Thursday, April 15, 2021

Bones by Raluca Comanelea

Another night void of promises settles in the city that screams desolation. If one dares to look from above, the city seems to always be sleeping in, void of youth and laughter, absorbing the quiet trembling of walking canes. In this city, with its post-war architecture of decay and corrosion, its expensive clothes thrown randomly on the shelves of stores that shout rent rip-off, fathers carry on with their heroic family missions which have always seemed to deny the dearest part of their personality.
Gabriel lounges in the old executive chair of a generous size apartment situated on the fourth floor of a building overlooking the city river. On white days, one can spot him by the window puffing on a cigarette. Sometimes he ponders on his apparent aversion of sipping on an afternoon cup of tea. He wears high socks with sandals, hats with fixed-in-place flashlights, blazers with camper backpacks. The Vikings drama series, is on again, and Tozzi, the family cat, has quickly reclaimed the lap of the man who feeds her. The TV screen hurls the harsh winter lived by the Viking Lothbrok family straight in the hearts of Gabriel and Tozzi.

For Gabriel, mathematician by profession but artist in spirit, a triangle brings more to the table than a mere shape to play geometry with. Viking Ragnar confirms the distorted history veiled behind the fa├žade of nature claimed by a seemingly simple triangle. The social, political, and cultural negotiations behind this impressive shape are reasons enough for Gabriel to refuse shaking hands with balance. And reason enough for Gabriel to keep puffing on his cigarette with the utmost finesse, in an artistic showcase that is rare for any personality carrying a self-inflicted addiction. Gabriel is settled on getting a new heart. He has heard from the TV commercials that the modest hospital of his small town boasts the latest medical advancement: heart transplants for those who dream big, for those with pockets bigger than their dreams.

He kissed Tozzi goodbye and headed to the hospital one white morning, assured that a new heart would be the start of a new life, one possibly filled with loose-leaf teas. Sniffing Gabriel’s big pockets from the other end of the hospital’s hallway, the doctors talked him into a pair of brand new, out of the box lungs as well. With enticing words, the patient was made to feel as if life would afford him another chance to feel childhood running through the veins again, much like in the TV images advertised for the procedure, in which blonde boys run joyously in open fields of daffodils. This presumption gave Gabriel hope for renewal. And he embraced it fully. The professor in charge of his transplant boasted the necessary experience to carry the surgery successfully.

In the operating room, a room full of masculine pride and intellect, the human drama commenced. The professor, surrounded by his three assistants, began the medical procedure. The general atmosphere reeked of human indifference, monetary greed and vacation plans. Gabriel’s soul lifted above his body and dared to look beneath at the whole affair. He saw himself surrounded by the seemingly hasty medical staff. He was floating above his own surgical bed, above the progressive medical equipment the hospital had boasted itself with, above the professor’s head, and above the heads of the three assistants. Gabriel felt so big and so small, a feeling bigger than himself, bigger than life, bigger than space. He was floating in the room, becoming part of the ecstatic dance of the atoms and molecules.

Gabriel became a witness to his own transplantation taking place live, this time no TV screen in between. Recollections of the Lothbroks family came to mind, coloring its terrible Viking adventures. He clearly saw the triangle on his open chest, connecting heart and lungs. He chuckled at the whole scene, remembering the last episode of The Vikings, that last night he spent home with Tozzi. Suddenly, panic took over the professor and his three assistants. The vitals monitor signaled the urgency of taking matters into available hands: an almost flatlined waveform approached with the hurling of a locomotive breath. The professor reached for the defibrillator, shouting mechanistically, “let’s save this man’s life!” Chaos busted the only door open and the three assistants squirmed the ground like worms at the impending sound of a pesticide can sprayed over them in full force. The dooming flatlined waveform has reached the station. And was there to stay.

“The man is dead,” declared the professor with a profound gravity, yet untouched by the slightest emotion of pain. The vitals monitor has said so. It must be real then. “There’s nothing I can do for him now,” continued the professor, taking off his gloves on the way to the door. He was washing his hands, heading for the salvation door, leaving behind the three miserable individuals to pick up the scraps of human decency which he has always refused to be bothered with in his profession. And so, he left, just a bit disappointed in himself, but only for a short minute of two. His daughters and wife were already packing their duffle bags for daddy’s promised trip to an all-inclusive resort in the Bahamas. The professor thought he would reach the blue shores, sip on a cool margarita, soak in the ocean’s salts brought close to his nostrils by the grace of wind, and put on those few extra pounds which come as courtesy of enticing daily buffets. Gabriel, the man, would soon vanish from the professor’s thoughts. Pppooofff!

“But I didn’t die,” whispered Gabriel to a room filled with people who didn’t have ears to listen. “…I didn’t die” “…didn’t die” “…die.” The resilient echo kept fighting its fight. The three miserable assistants now conducted their fragmented dialogue in an atmosphere of confusion. “What if we try to resuscitate?” “No use, call the guards to remove his body from the bed?” “His open eyes terrorize me.” “I can’t bear the looks” “Stop the lament, the morgue is his place of rest now, with the dead ones.” “It’s normal, do you hear me?” Their cries and noises were ringing in Gabriel’s ears with the rapacity of a jungle cat crowning the culmination of its hunting game.

All this time, from above, Gabriel tried desperately to offer the men a glimpse of evidence that his existence was real. He descended a bit to reach a more equal plane, one that could make some sort of communication possible between him and the three men, and hollered his “Can you hear me fellow humans? I am here” in their ears, moving from the left ear to the right one of each man. One of the assistants, the one who wore his dark hair in a ponytail—now covered by a pathetic hospital grade shower cap—the one who hated deodorants, the one who always chanted his Hare Krishna mantra in the solitude of his room, the one abandoned by a sculptural girlfriend who much too often scoffed at the boy’s spiritual beliefs, the one who unintentionally bragged a pair of dark, masculine eyes which evoked a suave gentleness of femininity, heard Gabriel’s penetrating voice. “Yes, I can hear you,” whispered he, a bit timorous at the thought of being detected by his colleagues and taken for a complete wacko, word he heard before in social circles. “Then what are you doing with my body?” insisted Gabriel, with hand gestures that didn’t match the sublime terror reflected in his eyes. “We’re taking you to the morgue, in a black plastic bag, blacker than death itself,” admitted the boy. “At the morgue?” Gabriel’s eyes widened with amazement. He just couldn’t believe how decisions were made down below now that he belonged to a different realm of reality. He witnessed firsthand the atoms and molecules dancing their ecstatic dance around him.

“Don’t take me to the morgue, folks, I am alive,” begged Gabriel, yet his composure betrayed a total loss of hope in the power of human comprehension. “I know you are,” the boy firmly implanted his words in Gabriel’s ear, “but my power ends here. The vitals monitor insists that you are dead and the professor left for Bahamas.” And just like that, the resilient echo kept fighting its fight. “Gabriel, you are but bones” “…you are but bones” “…are but bones” “…but bones” “…bones.”

© Raluca Comanelea

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