The word processor screen stared at me. The soft glow of the laptop reflecting off my glasses in my otherwise dark room. The computer hummed, or was that me? Humming, whistling, singing to myself, these were all my custom when my mind lacked focus. Concentration was most definitely something that alluded me at this particular moment. 3:45 am, that what the green digits on the cable box told me. I glanced up to the clock hanging on my wall. A painted face of Jesus and a sacred heart stared at me. Jesus and his beckoning hands told me that it was 12:02. I suppose it is time to get a new battery, although Jesus had been glued at 12:02 for at least a week now. It would be much more convenient to live my life by Jesus time. Late for work? Not when Jesus tells you it is only 12:02. My lips pursed involuntarily and I began to whistle “Paint it Black”. How on earth did that get stuck in my head?
“Concentrate,” I whispered softly, biting my lower lip after the words escaped.
“Easy for you to say,” I answered myself, feeling automatically foolish even though there was no one else in my tiny apartment. I shut the cover to my lap top and took a deep breath. Why couldn’t I just hit the all powerful off button and go to sleep already? There was nothing urgent that needed to be written, no deadline, no time constraints, other than those imposed by myself.
After chewing down my already short fingernails I reopened my ancient laptop with much trepidation. “Famous Last Words” emblazoned the white screen, looking oh so lonely in 10 point font. The idea had awakened me no sooner than I had fallen asleep. My heart beating as though I had been poked by the boogie man I was bitten by the urge to pen my last words.
Fatal and pessimistic, I know, but that was not my intent. The chirping within my brain told me something else entirely. I felt a need to be remembered. Millions of words in the English language, swirling around, blending into one another. So many of those words sounding so much alike, all I wanted were those special words, words that would separate me, that would take the breath away from all who read them.
Suddenly rapping on the glass of the window startled me, breaking me out of my strange, buzzing thoughts. Tap . . . Tap . . . Tap. I closed the computer screen once again so I could have a clear view of the window. My eyes hit the smooth glass just in time to see pieces of the gravel driveway bouncing off and making their way down from my second story window. I breathed out yet another sigh as I rolled off the bed and slid my feet into the pink fuzzy slippers that sat on the hardwood floor beside my bed. My feet made a soft padded sound as I made it down the dark hallway, not bothering to flip a light switch. I arched my back slightly, stretching out the discomfort from my contorted position curled up on my bed with the lap top. I let out a little sound of relief then continued on my way to the foyer. I reached for my keys off the bright blue painted key rack that read “please don’t forget me” which I had painted in white block letters due to my tendency to lock myself out.
“It took you long enough,” He said out of the corner of a cocky smile. “I thought I was going to have to break the window this time”
“Haven’t you ever heard of a telephone. Besides it’s nearly four in the morning”
“I saw your light on,” He grinned up at me again. He knows I can’t argue with him, even when his little impromptu visits and gravel throwing actually do wake me in the middle of the night. This was not the first time, and contrary to his claim it did not matter if the light were on. If Ben couldn’t sleep than no one had the right to sleep soundly.
I rolled my eyes and stepped out of the threshold. The slight breeze of the late spring morning blew the bangs out of my face. For that I was grateful, although the wind gave me a shiver that had me wishing I had grabbed a sweater on my way out of the building. At this point Ben already had his back turned to me, heading to our “spot”. I enjoyed watching him when he was not looking, although I knew he was never unaware of someone staring. Ben possessed an uncanny quality of knowing when eyes were on him. I supposed it came with practice, as all his life Ben attracted attention.
The attention he garnered now was obvious, although slightly insulting to him. His shoulder blades retracted with every push of the rims on his manual wheelchair. Even through his zip up jacket could clearly see the intensity it took for Ben to push himself on the dewy grass of the side yard of my apartment building. Even though it took a little more effort on his behalf, Ben would never give up our ritual spot. We had been coming here since I had settled into the little slum I called home nearly four years ago, over a year before he was injured.
Finally we had arrived to the little clearing right before the trees thickened into an unkempt woods. On a clear day if you squinted hard enough you could see overgrown shrubs and weeds overtaking a rusted out pickup truck older than Ben and I combined plus. I loved the scenery. It’s what made this spot so special. Ugly pretty. Especially in the fall when the trees that were still living turned all burnt orange, red, and yellow. Those typical fall hues juxtaposed perfectly with the piles of dirt, abandoned bottles and cans, and of course the old pickup. This spot brought me back to the days before Ben was injured. T 12 lesion to the spinal cord, ruled a complete injury. When I learned of the accident, before I went to the hospital, before I reached out to family or friends, before I punched a hole in the thin plaster wall of my apartment, I came to our spot. I stared down at the pair of matching stumps that we had sat on so many times like a nicely arranged living room set and sat down. However, I sat on “his”, leaving “hers” looking lonely. I tailor sat on that stump for what seemed like only minutes, but in reality was hours. I don’t remember much of that night other than that I felt numb, I felt attached to that stump, like if I tried to rise up it would claim me into the wood and I myself would form a new twisted stump.
Nearly three years later and I still had to fight the strange feeling in my stomach every time we came here, which was often, seeing as it was, and most likely always will be Ben’s favorite spot in the world. It was one of the few reasons I was still living in the same apartment (other than the low rent). Although, it would be worth the increase to actually sit on my real sofa next to him.
“You’re awfully quiet tonight Alberta Mae Powers Alcott,” he whispered as he angled his chair to be perpendicular with the “hers” stump.
I sat down, stretching out my upper body so my eyes were gazing up at the dark, pre dawn sky. I swung my legs up so they landed squarely on Ben’s lap as though he were my ottoman.
“Don ‘t call me that, Benjamin David Rooney.”
“Doesn’t work as well with mine, Albie. My name doesn’t sound like a ninety-five year old southern belle.”
“Well I guess it is a good thing I am a 29 year old yankee,” I said in my very best city speak accent, although it was upstate NY I called home and not Brooklyn.
“Can’t you at least be a Met?” He winked at me and I could not help but giggle.
“Sorry for the foul mood Benny, but I was in the middle of my latest, nagging, and altogether unnecessary obsession. I need to make a breakthrough on this or else I don’t think I will ever sleep again,” I sighed, knowing how true it was. Once I had an idea in my head I could rarely let it go until it was resolved.
“Not the famous last words again? Albie, that one has been gnawing at you for longer than I can remember. Who cares what you utter with your dying breath? It’s less important what you say in that one moment than what you have said up until that dying declaration. People will remember you Albie, not some string of arbitrary words concocted into a sentence that you and only you will find stirringly beautiful. And since they are your famous last words you will be the one person who will take nothing from them.”
His face was red, and as I cocked my head up a bit I could see his fists clenched and punching the
air for punctuation. He was correct, this was not the first time I had brought up my famous last words. The first time was nearly three years ago. When I first got that horrible phone call about Ben’s accident. The phone call did not come from the hospital, the police, or his family. It came from Ben. I was the one he chose to call with what at the time we both believed may be his last words. They were the most beautiful, bittersweet words I had ever heard in my life. It was a shame he didn’t remember a speck of them.
I shifted my feet on Ben’s legs. They were just as motionless as a footrest. I kicked off my slipper and started tracing my toes up and down his legs. He was looking down at me, knowing I was trying to distract him from our current topic of conversation. I was not in the mood to be chided by him like a child.
The hurt in his eyes slowly faded. It was replaced by a sort of pleasant curiosity. I knew me touching him where he could no longer feel was something that fascinated, terrified, repulsed, and aroused him all at the same time. Just then his left leg began to tremble slightly. A spasm. They happened now much less frequently than they had the first months following his injury. Even with the baclofen they occurred nonetheless. I always watched with a detached fascination. I knew the physiological reasons, as did Ben. They were drilled into both our heads during grad school, as well as countless other facts about the human body. Knowing the reasons did not change the fact that we both secretly wish it was your body healing itself.
I grabbed you steadily right above the knee and the spasm quieted. You went back to staring down at me, waiting for the answer from a conversation that seemed to have taken place long ago.
“Ben, you don’t understand, the famous. . .”
He raised his hand as if to hush me silently. He stared up at the purplish sky. I settled back down into my supine position and listened to his breath combined with the sounds of the woods.
to be continued....
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