Summerland. Are You There?

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Image courtesy of sattva/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Godspeed on your trek
across the boggy quagmire.
May the weight of your mortal coil
release you.
You’ve been emancipated.
Exit the lightlessness.
Match your tormentors.
No longer be a victim to anguish.
Clutch the dim radiance
filtering through the fog.
Struggle toward its source.
Pass the souls that are adrift
and that do not know they are irrecoverable.
Ignore the tortured souls’ calls.
You are not one of them.
May warmth surround you.
Do not concede to the cold.
Witness kaleidoscopic ambience.
Summerland.
Are you there?

In 1998, Robin Williams was in the film What Dreams May Come based on Richard Matheson’s novel of the same name (released in 1978). Coincidentally, the novel is about a man who goes on a quest after his death to rescue his wife from eternal torment following her suicide. As most everyone is aware, Robin Williams was found dead August 11, 2014 of apparent suicide. He battled addiction and depression. Richard Matheson died June 23, 2013 of natural causes. Maybe they will meet in Summerland.

Learn more about suicide prevention, warning signs, how to get help for yourself or someone you know: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Learn more about What Dreams May Come, Richard Matheson, and the origins of Summerland: Goodreads.

Tête-à-Tête

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

There are times when I think, This isn’t supposed to be part of my life. Somehow I ended up in someone else’s nightmare. When did I become one of those people things like this happen to?

Wasn’t it enough when my husband’s mistress outed him on the same day I was to leave with my own companion on our “business” trip? She found me in the grocery store buying a bottle of wine she assumed was for my husband and me. Idiotic bitch. Of course I knew he had a mistress. No man spends that much time and money away from home unless he’s fulfilling his needs elsewhere.

I didn’t care. I stopped loving him years ago. Right about the time I discovered his online dating profile claiming he was a widower. I forgave him like all foolish women do for their men. But after a while I got smart. I got a mistress of my own. Except a man. A manstress.

The girl, no more than twenty-five, accosted me right there on the wine aisle between the Rosé and the Merlot. In a resounding voice that came from somewhere beneath her breast implants, she announced she was sleeping with my husband. My response, “Sorry to hear it, Honey.” My husband was a terrible lover. Being touched by him was like being fondled by a fifteen-year-old. Why another woman would want to sleep with him, I’ll never know. I didn’t want to sleep with him. That’s why I found my manstress. He was half my age with the stamina of a varsity rowing team.

The nosey wife of a mutual friend witnessed the event in the grocery store and told her husband who told my husband. When I got home, my husband was waiting for me. He wanted to talk. I wanted to pack my bags and head to the airport. We had a long conversation during which my husband spoon fed me all the same bullshit. He was sorry. He loved me. He didn’t know why he was so selfish and inconsiderate. He didn’t love her. Whatever, Honey. I got two tickets to Phuket and a tanned, toned twenty-three year old waiting for me.

Thanks to my husband’s attempt to keep his ass out of divorce court and free of alimony payments, my manstress and I missed our plane. I used the excuse that I was fed up with my husband’s lies to pack a bag and get the hell out of there. On the way to the airport, I called my lover and we met at a nearby hotel. We couldn’t get another flight until the morning.

“If all the world’s a stage, then this was not part of my script. Somewhere, someone else is reading my lines, playing my part, and I’ve been stuck in their role, for surely this role is not mine. My character was never supposed to turn out this way,” said I.

“But, perhaps it was, and you’re simply unaware because you aren’t able to read ahead,” answered he.

“I don’t like this part of the production at all,” I said as I covered my head with the sheets. “It’s downright miserable, morose and depressing”

“The scales are striking a fair balance; many parts of the production are very good. No production can be completely merry and light. Who’s interested in seeing a performance in which the characters are ideal and perfect?” he asked, pulling the covers from my face. “That wouldn’t be interesting at all.”

“No, we want suffering. We long for it; it’s why we create our own miseries. We loathe them, but they thrill us. I suppose it’s why we strive for imperfection,” I said burying my face in a pillow.

“Perhaps it’s the reason we justify our short-comings. We don’t want happiness; we do everything in our power to remain unhappy, then complain about it.” It was obvious what he was getting at.

“My observations have led me to believe I am not alone in my human imperfection. I would say humanity, but that connotes goodness. The human race is quite lacking in humanity. Myself included. Surely, I understand the failings of my human brethren represent an overall flaw of the species,” I said.

“No one is exempt from these biological, evolutionary, socialized short-comings,” he replied.

“In an ideal world,” I began, ignoring his response, “the term human could be linked with humanity, but in reality – which is never ideal in any way – the term human can be better linked with adjectives such as cruel and bizarre . ”

“Self-pitying, faithless . . .” he interrupted.

“Rude, and worst of all, ignorant,” I finished. “And these are our flaws, as humans. There are more, but I think these cover a pretty wide spectrum of our sadistic, self-serving human behaviors.”

“Are there any human behaviors that are not self-serving?” he asked.

“No,” I answered before rolling over and falling asleep.

 

Copyright Donnell Jeansonne. All rights reserved. Reproduction or duplication whole or in part not permitted without permission and credit to the author.

Camp F

Photo c/o Microsoft Office Free Clipart

Been waiting on my appeal for thirteen years. Thirteen years of cold steel toilets, lumpy thin mattresses, and eating slop from metal trays probably made from recycled toilets. I been sitting here waiting to know if I’m going to die. It’ll probably happen before they ever give me the chair, me dying I mean. But they don’t give you the chair no more. Supposed to be more humane, but they can hang me for all I care. I’m dying either way, so who gives a shit.

They got a guy just came in last week, Clyde Burser. He’s probably twenty-five, about five-eight, curly blonde hair and bright green eyes. He’s the whitest person I ever seen. You can see blue veins at his temples and on his hands and by his eyes. He cries so much his eyes remind me of when Mallory got the conjunctivitis once. Her eyes were green like Clyde’s.

Clyde’s cell is next to mine. He prays real loud all night asking God for forgiveness. It makes me laugh. “God’s forgiveness ain’t going to help you,” I say to him. Because God don’t forgive you ‘til you die anyway, right? He better pray his appeal goes in front a sympathetic jury, I tell him. One that believes he killed his own momma in self-defense. His own momma. I ain’t even that sick.

Frank Aucoin’s cell is on the other side. He’s been waiting on his appeal for twenty years. He’s sixty-two, got prostate cancer. One night he woke us all up hollering and screaming his cum was bloody. Doctors gave him six months. That was two years ago. He’s six-two, weighs about a buck ten, can’t barely hold himself up some days, and he shits himself. He’s got a sister who comes once a week after Sunday services. She says it’s a miracle he’s still alive. I say it’s karma.

I was twenty-one when I came to The Farm. Since then I only known one man been sent to Camp F, and that was Howard Saucier-The Crescent City Cutter. Murdered twenty-two prostitutes by slicing them down the middle. He carved each one starting right at her diseased hatchet slash and ending at her chin. He used the same serrated knife for all of them.

Howard wasn’t scared to die, or he pretended not to be. But he sure never let on if he was because he was one jovial motherfucker, that’s the truth. I used to think if Howard wasn’t so deranged he’d be a cool guy to hang with. But he was lofty as a loon, and that’s the truth, too. He had clear blue eyes, the kind you think belong to the Devil. There wasn’t no repentance in them eyes. Not like the petunia next door with his crying and begging for God’s mercy all the time.

Howard wasn’t no dumb ass, either. When he got his book allowance he always picked the real long ones. I used to think of Mallory telling me I should read more. “If you read more you’d broaden your vocabulary,” she said. I didn’t need to broaden my vocabulary. I did just fine with the one I got, I said. Mallory was always making like I was a dipshit. Well maybe I am a dipshit. But her reading didn’t do nothing to save her, so fuck her and her vocabulary.

Howard’s people had money, and they sent him to some rich kid private boys’ school until he was sixteen, he said, and then he was kicked out for assaulting the school nurse. “She had tits this big,” Howard said holding his arms out from his chest. “I just wanted a taste.”

He went to juvenile but they had to let him go when he was twenty-one. While he was locked up he got his G.E.D., and he went to college when he got out. Then he went to medical school, because he liked to dissect things, he said. He told me a story once about the first time his class cut open a cadaver. “I came in my pants,” he said.

I’m not too sure about Howard’s religion, but he read the Bible a lot. He always liked the stories where God smote mankind because He got pissed off for one reason or another. Some of them I remembered from Bible study, sitting in the rectory with twelve other kids and my thighs sticking to the plastic chairs in the summer. It was hot as hell because they only had one of them window air condition units. In the winter we would fight over who was going to sit closest to the space heater.  “I can get behind a God who tortures His own creations,” Howard said. “Divine retribution.” He smiled.

Howard liked to screw with the guards. They ignored him most of the time. Sometimes he went too far, and they had to handle up on him. They don’t like to do that too much because it riles everybody up. Like this once when he was let out for gate time, Howard attacked the guard and bit him on the neck just like Dracula. Five guards jumped him, and they threw him in isolation. We was all on lock down afterwards.

Howard was in there a while, and he was a little calmer when he came out. That wasn’t too long before he moved to Camp F. We didn’t know because they don’t tell us that kind of stuff. Only the warden knows, but one day Howard was taken out for his shower time and never came back. They could’ve plugged him and threw him out in the cotton field to the crows for all I know. But I figure he went to the chamber. We all got a little quieter after that. I guess it sounds weird to say somebody would miss a guy like Howard, but I did a little. He never done me nothing.

Every Sunday the chaplain comes to give Communion and for confession.  I don’t trust him. Looks like he probably jerks off to kiddy porn. I don’t got nothing to confess, anyway. I already gave my confession to the cops. And when the judge asked me how I plead, I said guilty. So I don’t got nothing to say to no stupid chaplain. I tell him to go see Clyde.

After the chaplain leaves we’re let out in the yard for an hour. I don’t keep a calendar, but sometimes I can tell what time of year it is by the weather. Sometimes. But down here it can be eighty in the winter, so I don’t never know. I don’t want to know. I just know three times a week I get to go outside, and sometimes it’s hot and sometimes it ain’t. If it’s raining we got to wait for the next day. And if the sky is clear and the sun is beating us down, we sit there holding our hands over our eyes until the guards say it’s time to go back in. Some guys exercise or jog around the yard, but I rather just sit by Frank and breathe the fresh air. What I got to be in shape for?

My lawyer, Art, usually comes once every couple weeks. It depends on how much he’s got court. He said he can’t get me off but he can get me out of the death penalty. He thinks. But I been here thirteen years, and I don’t want to be put in population. I don’t share my cell with nobody, and I get to shower by myself, except for the guards watching me.

I ain’t going to lie. I was real scared at first when I got here. Especially because they was giving me death, and I didn’t want to die. But I figure ain’t nothing to live for anyway. What I got to look forward to? Prostate cancer and bloody cum? I might as well die here. Got to die some place.

“Vince, I’m working hard on your appeal,” Art always says. “I’m not giving up on you. I think I can get your charges reduced to manslaughter. With time served you might only be looking at ten or twelve more years.”

Ten or twelve more years, like it’s a consolation. Not that I wouldn’t want to be free to walk right out of here and go home. If I had a home. But I ain’t. And I don’t think Art’s going to get me out, but my momma keeps paying him with my daddy’s social security, and he keeps taking her money. I don’t have the heart to tell my momma I’m going to die here. So I don’t say nothing.

I went to court about six months ago. It was the middle of summer, and so hot that most times we asked to stay inside when it was time to go out. One day the needle on the outdoor thermometer the guards hung by the door was wobbling between one-ten and one-twenty. We went out for about fifteen minutes, but Frank fell out and we came back in. Nobody complained though. My balls was wet and hot as cotton panties on a virgin at a Bourbon Street sex show, and sticking to my thighs.

My momma bought me a new suit because my old one didn’t fit no more seeing as all the weight I lost. It was a tan color and the tag said it was seersucker. It probably cost more than my momma could afford. I got cleaned up and dressed and brushed my hair and shaved and waited for Art.

The courtroom was real cold compared to outside. My fingers felt like frozen fish sticks. Art was talking to the jury, and my momma was sitting behind me. I could hear her sniffling the whole time. I wanted to turn around, but I wasn’t supposed to. Art gave me a yellow legal pad and a rubbery, bendy pen. They make them like that for safety reasons, to make sure you ain’t going to jab it in somebody’s neck or nothing. I didn’t have nothing to write so I scribbled some drawings like you do when you’re bored in school and the teacher won’t shut up. Plus I wanted to look busy and not like I was just sitting there doing nothing like a psychopath. Because I ain’t one.

I thought of Mallory. I drew her face, the way it was when we met. I colored in her dark hair. She kept it long back then. I bet that asshole Nate is the one told her to cut it. “He stimulates my mind,” she said. It wasn’t the only thing he was stimulating. He might’ve had a broad vocabulary too, but it shrunk up real good when I put my Beretta between his teeth.

“Your honor, members of the jury,” said Art, “I think we can all agree that what my client Mr. LeRoche-a man with no prior criminal record-experienced on the date of June seventeenth nineteen-ninety-eight was an unconscious rage, a type of temporary madness if you will, brought on by blind fury and passion.”

I scratched out Mallory’s face. I didn’t want to see it no more. I was still mad at her for running around on me, and for being such a bitch about it, and on our anniversary. “What do you expect, Vincent?” She always called me Vincent even though most everybody else calls me Vince. “Nate makes me feel . . . sexy.”

“And what I don’t?”

“No. You make me feel like I’m being pawed by an inexperienced prepubescent.”

I didn’t know what she meant exactly, but I knew it wasn’t no compliment. Something thumped against the closet door. “No,” Mallory gasped when I swung the door open. Some dude was kneeling right between my Dickies and my Levis. I figured he was Nate. The shoebox where I kept my pistol was open on the floor. I looked at Nate again. Maybe he was hoping it was in there. Maybe he was going to shoot me. But it wasn’t in there. It was in my hand, and then his brains was all over my Levis and my Dickies. I felt calm in a strange way.

Mallory screamed and tried to run out the room, but I caught her by the hair and threw her in the closet right next to her boyfriend. Her mouth was stuck open like it froze that way. It reminded me of when my grandma died and we didn’t find her for five days after. Her mouth was opened like that. Mallory lifted her left hand to cover her face, and I seen she wasn’t wearing her wedding ring. “You dirty slut,” I said. Mallory’s eyes was wide and tears was flowing out of them like a busted spigot.

I reached down and grabbed a fistful of her hair and pulled her out the closet. I threw her on the bed and held one hand over her mouth. The other hand held my Beretta. I crushed her body against the mattress with my body.

“Psychopath!” She was crying, curled up in a ball in the middle of the bed. She was staring at her boyfriend in the closet. I grinned and raised my gun again. Mallory tried to run but I was quicker. Maroon slime and something that looked like oatmeal splattered against the wall. Long streams ran down to the sand colored carpet. I thought of Mallory always complaining how she hated them white walls. “These walls are so bland. You need to paint them.”

I heard sirens and guessed the neighbors called the cops. They pulled up while I was sitting on the porch smoking my Camels. They had their guns on me while I finished my cigarette and threw it in the grass. Two of them snuck me and tackled me out my chair. One of them crushed my face into the cement with his boot while another one cuffed me. Cops were crawling all over the house. There was about twenty cop cars in the street it seemed like. I just sat there until they put me in the car. I didn’t say nothing. Wasn’t nothing to say.

Mallory and Nate’s family members got to talk to the jury after Art was finished his speech. Nate’s momma showed them pictures from when he was a baby and pictures of him when he was in school. I thought about how much she loved him, and my momma sitting behind me in the courtroom crying, and of Clyde killing his own momma.

Nate’s sister wrote a poem she read to the jury. His dad stood up and told me I deserved to be murdered, and he wished he could be the one to do it. My momma started crying real hard then, and Art went to calm her down.

Mallory’s parents stood up together and asked me why I did it. Her best friend that I always hated told the jury I condemned Mallory and Nate to death for their adulterous misdeeds, and asked them if they didn’t feel I deserved to be condemned to death, too. She had pictures and articles with headlines from the papers blown up to poster-size. She showed them to the jury. “Vidalia Love Triangle Ends in Murder,” read one of them. It had a picture of Mallory and me on our wedding day with a separate picture of Nate. “Concordia Sheriff Describes Scene as the Most Disturbing He’s Seen in Years,” read another. That one had a picture of our house taped off by the cops. “Small Town La. Man Charged with Rape, Murder,” read the last one, and it had my mug shot under it. Art objected but it was too late because they already seen it.

The jury came back after about an hour. Art kept handing Kleenex to my momma while the judge read the verdict. I was afraid Momma was going to choke to death because she wasn’t breathing right. Mallory and Nate’s families was clapping and hugging each other.

I turned around and said sorry to my momma. She grabbed me by my suit jacket and pressed her face into my chest. A dark, imperfect circle expanded outward from where her tears wet my shirt.

“I’m real sorry, Momma,” I whispered.

“We’ll get you another appeal, Vince. They can’t do anything as long as we keep appealing,” said Art.

My momma looked up at me. Make-up ran down her cheeks. I placed a hand on either side of her face, holding her small head in my hands. I used my thumbs to wipe the black streaks off her face. I thought about how much she probably paid for my suit, and I hoped the stain would come out. Because I don’t want her buying another one just to bury me.

 

Copyright Donnell Jeansonne. All rights reserved. Reproduction or duplication whole or in part not permitted without permission and credit to the author.

Encumbered

20120412-125512.jpgThree o’clock. Merrill stares at the fragmented red numbers on the digital alarm clock. Two hours until it’s time to get up, and he hasn’t slept but maybe an hour, between the end of Frasier and the beginning of paid advertising.

Sherrie rolls onto her back and grunts, inhaling a gulp of air that sounds like it will choke her. A Breathe-Right strip dangles from the bridge of her nose. She closes her mouth, smacks her lips, and rolls onto her side. Merrill wonders how he will tell her.

The ceiling fan wobbles in uneven, squeaky rotations. Merrill sighs and watches as its dust-covered blades make the same circular movement over and over again. “This is it,” Merrill could say. “I can’t do this another day. Another hour. Another minute.” Sherrie would call him a coward. She would remind him of his pension. And that her insurance already covers the kids.

Porterhouse’s legs kick in a running motion. His eyes twitch; his lip curls into a snarl. Merrill decides dogs dream about real or imagined adventures-chasing neighborhood cats, bouncing up and down on the furniture, being fed treats. Merrill envies the dog.

Sherrie snorts and coughs and rolls onto her other side. Merrill never sleeps when she goes to bed first. He thinks about what he’ll do, how he’ll say it. He envisions himself leaving home, walking out the door with his half of their economy class luggage. But he couldn’t abandon the kids, and he doesn’t want to leave Sherrie, even though he’s thought about it. He’s thought about it a lot. Merrill knows he can’t because after their last big fight when Sherrie went to stay with her sister he dreamed about her all night and woke up crying.

Merrill toys with the solid band encircling his finger, turning it around and around in sync with the ceiling fan’s wobbling rotations. He sits up and decides to get a drink of water. Plus he read once that it’s better to get out of bed when you can’t sleep than to lie in bed thinking of not sleeping. Or something. He wonders how he’ll make it through another day.

Four o’clock. Merrill sits on the sofa with his feet on the coffee table flipping through eighty channels of infomercials. He thinks he wouldn’t miss the cable, if they had to make that sacrifice. The kids only watch the same Spongebob DVD’s all the time. Sherrie spends more time at work than home. Losing cable seems an insignificant forfeiture.

Sherrie would still need her phone for work, and Merrill doesn’t want to give his up for a cheap, boring one. He thinks with time he’d become accustomed to not having it, though. But the mortgage isn’t going anywhere, and even after making ten years of payments, the principle has barely decreased. Damned interest, thinks Merrill. Damned banks.

Merrill knows a lot of people, friends, out of work. He should be grateful. But he decides it isn’t normal for a man to want to drive into the lake everyday during his morning commute, so he feels it’s for the best. He could find another job. Even though he didn’t finish college because it became too expensive after Sherrie had Alexis. Then came Isabelle, then Daniel. And his is a good job. Decent pay. Benefits. What kind of man would give up reasonable employment?

“The kind who drive their cars into lakes during their morning commutes,” Merrill says to himself.

Four-thirty. Merrill lies on the sofa, arm crooked over his eyes, just another hour to close them and he’ll be all right. But he’s had too much water, and he has to pee. Merrill watches his stream create bubbles in the water and he thinks about what he’ll say. He imagines going out with a grand farewell. Telling them all how he feels. Then he thinks he should be more realistic. As if it’s not enough he’s going to do it. He is this time. And he could have the last laugh even without going down in Sumbalinx history as the guy who finally told Fat Larry to go fuck himself. He could.

Water splashes out of the steel basin and onto the granite countertop. Merrill dries his hands and opens the mirrored medicine cabinet door. He observes Sherrie’s bottle of Xanax, a brand new prescription. To the left of it is an old bottle of Vicodin from when Merrill had his tooth pulled last year, and to the right is a bottle of Tylenol P.M. Merrill picks up all three bottles and contemplates the outcome, but his life insurance wouldn’t pay out, so Merrill puts the bottles back and closes the mirrored door. Merrill’s reflection smirks at him. Wouldn’t it be a hoot, though, when Sherrie found him prostrate in the bed, maybe in a puddle of puke like after that one Super Bowl when she got so pissed off because he was on her stupid decorative throw pillows?

Five o’clock. Merrill jumps in his sleep when he hears his alarm clock bleating from the bedroom. Sherrie glares at him as he trips over his shoes and his face nearly lands on the corner of the nightstand. Merrill slaps the snooze button and apologizes to his wife. It’s time to get up anyway, she tells him. She asks him to get the kids out of bed.

Alexis and Isabelle’s sleepy eyes roll open, and they groan as light from the hallway creates long rectangular shapes across their beds. Alexis wants five more minutes.

“No now,” says her father. “Your mother is getting your breakfast ready.”

Alexis sits up from her pillow, auburn curls mashed to one side of her head. Isabelle stretches and pushes back her covers revealing pink and green Tinkerbell pajamas. Merrill thinks of their last vacation to Disney World. He thinks about explaining to them why there won’t be another one.

“Get up,” he says.

He remembers Daniel during that trip, just turned one, his face a permanent mask of excitement. Before the hospital, the nebulizer, the constant trips to the pediatrician.

Daniel lets out a sigh and rolls on his side. “Hi,” smiles the boy.

“Hey, buddy, you ready to get up?”

“Yeah,” says Daniel nodding his tiny head.

“I love you so much,” says Merrill into the rolls of his son’s chubby neck.

“I yuv you,” says Daniel.

Five-twenty. Alexis and Isabelle sit at the kitchen table scooping Fruit Loops into their mouths, tinged globules of milk drip from their spoons. A few of the multi-colored rings have fallen on the floor. Sherrie curses when she crushes one through the fabric of her pantyhose. Daniel mimics her in his high chair. Merrill raises an eyebrow at Sherrie who wipes her heel with a damp dishtowel and tells her toddler not to repeat after Mommy.

Six o’clock. Sherrie hustles the kids out the door. They’re all encumbered with their own respective loads. Sherrie with Daniel on her hip carries her briefcase, purse, and Daniel’s diaper bag while the girls both struggle with too-full book bags, lunch boxes, and thick coats. Sherrie asks Merrill why he isn’t ready for work. He tells her he will be.

“You have to leave by at least six-thirty,” she reminds him.

He knows. He can’t forget. It takes approximately fifteen minutes from the house to the interstate. Then it takes approximately fifteen more minutes to drive from the on-ramp to the bridge. Every morning at approximately seven o’clock a.m. Merrill Steppler imagines plunging his red Nissan Sentra into Lake Pontchartrain. But it probably wouldn’t even break the concrete rail, he thinks.

Seven-o-five. Merrill sits on the couch still in his pajamas sipping coffee from the Father’s Day mug Sherrie bought him the first year after Alexis was born. He stares at his cell phone sitting on the table. He’s running out of time.

“Larry Berginger’s office.”

Fuck you, you smelly fat fuck! Merrill thinks. “Hey, Lare? Yeah. I’m not going to make it in today,” he says.

“Why? What’s the matter?”

Merrill hates Fat Larry’s questions. Why couldn’t he just assume Merrill was sick and shut the hell up?

“Not feeling well. I was up all night . . . not feeling well.”

“All right then. See you tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” says Merrill. “See you tomorrow.”

__________________________
Phtoto credit zirconicusso via FreeDigitalphoto.net http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1857

I Was Still There

“Damn it!” Leo said as we were seated. He was searching his pockets, putting his hands in the same ones over and over.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“I took my inhaler out at the security thing, and I didn’t pick it up.”

“Aw man,” I groaned. “Do you have another one? In your bags?”

“No,” he said covering his face with both hands. “It was brand new, and I didn’t think I’d need another one.”

I inhaled then exhaled, trying to think of a solution. “Do you know your prescription number? Maybe you can call a drug store when we get to Seattle. Do they have a Med-Aid there?”

“I don’t know it,” he said.

I sighed and turned back around in my seat.

“I know,” he said. “You told me a million times to bring a spare.”

“In case-”

“In case I lose it,” he said.

“Maybe we can contact the airline and see if anyone turned it in,” I suggested.

“Yeah,” he replied, despondent.

I’d been on him about the damn thing ever since we were kids. He forgot it at home when we went to camp in the summer of 1987. Tommy Kepper used the same kind and gave his to Leo. His mom had packed a spare. Leo’s mom likely also packed a spare, but we’d never know since Leo forgot not only his inhaler but the entire bag at home. As I recall, he also borrowed a pair of swim trunks, goggles, sun block, and my handheld electronic football game. During Spring Break of 2000, he lost his inhaler and spent the weekend in the hospital.

“I’m sorry, guys,” he moaned from beneath the clear plastic oxygen mask.

“Don’t apologize, honey,” said Gloria. Her blonde hair lingered on her tanned shoulders then fell away when she leaned forward to touch his hand. We shared a hotel room that trip. I guess it wasn’t all bad.

Leo was wheezing when we landed in Seattle. We ran across the tarmac in the rain to the limo. My shirt was damp, and my hair was sticking to my neck. Leo was coughing.

“Jason,” I said on the phone to our tour manager. “Cancel the smoke machines.”

I had Spencer try the airline, but to no avail. Leo tried his doctor’s office and was told to make an appointment.

“But I’m in Seattle,” he said, his cell phone on speaker as we situated our luggage in our suite.

“I’m sorry, sir,” replied the receptionist, emphasizing the last word with an air of condescension.

“What’s your name?” I said taking the phone from Leo.

“Frankie!” he whispered; it was the same voice he’d used when we’d sneak into his dad’s closet to snatch his Hustlers.

“Excuse me?” she breathed heavy into the phone.

“I asked your name,” I said.

“Marleen,” she answered in the same disdainful tone.

“Well, Marleen, don’t you think you can ask the nurse or doctor about it? I’m sure you’d rather not be responsible if my friend needs his medication and doesn’t have it.”

“Let me take your name and number and somebody can call you, I guess,” said Marleen with more heavy, annoyed breathing.

I handed the phone back to Leo.

By rehearsal time, the doctor had not called back.

“Here’s Leo’s cell phone,” I told Spencer. “If the doctor’s office calls, let us know. I don’t care if you have to interrupt me during the middle of a goddamned aria.”

“Yes sir, boss,” he said taking the phone from me.

“What the hell is this?” I asked as two members of the road crew rolled a massive smoke machine up a ramp toward the stage.

“It’s the smoke machine,” one of them said.

“No,” I said. “Where’s Jason?”

“Over there,” one of them said motioning with his head toward Jason who stood just off to the side talking on the phone.

“What is that doing here?” I asked Jason.

“I’m on the phone with Chris,” he said.

“I don’t give a shit if you’re on the phone with Christ High Almighty. I want to know why that is here.” I pointed to the machine.

“It’s paid for,” he shrugged.

“Well so are you, but if my drummer dies mid-solo, you and it will be in the dumpster before tomorrow,” I said.

“He’s walking away,” I heard Jason say on the phone with our lawyer. “All right. Hey guys!” Jason waved his arms as if he were landing a plane on the stage. “You can get that thing out of here. We’re not using it.”

Sometimes you got to be a bitch to get things done. Francesca taught me that. She’d know, having been a bitch since adolescence.

“Hey look it’s Faggot Frankie and his sidekick Lady Leo,” shouted Tim Blappert, a big fat sweaty kid that smelled like he smoked a pack of Camels on the way to school because of his mom who drove with the windows up and her cigarette hanging out a tiny crack on the driver’s side.

“I’m gonna kick that kid’s ass,” Leo said, huffing and puffing, overwhelmed by adrenaline.

“No you’re not,” I said.

“Yeah I am,” he said taking off his backpack.

“And what? Die right before you pile drive him into the concrete?”

“Hey fat ass!” I heard Francesca shouting from across the street. “Yeah you. That’s my brother you’re talking about.”

“Whatever,” Tim said. He turned around and lumbered down the street toward his mom’s faded gold Ford Escort.

“Yeah, walk off!” Francesca shouted.

“Thanks, Francesca,” I said as Leo and I walked across the street.

“God. Grow a pair, Frankie,” she said.

She was the abrasive twin. It took some time before I learned the benefits of assertiveness. But I was much wiser by the time my career with Devil May Care became a viable ambition. Leo too. It didn’t come easy, spending all night on the local music scene, passing out flyers in bar after bar, trying to land gigs, and otherwise showing face after spending all morning in classes and all evening at our real jobs – ones that paid just enough to cover the costs of flyers, gigs, and cover charges to clubs where we hoped to play. Mistakes were made, but we took a lot less crap from everybody.

Like the first time we broke up the band, emphasis on the words first time. Before Devil May Care there was By Proxy, a band created by Leo and I with Leo on drums and myself on guitar. I hardly remember our bassist except he was a scraggly character that I’m pretty sure was homeless. He always had good weed, though. Our singer was a guy named Stanley Reynolds. Called himself Stan Rey. It was his stage name, and I wanted to pound him in his face every night at band practice.

“He’s late again,” said Leo while we sat in the cold empty storage unit we rented waiting on Stan Rey.

We weren’t supposed to practice in there, but everybody did it. We paid the rent so the landlord didn’t care. There was a whole row of storage units with bands playing in them. Sometimes the cops got called. Most of the time they just passed by then left.

We played a lot of shows with the guys who rented the unit next to ours. Their singer’s name was Godwin Francis, and he was the funniest person I ever met.

“Hey kids,” said Godwin walking into the storage unit with us. “Waiting on Stan Rey?” His laugh was so genuine it made us all laugh.

“I hate that guy, dude,” I said lighting a cigarette. “I swear to God.”

“Don’t take my name in vain, son,” Godwin replied, holding his hand up to my forehead like the pope blessing somebody.

“You shouldn’t joke like that, man,” Leo said “You’re going to end up with some incurable disease or some shit.”

We all laughed.

“Thanks for laughing at that, guys,” said Godwin. “‘Godwin’s gonna die of an incurable illness. Ha Ha Ha Ha!’” He said mocking us.

Was depression that claimed Godwin. A member of the road crew found him backstage in his dressing room.

“Remember, down the path not across the street,” Godwin would say as if in jest. He remembered.

The person who first used the term douche-bag in reference to a person and not a thing must have known Stanley Reynolds. We canned him one night right before a gig we played at a place I worked called The Pit. I was a bouncer there, and on the weekends they had live bands. It was an important show. A writer from NOLA Harmony was in the audience, and we all knew their reviews were far reaching. We all knew. Even the great Stan Rey knew it. But still he showed up unprepared and late as usual.

“Are you kidding me, Stanley?” I said when he walked in. “We’re on in like five minutes.”

“So? It’s not like I forgot what to do,” he scoffed.

Thwack! Badoom!

“God that felt good,” I said rubbing my knuckles.

“Who’s gonna sing now?” asked our bass player.

“Frankie,” said Leo.

“Uh,” I hesitated to accept the position. I knew I was capable. “Okay. Yeah. We don’t need Stan Rey.”

“Guys, it’s almost time to- Oh my goodness,” gasped Gloria. “What happened?”

“I punched Stan Rey,” I said.

“Is he conscious?” she asked.

“I dunno,” I shrugged.

She shook her head and walked out. “Guess I’ll be icing that hand

again tonight,” she said as she went back behind the bar.

“Gloria!” I called from backstage. “Is Harry still here?”

Harry sat in for me a couple of times when I injured my hand after a scuffle with an unruly customer who wouldn’t leave the girls alone, well, one of the girls. Harry knew our songs, and he was a better guitarist than me, anyway.

It was the best decision we could’ve made. We got a favorable review – with many mentions about the charismatic front man. Of course Leo might recall differently, if he were here to. But the band didn’t get serious attention until after we lost homeless guy and found a replacement. Pete left his band, The Pogos, to join the newly formed Devil May Care, and none too soon either. Shortly after The Pogos’ singer, Jeff, followed Godwin’s example.

Leo was overly tired after rehearsal. I insisted he go to the hotel and rest. Spencer called the pharmacy but there was no prescription there in Leo’s name.

“If he isn’t better, we’re not going on tonight. Period,” I said to Jason.

I went to check on Leo. He was lying in bed watching television, coughing, and sneezing.

“I think I just got a cold, Frank,” he said. “I took some medicine.”

“You should call the doctor’s office again,” I suggested as I examined the box of Sinucaps on the nightstand.

“I did. They called in the prescription. But the pharmacy just hasn’t filled it yet,” he answered in a nasally, congested voice.

I sighed. I knew he would go on even if I pleaded with him not to. But I did anyway.

“Why don’t we cancel tonight? It’s okay. Shit happens, right?”

His expression answered my question.

“I’m sending Spencer to the pharmacy to wait for that prescription to be filled,” I said.

Leo claimed to feel better after his nap. Spencer had returned with the inhaler, and the wheezing had stopped. It seemed a positive sign, but Leo’s irritable mood made it apparent he was not much better.

“What happened to all my stuff?” he griped in the dressing room.

“I don’t know. What stuff?” I asked.

“All the stuff I always have before a show,” he snapped.

“Man, your rag started or something?” asked Harry.

“Fuck off, Harry,” said Leo.

“All right,” I said. “Let’s just get through this show, please.”

Leo was quiet for a while then he called me over. “Hey Frank, you think you can sing On The Rebound for me? I just don’t think my throat is up to it.”

“You mean your lungs?”

Silence.

“You’re not fooling me, Leo. You can trick those guys. But I know you too well,” I said.

“Just can you?”

“Yeah, sure. You know it,” I said.

We went on. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Still I felt something ominous in the atmosphere. During Harry’s solo we ran to the men’s room. I urged Leo to get a quick check by the E.M.T.’s that were standing by.

“We go back on in a second,” he said.

I spread my hands in a supplicating gesture. He shook his head and jogged back onto the stage. I followed him, and we went on with the show for a bit.

Then came Leo’s turn. I was leading up to the part in the song where Leo was to take over, but instead of drums I heard the cacophonous sound of metal crashing. Everything paused around us. I threw the microphone and ran to Leo who was already surrounded by Harry and Pete and some other guys. I pushed them out of the way and started CPR. We’d worked as lifeguards one summer at the country club where Leo’s dad was a member. I stupidly sang Staying Alive in my head to keep the rhythm of the chest compressions. Within seconds the E.M.T.’s were there and took over.

“We got to intubate him,” one of them said.

“Shit, Leo,” I said. “Oh shit. Oh shit.”

“The mic’s still on!” Harry shouted.

“Cut the fucking mic!” I shouted.

Silence in the arena. Behind a lightless curtain, we could see out, but they couldn’t see in. The crowd heard everything.

Police and security cleared a path as I ran behind the E.M.T.’s who rolled the gurney carrying Leo down the long corridor toward the exit. A loud humming fire truck was parked beside the ambulance that was pulled up to the doors. The strobes on top a dozen police cars illuminated the scene with red and blue pulses. I breathed in time with their pattern. Red in. Blue out. Red in. Blue out. I envisioned the network of veins and arteries I saw on a diagram in anatomy class once. I thought of Leo’s lungs, the blood circulating through them. Or not circulating through them.

“We’re working a code,” one of the E.M.T.’s said into his radio as he closed the doors of the ambulance.

They weren’t leaving. I wondered why they were waiting. I could see them moving around in the ambulance.

Just go, I thought. Just get him to the damn hospital!

A policeman came to us, Harry, Pete, and I. He asked us to step to the side so he could speak with us. I didn’t move.

“Can you come over here with me, please?” he asked again.

Still I didn’t move. Everything was going to be all right. Leo was going to the hospital. He would come out, and next time he wouldn’t forget his inhaler. I would make sure. And if he did, we wouldn’t go on. I would make sure. As long as I stayed in my spot, the policeman couldn’t talk to us on the side. Because I was still there.

I was still there. And so was the ambulance. And so was Leo.

Copyright Donnell Jeansonne. All rights reserved. Reproduction or duplication whole or in part not permitted without permission and credit to the author.