baked leather.
      He stopped for a moment, holding the razor an inch from his cheek.
      But…what if I could do it?
      He chuckled.
      Insane.  Just go steal that new…but, what if?
       Marvin felt as though he was suddenly drifting off into a dreamscape.  His vision glazed.  The face in the mirror smiled out at him, but it wasn’t exactly the one he knew as himself.  The features were close, he could see, but the face was that of a fifty year-old gentleman.  The line of a white collar and neat knot of a tie shimmered in the misty surface at the bottom edge of the reflection.  The hair was light brown—but brown it was, indeed—with salt and pepper at the temples.  The eyes sparkled instead of lolling lifelessly, like those of a dead fish floating at the top of a stagnant pool.  As he stood there staring at the image statue-like, a thread jiggled in his brain.  A thread, that is what it felt like, he thought.  Uncomfortable and squirming through the ruffles and folds inside his head.  The image in the mirror vanished behind a series of numbers and symbols as the thread coiled and then uncoiled, slithering about.  He recognized what had appeared in front of him as a formula, or a theory of some sort written on a blackboard, but what it meant or signified he had no idea.  But then again, it hit him, he did; something to do with genetic structure.
      Genetic structure? I’ve never even heard of the term before…
      A noise from the doorway caused Marvin to blink, once, twice, three times in quick succession.  The Marvin he knew so well had returned by the last flutter.  He shook his sopping head of hair, sending an afternoon flurry of showers in all directions, and turned full-face in the direction of the sound.  Esmeralda stood five feet away, holding a white towel that draped over her arm with her mouth wide open.  He was not Errol Flynn, not even Karl Malden, and he was naked.  Esmeralda’s round brown eyes shifted downward, and a faint smile crept upward, replacing the first reaction of surprise.
      “Oh my goodness.”
      Esmeralda Garcia did not turn away.  Marvin followed the laser line of her sight, then covered himself with his hands.  He looked back up at her and smiled sheepishly.
      “I forgot about the towel. Stupid me,” he explained.
      “How did you think you’d dry yourself, silly boy?  You did not know I would return with this?” she said holding the towel up.  “I think you did.”  Her Latin smile grew.
      “No…I mean, I don’t know.  I was thinking of more important things.  I guess.”
      “Than drying off?  You are playing with me, you devil, you.”
      Marvin began to back up, in the narrow lane between the showers and the sinks, toward the wall abutting the central hall.  Esmeralda stepped forward, matching his tentative steps with two of her own.
      “No, no I’m not.  Honest Injun’.”
      Esmeralda had closed the gap and was preparing to lasso him with the towel.  “Then you would like to, wouldn’t you Marvin Fooster?”  She emphasized the word wouldn’t.  Another step.  She was within striking distance, now.  The towel went up; a set of barbells, two castanets linked by fluffy, white lust, the arms and hands of a referee signaling, “TOUCHDOWN!”
      Marvin closed his eyes and prayed.    
      “Ms. Garcia!  Where are you?” a booming voice demanded from the hallway.
      He shot them back open.
      “Madre de Dios!” Esmeralda whispered in shock.
      No, just Major Jeremiah Forsythe, returned from his meeting with Madre de Dios’ son.  Dios el mismo.
      “Quick, Marvin,” she said.  “The window!”
      Marvin glanced over her shoulder to the far end of the shower room.
      “I’m naked!”
(c) Patrick Sean Lee- 2011

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Felix goes to jail

This week's work:)

The Plot in the Sistine Chapel


In the year 2020, the Denver county jail, an institution rife with violence and bloody gang warfare, was touched by the hand of God. That year, a breath of grace descended on everyone there, including the warden, one Marsten Gabriel Dick, who had despaired of ending the death and destruction inside its walls.
One morning following their breakfast of pasty gruel, Rollo Heinz and “Beautiful” Myron Fluer, two inmates of moderate temperament, and having experienced a flash of genius, walked into the warden’s office with an ambitious plan. He listened patiently, and after they had finished, found himself unable to utter a word for twenty-four whole hours. They stood before him all this time, hands folded behind their back, waiting. At last he spoke, giving his tacit assent.
“I want to see the plans you’ve drawn up. Bring them to me, and then, perhaps, you may begin. God help us all.”
And so, God did.

***
In their efforts to recreate great art, the prisoners who inhabited Cellblock 3 stepped outside of themselves for the first time in their lives. In a way reminiscent of the masses of ancient Egyptians who built the great pyramids, or the millions of soldiers in the Second World War who fought in order to defeat the tyranny of the Nazis and Fascists, or more appropriately the craftsmen and brilliant Renaissance artists who created the Sistine Chapel, these men of absolutely no esteem to anyone except themselves united in a brilliant endeavor.
Rollo and Beautiful Myron set about to come up with the master plan, then after an all night meeting with their fellow cellmates, it was presented to the flabbergasted Dick.
It was true that Marsten Dick played the role of Pope Sixtus IV unwittingly, that he literally beat down doors in search of funding for the project in the ensuing weeks (that was far easier and infinitely more productive in the long run than quelling useless and devastating riots), and that he was the central figure of inspiration driving the impossible project. Even so, being all of that, it was Rollo Heinz who truly orchestrated the cellblock’s resplendent metamorphosis. His character lacked definition in nearly every area, save the one which landed him in the jail to begin with, and which at the conception of the project became the indispensable ingredient for its success; he was perhaps the city’s, if not the world’s, finest manager of men whose lives lacked any direction.
He had become obsessed with a vision to recreate masterpieces by the likes of Raphael, Perugino, Botticelli, Rosselli… and of course, Michaelangelo. And what finer address could there be for drawing inspiration for the communal display of their work there at the jail than the famed Sistine Chapel inside the walls of the Vatican?
Attempting to recreate this miraculous gallery in the heart of the county jail seemed to Marsten to be akin to allowing the patients of a lunatic asylum the opportunity to author bills of law in the Congress at the State Capitol. No sensible outcome could be predicted. Great trouble could arise. Yet he liked Rollo, and liked him well enough to trust him to create something unique, if not brilliant; something, too, which would occupy the inmates’ minds and keep them out of trouble.
The same day that the plans were approved, battalions of prisoners were given the go-ahead to begin gathering up the necessary equipment and supplies. It was Myron who, with three other prisoners, worked through several more days and nights, non-stop, to research and then draw up the final set of working plans necessary for the successful completion of work on the Chapel.
Construction finally began.
The entry was the first area to be addressed. It was austere and functional, but not exactly classical in design, so armed with sledgehammers and cold chisels, and a natural propensity for destruction, the group of demolition experts began its removal. It was widened and lengthened in height, and then a new set of doors, transom, and trim were set into it.
During this initial phase of the project the guards held their breath as workmen came and went at will. At Marsten’s command, passes had been issued, and groups of inmates flooded in and out of the jail, and used city trucks to go about the business of picking up material. Should even one of them have escaped, or stolen so much as a candy bar, the Warden would have been beaten to his knees and brought up on charges of gross misconduct alongside the Governor, who one year ago had appointed him. But Rollo pledged their honor, Dick believed him, and the city remained safe, although ignorant of the possible high crime in progress.
Once the architrave had been set over the new entry, the clerestory windows, which did not exist, were fauxed in along the walls, then the spandrels, pendentives, and vaults were constructed and readied for plastering. Up went LaVerne “Buddy” Budd onto the rickety steel staging at the end of it, and there, lying on his back singing “Panem de caelo” over and over, the great frescos were begun.
A balance between the miraculous project completed in the 15th century and the interesting attempt to recreate it in the Denver County Jail in the 21st, was beginning to be struck in an odd sort of way. The sacredness of the one site and the profanity of the other were counterbalanced and worthy of Divine humor. As were the character and genius of the former overwhelmed by the ineptitude of the latter. In its own way it was all supremely poetic.
Standing thirty feet beneath the singing painter on a visit to the site one afternoon late in summer, Marsten for the first time doubted the trust he had placed in Rollo. Of all of the possible choices for the leading role in the challenge to paint the ceiling, why LaVerne? Even an inveterate liar, a rapist—a scoundrel of the first order; someone like Zippo Gonzalez, with a hook for his right hand, would probably have been a far better candidate for the job.
“LaVerne can’t even spell his own name, for crying out loud,” Marsten lamented, neck craned and eyes squinting into the void above them.
“So?” returned Rollo.
“Has he ever painted anything that you know of? You understand the challenge of painting on plaster, don’t you?”
“Indeed I do.”
“Well then?”
“Well then what?”
“Can he paint it?”
“I don’t know. I hope so.”
Marsten shuffled uneasily when he heard this.
“But that’s insane. Why did you choose him?”
Rollo Heinz explained.
“Last month, before Myron and I inquired of the group which individual they would prefer for the honor—for no “committee”, we felt, could hope to achieve what one genius created 500 years ago, it must be done by an individual inspired beyond the ordinary—I saw Buddy sitting right where you see him now. He was in consultation with an angel. I know that that sounds crazy, but it had to have been an angel because I saw his wings. As they talked, I could see them fold, then unfold, as if he were using them to emphasize a point, or was anxious to take off and fly up and down the length of the chapel. I must admit that that impressed me. My lobby and my vote went immediately to him… I think he can pull it off.”
Marsten looked at Rollo to see if he was about to break out into a laugh, and when he was finally certain that he would not, he looked up once again at Buddy, rocking away high above him on the swaying platform as he sang and barked out orders for more plaster and paint in his terribly brutalized, lispy voice.
“You should at least put safety harnesses on them. What happens if one of them falls?”
“If they do, the angel will catch them before they hit the floor…or they will die. In either case it would be a gloriously frightening sight. And besides, Buddy won’t allow the harnesses.”
“Won’t allow them? Well, just who is Buddy that you’d allow him to make that kind of decision?” Marsten countered.
Rollo didn’t hesitate in answering.
“He is Michaelangelo.”

***

The steel pillars supporting the second and third tiers of the cellblock became, at the hands of the workmen, “Saints”, standing at the leading edge of the cornices, one above the other, in columns stretching around the open courtyard on three sides. That was the only visible deviation from the centuries old plan, but it was monumentally impressive, especially as it did not intrude visually on the masterpieces extending along the walls behind them. As Beautiful Myron observed on the day that the finished glory of it was unveiled amidst the popping of many corks from bottles of fine champagne, “The original plans were flawed”, and he might have been correct.
The old cell doors had been removed and replaced with solid panel wood doors which were then lathed, plastered, and immediately painted, to become part of the trompe l’oeil drapery along the first tier, the15th century frescoes along the second, or one of the figures in the gallery of popes along the third. The steel doors and locks were later donated to a salvage company connected to the Archdiocese as a kind of general thanks to the Catholic Church after much debate; all of that metal could have brought the jail a very handsome profit if it had been sold on the open market. But it was on December 24th that the decision to donate it was made, and a heightened spirit of goodwill had naturally dominated the discussion.
Regarding the housing of the inmates, each prisoner (or citizen/guest as they now preferred to call themselves) was afforded the same quarters he had enjoyed prior to the renovation, except for those who had been housed along the north wall. These men were moved to new cells constructed above the vault, and which were both spacious and well lit.
The north wall was the last to be tackled. It became Buddy’s greatest love for the next six months, the perfect representation of genius (the ceiling notwithstanding) at its completion. It was The Last Judgment. When he finally finished it late in the summer of the following year, he stepped back, five brushes in each hand, and stared silently at it for half a day. Satisfied with his efforts and exhausted, he marched quietly into Marsten Dick’s office and inexplicably petitioned him to commute his sentence so that he might be allowed to enter the Order of The Friars of Saint Benedict. And then he took a vow of silence.
“I’m terribly sorry, LaVerne.” The warden had replied. “It’s outside my power to commute your sentence. That’s up to the Governor. I could appeal to him on your behalf, though. In view of what you have accomplished I’d be more than happy to do that if you like.”
Remaining true to his vow, Buddy was unable to respond, and so he stood mute with his hands folded, and his head downcast. Finally he turned and walked back to his cell behind the portrait of Stephen I leaving Marsten to wonder at his sanity. He stayed out the remainder of his sentence in quiet meditation and pious reflection.
Upon his release two years, three months, nineteen days, eight 1/2 hours later, a Cardinal mysteriously appeared in a long black limousine and picked him up at the curb outside of the jail. He was whisked off to the airport, and then on to Rome, never to be heard from again. No one was surprised, but everyone was a little saddened, as he had not been able to even say goodbye.

***

The following summer a library was constructed above the chapel vault.
It had to be constructed on a shoestring budget. The cost of material and the lavish adornments in the hall beneath it had broken the bank, so to speak, and Marsten had at first vetoed the plan as superfluous. Even if the vast empty space could be finished off, to fill it with many thousands of volumes would require a sum of money that even he would find nearly impossible to raise. But Rollo, in one of his inspired Ciceroic bursts of eloquence, had convinced Mars to see it as the final golden spike, and at length, the warden had given in.
“Rough-hewn lumber to cover the floor and walls…or better yet, plywood, unfinished; that’s cheaper. And no insulation in the roof or walls.”
“Agreed,” said Rollo, “but a fireplace at the south end to add a touch of coziness and to keep the chill out during the freezing winters here.”
“Out of the question. No funds for it.”
“That’s non-negotiable. It has to have a fireplace. We’ll also need to get a decorator to scrounge up enough sofas and armchairs to make it a comfortable retreat for our men. Nothing fancy, but well crafted.”
In the end Marsten found himself giving in on every point and was forced to go on a two month expedition in search of money for this new phase of the project. The pockets of every benefactor in the city, and even those of the cautiously interested across the nation who had caught wind of what had transpired in that city’s jail, were tapped after many unsolicited visits by the warden. In Dick’s absence, Rollo and Beautiful Myron had refined the plan by hiring, at great expense, a friend of Myron’s on the outside to assist in designing a grandiloquent enclosure for the books. Of course no collection of them at present even existed, but that was beside the point. The two men in charge knew that if they could build the library, the books would come.
The audaciousness of the project notwithstanding, another problem surfaced during the interim of Marsten’s fund raising junket. Rollo and his small committee had dutifully taken over the administration of the jail, much to the displeasure of a number of the guards who resented taking orders from criminals. Word of it also reached the ears of the mayor, a very conservative man of small stature, who had opposed the jail’s remodeling from the outset. Back then he had roared into the office of Harris to demand an explanation, and after listing every reason under the sun as to why none of it should have happened, was tossed back out the doors and told to mind his own business. Technically the jail was the mayor’s province of influence, and so he had proceeded to State Court to have the Governor, the Warden, Rollo, and every other person connected with the outrage, brought to their knees.
His efforts were unsuccessful in view of the fact that first off, the jail was an immense source of public pride. Beyond that, and more to the point, the mayor, even though he was an efficient public servant, was heartily disliked. The law was overlooked after a vicious battle, and Marsten’s authority concerning the jail was left intact…for the moment.
Marsten at length returned with chests full of money, and what had begun as a minor bit of frosting on the cake turned into a full-blown renovation rivaling the chapel beneath it in grandeur. He and the governor had managed, thanks again to the vision of Rollo and Myron, to cement themselves into the city’s history of great leaders, but they had in the process given birth to powerful enemies on the hill, and the war was destined for re-ignition in the years to come.

***

The prisoner (or citizen/guest) Felix Gato entered into the library through the north door expecting to see a functional room filled with rows of shelves containing volumes in a similar arrangement like that of any normal library, not many of which he had ever bothered to spend much time in. What he saw assaulted his senses and destroyed yet again another portion of what he was.
Incarcerated for stealing hubcaps, peeing on the flower beds in Civic Center Park in broad daylight, and then spitting on the Archbishop who was ambling by (Felix had been an atheist before having been convicted and sentenced), he was immediately infected by grace after his admission. His spiritual redemption had thus begun.
Dick had specifically cautioned Rollo and Myron to use as much of the left over materiel from the previous projects in the jail as humanly possible, and that was the harbor from which the two illustrious inmates set sail immediately following Marsten’s departure. The results were astonishing.
“Plywood, he says. Use plywood to cover the floors and the walls and the ceiling. All right. We have twenty-eight sheets; enough to cover…umm…” he had begun.
“Nearly 900 square feet,” Myron offered.
“Yes. Well let’s try this…”
The rough exterior grade sheeting was halved, then quartered, and the two-foot square pieces were then set atop the floor joists, with opposing grain edges meeting to form a checkerboard surface. Teams of workers were then let loose with tins of multi-hued stains, and each square was colored slightly different than its neighbor. When it had dried and the prisoners had recovered from their bouts of coughing due to the horrific odor from the fumes in the enclosed room, the entire surface was polished with wax until it shown as brilliantly as a thousand suns.
Twenty-two holes were later knocked through the walls, much to the consternation of the floor finishers, and stained glass panels were set in, depicting a strange marriage of Christian and classically hedonistic subjects, somewhat along the same lines as Bosch’s famous painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights. Row after row of built-up shelves were decorated on their aisle ends with carved figures in bas relief, and as on the floor, the wood had been sanded and polished like the surface of a marble. A simple, unadorned chair stood beneath each of these ends.
At the distant southern end stood the massive walk in fireplace, fauxed in tinted masonry, blackened at the edges of the opening from blazing fires set inside it each day throughout the long Winter months. It was quiet and lifeless now, but the smell of burnt conifer pine still permeated the library.
In an open space bordered by rows of bookshelves, and 10 feet by 10 feet in area, stood a statue of a diminutive figure on a heptagonal wooden base. Though Felix had no way of identifying the man, it was none other than the beloved Laverne “Buddy” Budd, gone off long ago to celibacy and quietude in Rome.
He stepped forward and surveyed all of this. The odor of wood and wax and smoke-drenched paper filled his nose even more so than the visual feast spread out across the two thousand square foot sanctuary of the written word. Taking a seat at the first unoccupied chair that he came upon, Felix wondered how many titles dealing with vaguely spiritual matters were on the shelves surrounding him. Most likely hundreds, the library being situated as it was above the chapel. Somehow, some way, he determined to get a cot up here…and his meals. In this room there were no chattering inmates, just thousands of books, silence, and the warmth of cheap wood.

***

The plot to kill the governor was officially launched by a certain gentleman, a crook, Medford Stenchcomb. It took place at The Russian Club on East Colfax Avenue the evening following a bootless meeting with Mayor Copperfield concerning another wondrous project, outside the jail, along the banks of the Platte River. Even the idiot Copperfield scoffed at the idea, informing Stenchcomb that Marsten Dick, beloved in the city, would laugh at the idea. Stenchcomb took the matter entirely into his own hands.
He conducted the negotiations with a young woman of equally disreputable character by the name of Natalya Boshylenski Rostovsky, an exotic dancer by night in a sleazy bar three doors farther down the street.
“I’ll hate that goddam Harris ‘til I go to my grave,” Stenchcomb said, trying his best to be heard by the blonde Rostovsky sitting across from him at a table marked with the initials of many immigrants on its sturdy plank top.
“The Platte is a goddam eyesore...and I could make millions from the Stenchcoaster. That sonofabitch has gotta’ go.”
Natalya reached across the table and patted his hand gently. Indeed, she had always loved the fragile looking wooden contraptions, and saw in them a kind of metaphor to life itself, with their ungodly slow ascent at the outset, the momentary hesitation at the summit when a quick, deep breath could be scooped in, and then the heart-stalling plummet to the trough. The remainder of the ride, with its loss of real velocity and roll after roll of anemic hills, seemed incidental to her. Still, Stenchcomb’s marvelous plan for a one hundred fifty mile-long course along the banks of the Platte River, all the way from Denver to the eastern border of the state, and then back again, was almost more than she could mentally resist. Her sensibilities had been deeply offended when Copperfield had out of hand voiced his opposition to it, effectively sending the marvelous project to its grave. But, the real villain, she knew, was the governor.
Now, her husband, Yegor, was the perfect fool for the job of assassination. He happened to be at that very moment locked up in the county jail awaiting trial on charges of pandering, and cruelty to animals. The assurance that a barrel of money would be his should easily sway him into the conspiratorial camp the moment his wife whispered the details of it to him during her weekly visit. Natalya would furtively relate to him the small part he would be pegged to play, then smile and assure him that the very moment that he was released, his part of the fortune would be placed in his lap, in his brand new Mercedes, in authentic Russian Rubles. But only after the grizzly task had been executed successfully. The truth of the matter was, he would simply be the patsy, or the patrishky, and once he had done the deed and been wrestled to the ground by the detachment of police guards surrounding Harris, he would be on his own and headed for the electric chair to be fried tutto solo. Not even Miss Marple could possibly make a conspiratorial connection out of a lunatic’s personal vendetta against the governor, Stenchcomb assured her.
“You must be absolutely certain that what’s-his-name…your husband…realizes that he will have only one chance. A thrust to the heart, with an upward twist. Tell him that. And tell him, too, that the inmate standing to his right will immediately take the shiv and disappear with it into the crowd. No weapon, no crime. Tell him to act horrified…and cry, or something dramatic. Tell him that he’ll be fine, that everyone around him will be covering for him…but that he is not to discuss, or even mention the plan to anyone beforehand,” Medford laughed.
Natalya batted her eyelashes at Medford, and a light gale seemed to sweep over the table. The perfume in its wake struck a sensory note that started in his nose and wound up coursing its way downward to his groin, his particular Achilles heel. Beneath the table, she had deftly removed one of her spiked heels, then inserted her toes into his lap as though the five probing imps had their very own sets of eyes. With Yegor about to begin his walk to the death chamber, the thought naturally occurred to her that the not unhandsome and very rich man with the foul sounding last name might be a superb catch. Perhaps the two of them could bring his hundred fifty-mile rollercoaster to life in Leningrad…or Minsk.
“And what of me?” she cooed.
Stenchcomb had the look of an imbecile plastered all over his sweating face and knew for a certainty that within the hour he would be banging her for all that he was worth in the splendid bed in his penthouse. He did not accumulate a vast fortune by being stupid, though, and planned to have her done in, ground up like sausage, and flushed down the toilet somewhere in Commerce City when the deal was finally done.
“We’ll have to discuss that in deep detail. At my place,” he whispered.
Natalya pouted her lips and shot him a look of assent just as the four-member band on stage erupted into its rendition of Mussorgsky’s The Great Gate of Kiev, transcribed for accordion, electric guitar, tuba, and snare drum. This assault on the masterpiece brought the crowd to its feet, Medford and Natalya’s included. The steamy couple, though, literally galloped to the exit in order to conclude the assassination negotiations in the comfort of a super king size bed.
***
Felix Gato had so much become enamored by life in jail, and the Chapel and library above it in particular, that he actually conducted serious scholarly research viz a viz his right to remain incarcerated. He stumbled onto a very amazing legal writ one day, dated 1928, in which a certain individual named Harley Benschwadt actually sued the City and County of Denver for the right to be locked up. He was an itinerant cowboy, habitual drunk, and had tired of sleeping under the stars in the company of rattlesnakes and wolves. At the time there were considerably fewer inmates in the then, new county jail. Bedspace was not a problem, as prohibition had not yet swollen it out of all proportion, therefore in lieu of having him committed to the state looney house, the District Court had ruled in his favor, and ordered the sheriff to let him stay for as long as he wished, with the proviso that he must give his horse and saddle to the city and swear to vote Republican in the upcoming elections.
Harley was agreeable to parting with his horse and saddle, both of which he was extremely fond of, but his personal opinion of Herbert Hoover bordered on a feeling that approached loathing, and a desire to see the bastard shot up or lynched. There was not a Benschwadt walking anywhere on the face of the earth who would stoop to voting for a Republican. He politely declined the offer in toto, withdrew his suit, and rode off in the dead of winter into the mountains, never to be heard from again.
As the precedent existed, strange as it was, Felix calmly asked to see Judge McDougal. His request was granted, and quite out of character he argued his case brilliantly. Of course, for the first time in his professional life he had done his homework. McDougal, who harbored no great love for the man, agreed on principal that his request was within the law, but knowing Felix to be a moron, asked him for what length of time he intended to stay locked up.
“Sir, until my time on this earth is finished. Though it would be nice to be allowed to travel about the city in the interim…should the need arise,” Felix added as an aside.
McDougal was infuriated. There seemed to be no end to the lunatic ruminations of this man. Nonetheless, in jail he could not possibly pester him any longer. He answered Felix.
“You are an idiot. Take your choice; either stay in jail…and I am all in favor of that…or resume your miserable life in polite society. Either way, if I ever see you in my court again, I’ll personally pull the lever at the gallows after I’ve put the noose around your neck. Now, get out!”
Felix had won.
Back in the safety and comfort of the benign institution, he laid the law books aside and dove headlong into theological study, arranging by some miraculous means to be moved into the cell behind the picture of Saint Polycarp, nearest to the southeast stairway to the library. Philip Simple, the jail’s pudgy chef, knowing that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, provided the high octane fuel necessary to sustain even a racehorse in the prime of its life, and Felix soon enough began loading his stomach up with as much food as he could bear and still walk away unassisted from the dining table. By virtue of this seeming display of gluttony he was able to skip the noontime meal, and thus avail himself another full hour of study, in unbroken concentration.
His presence in the library in time became almost taken for granted by the other inmates who came and went as whim directed them. Sitting quietly in his chair near the fireplace opening, book in hand and very meditative, Felix became almost invisible.
One evening in mid-August just moments prior to the chiming of the dinner bell, two nefarious looking inmates slithered into the hall of books and took seats on the far side of a floor-to-ceiling bookcase. Whether they didn’t realize it, or didn’t care, they took no notice of Felix, who was seated on the other side of the bookcase reading the last few pages of Summa Theologica, trying his utmost to concentrate, while at the same time listening to his belly beg. He was just about to close the cover and amble out of the room to the dining hall when the heavily accented voice of Yegor Rostovsky plowed through the wall of great literature and made Felix postpone any movement he was preparing to make. Rising very quietly, he tiptoed the few yards across the handsome plywood floor, which thankfully uttered not a squeak, to the edge of the bookcase. There he pressed his ear up against the open space between the tops of the tightly packed books and the next shelf bottom, and listened with great anxiety to the conversation underway.
“I tell you, Spats, it’s a sure thing. I can’t miss. I’m willin’ to give you a cut, like I said. I needs your help to steer the cops away from the governor for just a second or two,” the voice that had caught his attention grated.
“How much of a cut?”
“I’m getting’ five hundred thousand rubles. I’ll give you a third,” Yegor lied. Ostensibly he was to receive two million rubles, and that only after his release, but Spatso Clem needn’t know the truth of either of those two small details.
“Rubles? What the fuck is rubles? I don’t give a shit about fuckin’ roosky money. How much in dollars?”
“I dunno’. Thirty or forty to the dollar I guess. Maybe. But that many rubles goes a long way in my country…an’ you can come with me an’ Natalya after I get outta’ here,” he lied again.
Felix heard a shuffling of feet, and then Yegor’s voice dropped to a bare whisper, as though the information he was about to convey was in some way potentially more damaging than what sounded to the attorney/theologian like an assassination plot.
“I gotta’ tell ya’, the Russian women got tits the size of basketballs! You’ll love ‘em. ‘An with the fortune you’ll have when we’re done with this…hell, ya’ can have a hundred of ‘em! Think of it!”
Spatso was chronically horny, and he did think of it, imagining himself dribbling a pair of monstrous bosoms for the first twenty-four hours straight…after his own release, of course.
It was not a well conceived plan, but then neither Yegor nor Spatso had graduated from Harvard, and what would have been considered ludicrous from a strictly business point of view by even a freshman at that school, seemed entirely workable in the minds of the two inmates. Moreover, to the future chagrin of Spatso, Yegor had been advised in no uncertain terms in his native language by the backstabbing woman who called herself his wife, to breathe not a word of the plot to anyone. No one. There was no need for the unfortunate Spatso to be involved at all. Certainly, she suspected, knowing Yegor intimately, that he’d want to involve half of the jail, being a typically stupid petty criminal…and a man. But if word of the plot did not spread like a wildfire (a major question mark in the Medford-Natalya camp), poor Yegor’s best acting efforts would do him no earthly good when he was nabbed, and his retinue of ne’r-do-well friends began to sing.
There followed an apprehensive silence near the end of which Felix devised a plan of his own. To disappear. Such a plan being even less likely of success than the one that he had just heard, he eased himself back across the floor, praying that the plywood would not creak, and sat back down, feigning a deep sleep. A moment later the two conspirators emerged out of the aisle and walked like two peacocks toward the exit twenty feet away.
Spatso, having a suspicious and wary nature, noticed Felix first. His eyes darted around the elegantly polished room, then backward in the direction from which he and Yegor had just come. There they came to an abrupt rest on Felix. The inmate dug a claw into his partner’s arm, and the two men stopped and turned.
Spatso looked into the eyes of Yegor and silently posed the obvious question. What do we do with him? Felix’s arms dangled over the upholstered arms of the chair. His head leaned hard to starboard, and to his saving credit, he had not neglected to force a little drool out of the corner of his mouth.
Yegor stared back at the man for several seconds, then nodded no to his friend, whose own inclination was to walk over and beat Felix to death with a book. In that brief instant, Felix’s life and dedication to all things spiritual was spared the ignominy of a death at the hands of Bonhoeffer or Kung. The conspirators turned, resuming full plumage, and exited the library.
Felix shook for ten minutes, and for the first time in the several weeks that he had been interred, questioned his decision to remain in this place with these unpredictable, insane people. The die had been cast, however, and the only rational option open to him was to report the conversation to Warden Dick at the earliest possible moment. The only person in the world worth his keeping silent over concerning an assassination plot, was McDougal, but even in his present saintly attitude Felix could little hope that he had mistaken the word governor for judge; that the Almighty had sent two devils to do the cursed man in.
When the muscles in his body relaxed to the point that he could safely rise without collapsing, he got up and sprinted to the exit, down the back stairs, and straight to the office of Warden Marsten Gabriel Dick.

(c) Patrick Sean Lee, 2011

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year

2010 is a memory, now. Gosh, the years pass so quickly. Too quickly.

But, I've been busy. Busy and quite happy. I feel vital and confident!
I have to laugh at myself...will I finally complete Marvin this year? Yes. And if it isn't good enough this time around, I'll write it all again:)

“Thank you, Marvin Fuster. We simply can’t do without desire, now can we?”
Marvin’s eyes began to tear. No, we cannot.
He fell back onto his rear and brought his eyes to rest on her feet. He knew his place. He did not look up again until Amy left him and the tree to continue along the path alone. Marvin stared at her back as she moved away, climbing the hill effortlessly. Her image would haunt him and follow him from that instant onward, through every dream. After she’d gotten to the crest and he lost sight of her on the other side, he looked over at the tree.
No words. It was just a tree.








Chapter Three


He woke several times from broken dreams. Trapped and drowning inside a car that floated backward up a rushing river. A little girl with dark, curly hair who sat beside him in a tiny house high up in the trees. A beautiful young woman dressed in white who smiled at him in a bleak and cavernous room, motioning him to come to her. A demon snorting puffs of white, steamy breath, standing before a fence in a snowstorm. A mansion, with a retinue of servants, and another young woman at his side, her hand on his shoulder. Stacks and stacks of books laying on a polished wood countertop. A land inhabited by strange creatures garbed in spiral gowns, calling to him to enter their dance. A tree that spoke. A young woman dressed in white, with the face of an angel, smiling at him. Searing bright lights, and in the lights, a creature with wings outspread peering down at him. His mother, in the corner of their kitchen, her battered face covered by trembling hands. But most often, he dreamed of the young woman dressed in white who beckoned him to leave all of this and come to her.

His head ached. He reached up with a hand to touch the spot where it hurt most and felt gauze. Gauze wrapped around it, beginning just above his eyebrows in thick, padded layers. Marvin opened his eyes, confused for an instant as consciousness slowly began the deliverance of stable images. This place was real. It was a hospital room, and he was lying in a bed with a gleaming chrome frame, covered with a clean sheet. He was cold. A tube snaked from a half-empty bottle dangling from a stand, down into his left arm, and he instinctively wanted to yank the needle out.
He had been injured—how? When? He wanted a drink. Anything. Whiskey, wine, even cough syrup. Did they still lace cough syrup with alcohol? He couldn’t remember.
A nurse breezed in, dressed in polyester blue, carrying a clipboard. When she saw Marvin with his eyes opened she dropped her arms to her sides and broke into a smile. “Well, good morning sir! Welcome back.”
He said nothing, merely stared at her. She glanced quickly at the chart fixed to the footrail. “We don’t have a name for you. How are we feeling this...” She went on as he tried to bring her face into focus. A young woman with indistinctly colored eyes, slightly squinting as though she couldn’t see the chart or her patient very well. Her lips were full and puffy, and barely moved as she spoke.
His head hurt.
“Why am I here? How long? What happened?” he interrupted her.
The nurse laid the chart she carried onto the sheet and then walked to the bottle, touching it with her stubby fingers as if to assure herself that the clear liquid hadn’t frozen or congealed into a solid form.
“Good.” She looked down at Marvin with that thin smile. “We’re so glad you’re finally awake.”
Who is we? He saw no one else. Why did she continually refer to herself as we?
“Why am I here?”
“You were injured.”
She gently rolled his arm over and looked at the IV, then seemingly satisfied, left it and brought her fingers to his eyelids and lifted them. Marvin watched her eyes dart left, then right. They were pale brown.
“Good. Good,” she said releasing her grasp.
“Good? Good? I feel like someone hit me with a goddam’ hammer! What happened? How did I get here?”
“We don’t know for certain what happened…”
We, again.
“You had a nasty accident somewhere,” she said. “You split your head open, two…” she glanced at his chart again, and then continued. “Two nights ago. It was very serious. You lost a considerable amount of blood. We put you back together, and here you are. Do you remember anything? Can you tell us your name?”
“It’s Fuster. Marvin Q. Born May sixth, nineteen thirty-two…or thirty-three. Thirty-two, I think. Whatd’ya mean I split my head open? How? I don’t remember nuthin’.”
She jotted the name down. “I’m not surprised. Basilar skull fracture, Mister Fuster. A considerable amount of bleeding in addition. Some brain swelling. The doctor will explain it better when she arrives.”
“I know what a basilar fracture is.” I do?
“That’s nice,” she said in a condescending voice. “If you know what it is, you’ll quite understand what we’re up against. We were unsure whether an elderly man like you would even survive. Knowing what it is,” she reiterated with a smile, “we’re sure you can understand.” She winked at him. “But, we’re glad you’ve awakened. That’s a positive sign.”
“We’re glad we’re awake, too. When do we get outta’ here?”
She laughed. “When you pay your bill. Otherwise, you’re our prisoner.” She posed the next question more seriously. “Do you have a home address?”
“’Course I do. 1830 Wazee. Central Packing Company. South end of the loading dock. An’ in case you’re wonderin’, I don’t have no money.”
She scribbled on her chart again as he spoke.
“Hmm. I’m sorry. Homeless…”
“I ain’t homeless. That’s my home, and I’m comf-terble and happy there.”
“We’re sure you are. It isn’t our place to say anything about that, but we’re sure you’ll want to arrange to go to a shelter…social services can help you there. You’ll need someplace clean to recuperate. We’re just happy you’re awake finally.”
With that she turned and began walking out of the curtained-off area of the room.
“It’s clean enough there! YOU go to a goddam’ shelter—all six or ten of ya’—just for one night! You’ll see…” He heard the door swish open and the squeak of her shoes on the polished tile.
“You’ll see,” he mumbled. “You’ll see.”
The morning light flooding through the windows across the room rippled, darkened slightly, quickly, and then grew bright once again. Marvin brought his eyes to bear on it and thought he saw the hazy outline of a figure moving, and the distinct shimmer of what looked like wings before the vision dissipated. He continued to stare for several moments, waiting for something further, listening for any sound. Nothing, only the occasional clattering and squeaking of heels in the hall outside the room.

“How much you want for it?”
The squat, balding man with a full butcher’s apron covering his gray suit eyed Marvin, not warily exactly, but carefully. They stood at the edge of the dock behind the meat packing plant, near to the spot where several boards covering its face had been roughly removed.
“I won’t let it out for less than two thousand a month,” the man said at length.
“Hah! You’re nuts! I can lease a goddam’ penthouse for that.”
“I can see you haven’t been in the market for quite a while, Mr…Mr…”
“Fuster. With an F, as in Fuck you.” He instantly regretted having spit that out. It could only be a deal breaker. “Tell you what I’m gonna’ do. I’ll give you a hundred-fifty a month for this rathole. That’s my best and only offer.”
“There are no rats here. Look. Look for yourself.” He bent down, a glint of afternoon sunlight catching hold of his scalp making it look like an oversized cue ball aproned with black fuzz. “Clean as a hospital operating room. No rats.”
Marvin bent down and peered in.

“How are you this afternoon, Mister Fuster?” The voice was softer than the one he’d just heard. The other belonging to the nurse who wanted to stick him in a homeless shelter a moment ago, and that had belonged to several people. Marvin opened his eyes. She was short, with a stunning figure disguised poorly beneath her white lab coat. The doctor stood at the side of his bed, stethoscope at the ready.
“Okay, I guess.”
After blinding him with her tiny flashlight for several seconds, she pulled the sheet down to his waist and then undid his hospital gown. “All right, then, take a deep breath. Hold it, and then exhale slowly,” she said firmly.
He did as he was instructed. The faint odor of her perfumed hair falling close to his nose, jumbled up though it was with the antiseptic smell of her hands, caused him to relax and try as best he could to expand his chest to the size of an Olympic swimming pool. Marvin was able to fill his lungs to the size of a water glass. A sharp pain struck his head as he inhaled, making him wince, and the doctor noticed immediately.
“Okay?”
“No. Yes.” His lungs deflated when he spoke, garbling the indecisive answer.
The flashlight reappeared. He closed his eyes, weary of being blinded.
“Open.”
“Do ya’ have to keep doin’ that?”
“Yes,” she answered. “I need to see your pupils. Open, please.” She laid a hand on his temple, and her fragrant hair brushed his cheek. He opened his eyes and took another deep, painful breath.
“Take yer time, doc.” The light flashed back and forth.
“Count to ten for me, please.”
“What for?”
“Just count.”
“Okay. One. Two…four, five, six, seven…nine, ten.”
She snapped the flashlight off and left him without a word to scribble something onto the chart she’d brought with her.
“I never was any good at numbers. Lemme’ try again. I’ll betcha’ I can get all the way to a hundred this time.”
The doctor didn’t bother to answer as she scribbled away, her back to him. He watched her, wondering whether or not she was married—wondering why he would wonder that. Suddenly he saw the dimming, and then brightening once again at the far end of the room, a few feet in front of her, and the faint outline of wingtips.
“Holy smoke! Ya’ se that?”
She wheeled around at his exclamation. “See what?”
“Somebody else is in here! Somebody with wings! Dintja’ see it? The light an’ them wings? Ya’ musta’! It was right in front of ya’!”
She eyed him for a second before turning quickly to scan the area behind her, then turned to face her patient once again.
“Wings?”
“Yeah! Christ Almighty! Ya’ missed it! It was there, I swear it…I saw that same thing this morning. Jesus Jones, what’s goin’ on?”
The doctor slipped her pen into the clip of her chart and walked to his bedside again. She squinted at him, turning her head sideways a bit, as if the valley on the left side of his nose was what needed to be observed.
“Mr. Fuster,” she said at last, “you’ve suffered a brain contusion, which means…”
“I know what it means. And a basilar fracture. I know all that. That don’t mean my eyes are bruised. I saw it! It weren’t no trick of the eyes!”
“It isn’t your eyes that are playing tricks on you. It’s your injured brain. Your eyes are dilated…not badly, but enough. These distortions of vision are quite normal for someone who has…”
“That weren’t no distortion!”
“Certainly. Be that as it may, these hallucinations will pass in time as your brain begins to heal itself. Now, I want you to try and get some rest. I’ll check in on you a little later. Try counting to a hundred after I leave.” She smiled and touched his bare arm gently before turning to leave.
“I saw it. I did.”
“Rest now, Mister Fuster. I’ll return a little later.”
“When do I get outta’ here?”
“In good time,” he heard her answer from beyond the curtain.
Marvin waited, glancing back and forth from the space at the end of the curtain to the bank of windows, positive that the doctor was as beautiful and desirable as he had seen her; equally positive that something else was in the room watching him, and that it would reappear. Neither image a trick of the mind.
“I ain’t nuts. I ain’t nuts. I ain’t nuts.”
And yet, he questioned that shaky pronouncement over the ensuing days. The shadowy form continued its visitation, more often than the beautiful doctor or the plural nurse. Where they listened to him try to describe the vision in inadequate words, and spoke back to him, the specter wandered in and out, silent. Always with the wings that sometimes moved like the shadow they were attached to, sometimes drawn closed and tucked tightly to its back.
Finally, at the end of Marvin’s fifth day, just when he was getting used to being insane, the creature approached his side in the darkness and whispered to him in a voice that brought chills to his soul.