Posted on: October 2, 2014
Marshall’s right eye opens to see if the voice came from his bedside or his dreams.
His ear leads his eye to the privacy curtain on his right.
“Hello?” Marshall answers.
“There ya are!”
“Are you sure?”
“Am I sure, what?”
“That I’m the person you’re looking for?”
“Are you the man attached to that beeping box on the other side of the curtain?”
“Then you’re exactly who I’m looking for!”
Marshall’s eyebrows dive towards his nose, both eyes wide open.
“May I ask why?”
“Course ya can! As a matter of fact, I’ll see your question and raise you one of my own.”
“Where are you goin’?”
“WHERE are you goin’?”
Marshall would pinch himself, if he could move anything beneath his collarbone.
“I am afraid you are mistaken, sir. I am bound to this bed until the moment that beep becomes a prolonged shriek.”
“Then I REALLY hope you know where you’re goin’.”
Marshall’s eyes roll towards the top of their sockets, his brows unfurling like caterpillars climbing his forehead.
“Is this an afterlife conversation?”
“Then leave me out of it.”
Marshall doesn’t bother to close his eyes, perfectly aware his request will go ungranted.
“Well who else am I gonna talk to about this?” the stranger asks.
“The night nurse.”
“Come on, now. You know she ain’t ready for this talk. She’s not a day over twenty-five, and fitter than a fiddler on a treadmill.”
“She’s still probably more interested in this conversation than I am?”
“How you figure?”
“That cross that’s always bouncing off her breasts.”
The stranger laughs through his nostrils like he’s stifling a cough.
“You think I’m tryin’ to evangelize you or somethin’, don’t you?”
“Would I be wrong?”
“About as wrong as it is to judge people.”
Marshall squints his eyes and purses his lips, preparing to return fire on this unwelcomed inquisition.
“So, is that a no, because what you just said sounded like scripture?”
“Yes, Mr. Beeps. Your salvation is restin’ squarely on your own two shoulders.”
“Then why did you ask me that question?”
“Curiosity, I guess. Haven’t you ever been in a airport bar, sippin’ a overpriced beer, wonderin’ where the person sittin’ next to you is headin’?
“Then what do you do to pass time at an airport?”
“Like Ender’s Game?”
“Text books. Research papers. NON-fiction.”
Marshall contemplates giving sleep another try.
“Well hell, now I find you even more interestin’,” the stranger confesses.
Marshall exhales until his lungs are as thin as his necrotic limbs.
“Are you being serious right now?”
“As serious as whatever ailment’s got you laid up on the other side of this curtain.”
“Just my luck.”
“Guess so. Anyway, I’ll ask you again; where are you going?”
Marshall grunts, the jets of air from his nostrils tickling his chin before crashing into the lifeless terrain of his upper chest.
“NOWHERE,” he spat. “I am going nowhere; just like you, just like your ancestors, just like the dinosaurs, and just like every living organism that came before them.”
“Well now that’s just not true, Mr. Beeps.”
“Cite your source.”
“Where are you getting your information?”
“My own two eyes.”
“Are you being facetious?”
“I don’t think so?”
“Then what do you mean, your own two eyes?”
“Well, I don’t see no t-rexes walkin around.”
“All right, I apologize. I will be going somewhere. I will be going six feet below the surface of the Earth, three feet to the right of my grandfather, and several hundred feet above a bunch of dinosaurs that died thousands of years before me, just–like–you.”
Marshall counts each second of the stranger’s silence like a boxing referee determining a knockout.
“Nah,” the stranger responds.
“Nah. That’s not where I’m going.”
“I hate to burst your ignorant bubble, sir, but yes it is.”
“You can’t just say, nah."
“Sure I can! Just like you can say all that scientific stuff you just said.”
“It’s not the same.”
“Because you’re being a stubborn child. You’re just saying nah because you don’t like the answer. There’s no evidence to support it.”
“You’re right about the not liking your answer stuff, but I can tell you’re smart enough to recognize a grown man’s voice when you hear it.”
“And I can tell you are dumb enough to turn your back on the facts.”
“Now why you gotta get all mean about it? We’re just talkin’.”
“EXACTLY, and I’d rather be sleeping.”
“That’s what that hole next to your grandpappy is for. Humor me for a little longer.”
“Why don’t you humor me for once?”
“How do you suppose I do that?
“Tell me where YOU are going.”
Marshall mentally crosses his arms in total self-assurance.
“Well, to be honest, I don’t know what’ll happen to me once I die anymore than those wigglin’, screamin, and pissin’ little things in the nursery know what’s comin’ to them once they pop out of their mamas’ vaginas, but I like to hear other people’s opinions about it.”
“Well, you’ve heard mine.”
“I sure have.”
“And how do you like it?”
“Then I’m sorry for wasting your bar stool.”
Marshall wishes he could throw his hands up in frustration.
“The airport bar metaphor.”
“Oh, right. No way, José Cuervo. You’ve been excellent company.”
“I doubt it.”
“Seems like you do that a lot.”
“Such is science.”
“I suppose so. Anyway, it looks like your plane is fixin to take off.”
Marshall notices the increasing speed of the beeps coming from his heart monitor.
“Fly safe,” says the stranger.
Marshall ignores his well wishes and focuses fully on the rhythm of his heart.
“And remember, every flight lands somewhere,”
The beeps meld into a constant squeal. Marshall squeezes his eyes shut like he’s plunging into a swimming pool. His breathing stops, the sound fades, and he wonders where he’s going.
Written by: Mark Killian
Photograph by: Jaemin Riley
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
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