John felt a tingling in his stomach. It rose up and spread back down through his body. The anxiety, he had felt so profoundly moments before was evaporating as the drug worked its way into his blood stream. The pain of his life melted away like butter in a warming skillet. Keeping it’s shape, but getting smaller. The great numbness continued its welcome march through his body, but the tingling in his stomach grew intense. It was no longer a pleasant sensation. His muscles were beginning to contract. This frightened John; the movement in his abdomen was beyond control. Forgetting that he was sitting at the table, he began waving his arms around feeling for something to hold onto.
“Dr. Bernstien! Help me!” John said desperately.
This is what Michael had been waiting for. He took a hold of John under his arms and helped him stand up from the table.
“Bathroom?” Michael asked. John shook his head no. Michael half carried John as he stumbled to the sink. John grabbed both ends of the sink while Michael held the waist band of his pants. John’s blank eyes stared down at the porcelain. His childhood urge to resist throwing up kept him standing there, fighting the convulsions. Michael could see he was resisting it, and encouraged John to let go.
“There’s no stopping it, Pop. You’ve just got to let it go and you’ll feel better.” John wasn’t convinced and he continued to combat the growing need for his stomach to be empty, until it felt like phantasmic hands were ringing his insides like a dirty dish towel. His belly extended fully and contracted with such force that bile and vomit came up his throat and out his mouth and nose. He continued for several minutes, his body spasmodically clenching down on itself long after his stomach was empty.
Michael knew the first few times would be the worst. As he held John tightly, he spoke calmly, telling John it was normal to have this reaction. He didn’t want the old man to fall and break his fool head. Plus, to get John where he wanted him was going to take time. Michael didn’t want John to give up over fear of the drug.
When the retching began to subside Michael reached over and turned cold water faucet on. John didn’t move. With a grunt of displeasure, Michael used his open palm to splash the water on John’s face.
“Thank you.” John responded gratefully. Then regaining some of his composure, he took his hands from their supporting position on the sink and washed his face, grabbing the towel hanging by the sink he dried his face. Michael let him go entirely and poured him a glass of water.
“Here John, rinse out your mouth.” John rinsed and handed the glass back to Michael who refilled the glass. Michael helped John to his recliner, John sat down and didn’t move. Setting down the glass of water Michael pushed the chair back for him.
“How do you feel John?”
“Feel fine.” John replied, his head rocking back and forth.
“Here’s some more water” Michael put the glass in his hand. John drank half of the water, stopped to take a breath and finished it. Michael refilled the glass and set it down on the table beside the chair and began to pace around the apartment. He was sweating John’s reaction, so much he could feel his butt cheeks sliding against each other with perspiration. He worried the whole thing might have been too stressful that John might not want to continue. Maybe he should have started with a lower dose.
Finally, he grabbed one of the kitchen chairs, sat down next to John, and stared at him, waiting. John was smiling and moving his head almost as if he was looking around. Tired of the silence, Michael tried to make conversation.
“Sorry about all that John. Unfortunately there’s no way to avoid it,” Michael said anxious to hear how John would respond. “It will not be so bad once your body gets used to the medication.
“It’s all right Dr. Bernstien, I feel fine now. I don’t care.” John let out a laugh that was barely audible. “I don’t care about much of anything right now.”
“John where are your keys? I need to lock your door when I leave.”
“Never lock my door, got nothing anybody wants.” John replied dreamily.
“I can’t have you wandering around while you’re on this medication John and there are some things I need to do.” John didn’t reply. “John?”
“Oh, they’re here somewhere. I don’t know where.” John answered, irritated that Michael was making him think.
Michael looked around. The apartment was a studio with a closet and a bath room. How long could it take to find the keys? It would give him something to do while waited for John to go on the nod. He found a key in the kitchen drawer with cooking utensils, covered in dust.
Taking the key, Michael held the door open and tried locking it. The lock worked, but someone on the inside could still get out, that wouldn’t do. He was going to have to take care of that soon. Eventually the other tenants, on the top floor, would have to go as well. They could be trouble later on.
Going back to the sink, he ran the water until all the vomit was washed away. If he was going to have to spend a lot of time in the apartment he didn’t want it smelling of bile. He went back over to check on John.
“John?” Michael spoke in a calm voice and John didn’t reply. His eyes were shut and he was almost imperceptibly, smiling. Pulling up a chair, Michael sat in front of John and watched him. After a few minutes John’s head bobbed up, and he started to move his head back and forth as if he was looking around the room again.
“John? Are you all right?” John turned in Michael’s direction, in a sort of stop motion movement, but he didn’t immediately answer.
“Yeah, I was just trying to imagine the room. I thought I could almost see…” John’s head nodded and fell against his shoulder. Michael waited, watching John’s face until his eyes fluttered open. “You don’t suppose it’s starting to work already, do you doc?”
“No, it will take time. There could be some stimulation of your optic nerve due to the side effects of the drug.” John didn’t answer, his head just continued to sway back and forth. “Ah, John, I need to get some things…”
“My record player?” John cut in, as eagerly as the drug would allow him to act.
“Ah, yes John I need to get your record player.”
“With a radio.”
“Of course John I haven’t forgotten. I’ll get you plenty of records too. Radio shows are what you want right?”
“And gospel music, like they advertise on the TV.”
Michael winced at the thought of having to listen to gospel music. “Yes John, I won’t forget. Will you be all right here by yourself? Can you manage if you start to get sick again?” Michael took the kitchen trash can and put it on the opposite side of the chair from the table. “I put the trash can here next to the chair.” Michael took John’s hand and showed him where it was.
“I’ll be fine. I’ve lived here almost twenty years and you’ve never been around to baby sit me before.” Michael wasn’t convinced, but was glad to have a good excuse to exit and get a new lock for the door. He filled John’s water glass and also pitcher, putting them on the table near him.
“Can you think of anything else you’ll need, John?” John didn’t respond, he had nodded out again. Michael picked up his keys, put John’s key on the ring, and left the apartment.
John continued to fade in and out. He couldn’t believe how good he felt. Though it wasn’t the jump up and take a walk good. It was as if his mind was swimming in Jell-O and he was out of control. When he tried to shake the effects, he found it was useless. He could concentrate for awhile but his mind would inevitably wander off. Finally he just gave up and let it ride.
Michael cursed softly under his breath as he parked the Cadillac and picked up the packages from the trunk. There was too much, he was going to have to make a second trip. It took him over an hour to find a store that stocked the things he was looking for. John’s neighborhood wasn’t exactly prime K-Mart real-estate. He ended up having to go all the way across town and to a thrift store to find the record player.
The stereo was bulky and he smashed his finger going through the door. It was an old table top record player, radio, cassette deck. The kind with the rack for the tapes, beside the turntable. He’d found some records at the same secondhand shop. There hadn’t been a lot of early radio records to choose from, he bought all they had and supplemented the records with a selection of modern comics. He stayed away from the comics that used a lot of profanity and other comics John might not understand. The gospel records were plentiful and only a quarter each. Michael reached down and took an arm load of whatever was there. Smiling to himself he’d thought, ‘This ought to keep the old bastard happy.’
Putting the box down, Michael unlocked John’s door and pushed it open. He picked up his burden and carried it in. John was sleeping, he put down the box and retrieved the rest of the packages. He didn’t notice that John was waking up until he had already set up the stereo, and was plugging in the speakers. Checking his watch he figured John was either back to normal or pretty close.
“John, I have your new phonograph. It even has a tape deck so you can record off the radio.”
“I don’t feel good any more.” John seemed oblivious to what Michael said. “I don’t feel very good at all.”
“Don’t worry John, I’m going to give you another shot before I go…” Michael said opening up the bag of records.
“I didn’t like it, I felt like someone else was in control of me. I don’t want another shot.” John’s voice was slurred, but determined.
“You’re just not used to it John. It’s always a little rough in the beginning but it gets better. It’ll take a little while, but it will get much easier.” Michael said, going over and putting his hand on John’s shoulder. John shrugged away from Michael’s hand. “I brought you a hamburger, french fries, and a milk shake. Why don’t you try to eat?”
“I’m not hungry and you’re not going to give me any more shots.” There was a finality and conviction in his tone that rode Michael to wonder what sort of torture could make him scream for a thousand years.
“John, please, try to eat something and I’ll put on a record for you.” Michael felt enraged having to play up to this old man. He had a quick fantasy of driving a hammer through his forehead. He put one of the old radio shows on, threw the bag of fast food in the refrigerator, and sat down to think. John burst out with laughter when Flibber McGee opened the gag closet and got buried in the mountain of junk. Michael sat by and rapped his fingers against the kitchen table and thought of unspeakable acts performed with power tools. Hardware was in his blood.
John’s features seemed to soften while he listened to the show. When the recording finished he was smiling; neither one of them had spoken while it played. John, disappointed the show was over, spoke up, “Is there another side to that record?”
“Why of course there is,” Michael said perking up. “I’ll turn it over for you. Are you sure you won’t have something to eat? I could heat up the burger in the oven.”
“What flavor milk shake did you say you got there?” John asked, looking at Michael in a way that made him want to wave his hand over John’s eyes.
“Chocolate.” Michael could see John lick his lips at the thought.
“I am sort of thirsty.” John said rubbing his hand over his chin.
“Come on over to the table, and I’ll get it out of the refrigerator.” Michael said, wanting John to come to him. John hobbled over and Michael gave him the shake. Taking a cookie sheet from the cupboard Michael spread out the fries and hamburger before putting the sheet in the oven.
While John ate, Michael took out the lock he’d bought. The lock was the type that required a key to turn on either side. It wouldn’t fit in the hole that was cut for the door lock. He’d have to get the tools necessary to cut a new hole. swearing at the inconvenience, he put the dead bolt back into the bag and placed it on the counter. Returning to the kitchen table he opened his briefcase and began to prepare a “fix” for John.
The record ended, and John recognized the sound of the little butane torch. “What are you doing, Doctor Bernstein?”
“Well, John, I was hoping to persuade you to try one more dose.”
“No sir, I told you I don’t want another dose.” John said sternly.
Taking a moment to rub his eyes, Michael fought down his anger and his urge to grab John by the back of the head, drive his forehead into the table, and tack his ears to it with a nail gun. He looked at the record player and put the beaker down away from the heat and turned off the torch. “You know John, the reason it might have seemed so bad…”
“It didn’t seem bad, it felt good, too good.” John cut across his sentence.
“I told you ahead of time you’d experience a euphoric sensation while taking this medication. Maybe you’d feel better if you had something to do when I’m not here. Let me show you how to use the record player.” Michael stood John up in front of the stereo and put his hands on the turntable controls. “This controls the speed of the record. All the records I bought you are thirty three rpm, so you won’t have to bother with it. This starts it.” Michael put John’s fingers on the control lever. “If you pull it all the way down, it will set the stylus down automatically.”
“Stylus?” John broke in confused.
“Oh,” John responded, trying to learn the difference between the controls.
“This button turns on the power and this knob controls the functions of the unit. You can feel the little notch at the top of the nob. All the way over here is the radio, the middle is the phonograph, and to the right is the tape deck. I’ll show you how to use that when I get you some tapes. You’ll be able to record things from the radio with it.”
Taking John’s hands again, Michael showed him where he had stacked the records. “If this isn’t enough for you I’ll be glad to get more. The next time I come, I’ll bring you a kit with raised stick on numbers, so that you can tell them apart. And I’ll get you a record stand to keep them in. Let me put on some music so you can hear how good the sound is.” John sat down at the table while Michael selected a record. He started to put on a gospel album, but changed his mind, and put on a classical jazz record that was mixed in with the bargain music stack.
The sound was better than John could have hoped for. If he hadn’t known better, he would have sworn that there was a band playing in his room. He listened intently cataloging the sounds. The base came from one side, while the trumpet and sax moved around and the drums seemed to come from the middle and the piano from the other side. “That sounds really nice, I didn’t know…” John’s voice trailed off and Michael didn’t disturb the music, he let it do its work alone. John moved over to the stereo and fondled it lovingly, running his fingers along the plastic dust cover, and placing his hands over the speakers to feel the vibrations. Michael let the record play out then flipped it over. There were tears forming John’s unseeing eyes.
“It’s wonderful,” John said dreamily. When the Jazz album finished its course, Michael quickly put on another jazz record. John’s eyes released a few well formed drops. Michael felt uncomfortable. He didn’t deal well with open emotion.
“There’s more.” Michael said. “Let me show you how to work the radio.” Michael placed John’s hand on the selector knob and turned it to the radio, then he put John’s hand on the tuner and found a Jazz and classical station. An opera leaped in mid life into John’s living room. He’d never heard an opera before.
“It sure does sound wonderful. What are they saying?” John asked misty eyed.
“It’s Italian, during the intermissions an announcer will tell you the story line.” Michael was beginning to relax, he returned to his seat, and let John listen for a while. John moved the turner through a series of stations.
After a while Michael spoke calmly. “John my work is very important. What we’re doing could have a great effect on mankind.” Michael said truthfully. “Please, John, could we continue? The work is so important for the world and just as important to you.” Michael asked pleading.
John was silent and continued to caress the stereo. “Will you stay with me this time, in case anything goes wrong?”
Michael sighed heavily. “Why of course I will John.” Michael responded, sounding very concerned. John didn’t answer right away, but continued to play his hands over his new found love.
“All right, I’ll try it one more time.”
“Thank you, John.” Michael said rising and crossing over to the table. “It’s for the best and you’ll feel good again, as soon as I get this ready for you.” Michael said, lighting the butane torch.
Michael sat up with John all night changing records, making conversation, and watching John sleep. Before leaving in the morning, he gave John another fix, increasing the original dose slightly. His first concern was getting a drill, with a door kit, to install the new dead bolt.
Walking down the stairs he felt drained. His shoulders slumped over, he shuffled rather than walked and almost tripped on the thread bare carpet in the hallway. Stepping onto the street, he was assaulted by the morning sun. Squinting and covering his eyes, he bowed his head to shelter it from the light, until he was able to retrieve his sunglasses from his coat pocket.
He found a parking ticket under the windshield wiper, and noticed the sign that stated: No parking six to nine AM. Balling up the ticket, he threw it on the floor of the car as he sat down. He didn’t have the resolve to curse over it and couldn’t understand why he felt so tired. Many times before he’d stayed up, for several days in a row, with no difficulty.
“You shouldn’t throw those things away. You get too many they’ll tow your car and if they found this opium pipe, they might just tow you away.” Chad’s voice pierced through Michael’s head like the first severe stab of a migraine.
“Oh!” Michael said reaching to his forehead. “You’re just what I need this morning.” Michael felt knitting needles of pain scrambling his brain into a greasy cheese omelet.
“Oh, but I am, Boomer.” Chad said smiling as he materialized in the front seat. He was smoking a hand rolled cigarette. “How do you feel this morning Michael?” He asked, leaning close.
Michael rolled his head back, and ran his fingers through his hair. “I feel like I’ve been slept on.” Dropping his head forward he pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and index finger and added. “I don’t understand it either, I’ve never felt this bad before.”
“It’s simple,” Chad said coming so close his forehead almost touched Michael’s. “You’re losing.” Michael could smell Chad’s stale, smoke laden, breath and it almost made him gag. He turned the key and let the window down to get his stomach under control.
“What do you mean?” Michael asked wanting to wet his pants.
“Just that, you’re losing and that’s draining your life force away.” Chad said without any sort of concern. “How could you leave him alone on his first fix? Just how stupid are you?”
“I thought…” Michael began, his eyes fixed on the dashboard.
“You thought, you thought. You never leave him alone to think for himself. You keep at him until he’s hooked, until he begs you for a fix.” Chad looked out the window up at the building. “I mean that’s the plan isn’t it?”
“Yeah.” Michael rubbed his temples.
“I’ve got a surprise for you Michael, he’s probably not going to let you give him the next injection.” Chad said without emotion.
Michael turned quickly and searched Chad’s expression, there was nothing there for him to read. “How do you know?”
“Because duh, I’m a supernatural being. It has it’s advantages.” Chad took a long drag off his cigarette and blew the smoke out his nose.
“Then I have to try something else.” Michael said with false confidence.
“No time, you have to make this work.” Chad said as if he could care less and looked at the front of the hotel.
“Why?” Michael’s hands clutched the steering wheel for comfort and stared straight ahead.
“He’s going to die.” Chad said looking back at Michael. “Two months on the outside and when he dies…” Chad let his voice trail off.
“If he dies, that’s it?” Michael could feel sweat rolling down from under his arms.
“Those are the rules. Good night Irene. You fail, and he gets what he’s been praying for.” Chad said flatly examining his finger nails.
“He’s been praying for death?” Michael asked unsure of the conclusion he’d drawn.
“You got it. He’s thirsty for it, join the angels, sing in the heavenly choir. He believes all that shit.” Chad yawned. “Where were you going?”
“To get the tools I need for…”
“Send your Bae out for that” Chad said cutting Michael off. “And have her take care of this ticket for you. You know she’s good for more than baking your sausage. I suggest you go get something nice for him for when he comes out of it and then get your ass back up there.”
Michael nodded his head without looking over at Chad. When he did glance to his right, Chad was gone. Cupping his hands behind his head, Michael stretched and took a deep breath. He turned the key and started the car. Instead of going to a fast food place, Michael went to a grocery store. He bought a stack of the most expensive frozen dinners and a selection of steaks. On impulse he picked up several bottles of wine.
Standing at the door, preparing for his entrance and what he would say. He checked his watch, it had been about three hours since the last injection. He thought maybe he could give John the injection early while he was still under the influence. Encouraged, Michael took a deep breath, unlocked the door, and burst into the room with all the cheer he could muster.
“Hello John, I’ve got some great stuff for you here. These are gourmet frozen dinners. All you have to do is pop them in the oven and you have a good hot meal. I wasn’t sure what you liked so I bought all the varieties they had. After you try them, tell me which ones you like and I’ll get more of them.” John didn’t respond, his head followed the sound of Michael’s voice as though he were watching him move around the room.
Michael felt as if John was literally staring at him, accusing him. He set the bag down on the kitchen counter and retrieved the second from the hallway. “I also brought you fresh steaks and five bottles of very good wine.”
“I don’t drink.” John replied flatly. Though he had broken that rule a couple of days earlier. His jaw was slightly slack and he was slurring a little.
“I’ll leave them here; you might want to try some. I bought you a cork screw, it’s sitting here next to the bottles.” Michael clinked two bottle together, to show John where they were. “Are you hungry? Do you want me to cook you one of these dinners, or a steak?”
“No!” John replied coldly, looking away from Michael for the first time. Michael opened a bottle of rose wine, thinking it the least objectionable for someone who didn’t normally drink. He poured some for himself and a second glass for John.
“John,” Michael said walking toward him. “Why don’t you give this a try? It’s really quite good, I’m having a glass myself. One drink won’t do you any harm, it’s made with God’s own grapes.”
John was thirsty, he took the glass but didn’t drink. He sniffed at the glass and his salivary glands responded with a burst of fluid. Just as suddenly his mouth caked dry. Slowly, he brought the glass to his lips, and timidly tasted the wine. It flashed bitter, then sweet. The Portuguese rose spread across his tongue and dripped down his throat. John liked it and wondered why the people at the church made such a fuss over it. It was a lot better than the rose he got from the bodega. He kept the glass in his hand and continued to sip it until the glass was empty.
After finishing the drink, John held the empty glass up for Michael to refill. He enjoyed making Michael do things for him and wouldn’t even ask, treating Michael as if he were a dog servant, no he would treat a dog better. In response Michael refilled his drink and put the bottle down on the table next to John.
The stereo was off. All the records Michael had left on the stack had played while he was gone. Michael found a soft and easy listening station and sat down to wait. John smiled when he heard the music and swayed his glass, from one side to the other, in time with the slow moving music. Occasionally he’d stop in the middle of his arch and take a drink.
“I’ve got another surprise for you John.”
“I’ve hired a nurse to help me with you care.”
“Yes, a very pretty young lady, to sit with you when I can’t be here.”
John took the largest drink yet from his wine. “She’ll stay with me?” John licked his lips and took another drink.
“Yes, she’ll get you things, cook your meals, massage your back when it’s sore.” Michael smiled. John’s eyes were roving wildly around the room.
Michael emptied the bottle of wine into John’s glass and he immediately took a drink.
“Would you like to meet her?” Michael took his phone out of his inside jacket pocket.
“Yes.” John took another drink.
“I’ll call her.”
“I don’t have a phone.”
“I’ve got mine.”
John listened carefully, but Michael’s phone didn’t make any noises until it started to ring on the other end. No one had ever explained smart phones to John. He heard Tina answer, her voice sounded sweet.
“Hello?” Tina was working her soft and sexy.
“Hello, Tina? Do you think you can start today?” Michael spoke with a friendly, but formal tone to his voice.
“Shouldn’t be a problem.”
“See you after a bit.” Michael ended the call. “Are you ready for your injection, John. We need to keep a tight schedule for this to work.”
John’s lips twitched back and forth. He took a finishing swallow of wine and put down his empty glass. The struggle was evident in his animated expression.
“Would you like another glass of wine while I fix this for you.”
John nodded. It was easy to think he was just saying yes to another glass of wine. Michael opened another bottle and poured John a glass, then began to prepare John’s fix. John was relaxed, fully under the influence of the wine.
Michael completed the slap of smack and returned to John’s side.
“John,” Michael said softly. “Do you mind if I give you injection now?” Michael asked closing his eyes and praying, to whom he prayed, he wasn’t sure.
“When’s the nurse coming over?”
“Tina. She be her in a while.”
“I guess it’s all right.” John said, his voice reflecting the obvious influence of alcohol. Since he didn’t normally drink it was hitting him hard. With relief, Michael gently tied off John’s arm and selected a good vein, then, ever so carefully, pushed the needle through.
John came down out of his haze like a balloon slowly losing it’s helium. Music was playing, but he didn’t recognize it. It was soulful, but different than anything he’d ever heard.
“Counting Crows.” Tina’s voice dripped like honey on a young girls thigh and the effect was not lost on John. He jolted in his seat.
“Counting Crows?” His responded as if in autopilot.
“The name of the band.”
If he’d been able to think straight, John would have thought that was a rather strange name for a band. He heard Tina get up from the kitchen table. She had gotten a white nurses uniform for her own amusement and in case John happened to touch her. The new, starched, cotton rustled as she walked, brushing against her sensitive skin and warming her blood. John’s nostrils flared at the scent of her perfume as she got closer.
“I’m Tina.” Tina said leaning over him, close enough that John could sense her heat. Tina took John’s hand and shook it. Her hand was so soft it felt like every cell was alive with movement. She felt his palm start to sweat as soon as she touched it and it made her excited. She couldn’t help herself. Lust was power and she enjoyed the power she held over men. “I’m going to help take care of you.”
“I’m John…” John’s voice was scratchy. He was barely able to speak.
“Of course you are.” Tina leaned close to him so that her breath brushed his cheek. “Would you like something to eat before your medication.”
“Yes.” John would agree to anything that voice asked.
Taking hold of John’s arm, Tina helped him out of the Lazy Boy and walked him to the kitchen table.
“How about a steak and some onion rings?”
“Okay.” John still hadn’t gotten his voice back. He listened to her working in the kitchen and stacked up the energy to speak. “Miss…”
“Tina. Even the doctor calls me Tina. Hadn’t you noticed?”
“Tina. What do you look like?” John cleared his throat. “Michael said you were very pretty.”
“That was sweet of him.” Tina smiled genuinely. Michael was rather tight lipped on compliments. Not that she needed to hear crap like that, she knew what she was. “I tell you what John.” Tina set down the bag of frozen onion rings and came over to John. Sweat was running out from under his hair line. She smiled in a way that would have scared a child and unnerved most men.
“Why don’t you feel my face and make up your own mind.” Tina straddled John’s leg and sat on his thigh. He felt her heat and moisture through his khaki pants. He couldn’t help but react. Tina could see it and her smile grew a little more obvious. “Am I too heavy for you?”
“No…” John was having trouble breathing. He wanted to run, but he didn’t want to draw attention to his pants. His arms moved as if he were a Gumby doll when she took his wrists and placed his hands against her face. They remained exactly where she placed them.
“It’s all right, John. Touch me, I won’t bite you.”
John carefully explored her face. When he lowered his hands she stopped him.
“Don’t you want to know what the rest of me looks like?”
“It’s okay, John, I’m a nurse.” She pulled his hands back to her shoulders and let them trace over her breasts. His arms became ridged and froze. She lowered them down to his sides and leaned forward, whispering in his ear. “Are you ready for your medicine.”
John nodded. He couldn’t have made a sound if you’d driven nails through his hands and feet.