|A Child's Last Wish
by Charles M. Bonanno
© Charles M. Bonanno -- all rights reserved
...........................four, five, six, seven, eight pills the voice counted out loud in the dark.....
FLASHBACK THREE MONTHS:
I use to be a stereotype, just your average quy working for his family in a job he enjoyed. Your typical nobody-special who came home to his wife and children each day never giving a thought that he might lose it all.
Then came the day a simple flu virus entered my life, a Martian virus. Sitting in the teacher's lounge after a day of feeling weak l suddenly found myself on the floor unable to move. Every joint in my body seemed to shift under my skin. Muscles grew and shrank within minutes, tendons tore and reattached to bones that bent and broke time and time again.
The other teachers vanished in seconds, none remained to see me pass out as the changes kept coming and coming in endless waves. The ambulance showed up within minutes. What they found bleeding on the floor was unlike anything these experienced EMT's had ever seen.
Pain is my only companion now. Even the doctors and nurses turn away from my hospital bed and look at me only with the sides of their eyes, never directly. The drugs only muffle the pain signals generated by my distorted body. Despair has no comforting medication.
......................nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen pills the voice counted out loud in the dark.....
FLASHBACK TWO MONTHS:
Its all gone now. The police came to serve me the restraining order today. l'am officially ordered to have any no further contact with my wife or children for fear that l'll traumatize them even more. It took me over five minutes to sign the papers with what now passes for my right hand. l don't even know where they are.
l left them everything, the house, our savings and the car. l took nothing from our home, all the collected knickknacks of twelve years of marriage remained untouched by me. l only packed a single bag with the largest coats and shorts in my closet, everything else l could never wear again.
l only wish l could leave in some dark corner of that empty house the memory of what happened that day when my wife evaded the doctors and entered my hospital room with the kids. Their hysterical cries burn deeper into my mind then all the emergency surgery the doctors used to save my life. For the first and only time they saw me as l am, a SCAB.
.....................fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen pill the voice counted out loud in the dark.....
FLASHBACK ONE MONTH:
Sleep is hard battle for which l have few victories these days. The drugs the doctors so frugally give me surround be in a brittle blanket that any sudden movement can break. My body is at constant war with itself. Weekly l return to the hospital to have something repaired or some hormone shot given so as to appease the two sides of my nature. The doctors are baffled by my survival, by all rights l should be long dead.
....................nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three pills the voice counted out loud in the dark.....
FLASHBACK TWO WEEKS:
Locked in this dingy hotel room the walls have long since begun to collapse upon me. Even the TV only torments me with images of the normal life l will never have again. So l decided to visit this so-called "BLIND PIG" place that was featured on a late night news show. Its' reputation as a place of refugee is well known in the SCAB community.
Putting on the only clothes l can wear, shorts and my large hooded overcoat, l walked the short distance to the address given on the program. It was practically around the corner and well within the maximum distance l could travel unassisted.
To say the exterior was plain is to exaggerate the obvious. No fancy lights or signs betrayed its existence to the world, just a well used door with the most beautiful ragtime piano music coming through it.
l opened the door and stepped into the room. What an ordinary place my mind told itself. Then the details became clearer. The enthusiastic pianist turned out to be a donkeyman. With the best physical features of both species he sways and prances to the tune he playing while drinking simultaneously from the biggest beer mug l have even seen.
To my right was a scene out of a bad cliché; looking like some cheap black-velvet painting several dogmen, maybe wolfmen, play cards and smoke cigars.
Directly ahead three horsemen sing to the music the pianist plays. Their bodies a perfect blend of equine and human body features. Everyplace l looked normals and SCABS seemed to be enjoying themselves. Drinks and food change hands freely with not the slightest hint of hesitancy or fear of physical contact. Even the barkeep, some HUGE type of bullman seems to be enjoying the simple pleasure of washing glasses behind the bar while keeping time to the musical beat.
I walk slowly up to the bartender and asked for a coke, he didn't say a word or even look up. Like some Las Vegas magic act one hand kept cleaning the bar while the other opens and pours my drink. That's when disaster struck.
My great coat is a huge leather affair with a hideable hood and is a legacy of my wild motorcycle days during college. In the heat of the moment l remembered it had no exterior pockets and automatically remove it to get to my wallet in my shorts. No sooner than l drape it over an empty bar stool the music stumbles and then stops..
Time seems to crystallize around me. The pianist was looking directly at me with the whites of his eyes showing, his hands hover over the keyboard as if he's afraid to touch it. The equines' loud conversation stops mid word, with lips and ears laid back they freeze. Even the laughing canines by the door lower their cards and lick their black lips like they have just tasted something foul. For before them stood the physical embodiment of what could have happened to them, their worst dreams made flesh.
Turning around in the echoing silence l reach into my wallet and extending my shaking hand drop the money on the counter. Again the barkeep doesn't say a word. What he does is far worse. He picks up my money and reaches for my hand. Bending the couple fingers l have on that hand around the money he simply holds on to me! He touches me! Using both his huge gentle hands he holds onto my funhouse joke of a hand and looks directly into my face. I saw no fear in those large dark eyes, no disgust or horror. l saw just a single tear slowly rolling down from one of those expressive eyes. My soul broke then. Tearing my hand from his grasp l grab my coat and ran to the door. At the best speed my twisted body could manage l fling open the door and escape into the night. My mind never registers the many voiced calls asking me to return.
......................Twenty four, twenty five, twenty six, twenty seven, twenty eight pills the voice counted out loud in the dark, the voice my own....the counting stops, no more pills would be needed, l've saved enough.
FLASHBACK ONE HOUR AGO:
As l reached for the vial of pills for the final time there came a knocking on my door. Since l moved here this has to be the first time anyone has come calling. Even the landlord requires me to pay at the front desk far away from his office/ apartment. I put on my coat and hood and answer the door.
Standing outside are three people, three normal people. "What do you want" l say in my broken and near braying voice. "Can we come in, Mr. Harrington?" says the single older woman. "WHAT DO YOU WANT!?" l repeat even louder, "Whatever your selling l don't need any." "Please leave me alone."
"Nothing like that, my name is Gloria Tribble and l'm from Social Services, Donnie sent me to return your wallet and to talk to you." . "Look lady, l don't need anyone from Social Services and l don't know any Donnie" taking the wallet from her hand l start to close the door in their faces.
"Please Mr. Harrington, l'm not here to help you but for them", she gestures over her shoulder at the tired looking couple. "Donnie is the owner and bartender at the 'Blind Pig' and he said you could help us."
"OK, come in and talk fast. You have five minutes before l have something to do", almost crushing the pill vial hidden in my hand. "What does he say l can do for you?"
"Donnie was a charter member of the "Make A Wish Come True" foundation before he contracted SCABS and he still works with us part-time." "Our foundations' function is to bring a moment of joy into the lives of dying children, to bring to reality their greatest wish." "We simply don't have time to get the child what she wants."
"So tell me, what does she want?"
Opening her bag she takes out a color photograph that has obviously been the prized possession of a child. Bent and torn the photo's subject and its rider are still plain to see. "Is this your idea of a joke?" , "Do l look anything like this picture?" "Go back to the BLIND PIG, there must be several SCABS that can morph into this body form." "Yes, several can indeed change into this general species type but they are far too large, the child would never accept them and time is running out." "Look at me lady" taking off my coat. "My first full change almost tore me apart, the doctors managed to bring me back to this half way form by pumping me full of every anti-viral on the planet!" "l'm a monster, a patchwork monster, a crazy quilt of a monster that they should have left die!" l sink to the floor unable to stand up any longer on my mismatched legs.
They are speechless, the child's parents quietly begin to cry and leave the room. Mrs. Tribble just closes her eyes and leaves the photograph on my chair. "Here's my card Mr. Harrington, " she says in a halting voice "call me if you change your mind." She almost runs from the room.
The sun went down half an hour ago, it's dark in the apartment. It doesn't matter, the photo in my hands has been burned into my memory. l pick up the phone and dial the number. The foundation's car pulls up ten minutes later. l pull on my coat and leave the apartment with the vial forgotten in my hand.
Its a nice little hospital, all pink and blue with low windows looking out at the surrounding gardens. All types of animals walk free on the grounds. Cartoon characters and doddles have been drawn on every flat space within reach of a child, nobody has tried to remove a single one. It's almost easy to forget that this is a place grownups send their children to die when all hope is lost.
l follow the parents to the ICU (intensive care unit). Here in this place of beauty and pain reside those even closer to oblivion........ It's a bright room with a dozen beds or so. A cheerful room filled with flowers and toys. A small room to match the tiny forms so wracked with internal pain that the drugs don't give full relief anymore. Some are so wasted from the fight that they seem but fragile china dolls just waiting to be dropped and shattered, but none so much as the body the parents point to in the far corner of the room.
Covered with a blanket and attached to every machine modern science has devised to extend life is the child from the photo. I stare helplessly at the parents. What can l do here in this place l know so very well?
Suddenly, maybe for the last time the child's eyes open once again. Seeing her parents she smiles then turns to the larger figure standing beside them and our eyes lock. At that moment all the self doubt in my life washes away, the inner war that so twisted my body when the virus struck stops.
The vial of pills that l have saved one by one drops from my hand, my heavy left foot crushes them unnoticed as l walk slowly towards the bed. On two wobbly legs l advance slowly towards the hospital bed, l never feel the coat dropping from my shoulders or the torn shreds of my clothing falling to the floor. On two then four limbs l continue my forward motion, all uncertainly has left me, all pain has left me. But the little eyes never leave me as l draw closer. l lower my now larger head by her side while the rest of my body lays flat on the floor. A hand with all the strength of a butterfly begins to trace my features. First the eyes, then ears and jaw are traced with fingers as thin as sticks.
Finally, the eyes close and the hand just begins to stroke the side of my face, the fur hardly bends under the pressure of those transparently skinned fingers. I never hear the alarms go off as all the other children detach their wires and approach me, l don't feel anything as their warm little bodies climb on my back or lay against my flanks. For the first time in weeks l truly sleep. Some inner voice shouts in joy at my dimming mind that l'm home again. Some inner instinct tells me that l will never be separated from those l love again. Never again. Never again......
"Move out of the damned way" shouts the doctor as the hospital's crash crew responds to the screaming alarms. The crowd by the ICU entrance doesn't even turns around. "What the hell is going on here" he screams grabbing one of the orderlies by the jacket and spinning him around. The young orderly just points into the room and returns to watching. For there amid the fancy equipment and devices is a pile of sleeping children, their faces smooth and free of stress and agony. From under this pile only the brown and tan head of a miniature horse's head can be seen. The perfectly formed head a beautiful Shetland pony slowly being caressed by the hands of child who finally got her wish.
Website Copyright 2004,2005 Michael Bard. Please send any comments or questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org