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Morphine


by James Robison


After cleaning, one opens the windows in the death house to air out fumes of carpet shampoo, wax, soapsuds, mop.

So drapes thrash my dead father's bedroom windows as November rains tattoo long glass and his black cufflinks on a bedside table are beads set in gold.

James called Death distinguished; Dickinson used terms such as ceremonious, formal, polite. Death was a kindly suitor in her view.

To visit my dying neighbor, I dress in a blazer and pressed shirt with starched color and cuffs. He has no one else so I am not contained by visiting hours, am listed as family, spend long hours beside his hospice bed.

A guy who worked for the Golden Gate Bridge told me they found, about halfway across, many nights, pairs of shoes, lined in a neat parallel. Most suicide jumpers take off their shoes before the leap (always facing the city, never the open sea) and whatever fatal chaos of despair and hopelessness the leapers are suffering, they tend to align their shoes carefully.

Before I go to this hospice facility, I polish my broughams, beat them with the brush and buff them to a gleam. I fasten the gold buckle of the watch my father left me.

Before I come to this hospice facility, I use a steel comb with fine teeth to carve a part in my hair.

This dying neighbor is lucky, as he lived eighty-seven years and has insurance to provide him with a room with views through two windows of May gardens and an elm, spring skies, the streak of a squirrel on a bough, a twitchy woodpecker.

Sing-songy nurses. Screens that pour parallel lines in scarlet or blue or lime, machines that throb, moan and poles parked by him, hooked with clear packages of nutrients and painkillers and liquid sleep, arterial tubes running into and out of him.

All lost on my neighbor. Whatever he was, he is not. He is barely man-shaped, a locus of fear and fury, humiliated, disordered, animal, soaked in the messes of going.

When he is not asleep, he is afraid.

He says in terror to the empty padded rocker, Who are you?

Carefully dressed, legs crossed knee-over-knee, I read to him, turning old pages with a manicured hand with its gold ring with its hand-strength intact, a function of a still working mind, a mind that is compelled to exert the freedom of control, temporary but commanding, to align the days left to me in graphic boxes, and to stroke a diagonal over calendar numbers that are actual in our deluded sense of reason, but in the great reality, meaningless.

I am sixty-seven. I was ten and my mother told me that Maxine, her lifelong pal, married to Alvin, ran a funeral parlor in Washington Courthouse, Ohio. My mother thought I was old enough to know about funeral parlors in small towns, funerals in the very house where Maxine and Alvin lived. There was, she said, a dead person (and, imagine!  dead people) on occasion in the basement of Maxine's home. Often the victims of car accidents. I had nightmares. It is not that I was too young to know about mortality and the cleaning up after a life, but that the time to accept such things without nightmares is never.

Alvin was a dapper man, with silvery suits that matched his shiny hair, the silvery sheen on his maroon ties, his platinum watch. He worked the misfortunes of others, in my view, always played as House, never as client, taking Maxine to Las Vegas with him where he became a Blackjack dealer and she a highway patrol radio dispatcher until he was felled by a vengeful, lightning strike stroke.

I am telling my neighbor this -why not? - and I tell him about how funeral procedures work us around to a belief in order and decorum and how a funeral is an intellectual act more than a religious rite and my neighbor in his bed says Fuck that fucking light, Jesus fucking Christ, turn off that goddamned light in my eyes all day who do they think I am a fucking centerfielder?

He raises a stringy arm, an arm bruised by purple damages, dark bruises of a healing that won't come, he reaches up for a light cord, a fly ball, a parent? He is maybe raising an arm to be called on in class with the answer or the question.

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