Jack Collier: Private Eye
A Jack Collier Story
Chapter One: Coming Up For Air
We are a generation raised and taught mainly by the great tubed nanny of Television. TV was our first teacher, our substitute mother and a secret lover, at least as far as Homer Simpson claimed it. I suppose since most of us had our first major crush via the TV screen, there might be something to that. It was certainly late night cable that taught me about sex. The problem is, TV was never meant to be those things. It wasn’t until much later that we would learn what a rapacious whore Television was, and that she was a lying bitch.
Case in point: comas. Now if you watch TV, you will learn that you just sort of wake up from a coma after seven years, having just been snoozing all this time. You will also no doubt discover that you can walk out of the hospital that afternoon. They just sort of gather everyone around as you’re about to wake up and tell you how long you’ve been away and that’s it. That’s how it goes on Television. Fortunately for me, I was already aware what a lying whore television was, so it didn’t crush my soul when I learned that the bitch had lied once again.
Allow me to tell you what coming out of a coma is really like. You are sort of aware for a few minutes, while you are totally alone in a dark room. About the time you realize that the sound you’re hearing is an audiobook that some kind soul has put on to keep you occupied, and the motion you’re sort of seeing is a person coming to see just how awake you are, you drift back under. Then follows a period of months and years of dreams, where you transcend space and time, traveling from one end of the universe to the other and then you come back again for a moment or two. You can travel to any time and be anyone, future or past, but you’ve got to check in with your body every once in a while, just to see how things are going. This happens, if I’m any judge of time, for about nine hundred years.
The periods of wakefulness grow longer and you obtain a little more lucidity each time. It’s like your brain shattered, splashing you quicksilver mind on a hill and you’ve got to wait for all the bits to gather together. Each time, the tide of your mind rises, and you’ve gather a bit more of your mind up again. Eventually, you start to achieve some lucidity worth having, and each time it becomes a little easier because you’ve got more of you mind to do it with. Each time you get to have a little longer, and you get a little more information, but it takes the sort of time that only an oak can appreciate to come to a place where you can actually ask a question.
“Where am I?” I asked the darkness and smoke that was clearly just shrouds in front of my eyes. I could make out a person though, a big wide person that was leaning against the wall. “Hey, where am I? Hey! Okay, don’t talk to me. Asshole.”
Took me three days to figure out that was just a cabinet standing in the corner. Still, you’d think someone would have mentioned that the reason the guy standing wasn’t saying anything was that he was a glorified box of wood made fancy with the addition of hinged doors. I still say he was an asshole, he could have creaked or something.
The first person I saw was a nurse. Now, when I say nurse, I don’t mean a cute girl in a white uniform. I mean a guy about two hundred and forty pounds with maybe about ten ounces of body fat who was dressed in the same off blue scrubs everyone wears. He was checking something that was attached to me and glancing down as I looked up at him.
“Where am I?” I asked in a loud steady voice.
“What?” He asked, bringing his ear down to my mouth.
“Where am I?” I asked again, in the same strong tone.
“Hospital.” He said looking at me. “Don’t try to actually talk, just keep whispering for now.”
If I could have lifted my head, I would have bitten his ear off. I suspect he probably would have decked me if I’d made a grab at his ear though, but then again maybe not. If feeding time was any indication I would have hardly nibbled at his shell like lobe. Which is another thing, you can’t just get up and walk out of a hospital bed after a coma. I couldn’t lift my head for three days, and then I could just about control it so I wasn’t lolling like some sort of freakish living corpse.
While I wasn’t completely lost for those three days, they went in a haze of movement that wore me out. I was worn out by watching anything, people moving around the bed, anyone talking to me would soon prove to be too much, and even trying to pay attention to the currents or air could wear me out and send me back into an exhausted sleep. However, when I woke up I was still there and the sleeps kept getting shorter. I wondered if maybe there would be a day when there was no more sleep. I shouldn’t have worried, sleep will always get you in the end.
This is how I remember it anyway. I understand that if you were watching from the outside the timeline is a little different. I also understand that a great deal of the problem had been that I’d been coming up and going back under like some kind of waterlogged barrel that was just barely visible above the surface. Getting to the shore and actually climbing out of the water seemed to have taken a little while.
It may have been three days, or it could have been three weeks, or it just might have been three years when I opened my eyes and saw a shape I actually liked. I was beginning to hate the shape of the nurse and the doctor, neither of which were pleasing to me. They were angular, masculine, and unsympathetic. I might concede that I would need an unsympathetic man later to throw me out of bed, but right then I needed the softness of a female.
I could easily make out the shape of her standing at the window, even with the gauzy cloth that some thoughtful person had draped over my eyes and the cling wrap that they’d hung three feet in front of me to make it even harder to see anything I could make out the shape. It was nice to have the cloth there, otherwise I might have seen things clearly and I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have been a great thing at that time. I would have grabbed at the cloth, or shaken my head hard to dislodge it, but I couldn’t move much and I suspect I would have found that there was no cloth.
It didn’t really matter though. They could try to obscure my vision with all the tricks in their arsenal and it wouldn’t have mattered. All I really needed was the shape to help me decide who was there. It was a nearly perfect shape, either by design or by chance accident, it went right to the base of my spine and set off alarm bells that rattled all over my body. So, a woman. A woman who had taken care to have a figure that would make men pant, or maybe that was just the trouble they talk about coma patients having from time to time.
It wasn’t just a woman though. It was a woman who dressed in a special manner when she wanted to impress me. She wore a dress that cinched at her waist, that let her hips sway free, and that barely contained the generous bosom that could have made a strong man weep. I was not a strong man, but I could barely see her through the smoke and the gauzy cloth and the saran wrap that was diffusing everything. Still, there was an air conditioning unit or something right over my head that dripped a single drop on my cheek and if you weren’t paying attention you might think it was a tear.
It was an old dress, what the shops call vintage so they can charge three times what it would have been worth ten years ago. It was what went with the dress that told me who it was. There is something about those shoes, the ones that were made in forty-eight. They’re a pair of white heels, and they had been not only in good shape but in her size. She’s taken care of them too, being careful about when and how she wears them. They have a particular sound to them, like no other shoe on the planet, and she walks in them in such a distinctive way that I could tell it was her no matter what kind of floor she was on.
“Debbie?” I asked, because you never want people to know you know them just from the sound of their shoes.
“Hey Jack.” Her hand touched mine as she came closer and her face began to come into focus a little.
She knelt down, instead of bending over me, which meant I didn’t get to look down her front. I would have liked to look down her front, it would have given me strength, but I didn’t have power to raise my head the two inches needed to peer down her front. She grabbed a chair next to the bed and sat down with me a while. She kept her right hand wrapped around my left, which gave me a very real sense of how weak that hand was. I couldn’t even tighten my fingers around hers when she gripped at me. I could just about rub a finger with my thumb if I tried really hard.
“How long have I been here?” I asked, still unable to make her out properly.
“Haven’t they talked to you about that yet?” She asked.
“They’ve barely had time to ask me if I could follow a finger with my eyes.” I said. “No ones told me anything.”
“So you don’t know?” She asked.
“Know what?” I asked, trying not to let my heart rate go up to high. “How long have I been asleep?”
“Fifty-seven years.” She said.
“What?” I asked as she leaned forward to show her smooth unwrinkled features.
“Yeah, you were out there for fifty-seven years.” She said.
“You are a liar.” I told her, and would have yanked my hand away if I’d had the strength.
“Okay.” She smiled and leaned forward to kiss my brow, giving me a peak down the front of her dress. “I’m lying a little.”
“A lot.” I told her.
“You’re not going to like it though.” She told me. “It’s a very long time.”
“About twenty months.” She said.
“What is that in human time?” I asked, because I couldn’t fathom what twenty months was supposed to mean just then. Why do people talk like that? It makes no sense.
“A little over a year and a half.” She said. “Two months over.”
“Okay.” I told her, and I would have nodded if I’d had the strength. “How bad do I look?”
“Like you’ve been lying in bed for a year and a half.” She said and I think she might have smiled but who ever had slung the gauze across my eyes flung an extra layer over at that moment and turned off some of the lights.
“As bad as that?” I asked, as the lights dimmed around us.
“I’m afraid so.” She brushed my hair back a bit, giving me a last smile as I drifted away.
When I came to, she was no longer around. I wasn’t worried though, I kind of thought that I would probably be spending a bit of time on my own in the days to come anyway. There was going to be a lot of time to just sit here and think, like I had been put on the naughty step or something. I suppose that’s as good a place for me as any.
I don’t know if she came in and talked to me about it, or if it was just that I had a lot of time to think and old mistakes were bound to come up, but I started to think about the events that went by in that little story Debbie told. If you’re going to start beating yourself up over things you did that were stupid, you might as well start with the stupidest thing that arrives at the earliest date. That way, when you start to think about later mistakes you can remind yourself that if you hadn’t made the earlier mistake you wouldn’t even be in the current situation.
I know I’ve said things to the contrary in the past, but pretty much everything Debbie said in her story is true. The only problem is that I can’t help but notice the points she left out. I won’t go too deeply into them, but she left out the epic and apocalyptic shouting match after her birthday. Not only that, but she left out one or two other things. I’ve spent, what is it, almost fifteen years not discussing this situation? I’m afraid you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t just leap right into it.
I’ll have to discuss it now though. I suppose I’ve always known I would have to discuss it at some point. I guess the rest of this story can be told without telling you about my relationship with Debbie and Karen, but I don’t think it would make much sense or at least it wouldn’t be as interesting. Besides, Debbie has uncorked the bottle on that particular genie anyway.
That doesn’t make it easy to discuss though, you’ve got to understand that. It’s not always easy to just suddenly decide to change the way you’ve been arranging your life. I’ve been building up a comfortable little fiction that the summer of ninety-five just plumb didn’t happen that way. I spent a good long time behaving as if things had happened slightly differently than they did and a long time not laying so much as a finger on Debbie, no matter how much I wanted to.
Now, I find myself facing a different situation. I find myself having to tell a story where I have to admit those events happened because I have to admit the later events happened too. It’s not easy when you promise someone you won’t talk about a thing, and then have them tell you that you really need to talk about it. So forgive me if I start a little slow.
I’ll get this going, any minute now.
Maybe I can just stall you until tomorrow’s installment. That would give me time to collect my thoughts anyway. Just a little while longer.
I’ll start soon, I promise.