~chapter 11~
From the Brink of Death...
I am Strapped to a Bed in a Hospital

And so…

A beastly thing took a bath, stood up, and pulled the plug. I swirled like a rubber duck around the drain. My webbed feet struggled vainly, my mind struggled wanly against the black soup of this centrifuge. Losing rubber feathers left and right, I dropped through the hole, plunged down slimy pipe works in a ride that dragged me, atom-by-atom, into a new reality.

The journey lasted ages, eons, epochs, millennia. It was interminably long.

And then…

I popped out, whole, human and tied securely to a hospital bed.

Nancy Stouffer leapt from a nearby chair and embraced me.

“Elk,” she wept, “Oh, Elk.”

My eyes focused, memories of the desert fluttered past like a swarm of Monarch butterflies.

Nancy brushed the hair away from my forehead. She gave me a warm glass of pulpy orange juice.

I saw that her eyes were swollen. I said, “You saved us.”

Her mouth turned down, she dabbed her cheeks with a paper napkin. She turned away.

“Don't cry,” I said, “There's nothing to cry about. We're better. We're safe. Father's well.” I would have patted her shoulder but my arms were tied to the bed frame.

She faced me. “You didn't have a drop of water in you. You were shriveled up like a corpse. Your voice was a like a dried up gourd. You kept asking about a muskrat.”

“The muskrat!” I cried, suddenly remembering Father's desert pet. “Is it okay?”

Nancy looked at me strangely then nodded. “Ah. Yes. The doctor said something about this. The muskrat is fine.”

“Where is it? Is it with Father?”

“It certainly is,” said Nancy .

“I want to see them. Release me from this bed.”

Nancy scooted her chair closer to me. “The doctor says you're too weak for us to untie you.”

“Ridiculous!” I said, “If I'm too weak, then why would I need to be restrained?”

“Actually, you've been violent. You tried to strangle a nurse. And you put your fist through a window.” She nodded towards the door, a handsome old-fashioned thing with a single pane down the center. The glass had been replaced with a torn piece of cardboard. Nancy nodded to my hand, which I now noticed was bandaged quite tightly.

“I don't feel violent.”

“Only when you're asleep.”

I felt the urge to urinate. “What if I need to make water? How do I venture forth to the toilet?”

Nancy folded her hands on her belly. Although her mouth was stern, her eyes smiled at me. “You don't need to worry about that. You've been equipped with a catheter.”

“That explains the incredible discomfort in my urethra. Is there anything else I should know?”

Nancy hesitated. She gazed deep into my eyes. “No. Not really.”

“You're hiding something.”

“I'm just a little messed up. It's been a rough couple of days. Wouldn't you like to tell me how I found you?”

I nodded.

“You will recall that you and I had an argument just before you stomped out of Patrick's house in Phoenix . After you left, Patrick and I made love. For some reason, I kept thinking of you. In fact, I even hollered your name. Shameful. Fortunately, Patrick was screaming his mother's name at the same time so he did not hear me.

“Anyway, we finished up and then Patrick a shower. His showers take, like, an hour. I got dressed and went to the living room to watch some TV. I found a bag of weed under the couch cushions. I rolled myself a fattie and smoked the whole thing in about two drags. So I sat there with the TV turned on and then Oprah started talking to me. She was like, ‘Listen, Girl, you go get him. You get off your lazy ass right now and get that worthless motherfucker.'”

“‘How in the fuck do you expect me to do that, bitch? I'm dead broke, and totally dependant on the worthless piece of shit in the shower.'

“Oprah got all 3-D, like she was coming out of the TV set. She pointed at the bag of weed and she pointed at Patrick's key chain. ‘You got everything you need right there.'

“Damn, she was as right as right can be. I just had to steal Patrick's motorcycle and sell his weed. I'd have wheels and money and maybe, just maybe, I'd be able to find Elk Undercarriage and Strapping Danforth. ‘I'm going to do it,' I said. I was talking to the TV. Isn't that a riot?

“‘You better get a move on.' She looked god-damned beautiful. Thin, with perfect make-up and so warm. Like one of the wise men from the nativity scene. I put on my shoes, rinsed my face at the kitchen sink and started out the door. As I left, I told Oprah thanks. She said, ‘Think nothing of it. I help people. But don't you ever call me bitch again.'”

“Patrick was still in the shower when I walked out. He was singing Live and Let Die . I thought that was pretty funny. It was so bright outside you wouldn't believe it. I had to cover my eyes and peek through my fingers.

“Out in front of his place, Patrick had this old BMW with a sidecar that he'd owned forever. He used to give me and my sister rides in it back when things were better. I turned the key, stomped on the kick-start and the thing actually revved up. Vrooom! I was so happy I almost ran back into the house and gave Patrick a kiss goodbye. I didn't, of course.

“Instead, I drove until I found a group of kids hanging out in front of a high school. I sold them the weed for a hundred bucks. Judging by how high I was, it was probably worth more, but, whatever. I still have a little.

“Then I put some gas in the bike and started looking for you. Driving that motorcycle and feeling free was just so…majestic. I drove south until dark. Nothing. I slept by the side of the road that night.

“The next morning, I woke up and came up with a new plan: I drove back to Phoenix and tried to think like you. I took the stupidest, most dangerous route possible. By dusk, I had come across your footprints in the desert. I eased the motorcycle over the dunes as the stars started to come out. That BMW handles like shit in sand. By dark, I was pretty much just walking the thing. On and on we went. It got cold. The tracks were scattered and confusing. Finally, I came over a hill and the headlight shone on you, walking a spiral in the sand, dragging Strapping by the last strands of his hair, babbling like a mongoloid.

“I dumped Strapping in the sidecar and tied you behind me with a bungee cord. It took forever, but I finally got our asses back to the highway. Like motherfucking bats out of hell, we jumped the ditch and hit the pavement. Drove south until we found a town. I pounded on the doors to this hospital and they took you in.

“Not a drop of water in you.”

She stopped speaking. Sweat covered her brow.

“It's okay, Nancy . We're okay now. And anyway, Father's better! You saved us. Be happy.”

“You were talking to him the whole time.”

“He must be giving the doctors a world of grief, the tough old guy. I can't wait until I'm well enough to see him.”

Nancy kissed me on the forehead. She brought her chair to the door and wedged it under the doorknob. She approached me with a look of sorrow. “I am a human being.”

“Of course,” I said, confused.

She pulled the blinds.

I suppose I should have seen it from miles away, but even now I'm still trying come to grips with the very fact of it: I am no longer a virgin.

I can't wait to tell Strapping.

--Elk Undercarriage, January 2006

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