Sunday, September 16, 2007

Jack's final contemplation

The first time Jack left his body, he had a revelation.

He could see himself sprawled across the bathroom floor. One of his arms was still clutching his chest, though there was no pain now. "So it wasn't indigestion after all," he mused. His other hand was grasped around the end of the toilet paper; the attack had been so sudden that half the roll seemed to have unreeled across his body as he fell, as if trying to hide him in a ribbon of blushing pink.

"May's going to have a fit when she sees this!"

He could hear his wife in the kitchen, knocking plates together in the sink in an effort to remove supper scraps from china-white surfaces. She never tidied the bathroom until after he'd completed his morning routine.

"I should be scared," thought Jack, "I'm dead!"

He looked around the bathroom from his vantage point near the ceiling – which was not as well dusted as May claimed it was. Fine cracks crazy-paved the powdery emulsion, with tapering columns of gossamer stalactites – old spider threads, he supposed – slowly swaying in the slight summer breeze from the window. Watching the motion was calming, mesmerising even. Jack remembered watching TV shows about divers drifting through kelp forests. He'd always wanted to go diving, but his fear of water had kept him anchored to land all his life.

Looking back down, Jack could survey the shipwreck that had been his body. He remembered being proud of his physique when he was breathing: 'a fine figure of a man', as May would tell him every so often. Now he could see it for what it was – a collection of mounds strung together by bones, held in place by too-tight skin. The fat had collected mainly around his waist and belly, but there was also a broad necklace of it supporting his chin. The skin itself was pale, greying, with a mosaic of hairs and fine, purple veins across its expanse.

"May was right. That hair looks stupid," he thought. Every morning he'd carefully arranged his thinning strands across the top of his head, fluffed it a little to 'make me look just a little younger'. He'd never noticed the baldness at the back of his head – he'd never seen it before. Now he could enjoy the ridiculousness of it all. He could appreciate the way hair tufted from his ears.

"Jack? What are you doing in there?"

"I'm fine, dear. I'm having a contemplation!" It was their little in-joke, the ten minute break from each other's company to attend to bodily functions.

"Jack! Talk to me. Are you okay?"

"Oh, May," he thought. "You're going to be so sad soon." But not even the idea of his wife's anguish could break this peacefulness.

Outside, a bird throated a a 'come-hither' call. Jack went to look at the world.

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