Monday, August 22, 2011

Position Wanted

Rumour has it that you can play dirty.
I'll tell you what I'll do about that, yeah!
I'm playin' them at their own game, yeah!
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
You'd better do it,
'Cause it makes you feel good.
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
You're never gonna help yourself.
- If You Can’t Beat Them, Jazz, Queen, 1978

Healing. It takes time. It uses up bodily resources. And it never recreates the exact person that you were before the injury or illness.

The morning as I stepped out of the hospital, I disputed all these things to myself. A half-hearted argument with myself to keep my mind off other things. Moments after standing up out of the wheel-chair – I felt like I was refuse being hauled to the curb, not a recent ICU patient, going from intense minute by minute scrutiny to the shadows of downtown Toronto where even the eye of the sun avoids you – I felt dizzy. Deeper breaths only managed to move the hospital porridge from the bottom of my gut and throw it against the trap-door under my Adam's apple.

But I wasn’t going straight home. I had made my life complex recently. But if the police went over my car, they’d find blood and a specially modified helmet and mask. It might be circumstantial evidence, but, like I said, I had already complicated my life.

My car, of course, was not where I left it three nights ago. The buses might run slow, the city budget may always need federal hand-outs to balance, but fuck-goddamn, the tow trucks must be part Swiss watch and part industrial strength Hoover vacuums.

A skid mark of my blood still stained the sidewalk looking like the little one’s favourite drink. She pronounced it “chokkit milk”.

Healing, yeah, healing a wound like mine. After the white blood cells swallow infectious or noxious intruders that enter through an unexpected orifice, the cells to either side swell into the gap. If the wound isn’t too wide they bulge out onto a matrix left by the dead (or missing) cells. Like jello filled balloon animals, they twist in the middle until they pop apart. Two where there was one. An unmarriage that creates a new life exactly like the old.

My old life. With a marriage. Sunshine spilling into our bedroom. I wake up before her and peer over at her shoulder, its horizon rimmed in the sun’s purest white light. I swear it saved its best for her. Those Saturday mornings that I could call my weekly chokkit milk. Same name, same feeling probably.

If the wound is particularly deep, if it slashed through the cellular support matrix, then the body has an extra step. The cells beneath the wound exude a new matrix made out of collagen fibres. They don’t get enough practice perhaps because this new net isn’t exactly like the previous one. It’s warped, not in line with the cells to either side. So when they start to swell over this new rope that bridges the chasm, they’re off kilter, out of alignment. Not so nice and neat. And that’s why and where we get our scars.

Scarring is only skin deep as far as we can see, unless of course it happens on your heart. A good ol’ heart attack actually scars the muscle tissue. While performing an autopsy, coroners can look at the blood pump and trace out previous, non-lethal heart attacks. Unless of course, the recent seizure was so severe that the heart ruptures. Explodes. That’s an odd thought, isn’t it? Your brain has enough oxygen left in it that you could actually think about what that muffled pop was in your chest.

And if it was quiet enough where you were… you’d hear the absence of the beating. That final friend leaving you alone. To die.

The walk from the hospital to the tow depot is only about a kilometer and a half. A healing man walks slower. And notices his slowness with the diamond focus of the reprieved.

The round man behind the chest high counter looked like he bathed regularly… in black grease and nicotine. He rolled on his chair over to the counter and then stood up. His yellow edged eyes looked at the bandage around my throat. His cigar thick fingers were bapping away at a computer terminal carved from beige soap, asbestos and twenty year old notions of good design.

“License plate?”

I told him. His fingers hiccupped on the key. He gave the enter key a particularly hard smack.

“You already been here,” he said to the terminal angrily.

“Me? No, I haven’t.”

“Yeah, you have. Says here. Says you didn’t want it no more.”

I was too tired to be angry back at him. Images of my blood pressure forcing itself through my neck also made me take another, deeper breath.

“So it’s gone?”

“Not yet. Tonight it woulda been.” More angry thumping at the dead-horse of the terminal. “Gimme yer license.”

“I did.”

“No, no, yer fucking driver’s license.”

I went into my wallet. And apparently, somebody else had too. My driver’s license was gone.

His yellow, hyperthyroid eyes were all over my hesitation.

“Stupid motherfuck… get the hell outta here!”

My blood went up. I swear I could feel it gushing over the stitches under my skin. Blood red rivulets around a fallen branch from a leaning riverside tree.

“Gowan, motherfucker! Or I get the cops!”

I left. My fist squeezed in upon itself. Wishing I had something to bend or break.

But I didn’t directly leave the impound. I took a stroll. Let my breathing clear out the blood that had been curdled by anger. Let my eyes wander till I found the familiar rear-end of my car, that was no longer mine.

Unlocked. The door opened and let loose that familiar gush of scent. Even blindfolded, every driver would probably know their vehicle’s particular odour-ratio of old fries, dirty shoes and accumulated layers of every day cologne… or perfume.

I sat in the seat that cupped me as familiarly as you could cup your wife’s breast. Your hand already widened to the perfect semi-circular cupola.

My blood was there too. Enough dried sauce to barbecue two racks of ribs. But everything else was gone. The helmet and mask. The bag that I carried all my equipment in. Gone. Whoever was here with my license.

The same person, I was suddenly sure, who had left me a flower pot full of razor grass.

They had my stuff. They had my license. They knew who I was and where I lived.

They had everything.


I flipped down the sun visor. The picture was still glossy and shiny. A sunrise in the dusty heated cloud of the car. Their two brilliant smiling faces laughing at me from beyond the grave. A come hither tempting. Right here! Right now. C’mon. Take off the bandage and ram one of your fingers into the stitches. You’re strong enough. You should have died here in the car three nights ago.

Healing and scars change you. Broken knuckles won’t bend as far. Repeatedly slashed skin becomes brittle and easily split.

And as I looked down at their picture, I wondered what injury my mind had suffered that I could no longer remember their names.

My wife and daughter. Every “Littlest Pet Shop” toy in her still untidied bedroom… and the exact angle of her feminine freshness products on the shelf under the bathroom sink.

But the scar had formed right where their names were.

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