The air in my lungs feels like molasses. Every breath comes with a struggle.
I am in my old hospital room at Cox South. I recognize some of the nurses, and the guy in the next bed is the same man -- still 57, still struggling to recover from his stroke. He has a cold and sneezes often. Because his lips still don't work right they motorboat when he blows his nose. It's funny but it's not, but I can't stop laughing at the sound.
He looks at me now, all these years later, and he returns my laugh with one of his own. "Fucking funny, innit?" he chuckles. "Funny as a goddamned stroke, let me tell you what!"
The people around my bed reward his humor with a round of titters and polite golf applause. My friends and family appreciate a good stroke joke.
I put my hand on my head: I'm bald. I touch my face: I am wrinkled, wizened. I look at my hands: they are gnarled. My fingernails are coated in orange polish.
My older brother speaks first; it's protocol. "You put up a good fight, Ronald," he says, sounding like our father. "You can rest now. We're all here. You can let go."
I realize no one knows I'm awake. My visitors lean down and speak softly, as if whispering to a child on the edge of sleep.
Mr. Rice was my sixth-grade teacher; he once told me the greatest men in history were short. I was the shortest boy in my class and he made me feel good. Now he tells me to sleep tight in Jesus' arms.
Cut to: overhead shot, as Mr. Rice walks away. I see myself surrounded by people and gadgets, only they're old-fashioned and normally have nothing to do with a hospital. My trusty Royal manual typewriter clacks with every heartbeat. A Waring blender spurts to life when I exhale.
Old friends and lovers and enemies wait their turn to say goodbye. I wish they knew I was awake. Some I want to hug. Others I want to punch in the mouth. In both scenarios I want them to feel it.
Goodbye, Louise. See ya, Amy. Be safe, Calliope.
Here's Rizzie and Missie, Melinda and Ilsa. Here's the gang from the Paragraph Factory. Here's Tiger. I didn't know they let cats visit.
No one has aged. I can't figure out how they did it; have they been in suspended animation all these years?
Smitty and MIT have the answer. "This is now," Smitty says.
MIT: "You never woke up from your stroke."
Smitty: "You never started the blog. You never wrote again."
MIT: "Everything since May 5 has been a dream."
"Funny as a goddamned stroke," my roommate says again, his mouth wide open in a toothless grin. "Let me tell you what!"