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Pain Management Santa Clara,August 1999 The room is jaundiced, he thought, and caught the mistake—Dennis couldn’t help himself. To give emotions to things made him feel hysterical, like a character out of a Tennessee Williams play; to personify this room’s curtains or running water made him seem a child in a fairy tale; to see the world through his clunky metaphors was leading him nowhere—or worse, to story, to continuation, to wanting and scheming. But that room was jaundiced, sick yellow light. In the jaundiced light, everything looked red. Even the communicant, there—although Dennis wanted to call him a patient, communicable. He sat on a couch in shiny burgundy silk pajamas, and in any other light, he’d look like Fred Astaire ready to dance. There was nothing he could catch, Dennis assured himself. There were many other reasons why Dennis felt ill here. The man in the pajamas said, “All of my nerve endings are right under my skin now. There’s 188 189 nothing, no fat, no flesh, no nothing that can protect me. I can’t do anything but feel.” He seemed to have surprised himself with this fact. Dennis was back in California, assisting a real priest, going from door to door among the sick to give them the communion. It was some final test, humiliating , ridiculous: not actually caring for the shut-ins, but giving them everlasting life, if Dennis believed, if they believed. This man in the pajamas was also HIV positive, but the drugs had not saved him. Or rather, they had kept him alive, but because of his own body’s reaction to the drugs, all of the fat had migrated away from his extremities and made his skin so profoundly sensitive that every touch, every movement, every breeze was painful . He was confined to this yellow room, a low grade fever of pain. If that room was sulfur-yellow, the monsignor’s library had been royal purple. It was a place for pomp, but Monsignor Hardy looked dissipated. Without robes, in a raspberry-colored dress shirt streaked with cigarette ashes half brushed away, gray oily hair slicked back in lank locks, the corner of his glasses taped together, he bent down now to aim his stick, and said, “You don’t think about Christ enough,” while he motioned with his head and cue: Eight ball, corner pocket. He sunk it, no problem. Dennis didn’t answer while they listened to the ball roll beneath the length of the table to join the rest of the billiard balls. Dennis should have been thinking about other things, but he couldn’t help noting that according to the official rules of Eight Ball, his opponent should have explained verbally which pocket the ball was going to go into. But Dennis, at the moment, was in big trouble. The less said, the better. The monsignor didn’t acknowledge his victory, either . He simply reached into the table and took three balls in each splayed hand, a gesture people used at the grocery store to transfer tomatoes to the shopping cart. He had pulled the balls out again and placed them in formation for another game. “I can’t look at the cross,” Dennis confessed. Over the pool table, there was a large one. Christ was shown in yet another attitude of agony. Every artist of every crucifix used the occasion as a way to express another kind of pain. Dennis had a good memory for all the crucifixes, so there was a cumulative effect. Dennis had trouble breathing around pain. And praying before the cross became a kind of long, slow asphyxiation. He thought of Rigo’s en passant art. Maybe Dennis could pray to parts of the crucifix—the two nailed feet, the lanced side, maybe the crown of thorns—but all at once: that, that was the horror of memory. “The pain,” Dennis said. For some reason, this pleased the monsignor. He smiled, and then he remembered himself, and frowned. “Dennis. What you have done is inexcusable. In the eyes of God. In the eyes of Jesus Christ His son. In the 190 191 eyes of the Holy Spirit. In the eyes of all those people you fooled. The church. You have lied. You cause pain with your lies.” Dennis looked away from the cross. He had not really lied, he wanted to say; he had just neglected to tell the truth...


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MARC Record
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