out of the ashes

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.
“No. Yes.” His lungs deflated when he spoke, garbling the indecisive answer.
The flashlight reappeared. He closed his eyes, weary of being blinded.
“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.
“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.

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