The following is among the 16 essays, personal reflections and short stories from the recent collection, Outer Voices Inner Lives.
By James P. Reynolds
“We are twins,” Thelonious would often say. He and Dave shared the same birthday; the same birth year. “We understand each other.”
Thelonious went over to the stereo and put on the old CD of Monk tunes that he had brought over, tunes played by his favorite defunct Swedish piano trio – the Esbjorn Svensson Trio. This was not normally Dave’s first choice, but darned if he didn’t have these occasional cravings for it that were so like food cravings that, when he listened to this trio’s youthful pianist interpreting his band’s selection of Monk’s timeless songs, he was never surprised to find himself pining for the days when he could eat anything he wanted.
He was not well enough to think about food today, however. It never made him feel any better either, remembering how Esbjorn had perished in a diving accident, lost and alone at the bottom of the sea.
Thelonious, a person with a developmental disability, Oscar’s ex-patient from his community nursing days, went and sat back down. He had slowly become one of Dave’s closest friends. He was, by far, the most interesting person in their desperate and shrunken lives—Oscar’s and Dave’s desperately shrinking lives.
Oscar had to put off early retirement, mainly to keep up the long-term health benefits for Dave.
Sometimes on these visits, Thelonious would tell Dave disturbing bedside stories about his years in the institution; all the more disturbing because Thelonious had a sense of humor about it, and it was literally impossible not to laugh until you cried. Dave inevitably needed more drugs to get to sleep those nights, but he would never think of asking Thelonious to stop telling his Woodlands Asylum stories. Lest we forget…
Thelonious still has the same partner from his institutional days. Johnny. He married Johnny in an intimate dual ceremony with Oscar and Dave as soon as gay marriage was legal, back in 2005, but Thelonious and Johnny have been together, against all odds, since the ’70s.
Thelonious rarely brings the middle-aged but nonetheless hyperactive Johnny with him for these contemplative jazz visits, though.
Dave looked down from the heights of his home hospital bed. Whenever Oscar was at work, Thelonious whiled away hours at a time sitting there in the lounge chair beside him, telling him (usually uplifting) stories, or reading to him, or just sitting quietly.
Thelonious was truly psychic when it came to understanding Dave’s now solely non-verbal communication.
But the jazz was playing, and Thelonious, as always when the jazz was playing, but especially when it was the music of his immortal namesake, held on to Dave’s shaking, skeletal hand, and with his eyes closed, rocked his graying head silently in perfect synch with the impossible time signatures.
Thelonious was at the door, but by the time Oscar answered, he had turned away to watch his bus silently move off into the traffic. When Thelonious turned back around to the view through the open door into the living room, he was still moved by the sight of the returned sofa; the missing bed.
Every time he had come to visit Oscar over the last few months, Thelonious tried sitting on the sofa, but every time the spirit of the bed – of Dave’s bed – seemed to rise up and pressurize him. The pressure caused tears to flow; quiet, draining tears. Sadness and depression, Thelonious felt quite sure, are as much a physical, external pressure as anything psychological.
Regardless, he went straight to the couch again this time. He wanted to feel comfortable there. But while Oscar was busy in the kitchen, Thelonious wiped his eyes and moved over to his lounge chair.
Oscar returned with two glasses of beer. They had taken to sharing a beer or two on these recent visits.
No music, no disruptive Johnny, not much discussion, just two friends quietly enjoying a few sips of beer together and deeply missing their dear departed soul-mate.
James P. Reynolds has been writing fiction for many years, but only recently started sharing it with the outside world. James lives with his partner in Vancouver, British Columbia, and hosts a popular book collecting website featuring essays about his own collection of modern literary fiction. For 25 years, he has worked to promote equality for people with intellectual disabilities. He currently manages Spectrum Press, producing educational materials by, for, and about people with disabilities. He has written two works of disability rights literature.
Copyright James P. Reynolds, re-printed with permission.