“Let’s not delay this any longer….Let’s get started,” says the man with sweet resignation.
Rain finds herself sitting on the side of the bed next to a very old, clean-shaven man lying on his back, propped up by two neat pillows. The smooth, cool sheet is folded down neatly at his waist. He is dressed in a simple, dazzling white gown. He waits there patiently, groomed as if for a photo shoot, his white hair sculpted to a stark shimmer.
His name is Reginald, a god-like man who looks too beautiful to die, but beautiful enough to deserve a miraculous passage to the end of suffering.
He turns his head and regards her with a gratitude that ennobles his spirit and softens his vulnerability.
Yes, she thinks, this is exactly how it is meant to be. She looks into his blue eyes, blurred with clouds, beautiful, wondrous kitten eyes that you see only in newborn babies and those staring into eternity, eyes that are beginning to perceive the nothingness of everything and the everything of nothingness.
Rain is also dressed in a simple, dazzling white gown. She slides her bare feet under the sheet. Her body seems to know what to do as she makes room for herself to lie under the folded sheet next to the dying man.
The nostalgic smell of warm fall leaves illuminated into golden diamonds by the early morning sun permeates the air. She cradles the man gently in her arms, holding him as a mother would hold her baby for the first time, as lovers would hold onto the few remaining stolen moments of their last time together, as a dreamer would hold onto the fading apparition of a loved one long gone.
He settles his head comfortably against her and she feels his body surrender its tension.
“Are you afraid?” asks Rain, as she rubs her cheek against the man’s face.
“Yes, a little. Now that you are here with me, though, I feel better,” he exhales.
“There is nothing to fear. We have a lot of space to fill with whatever will give you the most comfort. The only thing you should be feeling is peace,” she says.
The man’s thoughts radiate prismatically through the air around them, a soft swirl of disconnected, comforting images.
Now and again, he reaches up and caresses one of the passing images and presses it to his heart. She does the same.
Their hearts fill with dancing colors and tears perfumed with joy, sunlight that makes them giggle like small children, and breezes filled with the promise of delight.
And, yes, there are dark blotches of grief hopping around like buzzards, but she deftly shoos them off to the side, beyond the periphery of his consciousness. The horrors writhing in the void are lurking there, too, but she guides Reginald past them, distracting him with giant snowflakes she has pulled out of the ether that chant an echoing calm. Now and again, they encounter pools of remorse, but so skilled is she at her craft that she manages to lead him around the edges without his being aware that he has veered slightly off the path.
And the path is long and fraught with nightmares, but Reginald perceives none of that. Secure in the peace she has created for him, Reginald does not know that many of her embraces are to still her own fears. It takes all of her concentration to keep going, to make it look like a dance, a graceful waltz past the precipice of doom. Just focus on the light, let it fill your soul, shut out the darkness. Oh, God, please take the scream that is rising in her throat and bend it into the tinkling bells of a wind chime.
“Yes, that’s better,” she says, as her voice mingles with the tinkling bells.
“Better than what?” asks Reginald in a dreamy voice that sounds only mildly interested.
“Better than better,” she says, knowing that her answer doesn’t really have to make sense, it just has to make peace, and even if nothing else makes sense, peace always does.
Rain feels him smiling, and she is glad that he doesn’t press her to explain what is “better than better.” His fight is over and he knows it. He clings to her tightly, grateful for the peace that is bearing him towards the light which is slowly growing bigger.
Reginald’s sense of joy is overwhelming. Like a child chasing the ocean’s waves for the first time, he revels in the ripples of peace washing over him, cleansing his mind of the illusions that held him captive throughout his many years of life. He is released from the bondage of responsibility, guilt, regret, shame, greed, envy, lust, strife, to name but a few links in the chain which has begun to dissolve along with his resistance to death.
The light is blinding now and Reginald lets go of her to run towards the figures that are waiting for him. His young face is fresh and dewy. He turns to look back at Rain, and beaming with peace and joy, he puts both hands over his glowing heart and bows to her. She has done her job and done it well. She is overjoyed.
She holds up her hand as if to wave goodbye and through the blinding light comes a hand whose fingertips rest on hers. Their palms press together. At the same time, a woman’s face lines up with her own face. The tips of their noses are touching. Their eyes lock into a gaze, a portal into the soul of the other.
She knows who it is but cannot remember the name of her very best friend in the whole world. Rain tries to grab her best friend’s hand, but their fingertips remain joined. She knows that she will not be able to lead her away. Wordlessly, they communicate their devotion to one another. Somewhere in this void, they hear each other’s laughter, their souls luxuriating in their shared warmth. There are no explanations, but Rain must leave, she must tear herself away.
She resists the lure of the light and feeling something akin to grief, faces the darkness once again to grope her way back blindly along the narrow path. Without Reginald to protect, she finds that she, herself, is weak. She falters, falling into the black pool of remorse that she had so deftly skirted before.
Down, down, down she falls. Unbeknownst to Rain, there are metal stairs in that pool and now her legs break and shatter like glass.
Morgana wakes up splayed out in her lumberjack nightgown on the metal stairs of the stairwell. She’s fallen down the first few steps and is surprised to see a broken jar of her Boney Stalker Witch’s Brew Barbeque Sauce lying next to her.
In a very controlled state of panic, she gets up, pushes the broken glass carefully to the side of the stairs, wipes her fingers on her nightgown, and hurries to make it back to her apartment without being seen by the neighbors!
Phew! Done and done! Safely back in the apartment, her first order of business is to scramble into some old sweat pants, a tee shirt, and tennis shoes. Next, she rounds up a plastic bag, a couple of rags, a spray bottle of liquid cleaner and some paper towels, and runs back to the stairwell to pick up the mess she left.
Luckily, she encounters no one on the stairs as she combs the stairway for splotches of barbeque sauce and shards of glass, wiping them up with the paper towels, spraying the stain and then scrubbing the bejesus out of it with the clean rags as she goes along. She never makes it down to the last flight of stairs since she doesn’t see any more splotches.
Good thing she’s got two more jars of her Witch’s Brew. She toasts a sliced bagel while she makes herself a nice pot of coffee, and sits down at the table with a bagel and cream cheese. Ahhh…how nice to just sit and relax after waking up on those damned stairs. What the hell was THAT all about?
She happens to look at the clock. Geez! It’s later than she thought!
The phone rings. “Hi, Mom! What’s up?”
“Oh, Gerri! How’s my Baby Girl?”
“I’m good! You doing OK?”
Morgana’s heart always melts hearing the sincere concern and love in the voice of her daughter. It suddenly occurs to her that Gerri’s grief has not been entirely wrapped up in Jack but rather mostly in watching her mother struggle and suffer with this interminable saga of Jack being stuck between life and death.
A sudden pang for her daughter’s suffering awakens Morgana’s motherly instinct to lift this burden off Gerri’s shoulders.
A lighthearted silliness buoys Morgana’s mood, and she is surprised to hear herself quip, “Yep! I feel more like I do now than I did same time yesterday!”
Both Morgana and Gerri guffaw at Morgana’s ridiculous answer. The two had always shared a zany sense of humor, which seems to have disappeared during the stress of Jack’s coma and Jerinda’s “absence.”
After the two finish laughing and catching their breath, Gerri says, “It’s so good to have a good belly laugh with you again, Mom. I’ve missed that so much!”
“Ah, me too, Gerri! I’ve got to remember to start laughing again.”
“Maybe you’ve just gotta start getting out more.”
“Yeah, more like out of my own head,” says Morgana. “You know, they’re doing all kinds of studies on poor Pop-Poo, but just between you and me, I don’t think they can do too much.”
“I know…I’ve talked to dozens of people about this, and I’ve read everything there is to read about it online, all the new research, you name it, but there isn’t much to go on. It just kills me when I think about you having to live in this netherworld where Pop-Poo doesn’t get any better or any worse.”
Morgana sighs, partly from resignation and partly from relief that her daughter is articulating her own sadness and frustration with this no-win situation.
Morgana reflects on the crisis stage of Jack’s stroke. She remembers how the waiting room at the hospital was filled with wonderful friends and weeping relatives, prayers and tears, and friends who organize schedules and tasks for other friends to sit by the bedside or bring meals to the family, or to deliver bouquets of flowers with helium balloons with dancing cartoon characters that eventually droop and flag at the bedside of the patient who obstinately refuses to get better, to snap out of it, godammit, so we can all go home and get back to life. It doesn’t even have to be a great life. It just has to be a life. Goddammit! And then, when no hope is to be had, people start drifting away, mostly because, thankfully, they have a life to drift away to, and partly because they aren’t sure what they can do to make things better. And then you’re alone. Hope is always nice, but just having a little bit of company isn’t a bad substitute.
“You hit the nail on the head there, Sweetie! It does seem exactly like a netherworld. I’ve thought a lot of about this, believe me, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s not a whole lot anyone can do to help Pop-Poo. I’m not giving up on him, but meanwhile I’ve got to start to reconstruct my life and go on the best I can.”
“Well, I’m not happy to think that poor Pop-Poo will never get better again, but I’m glad to hear that you’re finally thinking about doing something for yourself once in a while, you know, like maybe something fun?”
“Speaking of doing something for myself, Gerri, I have a lunch date today!”
“Oh, really??? And are you going to tell me about it?”
“Yeah! I met a nice guy named Percival at Bucky’s, and it’s a long story, but I’m meeting him today with a bottle of BBQ sauce that I made as a trial run for my Advice Lady column in The Pregonero. He said it wouldn’t be a real trial run if he didn’t get a chance to weigh in on it, so I accepted the challenge!”
“That’s great!,” chuckles Gerri. “I can’t wait to hear all about it! I’m so excited!”
“Oh, me too, Gerri! Listen, I gotta get ready now for ‘My Big Date,’ so call me when you get a chance, OK?”
“Sure thing, Mom! Love you, and I’m so thrilled for you! Have a great time, alright?”
After she hangs up, Morgana regrets not telling Gerri that she will be sporting her old Guatemalan shirt for her big date. Gerri would have gotten a kick out of that!
The dishes done, the bed made and her bath taken, she blows her hair dry and somehow manages to get a little volume out of it. Morgana wriggles into those tight jeans which seem just a little looser than they were last night. She slips on her vintage long-sleeved Guatemalan shirt. The blue, purple, and light green blend so well with the rich blue of her jeans. The shape and length of the shirt cover all those things that prefer to not see the light of day.
Well, she still looks middle-aged, but hey, she is. The lucky thing is that she looks a little less dumpy and not at all frumpy. She finds a little box of earrings that Jerinda had given her a couple years ago of a hanging sliver of a blue moon with a little purple star suspended from the upper tip of the crescent. What a perfect ensemble!
She puts on a little lipstick, a little eyeliner, just a touch of blue eye shadow, laces up her sneakers and packs her Boney Stalker/Witch’s Brew BBQ Sauce into her bag with a couple paper towels and cloth napkins. Oh, and a little spritz of Ooh-La-La, her favorite perfume, that she’d forgotten all about until this very moment.
She practically dances down the stairs, ignoring the vile stench emanating from the Rubber Man who wakes up long enough to see Morgana’s jiggling ass through the open risers of the last flight of metal steps. The light flooding into the dim stairwell from the open door reveals some splotches of BBQ sauce on his filthy gray blanket. He sucks the sauce off the blanket. Oh yeah! That’ll straighten him out!
Morgana steps out into the blinding light and for an instant, she sees the dying Reginald, the youthful Reginald, the soul of Jerinda and now the shadow of Jack in the pool of remorse hiding the metal stairs that break Rain’s glass legs.
Well, that was weird! Was that a dream she had, or was it a real transfer that occurred spontaneously? She’ll have to ask Dr. Valenzuela about that—if she remembers! Or maybe she’s just going crazy! Does it even matter? She hears the infectious thumping of music from a passing car and thinks, in spite of loss, disappointment and even death or other realms or realities, whatever they may be, how good it would feel to dance!
To Be Continued in Chapter 21
Art Credit: Guardian Angel (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Guardian_Angel_1900.jpg)
Music Credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgfcToAjfdc
Music Credit: Kygo – Stole The Show feat. Parson James [Official Music Video – YTMAs]
Published on Mar 23, 2015
Cloud Nine is out now: