It was not the most convenient of times. There were a lot of loose ends to tie up…my Hustler subscription to cancel, Bronco season tickets to sell…and long overdue things I should have said. When they removed me from my bed, took me out into the hallway and through the front door, a hardening of my arteries had already begun. My skin felt cold and tight as if it were slowly being stretched on a rack. My eyes and mouth pulsing in full blown hooked trout startle mode.
What surprised me most about the evening was that I somehow knew this was the end. I lay in bed cursing aloud how neglectful I had been with my affairs…how I should have destroyed my porn collection…and of course the photos of Elaine Maryville who had been kind enough to pose naked upon my bed. The very bed which had given me insurmountable pleasure over the years, the mattress of my hopes and dreams, now the place in which I drew my final breath.
Earlier in the evening I had been dining with my daughter, Carol. Such an animated young woman! Tossing her hair about, piling it high atop her head, only to release it again, letting it fall onto her soft, curved shoulders.
Always somewhat of a drain to dine with my Carol. Since Betty’s death five years ago last April, my daughter has felt it her duty to eat supper with me one night a week. At the onset, it was a warm welcome to the loneliness I felt after thirty-five years of marriage to her mother, but as the months and years passed, I realized that Carol was a woman with her own void to fill.
She chatters incessantly of her husband Tom and their two offspring, my grandchildren. If I hadn’t seen them with my own eyes, I would presume her stories to be true, but alas, there is little room for greatness from the gene pool of the Delberts. Carol’s husband, Tom Delbert could possibly be the swinging axe which levels our family tree. Still, in Carol’s own charmingly naive way of sizing up the world, her children had only to continue their educational trot, and fame and fortune would logically follow.
“Raising kids is like molding clay,” she tells me, “You must shape their minds and prepare them for their rightful place.”
I always found Carol to be a little tragic, frittering her days away with committees and meetings where she would discuss her children’s virtues carefully among strangers as if they were part of an experimental 4-H project. I never thought my daughter would be one who spent her day in tennis whites…a sport she never excelled at, but here she is tonight, dressed as if she’d just won a disappointing silver platter at Wimbleton.
I caught myself dozing off during her elaborate account of little Emily’s ballet recital, and how Thomas Jr. placed third in the long jump. Carol attributed my boredom and fatigued state to the recent affair with Elaine Maryville. Twenty years my junior, Elaine is of the highest concern to my children.
Carol tells me a story, which she is sure will catch my attention. She pokes at a few stray spinach leaves on her plate and takes a deep breath.
“You remember the Crutchers? Poor Louise Crutcher died of a brain tumor a few years back, and while her body was still steaming, Bob Crutcher took up with a young woman half his age. She ran through his life savings, traveling on perennial Norwegian cruise liners, and then impulsively decided that Bob absolutely needed an expensive new foreign sports car. Shortly thereafter, I saw him driving a new BMW with plush leather seats and tinted windows. A convertible, no less! I swear, everyone knew Bob was a man of simple tastes. It was all that young woman’s doing. The next thing we knew, Bob Crutcher had keeled over at the football game with not even enough money to pay for a decent funeral. His kids had to dip into their savings, and still that woman is driving around town in Bob’s Beamer.
“Why are you telling me this?” I asked her.
“We’ll Daddy,” she paused, her eyes sunken and sad, “Are you aware there are women in the world who prey on older men with money?”
I should have laughed like a bloody fool, but instead I found myself irritated, my chest tightened. Now I regret it immensely, especially in lieu of my current state, but I snapped at Carol. I told her my affair with Elaine was none of her business, and if she felt that I had squandered away my worth, then I would have no objection to her using my body as a large Duraflame log to make one hell of a backyard bonfire.
I should have held my tongue. Carol picked up her napkin and after wiping both corners of her mouth with an aggressive jabbing motion, placed the cloth in a heap on the table.
“It’s getting late,” she said, and stood.
I got to my feet slowly, debating the need to make amends, but a sudden numbing sensation in my chest stopped me, a tingling in my arms and legs, accompanied by a sudden pain. The pain passed quickly, and as my senses cleared I was reminded of my most recent bout with ill health. How lax I had become about carrying my nitroglycerine.
The evening cut short, I asked Carol if she could help me to the car. She looked worried but I assured her that it was nothing that a little sleep wouldn’t cure. Carol, unusually quiet on the car ride home pulled into the driveway and quickly lurched toward me brushing her thin lips over my cheek. Shuffling as people my age tend to do, I made my way up the front porch, just as she rolled down her window and yelled instructions.
“Daddy, for God sakes, take your medicine!”
I waved, but Carol, being a tad heavy on the pedal, had already gunned the car back onto the street and out of range.
Defiantly, I did not heed her advice. Instead, upon entering the house, I poured myself a rather stiff glass of brandy and retired to the bedroom.
How still the night! The air cool, with a hint of frost on the window ledge. I cursed myself for neglecting to wrap the pipes and winterize the place. I know better than to wait for the first frost. That’s exactly how my mind was working. Never occurred to me that I would be cursing my ticker in the wee hours.
Feeling uncomfortably cold and not wanting to raise the thermostat if need be, I dressed myself in my warmest pajamas…a one-piece flannel with the button up-front that I got from L.L. Bean. Hideous actually, but I bought them a few years back after a frightfully cold winter when no one was sharing my sheets.
Climbing into bed, I settled back to read from the newest Grisham novel, a Valentine’s Day gift from Elaine. Without warning, the pain struck again. Sharp and excruciating this time, like a bullet wound. It became impossible to breath. I made every attempt to reach for my medicine and arm wrestle the phone, but the acute spasms left me paralyzed. My brain ceased to function properly and telephone numbers escaped me.
How I wished Elaine would have joined us for dinner and accompanied me home, although I know how Carol detests my lover. Had my daughter not been such a social snob, concerned about appearances and her inheritance, I would probably be in Elaine’s arms right now, instead of alone fumbling for the receiver.
But Elaine was in her own home, likely asleep by now, curled up on her right side as is her habit, her breathing even with mine. Before I slipped into a coma, I did manage to dial the emergency hotline and utter some garbled words of my whereabouts.
I must commend the ambulance attendants. They were there in a heartbeat, (no pun intended.) There were three of them, one strapping sensors to me, another pounding my chest, and the third seemed to be overseeing the whole operation while fidgeting with the equipment. It was quite impressive! This being a profession I had not given much thought to, I found to my amazement that I felt totally at ease in their care.
It was not long after the beating that the crew sat back and looked at my motionless body.
“We lost him,” the one with the big hands who had been tormenting me told dispatch.
Immediately I was transported to the ambulance. Of course I did not expect gingerly treatment at that stage although I could not help but surmise that there must be something in between a carefully executed lift, and a full-on body toss.
We raced quickly down my street passed the Nickerson’s house, where that lovely looking woman who was crowned Miss Colorado in 1948 lives, and the Omak house whose boys made it a point to pick the best apples off my trees and pummel passing cars with them.
It was late when we arrived at the hospital. They unloaded me quickly and transported my body to a holding area of sorts. When the gurney pulled to a stop, a couple of attendants lifted the sheet, exposing my pale lifeless body, red chest, and the remains of my torn pajamas. I realized that I was soon to be a toe-tagged John Doe in long johns.
For a brief moment, I panicked. It could easily be a few days before the kids were contacted. My God, a week could pass before they might think to check in on their old man. Besides, Carol was angry when she dropped me off. How long before I called to apologize the last time we had words? It was over a week! I will have freezer burn! Then there is my son, Stephen. As much as I love my firstborn he beats to his own drum. I never know what the hell he is doing…some sort of alternative healing work. I paid for college and three years of medical school only to have him drop out so that he can follow energy. Obviously the phone is negative energy because he never returns my calls.
What if my wife Betty is waiting in a celestial bridal suite to resume our marriage? Anxious for my arrival, hopeful it will be soon. She is probably up there right now fluffing cloud pillows. Good Lord, what will I say to her? After all my devilishly promiscuous earthly romps with Elaine…how could I possibly think about rekindling a heavenly love with Betty?
The realization hit me. I am a dead man. A dead man with a woman in each sphere, apparently drifting somewhere on the outskirts of limbo…a sig-alert on the periphery of science and conscience.