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The Short Cut

by

Bruce Longman

Hello, Jenny.

Yes, it's me. Might not look like me, but I assure you it is. Have I been gone for long? Feels like it. It feels like forever.

Please don't ignore me, Jenny, I'm here. Can't you see me? Can't see me beating against the inside walls of my eyes? Can't you hear me? Can't you hear me screaming inside this cage?

It wasn't my fault, Jenny. If only I could talk... explain... make you HEAR me!

Please don't blame me. I suppose it's just one of those things that happen sometimes; my destiny, perhaps. Not that I've ever been a fatalist; I believe in cause and effect; I believe your actions can dictate the course of your life. But this time it wasn't my actions that did it. I had no control over what happened.

It was someone else; a faceless entity that built this impregnable barrier between us since the accident. I don't really blame him, though. If it was a 'him;í I don't even know.

I can see you've been crying. I also cried. I cried all through the night while you were sleeping at home. Our home. No tears, though. I wish there were tears. Tears are real. Tears mean you're alive. I cried because I hate what this is doing to you; what's it's done to me. I hate this place, this strange place in my mind. I hate staring at the ceiling all day long. I hate not being able to take you into my arms, touch you, hold you. I hate it.

Hate it.

I like the machines. The wires and pipes hooked into me. Their soft purr tells me I'm alive. They're always there, the only constant I have in this dreary world. The lights are okay. And the wavy pattern on the screen; always changing, always the same. It reminds me of Melissa's kaleidoscope. Broken bits of glass flicking, flashing, flaring...

Hello, Jenny.

I missed you yesterday. Yes, I'm fine. You look better today. Nice to see you smile again. Sure, I had a good night. Stopped dreaming about those headlights burning my eyes, the screech of tortured metal, that overwhelming white noise...

I see you've brought David with you today.

Hello, David.

My best pal, my business partner. I know you'll do what's right. Take over for me. Look after her, David. I know you've always loved her. I know you still do. All those years ago you said let the best man win. Was I really the best man?

HEY! Don't talk to me like that! I'm not a child. I'm not a simpleton. THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH MY MIND! Look, twenty-three times fourteen is three hundred and twenty-two. The square root of fifty-three is...is...hell, I didn't even know that before the accident. But, my minds not distorted; not damaged; not a mumble jumble of misshapen cells. It's just the rest of me that doesn't work. A useless heap of worthless wasted flesh that canít even open its mouth to talk. Look at Jenny, she knows. She knows I'm still fine inside. She knows...

Hello, kids.

Why so sombre, Brett? You're the man of the house now. I know it's a lot of responsibility for a ten-year-old, but you can do it, you're a tough old bird like me. You've got to look after Mom and your little sister while I'm here in this place. It won't be forever, I promise. Before you know it, I'll be on my feet and playing soccer with you again...

Please don't look so scared, Melissa. I wonít bite. I look a little strange perhaps, but I'm still your daddy. No, don't cry, please don't. Wait, wait. Donít go away. Come back, Melissa, come back...

Hello, Jenny.

You're tired today, I see. You really should try to look after yourself a little better. Not work so hard. I'm sorry you have to work. I'm sorry about the insurance, sorry I let it lapse. Didn't mean to, things were just a little rough for a while. The business, the house...sorry, Jenny. Sorry about a lot of things. But David will help. Do you know he still loves you, even after all these years?

Hello, Doctor.

I'm as well as can be expected. Yes, the staff is treating me fine. I just wish they wouldn't talk to each other as if I'm not here. As if I didn't exist.

Yes, it's nice to be able to talk again, if you can call it that. Sure, it's not much. Blink once for yes, twice for no. Not much you can say with only a two-word vocabulary. But at least it's good to be understood again. Just a pity nobody ever asks the right questions.

Hello, Mom.

Hello, Dad.

Or something.

Don't look at me like that. It wasn't my fault, really. You know how it is, Dad. You used to run the business. It's expected. Couple of drinks after the meeting, that's all. Good for staff morale. They call it team building. I wasn't drunk. The other guy was. It wasn't me.

It wasn't.

Hello, Jenny.

They started physio today. A real brute of a woman. Bending, flexing, twisting, yanking, tugging, pulling, wrenching. She's nice though, not much to look at, but she makes me laugh - or I would if I could. Kept on for a while. A bit tedious really. A pain. If I could feel pain, that is. Ha, ha.

Why do you still love me, Jenny? I know you do. I can see it on your face, in your eyes. You love me. You love this strange remnant of the human race staring permanently at the ceiling. Would I still love you if our roles were reversed? Could I? But you do.

Why?

Hello, Jenny.

Missed you yesterday. And the day before. I suppose you've been busy. Has it really been eight months? Feels like forever.

Heard the good news? I moved my right finger this morning. There was a lot of rejoicing. Thought my Amazon therapist was going into cardiac arrest, or something. Can't move anything else, though. Or won't. Focus. That's what I do, focus only on the right. One thing at a time. Only the right.

See you brought David again. Doing a lot of that lately. Spending time with you is he? He's a good man. The best. He stares a lot at you. Lovingly. Looks at me too. Guiltily. Prefers you though. Acts like a love sick teenager. Shame, poor David.

Nice to see you all. Itís been a while. Thanks for making the effort. Everything okay at the office? David coping well? I always thought he could run the show on his own. Don't be so embarrassed, I know I look nauseating. You'll get used to it after a while. Jenny has. Okay, you can go now, you've done your duty. I know you're dying to get out of here.

Dying - now there's a nice word to sink your teeth into.

I suppose you lot do care for me. Or feel sorry for me anyway. You probably think it's the same thing. Maybe it is.

I doubt it.

Hello, Jenny.

Missed you. Been busy again? Never mind. So, what shall we do today? I know, I'll lie here and stare at the ceiling for a change. A joke, Jenny. That was a joke.

Ha, ha.

Poor taste, maybe. Who cares?

So where's David? Sitting outside in the car again? You think I don't know? I heard the nurses talking. Whispering. I know he spends all of his time with you. I know he's too embarrassed to come in. I know he's secretly glad I'm lying here. I know he's ashamed to admit it to himself. I know.

I know.

Hello, Jenny.

You're smiling. Happy. That means you know that I moved my whole hand today. Sort of waved my fingers. Good news, isn't it? Taken a bloody year. Amazon Lady's rather puzzled that my left won't react, though. But then she doesn't know how the system works. Focus. Right only. One thing at a time. Right only.

You seem distracted today. Far away. Thinking of something else? SOMEONE ELSE?

Hello, David.

Long time no see.

Best friend, partner, WIFE STEALER! Leave her alone, you bastard! She's not yours. I'm not dead yet. She's my wife. I know you love her, have always loved her, but leave her alone, friend. You've got my business already, YOU CAN'T HAVE MY WIFE! Don't you understand? She's all I've got. All I have left.

Hello, Jenny.

You look very pretty today. A new dress? I wish you could come more often than you do, but I understand. It can't be easy raising the kids on your own. Working as well. Working to pay my bills. I'm sorry the kids don't like visiting me, I wish I could see them more often. But I know, they hate the hospital, hate the smell of antiseptic, hate the machines that keep me alive.

Hate to look at what I've become.

What am I, Jenny?

A man? Hardly. A monster? Perhaps, certainly the expression on everybody's face when they see me for the first time seems to indicate that, but even monsters can move more than just their right hand. Am I even human? I doubt it. How many humans do you know need a battery of electronic wizardry to just simply stay alive?

So what am I, Jenny?

What am I?

Hello, Doctor.

Nice try on that last operation. Noble physician keeps husband of beautiful woman alive against all odds. You came close, but no cigar. Who wants this? Who wants a man that hasn't had a beer in over fifteen months? Who wants a man that eats his meals out of a plastic bag dangling from a pole?

Who wants me?

Hello, Jenny

Hello, David.

This is an occasion. But, you don't have to be embarrassed. I'm not mad at you any more. Who could resist falling in love with her? I know her. I've watched her. She needs you. I know she loves you. I know she still loves me, in her own loyal way. Poor girl. Poor David.

Poor, poor me.

Hello, Jenny.

I watched you today. I watched you celebrate with the nurses.

A miracle, everyone says.

I moved my entire right arm. Isn't that wonderful? Sure thing.

I also saw the sadness in your eyes. I saw the dismal flash when you realized that this great occasion is just another small landmark in your long and wearisome journey. The journey that'll take years before I can even talk to you again. The journey that is slowly, relentlessly, driving you insane.

But don't worry, my love. I've found a shortcut in this journey.

I can move my right arm now.

I can reach the plug.

Good-bye, Jenny.

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