Jeremy stared at the scene through the grime coating his small hospital window. Beyond a gravel rooftop he spied a speck of blue sky breaking through grey clouds. He breathed in the antiseptic aromas of soap and laundry detergent. He tried to lift himself up, but found it awkward because of the plastic leads trailing down his arm. He thought about The Bionic Man and about what he once thought the future might be like and resigned himself to his present. He looked at the speck of blue and watched as a Jacob’s Ladder of sunlight descended.
The door opened.
A woman stepped inside his room. She was tall and lean and young. She was shapely and perfect. Tresses of golden hair framed a fine face with high cheekbones and large emerald eyes and full lips.
Jeremy worried a moment about his appearance. He wished he had a mirror, but then, considering his present position, he decided it was better he did not have a mirror. This way he could at least imagine he looked like something resembling okay. He ignored the pain in his back as he sat up to face his visitor.
“Oh, it’s you.” Jeremy thought for a moment and then blinked. “Wait. Who the hell are you?”
She smiled and sat down next to him on the hospital bed. She was so light, the flimsy mattress barely moved. The scents of jasmine and honeysuckle washed over him. He breathed her in.
“You remember me? You know me?"
He nodded his head. “I have no idea who you are.”
She smiled. “Confused, huh?”
He thought about the drip lines coursing down from above into his arms. “Maybe it’s the morphine.”
She nodded her head. “Probably. Maybe. What do you think?”
He tried to focus on her question but it filtered in and out of consciousness. “What are you doing here?” He finally managed to spit out. He could not answer her question. His head filled itself with more questions the more he looked at her. The more he looked at her, the more he longed for her. He thought of his wife, his loyal wife who visited him every day, and before he was hospitalized had taken care of his every need, no matter how embarrassing, no matter how undignified. He was ashamed of the amount of dirty bed pans he had made for her, but at the same time was resigned to this. What choice did he have? Age and prostate cancer had led to very little in the way of choice. Life was what it was, and mostly he had found it disappointing. But now, looking at his visitor, he felt an adolescent irresponsibility rising inside of him overtaking all feelings of guilt (and that wasn’t all that was rising – he hoped and prayed his visitor did not notice the rise in his bed sheets).
“I’m here because you wanted me.”
And he knew this was true.
“I’m here because I’m everything you’ve ever desired.”
And he knew this was true, too.
He regarded her and thought of his first kiss, of his first time with a girl, of the first time he had smoked marijuana with some buddies at a KISS concert. “You look so familiar. You look like something I remember from when I was younger, like someone perhaps, but for some reason the word something feels more right.”
She smiled at him and gave a nearly imperceptible nod.
He looked into her emerald eyes and saw things there, everything, all he ever wanted, all he ever desired: that CEO position that had passed him by twenty years ago, the fancy cars, the cabin nestled in the Smokies, the beach house, a model wife followed by another model wife and then another and on and on and on knowing that when one woman grows old and saggy he could always trade her in for another (if Larry King could pull it off, why couldn’t he?), the comfortable retirement (opposed to his current existence where he was bound to leave his wife with nothing, nothing at all, except a pile of medical bills to sort through once he passed without the benefit of his meager pension which no longer offered a survivor’s benefit due to the recession), the kids who grew up to become famous athletes and rock stars (instead of the truck driver and the idiot in jail for possession charges with intent to sell). These green-tinted dreams swirled through his mind and heart and body until he felt a longing more powerful than any he had ever known before. He wanted to embrace his beautiful visitor. He wanted to lose himself insider her. He wanted to rip her apart and take all that was good out of her so that he could devour it and take it all for himself. He wanted more. He always wanted more. Nothing had worked out the way he had once hoped, the way he had once dreamed.
She smiled at him and leaned down. Her bosoms heaved (simply because that’s just what bosoms like hers were supposed to do), and she breathed on him. “You want me? You can have me.” Her breath was soft and warm against his face.
But there was an undercurrent on her breath – the slightest hint of sulfur. The jasmine and honeysuckle fragrance that had once seemed sweet became cloying and suffocating. He coughed.
Jeremy thought of his wife, he saw her washing his bed pans without ever complaining, and saw her for what she was: beautiful. He saw himself for what he was: silly and vain and ungrateful, always ungrateful – no wonder his kids hated him. He looked back to his visitor. She grew pale. Her hair lightened to a brittle grey and then fell out leaving a scabbed and rotted scalp. Her eyeballs began to sink into her decaying flesh leaving black holes in their place. A maggot fell from a nostril and took a chunk of her nose with it.
“What’s wrong? I’m everything you ever wanted, aren’t I?” she asked with a teasing voice.
She embraced him. Her touch chilled him to the bone. He recoiled, fell back against his hospital bed, and watched the sky through the dingy window over the exposed bone jutting through the moldy flesh on her shoulders with unblinking eyes. Clouds came and went. A rain storm passed. Eventually the sun returned. The clouds marched across the blue sky of yet another day. He smiled and found himself able to ignore the cold touch of his visitor. He watched the sun set over the gravel strewn rooftop. The blinking lights of airplanes from the nearby airport swept through the darkening sky.
The door opened. His wife stepped inside the hospital room. He wanted to get up, to embrace her, to tell her how much he loved her, to tell her he was sorry for all he had done, for all those affairs she had ignored (he knew she knew) for the sake of creating an illusion of happiness for their children, and that she had mattered to him and that she had always mattered to him, that she was good enough, and that she was better than he deserved. Only it was too late.
He heard his wife’s cry and understood the only tears she shed were tears of relief.