By Erin Pounders
Morty Adler had fallen down next to the coffee table. For the past ten minutes he had been unable to get up, lying on his side with one cheek resting on the carpet. He held the cordless phone to his ear and listened to the 911 operator as she told him to stay on the line and that help was near. One side of his body (the side that was dead weight on his carpet) was not working and he couldn’t speak except to make random stuttering consonant sounds. His eyes were not focusing consistently and he kept them fixed upon the view of the Florida gulf beach outside the sliding glass doors of his condo, the sugar colored sand shifting to a white blur as his vision drifted in and out of focus.
Though he was having trouble placing his anxiety for matters separate from his health, for the thoughts in his brain were shifting almost constantly, the anxiety was ever present. Right before placing the 911 call, he realized that those who came to his aid, albeit in time or after he possibly perished, will see the life sized and very anatomically correct silicon doll of Jackie Kennedy on his couch. Jackie, his deepest secret, ironically the only strange thing he had done in his sixty-five plus years was to buy for a small fortune after becoming a widower. He collapsed to his current position on the floor just before he had planned to tell Jackie that he had to give her up. Morty had dressed her carefully that day to protect her pride and Jackie now looked impeccable sitting on his couch, legs crossed at her ankles in a white blouse, triple strand of pearls, pale yellow pencil skirt, and black pumps. There was tea and short bread cookies set out on the coffee table for both of them to enjoy during the unpleasant discussion.
He was giving Jackie up for Adelaide, a real woman, who lived in his condo complex and had been keeping company with him for the two months they had known one another. Adelaide, the love that Morty waited his whole life to have after enduring a loveless and childless (yet loyal) thirty year marriage to Esther, who had attempted to run him over in her Lincoln Town Car numerous times during the final years of her life. Yesterday Adelaide agreed to go away with Morty on an overnight trip to Sanibel Island next weekend. Adelaide could not find out about Jackie.
The jazz flute solo in the song “California Dreaming” was playing on an endless loop in his head. He heard it on the phone earlier in the day as he spoke to Mallory about sending Jackie back to Palm Springs, back to the studio where she was made. Morty wondered why Mallory always played odd music in the background at the studio at a high volume, then his mind shifted to reflect upon how much he detested jazz flute. His Boston Terrier, Tupelo, now stood next to him, walking in a circle every few seconds, licking Morty’s hand, and whimpering. With the hand that was working, he rested the phone on the carpet and gave his dog a pat on the head. His arm was somewhat jerky in movement and lacking coordination, but he wanted to reassure Tupelo, for the dog could sense his fear.
The faces of two men appeared in front of his face shining a penlight into his eyes, holding fingers to the wrist that still had feeling. Morty had not heard the paramedics enter his condo and their appearance startled him.
“Mr. Adler, can you hear me?” One of the men asked while checking his heart with a stethoscope.
“Yes,” Morty said, realizing that this one syllable took considerable time and challenge to enunciate and sounded like someone who had lost their hearing speaking it.
“Heart rate sounds fine. Whoa, what is that?” The man said to the other medic over his shoulder as he spotted Jackie. The other medic had finished lowering the gurney to the ground to facilitate Morty’s trip into the ambulance and transferred his focus to Jackie. He gazed at Jackie with wonderment, bending at the waist to look closely at her face and hair.
“No shit, that’s one of those real dolls, the high end sex dolls, I saw them on that show, Weird Sex,” the medic who was gazing at Jackie said to the other medic who was helping Morty.
“Kyle, shut up and help me. Sir, were you in, uh, the midst of relations when you fell?” The medic asked Morty.
“Noo- loh-uhd,” Morty said with the intention of just saying ‘no.’ Morty cringed with disgust, reacting to both his own James Brown-like speech and the man’s assumptions regarding his relationship with Jackie, but then wasn’t sure if the expression had adequately registered on his face, half of which was numb. He never laid a lascivious hand on Jackie, he treated her like a lady, a cherished companion, though the realization hit him now that no one would ever believe this.
“It’s okay, Sir. Just trying to rule out a heart attack. Will you smile for me?” the man asked in a way that was purely technical and not at all meant to draw joy from Morty in return.
Morty complied and tried to smile. He felt one corner of his mouth turn upwards, but could not get a response from the numb side.
“Looks like a possible stroke, on three: one, two three,” the man said to the other as they hoisted him on the gurney and rolled him out of the condo headfirst with an oxygen mask snug on his face as Tupelo followed as far as the front door. He tried to plead with them to please move Jackie under his bed, but could not get the words out of his half-deadened mouth, now covered by an oxygen mask.
As his front door closed, he caught a glimpse of Jackie, who had not moved throughout this entire ordeal, sitting on the couch ready for her tea, her brunette bob shining in the sunlight that was streaming in the room from the windows.
He saw them then, his neighbors standing a safe distance from his condo and the ambulance. Ambulances were often in their midst although this was not a retirement community per se, the majority of them were of retirement age. It was customary at Cypress Dunes to gather and gawk at their fallen neighbor on the gurney. Morty thought older people did this instinctively to introduce themselves to their own impending mortality, like children visiting their kindergarten class before their first day of school with their parents saying, ‘see this isn’t so bad.’
Then her face was in front of his and his eyes finally were able to focus, love affects physiology like that he thought. Adelaide. Her forehead was crinkled with concern, as she pushed her hair back from her face and clutched his hand.
“It’s okay, dear heart. It’s okay,” she said in that complex Louisiana accent that was more reminiscent of Brooklyn than of moonlight and magnolias depicted in film and on stage.
The medic men briefly exchanged glances at one another with raised eyebrows and allowed Adelaide to ride in the back of the ambulance with Morty for the drive to Emerald Coast Medical Center.
When they reached the hospital, the orderlies took Morty to have a battery of tests. His mind was sharpening and the numbness, though still present, was lessening. As the loud machine whirled around his head in the dark testing room, he began to try to plan a way to hide Jackie from Adelaide or to keep her out of the condo entirely while he was in the hospital.
As the orderly rolled him back down the hall after the machine had stopped it’s whirling, he implored the orderly to stop the rolling. Morty looked briefly at the young man. He was handsome with skin the color of dutch chocolate milk, a large diamond stud in his left ear, and shocking green eyes. The orderly’s badge stated that his name was Hector.
“I yil give ya money to hiiiide somethun’ at my house. A manny kin. You’ve got to go do it now. Five Hundred, I yil give ya. She izz on my sofa. Put ‘er under me bed,” Morty told Hector as best as he could with his face still partially numb, knowing he sounded like a pirate.
“It’s all going to be okay, calm down,” Hector told him, patting him on the shoulder. A doctor with deeply suntanned skin approached them and Morty’s hopes for Hector’s assistance diminished.
“Hector, if the MRI is done, get him over to CT for his scan and hurry,” the doctor said.
“Dr. Crawford, he’s agitated. Keeps talking about a mannequin at his house and giving me money,” Hector said to the doctor as if Morty was not on a gurney between them.
“I’ll administer something in CT for him,” then the doctor turned to Morty and began to talk to him as if he were five years old and hard of hearing, “you must be calm for the test Mr. Adler, it won’t work if you aren’t calm.”
In the CT room, the doctor gave Morty a shot, and soon he was in small loud tunnel dreaming that Jackie’s doll body had come to life. To the soundtrack of the jazz flute solo in “California Dreaming,” Jackie trashed his condo and proceeded to write a long terse note to Marliyn Monroe in red lipstick on his bathroom mirror, her stiff mannequin arm trembling with every letter. When the message was complete, Adelaide appeared in his living room dressed as Marilyn, wearing nothing but the iconic red turtleneck on her sixty year old frame.
Morty awoke when the suntanned doctor began to examine him in a standard hospital room. It was now dark outside.
“Well hello, Mr. Adler. Can you tell me who the president is?” He asked.
“Rrrock Obama,” Morty replied, noting he sounded less like a pirate, but still not normal.
“Good. Good. Yes, well it looks to be from your tests we ran, that you had a minor stroke. Just a minor one though. We’ve got you on medication. You are expected to make a full recovery with some physical therapy for fine motor skills and possibly some speech therapy if your speech doesn’t improve on its own. Can you lift both arms for me?”
Morty lifted his arms and looked around the room for Adelaide, but she was not there.
“Good. Great. Your friend went home while you were resting. She said not to worry, that she’d take care of your dog and bring some of your things to you from your condo,” the doctor said seeming pleased with himself for providing this detail, thus improving his bedside manner.
The shock hit him with gale force that he was caught.
“Mr. Adler, are you all right? You look blue,” the doctor said to him, leaning closer to look at his pallor.
“Yes, fine,” Morty replied.
“We are keeping you for twenty-four hours for observation and then you’ll be able to go home. Your insurance only authorizes twenty-four hours,” the doctor added with what seemed to be an insincere apology.
He went on to talk about stroke victims and physical therapy. Morty pretended to listen, but was in shock and reliving his short courtship with Adelaide in his mind.
He met Adelaide a couple of weeks after moving to the panhandle from Miami Beach. Adelaide’s dog, Mr. Drummond, had run loose of his lead and jumped into Morty’s car as he was unloading groceries one day several months ago. Their introduction had led to tea at her condo. Morty was instantly enchanted with her long hair that looked more platinum blonde than white and willowy figure and her tales of Mandeville, where she was raised. Her long linen dresses that gave an artsy air of Southern Gothic-ness. She looked like the active and well-preserved poster-women used in the commercials for arthritis medications, the ones that proclaimed the vitality and attractiveness of women past middle age.
He saw in the community newsletter that Adelaide was teaching an art class at the clubhouse where students would use found objects on the beach to create mobiles and wind chimes. He signed up for the class because he wanted to see her again and because he was worried that no one would show up for the class and couldn’t stand to think of her being disappointed.
The student body of Adelaide’s class was composed entirely of retirement age men from the condo community, most of whom Morty knew from pinochle. The first class meeting was spent combing the beach together looking for materials, such as shells, drift wood, and sea glass for their projects and the later ones met in the clubhouse to construct their masterpieces. All the men fawned over Adelaide, but she paid special attention to Morty.
“So Adelaide, how does a lovely woman like yourself go through life without being snatched up by a suitor?” Saul Goldstein asked during their last class when the finishing touches were being placed on their artworks in the clubhouse. The room fell silent as the lonely men listened for the answer.
“Well, I was married once. I was very young, ran off to New Orleans with a business man. He said he was a business man, at least. He had horses he raced at the track there. He ran through every last penny we had, gambling, buying new horses. My daddy came into town and took me out of there, got me an apartment and let me take some art classes at Tulane. Daddy said to me, ‘You’ve got a broken chooser as far as men go, Addie. You’d be better off with a two hundred pound sack of feed,’” she chuckled walking the room looking at the artworks.
“Next week he had a two hundred pound sack of feed delivered to my little apartment with a note that said: ‘this won’t let you down, settle down with this.’ I kept that feed sack a long time. Kept it on my davenport, snuggled up to it on cold nights, it was like a big teddy bear,” she said, smiling.
“That was so long ago, did you ever start dating again?” Saul asked.
“Well, I figured that someone would find me, but never really believed that until recently,” Adelaide replied and made brief eye contact with Morty and smiled.
“Mr. Adler,” the doctor said, breaking Morty from his shock-induced retrospective, “I know this is a lot to take in, but the good news is that you are healthy as a man half your age otherwise, and I expect you to live a long healthy life with a few minor changes in lifestyle.”
Twenty-four hours later, a taxi brought Morty back to Cypress Dunes and dropped him at the front door of his condo. As he had expected, Adelaide had not returned to the hospital after she left to take care of Tupelo nor had she contacted Morty. He opened the front door to the condo and saw from the corner of his eye that Jackie remained where she was when he left, still patiently waiting for her tea. He couldn’t look at Jackie, not yet, his shame prevented him from looking to see the scene exactly as Adelaide had upon her entry to his condo. Tupelo was not there, Morty knew if she were, she would have run to greet him as she always did.
He took his bag of medicine that was filled for him at the hospital pharmacy to his bathroom and began to place it, bottle by bottle, into the medicine cabinet. It was a difficult task, for as the numbness had receded a lack of muscle control invaded one of his arms.
Inside the open cabinet, Morty saw the prescription he acquired from his physician earlier in the week to take during his Sanibel Island getaway with Adelaide. He had asked his physician for it by name from seeing the commercials for it on television. The commercials featured middle-aged couples cuddling and frolicking on the beach or in the woods, sometimes in hot-air balloons. They illustrated in these scenes that life wasn’t over for these couples, that sex was an important part of cementing the bond of love between the sexes, something that thickening waistlines, receding hairlines, and frumpy (yet stylish) clothing could not take away. Along with the lengthy list of side-effects, the commercial explained in very medical and veiled terms that it would help the bloated, but still virile, man get an erection and maintain it. The commercials always adjourned with the couple relaxing al fresco in two separate claw-foot tubs, their hands entwined over the edges of the tubs bridging the foot which separated them, enjoying a view of the mountains, beach, or simple sunshine. Morty had always wondered why, if the drug worked so well, were they in separate bath tubs? He took the vial of pills and poured them into the toilet.
He went into the living room to remove the days old tea and cookies from the coffee table and saw that there was an envelope in Jackie’s lap with his name on it. He opened it immediately.
I have gone to my sister’s in Mandeville for a while. Tupelo is at The Four Paws pet resort and they will deliver him to you when you call them. I don’t know if there is an explanation for this and I don’t want to hear it right now anyway. It scares me. I have a broken chooser as my daddy said years ago and neither of us have the time to get involved and have it fail painfully. I hope that you recover quickly.
He picked up the cordless phone to call the pet resort but it was dead. After replacing it on the charger, he sat down on the couch next to Jackie and caressed her cheek. He looked at her for a long moment and thought about sliding his hand in her blouse, but quickly abandoned the thought. He rested his head on her shoulder and contoured his body at her side with his. This was their last night together. Tomorrow she was being shipped back to the Palm Springs, to the artists that had made her.
Morty remembered the spring day in 1963 as he had countless times before. He was twenty and a sophomore at Georgetown. He looked old for his age and was often mistaken for other people, sometimes even famous people. With a chiseled face and over six feet of height, he was often looked upon by strangers, but his shyness kept his gaze fixed on the ground. It was a lovely spring that year in D.C. and that day, with the cherry trees blossoming, Morty decided to tour The White House.
The tour group was just three people and the tour was unremarkable until he reached the garden. The rest of the group had drifted to the other side of the garden and Morty had stopped to look at the tulips. When he looked up, he spotted them in the distance: the woman and her little boy playing in the grass, the shadows of the men in dark suits cast upon their picnic blanket. Morty remained completely still like he had spotted a lioness in the wild. The woman looked over at him and smiled and waved in recognition of him and started to move towards the young man in the coat and tie before realizing that she had mistaken him for someone else. After catching her mistake, she nodded to him, smiling at the handsome puppy of a man before turning on her heel and to chase the young dark-haired boy in her garden. Morty would return to this moment thousands of times in his life, wishing he was the important man that she mistook him for, the one he never became.
The woman, even her little boy, were gone now, and Morty reckoned he would be gone soon enough as well.
Copyright Pounders 2012