One Night, part V

Chromosome 47

by James Fleming

David has met a strange, powerful, rather poofily dressed man at Disney World claiming to be his immortal brother. He is being held semi-captive there.

Though I didn't really feel tired, I was escorted through dimly lit corridors to a rather fabulously outfitted room. White linen curtains, drawn for the evening, covered a giant bay window. Fine oriental carpets covered the marble tile floor. A red silk canopied bed with satin sheets sat intimidatingly to the right, up against a wall. The left side of the room was dominated by a marble tile bathtub embedded in a raised dias. Teak bookshelves next to the bed housed numerous books and scrolls that upon further inspection revealed themselves to be great works of literature in several different languages ordered chronologically from the most recent on top to tattered scrolls, brittle and dark with time, on the bottom.

I went over to the bay window and flung the closed curtains back. They covered nothing but smooth white wall. No panoramic view of Epcot or that castle thingee. Nothing.

``Goddamn.'' I said.

My little black bag, closely followed by myself, collapsed on the bed.

I prepared to settle down for the night, taking a few valium with whiskey and lighting a heroin laced cigarette. I pondered about this strange man claiming to be my long lost sibling from the far past. Who was this man really? Could he be my brother? He certainly could be, just from appearance. I could only believe that he had in fact killed Jeanine, my ex-girlfriend, just to get my attention, and get me to track him down, led by a trail of fake leads.

I lay back and puffed on my cig, sweaty hair against the satin pillow.

He claimed that we had worked together, that he was head of some strange organization spanning the centuries, and I was his right hand man, and we had worked together in the past in between my binges. He wished me to once again serve in this capacity, though I remembered nothing of him or our supposed past together. However, I remembered absolutely nothing previous to 15 years ago.

I spent 1978 in a mental institution undergoing electroshock therapy for acute psychosis. My very earliest memories are of cold white hospital rooms, leather straps, mouth guards, and searing white convulsive light. They say they found me wandering the streets, screaming, naked, bleeding. Conventional drug therapy was found to be largely ineffective. Electroshock therapy was considered the way to go. The warm heroin rush turned over and over in my brain and body.

Was this guy for real? Centuries? I staggered off the bed and drifted over to the mirror. Examined myself. Hair still black and thick, not graying. A few lines around the mouth, and across the forehead. I could be thirty, or twenty eight. I drew on the cigarette deeply, then exhaled. My eyes were puffy and red, with dark circles under them. Let's say thirty.

My head started to spin pleasantly as my thoughts wandered back. They had found me with no id, nothing. A John Doe. Naked in the streets. I picked my name, David Wheeler, myself. Right out of the yellow pages. Figured two would be okay. They let me out in 1979 with fifty dollars and bellbottoms. A social worker got me a social security number, and a job at Burger King. For a year I flipped burgers in a listless stupor. Impaired short term memory. Had trouble remembering orders. Used to write them down on a notepad in a strange secret language composed of unfamiliar symbols. People thought I was nuts.

I took another drag on the cig, continued staring at myself in the mirror. Deep black eyes. Let's say thirty. Released fifteen years ago. That would have made me fifteen then, at the most. Possibly ten. No fucking way. Took another drag. How old was I?

Remember reading the medical reports later. Pages and pages of them. Acute psychosis, possible schizophrenia. Subject male, mid twenties, 5'10'', 175 lbs. Mid twenties. Mid twenties, in 1978. That would make me at least forty now. With my lifestyle, I'd be dead at forty. Just a few lines around the mouth, forehead. Lit another heroin laced cig, soaked the tip in mescaline.

Electroshock therapy left me with an impaired short term memory. Had trouble remembering orders. Wrote them down on a pad in my own secret language. Ancient Meroitic. It was Ancient Meroitic. Twelve years ago, in a coffee shop, talking with Deirdre, my ``society friend,'' I idly doodled some of it on a napkin. She had frowned at it, a tiny vertical line bisecting her eyebrows, then took the napkin with her.

They'd run all sorts of tests on me to determine the cause of my psychosis. CAT scans, blood tests, chromosome analysis. Found a genetic anomoly. Told me I was trisomic, 47 chromosomes. Extra copy of chromosome 15, mutated. They were amazed that I was alive at all. I took another drag on the cig.

Prof. LaCovera at the M.F.A. Egyptology department recognized the napkin doodling instantly when Deirdre brought it in to him. Ancient Meroitic. Pre-egyptian civilization, Nubian, on the Nile, south of Egypt. Deirdre got excited. She decided I must have been an archaeology major, specializing in ancient languages, before my stint at MacClean. Deirdre had sort of adopted me and looked after me, so she brought me in, and showed me samples of ancient Meroitic to jog my memory. We sent pictures of me around to all the schools with a decent archaeology department. They were all sent back, no one recognized me. Deirdre was more upset than I was.

By the end of my first year at Burger King my short term memory was back, my head had cleared, and I was promoted to manager. I forgot the notepad, and the scribbles until talking with Deirdre in that coffee shop years later. My head was reeling now, warm tingles, brightly lit, crept up and down my spine and looped warm tentacles around my medula. I shivered, stared at a dark looming face with fathomless black eyes in the mirror in front of me.

Trisomic, they said, extra copy, chromosome 15. Altered, not identical copy. Should be dead. Fetus nonviable. Here I was, nonviable fetus staggering around a finely finished room, heroin and mesc tumbling in my brain, considering role of ancient meroitic and pre nubian society in burger king managers sketchy pre electroshock therapy past...

I finished this cigarette too, and stumbled back to the bed. A week of stimulants had worn me out. The secret is to balance your drugs. Three drug groups: depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens. Gotta keep em balanced. I crawled into bed, still wearing my coat and boots. Two thoughts warmly buzzing over and under the coils of my brain. One thought was that Ancient Meroitic had never been deciphered, all useful traces of it submerged under the Nile with the building of the Aswan dam. The other thought was that the face that had stared at me in the mirror could not be the face of a forty year old man. Unless, of course, I was secretly Dick Clark.

She found me slumped in a chair, semiconscious, in the morning.

She came in wheeling a cart loaded with a steaming iron bucket and various surgical tools. She wore a topless French maid uniform, modified to leave her two little pert breasts exposed. thirty four B, I should imagine, bordering on C. She stopped the cart a few feet into the room and opened up the lid on the bucket letting out a puff of steam. She had short straight brown hair, a perfect complexion, and little red pouting lips. She straightened up to look at me and I tried not to look at her resilient, gently bouncing breasts, brown nipples staring at me like two quizzical eyes.

Groggy and hungover though I was, I smiled and looked up to her face. ``Excuse me, Miss, I think you have the wrong room.''

``No no, mon cher, I've been sent to get you ready for breakfast.''

``You can only do this with your breasts exposed? I'm intrigued.''

``It's your brother's idea, he likes to surround himself with things of beauty.''

``My brother's a weirdo.''

I got out of the chair, went over to my bag and fished out my whiskey. I opened it and took a gulp. The woman's face, seemingly frozen in an obliging smile, twitched slightly, as though in pain.

``First we will cut your hair then give you a bath.''

I took another swig. Looked down at myself. Not a pretty sight. I'd been wearing the same clothes for a week now, no, maybe a month. I was wearing my coat and heavy black boots. Both were stained and dirty. It suddenly occured to me that I must look horrible and probably smelled worse. I looked up at her, she was still smiling at me, breasts alert. ``Fine,'' I said.

``On second thought, mon cher, let's bathe first, then we will shave.''

She pried my clothes and boots off, putting them in a bin she had under the cart. Old track marks scarred my arms, and my chest and abdomen were covered with tiny white lines and red puffy scar tissue, a patchwork of new and old wounds. She drew a bath and I walked around naked feeling like a plucked chicken, taking swigs off my whiskey.

She gently removed the whiskey bottle from me and led me to the tub. She washed me with a sponge, shampooed my hair, and cleaned under my finger and toenails. I found this vaguely enjoyable and tried envisioning various erotic scenarios between us but all to no avail. Her stamped smile and professional manner defeated the charming bob and sway of her mammaries.

She got me out of the tub and told me to stand up. She dried me off with a towel and rubbed my hair until my scalp tingled.

She made me sit at the edge of the tub and shaved me carefully with a straight razor. Her smile was replaced by a look of critical professionalism as the razor slid up my neck.

Now that she'd stopped smiling, I was finally feeling a bit aroused. ``What's your name, baby?''

She frowned. ``Don't talk, Monsieur, the razor might slip.''

The razor moved to my face and up my cheeks. She wiped foam and beard off the razor onto one of the now cool towels. After finishing the shave she got out scissors and cut inches of my hair off, leaving me with an almost military shortness. She combed what was left back with some sort of tonic.

She put a few finishing touches on my hair and patted my cheeks. ``There! You are quite jolly looking now!''

I wondered what she meant while she fished out some clothes for me from the wardrobe. Black silk boxers. Clean pre-faded jeans of heavy fabric, a white oxford shirt and patterned vest. After appraising me for a second she replaced the shirt and vest with a simple black cotton cable sweater.

Black socks and black loafers completed the ensemble.

She stood back, examined me critically, breasts high, hands on hips. `` Voilà Monsieur!''

I looked at myself in the mirror and laughed. I looked like a college student, a kid! Gone was the thirty year old burnout, and in its place, a young slickster of maybe twenty-five. I went over to my bag, left the whiskey, but took a few lines of coke to prepare me for breakfast.

We began to leave when I felt suddenly naked. ``Where's my coat?''

``You don't need your coat, mon cher, it is seventy-eight degrees, and indoors, as well. Besides, your coat, she is so dirty, we're going to have it cleaned.''

``You're not really French are you?''

`` Monsieur is most perceptive. Now come along, your brother is expecting you for breakfast. He is a most impatient man.''

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of -- oh never mind, I say that every time. I'm never finishing this damned thing. So stay tuned for the next episode ``Breakfast of Champignons.''