The IV-Therapy Coffee Shop
of the 21st Century
by Jhon Sánchez
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
As he was putting his hat on, and the wind hit his face, he fumed, “How dare you?”
“Don’t you always say you miss doctors?” she said, dropping one of her gloves on the ice.
He could see her intentions. That’s why he hadn’t left her in the coffee shop with her IV therapy, but after so many years of being together, she was still unable to understand. Did she care for my paintings? And even if she didn’t care, he loved her and missed her body. Nobody but she could tickle his nipples, or laugh when his flabby penis, with difficulty, would find lodging between her legs and rest like a thirsty animal.
Ricardo took a step forward bending to pick up the glove but slipped on the ice. His hand tried to grab a garbage can but instead toppled the lid, turning the can that clattered to the glazed pavement.
When he opened his eyes, he saw a series of black dots that strongly resembled the freckles on a ripened banana peel, and then he saw Marinella, whose chin was quivering.
“Ah, you’ve come back?” she said as she brushed off his face. “At least I’m not to blame. Blame your crappy arthritis.” She slanted her body away from Ricardo.
The pain radiated along Ricardo’s upper thighbone. The fear made him move his prominent Adam’s apple like a piston, up and down. His eyes watered, but he kept the tears from rolling down his cheeks. With a deep breath, he slid his hand along his leg and remembered what his brother used to say to his patients: Move your toes. Ricardo did. Shifting the weight of his body towards Marinella, he hooked his arm around her, but he couldn’t flex his leg or lift his upper body.
“He probably has a broken hip,” chimed an actress who had been playing one of the nurses as she was exiting the coffee shop. “I wish I had my rifle here. That’s what we do with horses.”
Ricardo closed his eyes. He didn’t want to die hearing a gunshot, like a horse. He wanted a waving hand as he moved into the distance.
Marinella stood and lit a cigarette.
The host came out from the coffee shop shaking a broom, ready to slug Marinella with it and yelled. “I don’t want that mummy on my sidewalk.” Marinella had told Ricardo that sometimes the poor left their dead loved ones on the curb where they would mummify. It was the task of the Body Preservation Society to collect them, to rescue the memories and of course to issue an invoice to the new reincarnated body.
Under the host’s threat, she flinched as Ricardo tried to say something when a man pushing a dolly stood between Marinella and the host.
“Calm down, he just has a broken bone,” said the man with the dolly. He turned and looked at Marinella. “I haven’t seen a broken bone in years. Maybe the hip?”
“He’s not taking his daily dose,” she said as she puffed a cloud of smoke from the cigarette.
“What? That’s crazy. All this ordeal could have been avoided if... That’s not right.” He turned to Ricardo and asked, “Are you a fool?” Then, he pointed to Marinella adding, “You should call the police; they can force him to take the dose.”
“He’s not a little kid. Besides, I’m a lawyer. His lawyer.” She stepped between Ricardo and the man.
“Marinella, I don’t want that. I don’t want to be forced to...” Ricardo sobbed, remembering the news of those kids who were institutionalized to be treated with the IV therapy. He had never seen this happen to an adult person like himself before, and Marinella had never told him of any, but he was sure he wasn’t the only one not taking the dose.
Squatting and facing Ricardo, Marinella ignored the man who went on as if talking to himself, “That’s why I always take my daily dose, so I would never become a public nuisance, stopping traffic and whatnot. It’s terrible.”
“What are we going to do now?” Marinella asked, holding her cigarette in her lips as a crowd continued to gather.
Even with the pain, he felt joy. She wasn’t hiding behind her role as a lawyer but was asking him to coordinate. It was the magic of pain, and all crises. He smiled and rested his hand on her lap. She continued smoking.
“Don’t think I’m going to take care of you,” she said and tried to remove his hand from her leg.
He didn’t move an inch. He knew that she would do anything necessary.
“I have told you so many times. Nobody will care if you are crippled.”
But she would care. She was worried now.
Somebody from the crowd brought a carpet, and they made Ricardo roll onto it. They lifted and laid him onto the dolly. Two men held the corners of the carpet as the man pushed the dolly with Marinella’s help.
Ricardo nodded gratefully to the man who kept his feet from dragging, but when a bump of ice made the cart lurch, Ricardo yelled in pain.
The group left Ricardo wrapped in blankets on the floor of his living room near a fireplace because the dolly’s owner had said, “A hard surface is better for the back.”
Marinella found an IV with a dose of body preservation. She had a new cigarette in her mouth. She grabbed his arm as if she wanted to poke the needle into the vein. “I’ve heard that this eases the pain. Let’s pray.”
He wanted to tell her that it was better to have the pain, but he couldn’t, so he covered the vein of his arm, shook his head and looked at Marinella imagining his eyes were embers. In his mind, he heard the man with the dolly repeating, “The police can force him.” He imagined a flock of waiters tying him into a straitjacket and poking his arm with IV doses.
When he tried to move his upper body, he felt the pain again but this time with heat. He opened his eyes to see Marinella sleeping next to him and an unused IV bag between them.
Marinella tried to speak, but he moved his hand and said, “I’ll do it. It’s time to move on to the next life. No more discussions but—”
“You cannot go without a dose. Your brain needs—”
He put his finger on his lips and shook his head
She sat up. She had her hand on her chest. She moved closer and dried a tear coming from his eyes. “Please.”
He looked around the apartment where he had lived the last fifty years, the photographs of his family, the out-of-fashion steam radiator, the clock marking twelve thirty-six, the exact time when his mother had died. His paintings were at the other end of the room, Marinella’s portrait facing the window above the fireplace. He had captured that smile, gentle, secure, and innocent.
After gasping for breath, he went on, “It’s time for me to go, and you’ll be in charge of everything. You’re a lawyer no matter what, but I want, want, want you to ask” — he wheezed — “for a special permit, so that I won’t be able to remember anything.”
“What?” She stood up.
“I want the complete destruction of my body. No more memories for me. I don’t want anybody to recover this life, anybody to store my body, anybody to read my memory.”
“Anybody? What’re you talking about?” She scratched her head and smashed a cigarette in an ashtray. “You know what you’re asking? I won’t be able to contact you in the next life... You will be lost forever.”
“Listen, stop all this madness. Selfish. I should have called the police long ago. How did I get into this? Don’t you understand I’m a lawyer, the General Counsel of Body Preservation Society?”
He said that he would fight against taking the dose. “I’ll suffer if necessary. I’ll drag myself out of bed to burn down this whole building so that nobody can recover my body, my memory.”
She sat on a chair with her thumb in her mouth. Her nail cracked. Ricardo repeated again. “I want you to tell the judge that I don’t want anybody to recover my memories in this life or anybody to recover my memories in my upcoming lives.”
“Wait a minute. You believe a judge is going to bind others to this...” she stuttered, “This... This moment of delirium!” She took a deep breath, squatted and sat next to him. “Listen, you cannot impose your will on others. You cannot chose for the future. That’s why we have the law.” She stood up and looked away to one of his paintings. “This doesn’t have any legal precedent. I don’t think any judge has ever allowed one of those kids who refuse to take the dose to have standing. This is crazy.”
“It’s me. It’s my life, my soul. I want my next life to start fresh.”
“What about me? I have the right to see you again. This is not just your life. All those years together are my life too, and you’re flushing them down the toilet.”
“I want to die like my mother, like my father, like my brother, like all of them in my generation. I want you to love me because I’m not here. I want you to cherish our lives together each moment you breathe with the certainty that it lasted until the last tick of the clock and that there aren’t any more seconds left. Besides...” — he hesitated — “you’re first a lawyer and second my lover.”
She knelt beside him, squeezed his hand, and muttered, “I’m both.” She took a deep breath, “Both tell me not to do it.”
“Marinella, this person here is a client, your client. It’s my will.”
Marinella took the portrait of herself from above the fireplace, looked at it for a moment and tossed it against the flames. “That’s me. Right now. That’s what you want.” She ran towards the bathroom, and he heard the shower running. Minutes later, he saw a puddle around her feet. She was soaking wet, standing next to him with her eyes cast down, but he was sure she could not see him clearly, at least, not the man in pain and without movement.
* * *
Ricardo didn’t read the document. It had a judge’s signature. He imagined that Marinella argued that he had a fully developed brain, different from the teenagers who had refused to take the dose. The only legal thing that he paid attention to was when Marinella told him that she would file it in the registry with the Body Preservation Society. His body would be ashes, and his memory would flow through the air.
“Tell me that you don’t want this, and I’ll return to—”
But Ricardo put his fingers on her lips. He supported his body on his elbow and pointed to the kitchen cabinet where he had a collection of unused IVs along with a small vial of Second Chance, the leading brand in suicide pills.
She returned and tossed the container with the pills at his side. It hit the wooden floor next to the carpet and the blankets where he had been sleeping for the last three days. She slammed the bedroom door. He could hear her sobbing.
He put the pill under his tongue. The numbness spread from his palate to his throat. His sweat became thick and cold. His bones stiffened. For a moment, death was the reverse of sleeping. He felt his fingertips, the lobes of his ears, the nape of his neck and even the tips of his hair. It was as if he was scanning over pages of a book filled with memories: the time that his father brought him to the barbershop and Ricardo was afraid of the scissors; the time that his mother forced a spoonful of soup on him; the moment he dared his pinky to touch that young law school graduate’s hand at the bar. The spelling of her name appeared blurry but not her smile, not her tears at the other end of his apartment.
For a moment, he imagined himself in a new life. He was a twelve-year old boy visiting an old woman. Marinella? She was in an office examining some legal documents. Suddenly, she touched his left eyebrow. Her hair was disheveled and her lips thin, but he kissed them even though he had to lift himself up on his toes and dropped a basketball to the floor. “Why did you betray me?” he asked her. “I didn’t want this life, carrying all these memories. I wanted to be mesmerized with the illusion that everything is new. I wanted you to love me by yearning for me.”
She tossed a boomerang and caught it in the air as it returned. “To love you means to send you away with the certainty of your return.” He shook his head, thinking that he had never read the documents.
A gasping for air brought him back to his apartment, to the burning painting of Marinella in the fireplace, to her sobbing. It was as if he wanted to retain all of this, and he thought of his body as a leech sucking the air, the earth. What was death? Why couldn’t he live forever?
Many still believed that they moved towards perfection after rebirth. He couldn’t think like that. It seemed more like an endless match. “Not like soccer, but more like pool. We’re eight-balls striking against each other.” He wished he had the strength to paint that image. “One more idea escaping,” he swallowed, “neither for this life nor for the next.”
As he was dying, he couldn’t think any longer. His mind was full of images of his own body, the torrents of blood, his throat releasing what he believed was screams, the brain cells stiffening, sending him back to feel the carpet, the wooden floor, the faint smoke wafting across the apartment.
He wished he could stop his own blood circulation, to have the will to paralyze his arms, legs and brain. “Maybe death mirrored life. We die as we have lived, reflecting a small percentage of ourselves from when we were alive, like a moon reflecting the bright sun.” He imagined mirrors reflecting mirrors, his current, previous and future lives.
Probably, everything was an endless repetition.
Under the pain, his awareness plunged into another dark dream. He saw Marinella on a balcony, tidying up a rebozo on her head like a historical film from past centuries. He could feel the heat of her eyes tracing the peaks of his eyebrows, as she felt with satisfaction his disappointment, his anger, his desperation. He was tied and dragged by a horse rider across a square. He fell against the cobblestones. He stood up as he yelled, “Why did you betray me?” But she closed the wooden balcony doors behind her.
It cannot be. He didn’t want to believe in an endless a repetition. He wanted Marinella to go to the coffee shop, sit at the same table and see the empty seat across from her. Then, she would ask only for coffee, black coffee, in his memory.
For a long time, Ricardo had believed that there was nothing after death, but now he couldn’t stop imagining what the journey would be like. He imagined opening his eyes upon waking from anesthesia where time had been an endless blackout as his suspended soul poured into another body.
There was a basketball bouncing on his head. Johnny was dribbling it above him. His mother mopped his face, and his father took off his sandals and walked over his nose. Maybe death was life moments replaying with the dead being no more than a silent witness, like the mute floor. All of this might help him resign his ideas of the loved ones they once were.
He stopped thinking about death and started thinking how much he would miss his crooked finger, his feet, his eyes and the colors he had seen with them. How much he would miss himself. Probably, this stage of dying was preparation to find himself in that strange new body, and life was that struggle to find the proper measure between the old self and the new one.
His hand grasped the carpet. Can my life at least be a seed for others? How absurd it was to want a legacy, but if he had succeeded, perhaps all of this would be taught in law schools as In Re of Gutierrez for the right to be reborn without memory.
For Ricardo and many others, it would also be a matter of missing loved ones as they touched a piece of wood, looked at a flame or admired a swirl of black coffee. They would allow the grief to settle in their hearts, reconcile with themselves, and even ask for forgetfulness of their dead ones, like a trial in absentia.
Copyright © 2018 by Jhon Sánchez