Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Truth about God, the Devil,
and Tyler Parker

It was hot the summer of 1999, too. A hot wind would come out of the west and blast Detroit. They lived just a little east of the Ford River Rouge Plant – the same eight towering smoke stacks depicted in Charles Sheeler’s monochrome, entitled Criss-Crossed Conveyors from 1927, the same factory Diego Rivera immortalized in his Depression era frescoes. Many times Tyler had gazed at them in the Detroit Institute of Arts. Their color was vibrant you felt that Henry Ford must still be young and living. But Tyler had seen Ford’s grave at St. Martha’s. That old crank and anti-Semite was lying on his back next to his wife under six feet of earth. The stacks of his factory were still upright, however, and belching as much coal smoke as ever. There were refineries in the vicinity as well. You couldn’t blame those on Ford. On nights when they got groceries in Dearborn they would drive back into southwest Detroit and see the blue and yellow flames of a gas flare burning off methane. This is industry. This is what makes all the gadgets and machines you live with. It’s dirty. It used to be dirtier. Tyler tried to imagine what it must have been like in the Fifties and Sixties. The neighborhoods were said to be covered in coal soot particulate.
          Such reflections didn’t make him want to stay. His every third thought was of getting the hell out of Detroit.
          Motor City put much of the world on wheels at the cost of grinding up countless numbers of its own denizens. The neighborhood Tyler and his wife and their son lived in was an old Polish section. It had been home to many people with last names like Budzyn and Nevers. Tyler had read Thomas Sugrue’s book The Origins of the Urban Crisis. He understood that a lot of white flight took place because Eisenhower’s highways made it possible. Not giving home loans to blacks in the suburbs kept them trapped. Home-improvement loans to blacks were also unlikely. So the city rotted. Mexican Town was creeping outward. The Latinos were moving into dumps and rebuilding them board by board, one nail at a time.
          When the west wind blew in the heat it was like a devilish Simoom. Even the air conditioner pumped out a stench. If you didn’t have A/C and had your windows open it smelled like steaming tar was oozing down the street. You even found yourself pushing back the curtains, looking for road crews. There was nothing. The asphalt stink was invisible.
          Tyler told himself that Gary, Indiana used to be worse. But when he was carrying his infant around the house with the TV news on, telling you how asthma was much worse and prevalent among inner city kids, all he could do was think how he needed to get the hell out of Detroit.
          His master’s degree wasn’t finished. It didn’t matter. He was master of nothing anyway.
          It seemed a sin to leave the city because of toxic mash. You had to leave it in a truck filled with all the junk that had been produced by toxic-mash-making machines. He had worked for six months at a shop in Mount Clemens. His white co-workers were big on buying American. The were also big on trashing Detroit. “I never go south of 11-Mile Road,” he had often heard.
          Is there anything more American than Detroit’s trash.
          The whole ring of Detroit’s wagon-wheel roads should suggest a very American cycle of viciousness. Exploit and Move. Blacks were lured to the city by its need for labor. They were paid less than whites. They moved into homes and then the jobs moved to the suburbs. Blacks weren’t welcome.
          Now let’s blame the blacks for trashing Detroit. Blacks are evil, subhuman, right?
          And now Tyler too wanted to flee for something safer and cleaner.  
          It had never been his city, his fight. He had come here to learn about Michigan’s biggest city while he went to graduate school in English lit. His wife was teaching, making parish wages.
          Their next-door neighbor was a stripper who supplemented her income by turning the occasional trick.
          Tyler could look out his bathroom window and see her and her man on their back deck. In the midnight darkness he could only make out silhouettes. His window was cracked open for ventilation. He could hear her. They were both drunk. They staggered and struggled to embrace each other. He was trying to push her away.
          “No, baby, no!” She was telling him. She pulled her shirt over her head. She didn’t seem to be wearing a bras.
          “I swear. I didn’t do nothing.” She ran her hands through her long hair. It was blond but in the sodium light everything looked orange. She had a very good figure for someone who did nothing but sit around drinking beer all day. Her only other meals seemed to be cigarettes. How could she have two kids and look like that on such subsistence? Genes. Tyler had even seen her sister and mother. They had come to visit. The little boy was about three. The girl maybe five. Why the girl wasn’t in kindergarten wasn’t clear. Once, Tyler had called the police on her because she was alone with the kids. She was sitting on her back steps getting drunk while her kids played on the front sidewalk. The cops came. They talked to her and left. They had seen worse. But then later the kids were taken from the house. They seemed to be living with her mom.
          Tonight the young couple were alone.
          “C’mon, baby. I want you.” She dropped her shorts. She was now completely nude, not that Tyler could really make out any flesh but it was clear she was wearing nothing.
          “I swear, baby. I haven’t cheated on you all day.”

          She put her hand between her thighs and seemed to come away with something. She displayed it to the man. He was a fat goober, not at all bright. Now he seemed to be asleep on his feet. Was she showing him that she was on her period? How did that prove she hadn’t cheated on him? He seemed little more convinced than Tyler was. He just rubbed his big gut – apparently he was only wearing shorts himself. She tried to kiss him and he pulled away, as if she were filthy.
          “I didn’t do nothing. That was just Cecil running his fucking mouth.”
          Tyler knew about Cecil. To his wife Tyler referred to Cecil as the world’s ugliest man. His Polish genes hadn’t done him as many favors. He didn’t have many teeth left. It was impossible to guess the ages of these three. Cecil may have been as old as thirty-five. But he had the toothless girn of a seventy-year-old man. When he concentrated his smashed-down nose touched his chin.   

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Procedure part two

      The minutes swirled away. Henry didn't feel sleepy or hungry. He read his book at a regular pace. You tell yourself when bad things happen you will be this way or you'll do that -- you don't know. His boys were staying with one of Emily's co-workers. They were fine. He was fine. Everything was taken care of. He checked the iPad, his father-in-law had seen the update about Emily going into the OR. He had done all he was supposed to do. It wasn't like that one time when he waited too long to call people. Emily's dad hadn't liked that. He'd gotten on the phone and yelled or whimpered at Emily's sister, who also knew nothing.
        Listen, jack -- you sit here watching the pulse monitor and the blood-ox monitor and you wait quietly while she tries to swim up from the Propofol, telling yourself that just as soon as you know she's close enough to the surface to know how she's doing, when you've let her face be the clock, and her open eyes the hour hands, then you can tell me I waited too long. No news is good news. For a while anyway. . .
        But he couldn't be angry with them.
        He couldn't be angry because the type of cancer she had was a "good" one to get, if you had to get it. And the universe said they did. They had gotten it together and thank God it wasn't a bad kind. Another teacher that Emily had worked with was fighting against metastatic melanoma at that very minute. That was all over but the dying. Emily was going to survive.
         He couldn't be angry with his father-in-law because Emily's mother had dropped dead. Sixty-five years old. She had made it through Emily's first operation to take out the breast tumor. Then a week later she had collapsed. The EMTs came but it took them too long to get her heart going again. The next morning she was pronounced dead.
         Death is always pronounced. And profound.

         "Have you heard good news about your loved one?" The man in the big waiting room asked Henry. He was sitting across from him. Where had the woman with the ass-improving shoes gone? Sometime while his head was in Uzbekistan she had left. This man was quite tall, a bit overweight for his height, probably in his mid to late fifties.
         "Sorry?" Henry didn't understand the question.
         "Have you gotten good news about your loved one?"
          "Oh." Henry wasn't sure what to say. "Yes," he decided. He had gotten good news after that first surgery. The tumor was a fast-growing type that responded very well to chemotherapy. The cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes. That was very good news. And it was the one time when tears readily rose in Henry's eyes -- when he told Emily that he let the tears come. Was he holding them back the rest of the time? No. He had moved through a dreamy maze, somewhat numb. You have to bear up when you are the bystander. The mortar round has missed you but the guy next to you in the foxhole is hit. You have no time, no right to bemoan your fate.
          "That's good," the man said, running his hands through his graying hair. "I got good news to. It's not cancer. Thank God. Not cancer."
           But was cancer the worst thing?
           Henry mumbled some vague positive phrases about that being very good news.
           He hoped the big man didn't want to hug him.
           Clearly, there are times when people need to spill their guts to any decent person. Polite meaningless phrases sometimes mean everything, Henry thought. Or not everything. But they may be the best thing a body's got at that moment. A little charity. A little fellow feeling. A grimace made from sympathy.
            About an hour after she went into the OR the beeper went off. Henry had been eyeing if for about five minutes. He didn't want to jump when someone else's beeper went off. Why should he care if he looked like a fool.
            He turned the beeper off and the surgeon walked up to him. For a vascular surgeon the guy sure was portly. He still had on his scrubs and the OR beanie.
            "Mr. Parker. I just came from recovery with your wife."
            "How did it go?" You ask some questions because you've heard them asked. You do a lot of stuff on auto-pilot because making it all up as you go would take to much energy and energy is strictly rationed to the spouse of the patient. Your own body is a costume and this some kind of crazy masquerade you've been compelled to participate in. The labyrinth is always overly elaborate. The fact that its form exceeds the needs of its function is its essence. You know it's a dream. You sleepwalk through it anyway. Jamais vu. You've seen all of this before, strange as that may seem. You were fully aware that death had undone all of the absent ones. You know it will be your turn at some point. You just act like it's all a big secret and that you will be quite stunned when you are old and too weak to lift your head off the pillow. You've seen all this before, worked out the implications for yourself, but no one lets you talk about it. That's what makes it so strange, makes it take on such an eerie quality. Everything you see is perfectly familiar, and not utterly unreal, but tinged with an aura of unreality.
            "I couldn't do anything."
            "I got the port to work just fine. I could find nothing wrong with it."
            "But that other surgeon ran that test. She said it was blocked."
            "I can't answer that," he seemed sorry.
            "But she used a dye. And there was some sort of resonance machine or what not."
            "I know. She could have missed the port and that may have been why it looked like the port was leaking."
             "She said it was clearly leaking. How could she be wrong about that when she's look right at the monitor? Is that even possible?"
             "I can't answer that but I was able to get saline into the port and I was able to draw blood out of it. In order to draw blood you have to have a good connection to the artery."
              "So that means it doesn't leak?"
              By Jove, Holmes! 
              I believe you have it, Watson. 
              "But the nurses at the infusion center?"
              "If they have trouble with it try to get an experienced nurse."
              No shit. The nurse that poked her six times said she had over fifteen years of experience. Henry wanted to see her practice on an orange first. Or maybe guide him in. To her own vein. Or maybe he should have just throttled her.
              Do you know what it's like to watch people take a great big needle and go at your wife? Six times they stabbed her with that thing. Then they went to an IV. Three weeks later it was the same song and dance. They had thought maybe it was from all the initial swelling. Or maybe the port was turned sideways. Or maybe it was a double port and they were missing it. Is this a double? Just how the fuck were you supposed to know that? Henry got on the phone and called the surgeons office that first time they had trouble with it. Is it a double, he asked? No. Nope, not a double, you fucking idiots. Of course, what he wanted to do was pass out because he was having a panic attack but he told himself he couldn't do that now. He was the one that had recline whenever he got a flu shot because needles made him faint every since he was nineteen and passed out when the took some blood. It was practically classical conditioning. He felt a needle go in his arm and out went the lights. He was Pavlov's fainter.
               "Yeah OK."
               "The surgery itself went just fine but when I left her she was pretty upset since we didn't need to swap out the port. And I can understand that."
               "Oh, yes. That's understandable." No, that was autospeech again. He would have to process all of those words later.
               "Give her some time for the anesthetic to wear off. They'll take you over to her in about forty-five minutes."
              More infernal waiting. More sitzfleisch. More patience. Doctors want a lot of patients.
              Those forty-five minutes took forever and took no time at all. He put another update on the iPad, saying that she was out and fine, in recovery. Then he read a chapter of the Russian novel with full comprehension then forgot every word of it, even forgot that he'd forgotten it. Rachel Ray was perky on a large TV next to him until one of the volunteers of an undetermined age came for him, leading him down the same clean halls he'd walked down a month before having the port put in place initially. But we've all walked these same halls a thousand times before. This could be a passageway beneath a pharaoh's tomb. Phlebas walked through these halls, just as tall as you, carrying his wife's purse and clothes. You tread through these oneiric structures trying not to feel too much horror. Be here now, do not fear the future, for it will consume you in due time.
              When he got into the recovery area he found Emily sitting up on her bed. She looked pissed. She had half a dozen kleenex wadded up on her tray. They all had blood on them.
              "Did they tell you and didn't even need this damn surgery?"
              "How could that surgeon fuck up that test when she was looking at the monitor in front of her?"
              "I --"
              "And that stupid anesthesiologist. Jerk. I will not let him touch me again."
               "What happened?"
               "Oh, he said that that might burn a little. It felt like a wasp stung me. It hurt like hell. I told him it hurt and he just put me under. That was the last thing I remember. Ass."
               "And now I can't breathe."
               "What do you mean you can't breathe?"
               "I don't feel like I'm getting enough air."
               "What's your blood-ox level?" He looked at the monitors. They were different from the ones at the hospital in their hometown.
               "Well, your numbers do seem a little low. You are supposed to be near a hundred."
               "And I keep coughing up blood." She hacked into another kleenex and showed it to Henry. Coughing up blood seemed less than ideal.
                "Where's the nurse?"
                "She went to get me some ice water."
                She appeared to be out of kleenex. Henry got her some more. Surely the bleeding would stop. The nurse came back. She was a dumpy old thing and looked half awake. The nurse took the bloodied kleenex and tossed them into a nearby waste can. They got Emily more comfortable and tried to convince her that a bit of rest and sips of ice water would likely be just the thing. Henry watched the blood saturation numbers. The started to drop. At first he was alright. But then Emily had another coughing fit and her spittle was just as rosy. The numbers were up and down but when they got below 90 he felt a chill of real terror. What if this wasn't some annoyance but the sign of something seriously wrong with her long? What if this was some kind of pulmonary embolism? That was just stupid. He was scaring himself, he reasoned. But those numbers. Why did they fluctuate? Why did they keep dipping below 90? He asked the nurse to check her numbers.
              "Maybe we should call the doctor," he suggested. Her oxygen seems kind of low.
              The nurse got an oxygen mask and hooked up the hose to the faucet of air on the wall.
               "How is your breathing? Any better?" she asked Emily.
               "Not really."
               Henry had his eye on the numbers. They were not at all improved. Sometimes they went up but then they dropped down again.
               "I'll call up to the surgeon and see what he says," the nurse told them.
                Henry tried to get Emily to drink some Gatorade. She didn't want it. He could pour into a cup with ice. No. Was she sure? Yes!
              After about ten minutes the nurse came back and told them the surgeon was sending someone down to do a chest x-ray.
              Everything would be fine. This was more like it.
              Henry expected a tech to come wheel Emily off to x-ray like they did him that time he had pneumonia. But when a tech did come he brought an x-ray machine on wheels. The thing was slick. You roll the thing up to the bed. The plate swings up and out. Stand back. Zap. You're done. Very Star Wars.               In an instant they knew that Emily had no pneumonia. The lungs were clear. A doctor showed up. He said he had been in the surgery. Henry had never seen him before. A tall strapping guy straight out of the frat house. He still had his gown on. He listened to Emily breathe through a stethoscope. Everything seemed hunky-dory.
              "But she did cough up a lot of blood and that hadn't happened before."
              "A lot of blood?" the doctor asked.
              "Well, yeah. She coughed into several kleenex."
              "These kleenex?" The doctor was looking at what was left. These were just the most recent samples and they didn't have nearly as much blood as the ones the nurse had tossed.
               "Oh. Well, had they been bright red, that would be more concerning," he told Henry. Emily was sighting there mostly stunned.
              "The other ones were a lot brighter. They're over in that wastebasket," Henry said.
              A bit to Henry's surprise the doctor went over to the waste can and fished out two or three tissues. Henry wasn't sure if these were the darkest, bloodiest specimens. I would like to present the court with exhibit A., being a very bloody kleenex.
              "Oh, that's quite light. Not bright red."
              "It looks pretty bright to me. Usually --"
              "I guess we have different definitions of bright red -- and that's fine. The important thing is that her lungs are clear in the x-ray and they sound good. Her blood-ox is up where it should be..."
               It is? It hadn't been. Henry looked at the monitor. It dawned on him that for those numbers to be good he had been reading it wrong. He had been reading the display for her pulse rate as oxygen -- because that was what the display looked like on the monitors at their hospital.
              But she hadn't been able to catch her breath . . .
             "Sometimes when they put the tube in, they can nick the throat, and that will bleed a little."
             Henry bet they would have different definitions about what constitutes a little.
             It would take him months before he would be himself enough to wish he'd had a Crayola crayon with him. A bright red one. That way he and the surgeon could compare drawings. In medical school they tell you the real names of the colors. They also hypnotize you and convince you that coughing up blood is standard procedure. Apparently, you go into medical school and forget that most people breathe all day long without every coughing up any blood. And all blood coughed up is bright red. It would take Henry many months to think of that, and even longer to see it for the hilarious joke it was. Six years of medical school and the kid gets philosophical about the color red.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Procedure part one

      Henry knew where to go. Less than a month had passed since he'd been there before. It was a large room. It looked a bit like an airport terminal but no one was in a hurry and nobody was pulling luggage on wheels, but they had that same exhausted look of the air-traveler. Terminal was not a word anyone would want to hear now. Behind a long counter sat volunteers. He knew they were volunteers because a badge said so. That meant they were doing this for no pay, no stipend. Henry wanted to feel good about such generosity but his mind slid down to economics and politics -- if they had to pay these people this place probably wouldn't function. They'd have to cut something out. Cutting things out is what the surgeon is a past-master of. Cutting is their forte. What would they cut if they had to pay these people to hand him a beeper? Maybe they'd have to send back the marble floors or that huge waterfall at the entrance. Something would have to give. Some price would have to be paid. Propitiation of the gods always has its cost.
       About a third of the room had tables and chairs. The rest was taken up with uncomfortable couches. They didn't want anyone to lie down. This wasn't a flop house. Can you imagine the bums that would take over if the lights were dimmed and if there were someplace to recline? There's no rest for the wicked.
        Hanging from the ceilings were large flat screen TVs. Henry tried to get as far from these as he could. He sat down with his backpack. He had Emily's clothes and her purse in there, along with the iPad, a Gatorade and a book for himself. There was nothing for it but to wait it out. Too bad he couldn't whistle some, but he figured that would get as many stares as breaking into song.
        A  woman nearby had an mp3 player on her phone and was bopping along to the sound which seemed not to be coming only from the earbuds. A man was with her and he told he could hear the music.
        "That's OK," she said.
         He shook his head. "No, I can hear it."
         "I'm alright," she said. She frowned like she was about to become very angry.
          The man -- was he her husband or brother? -- Henry couldn't deduce that much -- walked over to her and shoved the cord into the phone better and the sound cut out so only she could hear it.
         "There." He said.
         Problem solved, Henry thought.
         There was a large monitor on the back wall. This had a list of patient names abbreviated to just the initials along with dates of birth. Henry found Emily's status. There were so many names that the list had to roll. The screen was more than five feet high. Henry did not tot up the number of surgeries. He just saw that next to Emily's alphanumeric it said, PROCEDURE STARTING.
         This is the waiting. We know about this. This is the sitting. We have the sitzfleisch. You get out the iPad, you post to FB that she has gone into the OR. Then you get out your copy of Cancer Ward and you read. You thank God you aren't in the Soviet Union in the 1950's. You more or less ignore the people around you, the ones who are on the verge of crying, the ones who are in the middle of crying. You tell yourself they are weakling bastards trying to get into Denver at Thanksgiving and the idea of a canceled flight is just too damn much for them. You pay no attention to the idiot teen mother telling her baby of six months to stop it, as if the kid can understand English. Would you try to reason with your cat, lady? Some people shouldn't be allowed to have children.
         Wondering the exact age of various people is acceptable. Those volunteers at the desk for instance. Those women had to older than they looked. The one woman clearly colored her hair. She had to be near sixty. Her figure didn't look it. There was very little loose flesh at her throat, but who under the age of fifty would take such a position? Those people were working. Maybe not as hard as kids at McDonald's -- Henry had done that job, flipping burgers -- but these people were working.
         The woman a little behind where he sat now was dressed in the sort of clothes girls the age of Henry's older son wore. Her hair fell down over her eyes so he couldn't see the corners of her eyes. She could have been fifteen, she could have been thirty-five. Directly across from him a woman was wearing those shoes that are supposed to give you a nice butt. Literally. That was what the ads said. Wear these shoes and tone your butt muscles. Isn't that like telling everyone you think your ass is saggy? Or is it fishing for a compliment. Hey, your ass looks fine to me. Hubba-hubba.
          A number of people seemed to have the latest smartphones. They were gazing at them as if they held some great mystery. Then they tapped at them with their thumbs. That could have been a call, a text, or long division.
           The one with the ass-improving shoes was reading her phone to a younger woman beside her. Henry hadn't known they were together. "I can't believe her. I really need to delete her from my friends on facebook. Listen to what she posts: "Don't worry, Baby, we are in this together. We are doing this together. When you go in Monday it will be like I'm going in with you. And when you get out we will raise this baby together.' She posted that on his wall."
           "What did he say?"
           "Nothing. She's got like fifteen posts and he never answers her."
           "He doesn't use Facebook?"
            "No. He does. He's commented on other people's stuff. Mutual friends of mine. He was just on fifteen minutes ago, it says here. He doesn't want anything to do with her."
           "So why doesn't he block her or whatever?"
           The other woman just made a face like she was as mystified as the next person.
           "I can't believe she's throwing herself at him like that."
           "It's so pathetic that she strikes out with a guy going to jail."
           They both laughed at that but with what seemed like embarrassment.
           "Do we have some kind of family or what?"

           Then it was back to sitzfleisch and Solzhenitsyn. He read slowly, somnambulating through the Soviet hospital. He could almost feel the dust on the wooden floor, see the grime on the windows. Had the narrator said where they were? It was some backwater. Lansing, Michigan would be a Mecca by comparison. Maybe. You wouldn't want to get cancer anywhere in the 1950's. Elvis couldn't heal you. Ike neither. Rock and roll and rockets and then the Pill.
           Sex and high tech poison. DDT. PCB. Saccharine. Mix it all together and whaddya got?
           I'm all shook up.
           Then all we have to do is blast that with gamma rays.

           People leave the waiting room and new ones come in. This is the belly of the beast. It's a digestive system through which you move. The operation takes place upstairs and then you come down stairs to wait. You're beeper goes off and it tells you SEE DESK. That's when they tell you that your loved one is out of surgery. You have to wait some more. The surgeon will come to talk to you. Henry checks the display on the wall. It has gone from ENDING PROCEDURE to IN RECOVERY. That almost sounds optimistic.
           He hasn't given much thought to how things went in pre-op. There was a really long wait because the surgeon is a vascular specialist. They had to seek one of those out because the idiot surgeon in their small town couldn't put a portacath in for Emily. Vascular surgeons are great but busy guys. Emily's procedure to change her portacath -- the damn thing didn't work -- got pushed back because someone had a coronary procedure. Damn people dying in line right in front of you. Henry was trying his best to get the staff to be gentle with his wife.
           "Did you see her wrist?" he asked the nurse.
            "I saw it but I didn't get a good look at it. What's going on there?"
            "That's why we're here. That's why we have to get this taken care of. She had chemo just put into an IV. Well, that vein didn't much like the chemo."
             "Oh, yes. It went subcu. We see a lot of that," she said.
             Subcu. Subcutaneous. Leaking out of the vein and into the surrounding tissue. It might not sound like much but that chemo shit is toxic. That's how it works. It's like Dran-o on the cancer. Except you need to get it to the cancer through your liver. Not through the flesh on your wrist. This would be obvious to anyone looking at the bruise wrapping around Emily's hand and up her wrist.
             "That's three weeks old. We don't know if it will ever heal."
             The nurse didn't say anything.
            Strangely, Henry felt little emotion. He wasn't angry at this woman hiding behind jargon. She didn't know that he was word nerd with a master's degree. She figured her medical terminology kept Henry and all the other les canaille out of the sanctus sanctorum of the biological sciences.

           The sleepwalking thoughts were threading through the hospital of his mind. There can be bad medicine. He didn't want to think about that. The surgeon had been apologetic about how much Emily had been through. He had a sweet look of sympathy on his face. It was so human and touching that Henry nearly burst into tears. He promised to get the port working. He would open the same incision and swap out the main part of the port without having to tap into the artery again, so long as that was alright.
           Maybe the port hadn't worked because the nurses at the infusion center had nicked the tubing. Anything was possible.
           Many things are possible. Far fewer are probable. The nurses hadn't known how to use Emily's port from the get-go. Henry had looked at pictures of ports online. Many times they looked like a bubble just under the skin. This was especially true on a man with no breast tissue. It sat on top of the muscle like a bad mosquito bite. Emily's was harder to see. There was some swelling just from putting the thing in. Her body had been through a lot. This was going to be her fourth surgery in less than two months.



Wednesday, September 4, 2013

FIFTH chunk of Yeshua Play

SCENE FOUR. Mary’s House the Next Morning.
            Rabbi Yeshua, are the Pharisees possessed by Satan?
            You have taught us to love our enemies.
            What love can we give Satan?

            How can we judge another’s hidden heart?
            Some call the sick and poor the seed of Satan.
            [Reads] Heaven’s Lord alone knows all.
            Father and God of all, he chose to not
            Disclose his mind. He’s not your neighbor, so
            Near at hand to ask your questions. And he
            Is perfect. You are clearly not. Would you
            Be pure in everything? Cut out your jealous heart.
            It can’t be done. Haven’t I said to love
            Your neighbor as yourself? To pluck out your
            Lustful eye? Amputate a thieving hand?
            Don’t sin at all. Doesn’t the Law instruct
            Thou shalt not? And the Pharisees will orate
            Be ye pure! They don’t do it, can’t! So only
            Succeed in making sick and miserable
            Ones more wretched with fears of punishments
            And pains in the prison house of the grave. Satan is served
            In this. But shall we hate the Pharisees?
            No. No. Oppose their words but not their bodies.
            Civil war is children killing. Fight
            The Pharisees with life but not with death.
            What of the zealots then who fight with Rome?

            Oppose the sea and drown.  Drawing blood will drown us all in blood.

MARY MAGDALENE: Love is greatest.
            There was a king who thought the only way to finally end the conflict             between his land and his enemy’s was to send his son to marry his enemy’s          daughter. So, with the prince the king sent his ablest minister, an Egyptian            who ate only vegetables and had sworn to do no harm to living things. Once             they were in the country of their enemy they met with the ruler and his         daughter, who was surpassingly beautiful and by all accounts wise and        generous of spirit. Her desire was first for peace and second to marry a         worthy man. The offer of marriage greatly appealed to her as a good union of             great houses. But her father would by no means allow it. He sent the minister           and prince away rudely. And he told his chamber henchmen to go out     disguised as common thieves and kill the prince before he returned to his    own land. While the Egyptian minister and prince slept near the road leading             home, the henchmen came wearing rags and beat the prince with rocks and fists, for they didn’t want to appear as agents of a wealthy ruler armed with          kingly weapons. But the Egyptian had with him a strong arm and the sword   from his lord the king. He awoke while they beat the prince but did nothing             because of his oath. Later he came to the king and told him his son was dead.           Hearing this, the king took the minister’s sword and struck him down where      he stood.       
MARY MAGDALENE: What does the parable mean?

            Never trust no vegetarians. A good man’s hard to find. Oh, I woulda sawed    ’im in half myself!

YESHUA: [Clears throat] What is love? Preserving life or taking it?
MARY MAGDALENE: It seems the minister loved an idea more than he loved the prince.
Are ideas embodied, are bodies ideas? What’s an idea without a body or a body without an idea?
BOY: [He enters] I have another message for Yeshua of Nazareth.
YESHUA: Give it then. Another?
BARTHOLOMEW: [Slaps his own head] Oh!!

BOY: Are you Yeshua?

BOY: Of Nazareth?
YESHUA: The same.

            [To Yeshua] That kid’s a picky one. I wouldn’t trust him, Yeshua.

            I have very pointed instructions to tell you from Judas Iscariot that he is on   his way to Jerusalem where he will be for the Passover. He sends for you to meet him there.

ALL: What? [And similar reactions.]
            Judas intends to pose as you before the Temple and all of Jerusalem, telling them that he is the Christ from Nazareth sent by God to clean the altar.
YESHUA: The winds are fickle.
MOTHER MARY: God hides behind a will inscrutable. We always knew that.
BARTHOLOMEW: But what? But how?
MOTHER MARY: Or another sign, my son!
BARTHOLOMEW: Won’t the Sana-head-urn—
BOTH MARYS: Sanhedrin!
BOY: Sanhedrin. [Nodding his head confidently.]
BARTHOLOMEW:  Won’t the Sanhedrin jail Judas right off?
            You can count on it. Judas is dead before he passes through the gates if he    calls himself the Christ. Dead and the gospel with him. The word Messiah           means but one thing to the Roman Prefect: a revolutionary bandit.
            We go and show up his lie. The Son of God must be revealed! With you in     front of the Temple the earth will tremble, the skies will peel—
            Don’t you ever have some doubts, Mary? [He exits. Others except Mother Mary           exit after him.]

            What is this mannish thing, this Magdalene?

That Night. Still Mary’s House. [“Nighttime” lighting is used. Mother Mary hasn’t left the stage. She has been the focus of the spotlight as the mood is changed around her through lighting effects. There is no full black out, no closed curtain.]

            [Somewhat absently to Magdalene.] “God willing,” yes. It’s always “God             willing.” Yeshua’s work is good. God rewards the good at heart.
MARY MAGDALENE: What reward found John the Baptist?
            [In an access of sudden rage.] What have I told you about saying that name?
            Finding it upsetting makes no difference. Worry changes nothing. Worry       can’t blow out candles, the master says. I just wondered what reward John        found. I can’t remember what his last days were like. I wasn’t there, of       course. It was a long time ago, anyway.
            I think Judas has boiled his brain fasting on a dune.
            Dunes, pure dunes. Harmful, poisoned gales called harmattan rush over        crystal crests, and with blistering force hit a wadi where one prays to      Ahriman, or Asmodeus, Semihazah, Beliar. [Mary Magdalene lists names of various demons.]  Hurricane prayers and demonic heat can curdle every last             sinew and nerve.
            Stop-it!-Stop-it!-Stop-it! [She stops, panting. There is a pause.]
MARY MAGDALENE: Someone’s coming.
YESHUA: [Enters] Mother.
MOTHER MARY: Yes. [The other Mary starts to go.]
YESHUA: Mother.
            [He turns to Mary Magdalene. She looks like she is about to say something but then turns and exits.]
            [Without waiting to see if Yeshua and Mary Magdalene will speak to one            another.] Wouldn’t it be good, a great blessing, to spend Passover in         Jerusalem? We could find a Succoth hut like when I was a girl. I haven’t been    to Temple in so long. The Seder –
            Mother. [Reads] Some say in sleep our spirits stray
            Free, exploring things we awake can’t see.
            Death, sleep’s brother, they say, is freer still.
            Freely released, the soul goes home to liberation.
            “Many of the sleepers who slumber in the dust of the earth shall awake, some          to life everlasting, and some to shame, unending punishment. The wise shall         shine just as the brightness of the heavens. And those who turn many to           righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. But you, Daniel, shut up the             words, and seal the scroll, even to the end of time: many shall run to and fro,            and evil shall increase.” 
            Daniel is the Bible and that’s good. The other sounds like more Greek            foolishness. You should pay no attention to that. We might as well take advice    from those hairy Gauls that are always pestering the Romans. If they’re even       real. They say their skin is made of snow and their hair is fire. [After a long             pause.] Jerusalem. To make an offering there.
            Your father took us once. Remember?
            Caesar’s thousand thousand eyes await
            The shadow of sedition’s first half gesture, an aspect around the eyes of one            being about to speak out against their power. They are jealous gods.
            Yeshu, you are good. You teach no war, no harm.
            You preach a marriage feast
            For God and man. You’ve shown the hardness of
            A husband’s heart, the harshness of the master with his slave,
            The wealthy well oblivious to the sick impoverished,
            Heaven’s indifference toward prosperity.
            What fault could Rome find with such sermons?
            Much. And Herod too. My crime is being no Caesar. They are not gods but     they will prove we aren’t either by crushing us. But I will go to Jerusalem.
MOTHER MARY: Good, son. Good. [She exits.]
            How can I leave Judas hanging. If we fail, Israel fails. And all the hope is          strangled.
            [Enters.] Yeshua, I have bad . . . premonitions, Yeshua, about Jerusalem.
            It’s a pit of tangled pythons for me.
            “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” You taught us that. I’ve            become confused lately. It used to seem as clear as a bank of lilies or a      hillside of almond blooms. [Laughs nervously; then, after a pause, in a reverie]     I digress into nectar. Into jacinth and rose scent I digress. [Suddenly    frightened] But now… I’m not sure of anything, Yeshua. I’m scared. I’m—
            Hush. [He embraces her silently for a moment.] God is pure. Who else can be pure enough to see God and have no doubts, no fears? “Truly, you are a hidden God.” How many times did the psalmists sing out to a silent God? Listen to me, Mary. We do not see the dark end of our path. So we must strive          for the light. We must act in faith through unbelieving darkness.
            I could do it if…. Oh, if things were otherwise. [Looks him in the eye.]
            [They break apart] I have to go to Jerusalem. They’ll kill Judas otherwise.
            [Flatly] They will kill you both. [Suddenly with more emotion] I don’t think       there’s enough world to hold all I want to say!
            You have found it on your own.
            Why, why then can’t you let the rest find it on their own? You’ve done so       much—
            I’ve done so little. It’s too late now to say it, but, I’ve done so little.
            But enough to be murdered for it? [Accusing him now] Or is it murder if you             walk knowingly into a trap? That doesn’t sound like martyrdom, it sounds         like suicide!
YESHUA: If there is any means of escape I will take it.
            [Very sane] None. There is none! There is Herod and there is Rome. One is    stone, one is steel. Herod. Rome: choose your executioner, Yeshua. Or maybe        you won’t even get to choose that.
            The gospel suffers, is compromised, if I turn away.
            [Becoming tired] What good news does a martyr bring? Or is martyrdom for             everyone the only good news there is? [Suddenly resigned] It’s settled then.   You will go to the Temple.
YESHUA: I have decided. [He hears a noise] Who’s there?
A tired traveler. I am looking for Yeshua of Nazareth.
YESHUA: Then praise God.
YESHUA: You’ve found him. I’m Yeshua.
            Praise God, indeed. I have come from John and Peter. They send their            greetings and would like to know where they can rejoin you.
            Plans have changed. Tell them we are going ahead to Jerusalem. They should           stay where they are and do as they have been doing. Tell them to continue        and flourish.
MESSENGER: They won’t like that.
YESHUA: That’s the message.
            I’ll convey it. But could I ask why you are going into the lion’s pride – into      Jerusalem? Herod has made it very dangerous and Pilate is the Emperor’s        pirate. His chief amusement is torture and maiming of his enemies. Nothing        delights him more than extending the death of those he hates. You would be             like a lone antelope on the plain there. Those are the rumors, anyway.
            I don’t really have a choice! My father is prompting me, it seems. This is not your area of expertise, is it? Or are you a wise man? Are you a messiah? Are         you the spirit of Elijah raised from the dead?
            Forgive me, I . . . I only wanted to convey what – I only want to know what to            tell Peter and John. They will wonder why you are going into Satan’s stronghold.
            I go for a word. Tell them that. The word is life. Or perhaps the word is          Yeshua, since Judas Iscariot has decided to steal my name and take his own             life with it. I’m going to murderous Jerusalem to save one single man’s little          life.  
            [Sad but practical] Rabbi, it’s late. You should get some sleep now. [The           messenger exits.]
YESHUA: I’ll sleep outside tonight.
MARY MAGDALENE: Then, I will join—
            [Petulantly.] No! [Recovering himself.] No. I need to be alone. [She exits .] How             do we see at all being so blind? [He takes his jacket and uses it as a pillow, lies     down.] Father, let my spirit rest in your hands. [He tosses and turns, unable to        get comfortable.]
GHOST of JOHN THE BAPTIST: [Enters.] Where, where am I?
YESHUA: What? Who’s that?
GHOST: Yeshua?
YESHUA: John! John!
GHOST: Yeshua, what are you doing here?
YESHUA: John, what should I do? Should I confront the High Priest face to face?
Jerusalem will ruin you and douse
Your gospel’s flame. Darkness returns, Yeshua.
Dark. Dark.

YESHUA: But the truth burns bright!

                Jerusalem is death to fools. The city belongs to Rome and Rome will bury you.          A wave of steel will drown you and will thrust out your pupils in confusion.

YESHUA: But you resist Herod’s power.

                And drank my own life. What gospel did that serve? I baptized myself in         death but left no message, no comfort for my followers. [He sets a chalice and     a bottle on the stage.] Don’t drink this elixir if you need to stay safe. There is        danger in this infusion. The blood. The blood. [Exits.]
            John! John! Do I hallucinate? [He picks up the bottle and the chalice and           examines them, then hides them in his pack.] What can I know if my eyes and             ears and hands cannot be trusted?
            [Enters with other Mary.] Yeshua! Yeshua! What’s wrong? What’s wrong?

            Cluck-cluck! Cluck-cluck! I’m not your brood! Fool hens! Clutch at someone   else.
MARY MAGDALENE: [Terrified] What’s that sound? Something’s coming!
            [Enters drunk.] Woo! Woo-hoo! Whom! Hoomah goes thar? Stand and fold    yourself out or uh, or uh, origami – what is origami? Or I’ll a-grammar ye!
MOTHER MARY: He picks a great time to get shit-faced.  
            I’m sack-sackree, religiously, pressimented: Good ole No-ee took consolation            in the fruit of the vine. An’ I’ll survive this flood too! I won’t grow old all   unconsoled. [Others help him exit.] Unhand me, ya crazy bitch! [To Mary            Magdalene. She does and he falls.]

MOTHER: What should we— ?[unsaid word is “do,” obviously]
            Wait for the dawn like grinding death,
            Devour the road between here and Jerusalem,
            See if our movement prospers or declines.          
            Between ambition and detachment lies
            This zaftig land, its seminal people.
            How I hate their chutzpah fits of faith and crave a balmy
            Island dwelling, where there’s jonquil girls with
            Palm-frond, oil hands, warmed up, becalmed.
YESHUA: Go get some rest.
MOTHER MARY: Go, as the lord commands.

            Renounce your dreams, sweet Mary Magdalene. [All exit. Lights go down.]