56. Jim

Chapter 55

Jim

I just want to say before I start that I’m not too good at talking about this stuff. It’s been I think three months since Chelsea, and I can’t help but notice that I’m not doing very good right now.

I woke up this morning and I couldn’t move. I called Gret and she didn’t hear and neither did I because I barely made a sound at all, and what I did hear I didn’t understand too well. It wasn’t sudden – I’m just good at hiding this stuff. I learned it from my dad and his dad. You don’t worry people if you can help it, right?

You know, I don’t have dreams much about my dad, but this one was and I can’t stop – hmm. I don’t really know what it was about so I guess I can’t stop trying to remember it, if that sounds right. We were somewhere that wasn’t home, like maybe a relative’s house or something, and I was looking for him, and when I found him he was looking at a photo album of me and my brothers. He looked real small. My dad was a big, big guy, I remember, but I could fit him in a hug no problem like this. Just wanted to mention that this part isn’t quite like it would be if it was a memory, because my dad didn’t wither away. Heart attack got him, and he died just as big as he was.

But he looked real small here, and when I hugged him I could feel his ribs. I remember I was trying to hurry him. Wherever we were, my mom had already left and I was waiting on my dad, so I went down mad at him but when I saw him he was crying and hugging the album. There were a lot of pictures of me from after he died and I grew up some, like when I was in college or meeting my wife and even a few of Gret, and my dad never knew Gret because he died too soon, but in the dream he recognized her and it didn’t tip me off too much, I guess.

I said dad, we gotta get going. Mom’s already left and you’re holding us all up so what the hell are you doing.

He says that he’s gotta say goodbye to everybody because he can’t if he leaves because he’s gonna die. He’s gonna die if he leaves, he says, and starts crying. What are you talking about, I ask him and he just keeps blubbering and I can’t get a straight answer out of him, so I just decide to look at the photo album with him. This page is almost all of Gret right after she got home from the hospital with Izzy. They almost didn’t make it, of course, so when I snapped the picture of them when they got home they were both real tired. Izzy was asleep and Gret was about to drop, but she had this real triumphant smile on her face, so when I got the picture developed I took a black sharpie and wrote VICTORY on the back of it for my girls. I looked at the picture in the dream and that word was just as fresh as the day I wrote it.

So we’re thumbing through the album and my dad’s starting to ask who everybody is, and I say dad, don’t you remember? This is Gret. She’s your granddaughter. You remember Gret, right dad? Dad just shakes his head and asks when she was born and I say 1980, and he asks me where the last picture of him is in the album and I start thinking and say it’d have to be at Christmas in ’62, right before you died, right?

He says yeah, and I get it. I ask if this is a dream and he says mm-hmm, but don’t wake up because he doesn’t want to die again. He’s practically begging me. Stay asleep and stay with him for a little while, because when I wake up he’ll disappear. I look down at the photo album and it’s just a kid’s book now. My dad used to read to me when I was little, but this book I didn’t have when I was a kid because it came out when I was maybe fifteen. So this one my dad never read to me, but I remember that I read it to Gret when she was little. I open it up and take a look.

Green walls I remember, and the red stripes and yellow table. There’s a little rabbit on the bed and a big yellow picture of a cow over the fireplace, and I don’t recall any of that. Or the bears or the phone or the clock or the lamp. But the snow falling outside the windows stuck with me. That I remember real well. Gret used to point at the flakes and make sure I would help her count every one of them. On this page there were forty-four of them, but I think one of them was just a smudge from the book being old. So I hold my dad as close as I can and I start reading to him.

Goodnight comb, and goodnight brush.

Before I wake up, I hear a little voice that I’ve heard before.

Jim? I’m your friend.

And then I wake up, and that’s just about all I can remember of it.

But anyway, I couldn’t move anything at all. It didn’t hurt except for regular stiffness from sleep, but it felt like my arms weren’t there and my chest wasn’t there. Like I just didn’t have them. Like I said, I’m not great at talking about this stuff, but I got scared pretty quick, and I couldn’t really call for help. Whatever sound comes out isn’t my voice either way, and I start breathing real shallow and letting out this pathetic sort of whine until Gret hears me and comes in. She asks me what’s wrong and of course I can’t tell her, but she knows enough to know that that’s bad enough, if you’ll pardon the wordplay, and she calls 911 because she’s not sure if I’m breathing right. If the stuff ends up in my lungs I die, and I’d rather not, if it’s all the same, because there’s stuff still to do. A friend of mine in high school asphyxiated himself on smoke near some train tracks because I don’t know why, but I’d rather die some other way. Not even like a peaceful death or a quick one or whatever. I don’t really care all that much about that, cause there won’t be a me to remember afterwards. And there’s no such thing as dignity in it because I’ll likely shit myself and they’ll have to inject me with stuff to make me presentable to my own family afterward. I just want to die quiet, mostly, and choking makes a lot of noise.

So Gret calls the ambulance and I don’t want to make a fuss so I try real hard to calm myself down and try to get a handle on it. It doesn’t feel like I’m choking so much as I’m seizing or something, but whatever it is it definitely means that I’m going to die sooner rather than later and everybody I live with knows it. The house is getting awful crowded of late, so maybe it’s about time.

And I don’t want to be on a ventilator. I truly don’t. I don’t want it.

And then I start laughing and I scatter spit and phlegm all over the place. It’s a weird sort of laugh you do when you can’t really move your mouth anymore. It comes out like a muted instrument, or somebody deflating you. I’m laughing because I told that boy – the one who killed Chelsea. I told him that I had longer to live than him and it scared him.

I really don’t want to die. And I got just about nobody to pray to, so I just sit in bed and wait awhile, and all I can think about is Old Stag and I can’t think about my family or my friends at all. Like they’re not even there. And I want to think about them, but my head keeps snapping back to that son of a bitch who killed her, and what should I do about him, and there’s still that house on Clover Street I have to look at, so I can’t die yet. Not till then, at least.

I think about my dad some more, and my wife, and some other people who died when I wasn’t around, but they get swept up by old Stag too, and he’s all I can really see.

Now it’s starting to hurt, mostly from tensing myself up trying to move. I feel real weak, and I let out this little gaspy rattle and close my eyes as best I could.

And I didn’t die, but I suspect that kind of thing isn’t something you live with for very long one way or another. If it happens too many more times or if it gets too much worse than that I’ll likely ask Gret to overdose me, because I’d rather be dead than dying. I think she’d do it. If she wouldn’t then Kyle would. I have to keep some kind of choice. That just feels nice. And Kyle would make it real, real quiet. He wouldn’t even have to leave a body, but that’d make Gret sad, so I don’t know again.

So anyway, Gret helped me with the shower and with breakfast and I told her I wanted to do Clover Street today, and she says absolutely not, and wants me to see the doctor instead. I tell her I’ll go tomorrow. I haven’t decided if I’m being honest with her or not just yet.

But she’s not budging. She’ll drive me to the doctor’s and then do Clover Street herself.

Yes ma’am.

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Chapter 57

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