"The Dead Await Your Word"
It is a secret of the world that all things subsist and so not die, but only retire a little from sight and afterwards return again… Nothing is dead; men feign themselves dead, and endure mock funerals and mournful obituaries, and there they stand looking out of the window, sound and well, in some new and strange disguise.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
I am the great hope. That’s the God’s honest truth and if you don’t believe it that’s your fuckin problem. God’s honest truth? Maybe I shouldn’t use those words. None of you believe in those old superstitions anymore. Science, logic, technology; those are the gods of the day, so you’ll all breathe a sigh of relief to find out that I am their chosen son. You’d have thought that, given my special place in the universe, it would have been easier for me to come back. I almost never made it. Most of the blame, and the credit, I suppose, goes to one of my own kind, that idiot Dr. Phoolstus.
A blizzard had started the night before. By the time Dr. Adrian Phoolstus arrived at work the maintenance staff had already cleared the snow. He was a tall man in his early fifties, stooped over slightly, with slicked back black and grey hair, and glasses. He was wearing a long overcoat, a black suit, black shirt, and a short white tie -the pomp of his office. As was fitting, his coat blew behind him like a cape as he walked up to the front doors of his office, untouched by the weather.
On Thursdays he saw his psychotherapy patients. He thought he was quite the doctor of the soul that one. Problem was he couldn’t fuckin listen. He was more interested in projecting whatever pet theory he currently held near and dear to his heart onto his patients than actually listening to their perverted problems. That, and he was greedy. Phoolstus loved money. He got his patients in and out of his office as quickly as he could so he could bill them and move onto the next one. The day I started my return to flesh was no different.
There she was, Margaret Gretchen, my great maternal hope, spilling her guts to him about her plans to off herself, and he was more interested in the clock just behind her pretty, brunette head. He moved it ahead fifteen minutes with his mind and then looked back at her. Ever since he had graduated from medical school he had been able to do that. He didn’t understand how or why. The inside of his office smelled like incense.
“Would you say the thoughts are serious?”
“When is suicide not serious?” Margaret asked, as if the Phoolstus had just said something incredible (My great maternal hope was very dramatic).
“Well, thoughts about suicide are common. Most people have had them at one time or another. Serious intention is something-“
“-I have a plan,” Margaret interrupted. The doctor did not like being interrupted. She seemed pleased to have his attention.
“What kind of a plan?”
The phone rang at the receptionist’s desk outside his office. The closed door muted it a little, but it was still distracting. Phoolstus’ nurse and receptionist didn’t start until noon on Thursdays. No blood to draw on psychotherapy day I suppose.
“Poison and a motel room and a sheet behind the door,” she said as if that explained everything.
“I don’t understand.”
“Last thing I would want is for Little Eddie (my great fraternal hope!) to be the one to find me. In fact, I wouldn’t want to put anyone through that. So I decided that the best thing to do would be to rent a motel room. I’d pull the sheet off the bed and hang it behind the door. Then I’d write my note and tape it to the sheet. It would say something like:
I’m so sorry to put you through this.
My dead body is behind this blanket,
so don’t lift it. I’ve committed
suicide. Call the police.
The blanket would spare them from having to see my corpse. They could call the police, who signed up to deal with things like that of course.”
“I see. And the poison?”
“I’ve got two plants in my garden.”
“What do you know about Hemlock?”
“Plenty. I looked it up online.”
“What’s your support system like right now Margaret?” he checked the clock again. The damn phone was ringing off the hook in the background.
“I don’t have a man if that’s what you mean.”
“Well, no, that’s not necessarily what I mean. I’m asking about the people around you, the human contact you have with the ones that care for you.”
“No. A man hasn’t touched me in eight months.”
“You’re not listening to me Margaret.”
“I’m sorry Doctor Phoolstus. The new medication is making it difficult for me to focus.”
“It’ll take some time. Your body has to adjust.”
“I don’t know. I’ve been reading some pretty scary stuff about that new thing you put me on.”
“What have you read?”
“That it can cause depression and suicidal thoughts in some people. A patient advocacy group has supposedly filed a lawsuit. They say it’s addictive, the same way heroin and other drugs are. I don’t know what to think.”
“Where did you read all of that?”
“I told you, I do all my reading on the internet.”
“Let me give you some advice Margaret. Reading about health and medical issues online is not a good idea. There’s no filter, and the people writing that stuff aren’t doctors. Delving into your own health is like jumping down the rabbit hole.”
“Oh, I know they’re nothing like you Doctor Phoolstus. They’re not licensed or anything. Most of them are just patients. They haven’t taken their oath.”
“Oath?” Phoolstus asked.
“Yeah, the oath all doctors have to take.”
“You mean the Hippocratic Oath.”
“That’s the one,” Margaret said. Phoolstus studied her face for a moment, trying to understand what she was getting at. She seemed to be getting worse.
“Anyways, trying to find out that kind of information for yourself isn’t a good idea. We’ll leave you on what you’re taking for another six weeks, then we’ll check back and see how you’re doing.” The doctor typed something onto his computer screen.
“What did you mean by what you said earlier?” Margaret asked, like she had been thinking about it all along.
“About the rabbit hole.”
“Oh, it’s from Alice in Wonderland. It’s just a figure of speech.”
“I’ve never heard that before,” Margaret said. The doctor nodded knowingly.
“How have the side-effects we talked about last week been?”
Phoolstus was a genuine physician of the new world. I’ll give him credit for that at least. He was always trying to get her on some new drug, or combination of drugs, to chase her self-destructive thoughts away. Margaret was a danger to herself, but I had my eye on her. Why her? Karmic energy is complicated. But besides all that, there was the thing with the birth control pills Phoolstus had given her. The pharmaceutical company that produced them, Fatum Drugs, had fucked up big time. Every package of their pills should have had three rows of active pills and one row of placebo, or sugar pills, so that women could take one every day of the month. Taking medication is a matter of habit you see. The problem was that some sleepy employee or pharmacist or whatever (door opener!) had sent out a whole batch with two rows of placebo pills. The lawyers were already slobbering all over that one -all of them thinking that if it was possible for a corporation to be liable for death they could be liable for birth too. Their vision of lady justice had her tipping the scales in favour of all the wronged, accidental mothers and forcing Fatum Drugs to pay for everything from baby formula to university tuition. More on that, my drunken Halloween costume wearing father, and the other conditions of my birth after we deal with the doctor. Agnes Kurowsky, Phoolstus’ nurse, came in fifteen minutes late, like she always did. Even though the phone had been ringing all morning the doctor hadn’t bothered to check his messages. It was ringing again as Agnes rushed through the door. She dropped her purse on the desk and picked up. I felt like my moment was coming.
“Doctor Phoolstus’ office.”
“Hello. I’m calling from the coroner’s office. Is the doctor not in?”
“Doctor Phoolstus is here all day today.”
“We’ve been trying to get a hold of him all morning.”
“Sorry, can I get your name?” Agnes asked.
“I apologize Mr. Sowber. He’s been with patients all morning and our receptionist isn’t in.”
“Hmm,” he dismissed her. “One of his patients has passed. A Colette Laforest. He needs to go out to Essex to take care of the formalities so that she can be moved to the funeral home.”
Ms. Laforest had been in regularly over the last couple of months. Agnes knew her well.
“When does this need to be done?”
“Well, immediately,” Sowber said matter-of-factly. “Her husband and son have been waiting all day for him.”
Agnes looked out at the waiting room full of patients. They shifted impatiently on the long wooden benches with high backs that Phoolstus used in place of chairs.
“The doctor has a full day of appointments.”
“Ms. Kurowsky, I’m not sure you’re following me. There’s a dead woman in a house out in the county. Her body is in the bathtub. Her husband and son are waiting for Doctor Phoolstus to make a declaration of death so her body can be taken to the funeral home. (And before I could move on too damn it!) Do you understand what I’m telling you?”
“I understand that,” Agnes said flatly. “And what should I tell our waiting room full of scheduled patients?”
“I don’t give a damn what you tell them. The rest of the universe isn’t on Dr. Phoolstus’ clock Ms. Kurowsky. He’s aware of his responsibilities in this situation, I assure you. Just tell him.”
Psychotherapy had ended at lunch and Phoolstus had started taking his regular patients. He was in one of the examining room with Mrs. Pilula the hypochondriac and her overweight son James. Worse than being a hypochondriac she projected all kinds of made up illnesses on her son and looked to the doctor for cures and reassurance. And Phoolstus, rather than taking her to task on it, just pulled his notepad out and wrote up whatever insane prescription she was asking for. Giving her son medicine made her feel like she was a good parent, like she was taking proper care of him. Having the doctor’s and, by extension, the medical community’s approval of her neurosis, put the seal of god on her prescription parenting. A hundred years ago people used to go to the priest or bible or church for guidance and reassurance; now they go to their doctor. Agnes felt like the coroner’s message was important enough to interrupt the appointment with chubby James. She knocked on the door and asked to see Phoolstus outside. Rather than wait out the last five minutes of the appointment he focused his dollar driven will, pushed the minute hand up five minutes, wrote a prescription for ADHD medication, and dismissed the hypochondriac and her victimized son. He raised his eyebrows at Agnes when he came out of the examining room.
“What’s up?” They were on familiar terms.
“It’s Mrs. Laforest. She’s dead.”
The doctor got over his shock quickly.
“In her bathtub. Her family has been trying to get a hold of you all morning. That was the coroner on the phone.”
“Poor old girl,” Phoolstus said, as if he was talking to himself. “What did the coroner want?”
“He said you have to go out to the county to declare her death before they can move her body to the funeral home.” (Always with the body, the body, and no recognition of the soul and its needs. Sometimes I think we were better off with the priests.)
“I have a full day of clinic. And there’s a blizzard outside.”
“I told him about that, about your appointments I mean.”
“I can’t make it out there this afternoon.”
“He said he didn’t care and that the declaration took precedence. Said you’d know what that meant.”
“Fuck. Alright, I’ll take care of it.”
He took care of it all right. There I was, waiting on his sacred words of release, his holy declaration, and the son of a bitch didn’t come out of his examining room all afternoon.
All the while that Margaret had been confessing her suicidal urges to the doctor she had been trying to hide an important piece of the contents of her heart. She had a thing for Phoolstus. When he spoke to her about the importance of human support and comfort it was all she could do to keep from jumping right across the desk into his lap. I was scared for a second. The doctor hadn’t used his authority to release me from my old karmic vehicle yet and if she fucked that idiot I’d be stuck searching for a different great maternal hope. Instead she did what any sensible woman in our age of reason does when she’s looking for companionship. She went home, turned on her computer, and started looking through the personals on Craigslist. She knew what she was looking for as soon as she saw the post.
Searching for my nurse…
Margaret clicked on it, read through the gentleman’s preferences, and decided she fit the bill. She used her anonymous email address and sent him a message:
I AM your nurse. Would you be willing to be my doctor? She thought back to what Phoolstus had been wearing that day. I would need you to wear a black suit, a black shirt, and a short white tie. Your hair needs to be slicked back and you need to have glasses on. The short white tie is very important. –Nurse
The reply came almost as soon as she hit send: I AM your doctor. The Manor Hotel, room 462 at 7pm. There you have it. Things were moving along fine on Margaret’s end.
Come five o’clock that afternoon Phoolstus had forgotten all about my former karmic vehicle, wrinkling up and naked as it was in the water. He was finishing up with his last patient of the day when Agnes Kurowski knocked on his door again.
“Colette Laforest’s husband is at the front desk.”
“Adrian! Colette Laforest, the woman who the coroner called about.”
“Oh, fuck me.”
“You have to come out there and deal with him.”
“Tell him I’m gone already, that I’m on my way out there.”
“That’s not going to work.”
“Why?” Phoolstus whispered desperately.
“He’s got her body with him.”
It took the doctor a minute to take that one in.
“What the hell do you mean?”
“I mean he’s got her body outside, in the back of his minivan.”
Phoolstus pulled the blinds back from a window and saw a light blue minivan outside the front doors of the clinic. It was still running. The exhaust blew an unhealthy trail of black smoke out into the blizzard.
Thank the lord for my good old husband Remy. Of course gender means nothing to me now, I’m temporarily beyond it, but as a woman of the world I had chosen a real go-getter in Remy. He’s a very practical man, and not one to shirk his responsibilities or refuse to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. He’d decided he’d waited long enough and taken matters into his own hands. Downstairs at our house he had a blanket he’d used when he wanted to masturbate to his pornography magazines. Whenever he was down there being wonderful to himself he would put it over top of him in case I came down and caught him. He thought he was pretty slick and that I didn’t know, though of course I did. Anyways, he went down and got that old ratty blanket and laid it on the bathroom floor. Then he and my son fished my poor old body out of the bathtub, wrapped it up in the blanket, put it in the back of our minivan, and headed right over to the doctor’s office in the middle of that damned snowstorm.
Remy was leaning on the front counter when they came out to greet him. He had snow all over his jacket and his face was red from the cold. Phoolstus was in for it now.
“Mr. Laforest,” the doctor said, offering his hand to Remy and putting on his best face, “please, come in.” They walked back to the office together. Agnes watched them until they shut the door. Then she packed up her shit, grabbed her keys, and got the hell out of there. I didn’t blame her.
“Please, let me offer my condolences,” Phoolstus said gently, once they were inside. “Your wife was a wonderful woman, and I considered her my friend.”
“Of course you ded,” Remy said. He had a thick French Canadian accent. The doctor gathered himself.
“I’m so sorry I haven’t been able to make it out to your house yet. It’s been some kind of day around here.”
“Is no problémé Docteur, we understand of course that you are a very busy man.”
Even Phoolstus was taken aback by that one. “We would only be honoured if you could take a moment now to see my wife.”
“I’m sorry? Now?”
“My son and I have taken her here and then we will take her to the funeral home. After you have given her your blessing to move on to there of course.”
Remy, you fucker. That idiot Phoolstus makes us wait all day and then you come to him on bended knee? My pussy husband and the doctor came out in the blizzard and opened the back of the van. There was my old karmic vehicle, contorted in such a way that allowed it to fit in the back of the van, wrapped up in Remy’s masturbation blanket, and still soaking wet. The snow and wind were blowing really hard. It caught the ends of my long grey hair, so that it blew out of the end of the rolled up blanket.
“Tabranak!” Remy yelled, and then gathered it up for me and stuffed it back.
“That’s okay Mr. Laforest, leave it,” Phoolstus tried to comfort him. Remy stepped out of the way. The doctor pulled the blanket back from my face. Remy had done me the favour of closing my eyes when I was in the bathtub, but Phoolstus opened them back up, took his tiny pen light out, and shone it into my eyeballs. When my eyes didn’t respond to the light he put his stethoscope to my silent old heart and listened for a full minute. Now the imbecile was covering all of his bases. He looked at his watch.
“Time of death is 5:02pm,” he said to Remy, and the blizzard, and the great beyond –the ineffable mystery I had been dreaming, transforming, and concealed within. Phoolstus’ declaration echoed across the ether that cradled me. Lightning crashed, the dam broke, the birds left the tree, and I was free. Remy let out an exhausted sigh of relief.
“Oh me! Thank you, thank you docteur. For the rest of my life I will count this moment, and not last night, as the true moment of the l’amour de ma ver’s passing.
I was released. There was still a lot to do, and my window of opportunity with Margaret would be closing soon. I had to track her down and accommodate myself to energy and matter and time in a suitable way. But first I had to deal with Phoolstus. I couldn’t allow things to go on like this.
Remy shut the back door of the van. He thanked the doctor profusely for taking time out of his busy schedule and for blessing his poor old wife and family with his words. Then he got into the driver’s seat and drove away with the ass end of our shitty van fishtailing all over the place. Phoolstus stood alone in the snow, watching him leave.
Now St. Paul had his revelation on the road to Damscus, Muhammad had his in the cave on Mount Hira, and now it was Phoolstus’ turn, right here in the parking lot outside of his clinic. I was free, and I had some temporary powers of my own -powers I wasn’t going to let go to waste. He dropped to his knees in the drift. I won’t bother to explain the way I appeared to him or the language or voice I used. When you’re dealing with the transcendent things like that are better left unsaid. People only fuck it up when they try to use words to describe it. Suffice it to say that I struck him with a revelation of the power he had over the dead without knowing it, an awful vision of the authority his patients had given him through the force of collective thought. Before his stricken inner eye I paraded the dancing masses, all of them swaying like sheep to the regimental music of the new age –science, reason, and pharmaceuticals. I forced on him an understanding of his place as the ubermensch in the newly conceived and controlled universe. It was like a punch right in the fuckin face. He walked into his office blinded and dumbfounded by the terrible power of his own hand and eye and tongue.
Phoolstus sat at his desk alone for two hours, trying to own it. Now he was getting his. Before he left he billed OHIP for the service he had provided Remy and me.
Meanwhile, my great maternal hope was pulling into the parking lot of the Manor Motel in her nurse’s costume. It was a real shit hole. Her doctor, one Samuel M. Hippocritter, was sitting in a black pick-up truck on the other side of the lot. He had already checked in and left the door to room 462 open. Samuel was scared. He had his own wife and children at home, and he had never done this before. After he had worked up his courage he checked his hair in the rearview mirror, took another swig of the bottle of Wild Turkey Whiskey he kept in his glove box, put his glasses on, and went up the stairs to the fourth floor.
When he came into the room she was in the bathroom, with the door open, checking her make-up and the positioning of her nurse’s hat. He made eye contact with her reflection in the mirror before he saw her.
“Oh, sorry,” he said awkwardly. “I’ll give you a minute and then come back.” She looked away from him, and back at herself in the mirror, before she spoke.
“Don’t be silly, come on in.”
Sam’s costume was laid out on the bed where he had left it. He sat down beside it, being careful not to wrinkle his shirt and pants. The room smelled like new carpet. Margaret came out of the bathroom, shook his hand, and introduced herself. My great maternal hope prided herself on her social graces.
“You found the room okay?” he asked.
“Of course.” She looked over at his outfit on the bed. His tie was yellow. “I thought we agreed on a white tie. I told you it was important.”
“Oh, right. I don’t have a white tie, much less a short one.” He was nervous and acting like a chicken shit. Margaret didn’t like it. She wanted a physician, a man who was the master of his universe, not some timid wannabe.
“It’s alright, I brought one with me,” she said.
“I have a short white tie in my purse.” Margaret walked over to the desk and got it out.
“You carry that with you?”
“Well, my experience depends on it.”
“It’s almost short enough to be a priest’s collar.”
“Hmm, I suppose.”
“I’ll go and get changed,” he said. Sam went into the washroom, put on his black shirt and pants, the tie Margaret had provided him with, and a long white lab coat.
When he emerged Samuel M. Hippocritter was a changed man. He walked taller, prouder, more powerfully. A new authority deepened his voice. Margaret looked him over. The prospect of submission and the electricity that came with it ran through her limbs.
“Where would you like to begin?” he asked firmly.
“I was hoping we could move the furniture.”
“How would you like it changed?”
“If it’s okay with you doctor, I’d like to move the desk out from the wall and place it horizontal to it. That way you could sit behind it in your chair, with your back to the wall, facing the rest of the room.”
“You’ll sit in front of it.”
They moved the furniture. He took his place behind the desk. She moved the other chair in front of it and took her seat.
“Can you start off by asking me about my prescriptions?” she asked.
“You’re supposed to be my nurse, not my patient.”
“We’re all your patients doctor,” she said demurely. Sam thought about that for a long, silent moment.
“Indeed,” he said finally.
“After you ask me about my pills I was hoping you could ask me about my support system, about the people around me, human contact.”
“You could get out of your chair and come around behind me and put your hands on my shoulders.”
An important part of my job is watching over fornication and fetal development and making sure they’re appropriate to my needs. In the case of Margaret Gretchen and my wannabe doctorfather it was some kind of show. But she is my mother after all, so don’t go thinking I’m going to give you every kinky detail. You’ll have to get your kicks on the internet or in public washrooms or by flashing people in parks. To each his own. The bottom line is that the doctor and his patientnurse took care of what needed to be done. Everything had worked out. I’d lived a full life as a French Canadian woman, fulfilled most of my karmic obligations, and created new ones for the life I was about to start with Margaret and her son Little Eddie. My old husband Remy had me in the funeral home and now he had his masturbation blanket back and could go looking for peace. My great maternal hope had become my great matriarch, and I’d selected parents appropriate to my destiny. The future wouldn’t be all sunshine though. Margaret wouldn’t have much money, but she’d hire a great lawyer, and her birth control pill company, Fatum Drugs, would become my benefactor. Circumstances being what they were for my conception, I’d be fatherless, but that was according to my choice too. I told you from the beginning I was a child of my Age. Margaret left the motel at about midnight. I wasn’t surprised she didn’t spend the night, she never did. She came downstairs with her hair and nurse’s uniform all disheveled. She hadn’t taken her medication yet that day because they tended to reduce her sexual sensitivity. Most of those meds are the work of pioneering geniuses, but the sexual side effects are their big drawback. She was feeling a bit out of sorts so she decided to stop at the coke machine on the first floor, buy a drink, and take them. Margaret dug around in the bottom of her purse for some change, found as much as she needed, and put it in the machine. Her meds were in one of those day by day organizers. She got them out of her purse, popped open the lid for Thursday, and spilled her pills all over the sidewalk. Getting down on her hands and knees, she started crawling around and looking for them. The lights above the first floor doors lit up the ground in front of them but left the spaces between the doors darkened. Margaret saw a little pink pill trapped in one of the doormats. She crawled over to pick it up. The door to the room in front of her, number eleven, had been left open a crack. Margaret picked up her pill and, as she did, the corner of a white sheet blew out the door. She got up slowly, feeling like she already knew, and opened the door the rest of the way. The white sheet was hanging up behind it, covering the doorway. There was a note taped to it. It said: I’m so sorry to put you through this. My dead body is behind this sheet, so don’t lift it. I’ve committed suicide. Call the police. At the bottom of the note was the signature of Dr. Adrian Phoolstus.
I won’t take responsibility. The pressure of his position got to Phoolstus. He couldn’t cope with the divine in him. I didn’t put it there, I just revealed it to his ignorant ass. If there’s anyone to blame for the pressure on him it’s you. After all, you’re the source of religious authority. No reason to doubt though, I’ll be there soon enough, your faith will be rewarded-the great hope has almost manifested itself. It will come as no surprise that I’m well on my way, through Margaret’s medicated womb, to becoming the greatest doctor the world has ever seen.
Don’t go thinking the power you’ve given Phoolstus and the rest of my kind is a mistake. Evolution is all about control of our environment. The species that has the greatest control of its environment has the greatest chance of survival. That’s Stephen Hawking’s justification for exploring space, and it’s my justification for becoming the greatest magus of the body and brain our world has ever seen. The body and brain are, after all, just environmental extensions of our invisible mind and will. What I mean is that our body and brain aren’t us, they are our environment. And the more control we have over them the closer we are to the evolved supermen we’re meant to become. I’ll be the first to wrestle real control away from illness and nature, the first in a long line of architects of the brave new world’s human bodies and minds. How? With drugs of course. Stop your internal dialogue. Don’t be so cynical. All of you are very fond of putting down pharmacology and going on about nature and homeopathy and all the rest of it. That’s all bullshit. As usually happens with people, you’re blinded by the time you’re living in. We’re still in the dark ages of pharmaceuticals my friends, and your age is just a fuckin blip on the screen when it comes to human growth and achievement. There was bound to be a few bumps in the road. So don’t be such a fuckin pussy. Go get your prescription filled, crack the seal on the bottle, put a pill in your mouth, and have a taste of the future. That’s how miracles happen.