One More Time With Feeling
“Having trouble keeping up, old man?”
Her voice her fucking voice crisp and clear and undimmed by traffic and still alive.
You drop the frayed yellow paperback you were half-heartedly ruffling and run forward, run without second thought through a disinterested gaggle of tourists arguing over lunch in German.
Not push through or break through. Run through, quite literally, like they were a ghostly image projected upon the piles of old books stacked on the Daryaganj sidewalk.
You turn back to see Jimmy still dawdling over the paperback you had dropped, a single noncommittal grunt before he goes back to reading the back flap.
You know the book he is looking at.
The hideous irony will reveal itself presently.
Manavi standing at the mouth of the next alleyway, shielding her brow with a single slender hand, eyes crinkled against the sun beating down on her lime green shirt (formerly your lime green shirt), painted toes curling and uncurling over the lip of her sandals, other hand impatiently tap-tap-tapping a cloth bag with the day’s spoils pressed against her shin.
You stand as close to her as you possibly can, try to take in as many details as you possibly can, try to breathe in her perfume before getting a noseful of chlorine disinfectant.
A small voice in your head tries to remind you where you actually are and is shouted right the fuck down with the loudest yell your lungs can manage.
Nobody at the Sunday market gives a shit.
Manavi balances on one foot and scratches her ankle with a big toe, the gesture so familiar and unexpected you burst into tears.
A pigeon lands on the ground beneath your feet and idly pecks at something under your ankle.
“I’m sorry, I thought we were browsing, not sprinting,” Jimmy says, dirty looks from the Germans as he breaks through.
“Gesundheit,” he says to the nearest old lady, and Manavi stifles a giggle.
“Two Dilbert Principles.”
“You know full well that’s Scott Adams, not Douglas.”
They are gathering copies of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for their friends.
Jimmy has two of each and stole one from the other, but Manavi knows and loves dozens of people, and they pull Jimmy into their lives with the same graceful ease that pulled them into hers.
Jimmy assumes this to be an enrichment exercise for Manavi’s friends. You know now that it might have been the other way around, the girl in the faded jeans wiser than she had you believe.
“What you got there?”
“Oh, this thing? Well it’s-”
Drop it now you stupid shit drop it
“-Illness As Metaphor by Susan Sontag. Nice little book discrediting people’s tendency to associate debilitating diseases with suppressed personality flaws-”
He drones on and on and on.
You listen in, appalled by this longwinded declamation of twenty-four carat bullshit about a book he hasn’t read by an author he doesn’t completely understand.
Manavi listens in, too – listens with the same rapt slightly wide-eyed expression she adopts when trying to delay sarcasm.
You will her to change the outcome of this conversation, to say something sharp about Wikipedia and low attention spans, to kiss him or kick him or heft the bookbag at his head, to give you anything sweet and sudden and unanticipated to take back to the clusterfuck that is your life without her.
Instead she touches his elbow, gently, and says, “It sounds like a good point she is making, probably be a better point once we actually read the damn thing-”
Ha-ha! Take that, wankstain!
“-but everybody copes with grief differently, you know? And with something as soul-sapping as cancer people probably prefer to believe they have agency. How is it different from prayer? Or the greens you stupid baseheads keep whining to legalize?”
“Greens make for better lovin’ than prayer, for one,” Jimmy laughs, slipping an arm around her and dropping the tiny yellow paperback in the overstuffed bag she is lugging.
“Or they make you think your lovin’ is better,” she snorts. “Tumhe dawaon ki nahin, duaon ki zarurat hai, meri jaan.”
You need blessings, not medicine, my love.
She walks down to the slightly upscale wooden stall at the corner, the fresher paperbacks making for a higher asking price.
Jimmy stands where he is, absently rubbing the spot where she touched him, unable to pull sparks the way she just did.
“I love you,” he mutters, almost to himself.
She didn’t hear you fuckhead say it louder
But he doesn’t hear you, doesn’t need to. That Sunday morning marks ten months of them living together. They have worn the novelty off the phrase.
Casual understatement looks cooler and makes for better callbacks.
Say it again please I beg you just one more time with feeling
He bends to sift through the haphazard stack beside the last alleyway, finds a copy of Douglas Adams’ final (unfinished) novel, straightens.
“Hey Manavi!” He bellows. “You wanna know what happened to Desmond?”
“No!” she replaces the hefty Lawrence omnibus she was inspecting, mock glowers from the corner. “No Salmons of Doubt or I’m heading back to my parents’!”
They laugh at the bleak joke isolating them from the sea of browsers, laugh even as you start sobbing and look away, laugh until her eyes roll up into her head and she topples into the oversized column of hardbacks beside her.
Blinking – twice for good measure, thrice for luck – but no change.
Back in chains for the time being.
Face wet, beard damp, but no Doctor standing over you with cattle prod or brass knuckles. No one else in sight but tie-dye-headphones-Jeremy turned away from you, tapping disinterestedly on a touchscreen the size of his torso.
“The m-monitor changes its rhythm when you.. emerge,” he doesn’t look up. “The fact that you stopped bawling is also a good sign.”
You close your eyes and keep ’em shut. You concentrate on breathing deep, on the wet jolts of pain coursing from the freshly cut meat of your finger.
No point falling back into nightmares just because you were playing dead too long.
“You in some kind of limbo between states, dude?” hot breath on your cheek. Onions, cinnamon, vodka standing too close to whisper: “See a bathroom in your dream? Go to it, Jimmy. Ain’t no trap. Go p-pee you sonuvabitch.”
Finger twitching involuntarily.
“Well, that’s a sign.”
Good sign or bad? Breath caught in your throat.
Footsteps shuffling away across the tiles.
Think of the next part in terms of an instruction manual. Not happening to you. Not there in your cage. Not anywhere.
First: open your eyes. See the harmless little fuck absently resume pecking at his oversized toy.
Second: concentrate every thought every feeling all the panic rising like bile in your throat. Concentrate every single pickled brain cell still at your disposal on the length of bone between your left shoulder and elbow. Concentrate on moving this limb gradually across the width of the limited arc available to it.
Concentrate on the bone, because thinking about the ball-and-socket joint above the bone will leave you nowhere.
When you are ready: jerk your arm down, down, down beyond its natural limit.
Do not scream. Do not yell. Do not grunt. Think of the bone itself, white and intact below the shoulder you just dislocated. Think of the chains going slack down your left side.
Your poor maltreated arm will do most of the rest itself. Let it fumble for the chains still on your right shoulder and arm.
Your silence is only necessary until the first loop falls free.
That is all the margin you will need.
Hoist up your right arm as the chains fall away entirely. Enjoy the sight of Jeremy’s tie-dyed shoulders suddenly scrunching up as he hears the clank of chains on tile.
Stop stalling like a PowerPoint Detective in some flashy TV show and rush the pipsqueak, flailing your dislocated arm as a distraction. Then, as he raises both hands to shield his face, grab his tablet with your good arm and smash him over the head.
Watch him sprawl awkwardly over his battered old folding chair.
Wait for some sign of consciousness like he originally should have.
Then – after relieving him of his phone, walkie-talkie, wallet, Netflix membership card, garish hospital gown (his trousers too tight for your organs of generation) – bind him to the chair with a single loop of the purple bike-chain that held you.
Tell yourself you wouldn’t, under any circumstances, listen to the small voice inside your head snarling for you to strangle him with the purple-bike-chains.
No, hide that small voice someplace deep, someplace special, for your new best friend the Doctor.