Joan McCracken

{Continuing the tale begun in

As Kingfishers Catch Fire
and SENT}

For my Father

                                                             "Vocatus atque non vocatus, deus aderit." Attributed to Delphic Oracle and
                                                                                                             inscribed by Carl Jüng over his doorway

     Good Friday. Ecce Homo. He had spent time luxuriating in rest. He was pleased that the disintegration sensation in his body had abated. All props were laid aside now - the vellum, pencils, triangles, compasses, and the nibs of erasers – no object could vex the architect.

     The patient was delightfully pulled down by a morphine solution. Someone had been telling him something important. Someone else had been talking to him, close, fingers interlaced in his hair, touching his face and shoulder. Before the patient started to slide down he heard a report. "That blood was there before." He dreamed he heard Bach's Lamentation. "Our lasting peace is now with God made sure, For Jesus hath His Cross endured. His body sinks to rest."

     'Square the circle. What did that mean? What kind of mischief was that? Damn that Anaxagoras! Then Erasmus and his ideals! I should have studied them more closely. I should have circumambulated the square circle like those silly peripatetic philosophers. What am I thinking? What is the raiment of blue with thin black stripes and red nails? How the drug mimics Delphi! But then it is supposed to…' Jealousy wheeled and spoke with the architect Jack Thomas and the outcast daimon Momus grappling each other as snakes. Jack passed him by, his vivisectionist tendencies receding.

     What he dreamt as he swam back in lights was being on his grandparents' farm in Dover in early spring. In the field was a fuzz of green to dazzle the eye. The boy Jack prepared. First he circled, then stopped to squat down and squint to his very own horizon. Finally, he settled on his charmed, lucky spot. Sun madly mastered the skies, the breezes, and ate the whole of the atmospheric conditions. Jack pulled on the toggles of his slicker and made a seat for himself in the soaked soil. Sketchpad of extra heavy paper at the ready, he plopped down, his wellies cutting into the backs of his knees. He attempted to capture the illusion of the green earth mixing with the pressured sky of blue due to exchange its veil with the dark grey onslaught quick-time marching down from the north. Clouds brushed up to his peripheral vision. The small watercolour box, next to the puddle he used to clean his brush with, seemed to contain all the standards he required. The greens, blues, browns, yellows, and black drowned with thick muddy water. He dipped his brush in cobalt blue washing his sky, then quickly added a tincture of black. The lid of the paint box began to spill out a straight razor. Jack mechanically flipped his brush around away from the paper and with the wooden end wicked the razor away from drops of water and colour to the other edge of the box. When the sun was ploughed under by the metallic sky, Jack stopped painting. He pointed his chin up, proud in his victory, for he had finished up. He carefully put his things away. Lastly, he opened the razor, and cut some green fuzz earth to scrutinize back at to the house. Nobody knew he had found the razor, tucked away in the back of desk, wrapped up in paper. The note with it read 'Jack" so he filched it. Through his whole life, it was never mentioned. His dream came from his cabinet of memories. Next, his small sailboat stood on dry land, awaiting a drop into water; the water was cobalt blue with blanched yellow sand on either side. He and his father got in, were transported to the water, floated down the stream with the current and beached the boat on the sand. The water was like Jack's mother in the dream.


     "Mrs. Thomas? I'm Dr. Millston." He rushed forward, hand extended. "Your husband is in an intensive care ward. The surgery went well."

     Angel Thomas took his hand, gripped it hard unintentionally, let go. "Thank you, thank you. May I see him?" She was wound yet alert to all events and details in the American Base Army Hospital. She had seen another ambulance rush in, minutes after she had been sent to a waiting room, escorted by a square of military police. (She did wonder at one point whether the American Military blamed Jack about the breach. He designed the building so close to the Brandenburg Gate, so close to the Checkpoint. He was hailed a hero a few months ago, perhaps a reckless narcissist today.) Nothing was strange to her after her husband had been shot. Angel had never been in West Berlin, certainly never to an American military base; however, when help arrived, she accepted it gratefully comprehending the imperatives that went with her husband's near assassination. Checkpoint Charlie had been compromised.

     "Yes, of course. Let the staff get him comfortable. I need to go over the procedure with you first." A padded bench had been where Angel Thomas had been waiting. Her indentation was still there, so the doctor guided her back to it gently with his arm. He sat next to her, glad to be off his feet. He had changed his smock, washed his face, and smoothed his hair with water. Thomas's blood had squirted in arcs when the ambulance dressings came off in the operating room. Millston and his team had clamped the bleeder as quickly as humanly possible. When he began to speak, tension returned to his forehead. "When the bullet penetrated the chest, it destroyed part of the upper-most right pulmonary artery. That's the..."

     "I know Dr. Millston. My father was a doctor. You can be easy with your medical terms."

     "Good." He meant it; so much was truly 'lost in translation'. "The good news is that even though the artery was badly split; there was still enough left to salvage and stitch together. That's what my team and I spent most of the time on. I decided to take precautionary measures though concerning the right lung." Angel's back straightened and she held on to the edge of the bench. "The pressure wave created by the projectile not only affected the heart and the circulatory system which is now getting back to normal; it sent a spasm of blood into the lung. The pressure also collapsed the lung, causing a pneumothorax. With the entire ballistic trauma, I decided to place your husband in an iron lung. Don't worry; I have used this type of treatment before with excellent results. His cardiovascular system will get a rest, with one of the lungs being ventilated by the machine in a super sterile environment. When he's ready, we'll send you right in. Oh, one more thing; I re-bandaged your husband's palm. That was some hole. I'm surprised he didn't seek medical attention sooner for it."

     She slumped slightly and her hands relaxed. The rush of images from her arrival until hearing Millston's words finally cleared her mind. "Will that be much longer, Dr. Millston?"

     "Probably, oh, 45 minutes. Maybe less, maybe more." As he spoke, Lt. Clark entered the room. Four salutes came at once. Clark saluted Colonel Dr. Millston. They shook hands. "Folks here say that you are the best, Lieutenant. You have proved that today. Mrs. Thomas, Lt. Clark was the marksman who shot and killed the would-be assassin of your husband. So I'll leave you two to talk. You've made your country proud, Lt. Clark."

     "Thank you sir." Lt. Clark turned immediately to Angel Thomas. "How are you?"

     "Do you know if the young woman escaped alright? The American girl held captive..." She asked standing up to greet him. Clark caught her as her knees gave way.

     "Yes ma'am. Here, let's sit down. You need to rest. And Miriam is good, considering."

     The orderlies and the nurses placed the patient onto the "cookie tray" of the iron lung. Dr Millston's assistant directed the process, insuring that all the tubes were working, saline dripped, the morphine mixing in and then the patient groaned loudly. The morphine drip had been kinked for some minutes now and Jack was waking, blinking in the excruciating pain. He tried to move away from it. "Why is he awake?"

     "Doctor, this line is twisted!" An orderly burst out, and a tangle of hands surged forward. "A precious, holy burden." The patient was slide forward into the iron lung; a great circle of metal encompassed him. Slowly, he was dragged back down into his unconscious state. —This Jack, joke, poor potsherd. —

     Holy Saturday. Momus offered 'It's all mixed up, isn't it?' Momus sat hunched over Jack's opiated mind. 'I watched Philip of Macedonia conquer and drink and create enemies for his son. I clapped my hands! Now I can work on you and your artistic ideals. Fool. I understand Jack, sure I do. That woman-girl; she's wormed her way here. A pure woman; there's a rarity. Steep, whoa! Past the sailboat, back to that razor. Come back her way, outside her hotel that night. What you could have done! If you had only followed through, you could have spared her all that useless news and horror. She wouldn't have crossed over to that hell of East Berlin. What a joyless place that is! I can make it your memory, Jack.'

     But the architect was in his own reverie. -And her skin, Miriam's skin, it was like ivory. Her heart flopped out of her chest; it was wrenching to hear her speak with such determination about Jesus. All that beauty to waste. And I, with my blue raiment could carve her scrimshaw skin Jack Tar that I am. My hand is ink drawing her, then me, then her but what about the lightning? Jack Tar is falling out of grace with his chest open, ribs spread again, stains, release, suffering, release. - The architect was confused when he woke momentarily and saw the armor rising up below his throat. His chest hurt dully. Where was it? A nurse smiled at him. Despite the mask, he saw the eyes crinkle at their ends. The patient slipped back. The iron lung held him fast.

     -Leonardo hears boxes and squares and circles. He is Vitruvian Man. He was not forbidden to himself. I am down to the foundations. He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid. Eight hands high. Erasmus and geometry and architecture and people. Arms flung out. I am wounded, not ideal, onion-skin paper, kingfishers, three fishers, fisher-king, for that I came.-

     -"I would my Lord inter. May he find rest in me."-

     She slept soundly. She was in another intensive care ward, also guarded. She slept on her side; a growing pool of slobber on her pillow began to take on the shape of a bulbous-nosed man. Miriam McCann's miracle medal of Jeheanne d'Arc was stranded on the neck clasp of her chain. Her East German ordeal was replaced by scatterings of dreams: home, Virginia, the coffee-shop, Pierce Clark, her own room with its eyelet curtains. A carillon could be heard as she walked past her favorite church, happy. Miriam was safe in her dreams. Lt. Clark watched her through the window. He loved her so.


     'Jack, skinned and salty! Saucy Jack Tar! I hear you! You can't blindfold yourself in here. Deny Miriam? Just because of a wife? The truth can be ugly. Isn't the truth supposed to be beauty though? You can have beauty, and that is all you ever need to know!' Momus squatted in a corner, thinking, and waiting for the blood on Jack's palm to dry. He heard someone say "That blood was there before." Before what? Make thee clean, my heart…

     -Note of caption: Jack's hand drew away from the figure, the classically ideal proportioned man. The ecstasy is such correlations: a human being posed within the holy geometry that a human had apprehended himself! Thence stitched to touch both circle and square. It was a whisper of utopia. Yet the proud man, peerless in his double frame, seemed disconcerted. He had been surprised by the artist who dared to ensnare him in these silly measurements. Vitruvian Man began to peel himself from the paper. His limbs arched, pulled back into each other until he became whole and absolute. His shoulder jerked, then the rest of his body followed, his hair swinging back and forth until he was free. Vitruvian Man walked off the paper stage. …from sin.

     Jack's hand fell to his side. He let go of the pencil. Art huddled in his right outer ear, neither singing nor speaking. He was empty yet straining for the next chafing by his subconscious. Jack and Momus were one for the time. A glow enlightened his haze on the innocent, secret love and Miriam's throat bubbled as she spoke gaily. Noises like explosions drowned out her words to him. Heavy balls rolled down shiny floors to their target: ten pins. Mechanical frames moved and swept up like stage machinery in the bowling alley. Jack's wife, Angel, was with Lt. Clark at a small canteen ordering pints and snacks.

     He saw himself so clearly. The blue raiment was a tailored navy blue suit with thin black stripes. The shirt was a white, button-down Oxford; the necktie was cobalt blue with red nails embroidered in it. His hair was much longer than the way he usually wore it, and he sported a dark blond chin beard with mustache. Miriam McCann with her scrimshaw skin teased him. She picked a bowling ball, her fingers feeling for the holes. A low cut black blouse did not hide her cross or cleavage. As she tried to aim the ball by bringing it up to her chin, she stumbled. Jack watched himself catch her with one arm. The ball fell and rolled away. His right arm around her waist, they made a queer tableau, finally falling to the gleaming floors, stopping before they crashed into it. His arm still held her below his body. He landed on his left hand and toes, in the attitude of someone attempting to do press-ups. Their faces were touching, smiling. He did not need to coax her love. A small ceramic heart dripped from her breast. - Momus sneered and arched his back.

     -His sweet repose be here. World, depart; let Jesus in! A compass redrew an erased circle, a triangle was placed firmly against a straight edge, a dark line appeared and continued on into the infinite. I have squared the circle.-

     His sigh breathed out loud, eyes rolled back and opened widely, fingers stretched. It was early Easter morn. The Messiah had risen. And Jack will come again.


Joan McCracken's "Almost 13" appears in FlashPøint #6.