See Jack Die

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Chapter 21

Jack’s apartment.

Sunday afternoon . . .

A cold front moved in, making it quite pleasant outside. It was in the lower 60s, which I love. So I’m out on my balcony, sitting back in a reclining green plastic chair that is shaped like a large crocodile. I’m not sure if this kind of furniture is standard in all of the Lyndon B. Johnson Health Manor apartments, or if other people have different furniture—like fish and horse chairs.

I even considered asking this nice old man that walks around the parking lot picking up Coke cans, but this morning I saw him wearing the crushed cans as a necklace and figured any answers I got out of him would be unreliable at best.

People in a county funded medical environment, like the one I live in, they often have big issues. And most of them look just fine . . . on the outside. But inside their heads, where certain wires are crossed, or uncrossed, there’s all sorts of crazy going on. Some of them, I hope, will eventually become useful members of society. But if I was a gambler in a past life, I’d put all my money on powder keg. These broken people, that look okay, they’re casualties.

Burnouts.

People like that, that are always in need of medical or psychiatric assistance, they don’t know it, but their days are numbered. Somewhere there is a truck bumper, or a construction crew, or a baseball bat with their name on it. Because—and I’m only barely 5-months-old here—the world we live in is cruel and indifferent to the class that doesn’t fit into any mold.

Take Ricky, for example. He’s intelligent, with financial means that I dare not question for fear of a felony indictment. But take away the money and the smarts—two things that you’d have to get to know him to learn of—and he’s just a stoner with no marketable life skills. Because I know him I see the hidden genius in him. The paradox. But other people, like the doctors he works with at the hospital, they see him as a casualty. Some slacker who couldn’t hack it in med-school.

I can only imagine what they really think about me.

Who am I?

Am I what I think other people think I am? That is, am I what other people see—a physical image—or is there a hidden beauty and charm that may not have surfaced?

Am I the slight lines on my face, which Ricky says give me character, but which I think make me look old?

Am I my teeth? My lips?

Am I the cross-shaped scar on my head from where they poked and prodded my brain, deciding whether or not there was enough neuronal activity left of me to save?

I go to the bathroom with all of these questions floating around me. I have the overwhelming urge to wash my hands and face. I have several small aromatherapy soap bars.

The red one, it smells like berries, and claims to make you feel vibrant. There is a scar on my left hand, just behind my second knuckle. No clue how it got there. I could have fallen through a plate-glass window, or been partially nailed to a cross by religious psychopaths.

I rinse the pink foam off of my hands. Hands of a stranger I don’t even know. Next, I pick up the tan-colored bar. Vanilla bean scented. It smells so good I’m half tempted to take a bite out of it. Vanilla bean is supposed to, and I’m reading here, “. . . soothe the savage beast.”

So, I guess they wash gorillas and polar bears with the stuff.

I lather up my hands and cover my face in soothing bubbles. Mixing these two soaps, trying to get the best parts of the berry and Vanilla bean, it’s about the closest to gay I’ll ever get. And still, I hope nobody ever catches me doing it. I’m pretty certain that combining aromatherapy soaps gets you on a first-class flight to kooky town.

I wash the Vanilla bean suds off of my face and look at myself in the mirror. I try to study the characteristics of my face the way other people do. Am I my light brownish-green eyes? Am I my average shaped nose? Am I my short brown hair, sprigs of grey migrating here and there? Am I the puffy bags underneath my eyes?

Am I the dead girl standing behind me in the mirror?

I blink a couple of times to see if my mind is getting squirrelly, or if she’s actually there, behind me. I take a deep breath, my eyes closed, and slowly open just my right eye. She’s gone. But not.

She’s still on my mind. This girl, she tugs at me emotionally, and I have no explanation for this.

I dried my face and set the bars of soap in their correct and symmetrical locations around the rim of green marbleized sink. In the back of my thoughts, I hear those haunting words, not yet.

Not yet . . . what?

I had been reading the Book of Sighs on and off all day, writing down everything I could remember. Each time the spooks came around to watch the translator—me—at work. And each time my apartment bent and melted into the place between dogs and wolves. Things vibrated, furniture jiggled; and squiggles, dots, and dashes turned into English. Maybe I was a linguistics expert in my before-life?

A translator, perhaps.

Heck, I might have been a college professor.

Looking at my clean, vibrant, soothed face, I can kind of see an esteemed colleague. A professor emeritus. A Dean Jack, even. With all sorts of initials after my name. I raise my chin a bit, studying my profile. Quite scholarly, if I do say so myself.

“Good day, old chap,” I say in Rupert’s voice. “Jolly good. Bloody liberals will be the death of the Queen. Mr. Watson, I presume. Rubbish!” And slowly I lower my chin. I’m a retard.

I left the bathroom, turned to my right and stopped dead in my tracks.

She’s right in front of me. I try the eye closing thing, again, but she’s not going anywhere. When I get past the sheer terror of it all, I notice she’s looking at me like somebody who knows me. Her face is softened. Somber.

But—and I’m not sure about this—it’s like she’s pleased to see me. Like some part of her horrible suffering is eased, if only for a tiny fraction of a millisecond. This might also be transference on my part. Could be that I’m so desperate for connections that I’m forcing them on ghosts and ghouls. How sad is that.

This girl—once you get past the dead grey tone of her skin, and the wet-black shoulder-length hair—she’s attractive. I know that makes me a complete sicko, but I’m serious. This girl must have been quite beautiful when she was alive.

Hello, Thorazine drip.

Nice to meet you Mr. Straitjacket.

And is that your friend, electro-shock therapy? Oh, I’m sure we’ll all get acquainted shortly.

She blinks her wide, curious eyes and slowly starts glancing from side to side, like somebody might be coming. Her eyes appear anxious and afraid, and she puts her thin finger to her lips and whispers, “Shhhhhhh . . .”

And then I hear this blood-curdling scream that sounds like starving monsters, and children, and trains, and birds all mixed into something truly horrifying. Something is approaching us. She senses it, and so do I. And as this dark force closes in on us she opens her mouth to speak, but doesn’t manage to.

She’s too scared to speak.

And I’m thinking maybe I should be, too.

I feel more afraid than I have ever been in my entire short life. The scream sounds again, shaking us. The both of us flinch together, at the same moment. And this is shitting-in-your-pants scary!

This dead girl, she doesn’t have time to tell me her secrets. And I find myself wanting to protect her. To shelter her from the screaming, but that’s impossible . . . because she’s fading.

Because she’s gone.

And that scream, it’s just an echo in my head, now. The same pounding, hammering noise I’ve been hearing since I woke-up.


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