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Forward:Light and Perfection
Every man is my teacher, in that I may learn from him.
"Oh God. I wish I knew how you did that."
Jane is sweating, smiling. Out of breath. Strands of auburn hair cross her face like thin vines in a flowing stream. Her breasts rise and fall. A vein in her neck pulses a deep vibrato. Thick white sheets tossed across her stomach. A drop, clear and viscous, slides through tiny hairs on the inside of her thigh.
If she could see her halo, she would feel the deep yellow green I feel from it. Brilliant as it crosses her brow the way a wedding band turns to light in the sun. It brings to me cool mossy soil. Grass so green it's almost blue. The wet breath of morning on a dewy pasture.
If she could see my halo, she'd know it was the same color.
I turn and she raises her hand in a movement that looks first defensive, then grasping. Don't go.
This kiss is warm. Reclamation of innocence. Accomplishment.
For all that can be done in the world, this is something, too. Bless the Lord. I've never understood what that meant until now. Why would an omniscient, omnipotent creator need my blessing?
"Thank you," leaks out from between my lips.
"Who are you, Ray?" she says, rolling to her side toward me. "Tell me. I'm not afraid. I can deal with it." And she runs a finger down my cheek to my chin, the side of my neck to my chest.
"I don't know what you want me to say."
"My uncle and the church..."
Now I remember. "You want to know if I'm Rosemary's Baby."
"You're some kind of...something. I can't come up with the words. I just know. It can't be bad. If you're the devil's child, then I've been wrong about everything. Then take me. It's my choice."
She kisses me, rolls onto me, cool and wet above, her weight like a blanket. Now her ear against my chest--"There's a heart in there," she says of her discovery. "That means you can be in love--" She stops, cold.
And now a shadow crosses her face. "Please--don't you dare. Oh God. Please. Don't say anything. I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry," I say.
"I couldn't live, then. There would be nothing left of me."
I embrace her. Pull her into me.
"Oh, my dear Jane. Dear dear Jane."
"Don't say anything."
The Wreck is on the ground. His head and shoulders hard against the grafitti on the red brick wall. Legs splayed unnaturally. One arm behind him, with the other he paws at the concrete pavement, trying to right himself.
I know if I try to lift him I'll do more harm than good. But I don't have a cell, and I don't want to leave him.
He groans when I touch his arm. Stinks. Gone in his pants. Something crawls from between the thin strands of his gray hair.
With his good hand he tries to fend me off at first, then graps my forearm when he realizes he has no choice, he's coming up with me.
I try to brace his head. There's blood from where it hit the wall. Brown-red. Clotted like paste.
"What happened, Joe?"
"Leave me alone--" his grasping hand now pushes off. We lose balance for a moment and I think we're both going over, but I manage to get him straighter. Those thin legs aren't going to hold the old man.
Excrement drips from the cuff of his trousers.
His eyes are blackened. Swollen shut. Teeth missing. Gums bleeding.
"Joe. It's Ray."
"Watch out, boyo," he says immediately. "They're all around. There's hundreds of them. You can't take 'um all."
There's no alcohol on his breath. I try to drape one of his arms over my shoulder but he shouts in pain. Now he's crying. My arm around him, under the armpits. He's taking some weight in his feet. Trying to walk.
"Why is this happening to me, boyo? It wasn't supposed to turn out like this."
"I know," I say. We make our way to the street, and miracle upon miracles, a taxi passes. Of course it refuses to stop at my hail.
"I was supposed to be someone," he sobs. "My mother said I could be president."
"It's never too late," I say, and now Sister Martha sees us. Handbag straped over her arm. Hurries to our side in her low-heeled shoes, as fast as she can go without falling over.
"Dear Lord. What now?" She fumbles in her purse. Finds a couple bandages and a tube of antiseptic creme. A couple aspirin.
I ask, "Think EMS will come if you try them?"
She rolls her eyes. "I think you'd better take the bus, Ray." Applies the bandages and creme to the Wreck's open cuts.
The Wreck says, "I can walk. I can go myself. Don't need you."
Under her breath, Sister Martha: "That's your best hope. I can come with you."
I tell her I can handle it. They need her at the shelter. We walk.
"What happened to you, Joe? Who did this?"
"Boyo," he says, "This is nothing. Did I tell you about the time I jumped three school busses lengthwise in Shea Stadium? Indian 750. Got it up to ninety and hit the ramp and flew. Misjudged by a couple feet. And then I woke up here. Woke up here, boyo. What day is this?"
"It's Thursday," I tell him. And, "Yes, I remember the world's greatest stunt man."
The waiting room at the clinic is filled with women holding screaming babies. A young boy's arm hangs at his side like a cracked tree limb held on by a slab of bark. Two nurses try to splint the wound with their hands as they carry him back.
Dr. Mike sees us. Comes up. Pulls a penlight out of his pocket and tries to look into the Wreck's eyes. Checks the blood coming out of his ears.
"Looks like you ran into a truck. What happened?" Mike smells the effluent in Joe's pants. Says, "Let's get him out of here," moves us to a room off to the side. Sit Joe on the edge of a bed. He won't lie down.
"Joey O'Donnell, Doc. The greatest stunt man of all time. Blew myself out of a '65 Mustang hard top with ten sticks of TNT. Nobody else done that," says the Wreck.
The doctor holds Joe's head still. Feels his neck. Joe wheezes. Stiffens. "This hurt, Captain Reckless?"
Doctor Mike says, "Joe. What is it?" Makes me hold Joe where he was, and then calls a code into an intercom on the wall.
"Ray--bringing--to hell--for the rats," Joe says to me. Pink foamy saliva beginning to issue from his mouth.
And I see an underground cavern. Brick walls. Damp. A shallow stream flowing in a trickle on the ground. Light falling in shafts of dim white from gratings in the ceiling.
We lay Joe on the table.
"Some people--do things for other people," he says.
In my mind I see thousands of rats swarming over the carcass of a dead dog. Then Joe climbing awkwardly down the iron rungs, a hamburger he bought with a coupon from the shelter tight in his hand as he tries to balance.
On the table, Joe begins to convulse. His back arches. Eyes roll back into his head. Red blood and clear fluid issuing from his mouth.
A mob of homeless men pull him out of the concrete entrance and beat him for the sandwich.
Joe's convulsions slow. The old heart makes a few more attempts at living.
Dirty hand reaching up from the concrete.
"Dear father," I whisper into his ear as his body settles to silence, say what I would want someone to say to me: "Some people sacrifice everything for others and bestow their blessings upon the world like gods."
I kiss him goodbye. Offer his spirit my blessing, release him to my bretheren. "He's gone," I say as the Doc comes back with his nurses. I let them know they're appreciated.
They pull the blanket over his head.
I remember what he saw.
"You've thought up some bright ideas about how to protect us when the mob comes?" Phil asks. Down the muddy slope. Through the trees and thorny brush.
"Actually, I hadn't."
I've got Jane's hand tight in mine. She's having second thoughts. Should have stayed in bed when I got up. Should have said, "no," when I asked her to come. Should have thought I was joking.
"What's he talking about?" she says, voice cracking, slipping on an open patch of mud. Hard to see in the moonlight. "You guys really are vampires, aren't you?"
"Wendy calls us that," Phil says when we reach the grate. "Maybe we are. Why else would we be crawling around the East River at three AM?"
"He's kidding, right?" she asks me.
I kiss her. Look into her eyes. "I won't let anything happen to you," I say. Then, without distracting myself from her pupils, "Do you trust me?"
I feel she wants to. Anyone would have doubts now. I have nothing but the desire to show her.
Phil pulls open the grate, shines a flashlight down into what seems like an endless drop.
"Ain't this pretty," he says. "Why the hell is he sending us down here?"
"Hell, indeed," I say. "Joe's last words."
Phil heads down. I train my flashlight on the iron ladder that leads into the sewer. Jane says, "Maybe I should wait..."
"You want to find out who I am?"
She nods. "What's down there?"
"You're safer with me than up here alone."
She takes a step onto the first iron rung embedded in the concrete tube and stops. Looks up at me. Eyes glistening in the blue-white moonlight.
I tell her, "I need you."
She smiles and descends. I hold the flash light on her till she reaches Phil, then I follow.
We're no more than a couple feet down a long passageway when we hear the sound of tiny nails clattering across the concrete. Shadows, black against black swarm around our feet like an undulating tarry mass. We shine our lights downward, and the mass scatters, revealing brown-gray fur and long pink tails.
Jane sees them, grabs my shoulders and lifts her feet one by one. "Ray. Ray. Please. Get me out of here. I want to go back."
"Me, too," I tell her. "But this is the work that demands us."
Phil presses onward ahead of us. Slats of moonlight penetrate the darkness ahead of us. He stops when he reaches it. Looks first upward toward the light, then slowly downward. Off to the left. Now training the lamp.
"What you got, buddy?" I ask him.
He puts out a hand. Slow and quiet, I'm thinking. Slow and quiet. We'll scare it and it will either attack or run away.
Jane feels my muscles tense and shivers, my shirt balled up in her fists, her breathing fast and shallow. We reach Phil. Look over to the light to see the eyes. They're not as bright as the others. Large, round, dull in the light.
Phil crouches down. Smaller. We'll get smaller.
The rats slowly approach him from the wall. They're ready to protect, guardians of their treasure. But they feel his energy. Welcome it. They're wary of me, but Jane disarms them. Her smell. Her presense. They've been waiting. It's ordained.
I pull Jane down lower, and she follows me into a crouch. "Look. Over there," I whisper. This is what we're here for.
Jane is shaking violently as the rats congregate around our feet and then stop to look up toward us. She can see them and now whimpers, her gaze meets mine and I ask her to look. To the right. Phil's light.
When she sees it, her breathing slows. Her body relaxes. She releases my shirt. Separates from me, and now moving toward it, squinting in the dim light to make it out, the orbs blinking. The colony of animals part to let her pass.
"Come here, honey," Jane says, arms outstretched. A step closer. "It's okay."
The creature descends from a small brick curbstone. Steps into the thin stream of water. Crawls on all fours toward Jane, nose in the air, cautiously, while the rats await.
It sits on its haunches in front of Jane. Touches her face, her hair. Examines her clothes. Starts away once back into the cold, but the animals block the path. It turns to face Jane, and leans into her.
Phil and I encircle them. We thank the animals for their care, and Jane takes it into her arms, hugging it tight.
"What is this?" Jane says, hardly able to speak.
Raphael says, "Looks like a little girl."
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