Saturday, July 30, 2005

Billy goes under - part 2

I'm in a different room, a bigger one. Everyone's wearing those blue mushroom caps - people lying on gurneys, blinking and looking around, people in scrubs, walking by, a few gathered at a desk, talking "Have you tried their fries? Dude, they are a-mazing. They put like this seasoning on them?"

Bastards. I haven't eaten since yesterday. Not that I'm hungry. But still.

I guess they're all done, it's all over. I don't feel so bad, except. Oh, wait a second, here it comes.

Holy shit. I've never felt anything like this before, not even after the last surgery. But maybe people don't remember pain very well. Plus I had that morphine button before. I clutched that beautiful button in my hand all night. Push the button, push the button, good button.

I don't have a button now.

"Mghlapth," I say. I'm not sure what I was going for there, or if anyone could have heard me, but a nurse appears, looking down at me.

"Do you need something?"

"Hurts," I say.

"Brant?" she says, sweetly, "Need some Demerol here."

Brant moves fast, needle in hand, he or nurse or someone shoots something into the tube that's stuck into my hand.


I feel wonderful. Bless you, nurse. Bless you Brant. This warm wave just washes over me and cuddles me up and I feel a big loopy grin spread itself all over my mug. There's pain there, somewhere, but I just don't care, I don't care, tra la. I look around. Nobody close to my left, but to my right is a guy - a kid, maybe 19 or 20 - on a gurney like mine, big padding on one shoulder.


He rolls his head around, and flashes me a Demerol grin.

"What're you in for?" We are moments away from being old buddies.

"Fltjopblablepepoipwit shoulder," he says, beaming. "Shit hurts, man."

I nod, sagely. Nurses crowd around him for a minute, a curtain is pulled, but I hear him chatting away back there, to whoever is hovering around.

"...I'm a dancer, see, a ballet dancer," he's saying. The nurses disperse, until there's just one.

"Did I hear you say you were a ballet dancer?" Damn, I'm chatty. It's suddenly terribly important, this conversation. The nurse standing over him smiles at me - is it indulgently? and pulls back the curtain so he can roll his head around again and look at me.

"Yup," He nods, his head moving against the pillow, "I'm with the San Francisco Ballet."

"No shit," I say, "In the book I'm writing, my main character is a ballet dancer."

"Wow. Really?" he says. I doubt he would be this enthusiastic without the drugs.

"Yeah! It's called Hoodoo - working title - and," I want to tell him more. How this is no A Very Young Dancer sort of book. How it's actually really dark and creepy and twisted and all tied up with God and visions and I know he'd get it, we're Demerol buddies, after all, but they're wheeling me away.

"Hey," he says, "look me up on the site,, I'm there!" He looks up at the nurse, "She's writing a book with a ballet dancer!"

"'s called Hoodoo..." I raise my hand, waving goodbye, as I disappear through the door.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Note to writers: Vicodin is not a performance-enhancing drug

Yes, I know: Hemingway had alcohol, Sartre those mescaline experiments, and Hunter S. managed to pound out amazing things while on...whatever he could get his paws on, but Vicodin just doesn't cut it. It takes the edge off the pain, but brings along with it nausea, sleepiness (I picture the Disney dwarf in Snow White), and shallow naps punctuated with menacing dreams. Profundity (or even the illusion of it), nope. Inspiration, zip. Clarity of thought, don't make me laugh.

I know, excuses, excuses. The story will continue later, after a short, terrifying nap.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Billy goes under

The orderly sits me down in a room, setting a neat pile of clothing next to me. They are considerate here, providing me with a real cloth gown that ties in back, and a robe to go over it. He tells me to remove all my jewelry, so my wedding ring goes into Mr. Billy's capable hands, along with bracelet and earrings. One earring won't come out, and the orderly tells me to let the nurse know.

A nurse comes in to stick me with the I.V. I warn her about my veins: smallish and deceptive, you can think you've hit it okay, but it collapses, or rolls away, or the needle just bounces off. These details are just speculation on my part - I tend to look in the direction of the ceiling while they're rooting around in there. My last hospital stay, both arms alarmingly bruised, nurse slapping away to wake up sleepy veins while I retch into a plastic tray.

This nurse assures me she won't try more than twice, and, she beams, "We have lidocaine, to numb you up!"

"Yay, lidocaine," say I, knowing full well it isn't the pain that freaks me out. I ask her to tell me when she's hit it. "I've hit the vein," she says, "now I just need to advance the needle."

She says nothing for a terrible long moment. I don't feel a thing, but my vision starts to tunnel in, that warm, distant roar in my ears, a high-pitched whine riding on top. I swim up to tell the nurse I may throw up, feel the kidney-shaped pan in my hands, stomach heaves, but they don't let you eat before surgery, nothing in there to come up. Enormous blobs of sweat slid down my body under the gown. Why does my body do this, I wonder? I'm not afraid, and it doesn't hurt, but I can't stop it. I'm barely able to ask Mr. Billy to crack the window. The nurse has said she won't try again, gathering up her goody basket and leaving the room. We can't figure out how to recline the chair, so I slide down onto the floor.

Another orderly guides me to another waiting room, Mr. Billy not permitted to come along, away he goes with my valuables, my clothes and books with the orderly in the plastic "patient belongings" bag. Seven Good Housekeepings and one Ebony. I pick up the Ebony. The doctor comes in, wearing a blue mushroom cap to match my own. She tells me what's going to happen, looks at my earring. "I can't get it out," I say, demonstrating. "Well," she says, "If you can't get it out, I guess there's not much danger of us losing it."

Another orderly, or nurse, walks me to the operating room. Complicated table meant for me, surrounded by blocks of machines, two full-color flat-screen monitors. People in blue caps introduce themselves, the doctor, the assisting doctor, the anesthesiologist. I climb onto the table, going over my vein story once more for the anesthesiologist. He grins and pops in the needle, no muss, no fuss, no lidocaine, no retching. It occurs to me that the anesthesiologist is the only man in the room, and the oldest, somewhat avuncular. I'm comforted by all the women, and the elderly uncle.

I wonder what they'll get up to, while I'm out, that they're so concerned about my jewelry coming off.

And then I stop thinking anything.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Castle of everywhere

Alfonse was just this close to finishing, two more stones to heave into place, his men moving together, they were one creature, onetwothree push, sweat making trails in skin, Alfonse moved his hands like he was conducting an orchestra, his men the music.

The stone moved home, fitting so sweetly into place it could have been born right there. Alfonse walked along the walls, dragging his hand slowly across stone, it sang into his skin, nearly unbearable harmony of stone on stone, fitted so close like it lived and breathed and shaped itself to its purpose.

Alfonse looked up a flying buttress, almost too delicate, soaring upward, into the clouds, arcing high over his head, over his men, the freeway, the glass-and-steel towers, living stone higher than all those dead things, office buildings like toys at the feet of his castle, sinuous buttresses and domes and windows of a hundred colors and towers of stone as intricate as lace.

This was his, this had been born from his dreams and spun out into the world, Alfonse felt the tears running back to his ears while he gazed up, he didn't hear the horn of the bus bearing down, didn't see it, maybe his eyes still dazzled, but a hand pulled him back just far enough, and he did feel the whoosh of the bus going past, his dirty coat lifted and flapping around him.

Alfonse looked around at the people waiting at the bus stop. They were looking down the street for their bus, not looking at him, not looking up. Why aren't they looking up? How could they see anything else? If they would only lift their eyes, away from the street, their papers and magazines, away from their shoes and their bills, if only they would look up, they would see.

They would see he had made room, he'd made a home, for every one of them.

Sunday, July 17, 2005


The van was getting that road trip stink: unwashed bodies, peanut butter sandwiches, crushed crackers, spilled soda, Boyd hated to think what was growing underneath the seats. The kids were singing that stupid song for the thousandth time and the trip had barely started. Another day and a half of this and Margie would be back in charge, she knew how to settle them down, get them studying in their rooms while she and Boyd had their own reunion, grownups time, he could make it that long. He pulled up to the pump and hopped down to fill up the tank, popped his head back into the van to call back, "Okay, nobody get out, I'm just getting gas, we'll stop for dinner in about an hour," before padding around the back to unhook the nozzle, shove it home.

Boyd saw his reflection in the window, hair sticking up, wrinkled shirt, puffy eyes. He thought about Margie, her skin under his hand, her round bottom, belly tight with pregnancy, another person moving around in there, Boyd on the outside pressing his hand against the creature inside, pressing back, Margie one of those women who got bigger and brighter when pregnant, like the kid's personality got added to hers for nine months, or something.

"Everybody here?" Boyd fell into the driver's seat with the automatic question, "count off," and started the engine while they counted, "One. Stop it, Jared!" "Two," piping up from under a towel, "Three," "I'm not touching you I'm not touching you I'm not..." "Four," "Da-ad, make him stop," "Five. Shutup, twerp."

Five. It stopped at five. Boyd killed the engine and threw an arm over the seat to look into the back.

"Okay, who's missing?"

"Not me," said a sleepy voice, followed by a chorus of giggles and "not me"s.

"Very funny. Okay, I see Darryl, Ashley, Jared, Brianna, Andrew. Wait, that's only five. Who'm I forgetting?"

"That's all of us, Dad," yawned Darryl.

"Yeah right." Boyd sighed and grabbed at his hair. Margie would freak. No, she'd be rational about this, if she were here. "Count off again."

"One." "Two, I'm two." "Three." "Four."

A Mercedes waiting behind them honked. Boyd poked his head out the window and waved him to another pump, then got out of his seat so he could face the back of the van square, crouching between the two front seats.

"This is not the time to play tricks on Dad. Okay? Okay. I see Darryl, Jared, Brianna, Andrew." No, this is wrong this is wrong this is wrong. There were five a minute ago. Why can't he remember the fifth one's name?

"I swear dumbhead, if you poke me one more time..."

"Don't call your brother dumb, Andrew." Boyd rubbed his eyes. None of the doors to the van had opened while they were sitting there, the others had to be here somewhere. "Look under the blankets, maybe someone's asleep under there."

"Ow, hey..."

"Leave your sister alone, Jared," Boyd was losing it. There was Jared, there was Brianna, there was Andrew. That was only three. Oh Jesus, oh Jesus God help me now. What was the name of the missing one? How could he forget his own kid's name? He wasn't even sure if it was boy or a girl.

"Look, look, sit still, for just one minute!"

The kids stopped wrestling for a second and looked up at him. Jared and Andrew. His sons. He thought there were more than two, but he wasn't sure now.

"Goddamnit, you come sit up here next to me okay?"

The Mercedes honked again, and Boyd saw, out the back window, the driver flip him off. "Yeah, fuck you too," he muttered, still holding on to Jared's arm, Jared, his son Jared, Boyd looked at him, this kid staring back at him, and kind of laughing, and there was a pop, an actual - pop - and Boyd was holding nothing.

Boyd lurched forward, crouched awkwardly, and felt the van dip with his movement. It was empty, Boyd the only one here. He knew something was missing, something important, he felt sick deep in his stomach like he'd fucked up something big, but he couldn't, couldn't bring it into his head.

He turned to look out the front windshield then sat in the driver's seat, looking out, down the road that ran past the gas station. Where am I going, wondered Boyd.

Friday, July 15, 2005

What's it doing way over there?

My expectations for medical tests have been lowered in recent months. Once upon a time, I would walk into the ultrasound room with an idea that the technician would turn on the machine, point her wand at me and exclaim, "Well, there's your problem!" and turn the monitor so I can clearly see a tiny demon hammering away at my gut with a pickaxe. He would peer over his shoulder at me and grin maliciously before taking a hefty swing.

"Wipe that smug grin off his face," I would announce, standing on the bed in my paper gown, shaking my fist at the monitor, "Vaporize the bastard!"

Too many times, though, the tech would prod me and gaze glumly at the monitor, clicking her mouse to bracket off bits of sludge from other bits of sludge, muttering to herself, "hmm...that could be...but I don't know..." like she was reading tea leaves. Any questions I asked would be answered with "You'll have to ask your doctor," or even a weary gesture toward the printed sign that scolded any patients who might expect answers from the technician.

Today, however, was different.

Ron the technician has a soft lamp set up in the lab, and a mobile of whales overhead, but I'm much more interested in that grainy gray sludge moving around on the monitor. He's prodding at me with the wand, when suddenly those beautiful words are spoken:

"Well, that's what's causing your problem. And it's a big 'un, too. Look at that!"

And I do, and yup, there it is. No demon, but...something. That's definitely a...thing.

"But what's it doing way over there?" adds Ron.

You got me there, Ron.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Meat suit

Been spending too much time in medical complexes, not enough time on the bus lately, gotten tardy in my posting. Strange how the whole howling world wants to focus down to a single point when the animal envelope - the meat suit I put on every morning at the end of dreamtime wandering - malfunctions.

Tomorrow I get to spend a day inside darkened rooms, dully illuminated by glowing displays of my innards, breathing and seething and going about their innardly business, charcoal-edged light glinting off shining surfaces.

Yesterday I sat in a hard plastic chair on Institutional Green carpet, not enough to hide the unspeakable stain of something liquid splashed under my feet. A woman stands behind a little podium and calls names, a ninety-year-old woman in a wheelchair and her fatuous seventy-year-old daughter, "Joyce called me a pistol today. A pistol! Well, I guess I do have a sort of energy, you know, I think people are attray-acted to something like that..." I could just about hear the old woman's eyes rolling around in her head at her idiot-child, her own comments dry and and spare.

Another plastic chair in another waiting room, an hour earlier. A giant man, massive head, thick lips, Central European accent, also in a wheelchair, and dark blue hospital jammies. "Not a milyon dollarss - a milyon dollarss over twenty yearss, not like you have it all right now."

"...but it's good to have money when you need it, for healt' reasons, or whadever," his mantis wife leans forward reaching one emaciated arm out to lay a hand on her husband's knee. Sitting next to her is a young woman in scrubs, Our Daughter the Doctor, smoothing the way for Daddy in this trying time.

"But the house, beaudiful things, I have a wife who likes fine things, I work hard all my life to give her those things, it makes me happy, people come to the house, they can' believe the beaudiful things..."

Different chair, in the hall this time, earlier yet in the day, reception area renovation, plastic sheeting, dot-matrix printed signs directing patients back through a dark inner hallway, receptionist squeezed in behind her desk, edging out past patients in line to use the copier, laughter bubbling out from behind the door of the break room.

It's too quiet, everyone too submerged in their own broken-down meat suits, no-one meets your eyes, no-one talks, except to their own family, to the receptionist, the nurses, only to say help me, help me.

I'll be back on the bus soon.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The pigs

(Just one more and I will finally let this go. I think.)

Sharon rummaged in the closet for her sweater, the pink one with the wide neckline, it showed off her collarbones. Gary was taking her out for dinner, first night home after visiting her parents in Wisconsin, clothes all jumbled around, suitcase hanging open like a mouth on the bed, earrings brushing against her neck.

" took 'em days to get the whole thing cleaned up, and the stink, baby, was un-fucking-believable."

"-what?" Sharon pulled her head out of the closet to look at Gary, in his boxer shorts, standing in the middle of the room like he'd forgotten what he was doing, blue shirt half-buttoned, one sock on.

"The pigs, you remember I told you about the pigs, I - ?" Gary broke off, and lifted his head to one side, like he could almost hear something, not quite, he pushed his brows together, listening harder.

"Oh yeah," Sharon spotted the pink sweater and yanked it out of the pile, grinning that she didn't disturb the rest of the stack, "the drowned pigs. Weird."

"A-" said Gary.

Sharon was pulling the sweater on over her head when Gary said something else she didn't quite catch, and then she heard another voice, a deeper one, one she didn't recognize, did someone else come in, dear god she's half-naked, skin prickling up she yanks the sweater quick hard down over her head her hair all in her face now and panicking she brushes it out of her eyes someone else is here.

"Who's there?"

Gary is standing right where he was a second before, but now he's half-crouching like he just ducked something that whizzed over his head, eyes open wide.

"Who is it?" Sharon hears her voice whine, can't see anyone but she knows she heard a voice, not Gary's.

"My name is Legion," said Gary, or, Gary moved his mouth in the shape of those words, but like he was dubbed, someone else's voice came out, not someone's, a hundred, a thousand someones, millions, the whole world spoke out of Gary's mouth and Sharon felt the chill crawling up her neck, running on million-insect feet, up into her hairline, Gary still ducking something she couldn't see, eyes big, looking toward the ceiling, like a cartoon he was frozen in his boxer shorts and Sharon knew the universe had shifted and any minute, any minute now the earth would dissolve out from under her feet and she and Gary would fall forever.