B734-GD3
Chico
Copyright 1955, 1963, 1964, 1991 by George Dickerson, 7/7/08

 

                                                                                I

          I was hollow-standing before the door.  The door was a greenness and had a thick rectangular small glass-window eye.  The Eggshell pushed the button again and I could hear it ringing far off.  The Eggshell, pushing hard on his white eggshell M.P.'s helmet, as a young chicken hatches into crowing, held his bolt of sudden lightning carbine in his tight hands.  He pointed the open mouth of nothingness at me, daring me to run down the long length of the hospital corridor.  I did not move.

          He fingered the button again and the button created an eye in the rectangular glass eye of the door.  The eye looked at me and then at the Eggshell, then back at me.  I didn't like the eye.  The eye disappeared and I heard the lock click-exploding and my eyes felt the door green falling away, swinging back.  The eye belonged to a mountain of flesh and a mop of red hair.  I knew his name was Shorty-eye.

          Shorty-eye looked at me and said he was the corpsman.  He asked me if I had ever existed in an Army neuro-psychiatric ward before.  I said, "No, I did not care where I existed."  It did not matter.

          Shorty-eye took me to a room that was almost empty, with a desk and a scale to weigh my pound fleshness.  He took me from my army uniform and gave me sky-blue pajamas with no buttons, that I might have the pleasure of knotting them at my belly-button.  He gave me cloth slippers with no strings, that I could enjoy their flap-flapping, without tearing the strings off to knot together, to strangle myself.

          I found out that everything was not given to us.  Glass and pencils, buttons and strings, knives and forks, razor blades and identities were denied.  It is wonderful how many tiny everythings a once-upon-a-time-man can use to suddenly non-exist himself.

          Shorty-eye took my clothes and with them locked up the statistical data of my existence: my birthplace, age, name--Tom--and my one false tooth.

          Across the corridor from the room I was occupying were the doors, holding cells together.  Shorty-eye led me toward them and then left-turned onto the corridor-long-running-tunnel.  As I barely walked I could hear the tearing of rose petals.  They cut my feet when I walked on them.  I closed my sight, and Shorty-eye pulled me firmly through my arm down the corridor.

          When I opened my sight, a bug of a doctor stood before me, with a grin reaching out to grab his recorder ears and dissecting microscopic glasses.  I later knew Specs was his name.  Specs asked me why I had been chain-dragged here.  I tried to tell him simply that I had a loneliness.  I told him I was crazy and that I saw people walking down the long black of streets, carrying their walls with them.  When I tried to touch them, I broke my fingers on their walls; and once I had cried because I had known a girl with breasts and rouge caked into her jawbone.  I told him that I could hear shouting and crying behind their slate faces and I had tried to save them, but I had failed.  Now when I walk, I hear rose petals tearing, and they cut my feet.  I told him that I tried to drain the blood by razor-blading my wrist, and I would gladly relieve him of my eternal presence by doing it again.

          His grin reached up and grabbed his ears, then fell down, and he said quietly that he would try to help me, that everything they would do would make me feel better.  I later had many little meetings with Specs, but I never could remember from one word to one word what his mouth was moving about.

          I occupied the same room with Specs for a non-remembered no-timeness; and then Shorty-eye pulled me through another falling away door-green and I was in the ward, the long cross of this world.

          The ward fell away between two rows of beds, and on either side it dangled its hands: the latrine and the bullpen.  I see the burnished copper almost-mirrors of the latrine, denied glass, riveted to the texture of the wooden walls.  I see the bullpen in blind hot sunlight, guarded securely by a steel barbed-wire fence, keeping the outside world from getting at me.  And I see the heavy screens on the windows and the large shovel tablespoons, with which we eat our fuel on the tables at the far end of the cross.

          But mostly I see the Sky-blues.  I see them standing in their sky-blue pajamas staring at me with sucking eyes from the far end.  I do not want to see them.  I do not want my sounds to be taken into their ears.  I do not want my sweat to be taken into their noses, nor my fingers to touch their feel.  I just want myself alone, crouching behind my ribs.  But I find myself liking them because they have no stone in their cheeks, nor slate for skin.  I create them as they approach me, and they become grotesque truths to me.

          I know them in a few days.  One is Rubberjaws, a prisoner.  I find out he is a prisoner by a mistake of the legal system.  Rubberjaws finds himself existing here because he has been in the stockade and someone kicked him, his jaws broken into unconsciousness.  Now he snaps his jaws with rubber bands, holding them in place, and the army has no better place to keep him than here.

          Shaky simply shakes.  That is a simple enough existence and Shaky loves simplicity and alcohol.  I think mostly he shakes because he is afraid.  Shaky shakes most when he sees Monster.

          Monster is six-foot-five and quiet.  Monster hates himself.  "I am a monster," he says quietly, with a hidden explosion. No one knows why he hates the strength that is him.  Somewhere down inside the tall blond pillar that he is, red-hot-riveted his soul shouts, and someone has forgotten to put out the fire.

          The corpsmen are afraid of Monster.  When they gently walk him, two or three of the biggest of them with their arms padlocking his, I see Monster stop, with a sudden stillness--perhaps trying to catch something that flickered inside--and two or three corpsmen whipcrack back on their armchains.

          But always Monster is just there and I can feel him.  He paces up and down, looming great in the ward or in the bullpen, or standing pillar-like, staring somewhere-nowhere out the distance through the heavy steel screens.

          There are others, including the Professor who is always nose-buried in the thin transparency of words; and I can touch them all.  I can put my finger right through and around them and hold them inside my ribs.  I do not want to know or taste or feel them, but I have them pushed into me by Chico.

          Chico is like some miracle, some untouchable fantasy in the broken sunlight of my childhood.  He picks me up in the tremble of his fingers, caress-pushing the craziness out of me, picking up the rose petals and making them suddenly soft.  He stops the brittle beating of my fists and he is so large that he sucks me away from my ribcage.  Specs is giving me shock-electric salvation, but Chico forgets me my craziness whenever I feel him.  And I fear Chico because he makes me church tremble, because I heard him singing in the shadows, opening everything bright and clear.

                                  II

          Chico is the sunshine and the earth and the tree.  He is the shortest of the Sky-blues, the friendliest, and the most mistreated.

          In size he can tower to five-feet-three flexing gigantically every one of his wiry muscles.  He talk broke Eeenglish bout Puerto Rico and his home, bout sea and children, small--they run round reel queek and boom-boom fat tummies steek out.

          Chico has no other name, or if he does, I never know it.  To the other Sky-blues he is Chico, but to the corpsmen he is Chico-under-the bed.

          Chico is there when I come.  The first morning I get up in the ward with the other Sky-b's, he is asleep under his bed on the floor.  The corpsman, Gastro (the big-belching-stomached-one), is yelling at Chico.

          "Chico!  What are you doing under the bed again?  I'll have to report you to the doctor.  You're just like everyone else."  (Gastro getting red around the gills.)  "You have no special privileges!"  (Louder.  Chico lying with hands behind head, looking into Gastro with child-blue-eyes.)  "Get up from there and make your bed!"

          "You-Coorpsman," Chico says.  "I got wreenkles here (pointing to face)--am thirty-fie.  Go boom-boom at Gooooks een Krea.  Gooooks fall boom-boom and no go run round fat boom-boom tummies out.  You-Cooorpsman, I sleep in groun, no sleep een bad when een Krea.  Can no sleep een bad.  B-b-bad ees bad to sleeep een.  Floor ees goood to sleep.  Keeep tough.

          Then Gastro takes Chico by the arm and pulls him out from under his bed.  Gastro is brave.  He is six feet and has keys to the door.  Chico is large.  He is five-feet-three-smiling-child-blue-eyed.  He remembers sometime when Praysident of the You-knighted States stands and geev heem Coongress Medal Honor.  He remember he stand crying and Praysident stand and tell bout goooks he go boom-boom at (no go run round no) in Krea and bout grenade peeces een his legs.

          Gastro is pulling him and large Chico is going limp-silly with him because Gastro is brave and has never seen war and Chico has a disease that is eating the brave out of his mind and body and has left him childlike from shooting goooooks eeeen Krea.

          "You-Coorpsman, I come.  No pull, I come."  (Smiling child-blue.)  "You-Cooorpsman hurt."  (Then giggling, shake-shaking, remembering Praysident, shake-shaking his hand.)

          Chico is on his two flap-flapping feet, shuffling easily before Gastro.  Gastro looks at Chico's magnificent crop of almost no-hair and then his smile-wrinkles and the child-blue innocent eyes.

          "Don't sleep under the bed anymore!" Gastro belches.

          Chico is shuff-shuffling.  "Thank you-Coorpsman for waking me up."  And Gastro turns and goes away because he will find Chico smiling from under his bed tomorrow--thank you, Coorpsman.

          (Chico is hop-looking at me.  I am floating somehow in the floor middle, trying to grab hold, trying to pull my ribs together.  I try shutting my sight, squeezing it, hand-push-hard.  I shut my sight, but he is somehow there, pulling my insides open with his gentle eye-fingers.  I feel sick.  My insides run up my throat--out.  I weakly and wobbly.  Chico is eyeing me and it is open blueness.  It is stained windows, stained hands with blue.  Chico touches and I do not have to break my fingers on his stucco face; my fingers go right through to where I am not dirty.  I floating in a thin strand of sunlight airness, I feeling his simple, feeling the stretch out reach touch of a child-flower.  Chico runs into my ribs and sing shouts there.)

          Chico loves all small things.  He loves to stand in line.  He loves the shaving or the eating or the shower lines.  He will giggle in line.  I see Chico shouting-giggle-shuffling.  "Hey-you-Coorpsman.  My turn nex?  My turn nex?  (Knowing it won't be his turn, knowing Coorpsman will get mad.)  Lines are something special.  They are each Christmas: waiting for the surprise package, can't sleep excitement waiting, finding the razor with the blade in it every morning.  Surprised to find the blade always in it every morning.  Surprised to find his face almost in the burnished copper riveted-to-the-wall mirrors.  Surprised when the razor with the razor blade already in it takes away the rough ecstasy-feeling stubble from his face almost in the mirror.

          "You-Coorpsman.  We shave thees morning.  You like to shave?  Shave after me."  (Coorpsman is thinking how tedious it is to shave, thinking how crazy Chico is.)  Chico is in spasms of happiness and hole world ees wanderful.

          The other Sky-blues, Monster (silently) and Shaky and Rubberjaws, are watching and smiling inside at the sunshine of Chico and the bubbling inside.  They are watching Chico take the brushless shaving cream tube and squeeze it.  He is watching the cream.  It is a white worm.  It peeks out at him.  He giggles and stops squeezing.  It sucks itself back.  It peeks out.  It backs in.  It is wonderful.  Then he squeezes it all long-squirm-out laughing.  He doesn't use it to shave with.  He just likes to watch it squirm out.  He is laughing.  Monster is almost laughing inside and Shaky is roaring and Rubberjaws is hurt-stretch-laughing.  The corpsman is angry and shouting at Chico, who is laughing.  Chico is special sunshine for us; and because people from the outside, like the corpsman, do not understand special sunshine, they lock Chico up and save him for us.

          (I am beginning to feel still.  There are not so many rose petals when I walk, ripping up through my knees.  I am quieting, soft-feather-down inside.  I take Chico up into my sight, holding--I can't let go.  Suddenly I am piece-broken again.  Inside I corrode, rust-rotten, because Chico is so circular, so non-breakable.  He is almost--but I hyena laugh into myself.  I do not take him into my eyes.  I step him out of my think, but he pops in eel-slippery.)

          Chico is also evil.  One morning after being pulled out from under his bed and stand-shuffling in line, Chico gets before the almost mirror and looks slyly at the corpsman.  Coorpsman is not seeing.  Chico quickly unscrews the razor and takes the blade out.  Sin!!  Chico holds blade out at coorpsman.  "Here, Coorpsman, blade is no een razor thees morning?  What ees wrong?"

          Chico stands on one foot with his tongue in his cheek.  Chico is suddenly roar-laughing.  The corpsman is suddenly roar-shouting scared-mad.  The corpsman tells Chico to lay the razor blade on the sink.  Chico stands there laughing, hopping faster on one foot.  The corpsman is shouting louder.            

          Another corpsman comes and is talking to Chico.  Chico is laughing hysterically, hist-erackacka-ackalylyly.  They call the corpsman Shorty-eye, whom Chico likes to talk to about his boom-boom tummied children.  Shorty-eye comes and tells Chico to put the blade down.  Chico looks at Shorty-eye and then at large Gastro, who stands behind the other two.  Chico is roaring, and then he puts down the blade and walks toward the door, unable to contain his bubbling.

          Gastro jumps for the dangerous blade.  Shorty-eye and the other corpsman grab hold of great Chico.  They tell Chico that he is going into solitary confinement for this.  They try to act tough.

          "Chico, you are going into a cell by yourself.  If you do that again, we'll put you into a cell and never let you out."

          "You-Coorpsman, I go, okay."

          Chico looks almost sad, as if he were going away for good.  He walks up the aisle between the beds towards the door.  Softly he says, "Goobye Toemmee, Goobye Ruuuberjas, Goobye Moonster--Chico go away--Goobye."

          The door closes behind his greatness and we are saddest because our special sunshine is gone.  But I am smiling inside because I know he will find something special.  He will be surprised at being suddenly alone.  He will like the sound of nothing.  He will watch the sun rectangles move on the floor and have lots of time to dream about his boom-boom kid tummies.  Best of all, he will be laugh-bubbling back among us, suddenly surprised at not being alone.

                                  III

          Chico has a tree.  It is not so much of a tree, but to Chico it is a giant tree, and he climbs to the sky on it.

          Each day when we go out to the bullpen there is the pinochle game or the basketball or Professor reading a book.  But Chico does not understand complex things like basketball.  He watches the flap-flap of slippers on the dirt court and the big roundness of the ball as it flies from one Sky-blue to another.  It is not important the beeg rounness go through circle een sky.  It is too hot to be important.  He watches the flap-flap of cards: kings, queens, aces.  It is not important.  He does not understand why Shaky gets so nervous when he doesn't win.  He watches the flap-flap of Professor reading a book, turned-over pages.  It does not matter what is written.  They look nice, words: Streeeeetch waaaaaaay oooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuuuut or short wuds.

          He likes simplicity.  That, he can understand: like the word "tree."  Chico likes tree, so he goes around boolpain and finds a tree.  Nobody noticed the tree before.  It seems it must have suddenly grown there overnight.  It is a giant tree--perhaps twelve inches high.

          "Seee, You-Chico find heem treee.  You-Tree, Treee." (Softly.)  Bubbling: "Hey, You-Toemmee, Chico find heem tree."

          Chico comes over to me where I am in the shade and pulls at my arm.  "You-Tree."  I have to go over and see Chico's tree.  It is a maple tree over in the far corner of the bullpen.  It comes only halfway up Chico's calf.  Chico is bubbling and hopping up and down on one foot.  "I haav treee."

          Whispering, he says:  "How eet say in Bibull--God make a tree but cannot eat treee or geet keeecked out Pardice?  Well, thees ees good tree!  Theees ees Chico's treee."

          (I start to think his tree is silly.  I start to try to run solitary into myself, but Chico has me wide open and I can feel open chairs and windows, and there is only present timeness.  I am no past and no ahead.  He is warming me.)

          I nod and smile quietly at Chico's tree.

          Chico child-blues me.  "I tell you bout treees."

          Chico tells me about trees in darkness and how trees, he thinks, are very lonely.  "Arrr you loonely?" He child-blue eyes me.  "Yees, I theenk so.  Trees arrr loonely.  They geet loonely cause have stay een wan place.  They like people talk weeth them.  I play een them when I was boom-boom tummy kiddie.  Then they lak mee and they no loonger loonely."  He pouts a little.  "Yooo understan, thees treee ees my Pardice treee."

          (I fall inside of myself and swim back out.  It is easy to swim out now, floating up the waves of sunlight.  I look at the scar on my wrist-dangle.  I laugh-bubble inside.  "Paradise.")

          "I understand, it is your Pardice tree. --Pardice."

          Then I go back over to the wall and the shade, and I watch Chico and his tree.  Chico is all lost in his tree.  His mind is hiding up in the leaves somewhere.  He remembers falling boomp down from a tree and he smiles.  He touches gently one of the leaves, making it real, and then he sits on the ground and smiles at Paradise.

          Everyday in the bullpen it is like this, and Chico carries out a paper cup full of water to grow his tree sky high.  Sometimes:  "Tree ees noo loonely now, hey you-Toemmee?"

          Chico is happy with his tree until the day of the tree riot.  Junglebunny starts the trouble.

          Junglebunny is a marine who did not like his duty assignment, and so he went in one day and pissed on his commanding officer's desk.  Junglebunny is about eighteen, and he does not understand the simplicity and the sunshine of Chico-under-the-bed.  He understands only stubborn.  He has a scar on his left cheek, where he got into a fight about who was going to take a whore home.  Junglebunny is one of the few Sky-blues I do not find in my ribcage.  He yelps and howls and  bites my feel, preying on Chico.  But Chico never pays any attention to Junglebunny when he kids Chico about his sleeping under the bed.  "Hah!  Chico is a dog.  He sleeps on the ground like a dog!"

          Chico does not understand meanness and so he hangs his hands doglike in front of him and pants his tongue out doglike.  I laugh and Shaky laughs and then Junglebunny does not understand that it is funny.  "See!  Chico knows he is a dog.  Here, doggy!  Here, doggy!"

          Then we take Chico by the arms and laugh with him down to the tables for chow and leave Junglebunny hurt-mad inside.  He does not understand why we like Chico better than him.

          Junglebunny hates Chico's tree.  When he finds out about Chico's tree, he runs around to all the Sky-blues in the bullpen and tells them about it.  "Chico thinks he has a tree.  It's only a foot high.  He thinks he's going to grow the tree overnight so he can escape over the roof.  Ha! Ha!  He thinks he can escape."

          The Professor does not even look up from his book.

          "Corpsman!  Chico's got a tree that he thinks he will escape on.  Ha! Ha!  He's crazy."  The corpsman smiles at Chico.  Chico comes running over to the corpsman.  "Doooono take my treee.  You-Joooonglebooonie."  Chico spits.  The corpsman tells him they will not take his tree and then Chico is happy again, and he goes back to guard his loneliness.

          Junglebunny sits over in the corner by the fence and scowls.  He waits for his chance to make fun of Chico, and Chico sits over by his tree, guarding it from Joooonglebooonie.

          It is two days after Junglebunny discovers Chico's tree that Junglebunny gets his revenge and the tree riot precipitates.  Chico sleeps under his bed as usual, and Gastro has to pull him out as usual, but Chico does not want to stand in line this morning.  He does not want to shave.  It is visitor's day and Chico's family is coming to see him.

          Chico says, "Me noo shave tooday.  My woooman coom.  My woooman like me weeth beard.  No like mee all smoooth.  No shave."

          Gastro tells him he has to shave.  It is a ward regulation.

          "No shave!"

          "We'll have to put you in solitary if you don't shave."

          "No shave!"

          "You won't be able to see your visitors."

          "No shave!  Dooono want too seee wooman eef I haav tooo shave."

          Junglebunny laughs when they take Chico away to his cell.

          "Gooobye Toemee, Goobye Shakee, Goobye Ruubberjas--Chico no shave."

          (Shorty-eye walks me in to see Specs.  Specs puts the electric salvation shock on me and I feel it tingle deeply.  I sit quite in the stiff wood of chair.  I see myself run up against the hollow bones of sunlight, then I spill on the floor with a clatter.  I do not want to talk to the other Sky-blues.  I try to reach out and touch Chico, but he slips far-greased away.  I see Junglebunny smirking down the long length of a hollow.  I want to be myself and sit.  I sit stiff in the quite wood chair, clattering bounce on the floor.  Junglebunny smirks near and leers that he has fixed Chico, torn Chico out on the wood tight of the ward.  "Ha. Ha.  I fix Chico.  Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Hah!"  I push him back with my brittle fists, and quite tight the chair sits in me.)

          Gastro brings Chico out to see his visitors.  "No shave."

          (I am suddenly knocked off my chair, but I feel a little elastic-stretched from Chico.)

          When we are ushered out to the bullpen after dinner, the storm breaks.  Chico goes over to water his lovely tree.  Suddenly:  "You-Treeeeee.  Soomboodie hurt You-Treeeeee."  Chico is tear-crying and water-spilling down-falling on his sky-blue, and he is down-falling inside.  "You-Tree" is torn up out of the ground, and broken-bodied leaf-bleeding.  Torn Paradise.

          Junglebunny makes the mistake of laughing.  "What happened, Chico?  Can't you escape now?  Ha! Ha!"

          Suddenly Chico spins and is running fullspeedahead-bullfashion at Jooonglebooonie.  Boom!  Joonglebooonie is crashed down when Chico bull-butts him in the belly with his almost no-hair head.  Chico is child-crying.  Junglebunny is yelling, "Murder!"  The corpsman runs over to grab Chico, and Chico butts him suddenly crash landing in the belly.  Chico is laugh-crying now and runs for Joooongleboooooonie, who accidentally gets up.  Down falling is j-b.  Back to the cooooooorpsman, who accidentally gets up.  Down bouncing is c-m.

          Chico suddenly stops.  He remembers the tree and runs over to it.  He kneels by it and touches the broken-bone tree.  He feels the wound in the ground and tries to stick the tree back in.  It falls over jaggedly.

          Later, Specs talks to Chico, and then Chico and I go out with a new corpsman to bury Chico's tree.  Chico is sad and is like a priest.  He folds all the torn branches up together and caresses the leaves with his soft-feeling hands.  He lays them all in a pile and scuffs some dirt over them with his hand-grenade legs.  Then he mumbles something over the tree which I cannot understand, and I am glad because I do not want to remember that much.

          The corpsman is shuff-shuffling.  Chico looks softly down and then says, "You-Toemmee, you know.  Sooomboodie breaks my treee oop.  Sooombooodie no go Pardice."  Then he smiles, surprised.  "Treee is no loonely mooore."

          (I am looking at Chico, and he is fading a little.  I stretch-feel him die at my finger trembles.  I grab, try to hold, but he is slipping greasily away-- a little out...)

                    IV

          (Grey this morning.  Torn I twisted under Specs' touch--Specs poking and pressing Chico from the shadows secret.  Chico fading and I stiffening.  Specs Christing Chico, and I tearing and lonely.)

          Sometimes Chico is almost what people in the outside world would call rational.  Even when he is almost-rational, he is never quite like anyone else.  One day Chico comes to me and says, "I am goona die veree sooon, hey-Toemmee."  I am not sure whether he is asking me or telling me.  "Yes, I goona die.  Doctor says I no goona die.  But I knoows.  Doctor come round in mooorning.  Looook at mee.  Heee say:  Why you-Chico sleep under bad?  I say, cause I lak sleep under bad.  He no ask meee:  Why you-Chico goona die?  I no can say: cause I wanna die.  He say I no goona die!  He lie tooo mee.  I can tell.  I feeel.  Soometime I lay wake een night and knooow.  Sooometime whan I weeth my woooman sheee knoow and shee cry.  Doctor no ask why my woooman cry.  He oonly ask 'why you-Chico sleep unner bad?'  Gooood Doctor."  Chico stares down at his feet and follows a crack in the floor with his toe.

          I try to tell Chico that he his not going to die, and he looks up at me into my eyes and sees that I am lying to him.  He can see that I know he has a disease that is eating up his brain and that someday he will wake up to find himself not here, not anywhere.  Still, I have trouble believing it myself, and I am lying to myself more than I am trying to lie to him.  I cannot picture him being anywhere but here on this ward with us.  But Chico is hurt because he thinks I am like the Doctor, who does not care about him.

          "Doona lie to meee, you-Toemmee."  (Far away.)  "Yooo knoow, don yooo-Toemmee?  I knoow whan I wake up, and I knoow I have not beeen membering where I am.  Yoooo knoow where yooo arr all time, hey you-Toemmee?"

          I want to tell him that sometimes I do not where I am, that sometimes I feel all crazy inside, but I know that he will not understand, and I do not expect him to understand, so I nod my and follow a crack in the floor with my toe.

          Quietly, he is speaking--quietly so the others cannot hear, because he is giving his insides to me, and I do not want them because they remind me of my insides, and I want them because I do not want to forget my insides.

          (I am diving inside, but it is hard to swim back.  Hyena laugh-like, I swing jaggedly at the end of my elastic.  Specs is grin-catching at his ears, finger-tappings together.  I feel dying. I try.  I up-diving.  Chico talking.)

          "I have a wooman.  Thass why I noo wanna die.  Shee coom see meee here.  Yooo have a woooman?"  I do not answer him.  He is gentle and goes on anyway.

          He tells me about his woman.  His woooooooman wears red because he likes red.  His woman makes kiddies for him, makes him three kiddies.  His kiddies have nice teeth, and they like to listen to seashells.  They hold them near their ears, and they show their white-teeth-smiling at the roar.  Then they hold the shell up to Chico's ear and he hears the roar, the roar of sea, of blood-pounding life in the ear.  I feel the roar a little, too.

          (Junglebunny leers near nowhere out of sudden space and we are dead.  Then his slope-shouldered grinning back disintegrates, and we are alive again.)

          He tells me about his woman comes to see him.  He wants to go to bed with her but cannot because he is here, because there is no aloneness with her, because Gastro is looking or Shorty-eye is eyeing.  He waits until he thinks Shorty-eye is not looking, then he touches her breast, and he goes all crazy hot inside.  Shorty-eye is looking, and Chico can see him smiling.

          "Eet ees no fooonny, no Toemmee?"

          "No, it's not funny."  I think of Shorty-eye thinking it funny and laughing over it.  I think of him laughing when Chico and his woman are crazy-hot inside to be oneness with each other, and Shorty-eye laughing, and Junglebunny leering.  Why can't they let him go home to his wife and his seashell-roar-loving kiddies?  If he is going to die, why can't they let him die in floating-down one with his woman?

          He is still talking.  "Eeet ees no foonny--I like play kiddies games weeth my kiddies.  Play Gian Steep: Leetle Steep.  I go to kiddies:  You-Kiddies may take twoo gian steps foowad.  They geegle all hoppiness.  I like my woooman to kees een my ear.  Yooo like that?  I tell kiddies:  You-Kiddies may take twoo leetle steeeps backwud.  They go cry-cry een no hoppiness."

          Chico is thinking about Giant Step, Little Step, when he suddenly is the other Chico, the no-membering Chico.  He walks away grenade-legged, as if he has not been talking to me, and goes over to the window.  It is raining, and I can see by the way that he looks out the screens that he has never seen it rain before.  I can see that he wants to be let out in it suddenly, to feel it newly running down his child-face and into his wooman-keesed ears.

          "Hey  you-Toemmee, eet rains."

          Now he is Chico-under-the-bed again.  He is the director with his child-blues going:  You may take two giant steps into happiness, Tommy.  You may take one giant step into remembering yourself, Monster.  You may take two baby steps back into hurtness, Junglebunny.--I am sorry, Junglebunny, I do not mean it, but you break up my tree---Coooorpsman, you cannot play because you do not understand the game.

                                  V

          Chico was to me all this leafness and all this tree.  He was the sudden hopping inside of me.  One dark I was sinking on the hard of my bed-forgetting, sweat-crying on my forehead.  He says to me:  "Hey you-Toemmee... you sleep ...no?"  I can hear his whisper crawl-stumble through the night.

          "No.  I'm not sleeping," I say, sweating, to him.

          "Thaas baad," he stumbles to me.  "Sooomday wee all sleeep.  Noo, Toemmee?"  He is telling me he will die down floating soon.  I do not want to hold it in my ears.  He is telling me that I will forget him when he is die floating down.  I tell him he will not die, and I know I am lying.  He is going away sadly, nod nod his tired no-hair.  I know he is going to die down soon.

          In the sunrise, I remember Specs calling me to his room.  I remember tight sit in the room, staring at the round flesh of his face--the microscopic pierce of his thin sharp eyes behind his glasses.

          The tight of that tomb room shone glare-white on the walls, stiff-lined on the sharp wood of his desk.  Specs is hum-mumbling something to my forgot- conscious.  I feel stiffening in me.  I feel the daylight become hard glass.

          He is saying, "You don't really think that Chico is Christ."  He says it softly, understandingly with his complex rational mind.  "He has flesh and blood just as you do, doesn't he?  You don't really believe he's Christ?"

          I stumble.  "I guess not."

          "If he were Christ, then he wouldn't be made of flesh or blood,...and he wouldn't be here unless it were Judgment Day.  And if it were Judgment Day, we wouldn't be as we are now...sitting here as we are."

          "I...I don't know," I said.  "I didn't mean he is Christ.  I don't know what I thought.  I mean he is like Christ.  He is simple and...oh, God!!!...I can't explain.  I don't know.  I don't know."

          I talk with Specs and he makes me know that Chico is not Christ, that I am all right, and I am not crazy.  And when I am leaving his office, I feel strange.  I feel as if I had been away from my body for a long time.  I feel strange standing there in the suddenly length of the ward.  I suddenly want to leave there.  I suddenly am ashamed I am there.  I can feel a stretching at my throat.  The other patients are out in the hot sunlight of the bullpen and I do not want to go out there with them.  I am ashamed to look at them.  I feel funny about Chico.  I am afraid to look at him.  I go out to the sharp sunlight of the bullpen and I see Chico.

          Chico runs human fashion up to me and says, "Hey yoo-Toemmee.  Hey-yoo-Toemmee.  Hey-yoo-Shakee, Toemmee ees here.  Toemmee cooms back from Doctor.  How you, hey-Toemmee?"

          He looks like a jiggling tired idiot.  Except I know that he is not.  But I am not sure, and I do not know what to say to him.  I am ashamed for his jiggling and his no-hairness.  "I'm all right, I guess."  That is all I can say, and I go and sit down by the fence, feeling the hot steel wire through my pajamas, feeling very fatigued.

          Chico looks hurt and puzzled for a moment, then he smiles sudden-brightly white in the sunshine and goes to talk to another patient.  I do not know what to think.  I am all mixed up, and I am ashamed I am there.  I can see two soldiers talking as they walk down the road past the ward, and I turn my face away from them so they cannot see it.

          (I am sitting in the sunlight, steel hot fence on my back, and feeling Chico run out to the stretch end, then back and out, and I am a little slate-faced.  I want to forget him.  I want to feel soldier-talking down the road.  I look up at the wax sky melting in the sun, and want to be outside.)

 

          That night Chico died.  I was lying on my bed in the dark, smoking a cigarette, feeling the smoke of it go down into my lungs, feeling it go slowly out of my nose and mouth.  Chico gave a call from under his bed to the corpsman.  They pulled at his arm and leg, trying to get him off the floor.  He resisted them.  I did not go near him, because I did not want to see him die.  I saw the doctors standing over him, and the rush of the corpsmen back and forth, like little white bugs devouring something.  I saw Shaky sitting afraid in his bed.  I saw Monster looking down questioningly at his large strong fingers.  I heard doctors talking among themselves, not quite saying loud enough to hear what had killed him.

          They took him out on a cart, covered with the white grave of a sheet.  I watched the whiteness move past my bed--out through the heavy steel door that closed after him with a dead click.

          The next day, I saw the doctor again, and I felt better.  He told me they would let me out pretty soon.  I was glad about that.  I didn't want to stay here anymore.  I went back to the ward and couldn't talk to Rubberjaws or Shaky.

          Three days later, they had a funeral for Chico in the hospital chapel.  I didn't want to go, but the corpsman offered to take anybody that wanted to go.  Shaky and Rubberjaws and Monster and Professor and even Junglebunny wanted to go, so I fell in at the back of the line.

          We stood in the chapel, and I listened to the priest saying something in Latin.  I was watching Chico's wife, and she was crying softly.  I was feeling the walls, dark-pressing in on me.  After the priest was finished, I went up to look at Chico.  His face had the waxiness of dead flesh, but I was afraid to touch it.  I wanted to touch it to make sure, but I couldn't.  Suddenly I could feel him glowing.  It was he floating out of his skywards body.  I could see him hopping in front of me.  He is smile-smiling in his child-blueness down into the deeply red-hot-riveted inside me.  I am catch-quickening his sudden laughter.  I want him to say:  "Hey-yoo.  Hey-yoo-God, I coom to play seee-shell and Gian Steep weeth you.  I coom to say, --take twoo gian steeps eento world.  I coom flap-flap jig-jiggling.  Hey-you-Gooooood!"

          Then there was nothing.

          (He ran out and snapped the elastic.)

          I was standing there, looking at the dead body of a man, the dead flesh of a blind face.  I did not know what to do.  I was sorry I had doubted him.  I could still feel him a little, moving in and out of that coffin.  But I know now that it was my imagination, that I was only crazy for a little bit.

          (I felt solid and well, brick plaster up against my once-flimsy ribs.  I felt as if the something of Chico in my mind was soap-bubble burst.  It was a hazy stinging film in the air.)

          We went back to the ward, and I lay on my bed, and Chico and Junglebunny and Specs, Shaky and Monster, all bounced in and out of my mind like round balls of glass--brilliant complicated marbles.  I played with them, and finally put them into my pocket.  I laughed, not sure whether I had won or lost, and passed through the green door.

          And now that I have left, I have almost forgotten about it all.  But sometimes I think about the past and about Chico, and I turn around sometimes in the bright flowers of sunlight and see him hop-happy smiling into me.                                                           

 

Return to Bylines

Bookmark and Share