Mudlark No. 56 (2015)

Mad Cell Suite

1. Call

Seems the lab tests are back. Doc phones, you’re in the yard. skill-saw in hand, earplugs in, you take a break, come into the house, see the light blink. Call me back, says a man’s voice—kind voice, but does not say Tests are fine, which is what they say when they’re fine, so you call back and get the desk and they look for him: He’s stepped out. Can he call you? You tell them who you are, hang up.

It’s there, and there’s something in you that likes it that it’s there and not with you, not known—the fact of it glows where he is, it’s on his desk in that high-rise, white sheet, black words, then a line of code. You can’t see it, would not know how to read it—the mean, the more-than-mean, the less—but he knows what it means.

So you sit. What else to do but sit—go back to the saw? Cut the 2-by-4, fit it to its frame, nail it home as the no-facts swirl in sawdust air?

No. Best to sit, wait. He’ll be back soon, she said. And here it is: here it comes right now. Phone rings in the next room, and you stand & walk & pick it up. A man says your name.

Yes, you say. Yes.

2. Who Knows?

First it’s who Must Know: but when should they? You need to scan the charts, find the links the doc sent, get a sense of the whole cloth of the thing then tell those who Must Know, but phrase it so no fear’s spread, no grief flows, make sure you weave a good laugh in, Two Men Walk Out of a Bar—no, too cruel, the walk out part—but still you ought to give the sense to those who Must Know that all’s not lost—and in some odd ways there might be gain.

Then those who Should Know (but what good will it do them? you think), like those who live close by, who see it in your eyes, hear it in your voice—What do you mean you’re fine—you don’t seem fine to me—they know the look, and then of course you spill it, ask that it not go far...

Most of the Musts done, the Shoulds half-done (not so kind, you think, to phone a friend ten states east and say, “Hey, Steve, how are you? Good. Well, guess what?” and roll it out.) But what if you don’t phone and word moves state to state, Steve hears, and now he’s hurt, and you did not mean for things to snake east that way. So you call him—he seems less shocked than you thought he’d be (hoped he’d be?), and you don’t know how to read it.

Then the Ought to Know I Guess, and you think of Pat & Eve, but Eve’s in that group of friends—they camp at High Creek in June, same place each year, first their kids and now their grandkids there, and you know that Eve would want to keep it to herself, but know goddamned well that by the end of that half-drunk first-night High Creek steak-fest they’d all know (hushed tones, of course), and from there it’s the old phone game, far north of truth—and god, can’t you just feel it as the whole thing leaks, drip by drip ’til the earth on which you walk goes thick with it and you slog through, you who once tried to own this thing; it’s out now, one wide ooze through the cracked doors of Those Who Should by No Means Know.

3. Notes in the Night

Most nights I’m fine, but some nights I stare into the blue-black air and have this sense that there’s an air wrench, the kind you hear in car shops, high-torqued as lug-nuts are pulled off, steel on steel, fast, and I spin with that torque, down & down.

I know: the mad cells in me, far less fierce for now than those some friends have had: some of those friends gone, but still I feel death stalk—wish I had God.

Did have God once, as a kid. No God now but each face of those I love, each voice. To be on this earth has been good. But then?

My friend Ell loves the stars, writes of the Coalsack, and when I read that phrase I see some drunk klutz, torn rucksack on his back, pitched through space, chunks of raw coke spilled, and it’s we who trail back of him, pick up the junk he’s left. At times I think there’s not much more to us than that.

Some nights I’m scared, think of what one man in the mad-cell men’s group said. He’d just learned those cells of his had gone to bone. My mom’s went to bone, he said—the pain’s bad, and one night near the end she said she’d like to bake me a cake, and I sat there and watched her stir the dough, and when she was halfway through her arm broke, just swung there, back and forth. He did not say I’m scared—no need—we were scared for him, and no one got up to hug him, say it’s all right: it was not all right, would not be all right, and we just looked, took it in, and we were there and he was there and he did not come back.

4. Pre-op

We should get to bed, the wife says.

We should.

But though the meal’s done, the man pours himself one more glass of red, one for her. Let’s see what’s on T.V. he says, so they flick it on. Oh, God, see what’s on 5—oh, jeez, how can we watch this shit, then they find a show on 9 that tells of how trains first came to their town—bribes, free land, real boomtown stuff—one rich guy who said Let’s do this right, take it slow, pay a good wage, three who said No, we’ve got to make it quick—and how the three brought boatloads of men from the Far East to slave in heat, in ice, die in heat & ice.

The show ends, it’s late, they speak of the four names they’d heard—how wealth comes down, how those who hold those names or hide them in the names they wed still own half the state.

They talk like this to push off the next day—the one in red script in the May 10th square—once seemed far: one more wake-up and it’s there.

They go to bed, won’t get the Good Night’s Sleep urged, the rude clock wakes them at half-past five, they get up, he bathes while she makes tea, they get in the car, pull up, park, he says Let’s get this good goddamn thing done with, she says O.K, George, though George is not his name, but at times she calls him that—an old thing with them.

They go in.

Big place—full at 6:10, not a seat left, so they stand. A clerk walks in, a box in her hands, sends clipboards through the crowd.

Fill out Lines 5, 6, and 8, sign next to the X. She leaves.

Now a nurse, red hair, pink scrubs.

O.K., let’s start top down, shall we? Who’s here for brain—raise your hand.

Four hands go up; some who came with them weep a bit, pull it in.

Who for heart? Lung? Come with me, please. Spouse O.K.—friends too, for now. The rest of you, hold tight—I’ll be right back down.

The Brains the Hearts the Lungs go down the hall. The door on the lift spreads. Some don’t make it in. Take the next one, says the nurse. Meet me on the fifth floor.

Soon she’s back down.

The rest of you: no brain, no heart, no lungs, right? Good. Just to check. That means you’re all belt down, eh? The crowd nods. She laughs. You guys have the most fun. Keep your clipboards.

The Brains the Hearts the Lungs had stood as one, and now, trained, the down-from-the-belts rise, turn.

Sure you don’t want me to come? the wife says.

I’’m sure. I’ll be fine.

You’ll be fine.

Gerald Fleming | Long Dead, You Call
Contents | Mudlark No. 56 (2015)