The Water is the Last Thing

1. I wanted it to end like this: 

2. I watched a woman go into labor in the waiting room. A preemie crowned like a jar of clay. They were both wheeled off to the blood ward. But I want to name it she screamed. The push doors separating the got cut from the line to get cut shut. 

3. The television streamed war. An exit sign light went out. Some worried folks dug into their pockets for cigarettes. They were watching the clocks on the wall trying to figure out how many they could get lit and finished in the time they had left before whatever they were waiting on happened. 

4. A man wearing an Elizabethan collar slumped over the receptionist desk. He was clutching his chest with both hands. He had no credentials. It’s my heart he said. He unbuttoned his shirt. Look at it. My heart. 

5. A blue code was called over the loudspeaker. It was an emergency. We all were. 

6. I stepped over the body of man who was lying fetal on the floor. Bullet isn’t fatal the doctor said.
But what about infection? the nurse said. It’s curtains the doctor said. Shouldn’t have laid down so easy

7. I found a spot outside the commotion inside a men’s room stall. I leaned casually over the toilet in the way bleeding should have made impossible. I filled it up. My name was called. I flushed the way a man should when he’s finished. I left a trail of myself as I walked through the waiting room like a gunpowder gag.

8. The receptionist seemed heavens high behind the desk. I made a mess I said. It’s vitrified she said. A custodian mopped. Occupation? the receptionist said. In repair I said. And now? she said. An accident I said. She looked me up and down. We don’t want mistakes she said. But it was I said. 

9. I was too hurt to fill out the forms she gave me. Is there someone close to you? she said. There isn’t I said. Nobody? she said. Is that a symptom? she said. 

10. An orderly pressed me onto a gurney. A nurse pressed the big vein in my neck for numbers. I’ll make it I said. You hope so the nurse said. A doctor opened his white coat. Here are my needles he said. You choose. I chose. He pushed it through my ribs. It doesn’t feel as bad as it should he said. I don’t feel anything I said. Good good he said. 

11. Good good the doctor repeated when I woke some hours after the needle. My left arm was gone. Wait I said. For what? You’re not the only one? the doctor said. I’ve done my part. The rest is up to you

12. Is there someone we can call? the nurse said. Taxi I said. 

13. The walls were thin. I heard every spasm and obstructed artery and gap in breathing. I stared at the food tray. There were more utensils than I could handle. I took up the spoon because it seemed safest after what I’d done and what I’d been through. I saw myself in its bend. I saw also the fluorescent lights in the ceiling. I felt the heat of it. I thought of magnifying glasses and ants.

14. Are you awake? the nurse said. She opened the curtain around my bed. Think so I said. That’s a good thing she said. You’ll be released first thing. We found someone. She shut the curtain. You don’t have to go I said. I was imagining her bedside with my arm in hers. No she said. But you do.

15. It was the orderly again. I thought it was over I said. He’s a good doctor the orderly said. The nurse led us through corridors. The turns were crucifixion sharp. I don’t want what’s next I said. What’s next? the nurse said. It don’t matter I said. I don’t want it. I’ve had enough. The orderly pressed on my shoulders. You afraid? he said. You afraid? the nurse said. She set her finger on my lips. It’s business hours and you should know better she said. She IV’ed me calm. Now count she said. 

16. I came to in a chair across from the captain. He had a calculator. My x-rays were taped to a window. Do you understand the costs? he said. He swiveled in his big chair. He pointed to the x-rays. It was an accident I said. 

17. The captain had been a Navy man in an old life. He still wore the hat and the peacoat. He kept his pants cuffed like he was standing in high waters. He had anchors tattooed on his calves. It’s just an excuse he said. 

18. The office walls were painted blue and tacked to them were photos of the bodies of water he had navigated. A stuffed marlin hung from ceiling. A sailor’s wheel was mounted in another window next to the x-rays. The king’s spoke pointed west towards the runways. 

19. It was the county airport. I was in repair. The captain captained the whole thing.

20. You’re more than we can afford the captain said. We have families to feed. He crossed his arms. I can work it off I said. That you did is the problem the captain said. 

21. I reached for the stuffed marlin to prove what I was still capable of. I touched its sharp. Enough the captain said. He tore the marlin from ceiling. He pointed its sharp at my chest. I can’t afford more damages the captain said. Your worth isn’t what it was. He set the marlin out of reach. 

22. Do you realize you’ll never swim again? the captain said. I can’t I said. No sea and no salt the captain said. I was looking out the window. Planes lifted off one after another. Amateurs and enthusiasts: they can only go so far as clearances allow. I can’t look at you the captain said. It’s a freak thing. He was speaking like a man in a large ship at the edge of the water staring at the end of everything. This is it the captain said. I thought as much I said. 

23. We were both looking out the window now, the captain and I, watching the takeoffs and landings. 

24. I crouched sick on the tarmac. The edge lights of the runway illuminated. Let me see your hands I heard. I can’t I said. 

25. It was security. An elderly man with essential tremors. Up he said. But you know me I said. You’re a visitor he said. A trespasser

26. We rode the length of runway in a repurposed golf cart. We stopped at the main hangar. This isn’t the way out I said. He unlocked the hangar doors. Come on he said. The plane I had been repairing was still on. I shut it off. My blood was all over the walls. He pointed to the cameras in the rafters. I saw everything that happened he said. No one else. Just me. I’ll keep it that way too

27. My son was like you he said. He gave me his gun. If you still want to he said. He turned out the lights. He left me in the hangar alone with his gun. I pulled the trigger. The chamber was empty. 

28. He was outside waiting for me and the gun. I’m glad you decided right he said. He wasn’t alone. Your taxi he said. 

29. The rough of the road knocked me on my back in the backseat. The driver whistled and tapped on the steering wheel. I was feeling sound in the deep of my stomach. Please stop I said. 

30. It was abrupt. I tumbled headlong into the front seat. An officer tapped on the window. Sir the driver said. You okay? the officer said. You aren’t? the driver said. He isn’t the officer said. He pointed to an emergency up ahead. A semi-truck had upended. The road was blocked. The trucker lay in pieces on the cement. 

31. It wasn’t just the trucker. There were animals in cages that had come loose from the semi-trailer. Another officer on scene walked around and shot dead each animal one by one. Nothing you can do? the driver said. Better that they not suffer the officer said. 

32. How long you think we’re stuck here? the driver said. Long enough I’d change course the officer said. No turning back now the driver said. They’re all dead. Just waiting on clearance the officer said. I suppose I’ll pray tonight the driver said. Whoever claims him the officer said. I’ll let them know you had words for them

33. The officer shined his flashlight on me. Friend here don’t look so well the officer said. Fare’s paid is all
that matters the driver said. 

34. Both officers shined their flashlights on me. They stood at the passenger side window. You’re not all there the officer with the gun said. I think I’m going to be sick I said. Look it already the officer said. Where to you headed? the officer with the gun said. Slums the driver said. That home for you? the officer said. Yes I said. Any folks waiting up for you? the officer with gun said. 

35. She was sitting in front of the door to my apartment. I couldn’t get past her. Excuse me I said. Are you drunk? she said. She knocked on the door. I’m not in yet I said. I couldn’t get over her. Do I know you? she said. She was speaking into my stitches. Where are you? she said. What happened? Was it animals? Was it teeth? Was it on purpose? She reached for my hand. What’s left? she said. I need to get through I said. I’m not getting through to you she said. 

36. I shut the door. I sat with my back against it. I felt her on the other side. I felt her through the thick of the wood. We were sitting like silhouettes. I swallowed the pills I was supposed to swallow. Are you all choked up? she said. I hear you choking. I thought you didn’t care anymore

37. The doctor had warned me of phantoms. Pain? I had said. No the doctor had said. That’ll be real

38. We met eyes through the crack under the door. I can let you in I said. She blinked. It’s just me I said. Is that the problem? she said. Let me let you in I said. What if I said there was a way out? she said.

39. I followed her through the dark. She was carrying a cage. I followed her to the train yard. The cage rattled. I shook. I lost her and the cage in the train yard in the dark. 

40. I was ashamed of my loss. I leaned wound-side against a train car. A streetlight flickered. I thought it was eyes blinking. 

41. You have to climb up she said from inside the train car. I can’t I said. You don’t want to she said. I want to I said. Then try she said. I reached my one hand up into the train car. 

42. I was lifted. 

43. Shhh she said. I’m sorry I said. The train lunged forward. The train horn wailed. We’re moving she said. 

44. It was morning. She lay on my arm. An animal stood over us. Its teeth were showing. I put distance between me and the woman. I didn’t mean for it I said. The animal knelt beside me. I could smell its teeth. Look at yourself the animal said. You’re harmless. It touched my stitches. You’re not okay the animal said. I’m getting better I say. I’m trying I said. Have you tried this the animal said. It was salt of the earth. I ate it from the animal’s hand like an animal. 

45. He’s the same as us she said. He isn’t all there the animal said. Whatever was there is gone she said. We’re going  

46. It’s too bright in here she said. The animal kissed her. I have blankets the animal said. Too warm for blankets she said. I can hang them like curtains the animal said. It draped them over the train car walls. I’ve given you anything the animal said. It rocked her in its arms. She closed her eyes. It’s curtains she said. 

47. The animal was resting in its cage. The woman was sleeping on top of the cage. We’re gone I said. No the animal said. We’re going. Where? I said. The end the animal said. I never asked for it I said. It isn’t about asking the animal said. It’s about taking 

48. You fear? The animal said. I’m still a man I said. You incomplete? The animal said. I love you she said to the animal. Do you love? she said to me. I’ve tried I said.

49. It wasn’t enough

50. They had fallen in love long ago. They had been split apart on account that it was the wrong love. But I’m no pet the animal had told animal control. 

51. They had put the animal in a cage at the aquarium. You’ll be safe here ‘til transport the animal was told. Then the aquarium was broken into. They broke glass. They speared fish with the shards of glass. They wrote on the walls with the insides of squids. They pocketed sharks teeth like coins. They bent apart the bars of the animal’s cage. They threw the animal around like it was no life. They beat the animal helpless. They produced a hammer and a nail. They drove the nail into the animal’s back.

52. The nail shone bright in the animal’s back. They awed over it like sacrament.

53. Its throat one of them said. Another said Open its mouth. They forced the animal’s mouth open. They readied another nail. The animal snapped. The animal bit off their fingers. The animal lay in the shards of glass and the fingers until the morning. 

54. I could have escaped the animal said. I didn’t realize it until it was too late. Transport arrived with tranquilizers. The semi-truck driver strapped the animal down with the other animals.  

55. But you did escape I said. I pulled the nail out of my own back and killed him the animal said. I ran off while the rest of the animals were killed 

56. And I found you she said. I was waiting for you

57. We’ve made a death pact for life

58. And you? the animal said. I barely escaped with my life I said. But you did it to yourself the animal said.

59. I wanted it to end like this:

60. You made a pact? the animal said. I just decided one moment. That moment I said. I didn’t know what else there was left to do  

61. There’s no turning back now the animal said. We’ve left

62. We’re moving

63. I mean: a death pact for love 

64. Make us family she said. Marry us she said. The animal pulled the curtains off the train car walls. The sun shone bright. The animal handed me the curtains to wear. I wrapped them around my shoulders. I have words for you the animal said. She gave me a bible. I don’t know anything about saving I said. We have faith she said. We decided so last night

65. It was too hot. My fingers were sweating through the cover of the bible. The ink ran. Go on the animal said. The animal was holding her like a lover. I can’t I said. The pages are wet I said. Then let us be wet they said. I can’t I said. I threw the bible down. I tore off the curtains. Then stand in for me the animal said. But will he bite? she said. He’s harmless the animal said. 

66. I put my arm around her. The other too she said. The animal shook its head. I didn’t mean it she said. Bow the animal said. 

67. The animal sermoned love: Set your hearts above things. Whatever belongs to you is coming. You once lived all things. You put on the image of all people, but it is only you now. You among you as you one another. All your hearts. Whatever you do, do it all. Submit yourselves to love. Be harsh. Embitter your hearts. Work your hearts for you. 

68. She collapsed. I collapsed with her. The animal straddled us like a pitchfork. It bent to where my stitches were. Kiss her the animal said. Kiss me she said. I did. On the forehead.

69. No the animal said. Do better. She sucked at my lips until they opened. I can taste your teeth she said. Where is the blood? she said. I don’t have any I said. We are wed the animal said. 

70. I love you she said. I do I said. 

71. The train hadn’t stopped for days. Where does it end I said. Is that what worries you? the animal said. I could see the sharps of mountains through the slits in the train car walls. The mountains turned to desert. 

72. The water is the last thing the animal said. 

73. She made fish lips. She kissed the animal with fish lips. I will have all the fish in the water she said. 

74. And the oysters too. Will you feed me oysters? she said. All the oysters the animal said. I will shit shells and pearls and eat them again and again she said. 

75. And if I wanted to keep going? I said. You tried for the end before the animal said. I know I said. And I messed myself good I said. You don’t anything right she said.

76. So let us do it for you 

77. But I wanted it to end like this: 

78. There’s no turning back now

79. I knew someone like you

80. We see us in you

81. The officers had thrown their flashlights off me when they heard a rustling in the woods on the side of the road. Didn’t you get them all? the officer said.

82. The gun had been emptied. 

83. We had been sitting like silhouettes. Take my hand she said. 

84. Could you ever want anything more? 

85. I’m not as ready as I used to be 

86. I’m calling it off

87. The desert turned to coast. The animal stood up. She stood up with it. 

88. It’s just the wilds the officer with the gun had said. He opened the chamber to prove that it had been emptied. 

89. I was afraid and I didn’t say that I was afraid the way a man should.

90. I had always been only a man.

91. There’s no turning back the animal said. It held her close. She reached for me. 

92. I’m still here I said. Aren’t I?

93. Take our hands they said. 

94. But I wanted it to end like this: 

95. You’ve come too far to do it alone

96. I know I said. I reached for them both. I could smell the water in their eyes. 

97. We were waiting like everyone else. It was not how I wanted it. I wanted it to end like—

98. There’s a lot we can’t do on our own

99. We watched time pass in the shape of landscapes. That’s what we were waiting on: the passing. Their grips tightened on my hand. The water in our eyes turned thicker. The coast turned blue.

MICHAEL CREDICO's fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Black Warrior Review, Booth, Diagram, Columbia Journal, Hobart, Juked, NANO Fiction, NOÖ Journal, SmokeLong Quarterly, Quarterly West, Word Riot, and others. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio.

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