© Feech -- all rights reserved
|thanks to Channing and to Michael Bix
"Hayden Heath University does not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, color, age, religious practices, creed, sexual practices or degree of exposure to either Martian Flu or Stein's Chronic Accelerated Biomorphic Syndrome. Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to take part in all University activities including tours. For information contact Hayden Heath University central office, Hayden Heath, Minnesota."
Very interesting. I drop the brochure casually on the table and think about it one more time.
Three hours from home. Smallish town, smallish school. Of all the schools I've heard from, it's the only one that seems to take a stand on the SCABS issue-- and that a positive one. I admire that. My dad works with people who have the syndrome and I suppose I've gotten a little too used to the responses when he talks about his work. SCABS? Do you really have many patients with that? Where does your real income come from?
I've spent a school year working, debating the majors I studied in my freshman year, but I feel ready to jump back in as a sophomore. But not at Edgewood.
Somewhere a little further from home, but not too big.
Good arts program, decent general studies.
I look at the brochure again.
It has decided me.
I pick up the phone.
Five-foot-seven. Female. Blonde(ish) hair, shoulder length. Blue eyes. A nine-year-old blue(ish) denim jacket that I got on sale. I have never been able to find another one that fits me well. That about sums up the Feech.
I stand on one leg in the black box of Hayden Heath's Performing Arts Building. My left foot is braced backward against the wall. I relax, hands in denim pockets, looking around.
Almost 10:20 am.
A light touch on my shoulder might have gone unnoticed, but the slight "scritch" of something sharp and dry on the denim turns my head.
It's the dramaturg, Mr.Leonen. "Hello, Professor," I say.
Mr.Leonen, still hanging from the black wall by his four rear limbs, shows me the thin white pad attached to his arm and writes something on it.
"'Professor' will not be necessary. Everybody calls me Shadow" [he pauses in his writing] "or Dom. Is the rest of your class coming? Just us today?"
I laugh. "Sorry, Mr. Shadow, everyone else fled when they found out you were giving the lecture today. All you have is little ol' me. Actually, no. They're all drumming up sponsors for Park Play next semester. They'll be here."
"Enthusiastic bunch," he writes. "You're not helping?"
"I bravely volunteered to be the only class member to show up on time."
I fancy I see an amused expression in the way Shadow's wings part, but it may be my overactive imagination. Other students in the Department say that until last semester, just before I arrived, Shadow was virtually unapproachable. I've seen him around the halls with Melodie, our regular instructor, and he seems to be doing okay. I think there's a story there somewhere.
The large Swallow tailed butterfly takes a little flapping leap to the floor. "Do you mind setting up the chairs in a semi-circle?"
I read the message, nod and obey. Now, don't get me wrong, I think SCABS can be a rotten thing to have happen to a person, but I spend a lot of the next few minutes stealing glances at Mr.Leonen. He really is quite striking, in a charcoally sort of way. The Swallowtail he has become is mainly black, with a few lined-up spots of muted buttercup yellow. Life could be worse.
On the other hand, life could be fucking fantastic, like mine is. Only then, one spends a lot of time wondering when their luck's going to run out. You never know, as Mom says. If it happens it happens, and then you cope.
Or maybe not.
Gabriel shlogs into the black box like some kind of deliberate, human affront to the coping philosophy.
He fights his own footsteps. I offer a puke-pink plastic chair.
Shadow is hanging upside-down from the revolving greenboard, chalking something on it. He barely looks up as Gabriel groans and sinks onto the chair. Or perhaps he stares. Hard to tell with compound eyes.
Gabe's head drops into his hands, but even this gesture of defeat is strained. The muscles pulse all over his body under oddly-matched clothing. I know he can't keep a wardrobe together for more than a few days. A lot of this outfit has been randomly donated by some of the bigger guys in the Department.
"God, Feech, I'm diseased," he says to his piecemeal hands.
"I know, Gabe, I know." I've found it's best not to get him going on a conversation like this. Keep it low-key, I've learned, or you're fuelling a war.
"Fully three shop owners turned me down, and when approached by another student, gave in. I'm friggin' diseased."
"Yes, Gabe, you are," I agree, sitting on the harvest-orange chair next to him. "But so are a lot of the students. Maybe it's your approach."
He looks at me. One hand is changing, forcing itself into a crude imitation of some kind of a hoof. The ache that he feels is evident only in some small part of his almost sweetly defiant expression. He used to have brown hair and clear brown eyes, or at least he sometimes does now, but over his pale face the tousled hair may be brown or blue-grey or white on any given day or in any given hour. His eyes span the spectrum with every headache he battles.
He grins and says,"Feech, you are a shithead."
"I know that too, Gabriel."
Two more students enter the space, and most of the rest of Playwriting I follows.
Bahni and John come in, not arm in arm because this is class, but they might as well be. No one seems to be able to figure out how they get all of their classes together. Especially since Bahni graduates in the spring and John doesn't have his degree until the end of next year. They make an interesting pair, with little black-haired Bahni leaning against the tall John, whose sandy hair and stubble accentuate the rough-handsome lines of his features.
Bethuel isn't in this class, but his girlfriend, Juliet, is. The darling of the Department. I didn't know what to make of her at first. It wasn't until I saw her in a show that I understood her magic. Juliet has a disorder which prevents her from conceptualizing linear time, or cause-and-effect, as others do. Someone has to help her backstage at every show, giving her the scene she's about to go on and perform. But once she's out there in the lights, the combination of her intense concentration and the character's complete possession of her body makes her dazzling. I've talked to her a couple of times. She's sweet and hauntingly fragile.
Juliet's black leopard companion, Calico, comes to class too. He seems to have taken a shine to me, and of course I am flattered although I don't really get his motives. Never question an animal's affection, I guess. For that's what he is. A real leopard. Bethuel tells me that the University wouldn't remove Calico from Juliet anyway, since the constant companion is good for her, but he is not quite certain that the school knows Calico's true species. It's very possible that most people assume he is actually a female victim of SCABS, sharing Juliet's dorm room. Stranger things have happened on this campus, I think, and believe Bethuel is right that the school might not even question such a strange pair on its campus. I have been beginning to see that SCABS, or some strain of it, is especially prominent among these buildings that make up Hayden Heath University. There certainly is a high incidence of it among those who transfer here. Maybe I'm a fool to have registered here, or to stay now.
But I know that I am likely to be exposed to SCABS wherever I go. I could run. But those who run, as my father has seen among his patients many times, are escaping their friendships and family connections while running from a disease that is almost certainly unavoidable anyway.
When and if I contract the virus, I want my friends near me. I figure those I'm making at this school are as good a bet as any. I'm sticking.
Bahni helps Shadow adjust the greenboard for his lecture. Normally, this class would be held upstairs and Melodie would be teaching it, but the dance class needs the special floor in our room upstairs and Melodie is at a textbook-choosing meeting. We sit in our semi-circle like good little boys and girls and pay attention to Shadow's interpretation of Alexander Leaf's Waterslide.
He's really good. I sense that Gabriel is paying no attention, however. He shifts slightly in his chair and an elbow brushes me. I turn to look, and realize that from beneath a now-humped back Gabriel is fighting to turn his chin up towards me; Shadow sees it at the same time and then everyone turns.
"Gabe, are you--" Bahni barely gets the words out of his mouth before Gabriel sits up at a weird angle...
I'm not sure what he says but I believe a whisper escapes him. Then, a tremendous bellow. And this is Gabriel we are dealing with. Angry and truly at war. In the middle of class. God.
He runs for the wall, not the door, and I know what he's doing. I've seen him at it, but he's never given in to his anger during class or a show. He begins pounding on the paint, screaming and clawing as though he might destroy the theatre. The rest of us are frozen for a moment. Then Juliet gets up and goes to him, and Calico follows.
Gabe turns on them, tearless eyes blank, temples tight and furious.
"Gabriel, this is no time to be acting up." She really believes he is not diseased.
He seems about to answer, but Calico nudges gently between him and Juliet, evidently not trusting the look on Gabe's face. He sneers down at the leopard and spits, "Yeah, Calico, you fit right into this damn zoo."
Juliet makes an affronted sound, and Gabriel's arm jerks up-- I believe to grab his own face, but Calico is taking no chances. By the time the rest of us are surrounding them, the one-hundred-eighty-pound pitch-black leopard has wrestled a seething Gabriel to the dusty floor and is sitting on him. Gabriel fights the gentle grip of the big cat, but Calico concentrates on keeping him down.
John turns to Gabe while two or three others touch Juliet lightly. She is pleading in a soft voice for Calico to stop, but will not approach him.
"It's all right, Juliet, Gabriel's not hurt," John looks up to reassure her. She is unresponsive, but as Calico is carefully coaxed off of our classmate Gabriel breaks into a tirade. His body seems stuck in the shape of some half-beast, but his voice is his own.
"Gabe's not fuckin' hurt! He's FINE! He's frickin' FINE! Wanta see another scene?? I can do GABE CLIMBS A LADDER TO THE CAT WALK AND JUMPS! I can rip off my own face if you like! Won't hurt any more than normal everyday for old GABE!"
By now Juliet is white and shaking. Calico is at her side, yellow eyes firmly on the ranting Gabriel just in case, but she pays no attention to him. Shadow writes something quickly to one of the students, who replies, "I think he's in the design lab. I'll get him," and runs off. John is holding Gabriel by one arm and Bahni is helping.
"Shush, Gabe, pull yourself together. Come on now. Calm down." John submits to a spitting growl from Gabe, then speaks more softly, to me.
"Call an ambulance."
"NO! No." Gabriel sits up and Bahni and John let go of his arms. He shudders. His voice falls to a carefully controlled whisper. "Sorry to interrupt the class, Dominiq. Sorry..." His grey gaze turns to Juliet and something almost draws back the mask of control. Then he stands up.
The class backs off for Gabriel. His unsure form limps stoically to the puke-pink chair. Gabe sits, shaking with the tightness of forced-normal muscles. "It's all right. You may go on with the class, Shadow."
"Gabe..." I say softly in his ear, but he carefully raises a hand and pushes me away. Shadow considers a moment, watching as I retreat from my classmate's determined form, then returns to the greenboard. The shaken class rebuilds itself. The discussion of the drama in Waterslide continues.
After about two minutes of quiet Bethuel arrives. He and the student who went to find him approach Juliet worriedly. She immediately throws her arms around his neck like a little girl, then lets go and stares at him. A moment of concentration later she speaks: "I want to leave from this class, Bethuel."
He nods his blond head and leads her out. Calico pads after them. I sense no movement from Gabriel. The whole group smells like sweat. But we know now that Juliet has not been badly shocked by Gabriel's violent actions. Her leaving means that she wants to clear her mind; she will be back tomorrow.
During the remainder of the class Gabriel does not move. I glance over at him frequently, but his eyes are fixed on a point beyond Shadow and his jaw is dangerously clenched. Class ends, and he rises like the rest of us. Almost like the rest of us. As he turns and begins to force himself into a walk, to exit the black box, I notice a trickle of blood making its way surreptitiously out the corner of his tight mouth.
"Gabriel. I want--"
But in that instant he is gone, his walk unnaturally quick.
I run into Kent Dryer on the way out the door after Gabriel. "Whoa! Feech! First Gabe and now you. Is he all right? Didn't say anything to me."
I look up at the amber-eyed, effeminate man. Kent's gold hair has a silver-grey grizzling to it and his slim, chiseled look gives his strong frame a lightweight attractiveness. But his eyes are stern now, and he discreetly whiffs the air above my jacket.
"What the hell happened in there?"
I'm a bit shy of Kent, he already having had a play produced as well as being a talented singer and set designer, but at this point I feel he's the strongest one I can talk to.
"Gabriel went off the deep end. Calico pinned him, but no harm done. Not by the cat, anyway. John suggested we call the ambulance but he wouldn't have anything of it. I don't know where he's headed now."
I don't realize I'm shaking until I feel Kent's slim hand gripping my shoulder. "S'not so bad, Feech. Let's just go see if he's made it to his next class."
We do, and he has. But Gabriel is sitting as stiffly and painfully as in the black box. I'm afraid to interrupt the class, to disrupt his pattern. As long as he's in control... But that's a fallacy. Gabriel is not in control. Kent and I move away from the door and look at each other.
Kent speaks quietly. "I wonder if you'd help with a those damned paper scrolls for the next show. The printer ink isn't cutting it. Smears when we apply the glue. So now I have to color all of the words in by hand. And those markers smell bad."
"Sure, Kent, I'll help. And I think I've got some cinnamon smelly-markers downstairs if you want 'em. I get the feeling that Gabriel's not going back to normal-- for him anyway-- after this. Maybe we can talk..."
We retrieve the smelly-markers. So sue me. I'm a sucker for that sort of thing. Anyway, this way Kent and I won't have to slave away with those noxious pens. Once in the design lab, we test the ink and find it suitable. We sit down to work, and I wait for Kent to start the talking.
"He should have been in the hospital a long time ago. Before you transferred here." Kent speaks to the wall as much as to me, and I can't quite translate the slight hmphing sound that follows each sentence. He seems almost-- vulnerable.
"He hated the idea today. He's got to be in agony."
Kent makes that sound again and replies, "Gabriel's fighting something. But I'm not quite sure what. Not just the disease." Pause. "What are you doing after Gabe would be done with rehearsal tonight?"
"Nothing much. I'm pounding things together in the scene shop for awhile and then I'm going home. But what about Gabe? We should really check up on him. If we let him finish rehearsal, maybe he'll be more amenable to talking later. I don't have a car..."
"That's what I was thinking. I know you and he are friends. Maybe he'll talk to you, if he's better later. I have a car. I'll pick you up at 11:00, after my rehearsal. You're in the green house on Prentiss, right?"
"No problem at all, Feech. I'm worried about him too. Nobody's seen him eat in days. So far as I can tell, he lives on beer."
He's not joking and neither am I. "His metabolism seems to react well to the sugars digested in the beer. I've offered him nutrition drinks, but even though he's tried to hide the fact I know he-- throws them up."
That sound again. "He's got to get to a hospital. Got to let them stop the fight. He's fighting himself to death. If they could tranquilize him or something--"
Kent stops suddenly and I feel strange talking again. We work in silence. The pall of SCABS never feels so strong in Hayden Heath as when someone is refusing help. We're a tight bunch. We love to be asked for help. Gabriel won't ask. It leaves the rest of us uncomfortable and angry.
I don't see Gabriel again all day. I walk home for supper-- my house is two blocks off campus while Gabriel's is across town. After dinner, all through nailing set pieces together in the scene shop, I worry. I'm a worrier. I can't help it. Back at home I wait, fidgeting, for Kent. I tell myself that Gabe is fine, that he would know enough to get help if he really needed it. But I cannot make myself calm down.
Kent pulls up in a beige Pontiac and I hop in. "He'll have driven home by now. Maybe he'll be in a better mood," I say. Kent nods his fine-boned head but says nothing. We drive to where Gabe lives.
Upstairs in a needs-paint white house, having come up by the outside staircase by the sidewalk, Kent and I wait for a response to Kent's knock. We breathe several times, call Gabe's name, wait, knock again. Kent's strange amber eyes catch mine, and his nostrils flare slightly. I almost see his ears twitch back as he listens. Then, knowing I'm thinking the same thing he is, Kent sways back slightly and comes at the door in a smooth slamming motion. The door cracks. The next swift motion strips the moulding harboring the latch, and Kent steps into the room with me close behind.
The only sound in the room is from Gabe's computer. Its soft seashell-echo seems to drown our ability to speak. The room's main light is on, and the monitor adds its own brightness with a message-scrolling screen-saver.
I look at the dresser opposite the computer table and manage to say, "His portable stereo is gone. He must have taken it with him to rehearsal."
"No, he's been home and gone again." Kent has bent over a glass of beer sitting near the mousepad. "He had a sip out of this glass not long ago." His eyes shift to the scrolling screen-saver as I confusedly eye the rest of the room. "Where would he have gone out agai--" I begin, but Kent is stiff, watching the monitor. I, slow person that I am, finally turn and do the same.
I grab the mouse and, as I do so, the last screen used turns up-- the screen used to program the scroll.
Blink, blink, blink... the silent cursor in front of the two words "Gabriel Descending."
"He just wrote this," Kent growls.
I'm already at the phone, seizing it while tension clenches my heart and throat.
"Bahni and John," I say, shakily dialing the numbers. "Maybe he's there."
No answer. I try again. Kent takes the phone from me and I stand away.
"Don't panic," he tells me. I see him dial Bethuel's dorm room number. He taps his foot, ear cocked carefully to the receiever. "Beth," he says at last, and I sigh. "Kent. Yes. Feech and I are at Gabriel's and wondering where he went."
I feel the pause at the other end. I know Bethuel does not speak for some time. Then Kent listens hard, and hangs up the phone without saying another word to Beth.
I head for the car.
We get to the Performing Arts Building as clouds begin dispersing, revealing a clearer night sky. I don't need to ask Kent what transpired. Bethuel worried about Gabe at rehearsal. And he wouldn't be out for fun with Bahni and John. Not in his recent state. Beth thinks he's gone back to the theatre by himself. We think he has too, know he has.
The screams reach our ears thinly, floating somewhere near the ceilings of the halls, like sounds from a show in progress somewhere in the building. Angry and anguished, they compete with a faint, pounding song. Gabriel's portable stereo. I know the song. His frustration, hatred, pounded out along with it on many occasions.
"I GET KNOCKED DOWN..."
Loud, faint to our ears, the song Gabriel does his hating to is in discord with inhuman shrieks.
Kent is moving so fast I can't keep up with him. I am grateful when he reaches back and grabs my chilled hand. "I'm sure he's all right. Just mad." Kent is a bad liar.
Even Kent jolts back at the sights, sounds, scents of the black box. Only one creature is in existence here tonight-- Gabriel, on the floor in blood and thin vomit and things I can't seem to identify.
"I GET KNOCKED DOWN, BUT I GET UP AGAIN, NEVER GONNA KEEP..."
In the blaring sound I smell the red stuff I know Kent is balking at, and I know we are both thinking-- the world has gone inside out-- there is never real blood, never real damage, in the theatre.
I step forward into "--GET UP AGAIN, NEVER GON--" and snap the stereo off. Only there is not silence. Gabriel is screaming from parts of his body that should not be able to scream. Kent bends down, stepping from the space behind me, and grips Gabe's hands. He stops injuring himself. But the screams continue, strangled yet piercing. Kent is murmuring to the battling form but I can't hear him. I stumble, turn and bolt for the office. Dial emergency. Give the information without even hearing myself.
Gabe bleeds on the black floor, fluids edged with dust from rehearsing feet. Tears are streaming into crevasses that appear and disappear painfully in his face. My jacket comes off, presses against a wound I can find, one I can affect. I shout, not knowing I am going to, "Gabriel! Gabe! What the hell are you fighting!?"
I know the tortured eyes turn towards me, for Kent reacts to the movement to. Gabe is still struggling. But for a moment, less than a second, there is a connection. Almost surrender. Then we are back to restraining the violently shifting figure on the floor until the paramedics arrive.
I watch as the white-clad men do their thing. Kent and I both find voice to tell the unheeding Gabriel that we will be with him at the hospital. Then we return to the car and drive in silence. The sky is a clean obsidian dark. I always notice the night sky and the stars. Even at a time like this.
Once there, of course we can't see him, not yet, say the nurses. A doctor comes to tell us that he will give us an update-- later.
I get on the phone and begin calling theatre people.
Soon there is a small collection of Gabe's concerned friends from the Department, standing around near the empty, soft chairs of the reception area. Nobody says a word.
It's after dawn when they let us in. We're all starving, but have no appetite. We're tired, but have not taken seats. The doctor says that Gabriel's wounds will heal, but that they have not completely stabilized his changing body. "He's no longer resisting," the man tells us. "He is exhausted. We believe Gabriel is beginning to settle into a certain form. He will need constant observation until we are certain he will not harm himself again, however."
We all look hurt, as though the admission of self-inflicted wounds is an insult to Gabriel.
Kent and I enter the room with the others in a quiet half-circle behind us.
A white-clad Gabriel slides grey eyes over to look at us.
"Kent," he says. His voice has changed. It matches the large, maned, bovine head. Fingers smoothly furred with blue-grey hairs trace a line of shadow in the hospital sheets. I know what sort of creature rests before us, but I find it difficult to define Gabe as any one creature. After all this fighting...
"Kent," he repeats, and the tall young man is at his side. "Sorry about that. Sorry. Feech, sorry. Shadow, sorry. Juliet, sorry. Juliet..." He's babbling. I move forward and take one of his hands-- Kent seems somehow unable.
The roomful of theatre people falls dead silent. Then Gabe says, clearly, "Only one good thing could have come of this disease, Feech. One good thing. Damn!"
I take my cue and ask,"What, Gabriel?"
"Okay, you all laugh at this answer, okay? It's a joke, see? My life is a friggin' joke. Could I fight it into the one good result? No. So now I'm a man and a wildebeest. My voice is screwed and all of you have seen me throw a fit. Most of you, anyway.
"I thought I could do it. Make it bend to my will. But I wasn't that strong. So here's your new Gabriel, the fucking blue-grey African wildebeest-man with undeniably masculine features." He fakes a bow from upon the bed. "Thank you, thank you."
The group is still silent. I marvel that Gabriel has been able to shut up a bunch of theatre folks more than once in the last twenty-four hours. Kent finds his missing voice.
"I broke your door open," he falters.
I startle. Kent's eyes are deep, expressive. Fixed in some vulnerability on Gabriel's exhausted person.
Gabriel sees it too, and lets out a short, inexplicable laugh. It comes out as a deep snort.. But it sounds like Gabe.
The other members of the visiting party move to the bed, chatting now, making sure their Department companion knows they care. I feel my own fatigue and sink onto Gabe's hospital bed, combining rest and comforting. Kent does the same on the other side. And now he takes hold of Gabe's hand.
I stay for an hour, then volunteer to get breakfast for those who are staying. "I'll go with you," Kent says. But Gabriel grips his hand.
"Will you please stay here?"
Kent responds with a slight nod. Melodie goes with me instead.
I look back as we exit the white room. Kent's slim hand is wrapped in Gabriel's blue-grey fingers. The chest of the man under the sheets rises and falls evenly with his quiet breathing.
Gabriel's body is otherwise perfectly still.
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