My bell was rung like I’d just gut suckered by a sledgehammer highball, and all the nurses were on vacation, and there really is no simple way to ask questions you don’t want to hear the answers to, but the streets were slick and smooth, and the rain hadn’t happened yet, and the sun wasn’t partaking in the occasion. Sometimes the rolling, verdurous hills run away with the elephants. And sometimes, well, sometimes, like when the streets are slick and smooth, and the greatest girl in all of Tuscaloosa has just left her teeth marks in your earlobe, you have got to know when to cut your losses and head for those rolling, verdurous hills before they get going without you.
“You once told me you about the airplane sound in your daydreams. We do not have solid footing…anymore.”
“Right. The pressure’s on.”
“Beside the point.”
She talked to me with caresses in her eyebrows. There were tiny snake lines in her forehead, and we’d always danced it all off with a laugh when the waiters came around. Borrowed laughs, they were. Time flew. We had choppier waters to negotiate through then. The tumbling whitewater came and went. Now we had less than each other of ourselves to face it with. Now the grim returns were slimmer too.
“Get it by the gallon,” she said. “The thoroughbred in us takes the pie and drinks minute amounts of poison well before dark.”
“Just enough to not kill you.”
I kept gazing at a passel of blue and pink doves that were materializing in the bowsprit of my consciousness. What colors were doves supposed to be? I didn’t ask the questions I should’ve. Wires and cables. No service to speak of. No people around to even feign some interest or care. I got in the habit of telling myself, “You’ll feel better again, soon enough.” But I didn’t really believe it. I never would have time to write any of these things down.
On the auburn backs of her dotted palms — my eyes were spotty, still — I wanted tinier things.
She puffed her lips in a thorny and curt, “You?”
“No. We. Us,” I told her. “That’s what we’re so used to saying.”
“Sued to this, I take it.”
“Don’t you go getting too easy on me, Mike.”
“That’s what they called me as a little girl.”
Blood trickled in my throat. “At least I’m not coughing it up yet. Or gargling on it.”
She stretched a few delicate fingers my way. “We aren’t there, are we? Where is the place we’re going to.”
“That could be a question, too, right?”
“Not while I’m watching the flamingos dance.”
“And Kilimanjaro is snowing again.”
“Only morons read Hemingway…dear.”
Where was the place that we would always go to. I knew that. Where. What a grand place to go. Not just to visit. To run away to. To be from. To be forever going and leaving. Just like what it meant for a person to be alive, to not be dead.
“My head’s fuzzy with this stuff, now.”
She put a cold cloth on my forehead as I lay back, stiff and composed as I could, and we waited for some final fever of this blasted sickness to either come or abate. There is nothing worse than waiting for the inevitable horror that you know you will never outlast. I was later than most in getting the courage to be the person whom I could’ve always been, and I shook with that horror longer than I should have. Now, well, she was just there to comfort and console, not to return the favor of kindness with a slow wrinkling of her eyes.
“You should rest,” she said.
“Sure. Rest. That’s all I’ll ever need to do. Sure. Just rest. Sure.”
I slipped into a coma.
When I woke everything was blazing with sunset, and the caramelized hills were baked apples and dusted with cinnamon, and the elephants had gone stampeding away without the careful humpbacks of the hills, and the streets were shiny and cracked and I didn’t want to be in them, and my ears were ringing and ringing, and I never wanted to stay where I was ever again.
“How long,” I croaked.
“Yes. It is very good.”
“The best news.”
“The best we’ve got.”
There were crooked little lines along her palms that itched sometimes when the weather got ornery and I traced them with a finger to see where it got us as the lights shifted from white to purple to yellow and then to blue. The glitter of stilettos dangling from a chandelier blinded me, and I closed my eyes, and I wandered off in my thoughts.
“Let’s head for…somewhere else.”
“Sure. We will.”
The season smelled of dank horse and cheap caviar. A worried look spanned the sky’s countenance. I was all out of reason and reasons.
“Are we ever going anywhere?”
“Can you make it stop?”
“This. All of this.”
“We’re out of cigarettes. I’ll be back before you can count on me to count backwards from 99 to 1.”
“We don’t smoke.”
The world got so dusty I couldn’t see it. The doves were getting manicures and the parachutes were failing and the rats were getting fat on the wounded. There was nothing left to do. I’d fallen down and she was never coming back and the rounded prow of my top was smoothing to a dull, boring finale. There was nowhere left to go to. I stayed and I stayed, no lines left to use, beyond the rolls of any hills or the gaze of a trillion stars or the slickest rain-wet streets in all of Africa. There, beyond the softest beatings of a heart’s longest murmur, there was nothing left to worry about ever again.