“Virtue is dead,” said Innocence, his small hands sifting through the shattered pieces of stone. The broken pile of rubble was all that remained of what used to be his wife, “The world has ground her into dust.”
“We must bury her,” sang the Siren Phoenix, “deep within the loam, lest ghosts come haunt this hallowed place, her flesh made food for crows.”
“She’s not dead yet,” said Agent Snuffleupagus, scanning the broken body with his Serum Vision goggles.
“The Behemoth says there’s hope,” added Mr. Wister.
“Hope is a bitter pill,” said the youngest, a child, not much older than his father. “One it seems we will have to endure.”
The Emperor King, alone in his liter, remained silent.
Outside, a thousand armies surrounded the cave where the Artifact lay, but they could not pass, such was the power of the Craterhoof Behemoth. A horde of dragons flew past, launching a barrage of deadly breath attacks, fiery comets that slammed into the Behemoth. Orange blossoms erupted along her flank. Her massive form swayed to one side, but if she felt the impact, it did not show. Gollum crouched beneath her, trembling and crying. A phalanx of pikemen charged the massive beast, stabbing at her invincible feet. Absently, the creature shifted, the smallest of steps; the soldiers went flying, their brave assault scattered like so much chaff. The Craterhoof Behemoth seemed unconcerned by the armies, staring resolutely ahead, smelling the air. This war was a diversion, they were trying to confuse her, to distract her from the true enemy: doctors.
She had let her guard down once and the nefarious high priests seized the opportunity, causing great harm. It would not happen again. Her myopic eyes gazed at the horizon, every sense focused on protecting what remained of her family.
• • •
“Wait here,” my uncle gestured to a pastel lobby full of chairs and magazines.
“Why?” I looked around, a little confused.
“Politics,” he said awkwardly, “there’s siblings,” he gestured with his hand, establishing a hierarchy for each word, “nephew, grand child.”
I shook my head, “I don’t understand.”
“I just need to make sure that everyone is OK with you seeing grandma.”
My shoulders slumped as I realized what he was saying, “I’m the black sheep,” I started to cry.
“It’s OK, brother,” he put his arm around my shoulder, “I’m the black sheep too.”
My family didn’t approve of the things I was writing or the way I conducted myself. To them, I was obscene and ungodly. My uncle’s preemptive countermeasures were probably unnecessary, a result of his paranoia, but hidden inside lay a kernel of truth— unflattering things had been said about me in his presence. I stood in the hallway for a few minutes, crying quietly to myself, feeling broken and alone. My uncle returned and gestured for me to follow. I walked down the hallway and into a nightmare.
When I came out of the darkness, my mom was hugging me, her arms warm and comforting. She was dressed in nurse’s scrubs, a name tag clipped to her pocket. “It’s OK if you can’t handle it,” she said softly. I couldn’t stop crying, snot and spit pouring out of my face. On a bed against the wall, a gremlin lay, my mom said it was my grandma. She was green and dull, her skin drained of its color. The ghoulish face was swollen and stretched, growling softly with each breath. They had dressed her in a loose gown covered in floral print, the bright shapes a disgusting contrast with the monster inside. How many people had died wearing that same gown? Her eyes were closed. Her jaw hung limp against her shoulder. Someone had shoved a massive tube down her throat, then connected what was left of her to a series of wires and beeping fans. My body shook, trembling uncontrollably, sobs wracking my fragile form.
My uncle stood by the bed holding her pallid hand in his own, “You taught me to be so mentally strong,” he said loud enough for everyone to hear.
My mom pulled me closer, trying take my pain into her own, “We know where we’ll see her if she doesn’t make it.” It was little comfort, the promise of an afterlife, better to sleep, untroubled by sacred dreams.
“You were with me all those years I couldn’t tell you where I was,” my uncle continued, “But that was my choice,” he said bravely, “to be a patriot.”
My mom’s phone began to ring, an obnoxious digital squall turned up to the highest volume, she removed the device from her purse, but waited to answer the call, “Do you want to sit down?” She gestured to one of the chairs in the corner. I shook my head, unable to speak. “Do you want to hold her hand?” I looked at the mechanical thing in the bed and shook my head. She took the call, walking out of the room and into the hallway. My grandma’s face hung limp, lips curled around the translucent, green tube. My grandma was already dead. The thing that lay there was a zombie, kept alive by dark rituals. I stood there crying, not wanting to move, frozen with grief.
Worship music played on a tiny stereo, its voice thin and hollow, echoing off the cold tile and walls, mixing with the grotesque cacophony. My mom returned and handed me a tissue.
“Was that Tina?” Asked my uncle.
“Lynda Hamner,” my mom replied, “she wants to meet Nathan and see grandma,” she turned to me, “she put some programs on the frequency specific machine for your Chron’s.” My Chron’s? I broke down crying again. Who the fuck gave a fuck about my Chron’s? My mom pulled me close, “If you want to tell her something you can. They can hear you, even if they don’t look like they’re responding. She’s probably up there in the corner looking down at us.”
“I’m not convinced, yet,” my uncle came over to us, shaking his head, “she’s going to make it.”
“That’s what Jackie was saying,” my mom said, invoking the name of the most powerful of my Fates, “They’re weaning her off the vent and she’s starting to breathe on her own. She’s one tough cookie.”
“Trust what your gut is saying about this miracle,” my uncle nodded dramatically, “because however this turns out, it is a miracle.”
“Her abdomen doesn’t have a bruise on it,” my mom said, amazement in her voice, “and the motor was on her lap.” My mom had been the first to arrive at the scene of the accident. She saw the bloody mess before anyone. “There were angels in that car guarding her.”
I looked at my grandma out of the corner of my eye. Her skin was green and her breath came in unsettled bursts. Her hair was squished on one side, sweaty and damp. I had never seen it so messy. She always used to look so nice. If there was a miracle in all of this, I couldn’t see it. If angels had been guarding her, they had done a shitty job.
My mom grabbed another tissue and handed it to me, “Elaine and Preston both called. They want to help. I told them there’s nothing they can do.”
My uncle began to sob, “They can live their life as an example of this woman. That’s what they can do. The way she turned her cheek to John and Elmer…”
“Grandpa Jack passed yesterday,” my mom said sadly.
“I know,” my uncle lowered his gaze.
I didn’t know who grandpa Jack was, but it seemed that everyone in my family was dying, our clan was under attack. By winter, we might all be dead. A loud, beeping alarm began to sound and an oppressive fan turned on, pumping air into the lifeless lungs of my zombie grandma. She arched her back, controlled by the hand of some unseen, monstrous creature, then returned to rest, drooling out the side of her mouth.
“Did you get the car turned in?” My mom asked, rubbing my back with one hand.
“We came right here,” replied my uncle. “We made the entire trip in seven and a half hours, and that includes the time it took to load up all of his stuff. Strategically, the entire trip was rather simple.”
“Noelle and Hannah are coming in tonight,” my mom said. That was good. I needed to see my sister. I wanted to see my niece.
“I’ll pick them up,” my uncle said.
“Her old boss is going to do it. He’s going to let her borrow his car while she’s in town.”
“Does he have a car seat?” My uncle asked suspiciously.
“Is it properly installed?” His antennae raised, scanning for danger.
“Yes,” my mom replied.
“You inspected it?”
“No, but her old boss is pretty thorough.”
“Is he a father?” My uncle raised one eyebrow, his powerful brain considering every angle. My mom nodded. “Alright,” he acquiesced finally. My sister’s former boss had passed the mighty word probe.
We stood there, watching my grandma sleep, listening to worship music and the persistent, caustic beeps of the robots who attended her. Slowly, my sobs lessened, turning into tears, then the tears ran out. I returned to the world. I put my arm around my mom, “How are you holding up?”
She sighed deeply, a weariness washing over her, “I’ve had my moments. It feels good to have your arm around me.”
“Let’s try to do it more,” I looked over at the bed, “Some day that’s going to be you or me.”
“Not for a long time,” my mom squeezed my hand.
“We don’t know that,” I pulled her closer.
“This!” My uncle gestured at the two of us, “This is the miracle!” My mom and I had never gotten along. We rarely touched and almost never hugged, “Continue to bridge those differences,” my uncle put is hand on my shoulder and looked into my eyes, “and remember that you two are unique individuals.”
“We’re not,” I shook my head, “we’re the same person.”
“That’s why we bash heads,” my mom agreed.
“Strong will!” My uncle said in his best Russian accent, “Da, Ukraine!” He raised his hands triumphantly into the air.
We stood there, staring at my grandma, watching her breathe, watching her fight. My mom and uncle talked back and forth, gossiping about family and the various people who had called to offer condolences. As they talked, a thought occurred to me, “If she comes out of this,” I cut them off, “she’s so stretched out of shape…”
“The body is resilient,” my mom said confidently.
“She’s one tough Ukraine,” my uncle confirmed.
“Why are you in scrubs?” I asked, noticing my mother for the first time.
“I worked today,” my mom said self-consciously. She had never been comfortable with her body.
“That’s why I had to come get you,” my uncle filled in the missing piece.
I wandered over to my backpack and sat in one of the hospital chairs. I pulled out a bag of dried prunes and began eating reflexively.
“Knock, knock,” a pleasant, perfectly spherical nurse trundled into the room. She had short, brown hair and gigantic glasses, “I’m the night nurse, just stopping in to say hello. I’m from Texas, if you can’t tell by my accent, born and raised on a ranch.”
“We’re ranch kids, too,” my uncle said.
“We used to run cattle,” the nurse continued, “but now it’s more lucrative to rent the land to deer hunters. My husband worked in the oil field but this year he got sick with a genetic blood disease so he’s hunkered down, taking care of our animals, waiting for the hurricane to roll in.”
Hurricane Isaac was building in the Gulf of Mexico, threatening to make landfall a thousand miles away. There was so much pain in the world, so much calamity and anguish. It was no wonder no one survived.
“I was excited to hear about you guys doing reiki with her,” the Texas nurse gestured at my grandma, “I took a class in it about five to ten years ago in nursing school.”
“It wasn’t reiki,” my mom perked up, “it was a frequency specific machine, a descendent of the Rife machine. They were curing cancer with Rife machines years ago when the FDA stepped in and confiscated their equipment. Now the creators are going through the FDA and they’ve created the frequency specific machine.”
“That class was really interesting,” the nurse began changing my grandma’s bedding, “it covered all the holistic things they were doing hundreds of years ago.”
“I have a holistic practice here in town,” my mom approached the Texas nurse and handed her the frequency specific machine, “and Dr. Lynda Hamner is coming in to—”
“Where do you get one of these?” The nurse looked at the tiny white box with its digital display and wires.
“They cost $2,400,” my mom dodged the question, “it dramatically changed my life.”
“Where did you get it?” The nurse handed the machine back to my mom, “I ask because I would like to know.” Something in her tone was wrong. She didn’t want to buy a frequency machine, she was suspicious of my mother’s voodoo tactics, probing for information, afraid that the device might do more harm than good.
“The doctor who’s coming to visit sold it to me,” my mom said, “She can program it for whatever your needs are. I’m sure she could help with your husband’s blood disease.”
The nurse checked my grandma’s vital signs, recording what she saw on a log book. “I was in Rhode Island last fall working with a doctor who took cancer cases nobody else would touch. People came to him from all over the world. I saw all sorts of things, but I never saw one of those.”
“I have a brother who is dealing with Parkinson’s,” my mom pressed on, “and this machine has done amazing things for him.” My mom’s obnoxious phone began to ring, drowning out the beeps and fans and worship music.
“I’m going to check on my other patients,” the nurse took the opportunity to waddle out the door, “but I’ll be back.”
My mom left the room, talking on the phone. My uncle stood near the foot of my grandma’s bed, staring off into nothing, “One of my last experiences,” he said, remembering, “was to rotate the Hubble 180°. It went from facing out to facing in. I focused it on a quarter that was sitting in a gutter on Capitol Hill.”
My mom returned and handed the phone to my uncle, “It’s your wife.”
He took the phone in his giant hand, “Yeah, we got in safe, door to door in seven and a half hours, and that was with load time and two stops for gas!”
My mom turned to me, “Do you mind sleeping in the same bed with uncle David tonight? He snores.”
“He snores like an earthquake,” I said. “Sleep is a big issue for me right now. The pills make it hard to sleep, I have to dose marijuana cake just to get 6 hours. I’m already going steroid crazy. If I don’t get enough sleep, I’ll start hallucinating and hearing voices. I can keep it together, but only if I get enough sleep. I’ll be fine on the floor in the basement.”
“David can sleep downstairs,” my mom said.
“We’ll work it out once we get home,” I ate another prune.
David hung up with his wife and handed the phone back to my mom, “After I spun the Hubble,” he turned to me with his wild, sunken eyes, “there was this projection screen that was 40 feet tall and on the screen was a Susan B. Anthony sitting in the middle of it and it looked like it was sitting on the table right in front of you. If they have something like that, imagine what other things are out there!”
“Yeah,” I said, only half listening, staring at the thing that used to be my grandma. It didn’t even look like her. Her eyes were baggy and her wrinkles had gone away, her face seemed relaxed and without shape, like the sculptor had left the room before finishing his masterpiece. We sat in silence, listening to worship music and the infinite breath of a thousand whirring fans. Eventually, Dr. Hamner arrived. She was an old woman with straight, white hair, slight and well-dressed, a beauty in her day.
“This is my son, Nathan,” my mom introduced us. I stood and offered my hand, but Lynda didn’t take it, instead placing her hands on my shoulders and staring around me, scanning the edges, her eyes darting here and there, as if she was reading invisible runes.
“It’s nice to meet you,” she said, reading my chin and collarbones, “I wish it was under different circumstances.”
“Me too,” I sighed.
She finally met my gaze, still holding my shoulders in her hands, “I’m sorry about your grandma.”
“It’s not,” she countered, “but what can we do?”
And that was the fuck of it all, the nasty wizard behind the curtain. All of science and every magic trick, and still we were helpless. We could only stand by and watch, hoping for the best while contemplating our own, fragile existence.
“You came over from Denver today?” Lynda turned to face the specter of my grandma who was coughing mechanically, as if remembering that this was something humans do.
“Was the weather good on top?” Another machine began to beep frantically.
“It was raining,” I said, distracted. “What is that beeping?”
“I think her tube needs to be suctioned,” replied Lynda.
“Hey guys, sorry about the assignment,” the friendly Texas nurse reappeared, a little out of breath, “they’ve got me scheduled on both sides of the floor. I’m losing my mind running back and forth,” she went to my grandma’s side, then noticed Lynda for the first time, “You weren’t in here earlier, y’all are trying to confuse me!” She turned to my grandma, raising her voice and talking as if addressing a child, “I’m going to give you a little suction, OK?” She inserted an instrument into my grandma’s mouth, working it around the giant tube already shoved down her throat. Her mouth stretched, wider than I believed possible, every muscle in her face relaxed and sleeping.
“Have you been in an I.C.U. unit before?” Asked Lynda.
“Once,” I said, remembering the agonizing weekend spent watching my girlfriend’s mother die, “it was horrible.”
My mom’s phone began to ring, drowning out the other terrible sounds. She answered it, leaving the room as she talked.
“Do you spend much time here?” I asked.
“Not anymore,” replied Lynda, “I’m a physician. I used to work here.”
“Is a physician the same thing as a doctor?”
“Yes,” she smiled at my ignorance, “I have my own outpatient practice now. I kept my privileges here, but I don’t use them very often.”
My mom returned, hanging up her phone as she walked.
“I’ll be back,” said the Texas nurse, finishing up suctioning my grandma and heading towards the door, “Sorry I gotta keep running in between.”
“I just saw them bring a crash cart,” my mom said to Lynda. She nodded as if that were a bad thing.
“What’s a crash cart?” I asked.
My mom stared at the bed, “It’s what they use when they’ve got to put someone down who doesn’t want to go down.”
“So they strap the person into a cart then crash the cart into something and the person dies?” I joked. Lynda laughed. That was good. I liked people who understood my sense of humor.
“Let’s look at what you’ve worked up for Nathan.” My mom said.
Dr. Hamner pulled a frequency specific machine out of her purse, “I wasn’t able to program anything special because I don’t know him, but I loaded a fibro program, something for the large intestine,” she began clicking through the various protocols, my mom watched the LED screen, “here’s one for his stomach, then the small intestine and this is for general inflammation.”
“Esophagus?” My mom asked, “I don’t think he needs that.”
“I have Chron’s in my throat,” I said, remembering all the times I had felt the tiny ulcers, like food trapped in my wind pipe.
“I think it’s yeast and fungus,” my mom said quickly. She had diagnosed me with her Broken Jesus on a Cross technique, but I doubted her methods. She was still trying to convince me that I had parasites, not Chron’s disease.
“We can argue about it later,” I said, not wanting to fight in front of my grandma.
They began hooking me up to the frequency specific machine, attaching sticky pads and wires to various parts of my body.
“Positives on the shoulder and negatives down here?” My mother lifted up my shirt.
“How many amps?”
“One hundred,” Lynda moved her gentle hands over me, feeling my energy, reading my signs, “Your mother says you’ve been sick.”
“A little bit,” I said, remembering the hell of the last few months.
“Quite a bit,” my mom corrected.
“I’m your mother’s doctor and your sister’s as well as your uncle Bryan’s,” Lynda said.
“Is this outpatient or in?” I asked, my shirt pulled up around my armpits, wires and sticky pads connected to my emaciated body.
Lynda laughed, “I always said I needed an Intensive Care Unit in my clinic.” She pulled down my shirt and my mother fired up the frequency machine. I could feel electric tingles emanating from the pads. “Here’s my business card,” Lynda handed me a small rectangle of paper, “so you can call me with any questions.”
“Do you want one of my business cards?” I asked.
My mom handed the little white box to me. I clipped it to my belt and dug through my wallet, pulling out a business card. I handed it to Lynda. On the front was a naked picture of me, sitting in a chair, one leg crossed over the other, cleverly concealing my genitals. In my hand I held a bottle of Pepto Bismol. Printed in large pink letters, next to my gaunt, naked form were the words, “Have you been vomiting blood for four days straight? Try Pepto! It won’t do shit!”
Lynda laughed, a hearty belly laugh, breaking the tension in the room. That was good. She had passed the test.
“Oh, Nathan,” my mom said, embarrassment written on her face, “I’m so sorry,” she turned to Lynda. “He tried to fix his Chron’s with Pepto-Bismol,” my mom attempted an explanation of the pornographic image I had just given her friend, “it didn’t work.”
Lynda flipped the card over. On the reverse side was a toilet covered in death shit vomit with the words “For more amazing health tips visit DearPoetry.com!” She burst out laughing again. I’d been handing the cards out to everyone for months, promoting my blog, it was one of the many things my family found offensive.
Uncle David returned to the room, “Are you guys having a laugh at my expense?” He asked, his paranoia and insecurities getting the better of him.
“No,” Lynda said, handing him one of my cards.
My uncle looked at the naked picture of his nephew, reading the words without a smile, “Oh, this is quite humorous,” he said without laughing. He handed the card back to Lynda, “The world needs more humor.”
“He posted that picture on Facebook,” my mom said, her face red with shame.
“It’s to promote my blog. You can read it if you want, but no pressure.”
“I won’t be given a test on your medical history once I finish?” Lynda joked.
“Maybe a psych test,” my mom sighed, still mortified by the things I had written.
It was strange to be laughing in a room filled with death. Life is finite, but so is misery. There is only so much you have to endure.
“Your grandma was such a vital person,”Lynda looked at the bed where my mom’s mom lay, unconscious and drooling.
“She’s finally getting some rest,” I said. “I’ve never seen her so peaceful. She spent her life tilling the soil, waking up before dawn and working late into the night. She visited when I was a kid and spent the entire time cleaning our house. She would remove all the furniture from each room, then vacuum the carpet forwards, backwards, left, right and diagonally. Once, I woke up at four in the morning and found her in the kitchen scrubbing the cabinet doors. She’s 83 and it took a collision with a semi to slow her down.”
“She has been very restful,” said Lynda thoughtfully, “Most people in comas aren’t this quiet.”
“It’s her first nap,” I said. “My grandpa can fall asleep in the middle of a thunderstorm, but my grandma never stopped moving.” We stood there, watching and thinking. “They say she has dementia,” I said, still not believing. “But we talked on the phone two weeks ago and she seemed fine.”
“Brain scans are an important tool,” said Dr. Hamner, “but they don’t tell us everything.”
The Texas nurse returned, bursting through the door with a whirlwind of energy, “I’m going to bathe her. You guys are welcome to stay if you want.”
“I think we’ll take off,” said my mother, “Noelle’s flight is about to land and we need to meet her at the house.”
The four of us packed up our things and began walking towards the exit.
“What program should we run on him tonight?” My mom asked Lynda.
“Adrenal support,” she said, “his system has been stressed and he needs to recharge.
“What is that?” I stopped, staring at a terrifying image mounted on the wall. It was a thick piece of acrylic that had been laser etched with the faces of pale, dead nuns. Each wore a habit. They carried candles, marching down a blackened hallway. The wall behind was painted purple, casting the scene in shades of twilight. “Why would anyone hang something so gruesome on a hospital wall?”
“They’re singing,” my mom said, trying to explain the gaping mouths of the deathly nuns.
“It looks like a poster for a horror film.”
My mom laughed. Lynda laughed. We parted ways. Uncle David drove the rental home. I climbed into the car with my mom. She arranged her purse, water bottle and travel tea mug, then plugged her phone into its charger.
“So is Uncle David a complete nut job?” I asked. “I knew he was weird, but the things he said on the car ride over were unsettling.”
“David’s fine. Why?” My mom put her keys into the ignition, then dug through her purse, looking for lipstick.
“So you think he actually rotated the Hubble Space Telescope?”
“He has top security clearance,” she nodded.
“He’s either the world’s biggest liar or its most amazing bad ass.”
“There are some things he can’t talk about,” my mom lowered her visor to reveal a vanity mirror and began applying pigment to her lips.
“He claims to be a secret agent mercenary.”
My mom’s phone began to ring, loud and terrible. “Hello? No. We’re just leaving the hospital. She has a broken sternum and never completely woke up. They’re weaning her off the respirator but she put on about seven kilograms of fluid over night.” My mom started the car and put the transmission into reverse.
“Do not drive!” I said forcefully, “Do not talk and drive!” My mom was night blind and had trouble navigating the streets in daylight. It was a constant source of friction between the two of us.
Absently, she put the car back into park, for the moment obeying my commands. “Then they gave her 2 milligrams of morphine and she’s never come back. I told them that it was going to be too much, that it was going to snow her under and within 15 minutes of the injection, she was intubated and on the respirator. I kept telling them that her liver couldn’t clear the morphine and all these doctors kept looking at me like I had lost my marbles.” I remembered the Texas nurse and her suspicious questions about my mother’s frequency specific machine. My mom was a bulldog, a real Behemoth. She had, no doubt, been causing all sorts of trouble, questioning everything while preaching her voodoo doctrine. “When she first arrived at the E.R.” my mom continued, “Her I.N.R. was 2.3 so they gave her vitamin K, but it only dropped to 1.96 which told me that her liver wasn’t functioning. I knew that if the vitamin K didn’t work she definitely wouldn’t be able to clear morphine. Dr. Burnbaum looked at her paperwork and said the same thing, but it was too late, the I.C.U. doctors had already snowed her under.”
I had always thought of my mom as a holistic quack, informed, but misguided. Listening to her story, it seemed that she knew more than I gave her credit for.
“They do all this blood work,” she raised her hand in consternation, “they administer all these tests, but they can’t look at the results and put the pieces together. The doctor says that, looking at her vital signs and the strength of her body, she should be walking out of here, except she won’t wake up.”
Could it be true? Was my grandma going to live? Were we merely waiting for her to wake up from a much deserved rest?
My mom and the person on the other end began talking about water filters. Twice, she put the car into drive and twice I stopped her from pulling out of her parking spot. I wasn’t afraid of getting into an accident, but I knew that if she wandered down the road while talking on the phone I would get mad at her and an argument would ensue. After a few minutes the conversation ended. My mom backed out of the covered parking garage and pulled into the street, “David disappeared for quite a few years,” she said, “he wasn’t reachable and can’t talk about where he went.”
“He claims to have bank accounts full of money in the Cayman Islands.”
“Money has never been an issue for him,” my mom turned left onto a dark and empty street. The lights glowed orange and in the distance you could see the mesas looking down on the valley. “He’s a brilliant genius. His mind doesn’t work like ours.”
My uncle knew a little bit about everything and I had never beaten him at chess, still, it was hard to imagine him working with an elite force of mercenaries.
We pulled into the driveway 15 minutes behind the super soldier in question. He had opened the trunk of his rental car and removed all of my things, but instead of taking them inside, they were spread out all over the pavement, “What’s he doing?” I asked. My mom shrugged. I climbed out of the car, “What are you doing?”
He had a broom and was sweeping up glass, “Suitcase. Open. Jar. Smash,” he said, looking at the glittering jewels spread all over the ground.
I walked up and grabbed some of my things, still confused as to why he had taken everything out of the car. My mom was right about one thing, my uncle’s mind was different.
I began unpacking, making trips past my uncle who continued to meticulously sweep every inch of the driveway, “We don’t want Baby Hannah stepping on this,” he said, concern in his voice.
I went inside and began unpacking the pile of Chron’s food I’d brought over the mountain. “Mom,” I said, holding up a glass container topped with a rubber lid, “this is marijuana cake. You’re welcome to eat as much as you want, but it will put you on your ass.”
“No thanks,” my mom said, holding up her hands. I had never seen her drink, and drugs were out of the question. She was a real prohibitionist.
I placed the container on a shelf and began unpacking cans of salmon and tuna. Uncle David came in, “The driveway is spotless!” He declared, “not one grain of glass remains.” His phone beeped, letting him know that he had received a text message. “This is unbelievable,” he said angrily. “You have got to be kidding me.” He walked over to the cupboard where I was unloading cans of beans and fruit, “look at this!” he handed me the phone. “Can you believe the nerve?”
I read the text. His boss wanted him to have a video meeting over the computer in a few days, “I don’t get it,” I handed the phone back to him.
“The insensitivity!” He was getting riled up. “The utter incompetence! I told them that I was away on a family emergency and he tries to pull this?”
“Just tell him you can’t make it,” I was confused.
“Oh, this will not stand!” My uncle stormed out of the room, “I will tell H.R. about this!”
A few minutes later, my sister arrived. I stopped what I was doing and went out to greet her. “Hannah!” I said cuddling my tiny niece into my arms, then turned to my sister. “That’s the best haircut you’ve ever had!” I admired her golden, curly locks.
“I know!” She said excitedly. “What’s with those pants?” She pointed at the gray half-yoga-half-sweat-pant knickers I was wearing.
“I got them off a Korean men’s fashion site for three dollars!” I beamed.
“They’re weird,” my mom shook her head.
The Baby Hannah began to cry, “She’s hungry,” my sister said.
“You better feed her,” Uncle David hovered close, worried that the child’s cries signaled some new calamity.
My sister went upstairs to nurse her baby and I continued unloading the driveway. I had brought so many things over the mountains, electronics and recording equipment. A normal person would have accepted his grandma’s impending death as an excuse to not update his blog, but I was on prednisone and my energy was monstrous. I spent every second writing, my mind racing until, late at night, I ate a piece of marijuana cake and fell into a deep but brief slumber. Prednisone was in control. My actions were erratic and my conversations embarrassingly forceful, but if I could continue sleeping at night, I would be OK. I had already begun to wean off the steroid. The end was in sight.
“Are you hungry?” My mom asked, putting away the dishes, “you haven’t eaten all day.”
“I ate some prunes.” She looked at me like I was being ridiculous, “I’ll eat some beans,” I pulled a can from the pantry and began opening it, “then I’ll dose marijuana cake and go to bed.”
My sister returned to the kitchen, “Hannah’s asleep,” she sat down next to me, “It’s been a long day. Traveling with a baby is hard.”
“Grandma looks awful,” I said, dumping the can of beans into a pan and turning on the stove. My mom hadn’t owned a microwave in more than 15 years.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” my sister shook her head.
“Did Hannah fuss on the plane?” My mom asked.
My sister and mom talked while I ate. When I was done, I got up and washed my dish, then pulled the marijuana cake out of the fridge. I cut one of the fourths into eighths and ate it. It was disgusting, a strange mix of grassy and sweet. I returned the container to the fridge, then sat down next to my sister, waiting for the drug to take effect.
“I want to go see grandma,” my sister said.
“I can take her,” my uncle offered.
“It’s alright, I have my old boss’ car.”
We sat talking back and forth, catching up on all the things that had happened since my visit to North Dakota. I began to get high, my head filling with clouds, my voice starting to slur. For some reason, I decided not to go to sleep. Instead, I got up and opened a can of black olives and ate the whole thing.
“Do you like milk?” I asked my uncle through the distant haze.
“I’m allergic to it,” my uncle said. It made sense. Chron’s was genetic. His guts were probably as bad as mine.
“A rancher who’s allergic to milk,” I slurred, “there’s poem in there some where.”
“I know that Chris is allergic to milk,” my sister said about her husband, “but he won’t admit it.”
“I knew it!” I slammed my fist onto the table, yelling fervently, “he’s too damn proud about never going to the doctor. I’m going to talk to him,” I said, fire in my eyes, “I’ll make him admit it,” I thought about my own disease, about the years of diarrhea and shame I had endured, “This is what happens when you won’t admit it,” I was standing now, gesturing forcefully with one finger.
“What are you talking about?” My mom asked, confused.
“It’s your body trying to tell you something,” I sat down as passionately as I had stood, “It’s your body trying to tell you something.”
“I need to clean out this fridge tomorrow,” my mom dug through the jars and tupperware.
“Did I freak out just now?” I asked, realizing that I might have embarrassed myself.
“You prednisoned a little bit,” my sister said.
“I’m sorry,” I stood and wandered over to the pantry, grabbing a small round can from one of its many shelves, “I’m going to eat this delicious tuna.” I held it up for my sister to see, “because I have the munchies. And then I’m going to go to bed, but first I’m going to tuna. To, toot, tuna!” I began to sing.
“I forgot my baby monitor,” my sister remembered. “Can you sleep in the room with Hannah while I’m at the hospital?”
“Seriously?” My blood went cold, a thrill of excitement tingling down my spine. “I would be honored.” I was wretched and broken, an outcast in my own family and my sister had anointed me guardian of her child. Never in my drug-addled mind had I expected to receive such a gift.
“Great,” my sister smiled.
I sat down with my plate of tuna, contemplating the awesome deliciousness. I was high and getting higher by the moment. I had to finish the tuna before my sister changed her mind, before she realized that I was a drug addict. “If I could only eat a peach,” I sang softly to myself, taking another bite of tuna.
“Are you OK making your own bed?” My mom asked. “I put blankets and sheets on the bed.”
“What’s sheets?” I asked, my tongue thick and slow.
“I’ve seen your bed,” my mom tried to argue with me, “you sleep on sheets.”
“I sleep on a pile of t-shirts,” I finished the tuna and headed to the pantry for a can of salmon. “I’m sorry,” I said, apologizing preemptively, just in case. My head was full of wobbly fog.
“I’m glad you’re finally eating,” said my mom.
“Eating all the fishies like they wanted me calling me all the time like Blondie,” I sang, gyrating my hips. I immediately regretted the joyful lapse. I had to keep it together or they wouldn’t let me sleep in the same room with Hannah. Just one more can of salmon and a plum or two and I would head upstairs and go to sleep. Hannah was so awesome. I could barely contain myself.
“How’s the salmon?” My mom asked.
“Am I embarrassing myself?” I froze.
“You’re just very high,” my sister laughed.
The revery continued. I ate until I could eat no more, then stumbled up the stairs and into my mother’s giant, ornately carved bed. It was a ridiculous thing, out of place in the modern world. It had been hand carved from the finest hardwood, every inch covered in exquisite scrollwork. The headboard was immense, so tall it touched the ceiling, with a massive piece of solid walnut inset like some master’s painting. Family history claimed that Abraham Lincoln had slept in the bed while campaigning in Colorado. I didn’t know if it was true, but the matching marble-topped vanity’s certainly seemed presidential. My body stretched out, high as fuck in a bed where the noblest of my forefathers had once dreamed of freedom. At the foot of the bed sat a playpen and inside lay my precious niece. I imagined that I could feel her sleeping, so innocent and beautiful. Her dreams, if she had them, were gentle, soft things that floated like angels. The world was a hellish place, but it had not yet touched my niece. She was still perfect. I wrapped the blankets around me, smiling to myself, sensing the presence of the child at my feet. I had done it. I had fooled them all!
The drugs continued to swell, at war with Shelob and her ferocious poison. My head became a noisy place, filled with ten thousand swarming bees. As I drifted off to sleep, I could hear my uncle yelling. He was outside, roaming my mother’s quiet cul-de-sac, screaming at the stars, sharing his torment with the night.
to be continued