[Coming down to the home stretch now. And yes, music matters, a lot…so give a listen…]
‘This isn’t so bad…’
He flexed his fingers, then his toes – before he took a deep breath.
‘Kind of cold here, though. Wherever the Hell here is.’
“Henry? Can you hear me?”
‘That’s a familiar voice.’
“Henry, can you open your eyes?”
He opened his eyes and for a moment thought he was looking at Doris Day again, but no, not this time. Yet the voice was familiar, way too familiar, and the woman’s eyes were as well.
“Do I know you?” he asked, and the old woman smiled at the question.
“I’m not sure that you do,” she replied.
“You look so familiar…”
“Do I? How peculiar…” the woman said, her voice lost somewhere between irony and sarcasm.
He looked around the room now…at ancient stone walls and flickering torchlight, then his senses picked up the blue tint enveloping everything and he knew he was back in the village. And if this was the village then this woman had to be either Britt or Eva, but whoever it was had to now be almost a hundred years old. “Who are you?” he finally asked.
“Your daughter. Sara, in case you managed to forget. Again.”
“What? So, your mother is…?”
“Yes. Years ago.”
“And Britt? Has she passed, too?”
The woman nodded, yet when he saw Eva’s gentle expression in the woman’s eyes his own filled with tears. “Sorry. I wasn’t expecting this,” he said sullenly, looking past the present into memory.
“Expecting what, exactly?”
“For them…for your mother to be gone.”
“Oh? Why’s that?”
“I thought with the other residents being, well, pretty much immortal – that they would be too.”
“Well, Henry, this is your dream so dream it any way you like…”
His head bounced – hard – and he was in the back of the ambulance, a paramedic adjusting the flow rate on an IV running into his port.
“Tracy?” he asked the medic. “La femme qui était avec moi? Où est-elle?”
“Avec le chien. Elle a dit qu’elle allait appeler votre oncologue.”
He closed his eyes and felt himself drifting away, and soon all sound had left as well.
Yet now he was afraid to even open his eyes.
He was on his back now, eyes open and looking at the vast ringed planet overhead.
Only Pinky was with him now; he could see concern in her eyes and on her face, and he felt disoriented by the sudden change.
“Is this the dream again?” he asked her.
“No, not this time.”
“Am I dying?”
And when she smiled he relaxed. “No, not at all.”
“My daughter. Sara. She told me that Eva and Britt are gone.”
“Gone? Do you mean – death?”
“No, that is most certainly not the case.”
“Pinky, tell me something, would you? And the truth this time, okay?”
“Has all this been a dream?”
“The trip on the Bandits, Eva and Dina and everything. Was all that just a dream?”
“Of course not.”
“It really happened? I mean, it wasn’t some kind of psychotic delusion?”
“No, Henry. Everything happened – just as you remember it happening.”
He heard a door opening and then he was jerked out into the daylight, and now it really was very cold. Nurses surrounded him as his gurney was pushed inside an unseen hospital, then he was in a room with a huge domed light overhead. Someone spread his legs and began shaving the insides of his thighs, then an unseen hand had his penis and he felt an electric razor cutting away decades of hair. More leads were attached to his chest and a mask was placed over his nose and mouth.
“Henry?” a kindly voice said, interrupting his fear, “try to stay with me. We are going to go up through a vessel in your leg to your heart and try to open up an artery. You’re going to feel a little pressure now…”
But no, it wasn’t pressure, and it sure wasn’t little. He felt a cold splash of Betadine then the hot pinch of a lidocaine injection. Next, sharp pain, then hideously hot and never-ending.
“Jesus, what are you shoving up there? A hot poker?”
“I’m sorry, Henry, I don’t want to use so much pain medication now. Just hang in there.”
He tried to drift off but the pain was simply too insistent, and he was all too aware that there were at least five or six people moving all around his gurney. Then he lifted his head and saw the screen – just a little – and the little wire probe winding its way through his heart to what the physician said was a really nasty looking blockage.
He put his head down after that, feeling more light-headed than he thought possible. Then at some point he simply closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. No dream, no Pinky, just the black nothingness of pure, uninterrupted sleep. Kind of like…
He opened his eyes again and saw Tracy standing by a window in a spare little room. A hospital room all decked out in beige and brown. And his leg hurt now, though he couldn’t quite remember why…
“Hi there,” he said – then Tracy wheeled around and dashed to the side of his bed. She kissed his forehead, then again, this time on the lips, and he felt good all over.
“Welcome back,” she said, more than a little tearfully.
“You had a vapor lock.”
“Ah, so an oil change and a tire rotation too, I suppose?”
“Naw, they just put a new set of Michelins on. It was past time, ya know…?”
“You had a heart attack. Basically, the paramedics saved your ass this time.”
“I see. And Clyde? I remember something about blood in his stool?”
“The vet came by and she took him to her clinic. He should be home Tuesday afternoon.”
“What about chemo? Can they…?”
“They want to wait a few days before…”
“Did you hear anything about the trial?”
“No opening. In fact, the trial is just about over – which is good news. The results go to the FDA after that.”
“No word yet on how the results skew?”
She shook her head. “No way they’d talk about that yet.”
“So, when can I get out of this lovely place?”
“It’s not the Crillon, is it?”
He tried to change position and grimaced as another wave of pain crossed his face. “Well, I do love the decor. I had no idea the French could do 1960s Howard Johnson’s so well.”
“I think you’ll head home on Tuesday, if that’s any comfort.”
“But no chemo, right?”
“Not ’til the end of the week.”
He sighed and looked across the room and out a little sliver of window, and he could see the city out there. “I don’t want to waste any more time in here than I have to.”
“Can I bring you anything?”
“Escargot and a roast duck would be nice.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Tracy said, grinning. “Anything else?”
“Let me know what Anton is up to, okay?”
“Yeah, will do. And, oh! – I brought your phone and laptop, and I found a charger. Want me to set it up while I’m here?”
“Sure. Have at it.”
“Henry? It’s going to get better…okay? Getting in a funk after a heart attack is pretty much the norm.”
He nodded. “Got it.”
“I’ll shut up now.”
“Don’t you dare. Just…don’t talk about me. There’s got to be a million more interesting things out there to talk about.”
“Not to me.”
“What about your mom. Still coming Tuesday?”
Tracy nodded, but she looked away this time. “Gonna be a rough day, Hank. You coming home, and Clyde too. Then her – on top of all that. I’m not sure I’ll be up for all the drama.”
“Well, she always was a decent drama queen. Glad some things haven’t changed.”
“Think you can handle her?”
“Edith? No problem.”
Tracy grinned. “You got kind of a shit-eatin’ grin thing going there, Hank. What are you going to do to her?”
“Do – to – her? Why…nothing, Tracy dearest.”
“Oh…God. What have I done?”
Tracy left a half hour later; Henry opened his laptop and waded through his email.
“Oh, crap-a-doodle-doo,” he moaned as he read through Dina’s missive concerning heart attacks and chemo outcomes. When he finished he replied with a curt ‘Thanks’ and then read through Rolf’s latest – asking yet again when he was going to be able to come down to Paris.
He left that one unanswered – for the time being – then read through letters from his lawyer and a short note from Hallberg-Rassy explaining what they wanted to do regarding possible hull damage after Rotterdam. He replied to that one, then saved a copy of the exchange in Rolf’s file.
A vampire came in and drew blood, then a nurse flitted in and checked his vitals – looking intensely cute as she pranced around his bed. ‘I guess when I stop looking at legs like that I’ll know I’m finally gone,’ he sighed as she jiggled and wiggled out the door.
Then his oncologist walked in – a dour frown etched in steel across her pale face.
“My, don’t we look happy today?” he said to her, smiling.
“Well, I am not, Mr. Taggart…but how are you feeling?”
“I’ve felt better.” She nodded – though he could tell something was distracting the woman. “So, is it good news or bad?”
“Bad, I’m afraid. The final report from the MRI is in and it shows metastases in the pancreas and liver.”
“That can’t be good.”
“No, it isn’t. We may be able to slow further spread but once in the pancreas our options narrow considerably.”
“So, we can stop all the miracle cure nonsense now?”
“Such an outcome looks unlikely now.”
And there is was, Henry thought. The point of no return. Beyond here there be dragons.
And he smiled. “Well, I’ve grown used to the idea of kicking the bucket soon, so the idea of changing all my plans knocked me for a loop. Guess I can go back to Plan One, eh?”
“You know, I was expecting tears, not a smile and a joke.”
“What good does crying do, Doc? I mean, really – I’m sixty-something years old!”
“Sometimes crying makes people feel better?”
Henry shook his head. “Nope. Not me. Any idea how long I’ve got?”
“I wouldn’t be making plans past New Years.”
“So, a month? Or thereabouts?”
She nodded. “About that. Give or take a few days.”
“And if a miracle mRNA cure comes along?”
“We start immediately and hope for the best.”
“What about chemo? Any need to try again?”
She shook her head. “No. Such a course of action is not really justified now. I would say, given your past history with such agents, you would fill your remaining time with serious discomfort with little chance of any gain.”
“Well then. That is, as they say, that.”
“I am so sorry, Mr. Taggart. I was hopeful…”
He nodded and smiled again. “C’est la vie, no?”
“I suppose so. May I pass this information along to Dina?”
“Very well. I will see you before discharge, if that’s alright with you.”
“I want to meet this dog of yours. His story seems most amazing.”
“Well then, you’ll have to drop by the marina. For dinner, perhaps?”
“Yes, perhaps. Well, I will talk with you tomorrow.”
After she was gone Henry called the nurse and asked if they could perhaps move his bed closer to the window. He wanted, he said, to look at the City of Lights spread out down there in the darkness.
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.