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His body is a ghost, plastered with the eggshell bandages from head to toe. Six-degree burns consume the black bones under the cast. He refuses to look in mirrors. He knows he has transformed into something monstrous. A freak. Machines breathe and all that he can move are his bold eyes that roll in constant boredom. Nurses walk in; transient visits throughout an endless day. They ask questions that his wired-jaw cannot possibly answer.
“How are we feeling today?”
“Is that right, Mr. Stevens?”
“We can take care of that for you, sweetie.”
The nurse leaves, another one comes in and the same thing happens over and over again.
The T.V. flashes whatever it wants at him. It is always on and becomes somewhat like a friend. It seems that for hours on end Bob Barker is the only companion Mr. Stevens has. A white-haired, over tanned, octogenarian tour guide to bedridden depression, Bob Barker seemed to be some godsend to give Mr. Stevens solace. Or maybe, it was just the drugs that did that.
The drugs were the best part. Mr. Stevens didn’t know if it was light or dark outside, if it was raining or sunny but he was well aware of the ever-present blue button he pressed every time he felt any type of pain. That bright blue button was the only color in the office. It was as blue as the summer day’s sky. Mr. Stevens stared at the blue button, which he held in his paper-mache hand, with curiosity. It smiled at him, winked and whimpered each time he applied pressure. Mr. Stevens had made a new friend, a real friend, one that would heal pain. No strings, no conversation, just unadulterated compassion and understanding at the click of a button.
But the pain brewed and rose. Under Mr. Stevens’ wrap scorched skin flaked and flayed, purple as the Milky Way. It curled up and scratched at the hardened cast, irritating Mr. Stevens to the point of insanity. He wished someone would scratch his black and purple chest with the blade of a fingertip to calm the turmoil. He wished some lovely maid would rub aloe vera on his wounds like his mother used to do for him. He wished he could tear away his cast and let it bleed and bubble, that pus-leaching anguish that surrounds him on his body and in his heart. He wished for a love to make him forget.
When she walks in even the room turns. She would make flowers bloom in December and volcanoes halt in dissention. She was neither thin or fat, busty or flat, quiet or loud. In fact, her appeal was in her moderation. Her hips wouldn’t sway too wide and her eyes wouldn’t burn too bright. She was a classic beauty but a modern sophisticate. And when the door extinguished a vacuum-sealed noise and her sun hat shown through a slit Mr. Stevens’ heart raced. She looked up from behind her wicker-woven sun hat and smiled a smile. The smile was not big and not small. It was discreet and voluminous. And, in the corner of her mouth you could see the smallest suggestion of a polished, white tooth; the same white as his fully-body prison.
She would come by every week not for too long but not too brief. She came to talk to Mr. Stevens and nothing more. She was a beautiful stranger, a mother of earth, and the healing wind. She did not know Mr. Stevens and he didn’t know her. And, while Mr. Stevens could only grunt and gargle, his eyes would be as wide as a does when she made her weekly visits.
When she spoke to him he forgot about Bob Barker and the blue button. She would talk about everything in her life. She would talk about her cello, the classes she took and her landlady. She could talk about anything and make it blithe. She could tell Mr. Stevens that she was a member of the Nazi Association in Support for Reunification of Germany, Sodomy and Kicking Puppies and he wouldn’t mind as long as she used the same sublime voice that usually regaled him with.
When this woman was around him he felt better, like the stitches sowed themselves together, like his skin would film over itself again, tan and perfect. Mr. Stevens had never been in love before he saw that wicker-woven sun hat.
One day she entered, glowing as usual, holding a tattered notebook with pages disorganized and bulging out of the corners. She took off her sun hat and let her long red hair trickle down her back like a sun-spackled waterfall. She sat down, opened the book and recited poetry that, she informed Mr. Stevens, was her own. The first was about cheery love, the kind new lovers wallow in. The second about true love, as common as grass but as rare as an iris. Upon completion of the poem Mr. Stevens felt a giddy sensation sweep across him. He thought maybe this poem had been written for him. A sense of content resounded in his eyes when he realized that maybe the lady in the wicker-woven sun hat was in love with him like he was in love with her.
Mr. Stevens grunted in felicity. The woman leaped to her feet to see what was the matter. She patted Mr. Steven’s chest with her slender hand. Mr. Stevens’ eyes followed her long, dainty fingers that scratched lightly at his hardened shell. The friction would make a sound like waves scrapping to shore from an endless sea. He followed her fingers in absolute desire until his eyes met her gold wedding ring on her pale finger. An icy chill stunned him. His eyes narrowed on that piece of metal, that scrap sheet of undying love, or, for Mr. Stevens, overwhelming loneliness. But she still scratched his chest like he wanted, with the blade of her fingertip. She trilled like a blue jay giving Mr. Stevens the lie. But the pain was too much to handle. Mr. Stevens clawed for the blue button and pressed incessantly. Still she sang and still he swooned. Mr. Stevens pressed until there was no more left. The pain was now as overwhelming as her singing and no amount of morphine could stop the burning. She stopped scratching his chest, sensing something was wrong by Mr. Stevens’ tragic eyes, and let go. As her hand left his skin rose to the cast, longing for that comfort. She picked up her book, repositioned her wicker-woven sun hat and left. Like a cold-hearted murderer in the night she is unknowing of the pain she has caused, the dangerous beauty she attains. Before she leaves, she smiles. The smile was not big and not small. And, in the corner of her mouth you could see the smallest suggestion of a polished, white tooth; the same white as his full-body prison. No woman would ever love him for what he now was.
The door closed.
Mr. Stevens screamed in agony, shattering his cranial cast into shreds of plaster. He breaks the wire in his jaw and his blackened face cracks off like an aged painting. He arches his back as his own heart beats for the first time in years. He breaks free of his white tomb and lies in the hospital bed, cringing and holding himself. He cries, screams and curses. The tears stream down his face from his bold bright eyes, the only pristine color on his macabre body. His limp and fried body wrinkled and overcooked lies in unrequited love.
The skin will graft, his heart won’t.