All the World’s a Stage, Pt. 5

Yikes. Sorry about the radio silence. I blame the holidays. In any event, this concludes “All the World’s a Stage!” Be here on Saturday for a piece of flash-fiction, and come back on Sunday for a “State of the Blog” address!

Jacob was largely quiet on the drive to the nursing home. He sat with his arms crossed, a look of disinterest on his face, just as my father used to when he was a passenger in cars in his later years. I think it embarrassed him, as his eyesight began to fail him, that he couldn’t drive anymore. He would just sit there, staring straight ahead, not looking at anything, all so he wouldn’t have to deal with the fact that he could see less and less with every passing month.

“Are you ready for this?”

Jacob took a deep breath, exhaled slowly. “It doesn’t matter. I have to be.”

“We can do this another day, man. It doesn’t have to be tonight.”

“It does,” Jacob said. He turned to look at me, his eyes old and impossibly sad. “I don’t know if we’ll have another night.”

“Don’t be so negative, man. Jesus Christ.”

Jacob stared at me, annoyance written plain across his face. He shook his head and sighed, and then it was right back to silence, his eyes locked on the road.

* * *

It was late when we arrived at the nursing home. I knew that they’d be closing soon, that we wouldn’t have long for whatever Jacob had planned. Jacob stood before the door, hesitated. His back was to me, but I could tell that he was steeling himself to go inside. His hands clenched, unclenched, again and again. I’d seen this before once, when I was backstage at a performance in college and Jacob had been preparing to make his entrance. I was secondary, forgotten. All that existed now was the role, the stage, the audience.

We rode up the elevator together, but Jacob paid me no mind. His face was set like stone, eyes closed, arms crossed, head down. The elevator doors opened, and he stepped out into the second floor lobby. He strode forward with confidence, ignoring the scents and the sounds that had given him pause before. But he stopped. His head turned side-to- side, and finally he looked back over his shoulder at me. “Which way?” he asked, his voice terse and deep. I pointed. He nodded once, and took off. I followed.

He was reading the names on the doors as we went along and stopped in front of 217. He put his hand on the knob, and he turned to look at me. A change came over him, his features hardening, a weariness settling into his eyes. He didn’t look like my father to me, but the expression he woe was undeniably one of my father’s. Jacob had studied well, it seemed, and all the effort he’d put into poring over notebooks and videos were about to pay off. Jacob turned back to the door, opened it, and stepped into my mom’s room.

The smell of disinfectant was strong, overpowering even the staleness of the air, the smell of human living in a small space. Her eyes were shut. She was sleeping. But she opened them before long, sensing the presence of the stranger in her room. “Hello?”

“Hello, Marie.”

She sat up, pushing herself up with hands grown thin and bony. “Elliot?”

Jacob stepped forward, trying his best to smile. His eyes watered, and finally he covered his mouth with his hand. “Hey, baby.”

“What’s going on? What are you doing here?”

“I came to see you. I wanted to see you.” He stepped forward and kissed her on her forehead.

She smiled at that, but within a few moments she was taking a fresh survey of her surroundings and fear overtook her. “What is this place? Where am I?”

Jacob frowned, his brows furrowed. He was silent for a few moments, his eyes downcast as if he were trying to think of what to tell her. “You’re in a nursing home, Marie.” She looked up at him with confusion and fear on her face, and he gently ran his hand over her hair. “You’re sick. You’ve been sick for a while, and there’s much you’ve forgotten.”

“Will I get better?”

Jacob shook his head. My mother gasped at that, a wet choking noise that I knew from experience only heralded sobbing.

I wanted to hit him. This wasn’t how this was supposed to go. He was supposed to comfort her, not start doling out harsh truths. This was something my dad would have done, and in that sense, he was being true to character, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to make her feel better, not torture her before she passed on.

Jacob took her hand, her skin wrinkled and thin and pale against his own. He squeezed her hand and he smiled.

“Don’t cry, Marie. We’ve been apart for so long, but soon we’ll be together again. I promise. You just need to be strong.”

“But I—“

Jacob leaned forward and wrapped his arms around my mom. “No buts, Marie. Be strong.”

Slowly my mother brought her arms up and wrapped them around my friend, pulled him close. “Okay, Elliot. Okay. I will. I will.”

“Good.” Jacob stood up, tears running down his cheeks. He sniffed. He forced himself to smile. “I’ve got to go now, but I’ll be with you, okay? We’ll be together again.”

She nodded. Jacob turned to leave and set his hand on the door when my mom called out to him. “Elliot?”

Jacob paused, but he didn’t turn back around to face my mom. “Yes, Marie?”

“You’re dead.”

My breath caught in my throat. Jacob didn’t move, didn’t even flinch. Instead, he just said, “Yes, Marie.”

“But you came back.”

“Yes.”

“But you’re not the same.”

At that Jacob’s cool demeanor cracked. His shoulders slumped, his head dropped, and his body seemed to tremble ever so slightly. He brought his hands up this eyes and rubbed them. Finally, he said, “I’m not. And I’m sorry for the way that I used to be.”

My mom took a deep breath and sighed. She shut her eyes and sank back into her bed. “That’s fine. I forgive you.”

Within a few minutes, she was snoring softly. Jacob opened the door and stepped outside, and I just stood there, watching my mom sleep, until I heard Jacob vomit in the hallway and I rushed to find him.

* * *

Jacob fell sick almost the instant he walked out of my mom’s bedroom. I had to all but carry him back to the car, and he asked in a week voice to go back to his apartment. He collapsed into bed and was asleep almost instantly. He was running a fever. Not knowing what else to do, I slept on his couch, his bedroom door open in case he called out for help in the middle of the night.

He was better the next morning, but still weak, as if recovering from a particularly nasty stomach virus. He was able to pull himself out of bed and drag himself into the living room, though.

“Hey, man. Thanks for getting me back to my place.”

“Yeah, no problem. You want breakfast?”

He shook his head. “I don’t think I could keep anything down. Maybe I’ll make some toast or something later.” I just nodded, and Jacob stood there, staring at the floor. He looked back up after a few moments. “So, how’d it go?”

I frowned. A look of fear passed across Jacob’s face, and he just shrugged. “I don’t know, man! I barely remember anything. I remember you getting me, and driving there, and standing out in front, and the next thing I know, I’m puking my guts out into a trashcan in the hallway.”

“Jesus, man. You don’t remember anything?”

He just shook his head. “It’s like I was in the audience, watching someone else

“I think it went about as well as could be expected.”

Jacob nodded. “Was she happy?”

I smiled, as best as I was able. “Yeah. Yeah, man. I think so.”

* * *

She passed away a few days later. They told me it was peaceful.

* * *

Things moved quickly after that. Jacob came to the funeral, but he sat in the back and didn’t say much, as he was still recovering. It surprised me when he came to the reception. What surprised me more was that as tired and weak as he was, Jacob was still somewhat social. In fact, he was eagerly trotting out his lines about being an actor, about becoming another character, about how really getting into a role could be like giving oneself over to another character. Like becoming another person. Like possession. Such nonsense.

I mean, as a practical person, I have to disregard such nonsense. I have to.

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