A few times during Freddy’s interview of his parents, his father coughed viciously.
“Geez, Dad,” Freddy said to him, “you’re going to hack up a lung.”
Little did he know.
Alain’s cough continued over the holidays, into January, through the month, and finally, in February, when the cancer he didn’t know he had was becoming more and more painful, Alain went to the doctor to find out he would soon be dead, within a year according to contemporary medicine. Little did they know.
Test after test after “goddamn uncomfortable” test confirmed Alain’s condition. Over the next six months, it spread like wildfire, from his lungs, to his liver, to his stomach, to his bones, to his brain. Melting, literally melting him from the inside. Shutting him down, like a rackety old boat being put to sea permanently. He didn’t tell his children exactly how serious it was, nor his wife for she wouldn’t understand. He never said how soon he would be gone until it was practically upon him.
Gordon found out early though, overhearing a doctor’s conversation with a nurse. He asked Freddy over the phone, “Did you know that the cancer spread to his brain?”
“Well, Dad knows.”
“Why wouldn’t he tell us?”
“I guess cause he knows he’s about to go and he doesn’t want us burdened with it.”
“Burdened with it? Burdened with it? Burdened with it?! Burdened with it!!! How can we not be burdened with it?!”
“I don’t know,” was Gordon’s only answer. “But don’t ask him about it because we aren’t supposed to know and I don’t want him burdened with it.”
“Burdened with it? How can he not be burdened with it?!”
“I mean I don’t want him burdened with the knowledge that we’re burdened with the knowledge.” Like father, like son.
“Fine… Too much burden already.”
“Yeah I know.” But little did he know.
Six months in, Alain had lost 85 pounds, down from his extra-large 230 to 145. He’d eaten his own fat, not to mention other tissue.
Freddy was back in the flat, preparing some words for a poetry slam in Chicago, his first slam in Chicago. It was 10:38PM when the phone rang.
“Freddy, you’d better get back home,” Gordon said. “The hospital called a minute ago. He’s taken a turn for the worse.”
“I’m on my way.”
“I’ll call you from the –”
But Freddy had already hung up and his mind was scrambling for options. He didn’t have money for airfare. He called an airline anyways and explained his situation. They could give him a break on the cost – the terminal-illness-in-the-family discount.
He called his ride to Chicago to say he would find alternate means to get to the slam; his mind was elsewhere, his heart was beating overtime; racing. Beat the clock, beat the clock. He still needed the money – A to B, A to B, A to B. Who? First call, no one home, no answer. Second call, busy signal. Third call, answering machine. No one’s home on a Thursday night. Second call again, still busy. Time for someone to get call waiting.
He called his friend, the actress. The actress whom he’d calmed when the producers had asked her to get fake tits. He’d made her laugh with the question, “Well did they want silicone or saline? Cause y’know there’s a big difference.” She was home, shocked by Freddy’s confusion, frustration, fear. She didn’t have the money to lend him but she could get it – someone owed her.
For some reason, when he talked to her, Freddy couldn’t remember the her name, the actress. His dear friend’s name had been overrun by some brazen doom; thought, sudden, mixed, tenuous, rushed. “Thank you, thank you, call me back.”
He hung up.
He took a deep breath. He was sweating; his hands were shaking. He went to the bathroom and splashed some water in his face. “C’mon Dad, hold on.” The phone rang; he rushed to it.
It was Tammy, his friend, the actress, her name remembered in the brief respite. She was screaming, “I got you points! I got you points!”
“What? What’re you — whaddaya mean?”
“Frequent flier points! I got you enough for a ticket.”
“Oh God, thank you.” And Freddy felt the weight of a feather removed from his shoulders.
“Call the airline and book your ticket; where’s that… here it is. Here’s the information. Got a pen?”
“Yeah,” he said, picking up the cheap Bic with which he’d been planning words for Chicago, “go!”
Tammy gave him the numbers and concluded with, “Lemme know if you need anything else, okay?”
“Okay. I love you.”
It was the most he could say and, for the first time in his life, it didn’t mean “I want to screw your brains out” (though he always had wanted to screw Tammy’s brains out). This time, it meant, “Thank you, eternally.”
“You’re welcome, Freddy,” she said.
He hung up and called the airline back – he was booked, 5:45AM out of Kennedy. He looked at the clock; he had three hours. He put on the most soothing music he could find – slow ethereal trip hop and dub instrumentals. He rolled a small joint and smoked it, listening to the tunes.
“Relax. Calm down. He’s gonna make it,” he told himself.
Stoned, he began packing his clothes, grabbed his toothbrush and anti-perspirant, packed some papers, stopped, stood still for five or ten minutes, stood, thought, crawled away from the pit, stoned, continued, packed a book, two books, his favorite book, meaningful words, stopped, stood, thought, stoned, packed to the music. The Exodus Quartet came on, the last song on side two. An Eastern rhythm, a crying violin, crying, crying, crying to the mysterious beat. Disturbed by a noise. By the ring of the phone.
GOD HOLDS NO BREATH. Waits for no one.
“Hello?” It was time, no time.
Brother, dear brother, why would you call? There is no now, only now. The emptiness was all around the voice. And the voice struggled with all the might in the heart that moved it to break through the silence which was already speaking on its behalf.
And it broke, the Earth broke through the Heavens, the Heavens broke through the space beyond. There was no past, no future and, without either, no present to record or comprehend. Shudder, snorts and tears shot quietly from inside the receiver that had suddenly become glued to the side of Freddy’s head.
“Okay,” Freddy said. And a gush of oil suddenly began to rise from his core up the flute to the surface of his life. “Okay, okay,” then suddenly… OVERLOAD. Insanity. “Holy emotion, Batman,” he sputtered as the oil spewed from his heart and covered everything around him.
Gordon couldn’t fathom the death either and all he said was, “You better get here quick.”
“I will. I’m already there.”
They both hung up and collapsed to the floor where they’d been standing – Freddy in his room with the crying violin, Gordon at the nurse’s station with the beeping mechanics of medicine. Two piles of weeping blood with only miles between them.
Whenever Freddy had flown on an airplane before, he always feared coming down the hard way. Now, he feared coming down at all.