Like Sleeping Beauty, the tenem known as “Rain” lies inert in her room in the Swiss Spa. No longer on the bed, the tenem is stored in a box that is more like a hard-shell violin case than a coffin: The inside is upholstered with plush red velvet covering the dense foam molded to cradle every contour of the tenem’s form. The box has its own suspension system to absorb shocks and a built-in hygrometer/humidifier to measure and maintain the humidity of the tenem. The hinged top is closed over the now red-velvet- shrouded/snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug tenem, and latched tight as a tomb with two large brass trunk drawbolts along the right side. Like a suitcase, it has small, unobtrusive, retractable wheels and handles which allow for efficient conveyance. It’s also stackable and can be stored horizontally, vertically, or laterally. For right now, though, it’s stored under the bed with two other identical boxes.
Rain’s visiting consciousness has already been transferred back to its rightful owner, who is lying in the Pink Lab on a gurney on the other side of the world.
Morgana’s chilled body is suffused with a golden warmth. The greyish pallor fades from her skin as her lucidity finds its way back home, exploring the recesses of her mind like a traveler returning home after a long absence, checking each room with a sense of relief tinged with vague disappointment. Morgana takes a deep breath and hears herself sigh.
The transfer is complete. Not yet fully awake, Morgana is aware of something throbbing. It’s her big toe, the one that remembers its robotic counterpart kicking a box under the bed in the Swiss Spa. Too groggy to just sit straight up and examine her toe, she bends her left leg, and grabs her foot under the heavy blankets, almost sitting up as if she expects to get a closer look at it. She struggles to get past her sagging belly but doesn’t quite make it—a cramp seizes her stomach muscles. Still hanging onto her foot, she arches her back to unclench the cramp that seems to be somewhere under her ribs—maybe in her diaphragm; her weight shifts over to her left bent knee, which now extends beyond the edge of the gurney. Too late to catch herself, she is falling off the gurney in slow motion, thanks to the covers hindering her descent. As her toe throbs and her stomach muscles contort, she watches the floor coming closer to her unprotected head and, BANG! The left side of her head smacks the floor, her neck bends at an unusual angle, and her left knee takes a pretty good hit. The rest of her soft, fleshy body must have followed with an unceremonious thud while she wasn’t paying attention.
The left side of her face is still plastered to the floor. She doesn’t move for a couple minutes, trying to assess just what the damage is. There is a little puddle of tears on the floor just below her left eye. Her open mouth drools into its own puddle, and there is a sharp pain on the right side of her head.
“So that’s it!” she thinks. “This is how it all ends—no heroism, no poignant last words, no wailing violins—just tears and drool.”
She breathes in some gritty dust and makes a mental note to vacuum more often, and in a wave of giddiness, almost laughs at the absurd notion of vacuuming on her way to meet the grim reaper.
Now fully awake, Morgana finally remembers that she is in the Pink Lab. With great care, she disentangles herself from the covers and lifts her head with slow deliberation. To her great surprise, nothing is broken! Her neck feels a bit stiff, her knee is sore, and she can feel with her fingers that there’s a little swelling where the side of her face hit the floor, but she’s fine. Not even a headache–that awful pain on the right side of her head has somehow vanished!
It is at times like this when having one specific God to thank would be a blessing. She sits on the edge of the gurney and puts her head in her hands and thanks her lucky stars that she is unhurt, and silently expresses her gratitude to Buddha, Vishnu, Ganesh, Jesus, St. Christopher, and Astarte, and all the other gods and goddesses whose names she cannot recall, just in case.
She examines her no-longer-throbbing toe…check; she rubs her knee and imagines a pink heat penetrating and soothing the ache…check; she places her palms on her stomach and wills it to never cramp up on her ever again…check; she massages her neck while rotating her head with caution, hoping that the pops and clicks are just the positive sounds of readjustment…check; and then there’s her head. She gets up and looks in the mirror on the pink wall. Huh! She still looks the same. No worse for the wear. The swelling, which feels like a burn, is hardly noticeable and will go down.
Morgana realizes that she has dodged a bullet, and vows to take it easy after the spill she just took. Luckily, the gurney had been lowered to only two feet from the floor.
Partly from embarrassment and partly to avoid a lengthy medical examination that would certainly ensue should her fall be discovered, she decides to get back onto the gurney and pretend that she never fell. She picks up the tangled blankets from the floor, smooths them to their pre-spill neatness and slides back under them for a few more minutes of sleep before Dr. Valenzuela arrives to check up on her.
Awakened from a deep sleep by Dr. Valenzuela taking her pulse, Morgana surprises her by chirping a cheery, “Good morning, Dr. Valenzuela!”
“Well, good morning to you, too, Morgana! Actually, morning happened a long time ago! Remember? But better late than never, right?”
Morgana tries to remember. “I don’t know! Can you give me a hint why it’s not morning?”
“Normally, you would access your tenem at night, during the time that you would usually be sleeping. But since it was your first time, your initial transfer was done right here so we could keep an eye on you and make sure all was well.”
“Oh, that’s right! Now I remember!”
“So how was your visit?”
“It was wonderful! I felt so young, so hopeful, so attractive and sexy. Oh! And cool, too! Can you imagine? Me? Cool? What an experience! I can’t tell you how I loved being there as ‘Rain.’”
“Was there anything that was upsetting to you or anything that made you uncomfortable?”
“No, I don’t believe so. It’s all rather hazy.” Morgana looks up at Dr. Valenzuela with a worried look. “I’ll be able to remember it all, right?”
Dr. Valenzuela nods to reassure her. “Yes, you will. Within an hour or so, you should remember just about everything. Should you have any questions or any desire to discuss your experience or your impressions with me once you get home, promise that you’ll call me, OK?”
“Thank you, Dr. Valenzuela! I appreciate that so much!”
“And you do remember, though, how to access your tenem, correct?”
“Just to play safe, explain it to me.”
“OK. Let’s see…I lie down in bed, preferably on my side, I close my eyes, mentally count backwards from ten to zero, and spell ‘Morgana.’ Then I breathe normally and wait for the transfer to engage. How did I do?”
“Perfect, Morgana! Would you like coffee, juice or water before you go back home? Maybe a little snack to tide you over until you can get something to eat?”
“No, no thanks! I feel fine. I’m looking forward to settling down for the evening and just reflecting on that amazing visit to the Spa that I just experienced.”
In the drone on her way home, she contemplates the miniature city below, thinking how inconsequential we all are. What does this all mean? All those little lives, all playing out their little dramas in those little houses, little prayers being said for special little favors in little churches, little books scattered in little schools, little buses bringing little children to and fro, little people driving their little cars. All those little people worried about their own little problems while the infinite worlds outside of theirs spin with a wild force that comes from God knows where along a predetermined trajectory, oblivious to all those little people and all their little matters that matter so little or not at all in the grand scheme of things.
Morgana feels quite little herself until she looks down and sees her stomach protruding through her open blouse. It appears that the bottom three buttons must have popped off during her fall from the gurney! Her mother was right, after all—you should never sleep in your street clothes—not that these particular clothes were all that fit for street wear anyway!
The cloud-camouflaged drone hovers to a gentle landing. The door swooshes open and the mechanical embrace releases her.
“Have a nice, evening, Morgana, and please watch your step as you exit the cabin,” intones the metallic voice bidding her a perfunctory adieu.
“Thank you,” she answers, not knowing if the drone or whoever is operating the drone can hear her.
Stepping out onto the roof of her building, she suddenly thinks of Jack and hurries inside. She makes her way to Jack’s room, opens the door and goes in.
“Hey, Jack!” she calls out in a sing-song voice in an attempt to sound lighthearted.
He doesn’t open his eyes. She’s disappointed, but grateful to not have to wonder whether or not he can see her, which is unnerving to her. She kisses him on the cheek, and at a loss of what else to say to him, she says, “Sleep tight…Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”
She immediately regrets it—not only does it sound stupid to say such a thing to someone in a coma, it’s also a shame that she has nothing of substance to say to this person with whom she has shared two children and a good chunk of a whole life.
While she looks in the fridge for some inspiration, she wonders how long this will go on for. What kind of a life is this? What is she doing? She’s living in this house with a dead man who is still breathing. Why won’t he just wake up so she can tell him to shape up or ship out? She doesn’t want him to die, but sometimes, it just hits her that she can’t keep pretending that life is normal. What’s normal about not having a life? What’s normal about being stuck in some great cosmic traffic jam? She’s in Purgatory, but it’s beginning to feel a lot more like Hell.
“No exit,” she thinks.
“Wait a second,” she says out loud. “There is an exit…The Our Little Secret Travel Agency.”
She slices up a lemon and some ginger, reflecting on her first trip to the Spa.
She pours some honey and boiling water into her favorite mug, a slanted cup with an earthquake icon on it that says, “Shift Happens,” and adds the lemon and ginger, throwing in a little bag of peach tea. The orange color of the tea box conjures up the image of that delicious orange tube dress. Just wearing it, she thinks, was such a sensual delight.
That first sip of almost scalding tea warms her and permeates her thoughts with a soothing calm. Her hands cover as much of the burning hot ceramic surface as they can. She sips the tea, savoring the perfumed heat of this magical elixir. This simple pleasure reawakens the gratitude she felt only an hour or two before.
In an absent-minded amble, Morgana wanders into the living room, which is now steeped in the deepening twilight.
The heat of the tea stirs something inside her and she remembers her mystery man. Her heart beats in an unfounded anticipation of his arrival. In an olfactory flashback, her mystery man’s perfumed essence envelops her.
Unaccustomed to swoons, Morgana is taken unawares. She’s on the edge of something scary and tantalizing. Summoning all the coordination and control she can muster, she puts her hot tea down safely on the coffee table just in time to flop onto the couch in a heavy heap. She has almost fainted and feels so weak and dizzy but at the same time her body is abuzz with an electrical orgasmic current. It goes on and on and on. The fourth button from the bottom of her blouse has just popped off. She is paralyzed by the current, but given her druthers, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Music Credit: You Tube – The Beat Goes On, Sonny and Cher (1967)
Illustration Credit: readmedeadly.com (Pandora Closing the Box)
To Be Continued in Chapter 13: To Itch is Human, But to Scratch is Divine