by Leslie VanExel, Jr.
Even though the widow Mrs. Heleen had lived through several wars, the gas crisis, the recession, the depression, the race riots, scandals, murders, the rise and domination of computers, the advent of space travel, and even her immediate family, nothing had prepared her for the day she had her stroke.
After all, what could you really do to prepare to have a stroke, except to have had one before, and since she had been blessed with very good health up to this point, no one would have suspected it. She had just returned from a week’s stay with her sister-in-law, Ruth, and though her neighbor’s boy, Justin, was supposed to have fed Mr. Bobbins (which he neglected to do,) she wanted to give him a special welcome home meal of tuna and milk. She came in and turned on the TV, not at all mindful of the popping noises in her head.
When she regained consciousness it had been at least a few hours. She could tell because the five o’clock news was on and Steve Rambo was very being whimsical about the weather. She was lying on her back with her head propped up against the coffee table; all she could see was the television, the bookcase, and herself, laying there with the perfect television slouch.
It took the widow several minutes of cobwebbed consciousness to realize that she couldn’t feel anything in her body. Throughout the commercial break she tested her limbs one by one, attempting to move each of them, or at least register some sort of feeling. The Toyota commercial was clearly audible in the background as she attempted to will her limbs to move. The only movement she could see was the regular rise and fall of her chest. That constant motion deluded her to believe that nothing was really wrong and she had just never quite woken up from the nap she didn’t remember laying down to.
She never studied anything medical or even technical, so had someone explained to her that when she fell after the stroke she broke the sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae, as well as virtually shattering the first thoracic vertebrae, disrupting almost the entirety of the spinal cord and thereby severing the motor neurons for the majority of her body, she would have smiled nicely and waited for a more “polite” explanation. And when they continued with the good news that she hadn’t damaged the most important of the main autonomic nervous system nerves, the Vagus 10, (which is the reason she was still alive,) on the edge of that elegant 1927 coffee table, she would have been more concerned about being able to buff out the marks she left on the table rather than the possible reconstruction of the bones and nerves in her neck or any who what’s it about any Las Vegas 10.
It might have been her misconception as to her true predicament or maybe an after effect of the stroke, but regardless Gracie was laying on the rug watching television over her near motionless body with an incredible sense of calm. She smiled with the arrival of Mr. Bobbins, who padded softly up to her, gave out a loud meow of want and began purring and rubbing up and down against her side.
It wasn’t until the arrival of Mr. Bobbins that she had tried to talk. She could feel her jaw moving, hear the sound of her moist lips flapping, attempting to mouth sounds, but only the pasty smacking of her mouth was audible over the television. The bursting of blood vessels in her brain had caused lesions within the left hemisphere. Called conduction aphasia, it left her able to comprehend, but unable to form sentences or even words. She probably could have still screamed, had she not broken her neck and severed the nerves controlling intentional lung expansion and contraction. To the helpless Mrs. Heleen none of this mattered. She just wanted so badly to tell Mr. Bobbins what a pretty kitty he was and how soft his white fur was that tears welled up in her eyes.
As she tried to compose herself she realized that not only could she not pet Mr. Bobbins’ soft, white fur, but she couldn’t even feel his rubbing against the side of her body. With this knowledge she let loose the tears, having no consolation that she could at least feel them run down her cheek, pausing at every slight wrinkle, then encouraged with others to flow freely, dropping off the oblivion of her chin, where everything tangible ceased to exist for her except through sight. Mr. Bobbins snuggled in closer, purring more loudly as if to compensate for the lack of feeling.
She cried openly with sympathy for poor Mr. Bobbins, who could no longer hear how pretty he was or how he was always such a good kitty. Just as Mr. Bobbins’ meows had set off her tears, his purring had subsided them. She couldn’t drown out his purring with open bereavement, and finally smiled with tear streaked cheeks at the amazing power Mr. Bobbins had in his throbbing purrs and closed eyes of blasé contemplation. Taking some of his self contentment she continued to watch him, dozing off at some point during the ten o’clock news, with Mr. Bobbins curled up tightly next to her body, basking in her warmth.
She awoke the next morning to Mr. Bobbins’ sandpaper tongue as he mewed loudly in her face. At first it startled her, but after a couple more resounding mews of hunger, she realized that she couldn’t feed him his regular breakfast. Mr. Bobbins was always cranky when his breakfast was late, but the fact that he was more persistent than usual made her sad. In her melancholy she also wondered who would clean his litter box. Mr. Bobbins walked back and forth across her chest and arms mewing loudly. After several minutes of performance, he gave up the idea of waking her up and left to search for the real Mrs. Heleen who would surely feed him. As he bound off toward her bedroom, she had herself an epiphany as to what must really be going on.
The widow Mrs. Gracie Heleen had to be dead. Dead as dead and just clinging to her body like some poor soul who felt cheated in life and not ready to go to heaven yet. She had heard of such things and figured she was just a little more attached to her body that most spirits. It had to be the fact that she wouldn’t leave her body that kept her body alive. She had seen the shows about the spirits that were connected to homes or locations where they died, but she had never heard of souls that stayed connected to their respective bodies. This new information helped her come the conclusion that it was the doctors, the technology, or the general shock of getting killed that made people die. Whether their bodies were blighted by disease or utterly destroyed in a car accident, it was the ultimate will of the individual that let them die.
This knowledge left a sort of mild satisfaction that lingered in her thoughts. She settled upon it, content listening to her breathing. Even through the music of the exciting upcoming events on the news, she could still hear her breathing, heavy and regular, calming her so that she couldn’t imagine anything was wrong. She figured that the elderly that died in their sleep just willed themselves to no longer live and it was that scenario that made her believe that for some reason she still needed to live. As she searched through her mind for a clue as to the reasoning for her still remaining alive, she sank deeper into a numb weariness that left her exhausted. The attempt to analyze her current situation left her fatigued and as she sunk into sleep she could hear the television wishing her a good morning accompanied with the distant mews of Mr. Bobbins.
The television was giving her less and less comfort as it became more background noise and visual busywork, rather than a source of entertainment. She had already memorized all the fixtures around the TV, the bookcase it was nestled in, the ceramic unicorn next to the set of playful glass kittens above the television, and the collection of books that sat above them, now old and dusty, with little or no creases upon the bindings. The books were all from her university days and ended up making a colorful bit of furnishing, rather than a library. She couldn’t make out the names on the bindings, their clarity and luster lost without her reading glasses.
Being in her current predicament, the desire to read some of those old books strengthened, and just the inability to read them made reading them all the more attractive. She held a slight pang of remorse at the aspect of not reading the books anymore and even wondered if this was why she wouldn’t die. She thought of all the movies she could remember involving the supernatural and how people needed to come full circle to complete their lives before they could die; she deducted that that couldn’t be the reason because she would have a much better chance reading them being a ghost rather than a paraplegic.
She looked at her feet, imagining that they must be cold without her slippers, then wondered if her body was actually cold or not. The fact that her face was warm made no difference to her, after all, different body parts hold different temperatures, and all this laying around without a bathrobe must be making her slightly cold. Mr. Bobbins seemed to like her warmth; he laid next to her almost constantly, and as time progressed he mewed less, and slept more. She figured he would easily outlast her seeing how he had so much fat he could use up like a bear hibernating in the winter. He could easily last a couple months on the round paunch he ambled around. Taking into consideration the fact that he slept all the time, he could last even longer. She heard him yawn and stretch, his furry body shuttering with such a deep stretch, and rolling over slightly get a better sleeping position.
She had been lying there for two days, and never felt any of the common physical urges associated with the living. She still had yet to feel hungry, or to have to go to the bathroom. At one point she wondered if she was retaining everything or not, but since she could smell nothing out of the ordinary, except the acrid scent of Mr. Bobbins’ litterbox, she figured she held everything in like an insect that shuts down all functions to preserve energy. Once in a while the dry parched feeling in her throat returned, giving her a taste of living again, knowing what it was like once again to have human feeling and urges. She was in such a state of euphoria that she began to love that hot scratchy dryness swelling up her throat and leaving her slightly lightheaded from dehydration. She smiled, watching the slow rhythmic movements of Mr. Bobbins’ breathing, wondering what cats dreamt of until she dozed off.
She awoke to a dull scratching on the back of her head and it wasn’t until she noticed the television moving that she realized she must be moving. Giggling excitedly with her eyes she wondered if her body was being returned to her, having lasted through some sort of test set up by God. She closed her eyes and waited for the warm glow of the presence of God to return feeling to her body, a true illustration of her rebirth. It took a few minutes before the movement continued and she began looking around for some other motive. There was nothing out of the ordinary except for Mr. Bobbins, making a lot of jerky movements down next to her feet. It wasn’t long before she noticed the synchronized movement of her body with the wiggling of Mr. Bobbins.
Mr. Bobbins, who no longer mewed and cried for food, had found a fine source of nutrition in the feet of the poor widow. As he tugged at the flesh from the bottom of her second toe, he was moving her whole body, and in fact, actually pulling her from the position she had been in for the past two days. The noisy smacking lips of Mr. Bobbins was offset only by the silent mealy mouthed attempts at screams by Genie. Her inability to drown out the chewing of Mr. Bobbins only emphasized a horror that she just couldn’t accept. He continued to tug at her, slowly sliding her body out. Her view shifted with the movement, slowly, until she could only see the top of the bookcase below, the front of the coffee table above, and a lot of ceiling in between. Her dried and cracked lips made a curious moist sound as she flapped them furiously, first out of horror of what was happening, then in an attempt at praying for him to stop.
When the tugging finally ceased, she knew that God had heard her silent pleas for help, and even though she still remained attached to her body, at least she wouldn’t have to hear those noises anymore. Instead, through the noise of the TV she could hear the soft padding of Mr. Bobbins’ paws come nearer, and as he rolled down against the side of her face to clean himself, she could smell the slight salty fragrance of her own blood.
The scent left her desiring not only to be rid of Mr. Bobbins, but strangely made her hunger for food, or at least something to quench her thirst. Through despair, crept contemplation, and she eventually rediscovered comfort in him. The licking sounds of him cleaning himself after a fine meal made her feel grateful that at least he could be well fed and content, even though she could physically do nothing for him but exist. From her memories of his playful rambunctiousness as a kitten, she could never hate Mr. Bobbins, and understood that he had his reasons for doing the things that he did. If he could speak, she was sure he would apologize for the fact that he was eating her, and be very thankful for the food. She knew Mr. Bobbins certainly felt that way; the manner in which he cleaned himself, the way he would always return by her line of sight after eating, proved it in her mind. She forgave his tromping blood all over her clothes, because without his loud purrs of satisfaction to keep her company, she would surely have passed long ago from pure heartbreak.
Mr. Bobbins was kneading his claws in her stomach to soften up a place for a nap when Gracie started feeling rather ill. Her headaches had remained since the first day, and with all the loss of blood from the reopening of wounds she wouldn’t last much longer. She could hear the popping and snapping of Mr. Bobbins’ claws on her clothes, and knew he had to be soothing her stomach. She had been feeling delirious for over a day now, and wondered if it was the weakening of her soul’s bonds on the body that were making her feel so strange. If it was the partial detachment of her soul from its body that made her lose the capacity to move in the first place, there had to be some ill effects afterwards.
She had much time to contemplate what was happening to her, and in a sassy bit of delirium, she realized that all of this started occurring after Mr. Bobbins’ decision to dine had been made. With wide-eyed understanding, she realized that Mr. Bobbins must be severing her soul’s bonds to her body! After more thought in the shadow of Mr. Bobbins’ paunch, she calculated that there had to be an anchor for the soul in each of the extremities. Mr. Bobbins had started on what she thought to be the left foot, and after a couple of days, he suddenly switched over to the other foot. (She could tell by the direction her body moved when he tugged.) The sour smell that had been growing since then must be the true smell of her soul, and she anticipated its increase with Mr. Bobbins’ efforts. She knew that after session or two (it must take that long to sever the connection) he would move on, most likely to one hand or the other, so that she may be set free. This must be why he always came close to her face, to show her what a good job he has done and to console her, for soon she would have her freedom.
With this she mentally thanked Mr. Bobbins, who suffered through such diligent labor to help her through such a massive transition--that of life to the afterlife! The power of his act was so overwhelming to her, and she felt such a joy, that had she not been so dehydrated, she would have openly wept. She looked forward to the meals taken by Mr. Bobbins. After each he would wander over and lay next to her. At these times, she began to see the strong virtues of divinity rippling across his fur. The white purity of the fur, so soft and compassionate, offset the strength of conviction that glowed in his sky blue eyes. His head, chest, and front legs were now discolored a dull red, truly a symbol of his pure form exposing itself to her. He looked majestic, wearing high gauntlets and a mask upon his head like a crown. She could see a few dark splotches in the mask. They resembled tribal marking of some sort, the physical symbol of his divinity exposed to her. His pink nose still protruding beyond the mask along with the powerful glow of his rich blue eyes made him appear even more divine, showing his calm contemplation of the situation. As he licked his lips with deep satisfaction she thanked Lord above that He had sent Mr. Bobbins to help her on her way.
It had been five days since the fall and as the widow Gracie had less and less conscious time, she had no idea how long it had been or what was the passage of the days really were. Her vision had been consistently dulling, and now being almost totally blind, she had nothing more to console her except the light tugging of Mr. Bobbins and the soft chew and lick sounds of her deliverance. She couldn’t smell much anymore, figuring it was going just the same as her sight. The only thing she could make out was a mixture of strong acidulous scents. Those of salt and musty decay were a constant reminder to her, expressing the urgency with which Mr. Bobbins worked to liberate her soul. These scents pacified her, giving her the patience to await her deliverance.
With the slight tugging from Mr. Bobbins keeping her company, she knew that it was only a matter of time before he freed her. As she listened to her scratchy, difficult breathing, the tugging on her hand stopped short. She wondered why Mr. Bobbins had stopped so abruptly, then she heard noises. Distant and barely audible to her, she could hear voices and sounds, slightly unintelligible, but growing louder. She couldn’t tell where Mr. Bobbins had gone and terror struck her as she wondered what could be approaching that would openly challenge the divinity of Mr. Bobbins. One loud CRACK!, and then another shocked a feeling of violence into her and she feared that it must be a demon coming to steal her soul away. The terror showed in her blind eyes, open wide and fearful, and as the last loud crash of the splintering door jamb erupted in her ears, she could only lay in agony of what was approaching.
There were footsteps, then a click as the television turned off. The silence rushed in at Mrs. Heleen and washed over her, drowning her with the final deprivation of her enclosed world. In the silence that followed she could hear it. The dull throbbing inside of her head. A slow pulsing that had always been there but until now she never noticed. And as she lay, listening to the slow rhythmic pulse, she could hear it growing fainter, until at last, it fell silent.
“Jesus Christ, look at this mess.”
She could still make out voices, bold devils mimicking the sounds of men.
“What the hell did this?”
“Not sure-- hold on a sec, there it is!”
“Yeah, come over here and help me get that damn cat.”
A sense of calm satisfaction filled the widow, for she knew no mere devils could stop him, and through the abrupt sounds of shifting bodies and broken knick-knacks she could hear them fumbling about in vain.
“Over there, over there!”
Her hearing was almost gone, but through the dull clamor, she could hear the soft pounding of his paws, then silence as he leapt over her. She could feel the air upon her face and the brush of his soft belly fur on her nose, then pattering, off and away.
The clap of the screen door and curses of those devils in pursuit were the last sounds she heard as everything drifted to silence. With a sudden clarity of sight, she could see Mr. Bobbins, sleek and strong, wearing the garb of divinity upon his body. He was running back, up into the sky, shattering the pure blue with his white body. As he rose, he lost shape, dispersing into the clouds. With mask aflame, he kindled a trail for her to follow, now that she could, up into the clouds, so white, and so soft.