This is not where I went to sleep. The air is different. And the light. And I’m sitting in a chair. It’s a good chair. Even if I don’t remember how I came to be sitting in it.
Did I have a cold? I feel remarkably fresh. Like my sinuses have been cleared with steam, and my fingers have bath wrinkles but they’re younger than remembered. Or was I aging in a dream?
And indeed there will be time.*
There are people now. They measure the blood beating at my wrist and ask me if I’m cold. No, but why do you wear masks? My protection. So are you ill, or am I?
‘Welcome Back, Ronald,’ it says upon the wall. Yes, why thank you. Always good to be here. But from where did I come? They only ask what I remember. That’s why I’m asking. No, Ronald, the last thing.
Mary scolding me, I spilled a glass of wine. That shirt is ruined now. The children will visit tomorrow. I’ve put my pajama trousers on backwards. The bedsheets smell of laundry soap.
There will be time.
Does Mary know I’m here? Good. Otherwise she’s prone to worry.
The very very last thing? Why on earth would it matter? Sleeping, I suppose. And waking. And sleeping. And sleeping in the cold.
The masks nod with certain interest. I ask what it’s about. They ask if I remember my funeral arrangements. What absurd… A wake if I was decent. A service with a lunch. No, it was a windowed casket – like a capsule. You see, I’ve arranged for…
Their eyes are looking at me. The masks crinkle with their sympathetic smiles. The cold. Welcome back.
There will be time.
I wasn’t sleeping, was I?
* A line from “The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot.
“This is a terrible idea,” Peter said as Lily wrapped the bandage around his head, “We’ll never get away with it.”
“Silence!” she commanded, tucking the stray end into the wrapping.
“I don’t know, I mean… Darling, don’t you think that this is just a little bit over the top?”
“No,” she said, tugging here and there to test the security of the gauze.
“Well, if nothing else,” Peter sighed, “I must admit, this is a terrible use of bandage.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, quite simply… you’ve gone and wrapped the whole roll around my head.”
“But you’re hurt,” Lily perplexed.
“Yes, dear, but only for pretend,” Peter rubbed the spot on top of his nose bedecked with heavy-rimmed glasses, “Don’t you think you could have–”
“Shh!” she insisted, “Now go and lie down, I’ll take your temperature.”
Peter did as he was told, stretching out on the extravagant twin mattress. Lily administered the – thankfully unused – end of a cherry popsicle stick with which she ascertained his terrible state of affairs.
“Oh boy,” she said.
“What is it?”
“You’ve got a fever.”
“Is it serious, doctor?” Peter asked, adjusting the wealth of bandage to take the pressure off his temples.
“You’re a gonner,” Lily said with as much seriousness as a five year old could manage.
“I had a feeling this was coming.”
“We’ll have to operate.”
Lily dug through her toy chest to retrieve the proper implements. She returned to the bedside with Tinker-Toy and Barbie Doll posing as saw and scalpel.
“Are you ready?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Peter said, taking a serious gaze at the ceiling.
“Hello!” a white head of hair stuck itself inside the door, “Lunch is ready in five minutes.”
“Ok Grandma,” Lily replied, preparing her instruments, “Right after we operate.”
“Goodness, is it serious?”
“I’m a gonner, Vivian,” Peter raised his head from the pillow with a grin. Her sixty-five year smile echoed back.
“Well, I believe you’re in very capable hands,” she laughed, “Lily, just make sure Grandpa survives in time for his grilled cheese sandwich.”
“Ok,” she said to the shutting, giggling door, “We don’t have any an-a-ma-thee-si-a, so you’re just gonna have to grit your teeth, ok?”
“Do what you must,” Peter swallowed his laugh and returned his eyes to the grotesquely stuccoed ceiling. Where did she get this?
“But don’t worry,” she said as she raised her toys, “I’ve done this many times before.”
“God bless you, doctor.”
And from far beyond, the smell of lunch wafted in over the tickles of the operating theater, where miracles were performed… just in time to eat.
These pellets are stale. Did you hear me, Claudia? I said, these pellets are stale! Fine, walk away. You wouldn’t know a good pellet if dropped on your head. And your hands smell of cabbage.
What have we today, hmmm? I see Simon has installed himself before light-up box. Curious thing. They line up before that thing like moths to a bulb. I saw a moth once. Flew into the lab from someplace, and nearly beat its brains out against the lamps. He was later laid to rest in the garbage can. I held a vigil.
Claudia, dearest, you’ve got a spot upon your coat. A stain, perhaps of coffee. Yes, we must change our coat then, mustn’t we? And there’s no need to be coy, I know why you wear them. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Don’t think I haven’t noticed you all absolutely cooing over my fine white fur. Though, I agree, it is a thing of beauty.
While we’re on the subject, I have a bone to pick. There seems to be a growth upon my back. I don’t know which one of you did it, and I’m not pointing any fingers here, but we all know it wasn’t there a few weeks ago. And it’s starting to become a nuisance.
Now you all know me, I enjoy a good prank as well as the next mouse. I thought running Steven through an ever-changing maze was hilarious. And this isn’t nearly as bad as that time you grew a nose on Jeffery’s ass. Poor Jeffery. The layers of that joke certainly weren’t lost on him. But now I seem to have – what is this, an ear? An ear. Right up out of my back. So, I think we can all agree that this joke has run its course.
Not that I wouldn’t mind an extra ear so much, if I could actually hear out of it. Couldn’t you have given me some sort of special, ultra-sonic ear? I could have had a super power, but no, the damn thing is useless. Now, I’ll admit its sculptural qualities are sound, but who ever heard of a decorative ear? It’s absurd. The other mice are snickering, Claudia, and I won’t have it.
Fine, ignore my embarrassment. Pour over your papers and papers and books, the lot of you. I can take it. I’ll not be the grouch. But be not surprised if your fingers are nipped next time you reach into my bin. I lie in wait, oh yes I do. I shall burrow myself into the shavings, tunneling to and fro. Only the ear left aloft. Like a fin. Ba-dum. Ba-dum. Ba-dum-ba-dum-ba-dum-ba-dum.
But seriously, do bring fresher pellets, would you? Claudia? Look at me when I’m squeaking to you! You know, I’m starting to think that you need this ear far more than I do. Claudia? The pellets!
“Cut it out! It just falls back in when you do it like that!”
“Where? Turn the lamp on, I can’t see anything!”
The dim light flickered on just as a thin stream of sand and soil fell past Phil’s shoulder.
“I think it’s deep enough,” Phil stuck his shovel down, admiring the hole, “Don’t see why I’m the one digging though.”
“I told you,” Terry swatted a mosquito at his neck, “One of us has to keep look-out. In case.”
“In case of what?”
“In case somebody sees us – or him.”
“What about him?” Phil wiped his brow, “It’s not like he’s in a man-shaped box…could be anything in there.”
“Like what, buried treasure?” he prodded, bemused.
“Don’t be silly, Terry, we aren’t pirates.”
Phil hoisted himself out of the hole. He was covered and caked with dirt.
“I’m just saying,” he continued, “There isn’t necessarily a man in the box.”
“Shh!” Terry scolded, checking his watch, “Hurry it up.”
Each man took a side of the large plastic box. A polite, suburban object. On the count of three, they lifted.
“Then again,” Phil’s voice strained against the weight, “Even if someone surmised that a man was indeed in the box, he would have no way of knowing whether that man was alive or dead. According to Schrödinger-”
“This really isn’t the time, Phil!” Terry hissed.
In a dozen burdened steps, they held the box over the hole. And dropped it.
Phil and Terry took a long breath, nearly giggling from the release. Below, the box sat wedged and warped, barely fitting in its hole. A tragedy lodged in comedy. Hilarious and pathetic.
Four seconds clicked in silence.
“What was his name?” Phil asked.
Terry’s grin twisted into barbed wire.
“They don’t pay us to know his name.”
So I’m reading Michio Kaku’s new book, The Future of the Mind, and among its many fascinating tidbits, I came across this passage:
“Curiously, the use of electrical probes on the brain was first recorded a couple of thousand years earlier by the Romans. In the year A.D. 43, records show that the court doctor to the emperor Claudius used electrically charged torpedo fish, which were applied to the head of a patient suffering from severe headaches.”
This reminded me of another example of crude, but technically effective early medical practice.
For example, the first rhinoplasties were performed in India during roughly the 6th century BCE (I know, I was surprised too). Apparently, getting your nose lopped off in battles or duels or other violent activities was not an uncommon problem. And then you’re left with the problem of being nose-less (but don’t tell Gogol, never know where it’ll end up if he gets a hold of it).
Now, it seems to me, an easy solution would have been to wear a prosthetic nose – perhaps made of clay or wood (peg-nose?). But then some clever doctors came along…
They discovered that one could cut a flap of skin from the forehead and fold it over down onto where the nose should be. There it would be shaped (sort of) and attached to the face – creating a new, living, nose. Meanwhile, the missing patch on your forehead would eventually heal over.
This was quite a breakthrough in the transplant/reconstructive field of medicine – especially at the time. Although…while medically fascinating, I imagine the aesthetics left something to be desired.
Not to mention one hell of a headache.
Nurse, apply the fish.
Hamilton, D. (2012). A History of Organ Transplantation. Pittsburg, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Kaku, M. (2014). The Future of the Mind. New York, NY: Doubleday