Father came to wish me a happy birthday. I told him that Chien-Ling found news of an FDA-approved drug that reversed the effects of Alzheimer’s, so Mother would soon get well. He was glad to hear it. Then I woke up.
He lies in bed recovering from a cold.
He is holding a watch. He gave it away as a gift twenty-four years ago. Now he has it back. Its plastic crystal is melted away. Its face is scorched.
He shakes the watch. The self-winding rotor turns and ratchets. The watch starts ticking.
The phone rings. The voice is instantly recognizable. It resumes a conversation long since broken off.
— Who is this?
The voice carries on.
— Who is this?
Its rhythm remains unabated.
— Is that you?
The connection breaks up. The line is silent.
It still goes on.
His father is asleep in his bed. He lies on his side, plump, naked, curled up in a fetal position.
Michael walks into his parents’ bedroom. He has the Sunday paper. He is about to tell Isaak of the mobile home that he bought for their transcontinental cruise.
A leg sticks out from under the pillow. He tries to awaken his father, to find out what’s going on. Pinky is hiding beneath the headboard. She grins at Michael. Isaak’s head is nestled in her crotch. It doesn’t budge. They both exist somewhere else. Michael wills himself awake.
Michael’s mother Maria has Alzheimer’s. She was widowed on March 1st by an apartment fire of mysterious origin. The fire started right next to her couch. Instead of alerting Michael’s father Isaak, Maria repaired to the bedroom. She laid in bed by his side reading her book. Meanwhile, the fire was smoldering and gathering force. Her husband spent eighteen days on life support in a burn unit. Michael spent most of that time living and sleeping next to his deathbed.
Michael sleeps furtively, in snatches. After briefly falling asleep in the reclining chair, he dreams of his father. Isaak’s face is smooth. His skin glows. He wants to stay, but he must be going. Nothing Michael can say or do will change that.
Edvard Munch, By the Deathbed, 1895, oil on canvas, 90x120cm
Michael dreams of his mother. He is riding his motorcycle down Sunset Blvd at night to pick up Maria. She has once again wandered away to Beverly Hills. Instead of finding her on the agreed upon streetcorner, he comes across a paddy wagon. Maria’s voice comes from the back. The constables act like a couple. Michael asks them to release his mother into his custody. They refuse. Michael gets the male officer in a headlock. He draws his gun. The female opens the container at gunpoint. His mother is inside. She rests in a white cardboard box. She has shrunk to the size of a wizened doll. Her lips are moving. Michael hears nothing.
Edvard Munch, Night in Saint Cloud, 1890, oil on canvas, 64.5x54cm