The lights come on.
The Ass Wipers are here. There are three of them all in faded pink. One of them is still shaking me and I nod to him to tell him I’m awake.
“Hi Walter. How are you?”
Not now. Oh please just do your thing and let me think I’m someplace else while this thing gets done!
“Do your thing.” I tell them. “And leave me out of this.” I close my eyes.
They roll me one way. They roll me back. They roll me again. Cold, odd-feeling gloved-hands grapple with me. My legs are spread and my most private of areas wiped and coated with a waxy substance and a new diaper is fitted. I’m rolled again. A new sheet is snapped out. I’m rolled again. My pillow is taken from me. My pillow is back. They’re so nonchalant and professional I almost begin to think this is normal. We come into the world and have our bottoms wiped by adoring parents. Then one day we want to do it all ourselves.
They roll me one more time and the sores on my back light up like a thousand billion bug bites and then just settle into an easily tolerable burn.
“We’re gonna try and sit you up, Walter. We have a chair we’d like to get you in if you think you’d like that?”
I don’t know if I’d like that or not. It’s been so long.
I nod to be obedient with my eyes now open and it makes the Ass Wipers smile.
“I’ll go get the chair,” one of them says and the other two start fooling around with all the tubes and wires I’ve got connected to me.
Apparently I’m a fairly tangled mess.
“Do you think you can sit up at the edge of the bed, Walter?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, we’ll try. Let’s get the back of the bed up.”
The back of the bed begins to rise and I wait for the stab in my stomach but it doesn’t come. It’s uncomfortable there but it’s not like a hot knife dancing around in my guts like before. I can feel my intestines slumping downward filling the bottom of my trunk and I sort of imagine my head is lighter as blood settles downward as well. A tall chair is rolled on squeaking wheels and situated next to my bed.
“Now we’re going to swing your feet over the side.”
They’re not my feet. They now belong to the entire world. I cannot claim them anymore because they’re connected to everything. It’s like they’re part of a cartoon where the cartoonist has drawn his superhero flying. To demonstrate speed, the cartoonist smears the feet out into the world where they blur into everything else.
“I have the feet of a superhero,” I say to the Ass Wipers as they hoist my feet up and shove them over so they’re now dangling off the side of the bed.
“A skinny-ass superhero,” says one of the Ass Wipers and another hits him in the arm and says “be nice” while the third tries to get my tubes and wires to come along for my next move over to the chair.
“I’ll be an easy lift,” I say to be cordial.
“Lift?” asks one of the Ass Wipers. “We’re not lifting you. You are going to stand, take two steps, and then sit down in that chair. We are just going to be here to help you keep your balance. You need to do this on your own.”
“I can’t do it. I don’t know where my feet are.”
“You don’t know where your feet are?”
“I have no idea. I mean… I can see them and point to them, I just can’t get my mind to control them because they are attached to everything else.”
“You mean like they feel stuck? They feel heavy and stuck?”
“No. They feel like part of everything. They feel like part of this hospital. Part of you. Part of everything. I don’t know where I start and stop down there. It’s really freaky.”
The three Ass Wipers aren’t sure what to make of all this and you can tell they think I’m nuts. But they have a job to do- instructions to follow- so they proceed, keeping me focused on standing up, pushing me ever onward toward my walk out of this hospital…
“Stand up on three…”
“One… two… three…”
Whoa! I’m standing on quivering sticks and can look down on all three of the Ass Wipers. They’re not tall like I am and one of them has thinning hair. The room looks different too. The ceiling is not so out of reach. The machines I’m hooked to not so formidable. Baldeeny looks like a hairy, melted mess all tangled up in sheets snoring quietly for a change. The door to my room is attainable- in fact I could get out of my room if I just fell over in that direction…
“Just the two steps. You have to move your feet.”
“Come on superhero man!”
I try and move my feet.
My feet don’t move- my legs drag them forward- and they slide along the floor in hospital socks. I’ve made my two steps and the chair is turned square behind me.
“Now we’re gonna sit. You ready to sit, Walter?”
My body is held aloft on shaky sticks and feels about to topple. “I am! I am! Hurry!”
I’m allowed to lean back as my knees fold forward and I’m lowered down gently by the three Ass Wipers who apparently know what they are doing.
“There you go, Walter. You’ve graduated to a chair.”
They toss my feet aboard and fiddle with some buttons and I’m sitting up in a chair for the first time in over three and a half months!
“So how’s it feel to be sitting, Walter? Feel alright?”
“It’s different,” I say. I don’t really know what I mean by that.
“It’ll take some getting used to.”
“We’re gonna leave you here and get back to work. Your call button is right there on the chair next to your right hand. You push that if you have problems, okay?”
“We’ll have nurses poking their heads in too, so don’t you worry about getting left here. You’ll do just fine.”
I’ve been left here by the Ass Wipers.
I think I’m doing just fine.
I should hit the call button to see if it’s working.
My father sat up in a chair like this after work every evening. He had his lamp shade aimed to shine over his left shoulder so he could see what he was reading. He had his brown bottle next to him on a small table and he’d sip from one bottle until it was gone and then he’d go brush his teeth and go to bed. Every now and then he would pause and call out to my mother “Hey! Listen to this, honey!“ and then he’d read her a passage out loud. It was in this way I grew to understand my father’s mind- the things that attracted him and excited him enough to read them aloud- and over the years I grew to understand that my father had a love of all things with wheels. Carts, wagons, trains, automobiles. If it had wheels and it was traveling it amused my father enough to read about it to my mother, who was often sitting in her chair making our apartment warmer with her knitting and her crocheting.
My father was a quietly contented man- at least on the outside- with a job he went off and did Monday thru Friday and a chair and a book and a bottle he came home to every evening. For his convenience, he had a son who didn’t require throwing baseballs to and a daughter who was dead. His wife loved her needlework and knitting, and this suited him just fine.
His life was a giant circle really. A big loop he performed everyday on someone else’s time frame.
My father lived his life much like I did, only he also loved wheels- going around and round.
I got into my father’s brown bottles once and then rode my bike into a pole. I must have been thirteen because I had acne where I got the gash. Daddy got his bottles from a guy at the light bulb factory who made home-made mead for extra cash. He put the mead in old beer bottles and sold the cases on Fridays which was of course payday for all the workers.
One afternoon I got home well early of my parents and sat down in Daddy’s chair. I turned the lamp on and picked up one of Daddy’s books and as I sat there I realized the picture was not quite complete and got out one of Daddy’s meads and drank.
Then I went out for a ride on my bike in a pretty crooked line straight into a pole and was taken by my Daddy as he arrived home with my mother to the local hospital where they stitched my skin together as I slept.
I could feel where I ended back then. Where I stopped and started.
It was one of the few nights I also remember being out with my parents somewhere after dark.
“Knockety knockety knock!”
We never had many visitors when I was a kid.
“Knockety knockety knock! Is there anyone home? Papa Brown sent me down. He said to come say “howdy” and let you know he was alright. Hello?”
There’s a short man in a giant cowboy hat at my door. He’s so short I can look him in the eye while sitting in this chair. His right cheek is swollen and he’s carrying a plastic cup full of what looks like very strong coffee until he spits in it and I realize it is spit chewing tobacco.
He’s bringing the cup full of the brown liquid into my room!
“I’m Paul,” he says. “The cowboy preacher. Pleasure to make your acquaintance. You must be Walter.”
“I am Walter,” I say as he holds out his spit-cup and then pulls it back, switching hands and then offering me his right hand for a firm handshake.
I manage to lift my right hand up enough for him to grab it clumsily and he shakes the limb up and down.
It feels human to be sitting up and receiving visitations.
“You feeling better, Walter? I must say you’re looking rather pale and spider-like. I guess you don’t eat much while in a coma, do you? No hamburgers and fries and cherry pies while you’re pecker-up in bed asleep! What they’d do, stick a tube down your throat? Or was you fed through your veins?”
“I’m not sure.”
“These doctor’s have taken what the Lord giveth them and done miracles with it, I reckon. Don’t you reckon that’s true, Walter?”
“I really like my doctor. He cares what I think.”
“I’m sure he does… sure he does. Like the great man upstairs. Always listening to those who will take the time to talk to Him. You ever talk to the man upstairs, Walter? Being in a coma I reckon you were mighty close to Him for a time.”
“I talked to Papa Brown,” I say. “But he came downstairs to see me.” I smile as wryly as I know how. Paul the cowboy preacher curls his mouth up in such a way as to make his over-sized handlebar mustache look like a pair of small rodents fighting right under his nose.
“Why you’re a regular stand-up, ain’t cha? Think you’re funny sitting there all susceptible to whatever harm just may befall you for being impertinent!”
The sparkle in Paul’s eyes tells me he’s mostly joking and I smile for him. Paul spits more raw juice into his already full cup, as if to make a statement about my impertinence.
“I’m not talking about Papa Brown. I’m talking about God, man! The head cowboy. The ranch boss. The man in charge! You can’t tell me you spent time in a coma and didn’t run into Him somewhere or ‘nother? You were ‘that close’, man! Within inches of him!”
“It was all nothing to me. Just a moment in time. An end and a beginning with no middle. I took a long nap, that’s all. And when I woke up, I was here and was told I had been here for quite awhile.”
“And no God? No angels? No heavenly vistas?”
“Well obviously you weren’t doing it right. Did you pray much before you went in? You have to pray and let them know you want to see them, otherwise they’re busy with people who are willingly seeking them. So did you pray? Did you take Jesus into your heart and soul? Did you read from the book everyday? You have to read from the Holy Book or it don’t work. That’s the message I’m spreading with my preaching.”
I shake my head. No. I didn’t pray. I never prayed. We weren’t a family that prayed. We were a different sort of family. We were a family that went mostly around and round.
“No prayer? You can’t meet your maker without prayer, man. Prayer is the key. Would you like to pray with me now, son? I’d be happy to kneel in prayer with you. That’s my job. I’m a cowboy preacher.”
“Can I pray to whomever I want?”
“Wha? No. Gosh darn it! Who in Heaven’s name gave you that idea? You’re supposed to pray to your savior, Lord Jesus or God himself. Didn’t you ever pray, buster?”
“When I was little I prayed that I would be big and the other kids would leave me alone.”
“Well see! Look at ya! You must have more than a foot of height on me. God will do some incredible things if you just talk to Him.”
“I prayed to dinosaurs. And the kids never left me alone.”
“Great God Almighty!” Paul the cowboy preacher snatches his hat from his head and throws it on the ground and stomps on it furiously, only the second part of his tantrum is simply a pantomime and his hat never leaves his hand. “How in tarnation were you raised, buster? Who prays to dinosaurs?”
“My sister and I. We thought they were the most powerful things that ever lived. So we prayed to them.”
“Oh, Lord Jesus!” Paul throws his hat down again and stomps it in pantomime as if it were aflame. “Why, I’ve never heard of such silly nonsense for as long as I can recall! Jesus trumps them dinosaurs every time, man! For cryin’ out loud, his Father ‘made” the dang things to begin with!”
“You’re spilling your juice!”
“Oh crap” All over Paul’s hand and a big brown splotch on the shiny floors. “I get too excited when I talk about God. He just bowls me over. I’ll be back in a second.”
Out in the hallway I hear him giving orders. “We need a mop in here! Pronto-moondo!”
I never believed in any God.