"One day, that shadow you drag around is gonna snuff you out" she says sitting up in bed.
Hundreds of candles illuminate the beads of sweat on our bodies like stars. I am mesmerized. Behind the crackling, electricity of her pitiless stare, the shadow rises like the hood of a cobra. It slowly pulls itself free from the wall and floats down gently on black wings. A creature made of Darkness hovers near my face. The candles flicker as I feel it breathe. The chill an open casket funeral. It licks my face with a cold, dry tongue of clay.
Startled, I WAKE up. Sera is still talking. The TV is on, making familiar sounds of ESPN. I need oxygen and gasp as my heart violently slams within my bones. I calm myself by breathing the way my state sponsored therapist taught me. Inflate your lungs all the way to your belly. Release the cords of tension while intoning Ra. Exhale with a sighing Ma. Ra-Ma. Raa-Maa. Raaa-Maaa. My breathing slows. My heart slows. I return to the condo. Jesus. I must have fucking nodded out...
"Wait. What? What did you just say?" I ask sitting up. Sera looks up from the community newspaper she is reading.
"I said the quiche is non-dairy so you can eat-"
"No the shadow thing. Why did you say that?" I demand.
Sera squints at me in confusion and then her face melts to concern. I get this look a lot lately. She gets up from dining room chair and sits next to me on the couch. I shy away from her comforts because my emotional well is dry. These days I only pretend to care. If I recall, that is what people do.
"You're sweating. Are you feeling alright?" she asks. Behind her eyeglasses, luminous violet eyes scan back and forth. Restless birds in a cage. They search my face, my eyes and soul. I look down at my hands.
"Yeah. I'm fine" I say shrugging off my shadow. "I think I fell asleep."
I get up, walk to my desk and open the drawer. Inside are important pieces of paper, obsolete electronic devices, cut up straws and a myriad of pill canisters. Beneath the clutter is an expired driver's license encrusted with oxycodone, cocaine and heroin. The smiling kid in the picture is unrecognizable.
I get three, doctor prescribed oxy and two more of Sera's doctor prescribed morphine. I add a loose pill from the floor to the pile. Not sure what it is. Probably oxy. Maybe Valium. I toss the pills into my mouth and chew mechanically. I gulp it down with a sip of beer. When Sera goes back to her cooking, I'll do some speedball lines. Coke and oxy. Until then, I smoke cigarettes and stare blankly at ESPN.
Two guys in tiny, colorful speedos beat the hell out of each other. People cheer as the nearly nude men grapple, sweat and choke the shit out of each other. Homoerotic violence at it's finest. Ay dios mio, these are the Roman times. Why do I watch this? It brings me no pleasure. My re-wired brain is only receptive to opiates, cocaine and alcohol. Sera's huge, perfect tits, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, the full moon and love mean little to me. I finish the beer and light another cigarette. In my peripheral vision I notice Sera is still watching.
"Smells great" I offer to the vacuum of smothering silence. I can hear the gears in Sera's head spinning. Concern. Worry. Fear.
"Thanks" she responds quietly.
Sera is an eternal optimist but no damn fool. I have passed out in the bathroom twice this week doing sudoku puzzles on heroin. I don't even pretend to go to work anymore. I have lost 17 pounds since I last weighed myself. The pale, sickly man is back. It speaks.
"Really. You're a great cook Sera. I'd starve without you" I finish lamely. We both know I don't eat much food these days. Mostly candy or the chocolate bundt cakes she bakes with marijuana butter.
"You know, I was reading about your surgery" presses Sera. "Did you talk to the doctor about your medications?"
I fake smile at Sera knowing she will smile back. My lie, reflected in a dark pool of water creates light. Then I rub my face to steal a moment to think. Yeah...tell the good doctor I take 90mg of oxy when I wake up just to feel human. Not to mention the binge drinking. Or all the morphine, coke and heroin neatly stacked behind the .357 pistol in the safe. You can set a watch to this habit. Every three hours I vanquish the pain. Because. Then at night, I indulge. My goodnight kiss is heroin. And I can't tell you how many times I have thought, 'What a waste it is to smoke/snort this shit.' But I don't shoot up. Well, lately. Fucking doctors would notice the track marks.
"Yup" I lie. "They have a list of my medications."
And I can see the concern float off Sera's shoulders and and flutter out the condo's sealed windows. Her mind returns to food. If only my life was so simple. To get stoned, cook food and actually want to eat it...Sera is a trip. She is alive and happy without dope. Personally, I don't get it, but I truly admire it. I can no longer remember what that would feel like.
"Oh good! The article said it is very important to be honest. Oops. I gotta start the bacon for the spinach salad. You like the vinaigrette dressing?"
"Yeah, sure. Whatever."
I stare balefully at the nurse as she fucks with my IV portal that is shoved into the top of my bruised hand. Fucking amateur hour here. My restless body shifts in the hospital bed cage and another groan slips out of my mouth. Pain. Intense, throbbing pain. I can feel the fucking holes the surgeon carved into my knee.
"On a scale of one to ten" she asks slowly, "how is your pain?"
"Eight" I say through clenched teeth knowing she is fucking with me.
There is no nine or ten on the pain scale in this bitch's world. But the sadistic nurse keeps asking the same fucking question like a cop. The dilaudid and morphine at controlled, hospital doses are shit. I want more. Maybe fentanyl? And I want her to slam the plunger home to gift me the rush of the god. I groan again and writhe in sweaty pain. I gotta get out of here. Cook up some of the good tar I have at home. The Mayan shit. I will use the median cubital vein and know only bliss, love and perfection. The warm glow of narcotic euphoria is only a car ride home. This thought keeps me sane.
"Well..." she muses languidly, "I have given you ample pain relief. I need a doctor to sign off on more. Unfortunately, Dr. Vasquez had a family obligation. I'll need to wait for Dr. Cho to sign off."
"Ok" I grimace while blinking rapidly. It's like my eyes are sticky with sleep. Or dried tears.
"Oh. Look who's here" says the nurse unenthusiastically.
I see Sera. Her eyes are stranger eyes. I notice it but don't care what made her sad. I have a stash of pills in her car. The fucking surgeon prescribed me more ibuprofen and some wispy little 7.5 mg hydrocodone. Fuck this nightmare. Time to leave and Sera is my ride.
"Look" I implore the nurse. "I'm ready to go. Can I have one more? I still have to go the pharmacy."
The nurse looks at me like I'm a bloated dog corpse that rots upon her clean, white hospital linens. She shakes her head. I know that she knows. She knows that I know. But neither of us will acknowledge my tolerance is junkie high.
"While our insurance policy states clearly you will leave the hospital in a wheelchair, you still have to wait for the physical therapy nurse to explain how to use your crutches safely" shrugs the nurse.
"I'll find Dr. Cho" responds the nurse blandly before she trudges off.
Sera refuses to look at me. She stares at the curtain that wraps around my bed.
"Hey. You ok?" I ask.
"How are you?" blinks Sera still not looking at me.
"How am I? I fucking hurt and want to get out of here."
"So you can do more drugs?" asks Sera.
"Sorry. I'm tired" sighs Sera.
Tired of what I wonder? She looks distant. Like me on the couch. Another wave of pain washes over and I groan.
"Fuck this place! Jesus fucking Christ it's miserable in here!"
"You still hurt?" asks Sera. "The nurse said-"
"Fuck the nurse!" I yell. "I hurt! Trust me, I would fucking know!"
I hear Sera inhale through her nose and breathe out softly. She pinches the bridge of her nose where her glasses sit.
"Look Sera" I say shifting in the bed trying to worm away from the pain, "I'm sorry I'm angry but fuck! I hate hospitals. No one's ever happy to be here! It's like a great fucking emptiness-"
"You mean like the desert?" she asks finally looking at me.
I pause. Stunned as my walls come crumbling down. I sit back completely exposed for a moment. Sera imparts a longing for something she will never touch. I wrap the shadow back over me and stare furiously forward as I bang on the nurse call button.
This is how it happened.
When I was a kid, I was in a car accident. I busted my leg and ripped open my knee when I shot through a window. When I got older, I realized I could use this to get high. First off, I always pick a female doctor. More empathy to milk. Hopefully she will start with hydrocodone 5mg. If not, I'll get horse-pill sized ibuprofens or naproxen. So I wait. After a week, call again. Sorry doc, not working. What? Yeah I tried the ice...
When I get the hydrocodone I'll let it coast ten days or so. Then mention the pain is getting worse. Fake limp so realistically it becomes second nature. Usually I'll get more hydrocodone. Maybe 7.5 or even 10mg. Then she will schedule an x-ray. This will spotlight the old injury. Now the doctor believes me 100%. Next is the MRI. Time to moan about nausea. Lo and behold, the oxycodone appears. Pure oxy I can crush and snort.
I have played this game off and on for years. A sane doctor will insist on physical therapy after I work the oxy prescription to 30mg pills. This is when I miraculously recover. Or go back to heroin. More often than not, I will physically see the doctor only once. The rest of the game is played over the phone. I was playing this game again when Reality limped in with a twisted grin.
Voicemail: Hi Mr. Severson! It's Agnes from Dr. Sue Carlotti's office. I'm afraid she says your MRI showed severe damage. You have been referred to an orthopedic surgeon. Oh and I sent in your prescription. Doubled it because of your business trip. Have a nice day!"
"Do you hear that?" asks Kym pausing where silvery roots of Ohia trees pierce through the ceiling of the lava-tube. She stands perfectly still in the corpse-colored light that fills this space. Beyond her wide blue eyes is the end of the world.
"Let's go" I urge.
"Deeper? Why? Let's go outside babe. This is the House of the Rising Sun" says Kym as she reaches up and lightly touches a finger-thick vine of tree root. "This Ohia tree is over 500 years old. And Mauna Haleakalā has stared at the sea for millions of years."
"Who are you?" I ask.
But she ignores me. Maybe I am not really here.
"And the wind. The wind that makes waves across the sea is eternity. What is the difference between the wind and us?" she asks in a different voice.
"Please tell me. Who are you?" I ask again.
"Me? Who are you? I'm lost like you are destined to be forgotten. Inana, Khadja, Istar are names swallowed in the desert sands. Meaningless. I am war. I am lust. I am the rain that brings life to the scorched Earth."
"What? What does-"
"Shhh!" she hisses cocking her head sideways and pointing up towards the rock tomb ceiling. "Can't you hear it?"
I listen as the corpse light flashes all around us. It searches. And it is so cold here. Far away I hear thunder galloping wildly across the sky. Beneath the roar of creation is a tinny, buzzing sound.
"What's up with your leg?" she breathes softly.
I look down. My injured knee that brings me 120 oxycodone pills every ten days for $5 is grotesque and gray. It is made of clay. I try to explain but my throat is clogged. Her silhouette melts into the Darkness and fuses with the eerie, electric blue light. The shadows grow and grow covering the world with my madness.
The statue stands over 30 feet tall with a thin slice of glowing moon crowning wild, dandelion blond hair. At her bare feet, two house-sized lions watch me. Two owls circle above us and an eight pointed star rises in the East. The statue blinks and the world goes black.
"Don't worry" echoes a chorus of one thousand women singing in my skull. "They taped your eyes shut..."
A roaring sweeps over me like an ocean wave. As it recedes to the endless tide, I can hear them speaking.
"...at Bishop's park. This is for the semifinals. Pretty good chance this year I think. Sean's a starter and doing good in the workouts so-"
Mundane, conversational voices bouncing off the walls of my mind. I sense the light flashing but am abandoned to the Darkness. The normal voices seem perplexed.
"...really? Wow. Are you sure Dave? Shit. Ok. Get Dr. Miller in-"
"Hi" says the nurse with the clipboard. "You with Mr. Severson?"
"Yes" says Sera lowering the hospital copy of Sunset Magazine.
"I'm Eileen. I work for Dr. Vasquez. First off, everything is fine. No complications. He's awake and you can go sit with him if you like, but he's not all there yet. They say funniest things when they wake up. He keeps talking about the desert and lions."
"The desert? Ok" laughs Sera putting down the magazine.
"Yeah. But he asked for you. You're Karla right? Or is it Katya..? Sorry but they mumble a lot when they come out of anesthesia."
"No" sighs Sera looking down at her hands. "Not Khadja. I'm Sera."
"One day, that shadow you drag around is gonna snuff you out" she says sitting up in bed.
I look around and there are only a handful of lit candles this time. It is so dark in here. But I am older and let too many of the flames burn out. I really gotta work on that.