Excerpt #107, Rocking-Chair Moon

Docs
—Ben

I’m numb. But I know what’s there.
What’s not.
They tried. I’m tired. They tried hard.
So tired.
They tried their hardest.
Gray room. Gray everywhere.
Even in my head.
Hardest doesn’t always work. But I’m alive.
I think.
Exhausted. Lights dim. Getting dimmer.
Sleep’s coming.
Have to fight it.
When you’re asleep, anything can happen.
Anything.

Megan Calls
—Carly

My cell phone buzzes me
out of my cold dark thoughts,
and when Megan’s face appears
on the tiny screen,
I try to match her smile with my voice,
but she can tell just from my hello
that something has gone wrong,

and I tell her about Ben,
how he’s been turned into a bring-it-on
statistic now,
not one of the worst ones but bad enough,
and we keep talking and minutes later,
phone tucked against her cheek,
she appears at my front door
with her little guy Ethan, sleepy-eyed,
in tow,

and she pockets the phone
and hugs me high
while Ethan hugs me low,
and as we stand in the cool misty air
and hold on and I swallow my tears,
I feel something warm
—a transfusion of comfort and hope—
slip into my heart.

 

On the Way Home
—Ben

Pain hounds me through the night,
Gotta beat this hill,
Gonna beat this hill.

Morphine’s warm like candlelight,
Nudges me to nil,
Pushes me to nil.

Crest in sight, crest in sight,
Forget the pill,
Don’t need the pill,

Home fires burnin’ bright,
They like me still,
They love me still.

Mom and Grandpa racked with fright,
Rejecting God’s will,
To hell with God’s will.

Carly’s on the phone, wound up tight,
Her jabbering’s shrill,
But a good kind of shrill.

It sounds like a lullaby.

 

Not in a Box, at Least
—Carly

I’d prayed
for more, but I’m
used to shoulder shrugs, blank
looks, questions masquerading as
answers.

 

Visitors’ Hours
—Ben

What are they going to say?
You’re looking good?
You still have your mind?
There aren’t enough left-handers
in the world, anyway?
You’ll be back on your feet in no time?
You’ll still be able to run?
I told you so?

 

Room B23
—Carly

Grandpa and Mom hurry for the door
with the plastic sign that shouts

FAMILY ONLY, PLEASE

but I veer off at the last second,
excusing myself for a stop
at the ladies’ room,
and I find the nearest one and stand
in front of the grungy, mottled mirror
and deep-breathe the disinfectant-
drenched air and warn my pale reflection,
over and over, to be cool, to not cry,
to smile, to not let my eyes wander,

to concentrate on his face,
to concentrate on his face.

And when I step out finally, numbly,
Megan is there, gracing a straight-backed,
institutional, you’re-not-family chair,
and on her lap sits Ethan,
ebony-haired like his mom,
but I notice for the first time
that he has his own
onyx eyes, shining like the light
from deep-space stars, ancient yet new.

She’s tracked me down, as promised,
and her smile, comforting, and
his, incandescent, prop me up the way
a pair of those stout, forked sticks
support the September limbs of apple trees,
heavy with fruit and anticipation,

and she stands, Ethan clinging to her,
shy now, and I hug them both,
soaking them in,
and when she hesitates to go on,
doubting her place
beyond this neutral ground,

I tell her about Ben’s sleepy voice
on the phone,
assuring me that any friend of mine
is a friend of his,
and I usher them past the silly sign
and through the door to room B23
and whatever awaits us on the other side.

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