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Life Support MAG
When I opened my eyes, I was in the desert. It was a curious thing, being in the desert. I'd never been there before, but I'd always wanted to go. Sadly, my mother always said that the desert was no place for people like me. I wondered what she meant but never bothered to ask.
My head hurt. It was like the time the mean kid who was a baseball star hit me in the skull. He called me names like “freak” and “loser.” I didn't understand; I'd never done anything to him.
Then I heard the screeching, the back and forth sound of a someone being run over again and again. But when I flipped onto my back, all I could see was a deserted old house. Except for the lady out front, the whole place was empty, like the bathtub when I pulled the plug and watched the tinted water drain. It always formed a tornado, and I always hoped the townsfolk would escape before it hit. But they all died; they always died.
I rose to my feet, which were stuffed into some old black boots. My father had boots like these once. I had never seen him wear them. Really, I'd never seen him at all, but my mother put them in my room so I could remember him. She said that when my dad came back, he would shine them. But he hadn't come back yet, and Mother's hair had turned gray with time spent watching the road for his return.
The old lady was staring at me. Her eyes were as big as Clementine's. Clementine was my neighbor, the prettiest girl I'd ever seen. But this old lady's eyes were not pretty, just dark and cold like the winter day when my mother found me in the snow. My mother had been in her pajamas for some reason. The sky was much darker than it should have been that day, and the stars had come out to have a snowball fight with me. It was a special occasion; usually the stars waited 'til I was asleep to come out and play.
The old lady was sweeping her porch. The wood had holes like Swiss cheese. But the broom in her white trashbag hands was turned upside down. The shattered wooden handle was scraping the ground, leaving pale streaks.
I frowned and said, “You're sweeping wrong.”
She just smiled, a sneaky smile my older sister used to give me when she was about to do something she didn't want me to tell Mom about.
“What a handsome young man,” the wrinkly old bag cooed. She reached out to brush her hand against my cheek; her fingers looked like crumpled paper.
“My mother told me not to let strangers touch me,” I said. She didn't seem to know my mother very well. “I don't want to make her angry at me again.”
At the mention of my mother, the old lady's eyes turned as red as the blood that oozed from my leg when I cut it. Sometimes my sister would cut herself and lick the blood from her arm. She said it made her feel better. Once I watched her cut herself, and her entire arm turned bright red. She didn't feel anything else after that day though. I was mad at her for lying to me.
The bright color of the lady's irises made my knees turn to blue-flavored Jello. She smacked her hand against my right ear and I winced. Her hand melted into a pile of chalk dust on my shoulder all of a sudden, and she didn't panic, though I did. I screamed like the little girl across the street. My mom always yelled at me when I screamed. Sometimes she would hit me when I cried too.
“Come with me, child.” She gestured toward the house.
A weird, shaky feeling ran races down my back. My mouth twisted into an unnatural shape. “I should probably go ask my mom …”
“Nonsense! She is on the phone inside. She wishes to tell you something,” the creepy woman said.
I was still unsure and worried. “Are you being honest?” I inquired.
“My dear boy, I would not lie to someone like you,” she insisted. The phrase gave me a strange nostalgic feeling; it painted black lines around my vision.
The broom dropped to the ground suddenly. I wondered how it had been standing upright. One of the woman's hands was chalk on the ground now; the other was on my shoulder. She went inside. Hesitantly, I followed her.
She was not lying. The phone was an old one, as black as the shoes on my feet, as black as the dress my mother wore the day my sister wouldn't wake up, no matter how much I yelled her name. It had a dial like the play phone my baby cousin had.
The lady stared at me, smiling. “Listen,” she commanded. I did as I was told.
“The insurance policy is still good, correct?” I heard my mother croak. I got the impression she was trying to sound like she was crying. This made me frown: my mother always told me not to lie.
Somehow, I could hear the other end of the conversation. “Of course, Ms. Adams. You've called three times in the past few days. Is there something you need to tell us?” the man's voice was stern and scary, but somehow familiar. I felt scared for my mother.
The fake crying disappeared. “No. I'm just making sure. I know how insurance companies like to rip people off!” my mother screeched. Usually, Mother is not like this around other people. She seems like a nice, calm lady around them. It scared me.
“Mother?” I whimpered, concerned. She didn't seem to hear me.
“Don't you understand?” said a hissing voice behind me. I whirled around, expecting to see the old lady. Instead, I saw Clementine.
“Markis?” she said. “You realize what she's talking about, don't you?”
I answered her question with one of my own, which was inappropriate but appropriate all the same. Mother would be sad to hear I wasn't being a gentleman. “What did you do with the old lady, Clemmy? How do you know what my mother is saying? Do you know-”
But she cut me off, something the Clemmy I knew would never have done. “Listen,” she whispered, the snaky hiss in her voice gone like a crisp brown leaf in a gust of cutting wind.
Instead of listening to the phone, I just looked at the pretty girl in front of me. This wasn't the Clementine I knew. My Clementine had hair the color of soot after a house burns down. This Clementine had hair the shade of the fire about to destroy a little girl's pink-filled closet. Her skin wasn't the color of the faded pages of an old book, but of the china plates I caressed when she wasn't looking. Her porcelain doll lips were too round and too wide, kind of like Clemmy's mother's.
“Listen,” she repeated, this time with more venom. Her big, toilet-cleaner blue eyes flashed blood red and I held the phone to my ear.
“Doctor!” my mom cried. There was that fake sadness again.
“Mrs. Adams, this is up to you. We can't decide for you, but we understand your despair. If you pull the plug, your son will be in a better place. If you don't, he will remain alive and under our care, but he will be forever in this state of paralysis, a natural coma.” This voice came from another woman. It was too deep, and it seemed all wrong. I couldn't see her, but I knew what she looked like: short and round, with mudslide brown hair.
A sniffle that was too loud, too clear. Unnatural, planned silence. “I'll do it, Dr. Allston. Tomorrow. I'll be ready.”
I let out a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. “Of course, Mrs. Adams. We respect your decision and will be here when you feel the time is right.”
“It's Ms.,” my mother said suddenly.
“Pardon me?” the doctor asked politely.
“Ms. Adams now. I'm a widow.” Then she hung up.
I didn't understand. I was alive, and my mother didn't have any other sons. Who was in a coma? Maybe it wasn't my mother they were talking to. Yes, she had the right last name, but my Uncle Eugene's wife, my Auntie Barbara, was Mrs. Adams too. It couldn't have been my mother. My father was at war; he wasn't dead. Mother wasn't a widow.
“Clemmy, I think you called the wrong person,” I said, turning around. But now Clementine was gone. It was her mother, Mrs. Watson. “What are you doing here?”
I was being rude again. But I wished someone would stay the same person for a bit longer.
“You still don't get it, Markis?” she asked gently. She reached up to lay her small, soft hand on my shoulder. The other hand was gone. I stepped back.
“Why do you people keep asking me if I get things? Where's Clementine? Where's the old woman? Where am I?” I interrogated. I wasn't mad, not ever, but this didn't feel right.
“Think, Markis,” Mrs. Watson demanded. “Your mother's son is in a coma.”
“But … my mother only has one son. That's me.”
One hundred thousand thoughts ran marathons in my head: the hitting, the crying, the staring, the spacing, the reading, the late phone calls, the call to the same voice when my sister died, the call to the same voice when my aunt, my cousin, my grandpa, my grandma, my mom's best friend died. That man had the voice of death.
And then my head was clear, clear in a way it had never been before. I was a different person; I could feel it with every ounce of my being.
Mrs. Watson was prettier than I remember, her long, dark hair was brighter and fuller. Suddenly I understood what was going on. My mother was going to pull the plug that kept my body alive.
“I'm not awake,” I said. Finally not a question.
Then there were the memories: I was on the roof. I knew it was stupid to be up there so late at night, so dark. My mother had suddenly come up behind me. She didn't sit down like I thought she would; instead she stood behind me and ran her fingers through my hair. I thought at the time that it was weird. Usually when my mother touched me, it was with an angry force, vengeful and unhappy, like I'd done something wrong.
Then she placed her cold hands on my back and applied the weight. Then I was falling, falling, falling … the pale grass growing closer and closer until … the desert.
My mother had pushed me.
“My own goddamn mother tried to kill me!” I shouted, as loud as I could.
Mrs. Watson wasn't there anymore. Instead it was a mixture of the three women I had encountered that night: Clementine's sapphire eyes, Mrs. Watson's full lips, and the old lady's sagging skin. All three spoke at once: “You must wake, my son,” they echoed. “You must wake up …”
My vision faded in and out. Everything was black then pale green, then deep blue and brighter green. My dream and my life were blending together. The voices from reality and the heat from the desert confused me in a way I'd never been confused before. I had never fought before, never even thought about it. But now I could think straight and I knew fighting was the only thing to do.
The deep voice of the female doctor ran through my head, “Ms. Adams, I know how hard this will be for you ….”
The ladies' voices chimed, “Fight yourself, Markis; you must fight yourself.”
Then: “On the count of three, pull the plug, all right?”
And: “Three seconds, Markis. It's now or never ….”
The voices were not mixing anymore. I knew I was alive, and they must have known it too, because the counting had stopped. It had stopped! I was going to be okay.
“What?” my mother gasped.
“Ms. Adams! Your son is awake! He's okay!” Then the voice was serious. “But leave the plug in. He'll need all the life support he can get. If you take it out, he might still die.”
The sheer happiness I felt at that moment was indescribable. I felt invincible; I had nearly died. But I was alive, and my mother was going to be happy once again.
The doctor ran from the room, surely to find more nurses. I waited patiently for my mother's hand in my hair again, except this time she wouldn't push me.
But she just grumbled some curse words and took a deep breath. I wondered what she was so unhappy about, but I didn't have the strength to ask.
The doctor's heavy footsteps echoed as she raced through the door, an army of nurses behind her. I couldn't see them, but I could hear their excited chattering.
I could hear the frown in the doctor's voice. “Mrs. Adams? What're you doing?”
An explosion of rage. “It's Ms. Adams!”
And my mother pulled the plug.