Phew! That was close! By the time Rosie the nurse comes back into the room, Morgana has finished wicking the Boney Stalker Scotch out of Jack’s right ear with the red and white checkered cloth napkin that she’d pulled out of her purse, still stained with her Boney Stalker Scotch Witch’s Brew BBQ Sauce from her lunch with Percival.
“What’s that, Rosie?” asks Morgana to distract Rosie from Jack, just in case the smell of the scotch has lingered in the air.
Rosie looks over to the blank screen. “Oh,” she says, “I don’t know too much about that, but I did hear the doctors and the techs talking today about the new computational software they’re trying out which is digitizing Jack’s brain signals—1,000 times a second! Can you believe that?”
“So Jack has been opening his eyes?” Morgana asks.
Rosie shakes her head. “No, he hasn’t opened his eyes once since he’s been here. That’s why they’ve been playing music instead of showing him images.”
“Really?” Morgana walks over to the monitor, and sees a little green blinking light. “What’s this little light all about?”
“That’s the indicator light—that means the program is still up. Wanna see what’s on there?”
“Yeah, sure….Why not?”
Rosie pushes one button on the side of the monitor, and a retro, feel-good dance song issues forth from a small speaker at the head of Jack’s hospital bed, which Morgana instantly recognizes as one of Jack’s favorites.
This was Jewel’s favorite song, too! How could she forget?
Jewel, one of Morgana’s three older “beautiful” sisters, was her favorite for such a long time.
Listening to the song, Morgana recalls the first time she had ever set eyes on Jack.
Morgana’s 16 years old. She’s bundled up on the couch, half lying down, eating a bowl of greasy popcorn she has made herself, burning the pot and filling their big, barny, Brooklyn kitchen with black smoke. Good thing she likes burnt things. It’s snowing outside and everyone else in the house is asleep. Jewel is out on a date with God knows who. Morgana savors the black, oily, cinder-coated popcorn, happily watching re-runs of The Twilight Zone.
The door’s lock springs open and there’s Jewel, tiptoeing and whispering, leading Jack through the narrow hallway past the kitchen and into the front room.
They don’t expect to see anyone in the front room, and neither does Morgana. All three hold their breath for just an instant. Morgana understands that Jewel would like to be alone with that guy, whoever he is, but Morgana doesn’t budge since she’s too embarrassed to be seen by a stranger, or anyone else for that matter, given how she’s dressed—as a ragamuffin, a refugee, an escapee from the Goodwill box. The clothes were not meant to be seen—they were just a means to an end—mean articles of clothing to put an end to her shivering response to the freezing apartment. The heat was always turned off at night, orders of the building’s owner who employs her father as a handyman. Bed was the only place you’d be safe from the deep freeze of those cold winter nights. They had electric blankets but the apartment’s wiring was so tentative that using them meant blown fuses, so the electric blankets were left on the beds unplugged.
The guy is looking at Jewel as if he could just eat her up. Clearly, he’s lovesick. Morgana thinks he’s a pretty good-looking guy. He barely looks at Morgana when Jewel introduces him to her.
Jack doesn’t say much, but he sure does an awful lot of sighing. Then, as he excuses himself to go to the bathroom, Jewel tells Morgana to take her damned popcorn and get her sorry ass gone to bed already. Grateful for the opportunity to escape from her bad-fashion hideout cocoon on the couch, Morgana skedaddles off to bed, leaving the still-warm couch to Jewel and Jack and their amorous wrestling that she can only imagine will soon take place.
“OK,” says Rosie, her words punctuated by her shoes squeaking on the shiny floors, “this song is what they played for Jack today.”
Morgana walks back over to the side of Jack’s bed and sees his lip curl slightly exposing his incisors.
Morgana’s blood curdles.
Forgetting that she is standing safely at the side of Jack’s bed, she feels the chain link fence digging into her back. She has plastered herself into the fence in order to give a wide berth to the man who has just let his giant beast of a white Husky loose inside the park. It’s just about a block’s distance to the dog run which is also inside the park, so the man really shouldn’t have unleashed his dog just yet.
“Hi,” she says feebly, her knees almost knocking together. “Your dog looks like he’s going to attack me.”
The dog’s orbital ice-blue eyes are riveted to hers. His black lips are trembling and jerkily tugging upwards into a sneer as if pulled by some palsied demon puppeteer, ever-so-slightly exposing the beast’s long incisors, anticipatory saliva dripping onto the path.
Moving nary a muscle, the dog seems poised as if on a hair trigger, ready to spring into action. Holding her breath, she shifts her eyes to the man, wordlessly beseeching him to put the damned dog back on the damned leash already.
The man regards her with a cocky tilt of his head, and says, “Yeah, he sees you as a threat,” as if she had been charging at them, wielding a machine gun.
He snaps his fingers, and the dog is released from his “sic” stance. The dog trots away, turning his head back to make sure that Morgana is still plastered to the chain link fence.
“Hey,” calls Rosie, “are you OK?”
Yanked back to reality, Morgana finds herself gripping the side rails of Jack’s hospital bed. She can only imagine what her face must look like.
“Uh, yeah, I’m fine, thanks.”
“You had me a little scared for a minute—you’re face looked like you’d seen a ghost!”
“Well, actually, I had a really scary encounter with a mad dog in the park yesterday, and that’s what I was thinking about. I’m okay now. Thanks for asking.”
“OK, well, here’s the feed. Are you ready to see it?”
Morgana nods her a “yes,” and Rosie pulls a chair closer to the screen for Morgana so she can sit down a watch the reconstructed images from the day’s scans.
“Here, sit down—you’ll be more comfortable, just in case you’re feeling a little wobbly. And, drink this!”
Rosie has filled a small paper cup with water from the sink which she hands to Morgana.
She starts the feed while Morgana sips the water and watches intently. The music plays as the video reveals a very slow scan of a woman’s naked torso. Huh, there’s the navel, the waist, the ribs, the breasts, the neck, the lips, the hair, and then the face comes into view.
“What? No, it can’t be! No, dear God, it can’t be!” Morgana covers her face with her hands.
Rosie stops the feed, and says, “What’s wrong?”
Morgana takes a few deep breaths, and downs the rest of the water before continuing.
“Before my husband and I first got together, he and my older sister, Jewel, were going together. Then, my sister broke up with him, started seeing this other guy, got pregnant, and then ran away with the guy and eloped. We were all shocked, but not as shocked as Jack. He started coming around to see me when my parents weren’t home, and one thing led to another, and well…let’s just say that I was madly in love with him just because he was the first guy who ever paid any attention to me, and he was pretty cute, too. Plus, I felt really bad about what Jewel did to him.”
“So what does this video have to do with your sister?”
“That’s Jewel’s face in the video!”
“Well, this is Jack’s memory of her from all those many years ago, so what’s the big deal? I mean, it’s not like you didn’t know that they were a couple once.”
“The big deal is that’s Jewel’s face—not from 31 years ago, but exactly what she looks like RIGHT NOW!”
Morgana can barely stand up, but somehow she makes it to her feet.
Not really caring that Rosie is still staring at her in disbelief, she turns to Jack and makes a fist as if to punch him in the face.
She stops herself, and slowly uncurling her right hand, she looks at him and says, “You piece of shit!”
She looks at Rosie, who is still at a loss for words, and says, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that. I really meant to say…,” and turning back to Jack, she says, just a little bit louder:
“You WORTHLESS piece of shit!”
Illustration Credit: http://www.edvardmunch.org (Madonna, 1894 by Edvard Munch)
Music Credit: Music video by The Gap Band performing “You Dropped A Bomb On Me,” (c) 1982 The Island Def Jam Music Group