One Blink for Yes

By on Apr 13, 2010 in Fiction

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Eye blinking with doctors

My wife and I had a cat, Louis.  The big orange tom had a distinctive personality: self serving and demanding, yet always adorable. He was always in one of our laps or curled up against our legs; he let us stroke and fondle him any way we pleased, and purred away our stress.  The three of us were a happy little unit.  Sue couldn’t have children, but neither of us cared.  We had Louis.
One fall day, with everything covered in orange and gold leaves, Louis got stuck on the roof.  He’d hopped out a window I left open for ventilation in the attic and jumped down about five feet onto the addition we built onto the house. Discombobulated, he meowed piteously. No amount of coaxing could convince him to jump onto the pile of leaves we amassed for his descent.  We should have called the fire department, but instead I climbed up to rescue him.

Once I got up there, Louis started playing one of his kitty games. He slunk away, and when I went after him, I slipped on some slimy leaves.  The last thing I remember was flying into space. When I woke up, I was here.

“Your head twisted back when you fell,” Sue told me.  “You bounced off the edge of the porch roof on the way down.”  Her face contorted with grief, and she heaved out a sob.  “Oh, Charlie, I love you so much.”
Eventually, Louis got down on his own.  It had all been for nothing.  And though Sue visited faithfully, her work began to keep her away; eventually, she agreed to go on trips out of town.  I experienced waves of despair. My desire to die was so intense I could not understand how it hadn’t snuffed out what was left of my pitiful life force.

The day arrived when, during one of Sue’s visits, I blinked intensely until she understood that I wanted to use the alphabet board.   It took me a while, but I finally got across what I wanted to say.

“No,” she said, her voice garbled.  “No, Charlie, no.”
But I persisted over the next few visits, and finally, she agreed.  It just didn’t make sense to stay married.  She had a life before her.  We loved each other, but there was no point to this hanging on.  That was four years ago, and she remarried a year later.  My eyes fill with tears when I remember.  She came by and showed me the wedding pictures and thanked me.  Then she whispered, “No matter what, I’ll always love you, Charlie. I’ll always love you best.”  Shortly after, she and her new husband moved to Los Angeles.

You can easily reach hell from a bed on earth.  I could no longer have any effect upon anyone.  Perhaps by comparing themselves to me, I somehow influenced others. Maybe I helped them learn compassion, but what personal satisfaction could I derive from that?  Not to mention the utter loneliness. There comes a time, however, when a person grows bored with hell, and that’s when a wall is breached.  My wall cracked one spring day six months after Sue was gone.

I knew it was spring because there was a window in my room, and someone had brought in a bunch of forsythia.  It came to me that it was I who had somehow agreed to remain in this prison of a body. That might not make sense to those of you who move and walk about; you are distracted by your lives.  But I have no life, and finally, I let go of wanting one.

Rosa returns.  Her eyes are puffy.  “I forgot to tell you, Charlie.  The new physical therapist is coming tomorrow.  This guy is an ex-Marine, so he’ll probably work you over.  But we have to keep your muscles strong for the day when.”

She means the imagined day when they discover a way to unparalyze me.  A pipe dream.  It’s not going to happen in my lifetime.  But I blink once hard to say yes.

Encouraged, she says, “I just know you’re going to walk again, Charlie.  I pray for it every night.”

I blink again for her, but I really just want her to leave.  I’ve moved far beyond these medical miracle wishes.  But, to my own amazement, I can now do something that Rosa probably can’t even imagine.   

About a year ago, I remembered a book from years before that Sue had been excited about: Journeys Out of the Body by Robert Monroe.  I had found it interesting, if not completely believable. But since the accident, with the lack of any new experience other than whatever walked into my room, my mind had turned to esoteric subjects.

Why not try to duplicate Monroe’s experience?  I had nothing else to do other than the daily grooming and feeding rituals, and as long as my vital signs didn’t sound an alarm, was free to experiment.  If I did manage to get out of my body, would my heart rate slow to the point of causing that?  I didn’t know.

Night after night for months, between interruptions by nurses and one almost fatal bout with bronchitis, I used every method I could think of: imagining my astral self sliding out of my head or sitting up while my physical body remained flat.  One time, I did manage to get a hand out, but weeks passed before another minute victory.  One day in late summer, using all the psychic energy I thought I possessed, I rolled myself over inside the paralyzed shell, did another roll off the side of the bed, and found myself outside the physical.

I slowly sank to the floor and, for an astonishing moment, stood up — outside this prison and free.  But not entirely; I’d forgotten the “silver cord” which attaches the spirit to the body as long as it remains alive.  It snapped me back inside, but no matter.  I was ecstatic.  Free, if only for a moment!
Like Monroe, through countless trials, I learned to navigate this phantom body.  It moved to different rules and was as light as a feather.  My astral fingers could feel physical surfaces while passing through them at will.  I could feel again!  What bliss.

But I had to be careful.  Once, when out and about, my body’s heart rate dropped to forty-two and set off the alarm.  The staff’s frantic activity snapped me back just when things were turning interesting.

“He’s almost gone!” I heard a nurse exclaim.  After that, my nightly practice was temporarily diverted to maintaining a heartbeat no lower than fifty-five, a nuisance, but necessary if I wanted to continue my adventures in peace.

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Margaret Karmazin’s credits include 140 stories published in literary and national magazines, including Rosebud, Chrysalis Reader, North Atlantic Review, Mobius, Confrontation, Pennsylvania Review and Another Realm. Her stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine, Licking River Review and Words of Wisdom were nominated for Pushcart awards. Her story, "The Manly Thing," was nominated for the 2010 Million Writers Award. She has had stories included in Still Going Strong, Ten Twisted Tales, Pieces of Eight (Autism Acceptance), Zero Gravity, Cover of Darkness and M-Brane Sci-Fi Quarterlies #2 and #4, and a novel, Replacing Fiona, published by