a literary journal of the fictional persuasion


Michael Enright

When I woke, I did not know who or where I was. I had surfaced from cold dark water and did not know whether to get out or go back down. There were tubes sprouting from my hands, arms, abdomen, penis, mouth and nose, and a tiny clamp clung to the end of my index finger. I heard whirs and clicks and sighs from machines surrounding my bed. A woman in a green uniform walked by and called out to someone who was not in my field of vision.

The last thing I remembered was watching a rerun of Sanford & Son introducing the new Puerto Rican character and his goat while I was sitting in my living room and waiting for someone. Then Redd Foxx was sitting next to me at a bar that was so cold I could see my breath. We sipped iced anesthesia and watched the show, neither of us acknowledging that Redd was dead.

I blinked my eyes and lifted my hands and legs one by one. The tube in my mouth went down my throat, and a machine next to the bed was breathing for me. Get it out, I wanted to shout, but I could not talk because the tube was in my throat.

A woman in green walked up to my bed and said, “Oh my god.” I made eye contact with her and waved both my hands. She said, “Oh my god” again and again with her hands on the side of her face as if the pose alone would help me. Another woman in green picked up the clipboard at the foot of the bed and stared at it as though I were on the clipboard and not the bed. I wanted them to take the tube out of my throat. I pulled at it, and a man in a blue shirt and a gold tie leaned over me and shined a light in my eyes. Had I awoke in the middle of my mummification? Had they taken my organs already and packed them in canopic jars? Was Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the dead, standing in the wings to greet me?

“Mr. Hayes?” the man with the tie said. Anubis and I were standing naked near the edge of a blue glacier looking at a large crack that was racing toward us, and then the tube was out of my throat.

What was I doing here? Was I emerging from suspended animation? Arriving at the far end of a journey across the galaxy? The man in the blue shirt and tie asked me how I felt, did I know where I was, what was my name? I held up my hand to stop the questions while I got used to breathing again. My throat was sore, my mouth dry. I tried to sit up but I was too weak. I leaned on an elbow until someone raised the bed under my head. They gave me a plastic cup of crushed ice and I sucked at the melt water.

I remembered walking through cold surf on a blistering hot day with a pair of sandals in my hand. Off in the distance beyond a gray green-bay, the Coney Island parachute jump tower shivered in the sunlight. Piping plovers screamed overhead while a young girl in a yellow swimsuit poked a stick into a clear jellyfish on the sand and a dark-skinned man on a red Jet Ski roared by a few yards from the shore. I wished I could walk like this forever with Linda waiting for me on a blanket back down the beach. I walked out into the surf until the cold water washed over my crotch, rocks and shells slicing into my feet. Tiny silver fish shimmered in the water darting here and there. One flew up my swim trunks and into my penis.

I sat on a wooden chair in an office and did not remember how I got there, but I was glad I had shed all the tubes from my body, especially the catheter. I was proud that I was able to sit and then embarrassed that such a silly thing would make me proud. My hospital gown was gone, replaced by black cotton sweat pants and a black golf shirt. Well that’s an improvement, I thought. Dr. Martin said I had been in a coma for ten years, that it was now 2015 and that I was in a long-term care facility where I had been warehoused when no one would take responsibility for turning off my respirator, removing the feeding tube from my abdomen. He called me Bill Hayes but said that the nurses called me Lazarus. I had been, in a car crash, he said, and had suffered severe brain damage. They were surprised when I woke because it was so rare for that to happen after so many years. If I stayed awake, he said as though he were letting me in on a wonderful secret, I would be famous. In fact, Sixty Minutes wanted to do a story about how Dr. Martin had raised me from the dead.

“How did you wake Lazarus up?” I said.

“It is really a remarkable story,” Dr. Martin said to a man on the couch. “Nova has contacted me to do something on the science of it, but I thought you might be interested in the human interest angle. The publicity could do wonders for the entire facility. And the staff. They’re all so proud.”

The man sitting on the couch was with Sixty Minutes, and he was here to do something called a pre-interview. Bill Murray would do the actual interview. “Bill Murray, the comic?” I said. Was it reasonable that Sixty Minutes would still be on the air in 2015 and that Bill Murray would be working for Sixty Minutes, I asked myself, or was this a dream?

“What’s the last thing you remember?” Sixty Minutes leaned forward and pointed what looked like a small black cube at me.

“Sanford & Son. I was sitting on a couch. Then at a bar in a walk-in freezer and watching TV with Redd Foxx. Who said I wanted to be famous?” Sixty Minutes stared at me, and I could tell I had disappointed him, but I did not recall anyone asking me if I wanted to be on TV.

“Do you remember anything about the accident?” he said. “It was quite a story at the time. A Hummer slammed head on into your hybrid. The other driver was drunk and walked away without a scratch while you were critically injured and your lovely wife died. Is any of this ringing a bell, Mr. Hayes? It would be very helpful if you could give us your reaction to the accident, your emotional reaction, I mean. If you feel like crying, cry. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. I’m sure you have a lot of anger for the man who did this to you. Did you know his father was the mayor and now he’s got his own talk show? I don’t know whether they’ve told you this, but he got off with a slap on the wrist, even though he fled the scene and left you and your wife there to die. I would be enraged if I were you. Maybe we can arrange a meeting with him so you can vent at him. It would probably do him good, don’t you think, Doc? I can set that up if you like.”

“I was married?”

“What I will do is leave this with you to refresh your memory.” Sixty Minutes held out a thin black circle—the size of a communion host.

“What was her name?”

“He doesn’t have a viewer,” Dr. Martin said. “You’ll have to print those out for him.”

“Was her name Linda?”

“I can’t,” Sixty Minutes said to Dr. Martin. “They’re mostly film clips from TV news reports. Why don’t you let him watch them on one of yours? It would really help. We’ve got to put some fire in his belly. Otherwise, I have to be frank with you, Doctor, this ain’t gonna work.”

“Why did you wake me up?”

I was sitting at the back of a dark wood-paneled courtroom. Feeble sunlight dribbled through the grimy windows above the jury box. Lawyers in suits and trench coats sat on the pews listlessly poring over papers or whispering to each other. A fat man with three strands of hair stretched over his scalp walked down the aisle saying, “Sarmiento?” over and over. I was sitting at the back of the room with my briefcase on my lap. A judge dressed in a black robe sat at a huge elevated desk in the front of the room. Beneath him, a young man crouched at a desk and talked into a telephone, a young woman stood at a table shuffling papers, and a gray-haired woman hunched over a stenographic machine. I could smell the cigarette smoke oozing from the man in a tweed sports coat sitting next to me. Every few seconds he coughed loudly. The clerk called our case, and I walked up to the counsel’s table to argue our motion to dismiss the complaint. I could feel the cell phone vibrating in my jacket pocket and I knew it was Linda. I desperately wanted to answer it, to hear her voice, but I didn’t.

“Mr. Hayes,” Doctor Martin said. We were in a small white room, and I was lying on a table covered with white butcher paper under a very bright light. My shirt was pulled up and he was peering through a vibrating rectangular box pressed against my chest. I wondered whether the box was a new medical instrument or I just didn’t remember what it was.“ There is something you need to know, Mr. Hayes.”

I was afraid he was going to tell me that I was dreaming. That happens all the time in dreams. You think it’s real, and then someone turns to you and says you’re dreaming, and it all disappears.

“This may be only temporary.”

Good. That did not sound like something he would say if I were dreaming.

“I don’t wish to frighten you, but you may slip back into a coma again. That’s why I really hope you’ll reconsider doing that Sixty Minutes interview.”

“How do I know that I’m really awake now?” I said. “This all feels like a dream. I can’t remember anything about my wife or where I lived or what I did before the coma. Maybe I should go back under. Maybe then I’d remember.”

I was sitting in a patch of sunlight in a bright room with two glass walls and two yellow ones. It was good to feel the sun warming me, to be alive, awake. But how did I know if I were alive or dead? Who knows what happens after you die? No one returns to tell you. If I were dead, I wondered, did that mean there was a god? There would have to be one to create this illusion of being in a warm, sunny room. I couldn’t do it if I were dead because I wouldn’t have a brain to work with. Unless I had a soul—maybe a soul could imagine things like this without a brain. If I had a soul, would that mean that god existed? Somehow the notions of soul and god were intertwined in my mind. But why should they be? It was confusing. I could not remember what my views on the afterlife had been prior to the coma. I must have been a Catholic because I remembered a sepia picture of Christ holding his chest open to reveal his heart crowned with thorns—red drops falling from puncture wounds—while I kneeled in front of it chanting the rosary.

A young man who looked like Charlie Sheen gave me a large plastic cup with a straw in it.

“It’s your favorite, Uncle Billy.” He smiled at me as though I were a child. “A Carvel shake, extra syrup.”

He was my nephew, my sister’s son from Florida. I enjoyed the smooth damp coolness of the cup in my hand and the taste of cold chocolate flooding my mouth. I felt refreshed and happy. “I’m trying to remember who I am. Tell me what you know.”

“I know, Uncle Billy. They told me your memory’s not back yet. But the doctor is hopeful—”

“Can you just tell me who I am? What I’ve done? What was my wife like? That type of thing.”

“Okay. I’ll do my best. I’m your nephew Carl. From Florida.”

“Yes, I know that. You’re my sister’s son. What’s her name?”

“Catherine. She was your older sister. She passed away last year. Breast cancer.”

I could picture Catherine when he said her name. I saw her with gray hair at a church and then a wedding reception. She was trying to tell me something, but the band was too loud. Was it that I was dead now too?

“You were a lawyer. Before the accident. Do you remember the accident?”

“A lawyer?” That sounded right but I could not remember any details. I remembered a dream where I was in a courtroom while my cell phone vibrated in my pocket. I hoped that was a dream—I did not want to think that Linda had been on the phone and I had ignored her call. If it had really happened and I answered the phone, would I remember her now? Maybe this was a dream. My eyes fixed on a large cactus by the floor to ceiling window, with a red flower blooming from its green spiky head like a cancer in the sunlight. I threw the rest of the shake at the cactus to see what would happen. The brown liquid splashed against the window and oozed toward the floor. Karma. Cause and effect. Action and reaction. If I were dead or dreaming, those rules would probably not be in play. So the chocolate shake pooling under the floor was a good sign, I thought.

“What are you doing?” Charlie jumped up. “Should I call the nurse?”

“No.” I did not want the nurse to put me back to sleep. “Can you tell me one thing? Are you sure we’re awake now? Are we still alive? If I’m dead, you must be too. Are you?”

I was sitting at a table fitting pieces of a puzzle together. It was a picture puzzle of a snowy forest at night with dark clouds scudding by a big yellow moon and a lone fox loping across a snowy field searching for its den. I wanted to finish it quickly because it made me sad to look at it. Two men and a woman, strangers, sat at the table with me. They moved the pieces of their puzzles around the table in slow motion like zombies. I did not belong here. “You’re doing very well, Mr. Hayes.” A chubby blonde woman leaned over my shoulder. “Would you like another puzzle?”

“No, I’m fine,” I said. “You know what would be good? A cup a real coffee. Is there a three-bucks around here? My treat if there is.”

She winked and took me to a couch at one end of a long hall. The couch was covered by a strange fabric with patterns that seemed to be moving and pulsing. Was that new? I did not recall fabrics that pulsed and moved before the coma. I saw a light coming toward me from the other end of the hall and I wondered if it might be death.

“What would you like? The usual, Mr. Hayes?”

I didn’t know what the usual was. “No. What the hell. Let’s go nuts. I’ll take a double latte. Help keep me awake.”

She laughed as though we were sharing a private joke. “You wait right here, and I’ll be back.”

Bill Murray sat on the couch next to me under lights his camera crew had erected around us. He asked me questions about the accident and goaded me to display emotions, but I could not do it. After a while, we just sat there under the lights. “You don’t remember a thing, do you?” Bill said. He seemed so disappointed; I felt bad for him.

“I’m sorry. If you tell me what to say, I’ll try to fake it.”

“What about since you’ve come out of your coma? How’s life been treating you?” He smiled so sincerely it broke my heart.

“I’m having trouble figuring out what’s real and what isn’t. Are you really Bill Murray? I thought you were a comedian?”

“Have you tried Suntory Whiskey?” He held a brown bottle of Suntory in one hand and poured it into a glass with a tiny skull embedded in its base. I opened my mouth and he put the chalice to my lips—the smoky glow of death spread down my esophagus.

I was walking on lower Broadway across the street from the giant bull in a cold heavy rain that blew into my face like a fire hose. I ducked into a coffee shop and ordered a double latte from Carlos. How did I know his name? I stood and sipped the coffee and looked out the window. The tiny shop smelled like sour milk. I had an employment discrimination trial the next day in the federal court on Foley Square, but I could not remember the facts of the case or even who my client was. And I didn’t seem to care. Now this must be a dream, I thought. Or maybe I’m just confused. Maybe I’m here in this coffee shop, and it’s really raining, but I don’t have to try a case tomorrow. When the rain let up, I jogged toward the Staten Island ferry terminal. I was going home.

The ferry looked the same as it did ten years ago. Debris from the morning rush littered the enclosed first level where I sat when it was too cold or wet to sit outside. I walked past the empty rows of wooden benches and up to the snack bar. There was no one else around, which made me think I was dreaming. I had never been alone on the ferry before, but then again I had never taken the ferry back to Staten Island so early in the day. So maybe this was just the way it was. But when I looked behind me I could see the twin towers of the Trade Center flaming and smoking like gigantic paschal candles at a Holy Saturday service. That could not be happening now. Perhaps I was hallucinating the burning towers? The snack bar was empty too. I leaned down to press my forehead against the display glass just as I did when I was a kid. Hotdogs, bagels, pretzels, knishes and Jamaican beef patties were all there just as they were when last I rode the ferry. But wait—were those Chinese dumplings huddled in a red cardboard boat? Those were new. Or maybe I added them to the display. You can do that in a dream. An old man appeared behind the counter and glared at me so I ordered a grape soda and a hot pretzel studded with salt.

I was walking down the block where I used to live and stopped in front of a small ranch house. Our dog Cuchulainn sat quietly on his haunches in the front yard under the Kwanza cherry tree just like he used to do. I had forgotten all about him. It was foggy and the tree’s bare branches drooped to the grass. He was a giant of a dog, a black Irish wolfhound, too big for his own good really, but Linda fell in love with his whiskered face and his peaceful disposition. It occurred to me that Cuchulainn was six years old in 2005 and that wolfhounds live to ten, twelve at most. So this could not be Cuchulainn. But there he was. Maybe the new owners had a wolfhound that looked exactly like Cuchulainn. Or maybe this dog was Cuchulainn and Linda was inside the house. I opened the gate and walked toward the front door.

I was back on my friend Joe’s stoop on Rogers Avenue in Brooklyn playing a board game. We were twelve and I lived in the apartment house across the street. It was a hot, humid summer afternoon. Anvil thunderclouds rose up into the sky over our head. I could not remember what game we were supposed to be playing and the board was blank. Joe sat looking away from me so I could not see his face. The snowball bush in his front yard shed its flowers in heavy winds that lifted the petals onto the hot sidewalk where they sizzled and puffed into purple smoke.

One fell into a crack in the concrete, found soil, sprouted branches and grew toward the sky. As it rose, sparrows and pigeons flew into it to escape the coming storm. Maybe the bush would deflect the lightning. Maybe this time we would be saved. Joe stood up and gripped the metal banister on his porch just like he did the last time. When nothing happened I felt a surge of relief, but then god reached out from the heavens and blasted us with his firebolt again. When I woke I did not know who or where I was.

© Michael Enright 2005

Michael Enright (Casey1329@aol.com) has been published in Lamoille Lamentations and Thieves Jargon and will soon appear in Small Spiral Notebook, Combat Magazine, Dispatches Magazine and See You Next Tuesday. He would like to keep his greed, anger and delusion at bay but can’t count past ten without their progeny distracting him. storm over dark waters - scent of seaweed

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