Appropriately...Chapter 39, one of the better ones in Marvin:) I wrote it to Miriam Makeba's "Pata Pata". What a terrificly joyful song. I captured the energy in 39:)
“He’s here? In this house?” Richard railed.
Maribeth sat at the breakfast table across from her father. A second ago his face had been hidden behind the morning edition of the paper, before she blurted out the news. Now the paper lay crumpled on the surface of the table, a distorted photograph of Tiger Woods demonstrating his re-worked swing. He glared at her, waiting for an explanation. Trish gently placed a hand on top of Maribeth’s, and answered for her daughter.
“Now dear, just remain calm until you hear…” she began.
Richard shot her a steely glance. “You’re in on this, too?”
“No, Richard. I just heard myself, moments before you came down to breakfast. I think perhaps we should call the paramedics. I’m not sure. What do you think?”
“What the devil are you talking about?”
“No, Momma. I’m worried sick, but at least he’s talking. I haven’t heard a scream, or even a moan. So far I think he’s okay. Every time I ask him if he’s all right, he says, ‘Yes, yes, my dear, I’m fine. Some very strange things are happening to me, that’s all.’ I don’t know what that means. I wish he’d unlock the door.”
“Explain yourself, Maribeth Anne Harris. What did he do? And WHY is he here?”
“I was up all night, Daddy, outside the door to his room.” She closed her eyes, revisiting the scene.
“He injected himself. Last night, about eleven…”
Ten fortuh-nine, Robert mentally noted. He stood in his usual place, close to the table with a carafe of coffee at the ready.
“Outside by the bar. I watched him do it…there wasn’t a thing I could do to stop him.”
She recounted the whole affair, every detail, as Richard sat dumfounded listening, his jaw drooping. At several points Trish raised her hands to cover her mouth, shook her head in amazement, slowly.
“Hydrochloric acid? Oh dear, whatever possessed him…”
“Less than half a drop, Momma. There were so many other chemicals he mixed. So many. I was right there. He kept saying he knew exactly what he was doing. I couldn’t stop him. I really couldn’t even doubt him after seeing all that I’ve seen.”
She finished by explaining that she couldn’t leave him alone, even for a few hours, at John Delilah’s loft, and so she made the decision to bring him home with her again. What other possibility was there?
“There was none, dear. You did the right thing,” Trish consoled her.
“You should have taken him straight to Denver General…or the looney bin,” Richard offered curtly. “I can’t believe he actually did it.” He snapped his head over to Robert.
“Go downstairs to his room. Knock. If he doesn’t answer, break the door down. I’ll be damned if some kook is going to croak…”
“The pleashuh is all mine, suh.”
“Robert! You will do no such a thing,” Trish said. She removed the napkin from her lap and set it firmly onto the table next to her plate. “You will remain here in the kitchen. I’ll go to him myself. If he is sick, then we will call for an emergency unit. If he is not, then we will leave him be until such time that he unlocks the door himself. Is that clear?” she said—looking at Richard.
“Puhfectly, ma’am.” It had become clear to Robert from years of observation concerning household matters whose word was law when push came to shove. He brought the carafe to Richard’s cup. Bending close to Richard’s ear, he spoke in an apologetic, low voice.
“Suh, ah do beg yuh pahdon. Ah am at a loss as tuh what tuh do. Should ah…”
“Do as Mrs. Harris says, Robert.”
“No, Robert,” Maribeth said, searing through him with her eyes. “Just leave. Go feed the dogs, or take out the trash. Just go. We’re perfectly capable of pouring our own coffee. Go eavesdrop on someone else.”
“Oh, now, Maribeth, that was very rude,” Trish said, shocked by her daughter’s stab at poor Robert. “Perhaps you owe him an apology.”
“I do not, Momma. I’m sorry, but Robert has caused so much trouble. He spied on that gentle old man downstairs. My guest. In my house.”
“Beggun yuh pahdon, Miz Marubeth,” Robert said out of character, argumentively, “He did try tuh entuh a ruhstricted govunment site. As we all know veruh well. Gentul may not be the right wood for the man. Connivin’ might be more appropriuht.”
“Only to gain computing power! And you knew it!”
“That’s enough,” Richard said, raising a hand. He looked across the table at Trish and said, “You and I will go. If he doesn’t answer our knock, then we’ll call for help.”
He rose and waited until his wife joined him, and then they walked side by side down the hall to the basement door. Rothschild quietly appeared behind them, slowly wagging his massive tail, drool dripping from the pink tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth. When Richard pulled the door open, Rothschild sat back on his haunches and stared down the first flight of stairs dolefully, as though he sensed a soul in need of being dug out of an avalanche. Weak, gray light filtered through the windows across the hall adding a gloomy feeling to the house—a foreboding of the indigent genius’s fate.
“Stay there, boy,” Richard said to the dog, and then he and Trish went down. When they had crossed the expanse of the recreation room both noticed the hypodermic needle and unlidded flask resting on the corner of the bar. Trish cringed. The reality of Marvin’s intention to reverse his age hit her forcefully, the lengths to which he had actually gone suddenly becoming real. From the mouth of the flask an odor, sweet and thick, permeated the air around it. Richard picked it up, waved a hand over the opening an inch or two above it.
“It smells like…oranges. Maybe he mixed up orange juice and mainlined vitamin C?” he said.
“The liquid looks like filthy water, not orange juice,” Trish commented.
Richard stepped to the door and listened for a moment. There was no sound inside at first. He lifted his hand to knock, Trish standing close, grasping his free arm nervously. A split second before his knuckles moved forward to touch the wood, a faint rustling, like the wings of a hundred birds, broke the silence, and then the muted sound of Marvin’s voice. Both leaned an ear close to the surface of the door and waited. A pause, and then Marvin spoke again, faintly, indistinctly.
“Abot-buba bot. Sat waguga!” it sounded like. The faint rustling again, and then the sound of joyous laughter.
Trish turned her head and whispered, “That’s his voice, but I don’t understand…what is he speaking?”
“Sounds vaguely…African. An African dialect. What the hell is going on?”
“Can you translate it?”
Richard jerked his head back with a look of astonishment at the question.
“Well, you are fluent in German and Japanese.”
The words continued to roll from Marvin’s lips, broken at intervals by others in English.
“What? I don’t know…” Then, very softly… “Where she is. Doesn’t matter…” And then loudly, “Wa-imia, wa-imia sat, be-eenga…My nose looks strange. God! It’s melting! Look—do you see it, Anselm?”
“Someone’s in there with him!” Trish said.
“Ah, Jesus H. Christ!”
But it wasn’t him.
Richard rapped forcefully on the door. “Marvin! Open this door right now. It’s Richard. Open up!”
There was a lengthy pause; a gathering of thoughts, and then Marvin finally spoke in English.
“I know who it is, Rich. But I can’t. Not just yet. Give me a few more days. I don’t want you to see me like this. Tell Maribeth and Trish that I’m fine. Not to worry.”
“I’m right here, Marvin. It’s me, Trish. What’s going on in there? Oh please, open the door so that we can help you!”
He laughed, his voice having strangely risen in timbre.
“Help me? Goodness, gracious, it’s too late for that! You’ve already been a great help, but now I simply have to wait it out—let the elegant formula do its work. Oh no, what’s this? My hair is falling out!”
“I demand that you open this goddam’ door!” Richard spoke into the wood panel loudly.
Suddenly the stereo sprang to life inside the room, the volume turned high so that the panels of the door rattled with the notes.
“What in blazes?”
They listened for a moment in silence and bedazzlement. Rothschild had crept down the stairs with great effort on his tortured legs, and sat behind them, panting. Maribeth arrived just as the music burst through the door and filled the room. Robert was the last to get there, and stood at his favorite corner at the edge of the hall peering at the strange scene unfolding.
“Daddy! Momma!” Maribeth shouted above the music.
“Shh! He’s fine, dear. His nose is just melting, and his hair is falling out. Be quiet, we don’t want to alarm him,” Trish said, grabbing Maribeth’s shoulder.
“It’s the same language,” Richard said to no one in particular.
“He’s dying!” Maribeth cried out.
“No. If he were dying, he’d be playing a requiem, I think,” Trish answered.
Rothschild joined in and barked once. Loudly.
Inside the room. The voice of a young woman singing in a lively, African dialect. The energetic back-up singers. Bongos, tambourines, a guitar, and the frenetic chords leaping from a parlor piano. “Pata, Pata…Hihi ha mama. Hi-a-ma sat…” And Marvin right on top of it.
Outside the room. The perplexed family could hear the sound of his feet, even, bouncing on the thick carpet, as though he were wearing bass drums. From the ceiling, a hundred—feet?—tapping the lid of the room. The rustling noise. The walls and door shaking madly, merrily.
Richard turned sideways and flung his shoulder into the door.
Richard turned again and noticed Robert lurking at the corner, one eye, one cheek, and the tip of his nose pressed around it against the mahogany jamb.
“Robert! Go find an axe. Hurry!”
“Yes, suh.” Robert disappeared.
Richard wheeled back and addressed the door again.
“Marvin, I’ve sent Robert to get an axe—please turn that music down so that you can hear me! Open-the-DOOR!”
“Marvin answered, “I can hear you perfectly, Rich. No need to yell. The music is Makeba’s, in case you’re curious. It’s brilliant, yes? So appropriate for the moment at hand! No, Timoteo, leave the volume be!”
“Timoteo?” Trish asked no one in particular.
“Ohmagod, what’s happening?”
(c) Patrick Sean Lee, 2011