Monday, November 26, 2012

The Second Coming.

(Paul Keheler. Wiki Commons.)

Elmer Ray sat in the doctor’s office, impatient to learn the truth.

Was it cancer, or some other life-threatening disease? He mentally reviewed the facts, and disturbing indeed they were.

It was just five weeks ago, when he felt a little ill in the morning. The night before, he had consumed a few beers with the boys at Houlihan’s Bar and Grill, the culmination of a topping-off party thrown by Weiserman and Sons, Steel Structures, Inc. It was no big deal at first. Elmer resolved to show a little more restraint in future. He went to work as usual, and his wooziness had cleared up by noon. If it hadn’t gotten better, he would have been unable to eat a trio of greasy chili-dogs from the gut-wagon out in front of the building project.

Elmer needed food of any kind or he became hypoglycemic. He could have gone home for the day, no matter what anyone said. According to his union’s agreement with the Bayside City Structural Steel Contractor’s Association, he was entitled to six paid sick-leave days a year; and since he had never availed himself of them in anything other than an emergency, he was entitled to a day off if he felt bad. Luckily, it had cleared up.

Elmer was not known for ‘booking off,’ and took some pride in his physical and mental toughness, which many young men today seemed to lack. And lately he needed every penny he could scrape up just to get by. He must endure. To coddle himself was unthinkable.

It was only after a few days of the same nausea, queasiness, dizziness, sweats, and bouts of early-morning vomiting into the toilet, when he began to wonder if he had the flu. The flu was going around, as it usually did in late spring, when everyone’s psyche was at a low ebb, and resistance to it was weakened by lack of sunlight and vitamins.

Yet Elmer didn’t have any fever, there were no body aches, no sneezing, no snuffling, no throat or chest congestion. He decided to ignore it, and maybe it would go away. The usually well-balanced Elmer wondered if it was ‘psycho-somatic,’ which meant that it was all in your head. Was he depressed? Was it the result of three years of making mortgage-payments, paying alimony and child support, and never getting to see little Brucie, whom he loved half to death, although he had no way of saying it? His son haunted his mind pretty much all of the time, a source of sadness and frustration. But he had to behave, if he hoped to see him again. His own rent payments were always last on the list.

But maybe he was really sick. He would find out today. The first appointment, last week, Elmer was so grateful for someone to talk to; to unload all that angst. This time he would at least find out for sure. This time, he resolved not to let it all out in a rush, each sentence and every detail of the ordeal tripping over his lips on the way out the door. One way or another, whatever it was, he could deal with it. He would be a man about it, no matter how bad the news was.

Vomiting into the Porta-latrine hole was a nightmare, and one day last week the boss suggested he go see a doctor. Ned Gaines was in the next latrine, and he overheard the cursing, and gasping, and the other noises. Elmer wiped sweat from around his eyes and listened to Ned, grateful for any mercy at this point.

"It's probably just some bug in your gut, all you need is a good dose of antibiotics, and you’ll be right as rain in a week or two.” Ned was the structural steel foreman.

Ned was okay, for a boss-type. Elmer had never had any problems with him; and if he wasn’t the boss, and if he didn’t work for the company, they might have actually been friends. Even so, there was a kind of liking, and mutual respect, for what that was worth, between them. Ned had gone through three divorces; perhaps that had something to do with it. Seated at the same table at the topping-off party, they had traded jests, barbs, and observations on some of the other disparate, or as some said, desperate characters on the jobsite. It was a pretty good time, and Elmer had few friends these days. Yes, his ex-wife had gotten the house, the dog, the boy, their one good car, and all of their so-called friends, apparently.

Ned had patted him on the shoulder, and led him into the supervisor’s trailer, and stood there unhelpfully beside him, while he thumbed through the Yellow Pages and searched out doctors, most of whom were apparently not taking on any new patients.

They were especially not taking new patients in a hurry, he discovered—you might get an appointment in about nine weeks. Sitting in an emergency room for the next thirty-six hours simply wasn’t on the agenda. Finally Ned called his own family doctor, and fibbed, cajoled, and charmed them into giving Elmer an appointment first thing the next morning.

Elmer was having a hell of a time with the magazines in the doctor’s office, all these women’s magazines with pictures of food on the cover, and full of diet pills and weight-loss programs in the advertisements. Why would anybody read this stuff? A tall wheezing elderly lady came out of the back and headed for the glass-fronted kiosk where the receptionist waited to make another appointment. Elmer was glad Ned volunteered to call his own doctor, upon seeing the frustration on Elmer’s face, and perhaps guessing that Elmer was about ready to give up on the doctoring business altogether.

Doctor Ellwood’s attractive assistant came out and called his name, and he found himself staring at her backside as she led him down the hall. It had been too long. But what was a man supposed to do? What he had left after all the deductions from his cheque was enough to keep him in a flea-bag rooming house, and three squares a day, and maybe within a year, he could put a down payment on a good used car. But only if the work held up, and they were talking about a downturn in the economy. If he focused on all the negative things in his life, he probably would get depressed, and what good would that do?

“The doctor will be with you shortly,” she announced. “Please disrobe and hang your clothes up here.”

"Er,” he said, and she smiled demurely at him, and exited the room, closing the door with a firm ‘thunk.’

“All righty then,” he muttered, and did as he was asked.

He sat on the freezing leather-encased high bench with the metal stirrups on the end.

The scales in the far corner reminded him that he was putting on quite a bit of weight.

He had gained six kilograms in just the last few weeks. Why are doctor’s offices so cold?

One of the great mysteries of life, he figured. Was it really necessary to go through all the poking and prodding again?

He remembered once, years ago, when he had been forced to take off all his clothes and all he had was an ear infection. They do it to keep you humble, he decided glumly.

That way you have no illusions about your importance in the world. Sooner or later we all get sick. Pay up nicely or go to jail. That was the unspoken message in the inane cheerfulness exhibited by most medical people.

“There’s no escaping it,” he told the four walls, and just then the door popped open.

The white-clad figure of Doctor Ellwood entered the room. Elmer wasn’t one for long and effusive greetings, and was happy to find the doctor a like-minded individual. They shook hands briefly and then it was down to business.

“Why haven’t you gone back to your old family doctor?” asked Ellwood.

“Too much chance of running into the ex,” Elmer explained. “My ex has a restraining order on me.”

He went around to the house once too often, trying to talk some sense into Janie. Her lawyer was a real witch, a real man-hater. They had conspired to take him to the cleaners for the crime of being male, and being a good provider, and loving his family. Elmer had done everything in his power to make Janie happy, and if she wasn’t having none of it, whose fault was that?

“So you were married before, then?” asked Doctor Ellwood, eyebrows rising up into the unlined, smooth, yet barren forehead, or over-extended face, as some would call it.

“Thirteen years,” noted Elmer with some bitterness.

“Well. I’d like to put you in the hospital for a few days; just a few days, and run some tests on you, just as a precaution,” said the doctor.

Elmer felt a trip-hammer beating in his guts, as his heart-rate escalated. So he was really sick then. A hospital! His rent was due at the end of the week.

“Lucky for you, to be employed with someone who has proper medical insurance,” stated the doctor with a certain relish.

Elmer felt a sickening sense of dread. He had cancelled the health-care insurance just weeks ago, in some ugly urge to get back, to hit back in any way he could at the witch, Janie. And expensive as it was, the money he freed up by not paying it, was supposed to buy a car. Yet he had never had any respect for men who go around disparaging their ex-wives, calling them sluts and bitches and stuff like that. He often wondered why such people married in the first place. Surely it hadn’t started off that way. There must have been some love, some attraction in the beginning. Perhaps they had been drunk from the moment they met until the moment of revelation.

It suddenly occurred to him that the doctor was going to send him a bill, and it was likely to be a really big one, considering the upscale address, and the luxuriously appointed office they sat in. Forcibly, with an effort of sheer willpower, he dragged his attention and focus back to the present circumstances; while Ellwood sat watching the thoughts go through his mind and across his face.

“So, um, what exactly is wrong with me?”

God! Of all the rotten luck.

“Gall bladder? Pancreas? The spleen, perhaps?”

What Elmer didn’t know about the human body would have filled several shelves in a medical library. Still, he was aware that he was getting older, and no one was immune to illness. To his recollection, no one had ever died of nothing before. The bland-faced doctor chuckled, peering over at him above the rims of his half-glasses.

Well, I wouldn’t call it wrong, exactly,” he murmured, looking down at the paperwork again.

“It’s just different,” he added in some strange emphasis that only he could understand.

“We call it morning sickness,” said the doctor; as if that explained just everything.

Elmer lost patience, and he wasn’t in the mood for jokes, as the significance of this statement slowly sank in. He sat up straight on the bench, leaning forward so as not to miss a word of information.

“Would you mind telling me just what it says on those little pieces of paper, Doc?” He grunted, biting back further commentary, including speculations as to the doctor’s antecedents, and the breeding habits of his parents and other ancestors.

“Congratulations, and I’d like to meet your regular doctor, sometime. You’re pregnant.”

Thus announced the good Doctor Ellwood; with a smile of pure, unsolicited joy Elmer found himself standing at the side of Doctor Ellwood’s desk, hovering over the man as he cowered there in sudden, uncomprehending shock. Fists balled up, shoulders hunched, chin thrust forward, Elmer’s red face and neck bespoke an unmistakable message. His naked savagery made it even more surreal, more bizarre.

"Just exactly how did that happen?” he bellowed at the man in a kind of frustrated, berserk rage. “You think this is funny? You think this is some kind of sick joke? I’ll pound your stupid head in, you crazy moron!”

There was a long moment of shocked silence.

Elmer turned and stalked towards his clothing, aware that he had just blown his cool in some irrevocable way, and that voices and footsteps were coming down the tiled hallway in one heck of a hurry. Elmer jammed his feet in his trousers and threw on his shirt. Grabbing his boots, he ripped open the door, to find three or four of them standing there. Nurse, receptionist, security guards from somewhere in the building…they all stood gaping at him, as he shoved his bare feet into his unlaced work-boots, and put his jacket on over his still-open shirt. He jammed his socks into the jacket pocket, they could wait until he was clear of this mad place.

“Get out of my way.” They all shrank back, allowing him through.

He turned for one last look, at the ashen face of Doctor Ellwood, half out of his chair in some late and forlorn desire to protect his turf and his employees.

Doctor Ellwood sank back into his chair, all thought of remonstration and further physical examinations gone.

“I’ll get you, you freaking nut-case, if it’s the last thing I ever do,” he told them all.

Then he strode out of there, his mind reeling from the shock. It was only when he got outside the building onto the pavement that he began to wonder if it really was some kind of a joke, and if he was on ‘Candid Camera,’ or if he was being punked for some stupid TV reality show. He stood on the sidewalk and buttoned up his shirt, ignoring the passers-by.

Pregnant. Holy bejeebers. His rage, once unleashed, remained stoked. Stress had been building up for far too long, he realized. He walked to Johnson’s Park, sat on a bench and tried to think things through. It took him quite a while of internal wrestling to calm down, and try to be rational, and to see the humor in the situation. The doctor had maybe picked up the wrong documents, or the lab sent the wrong stuff over, or whatever.

He had no other explanation. Maybe it wasn’t the doctor’s fault after all, but strangely, Elmer felt no shame at his outburst. It had been too long coming already now. In a way, his little outburst felt pretty good—in retrospect, and with a shiver of adrenalin in the guts when he thought about it.

One thing for sure, he couldn’t mention this to anyone at work—they’d never let him live it down. As he sat there thinking, he realized that men could become pregnant now.

It was on CNN. The world’s first pregnant man was interviewed on ‘Larry King Live,’ complete with his wife, and his kid; and the gentleman was apparently knocked up again.

The jokes on the job were predictably coarse. Elmer himself hadn’t speculated too much about it, in fact he was wishing he had listened a little more closely.

Elmer hadn’t paid much attention to the news coverage, but one of the plumbers onsite had some crackpot theory.

“They stick a needle in behind your navel, and implant an embryo on the back of your belly-button,” which seemed about as good an explanation as any. “And then nine months later, they cut it out using a Caesarian section,” and Elmer was familiar with the scar, at least, as that was how Brucie was brought into the world.

It made a weird kind of sense.

“Men have breasts, or at least nipples, and if you think about it, the navel is the only vestigial placental body in the male…” or so the fellow’s half-baked theory went. “Then they pump you full of hormones and off you go.”

Dick Scoderman was something of a pundit, and had a pseudo-intellectual way of looking at things. Anyhow, the thing was clearly impossible, and he was sure he would remember something like that, and basically; he needed to find another doctor; if that was possible anytime soon. Suddenly Elmer felt the rage coming back. This sort of thing was nothing to joke about. A second opinion, he decided, that’s what he needed: a second opinion. Elmer decided not to show up at work today, as he needed to make a slew of phone calls and get himself another appointment.

* * *

A few days later, another doctor, one whose office wasn’t nearly so nice as Ellwood’s, told him the same thing. Although Elmer was a little better prepared for it, it still came as a shock when the unthinkable happened yet again: Doctor Ram Pangnirtung assured him it was true.

“Yes, you’re pregnant all right. The blood doesn’t lie.” he marveled. “I’ll send you to the lab for more tests, but at this stage in the first trimester, there’s really no need for you to be in hospital. Are you strong? In general, are you in a pretty good state of health?”

Cheerful, yet intent, and definitely interested, Doctor Pangnirtung studied the man before him.

“And you’re telling me that you have no idea how this happened?” he asked again.

“No!” barked Elmer to the unflappable Doctor Pangnirtung; who just grunted and took it in stride.

“Well, I’m not a lawyer or anything, but if you can prove that someone did this to you, there might be legal redress. Parthenogenesis is not unheard of in the plant and animal kingdoms, and in the history of evolution, there must have been a time when all reproduction was asexual…”

“P-p-partheno-what?” gasped Elmer. “For Christ’s sakes, Doc, speak English!”

"Asexual, spontaneous generation of offspring,” explained the doctor. “But in humans, and especially in a male, it seems clearly impossible.”

“What do you mean, seems?” asked Elmer in some inner psychological pain. “And you’re telling me that I have to prove someone did this…yet that seems, um; self-evident.”

“Hmn. Not to a jury, or in any Canadian courtroom, perhaps,” noted Pangnirtung.

“Quite frankly; nothing is self-evident in a Canadian courtroom. Anyway, if you think someone did this to you against your will, and without your knowledge, maybe you should try contacting the police. The good news is, this explains your sudden weight gain over the last few weeks.”

“Oh, God,” groaned Elmer. “This just keeps getting better and better.”

“I can assure you that you will receive the finest medical treatment that money can buy,” he heard through the insistent roaring in his ears.

Elmer got up and walked out, knowing that he couldn’t keep on threatening doctors and the like, as they were very high-status individuals, and he couldn’t get away with it forever. As he exited the building onto the gritty streets of the lower South End, he saw that the sun was out and springtime was in the air. The police! That was a quick road to the depths of hell, he thought dismally.

Yes, and he could well imagine Doctor Pangnirtung picking up the phone and having a long talk with Doctor Ellwood. But the cops were the worst. Some jerk down there would pick up the phone, and for fifty bucks he would be on the horn to the tabloids in a heartbeat; and to hell with people’s right to privacy. Cops got away with everything, he thought, with his heart sinking and his mind going full blast in some kind of uncontrollable vortex of pain, and misery, and despair.

Who in the world would do this to him? Who could have done this to him? None of this made any sense. When did they get the opportunity? How was it done? How had they managed to put a fetus inside of him—perhaps embryo was a better word—and when had it happened? As for why…why? That one was also unanswerable.

The thought, unbidden, came into his head; and for the first time in his entire life, Elmer contemplated suicide. He recognized that this had never happened before, and that what he had thought of as a pretty bad life, bad life circumstances, had been as nothing compared to this. Elmer wandered the familiar streets of his youth in a kind of daze. Now he knew what it meant to feel like he had been raped…is this what women fear? Yet he had no memory of it. The bitterness, the feelings of worthlessness…suicide seemed an attractive prospect, he had to admit it.

His life in the boarding house, the greasy-spoon diner where he habitually ate, the payments, the fact that he never got to see his son, all that had seemed so harsh just a few days ago. But right now he’d give up one of his kidneys if he could just go back to that previous life and forget all this. Lord, he would give up a lung, a kidney and an arm and a leg, if he could just be allowed to go back to the way things were…Elmer didn’t own a gun, but he could always jump off a bridge. For the moment he toyed with the notion of jumping off the financial towers that the company and their sub-contractors were building. But why? They hadn’t done anything to him…right? It was just irrational anger.

And then he thought of Brucie, and all this thinking stopped being anger, and all about himself. What would Bruce think? Ten years old, what would they tell him? Them.

What would they say about him? All Elmer could feel right now was fear…hate…dread…despair…and a kind of anger that just wouldn’t quit. Perhaps that anger wouldn’t let him quit. Perhaps that anger was all that could save him.

My anger shall sustain me…

Before he took the easy, short road out, he wanted to find the people who had done this to him. First he would kill them in the slowest and most painful way he could think of. Then he would cut them up in little bits and scatter them to the four winds. He could always kill himself later, even in a jailhouse if necessary. He resolved not to let those creeps get away with this one. Whoever they were. This emotional roller-coaster ride was getting the better of him. It was hard to think with all this going on inside of him.

But there were only a limited number of possibilities. Was it really possible, that he had somehow done this to himself? And then fallen victim to a kind of amnesia, one that allowed him to remember his name, and where he lived, and the fact he had a job to go to? That possibility was quickly dispensed-with. When had he taken time off work to get the job done? The simple answer was that he hadn’t.

This begged the question of when had anyone else gotten to him, in order to carry out such a procedure? That one just didn’t seem very credible, for reasons he couldn’t quite put into words. And Elmer didn’t believe in aliens, and flying saucers and the like.

It must have been the party! Now, the weeks-long hangover suddenly made sense.

What other possibilities were there? Thank the good Lord he had some kind of a brain to think this through. But the notion of some kind of virgin birth didn’t hold water.

The idea that it might be the Second Coming of Christ was just plain ludicrous, and the unlikely event of the coming of the Anti-Christ really didn’t hold much water to a logical mind, and a secular sort of mind, such as he possessed. This whole darned thing was just plain crazy. He suddenly wondered about the government. Or some big multinational corporation somewhere. One way or another, somebody somewhere was mucking around with his head, and his body. When he put it into those terms, he knew that sooner or later, they had to reveal themselves. It was a logical deduction. One way or another, it had to happen. When that day came, he had better be ready. He might only get the one chance. Perhaps a really big gun wasn’t such a bad idea after all. He didn’t have to use it on himself, after all.

In fact, it seemed like a very, very good idea. He had heard once that suicide was just redirected aggression, for normal, ordinary people couldn’t cope with murderous thoughts, and they were frustrated by their inability to deal with aggression from their superiors.

“We’ll see about that,” he decided, speaking aloud on his park bench and startling a lady jogger as she puffed past in the cool spring sunlight, with a few of last year’s dead leaves skittering around her feet in the gusting wind.

* * *

Not far away, across town, in a three-story brownstone house, roof bristling with exotic antennas and dishes, a big fat man sat inside a splendid oak-paneled office, behind a mahogany desk. The smell of fresh-cut flowers was in the air, and the oppressive silence so thick it could be cut with a knife.

The phone buzzed and a pudgy, languid hand picked it up. A homely grunt was all the greeting the fat man gave. The officer-of-the-day of ‘the Brethren,’ a shadowy organization dedicated to the peaceful religious liberation of humanity, wasn’t known for amiability. Recognizing the voice, Doctor Pangnirtung disregarded the daily code word exchange protocols, and went ahead with his report.

“He’s taking it pretty hard,” he informed his control and command contact. “For the time being, he’s staying at the boarding house. He just doesn’t have the money to go into a clinic.”

“We’ll keep an eye on him,” said the fat man.

“I tried to get him to go to a publisher,” said the Doctor. “I sort of hoped the idea of a four or five-million dollar advance might pique his interest, but…”

The good doctor was concerned for the welfare of the unborn child, naturally so.

“I’m sure you did your best, doctor,” purred the fat one. “We won’t let anything bad happen to Elmer, I promise you that. In any case, our business is concluded, and we’ll deposit a rather large sum of money into a Swiss account for you—”

“I haven’t been able to contact Doctor Ellwood for the last week,” Doctor Pangnirtung informed the fat man. “His answering service says he has moved his practice to Argentina!”

“Yes, yes, well. We have to say something you, know,” the other man stated blandly. “Think of it as a cover story. The Council has a very high regard for Doctor Ellwood, and is very grateful for his service. Think of it as a promotion. They also have their eye on you.”

“I don’t want to be a member!” gasped the Doctor in dismay.

All he wanted was to be let alone by these people—they had promised, after all. For him, the money meant nothing. He just wanted these mysterious people, these voices on phones to go away.

“Really, it’s just an honorary thing, although there are a few important benefits, a kind of group life insurance, for example,” purred the fat one. “Still, we can think on it for a while, and talk about it later.”

“Wait!” exclaimed Doctor Pangnirtung, “Mister Ray is coming back next week. He’s got another appointment.”

“Yes, yes, very good, doctor,” murmured the fat one.

He spoke clearly and succinctly now. “Can you hold the line, please? I have another important call coming in…perhaps you might care to listen to some recorded instructions on how to access your account?”

The fat one heard a deep, expressive sigh from the other end of the airways.

“Yes, go ahead,” muttered the doctor in a tone of abject resignation.

On the doctor’s affirmative, he carefully pushed a small button on his elaborate desk-phone set-up, and then tapped in a brief eleven-digit code. Far, far away across the city, a small but powerful charge of a top-secret military explosive drove a cluster of high-carbon steel ball bearings out of the inner recesses of the doctor’s desk phone hand-piece and into his skull, killing him instantly but harming no one else in the immediate vicinity. ‘The Brethren,’ were careful about leaving tracks, and one day, all the world would bask in the reflected glow of their divine and peaceful revelation. Until then, one couldn’t take too many precautions.

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