Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Are you still human like me?

Then take heed to a warning! Open your ears and hear what I have come running through sage brush and cactus, out into the traffic crowding the expressway, to tell you, about how I . . . I . . .

I saw it all with my own two eyes! Yes, that's it, with my own two eyes, and now here am I, staggering along in the ditch through the gathering dusk, all scratched and bruised with my clothes torn to shreds; I am logged in to the Internet via my little handheld Blackberry, so that I can send out to the world this message, in a big bold blood red font . . .

"They are coming and YOU are next!"

But do bear with me: I'm all out of breath; my hands are trembling as they fumble over this dinky little keyboard, and I raise my voice to a shout, to a scream (or a wail) to warn you not only of their coming, but of the unthinkable truth that they are here already.

Hear me! Or, just look: I have it here! That's right, it's all written down, as of just these past three days. So now, just now, even as we speak, I push the little button to upload it to the world . . .

The Daily Journal of Dr. Miles Cantrell
June 14: How do I even begin? But there is no time to ask! No, only to act, to tell exactly how it happened . . .

It was just three short weeks ago, when I was still your typical, average Southern California M.D. doing general practice in the Coastal Range mountain town of Santa Mira. I had your typical, average small town fiancé on my typical, average arm as we would go out on a Saturday night to the country club for dinner, dancing and drinks. By and large, they were flat in the middle typical dinners, and the highballs were not bad. On average, life was typical as it gets--or got, before that eerie night in the Beauvista club lounge when my best friend and colleague, Dr. Jack Belleslettres, a podiatrist, and free-lance writer of medical erotica stopped by at our table for a drink.

We were joined by Dr. Jack just as Becky Drizzle, my fiancé (who everyone says is *the* most typically small-town-pretty, *From Here to Eternity* image of Donna Reed that you would ever hope to see), and I, i.e. she and I were just pushing the bare bones of our Porterhouses aside--not that we are the sort who don't "clean up everything on our plates", or who don't think of the starving children in Africa or Green Bay, Wisconsin while we're eating, it's not that at all! No, it's just that it usually takes at least an hour to eat the bone, if you're going to chew it right (which is very important), and that night, we had it planned to stop at the Santa Mira theatre down on Main street to take in a movie after dinner; so we just wanted to be on time for when the curtain went up, is all. I'm sure we could have asked for doggie bags so that we could gnaw the bones while we watched the show, but you never know how the people sitting in front of you are going to go for all that cracking and crunching noise going on behind their necks, when they're trying to enjoy the music, you know, of Marlon Brando singing, "You've Got the Eyes of a Woman in Love." So, there's that, too. It's not every Saturday Night that you get to go see Guys & Dolls. Neither is it every Saturday Night, nor any other kind of typical, average night in Santa Mira that one chances to have my friend Dr. Jack sitting down for a drink at your table in the shape he was in on this night.

I had never seen the man so out of it, and when we would ask what was disturbing his typically, on average, friendly and jocular manner, he would just sit there with his eyes hidden behind a hand, while waving the other so as to soundlessly say, "Don't ask. Oh, just don't ask." But every time he did that, the waiter would think it a signal to refresh Jack's drink, so he was already on his fourth Bloody Mary by the time he finally looked up into my eyes to say, "Miles, there is something wrong with Theodora; it's as if she's a completely different person, and it's also as if I just don't know her anymore."

Theodora is Dr. Jack's wife, formerly his favorite patient, an ingrown toenail and hang-nail sufferer, and as to just how those afflictions of hers had turned from gentle medical care of foot-holding, a dash or two of mercurochrome and massage--to romance is anyone's guess but everyone in town has always said that Theodora, when she is looked at from one certain angle, is the very most typical, small-town image of your average "Morticia Addams," you would ever expect to see, and I have never disputed that broadly whispered Santa Mira, small-town observation.

"But Jack," Becky said, reaching compassionately for his hand to take it down from his face, "whatever can you mean to say Theodora is not herself--who else could she be?"

Jack's free hand shakily returned the pipe to his mouth; he puffed for a moment, then sighed to say, "I just don't know. It's as if something about her has been snatched."

Her hand jerked away from his as from an electric shock. "Whatever can you mean, Jack, by a word like snatched?"

"I'm not even sure what I mean, myself," said Dr. Jack. "It's just that it's the very first word that comes to mind."

"Hm," I said, taking Jack's hand, seeing it was available. "Let me see." I moved my fingers to his wrist, pressed and started looking at my watch while I took his pulse. Funny how I've always been able to talk to patients while counting the beat of their hearts, but there you have it. I kept watching my second hand and I did not look up while I started talking to Jack, as is my manner, about the upcoming Dodgers game. Of course, there isn't an awful lot you can say about a baseball game that hasn't been played yet, so three times around the dial with the old second hand usually about covers it.

I saw that Jack's pulse was within normal range for a fellow of 39 typical, average years; a guy of slight frame, some three or four inches shy of six feet, weight around 145 pounds, and I was just letting go of his wrist when Becky suddenly grabbed it. "You could learn to share things a little more, Miles," she said, somewhat crossly, I thought.

"Sorry," I said, reaching for my Martini, "I thought you were done with it."

"Not by a long shot," said she, stroking his hand. "I don't know why you couldn't of just asked before you snatched it away from me like that."

"Snatched!" said Jack with a jerk, wrenching his hand from Becky's grasp. "That's what I said, isn't it--about Theodora--that she's been . . ."

"Sure, Jack, sure," I said as now I tried to lay hold on his hand, myself.

"Oh, no you don't,' he said, pulling it away: "I need that for my drink."

"But you do have two of them," I pointed out.

"Yes, I do, Miles," he said, "but this other one has my pipe in it."

I decided not to let my disappointment show and just shrugged to state, rather matter-of-factly, "Well, I just don't know what to say, Jack except that I've never seen you so distracted."

"Oh come," said Becky. "We've never seen Jack distracted, period, so you can forget the 'so' part, Miles. Jeez."

"Sorry," I said. "But you're right, it's true, Jack is always such a happy go lucky kind of guy."

"Uh-huh," he said, "That's just fine for you to say, my friend, till you should have to try living with someone who is suddenly a complete imposter posing as your wife!" He pointed across the table with the stem of his pipe: "Just go through that sometime, Miles; have a person who looks and smells for all the world like the woman you married, but who has none of the warmth and affection, the consideration for you that . . . oh, I don't know how to put it--looks and smells be dashed! If she never makes Jello any more, would you call that a wife?"

"Well . . ." I had to think about it because, bachelor that I am since my divorce, I was hardly one to be consulted as an authority on the subject of a happy marriage, with Jello, or with the butterscotch pudding--or both. I started to think back upon the cozy, domestic details of my own delicious days of being poured sweetly steaming into the heart-shaped mold of matrimony, till just when things had started to gel, also they began to chill, only later to be left out to melt and get all sticky and runny--but Jack had already redirected his question:

"Becky?" He cocked his brow. "I ask again: can you call this a wife?"

Becky frowned over the thought as her nails fretfully tapped at the glass between her hands; at last she looked across the table to say, "Well, gosh! There's just oodles of other things that a woman in love has for the ingredients to a happy marriage." She took up a stray swizzle stick and rapped her glass. "Macaroni and cheese, for example." She poured the abundance of her concern upon him with a glance, long and searching. "Tell us now, Jack. Just how is the macaroni & cheese in your marriage--is it smooth and creamy and ever so soft and warm or . . ."

"It's just not there!" Jack's hands had both contracted to fists.

"But--not even one slippery wet little noodle of it?" asked Becky.

Jack's hand had gone to his forehead. "Oooooh, God!" he wailed.