By Terence Hughes
Floating on light. A falling. Dead? Alive. Smells like hospital. Fall all the way to – Lisa, you were there? I hear her. How long? Tripped over the cat (?). See boats and ocean and coral. What?
Staci, who is garish and jewel-bedecked, and the shlumpy Lisa are squabbling in front of Dr. Short. He is very tall, and his folded arms are at the level of the women’s heads. “Well, he’s my husband now, Lisa, so I don’t think you got shit to say about it. I get to say when and IF to pull the plug.” Lisa smiles a smile of insufferable patience. “The DNR is home in our safe.” Dr. Short stirs.
“You’d better produce it so we can determine possible courses of action.” They look up at him and ask together, “Will he recover?”
“Ask me that in another week. We do see evidence of brain activity. See there?” The doctor points at a monitor and its jiggled lines. “His brain’s functioning. He’s not quite brain-dead by any stretch.”
Staci pulls out a tissue. “But he’s in a coma! People don’t come out of comas all that much.” Lisa, the saintly ex-wife, smiling that smile again.
“Tell her, doctor. People come out of comas all the time.” Lisa, her insufferable smile of triumph.
Dr. Short smiles his own sort of smile and nods, “Oh, yes, they do. All the time. I read it on Google.” Staci huffs out of the room, snuffling, “That wasn’t necessary, doctor!”
The doctor leans over to Lisa. He nearly whispers. “Whose name is on the DNR?” Lisa says, “Mine.”
Lisa seems relieved. “He’s sinking.”
Tripped. The cat. I think. Old house in Plantation. Lisa’s. Moving my junk from the attic. From way up high to foyer. Marble. Don’t hurt. Pain meds. Good. Thank you, Rick. Rick? Staci. She is my wife now.
I remember now. I can think clearly now. Dark clouds have gone. That was a song. Yes. I divorced Lisa to marry Staci after Rick died. Hurt, she called it, I am so very hurt and betrayed, Tom. Lisa, I said, some things have to be done, and don’t ask why. And she gave me that damn smile of hers, and felt like grabbing a rock and smashing her head in. Like she had figured it all out. Fat cow hadn’t figured anything out. Staci so pretty, flashy, sexy. Wonder if she had much sex with Rick.
Was faithful till up near the end with Lisa – but she wasn’t a good businessman’s wife. So dull and fat. A terrible hostess. But shrewd. Shrewd as Lady MacBeth. Behind the scenes my best advisor. For getting rich we made a good team. But I spent years trolling for Internet porn. Big fantasy life. Twenty years of incessant beating off. She could have tried harder. She could have lost weight, bought nicer clothes – I could afford them. All she thought of was Tommy and endlessly redecorating whatever house we lived in. What taste. Like Graceland.
But Rick, what about him?
The overweight teenager pokes his head in the room, checking it out before he will enter. His eyes fix on his father, connected to machines that make him breathe, that feed him, that take away his urine. The clock on the wall says 2:30. It is dark outside.
Tom Junior goes silent in his sneakers to the bed. He looks over his shoulder, making absolutely sure he’s unobserved. He kneels at the bed, takes his father’s hand in his, and bows his head.
“Dad. You greedy prick. Maybe now you can…“
Someone has left a small box of Maison du Chocolat truffles. Tom Junior gets off his knees and shakes the box: almost full. He takes it when he leaves.
On the way out he stops at the nurses’ station and says, “The guy in 414, it looks like there’s no brain activity.” The nurse walks swiftly to the room, Tommy calling, “It looks just like on ER. That’s how I knew.”
Staci was standing over him in her fuck-me heels and a dress so short he saw her pussy as the breeze blew the skirt forward. He took off his sunglasses and said, You’re blocking my light. They were on the deck at Tom’s new house overlooking the Intracoastal. She found a chair near Tom’s chaise longue. With one hand occupied by a cosmopolitan Staci fought the wind with her other hand, trying to make her long straight hair behave. Tom said, You’re too old to wear your hair like that. You’re no Jennifer Aniston any more.
Staci barked one of her mirthless laughs and said, Look at yourself, Tommy. You look like you gave up on life.
It was true. He didn’t look healthy. Pale. Worn out. Too thin.
And get a haircut, Staci cackled. You look like you should be standing in line for government cheese.
He put his sunglasses back on and lay back in the sweltering July heat. He took a long pull on his vodka rocks. He shook the glass and Staci went to the bar to make him another. If you got a point, he said, spit it out already.
She leaned toward him, holding his drink. I know you’re selling your firm for a fabulous amount a money. I also know that if anything got out about your personal life it would queer the deal, so to speak, with that billionaire cracker who’s set to buy. Ole Billy Bob hisseff. Anyway, she sighed, sitting down with her back arched provocatively, you’re gonna need a wife who can protect you from those nasty rumors – one who you can showcase appropriate to your new position in the social dungpile.
Tom sipped his vodka and considered her implicit threat. That would destroy everything. Twenty years of hard work rendered almost worthless with one phrase. Worse if she ever put two and two together. Maybe she had. He tried brush away the chill that had descended on his chest. What? he asked. Dump Lisa?
Dump Lisa. I mean, Tommy, what can that frump do for you? Nothing like me, baby, nothing like me. You’re already separated, for all intensive purposes. Her in that redneck mansion in Plantation, you over here. Staci glimmered with promise and cheesy allure. Billy Bob likes me. I’ll do anything to help you seal the deal. Everything. She blew a glossy-lipped kiss his way.
This floozy certainly had her uses. An ugly little fuck like Billy Bob would feel like he’d gone to heaven once he got inside of her. Tom looked at the skyline of Fort Lauderdale way on the other side of the Intracoastal. It gleamed gold in the afternoon glare. He’d do anything to help seal the deal. He’d already done plenty. Sure, Stace, he told her. Anything. Deal.
Tom set down his drink. He pulled her to him. She landed on his lap with a little squeal and they locked lips, heat on heat in the glaring sunshine.
Dr. Short stands watching as Lisa digs in a purse as big as a laundry bag for the DNR. She pulls out pictures of Tom and her, arraying them on the bedcovers. She puts her hand on the DNR, which she hands to the doctor in an envelope. He opens it, reads the document and asks, “Are you his wife then?” ”I’ll always be his wife,” she says with a dip of her head and a glance upwards. The doctor says he’ll take care of it and give her a copy. “I have copies,” she replies. “A good wife takes care of these things.” She smiles the little smile that sends the tall doctor out of the room.
Lisa arranges the pictures on the bed table and up on the shelf where the TV sat, and on the tatty little dresser. She clears away items that are trash as well as those the staff need. All the pictures feature her ex-husband and herself. With an expression of deep satisfaction she sighs and kneels by Tom and she crosses herself and recites a string of Hail Marys and an impromptu prayer. “Oh, Tom! Why did you do me so? I always loved you, no matter what. I always will. No matter what. In the blood of Jesus Christ!”
Lisa pushed for Rick. Rick, brilliant tactician and CFO. Knew just when and how to play the Carolina billionaire. Got an astronomical offer for my company, and made it stick. Lisa had studied his career: Hire this man, Tom. Pay what he wants, he will be worth it. Funny. When we met for the first interview, I didn’t like him. Something about him I don’t like, Lisa. She told me to stop being a fool. But she saw the way we reacted to each other, and her eyes read fear.
Poor Rick. Even his death was tactically brilliant, and maybe it gave me another ten million. Sympathy money. Billy Bob genuinely moved, tears in his squinty eyes. He was warm for Staci, too. Loved him them six-inch heels and pussy dresses. Now she’s taking care of him.
I was protecting you, Rick. No one would have accepted you that way. I had to do it to protect you. And myself and all we’d built all our lives. If there’s a heaven or a hell I hope to see you, just see you. That’s enough to make me happy.
Tom felt his field of inner vision contract, a sudden, sharp loss of width and breadth. Breath came harder. He opened his eyes and the blur was darker now. Figures approached and went away, consumed by darkness.
He thought of those hours and minutes with Rick on that last night, when they took the boat to an island in the bay and had sex and swam in the warm water. The look of his face in the moonlight, the smiles. Happiness. You’ll see, Tom, when we tell everyone the truth, we’ll get divorces and marry each other. Out in the open. Husbands. We can do that in Florida now! No more lies. Living clean, Tom. Together.
Tom listened, all serious, Yes Rick, yes baby. He suggested they go out to the ocean and look at the lights of the beach towers and the city. Rick smiled and kissed him and said, Whatever you say, mon capitain.
Lisa almost doesn’t recognize Staci when she walks in the room wearing a conservative black pantsuit and a normal pair of black pumps. She has toned down her makeup, too, so she no longer looks like a drag Dolly Parton. Staci notes that, of course, Lisa is dressed in sweats, and her T-shirt isn’t even quite clean. She thinks, That Lisa, she’s like a parody of herself.
Dr. Short follows her in. He responds to this version of Staci and addresses his words to her. “As you know, Mr. Knight has manifested diminishing brain activity for two weeks. All his other vital signs are weakening too. Given the extent of his internal injuries…” He goes on and on, happy to look upon Staci. Meaning: You can unplug him whenever you want, we’re not making any recommendations, etc.
Lisa clears her throat. “Doctor, I believe that it is time.”
“Who the hell are you to – Dr. Short…?” Staci is furious. Here she’s all ready for her biggest role as the multi-millionaire entrepreneur’s wife, and this old bag of an ex-wife is stealing the role from her.
Dr. Short explains that the DNR has Lisa Knight’s name on it. There is nothing in the document that specifies wife, or ex-wife for that matter. It’s notarized and dated scarcely one year ago. He leaves the room, presumably hoping they’ll work this out without ripping out each other’s hair.
“I hope you know I’ve got something on your husband that could queer the deal with Billy Bob.” Staci is pregnant with innuendo.
Lisa smiles her insufferable smile. “The lawyers completed the deal the day before Tom fell. All signed and sealed.” Lisa watches Staci carefully. “So your blackmail isn’t worth a dime today.”
“Tom didn’t tell me the deal was done.”
“You weren’t his business advisor. I closed the deal after your husband died. And I will be Tom’s wife forever.”
A horrible realization hits Staci. Outmaneuvered by this pear-shaped hausfrau. “I’ll pull these fucking plugs myself, goddamn it.” She starts for the other side of the bed, where a formidable tangle of cords is strewed around. Lisa blocks the way. Without her fuck-me heels, Staci is shorter than Lisa, and certainly not as bulky. She turns and leaves the room without a look at Tom.
Unhurriedly, Lisa unplugs the medical devices, careful to wrap the cords very neatly. She watches the monitors fade out. She sees his breathing change. She bows her head in prayer, asking Christ forgiveness for that little push and stumble over the cat-shaped doorstop through the railing and all the way down to the ground.
He thought of those hours with Rick on that night, when they took the boat to an island in the bay and made true love and swam in the warm water. The look of his face in the moonlight, the smiles. Happiness. You’ll see, Tom, when we tell everyone the truth, we’ll get divorces and marry each other. Out in the open. Husbands. No more lies. Living clean, Tom. Together.
Tom listened, all serious, Yes Rick, yes baby, and put his hand on a big coral rock with a sharp tip and bashed Rick in the temple. The look in his eyes!
Tom bashed his true love’s head to a pulp. He got hard again as he made deeper gashes in Rick’s head and when the life left his eyes. Shaking, he tied the anchor and Rick together and went to open sea and, a couple of miles out, dumped the anchor and its cargo overboard. He spent an hour swabbing the deck with seawater. Their truth was theirs alone. Why wasn’t Rick able to understand that?
When he was done he sat peering for Rick to rise but saw nothing. The knot held.
He was confused. He was sorry for hurting Rick. Loved Rick. Went back to open sea. Sat through the endless night. Looked for Rick in dark water. Peering at ocean as blackest squall swept all