Ecce Mortis: Elders of The City

Monthly visit to The City Haven for Adults, see Uncle Joe.

Former salesman, private detective, writer of detective novels, screenplays. Uncle Joe had money stashed. Or so I’d been told. Also told he’d gambled it away. Then again, who was paying for The Haven? Senescence ain’t cheap, unless you live it on the streets, potential guest cadaver of The Death Squad.

He’d been a newspaper columnist, numismatist, a player of horses. He never married, though, allegedly, women craved him, even in The Haven for Adults.

Old folks made me young.  But still.  They creeped me.  I feared them. Impatient me perturbed.  Portraits of infirmity to come. Incontinent inadvertent experts of Time’s flash passage.

The Haven was surely no heaven. Stink of piss. Lemon cleanser. Mothballs. Time a damp fart in slow air. Reality small real-estate. The Body domicile of ghosts,     spun-out spiders, rusty pipes. A ticking bomb.  Wind through pores of crinkle-skin. Small pleasures of walking. The Elders don’t produce. Neither consumables, nor children. Sure, The Past — “but what have you done for us lately?”

Uncle Joe told of a lady claimed she was ravished by some geezer on the fourth floor, the “trouble ward.”  Raped, impregnated. Bun in the oven. Eighty-years-old. Maternity dresses, owl-glasses, orthopedic shoes. In dreams begin nightmares, monsters.

Uncle Joe in the recreation area talking up Pearl—layers of lip-stick, cakes of rouge—and a wheelchair-bound gentleman in a plaid suit, no tie.

“I remember. . . ,” began The-Man-in-the-Plaid-Suit.

“Quiet!” snapped Uncle Joe. “There’s nothing to recall. And assuming you had memories worth speaking, what then?  Wake up. Wake up to where you are. This is the end of the road. No, it is past the end of the road. The road should have ended years ago when our minds were full.  I wander convolutions of cerebrum pounding doors, seeking lost lovers, friends.  Hello, Hello, anyone there? Empty.  Gone.  Nobody there but medication.  Pharmaceuticals. Synthetic pills and potions make us who we are. Enzymes in white coats with beepers.”

“I was somebody once. I forged myself out of a lump of urbanite, emerged from cement cracks like lichen. I see the God-Man pinned to a wheel and spinning overhead,” said The-Man-in-the-Plaid-Suit.

“To thrust oneself into imaginary godliness is next to nothing,” said Uncle Joe. “We’ve our plenitudes and order forms. No, no. That was in the other life. Now we’ve our televisions, disposable slippers, pills.”

He looked at me terrified, grabbed my sleeve.

“Take me, take me from here!”

“Uncle Joe, I—”

“No! You’re not the one, you’re not the one, you’re not the one!”

Hid his face in his hands. All this drama for Pearl?  Haven method of seduction?

“Which one, Uncle Joe? Who is ‘the one.’”

“Someone to do something for me.”

“What do you need?”

“Someone’s gotta save my sorry ass, man!  The one, the anyone to save my sorry ass.”

“What would —” I began.  He cut me off.

“I don’t want to die. Even at this late age. Don’t mean to be greedy, but I do not want to die, at least not here.”

“I’m beyond all that!” piped The-Man-in-the-Plaid Suit. “God-Man, how I’d love to kill a man. Or fuck a woman. A young one, not one of these…”

“A young woman would not waste precious time on you,” snapped Pearl. “Or maybe.  I did, once. When I was a young…woman.  A girl, twenty or so, lured by promises of  Old Man Moneybags.  Bloated belly.  Scrotum sagged like melting wax.  I look back on such times and wish to hell I’d drop dead already rather than suffer such regret.”

“Long live the King, the King is dead, long live the King!” said Uncle Joe. “That’s what it’s about, you know. Life in Time. Passing the torch. But once the torch is passed it’s time to leave. Quickly. But this, this keeping us here with their technology,their vigor machines and pills, pills, pills. It’s a crime against the seasons of life, it’s a crime against Nature and Nature does not forgive nor does She forget. She is cruel, and justly so. If we were allowed out in Nature, even out in human nature, The City, where human nature dwells, we’d be dispatched quickly, summarily, without remorse. It’s remorse that keeps us here. And fear of what we are, what you, yes even you, my young nephew, must become. To kill us outright might be defying our  — ho, ho!  — our memories, or some twisted interpretation of natural law, but to keep us here…I don’t think killing us would be that costly, when you consider the price of living in The City, keeping the police armed and the children in school and the garbage taken away.  The price of living is far greater than the price of not-living. Or not-dying.  Not-being, that’s what we are, or aren’t, we’re not-being and we won’t ever be again.  Nevertheless, they must keep us and maintain us. For this I gave up smoking and red meat?”

I asked about their memories. Surely they took comfort in memories?

“Tell of times past,” I said.

Pearl said, “Fashion and Progress. You want to know about such things? Go through our homes, the old homes, before they put us away. Go to the museums and see what passed before our eyes when today’s ‘old’ gadgets were new and exciting. Artifacts. Things.”

“Trinkets. Baubles. Flub-dubs. Stuff,” said Uncle Joe.

Pearl said, “We measure our progression through life by things we collect, things we adorn ourselves with, things we leave behind, including our bodies, which, so I’ve read in the paper, are being shrunken and mummified for keepsake items instead of buried or burned. I even read of a fad of sorts where the remains of loved ones, shrunken and preserved, are worn around one’s neck. Can this be true? Can this be true?”

“What are you talking about, Pearl? Why are you assaulting the boy with nonsense?  Pearl, have you been skipping your medicine? Are you having another stroke?” asked Uncle Joe. “‘Shrunken corpses,’ my ass.”

But of course it was true, courtesy TKI Technologies’ CHEOPS division. I’d seen it myself at Indian Museum.  I could have supported Pearl with eye-witness testimony, but I hadn’t the will or energy to endure an argument with Uncle Joe.  Besides, who was I to insert myself into the meandering musings of The Elders?

Pearl said, “They can never leave you be, not even in death. They have to keep you, expose you, turn you into jewelry or fashion or what not.  A keepsake, a conversation piece, a doll.”

“Pearl! You’re headed for the fourth floor, the crazy ward, with that kind of talk,” said Uncle Joe.

Pearl said, “I saw pictures of such shrunken, preserved persons. They looked relaxed.”

“I should hope so,” quipped Uncle Joe.

“They can make you look like you’re forty years old, a youngster, some kind of chemical process. Friends and relatives carry you with pride, like The Flag of The Nation,” said Pearl. “One is truly worth more dead than alive, aesthetically, if you’d call this ‘alive.’”

“There’s the rub,” said The-Man-in-the-Plaid-Suit. “Pearl speaks in metaphor. She runs off with her fantasies, but there’s always a concept behind them. Some truth she’s trying to convey. She’s a kind of poet, Pearl is. We’re aesthetically displeasing, as far as I can tell. We can’t even stand to look upon each other. That’s why they put us away. So they won’t see us.”

Uncle Joe said, “I don’t understand that. Why not just kill us?  Is it so expensive?”

The-Man-in-the-Plaid-Suit said, “Law.  Courts. These things cost money.”

Uncle Joe said, “You gotta do yourself in. Problem is, by the time you’re ready, in your own mind, they’ve already made plans for you. Taken away your weapons and sharp objects. The young people know Time, they just don’t reflect on it. We must reflect on Time and all that happened in Time if only to recognize, to force ourselves to recognize, that we still exist in Time. The television helps. Programming like clockwork. Then there are the meals. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. The diaper changes, supervised showers…I should have smoked more, drank more, driven my car faster.  But how could I have known? They promised disease in the family.  Genetic. Some kind of ‘condition.’  I’m eighty-six years old. Where is this ‘condition’ I was promised?  Runs in the family blood, they said.  Have I, for some unreconciled transgression, or mere perversity of chance, been ignored?”

“Gripe, gripe, Joe” said The-Man-in-the-Plaid-Suit. “You’re a griper. Be thankful for the medicines, the Theonex.”

“Pure anti-mind,” Uncle Joe said out the side of his mouth.

The-Man-in-the-Plaid-Suit said, “Before the Theonex  I never liked my mind. Not at twenty, not at forty, not at sixty. Now, at eighty-I-forget-what, thanks to the Theonex, I’m at peace with my God-Man, take me when He will.”

“Yes, Theonex,” said Uncle Joe, turning to me, “Keeps us intact. Opiate of aged asses. Illusion of Young.”

“Young,” said dreamy-eyed Pearl.

“Young,” the three Elders, weep-dreamy eyed, repeated in unison. “Young.”

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