THUS WITH A KISS
The darkness splits and then a stampede of morning sunlight gallops into my hospital room. It is my estranged wife Suizette who has opened the drapes. A bright blue sky and a conical green hill with a tiny cloud for a hat peer in at me. I raise my right hand to shield my sensitive eyes but I am trussed by both hands like some Gulliver in needles and tubes and tape. My hair is matted, I need a shave, and God I need a bath.
I mumble, “Gee. What a perfect screen-saver day it is.”
My estranged wife and I (her “strange” husband as we still joke) hold fingers and Suizette asks, “How do you feel?”
I answer her, saying, “I’m the Morphine Buddha, Baby.”
The morphine has white-washed my pain just enough. The big pain, for sure, but I never realized, until the morphine drowned them, the infestation of little aches and pains, physical and mental, that I took for granted in every waking moment for years. As strangely pleasant as the morphine is, I didn’t want the morphine stupor. I need some pain to feel alive. What the hell does that say about my existence?
I then blurt out as if Suizette had been following my internal conversation, “I’ll take the red pill, Morpheus,” and then when she looks puzzled at my allusion I have to prompt her, saying, “Remember? ‘You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes’? Remember? From The Matrix? I’ll be hacking the Matrix soon enough.”
She purses her mouth and shakes her head.
I continue with my drug-induced bravado humor even though I see it is hurting her, saying, “I just hope there is nothing. I don’t want to sing in some choir forever,” and I know she is still religious but I say, “I hope I don’t have to carry my personality around through eternity.”
Suizette suddenly exhales with a laughing sob, saying, “Amen!” and her eyes glisten.
I won’t accept dialysis. What’s left of my life would then only revolve around hospitals and doctors. I’d be a human hook-up between insurance companies and medical providers, a link in a computer network. A conduit for cash flow. And a constant burden to Suizette, I know, because as sure as Hell her religious nature will compel her into years of more sorrow together with me. That would surely be Hell.
I suddenly say out loud, “I can’t even write like this,” and I raise the coiled tubing that is punctured parasitically into my skin and fastened onto my bloodstream like a swarm of lamprey eels onto a victim fish.
Suizette looks toward the door and says something and then she goes to the door. I can make out that she is speaking with three women. She gestures toward me and I can see them nod. She says to me, “Ray, you have visitors,” and the three women approach my bed. Suizette goes out into the hallway. What now?
I squint at them. They approach with such confidence that I assume they are a team of doctors, another corporate rotation of doctors who are about to introduce themselves to me and whose names I subsequently won’t remember.
But I am profoundly wrong.
Can it be you? It was so long ago. I have lived with the memory of you as seventeen for all these years. It’s you. The eyes. The cheek. The mouth.
You say, “Hello, Ray.”
The morphine lets through the pain, “Julita,” and the ecstasy, “Hello, Julita,” and if I’m hallucinating I am careful not to dispel the vision, “I’m so glad to see you,” then my vision wavers and I cast out as if a lifeline, “Is it really you?”
You nod and you smile and you say, “Suizette told me… everything. She found me. She asked me to come.”
I am then aware of the other two women. They are younger and I suddenly know, asking, “Your daughters?” and I stare at them for pieces of you.
You acknowledge them and introduce them to me and I hear you say, “She’s the one who first stumbled upon your book Between The Letters.”
The one daughter says, “I read your blog. It’s… interesting.”
Then you talk rapidly and I know you are trying to absorb the vision of me as I am, and you say, “You embarrassed me with my adolescent ramblings. These two,” and you point to your daughters, “have been merciless.”
I reply, “Well, I’m down to 150 pounds again. That’s what I weighed back then. I’ve been trying to get back…,” and I choke, “…to get back ever since.”
You change the subject and you say, “I’m married to the best husband in the world. He’s outside talking with fellow doctors. When your wife told… explained…to me, my husband insisted that we fly here…with our daughters… a kind of vacation… that’s not what I mean…,” and then you say brightly, “Ray, I’m glad you married and had the wondrous experience of parenthood,” and then you look at me hoping that I will pick up this awkward conversation with some happy concurrences, but instead I tilt my head and ask you, “Who told you I was a parent?”
I don’t mean for that to embarrass you, so I joke, “If I have any children, believe me: they aren’t admitting it.”
You say, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I… I thought … Ray, didn’t you want any children?”
I focus hard at you and I say, “Hel-lo-o!”
You hold my stare and return the serve, saying softly, “You know I didn’t think of you that way, Ray.”
I say, “More like a girlfriend confidante?”
You close your eyes and reply, “Oh, Ray.”
I change the subject and say, “They are finally publishing a collection of my blog stories.”
You say, “That’s wonderful!”
The morphine has mollified my bitterness and I can say matter-of-factly, “Yeah. At least Suizette will get all the rights and royalties, so that’s something. My life insurance is going to fight because I’m refusing dialysis. My doctors say they will help me all they can with the paperwork.”
I can see the pity in your eyes. I don’t want that. Fortunately you then reiterate, “Published. That’s great.”
I say, “Yeah. An actual three dimensional book that you can drop on your foot or prop open the door with.”
I can then talk to you like we did so long ago, and I say, “Yeah, most of those stories have strong women as the main characters,” and I add pointedly, “Write what you know, right?”
You don’t get my allusion to you and you ask, “Why women?”
I reply wryly, “For obvious reasons I am hesitant with macho characters.”
You ask, “What do you mean, Ray?”
I reply, “I am just ‘way too in-touch with my feminine side, Julita.”
You ask, “Why do you say that?”
I reply, “Because, Julita, I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body.”
I see you all are taken aback in shock by that confession.
I add at last in mock seriousness, “Of course I’m a lesbian. I hope that doesn’t affect our ‘respectful affection’ for each other,” and you and I and your daughters laugh.
You touch my hand and say, “Oh, Ray. That’s the Ray I remember,” and when you smile it is the Julita I remember.
I then say, “There is one thing I ask, Julita.”
You say, “What is that, Ray?”
I reply with nothing to lose, “Kiss me, Julita. You never kissed me.”
Your daughters whisper.
You touch your lips with two fingers and your eyes glisten and then you lower your hand and place it on my hand and lean down toward my face as in a thousand of my dreams. I struggle to lift myself up and I have a comical vision of myself as the shark from the movie Jaws rising to consume his victim, as appalling and emaciated as I must look to you.
But you lay your lips upon mine.
The morphine has dulled my sensations so that your lips are a mere pressure upon my lower face.
Your scent makes me cry. I’m losing it. It must be the morphine. I can’t stop crying. You are alarmed.
Suizette has returned and asks, also alarmed, “What is happening? Ray?”
I die into a crescendo of light. I am walking. I am on the Southampton tour bus. I am walking down the aisle. There is no place to sit. I see an empty aisle seat. In the window seat is a radiant girl with long full wavy blonde hair. This time I am not afraid to sit down, staring. It is you! I ask joyfully, “Julita?” You are still seventeen but you say to me, “Thank you for your acceptance and valuing of me so many years ago, Raymond.”
Then your eyes look sad and, my God, they glow and you say to me profoundly, “Ray, you have to let me go now. The rest is silence.”
Follow This Link To My AMAZON.com SITE
But, the most ancient scrolls are kept on: THE TABLE OF MALCONTENTS