after Joe Bucciano's "The Game"
Copyright ©2017 by Christopher Conlon
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Screaming wakes me out of a dream of riding on my father's motorcycle fast through a misty forest of redwoods, the air morning-fresh, Dad's leather jacket warm against my cheek, my arms wrapped tight around him, my hair whipping and dancing, perfectly happy in this perfect place, perfect moment. The screaming, my own, comes as I realize I'm in restraints, every part of me, I'm lying restrained on some kind of platform or bed, hard belts holding down my feet, legs, stomach, arms. I can move my fingers slightly, but my wrists are held hard. The band around my forehead is cold and unforgiving, merciless in its refusal to let me turn or lift my head even slightly. I'm trying to buck my way out of the restraints, push, pull, but nothing gives. All I can do is scream, scream my throat raw, scream it bloody, until a woman in a white uniform rushes at me and stuffs something into my open mouth and someone else, someone I don't see, pushes a needle into my arm and things blur and the screaming fades away.
We live in northern California, my parents and I, in a beautiful little house on the edge of the forest: it's beautiful to me at age five, at seven, at ten. It's small and the wood floors gleam and there is nothing bad that could ever happen to me there, not in the little house with the fireplace in the living room and the warm smells of the kitchen and my room where I have my dolls and dreams. Going to school requires a half-mile walk down the trail to the road where the yellow bus stops to pick me up each morning and deposits me back there in the afternoon. I have no friends, but that doesn't really concern me. I have my parents who are the best parents in the world and we have our life at the edge of the forest. We go for walks, real hikes sometimes, and I tilt my head back to try to see the tops of the redwoods trees that are older than anyone I know, older than anyone alive, hundreds of years old.
I wake again. I'm not screaming this time. My mouth is empty. I'm still restrained, just as before, but I feel a bit better for some reason. Calmer, less fearful. Perhaps it's the drug they injected into my arm, or some other drug. Who knows how long I've been here like this? After a time two nurses, neither the one who stuffed the thing into my mouth before, come and look down at me. One reaches to my eyelid and pulls it up, flashing a little light into the eye. The other holds my forearm for a while. Checking my pulse? I try to speak but have no voice: perhaps, I think, I really did scream it raw, scream it bloody. Soon enough I fade again.
Dream-voices, dream-whispers: my mother smiling at me, teaching me how to beat an egg, how to knead bread dough, my father patiently explaining the mysteries of multiplication and division beside the fireplace. The light in the room in the little house a warm, special color like spun gold.
Yes, it's all right. I still have no voice but above me stand my mother and father smiling, one on each side of my bed, while the doctor stands between them at the foot. I know I'll be all right then, that whatever has happened it will be all right, and I smile to, or try to. Yet as I attempt to make my lips turn upward to show them my happiness at seeing them their own expressions begin to change, the smiles frozen on their faces but their eyes growing pensive and then bewildered, sound is coming from my mouth but I can't hear it, or rather I can but I can't understand it, strange words pouring out of me or not words at all, just sounds, strange clicks and whistles and moans. Their faces above me seem to elongate then, stretch, distort, become gigantic and glowering like faces in a nightmare and suddenly I'm terrified, screaming or trying to, the world going black, the feeling of hands on my arms and legs and a sound that for just an instant I am absolutely sure is my mother crying, No! No! but it fades, fades as if they're leaving me, hurrying away, running, vanishing forever.
Later, rising out of a dream of my father's jacket and the sound of his motorcycle and the feel of his warmth enveloped in my arms, I open my eyes. I am no longer restrained. People are in the room, white-suited, doctors and nurses. They are working on me. I can tilt my head and see them working on me. Surely I'm not supposed to be awake? They're working on me. They have opened my front, from my chest vertically all the way down to my belly button, pulled me open like a book, and are using strange instruments to examine and prod me. For a moment they don't realize I'm awake, don't see that I'm watching as they reach into my chest and bring out snarls of wire and blinking lights and look at them with little microscope-like devices, make adjustments. There is no blood at all. Seeing inside myself makes me want to vomit, to scream, and the movement of my head alerts one of the doctors and two nurses rush to me and there is the pinprick and then darkness again.
I am a young boy who lives in a big apartment in New York City, noisy with traffic and voices,
an exciting place, a place I love to explore after school with my friends, parks and shops and
museums as far as we can walk. Some days my mother comes with Flip, our Boston terrier, and
meets me on the corner across from the school and we go for gelato at a place nearby, sitting
outdoors so Flip can stay with us. Dad meets us there occasionally, detouring on his way home
from work, and all of us walk home together, Flip leading us with the leash in my hand, and take
the elevator up to the eleventh floor where my room with all my books and art things awaits.
I love art, want to be an artist someday, a comic book artist. I draw a great deal, strange
things I've never actually seen. Grown-ups tell me I'm very good for my age. Today I drew
a forest of big trees that my father said looked like redwood trees, which is strange
since I've never seen a redwood tree. But the drawing is good, he says. I'm five, I'm seven,
I'm ten, and nothing bad can ever happen to me here, in this beautiful apartment in this
beautiful city, with the best parents in the world.