Touch Him, Touch Him

I’ve been having vivid nap dreams for weeks, and today’s, when I woke up, made me exclaim, for in the dream, as I watched my friend Ken sort through old newspapers, his clipping scissors at the ready, in his plaid shirt and slacks and shuffley slippers, I said, “Ken, you are dead,” and Ken, as Ken does or did, kept right on talking.

And I talked to myself: touch him, touch him, he is dead.
When I awoke, tears streaming down my face, I knew the truth; Ken was dead, his visit was from the ether.

Touch him, touch him, he is dead.

He lived in a house, and he had a tiny, faceless wife with black bangs, wearing an apron with a story printed across it in tiny print, the words moving left to right. She cooked meals in a wok, and though I was a guest, the food was only for Ken.

When I awoke, I felt drugged, exhausted, but then my days are spent, me drugged and exhausted, as I think about not thinking, not being, not remembered, not loved, not accomplished, not more than a speck, an electron, spinning and soundlessly, endlessly, and unblessedly nothing.

I got up and decided to go out, and as I pulled out of my driveway, the sky a sere green from a dust storm in a desert far away, I saw a lone figure on a porch swing, across the highway, my friend Orville, and I drove into his yard and joined him and the sleeping barn cat curled up against him.

“You alright?” Orville said, asking a question which had no answer, for no one is alright and any answer is a lie.

“I’m good,” I lied. “You?”

“Oh, you know, in and out the doctor’s. ‘Take this, or you will die,’ ‘do this, or you will be in terrible pain.’”

But I didn’t know. He thought he had told me something, but he hadn’t. But my eyes told me weeks ago something was wrong.

“I am eighty-two, eighty-three in September—what the hell I want to live on for?”

He has cancer.

And I talked to myself: Touch him, touch him, he is alive.

But I didn’t. I once saw a mutual friend of ours hug him, and I saw the look of horror on his face, and it seemed funny then, and today, the cat pawed at him but he didn’t paw back, and I wasn’t going to set a precedent or make a fool of myself crying but I wanted to cry and my tears would have flooded the fields, the Sea of Eugene, the see of Eugene. Orville watched me watching him. He shrugged.

I cried inside, a fearful silence in an empty room in that delta of song and story and orgasm and bird and beast and tree of Eden and the shadows of the old folk . . . and there was Ken, by the blackberry bushes, watching, nodding, ready to escort me and Orville and Miss Halter the fourth grade teacher who told me I would be a writer and Angelina and Nicole my daughters and the cats Christopher Robin and Wheatstone Bridge and Tamsin and Scout—

“I ain’t afraid,” Orville said, interrupting me—interrupting my brain. “What I got to be afraid of?

“What has he got to be afraid of?” Ken said.

Touch them, touch them, they are

About Eugene Jones Baldwin

I am a writer: non-fiction, fiction, journalism (Alton Telegraph), essays (The Genehouse Chronicles) and have a website: I've published a couple dozen short stories and had eleven plays produced. Current projects: "Brother of the Stones" (available on Kindle), a book of short stories; "The Faithful Husband of the Rain, short stories"; "A Black Soldier's Letters Home, WWII,;" "There is No Color in Justice," a commentary on racism; "Ratkillers," a new play. I am an avocational archaeologist and I take parts of my collection of several thousand Indian artifacts (personal finds) to schools, nature centers, libraries etc. and talk about the 20,000 year history of The First people in Illinois. (See link to website) I'm also a playwright (eleven plays produced), musician, historian (authority on the Underground Railroad in Illinois, the Tuskegee Airmen) and teacher.
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