Monday, May 2, 2011

Die Happy

     “Hello, is it me you’re looking for?” The voice came from a young man who was walking slowly towards the bed. Luc wasn’t expecting a visitor, especially not someone who looked like this man. A fine shirt and a fine tie, both wrapped in a fine suit with a fine vest. Since he was lying on the bed and his body’s movement was very restrained, Luc couldn’t see the man’s shoes, but he bet they were goddamn fine.

     His smile was extremely wide by the time he reached Luc’s side, “Just teasing you.” The man grabbed a nearby chair and sat on it, “Au contraire, you’re just the one I’ve been looking for.” There was something in the sound of the man’s voice that made Luc feel uneasy. He felt even worse when the man’s gaze skimmed through his body, as if he was a rat being examined by a mad scientist.

     The suit started to lie back on the chair but not a second after he had crossed his legs, something grabbed his attention and made him stand up and walk to a nearby table. “Bad news comes, don’t you worry even when it lands,” he said as he picked up a newspaper. Le Journal du Marais had an article about some bombing on its front page. “Good news will work its way to all them plans,” continued the man as he advanced to the third page of the newspaper. It contained an article about former genius, philanthropist and all-around Messiah Luc Lenvers.

     La Ville des Marais, a little province some two hundred kilometres southeast of Paris -somewhere between Auxerre and Dijon -, had never been of great importance to anyone. It, however, was the place where Luc was born.  True, when Luc rose to glory so did La Ville, but when his downfall occurred all memories of it died and any glimmer it could’ve had was swallowed by the darkness of the once again forsaken town. It was just fitting that MonsieurLenvers was dying on a bed at his hometown’s hospital.

     “It’s a bitch convincing people to like you,” said the man as he read the article. It barely mentioned Luc’s colossal contribution to the world of physics, a new way of improving life and lifestyle. Quite the opposite, it stated that Luc could have done many better things in a faster way. “You know it’s true what they say,” the man put down the newspaper and began making his way back to Luc, “you’re only king for a day.”

     The man stood quietly for a moment, his wide smile all over his face again. “Oh, but where are my manners? Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste.” He leaned over Luc and put a little card in front of him. It was black with a red frame. The letters, centred and printed in the same crimson red, read ‘NAT A. S.’ no more, no less. After holding the card for a few moments in front of Luc’s eyes, Nat stuffed it in one of his pockets and sat down in the same hospital chair as before. “Pleased to meet you. Hope you guess my name”.

     Nat crackled his fingers. He liked the sound they made. “When I’m smoking, smoking put my worries on a shelf,” said Nat as he quickly lit a cigar without even looking in Luc’s direction. Inhale. He, however, turned to face Luc in order to exhale all the smoke out of his lungs. “Now let’s get down to business,” started Nat but quickly stopped. He noticed Luc’s eyes, apart from being red now, were lost. “The blues is my business, and business is good,” explained Nat.

     “We’re just waiting for the hammer to fall,” said Nat after a few moments trying to get comfortable on his chair. “It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not. But you…” Nat pointed a finger at Luc, “you got to be startin’ something, don’t you? What did you think? ‘I could change the world. I could make it better’? Maybe you did, maybe you created something mighty fine… but mighty fine only got you somewhere half the time, especially here where people think that ignorance is bliss. I’ll say it again! Ignorance is bliss!”

     Nat stood up and started walking around the room. He started rubbing his buttocks as if caressing them. “It’s hard enough sitting there, rockin’ in your rockin’ chair.” Nat lit up another cigar right under the smoke detector. “We can play it safe or play it cool, follow the leader or make up all the rules, whatever you want the choice is yours… and you chose.

     “You were truly a prodigy. Little 15 and you already had a bright future. You got yourself a successful career as an experimental physicist by twenty-three and five years later your team and you gave the world cold fusion. Good public relations and the awe of your youth gave you fortune and glory, even more than to the others in the team.” Nat returned to Luc’s side but sat on the bed this time. “But it’s a cruel cruel world to face on your own, a heavy cross to carry along… and since you got all the fame -the spotlight -you were alone.

     “You kept on trying to help mankind. Along came the good Samaritan, a true man of God,” Nat gave Luc a gentile pat on the head that contrasted his sardonic smile, “Surely you’re not saying we have the resources to save the poor from their lot. There will be poor always pathetically struggling, look at the good things you’ve got… and you should’ve looked at them and held them close to your heart. All for freedom and for pleasure, nothing ever lasts forever. Everybody wants to rule the world, right?

     “It’s hard to find relief and people can be so cold when they are motivated by envy, greed, wrath… something that needs a lie trying to turn into a sin.  It’s harsh when people stab you in the back for money or for no reason at all… just because they dislike you or because it is you who the media prefer. Who truly stuck the knife in first?” Nat got up from the bed and fixed his tie.

     “Qui êtes-vous?” demanded a nurse as she entered the room.

     Nat turned and faced the woman. “Green-eyed lady, lovely lady,” he mumbled as he approached the nurse. He whispered something to her ear and in no time they both went out the door, the nurse giggling like a college girl. Luc wasn’t sure what had happened, everything was so strange and he felt like he was on some bizarre dream from which he couldn’t wake up. He tried to wake up by sleeping, but as he was closing his eyes Nat returned to the room.

     “Now, when I walk the streets kings and queens step aside, every woman I meet… they all stay satisfied,” said Nat, now a different type of smile on his face. “I’m sorry. I think it’s safe to say that I get carried away. It is very important though, female relationships.” Nat gave Luc a fatherly look. “Find yourself a girl and settle down, live a simple life in a quiet town.

     “Not a big fan of roses myself. You and me and a bottle of wine… now that’s more like it… but not your cup of tea, right?” Nat reached into his suit’s inner pocket and took out a pansy. Luc’s eyes widened as Nat waved the flower in front of him. “You’re aching, you’re breaking and I can see the pain in your eyes. What did she give you? A moment, a love, a dream aloud, a kiss, a crowd, our rights, our wrongs… well, your wrongs anyway.

     “What is love? And how many times,” Nat got his face closer to Luc’s, “how many times,” even closer, “how many times can you fall in love? And how many loves,” Nat pulled back a bit, “how many loves,” and a little bit more, “how many loves make a life?” Nat took out another cigar but didn’t light it. After staring at it for a moment he continued, “All these mixed emotions we keep locked away like stolen pearls. Stolen pearl devotions we keep locked away from all the world.

     “There were few things you wouldn’t have done for her, do anything for love, run right into hell and back.” It was Nat who giggled now. “Well long tall Sally, she’s built for speed. She got everything that uncle John need, oh Baby!” Nat stopped for a moment, laughing a little bit harder and trying to regain his composure. His eyes met Luc’s eyes, wider now, “She was a fast machine, she kept her motor clean, she was the best damn woman that I ever seen… and she went on to fuck a country boy named Johnny B. Goode while you were still married. Lost this little bitty woman, she’s just outta sight.”

     Luc turned his face away from Nat as much as he could, as he felt tears were coming. Nat began walking to the other side of the bed, “Que no quieres nada más de mí, que te fuiste con ese infeliz, ¿qué importa?” Nat was facing Luc again. “¿Qué importa?” Luc opened his eyes. He gave Nat a long hard look. Nat just kept smiling. “I bet you are dying to say something,” said Nat as he pointed to the endotracheal tube sticking out of Luc’s mouth. “Así es la vida de caprichosa, a veces negra, a veces color rosa. Así es la vida, jacarandosa. Te quita, te pone, te sube, te baja y a veces te lo da.

     Nat sat on the bed, again, but he faced away from Luc now. He lit his cigar now and started examining the pansy he had. Its petals were violet and white, its pistils yellow. It was actually a beautiful flower, no wonder why they were Sally’s favourites. “It takes a special kind of thrill to stand out in this day and age. Everybody looks so good and everyone is good in bed. Can you tell me what was ever really special about her all this time?” Nat deposited the pansy on top of the bureau next to the bed. “Anyway, she took half your fortune and the house in Paris. That’s the reason behind why we are here in a god-forsaken swamp-city rather than the City of Light.”

     There was silence for a moment, the calm before the storm. Just as Nat turned to face Luc, all the medical machines went haywire. Luc’s eyes were closed and the ventilator to which he was attached wasn’t moving anymore. Seconds later the flat-line beep sound filled the air. “Don’t you spoil my sweet charade,” said Nat as he stood up and started stomping Luc’s chest, a quite barbaric form of CPR. Luc’s consciousness was not in that hospital room anymore.

     He remembered Sally… and he remembered John, of course. It was quite a shock when he found out about the affaire. It was just out of the blue. He never gave Sally a reason to go away. He believed he had given her everything she needed, in all aspects. He was really hurt, but time is the best doctor and he went on to forget her. He had stopped torturing himself over her and was, if not happy, at peace. He had let go of her and, right now, he could let go of everything. However, his eyes opened after feeling seven punches to his chest.

     “Not your time quite yet love,” said Nat after hearing Luc’s heartbeat regain its pace. “Yeah, you already know how this will end. Ashes to ashes, funk to funky… but I’m gonna take my time. I have all the time in the world to make you mine. What is it that you have anyway?” asked Nat as he picked up the medical chart from the foot of the bed, “Dead as dead can be, my doctor tells me,” said Nat as he looked at Luc again. He put down the chart and returned to sit on the bed.

     The atmosphere grew denser, an obvious by-product of a near-death encounter. “The foulest stench is in the air… and I think it comes from your feet,” said Nat as he picked up the pansy from the bureau and brought it to his nose. He walked to the window and opened it. The wind came rushing into the room, refreshing it. “Summer breeze makes me feel fine, blowin’ through the jasmine in my mind… or the pansy in my hand,” said Nat as he stared out the window.

     “What about the world today? What about the place that we call home?” continued Nat as a nearby junkyard caught his attention, “people keep on learnin’, soldiers keep on warrin’, world keep on turnin’. Everything will remain the same long after you are gone. You load sixteen tons, what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt.” Nat threw the flower out the window and into the dusk. He remained silent for a moment, watching the sky. The sun was still going down and the moon was going up already.

     “I see the bad moon a-rising. I see trouble on the way,” Nat turned to look at Luc, “but not for you: for this hospital. See the junkyard just across the street?” Nat pointed at the junkyard and then realised Luc was not going to see anything outside of his room ever again, “Of course you can’t. Well, it is expanding and in no time it will take over this hospital. It’s survival of the richest, moving our sinful pieces ‘round and ‘round. It’s evolution, baby!

     “You are probably going to be the last famous person to die in this hospital. Now put away your welcome, soon you’ll find you’ve overstayed it. This hospital went bankrupt a couple of weeks ago and… let’s just say there are a couple of unscrupulous characters out there,” said Nat as he gently scratched his right cheek. “In disguise, as no one knows, hides the face, lies the snake. People only try to make big money, money for nothin’.

     “Profit… profit… vi ska alltid ta profit.” Nat walked away from the window and back to the bed. Luc was watching him, his expression of inquiry, as if trying to make out what Nat was all about. “It seems you’ve mistaken me for someone who cares. I’m just a dirt bag under the weather.” Nat lit yet another cigar. “Devils thrive on the drive that is fuelled,” he said as he winked an eye at Luc.

     “I actually could’ve helped the owner of the junkyard. Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap,” said Nat as he let go a little laugh. “But before I completely get away from the point let me just remind you what you people are all about: you go around thinking to yourselves ‘I am hiding from some beast, but the beast was always here, watching without eyes because the beast is just my fear that I am just nothing’. And you, Luc, are nothing. Just lying on that bed waiting until the clock’s run out, time’s up… over.”

     Nat walked to the bureau and picked up a jar of water and a glass. He filled the glass and drank all the water at once. “I thirst but never quench,” he said as he refilled the glass, “I know the consequence, feeling like I do. Never complete, trying to fill the emptiness with… something,” Nat drank another glass and started filling the glass yet again. After he finished the complete jar he turned to look at Luc. He displayed a new type of smile, one that denoted the savouring of things to come. He licked his upper teeth. “I couldn’t give you water, I don’t want you choking and dying before you need to.

     “On candystripe legs the spiderman comes, softly through the shadow of the evening sun. Stealing past the windows of the blissfully dead looking for the victim shivering in bed,” Nat had walked to the door of the room. Luc thought he was seeing a mirage, for he thought the door closed without Nat even touching it. “Quietly he laughs and shaking his head creeps closer now,” Nat began moving towards the bed again. Luc heard the window slamming shut. Must’ve been the howling wind. “Closer to the foot of the bed,” Nat leaned towards Luc over the foot of the bed. His eyes glowed red, “The spiderman is always hungry.” Nat licked his upper teeth again and then jumped on top of the bed, over Luc. He then slowly made his way to the side of the bed and achieved the same sitting position Luc was too familiar with.

     The laughter filled the room as Luc’s eyes got wider and a grim visage took over his face. “In my midnight confessions when I say all the things that I want to,” Nat stopped talking for a moment. He put a hand over Luc’s face and pinched his cheek, “Even if you’re not with me I’m with you, all along. Everything I’ve done I’ve done for you. I move the starts for no one,” Nat pressed his mouth against Luc’s ear, “but for you… every time you looked up to the sky and cried and begged,” Nat backed away a bit, just to see Luc’s face, “every time you said ‘Lord, what you’re doing to me, I have spent all my years in believing you but I just can’t get no relief, Lord’… it was me who you should’ve been talking to! It was me who turned your world upside down!

     “Where did we go wrong? Nowhere! You were on the fast track to success. You changed the world and you were so… happy about it! I had to bring you down,” Nat’s grin looked malevolent, his crazy eyes piercing through Luc. “When you see my face hope it gives you hell,” Nat gripped Luc’s throat with his left hand, “hope it gives you hell!

     “Everything is possible with promises,” Nat tightened his grip for just a moment, let Luc feel both physical and emotional pain, “and with a few promises I seduced everyone into cheating you out of your luck,” Nat’s right hand got hold of the tube protruding from Luc’s throat. “And after all this, won’t you give me a smile? After I made your co-workers defame you? After I made your wife cheat on you over and over again? After sin took the upper hand?” In a swift movement Nat yanked the tube out of Luc’s throat. “I don’t need your petty smiles of good will!

     “I want to know what you’re thinking! There are some things you can’t hide. I want to know what you’re feeling!” Luc was coughing violently, gasping for air. “It’s not pride, I’m just curious. You are, after all, the best Job I’ve had in years! How does it make you feel, that I took everything away from you? Let me gloat just one last time before you die… tell me what’s on your mind!”

     Luc continued to cough and blood started pouring out from his mouth. Nat was still holding his head, waiting to hear what he wanted to hear. The anger… the wrath that sure as hell Luc had built inside of him. His soul was there for the taking, a trophy to take down below. The taunts continued until Monsieur Lenvers began uttering a word… a phrase.

     “E-e…” started saying Luc, painfully. His eyes started to roll to the back of his head. “E… ex… ex-e…” Nat was getting anxious and started to shake Luc’s head. Luc tried to say something just before leaving this mortal coil, “Ex-e… ex… ex... excusez-moi?

     “OH PUTAIN!

Short Story. March, 2011.

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