The time is 10 minutes past five. I can see the clock quite clearly as I swim toward the underwater church. I want to find my way out of this dream but the water is full of weeds, it's hard to move. There is a bright spot up there where the light bends, at least I know the right direction. If I just could reach the surface where dreams touch reality, I would awaken.
I am working my way up to the top where there is a layer of iridescent slime. The iridescence tells me that reality, outside the water is gently trapped in a giant soap bubble. Half awake, I sense the molecules of a headache. The headache is sinister, ready to attack tender arteries and delicate cells in the brain. I kick myself away from awakening. I fear headaches, even though I am perfectly familiar with their strategy. I know the signs, the drugs, the frustrations, the causes. I know the agonies of the common migraine. What a degrading term for such an extraordinary phenomenon. My migraine is a virtuoso of torture, a personality, sly and cunning, and knows very well the art of subversion. It attacks in the small hours of the night, usually when the brain is groggy from dreams... and bang. Right there between the forehead and the temple, above the eyebrow, behind the eyeball. Mostly on the left side in my case.
But no, sir, not this time. Staying away from the soap bubble, I'll outmaneuver every attack even if I have to drown in this nightmare. I keep swimming and drift swiftly between gray and white boulders. I see cadavers chained to rocks. It must be an underwater cemetery. I know it's a nightmare. And now this schizophrenic vision: swimming beside my own dead body. The recognition of my own face, green, withered and distorted, makes me turn quickly. In a second I am back in the viridescent slime at the underwater church. I love the word viridescent. It is a complex notion: cent, scent, descent, iridescent, viridescent. A V for victory for five different meanings in one word!
How is it then that the clock on the steeple still shows ten past five, the small hand (a dagger) on the Roman V, the large hand (a sword) on Roman II? Ominous perceptions! I look back, my dead half still follows me.
Treading water, I float up and not giving a damn about headache, I dive from the water up into the soap bubble. The luminous numbers on my digital clock confirm the time in my dream, it's 5:10 A.M. The whole situation, minutes compressed into a fraction of a second is very familiar. This queer sense of being alive and dying all at once, an extreme sense of deja-vu is my usual aura before the onset of a real classic migraine attack.
So, there is a classic migraine in the soap bubble. I knew it and should have stayed a little longer behind the underwater church. This running from myself is a dreadful weakness but it is too late now to join a character building fraternity. The thing now is crawling up gently. First on the left forehead and the temple. Christ. The thing now explodes like an atomic bomb. The devastation is incredible. This cannot be a migraine. More like a ruptured blister on a week artery. My wife should be told, - but when? I don't want to make a fool of myself in case it turns out to be a migraine. Common or classic are equally shameful compared to a ruptured aneurysm
I have to groan now, with every expiration. Soon, nausea will come because the pain is working presently inside the skull, behind the left eyeball. Very good! If it was a hemorrhage, there would be pain in the nape and fast drift into coma. But I am alert and suffering. Oh, precious suffering behind the left eyeball, welcome dear migraine, common or classic, who cares.
I shouldn't be overconfident though. Remember Mrs. Berry who used to play the organ in the church. One day she walked to the Emergency with her usual headache and she was dead in an hour. This is the way hemorrhage works and I should consider this distinct possibility. Yes... of course. What happened to the usual nausea? No nausea, no classic migraine. I am covered now with perspiration and supposed to be nauseous, but I am not, not the slightest, although my headache is quite unbearable. Never had this sense of being paralyzed either. It sounds more like a hemorrhage, should have kept paper and pencil on the night table to write instructions to my wife, How graceful would it have been to record the last minutes and let her know that I loved her very much in spite of the murderous pace of my life.
It's a ruptured aneurysm, no doubt. I must have blown it on the left middle cerebral artery. This would be my working diagnosis on somebody else. I am 56, healthy and a good surgical risk, surgery is the way to go. I had heard about a surgeon who took out his own appendix using local anesthetic and a mirror. Too bad, it can't be done on the brain, at least not yet. But who should do the surgery? I should decide it myself then I wake Margaret, my wife. The only choice, technically speaking is Norman Hash, but he is crazy. He hates me because I see through him. I know his thoughts, his motivations and ulterior motives. He is false and he knows that I know. We hardly talk to each other anymore. An extremely dangerous situation. He would perform a brilliant procedure, no doubt, gentle handling of the brain, impeccable dealing with the aneurysm, neat suturing, uneventful, perfect recovery. Afterwards he would work only on my pride. Patronizing, promoting, patting on the shoulder. "Hi, Paul." He would roar making the hospital echo from it, "you look really terrific, in spite of everything." That's typical Norman Hash. And I would have to say "I feel fine Norman, thanks to you, fit as fiddle..." and all that. I can't, unfortunately, take this sort of crap. Nooo... no. Not me.
The headache is so overwhelming that I don't care anymore whether I live or die. I am cold like a fish, covered with beads of sweat, my pillow is soaked, my hair sticks to my forehead. After opening my eyes and turning gingerly to have a glance at the clock gives me shivers. The clock still shows 10 past five. What on earth is happening here. Is it the clock or the time that has stopped?
I creep to the bathroom and take three aspirins, four 222 tablets, one Cafergot suppository and ten milligrams of Valium to cover everything. My thirst, like the desert's sand, would soak up a gallon of ice water, but I feel nauseated now - finally. Coming slowly back to my bed, I pick up my prescription pad and write a note to Margaret: "Darling, in case of coma, don't call Norman Hash, love Paul."
I feel it was very important to scribble this note. Writing things down always makes me calm. And now I am calm and will try to keep my eyes open, like a condemned who refuses the blind fold, I want to see the coma coming. The dawn shows objects in the room and I realize now that I can't see a thing on my right side. The carotid artery must be blocked and if so I wouldn't be able to move the right hand either. How is it then that I could write a minute ago - or was it yesterday? I am not sure, there is some confusion spreading here. Testing my right hand proves that I can't move my right side at all. I want to talk to Margaret and I can't say a word, can't even make a sound. The term aphasia is quite clear in my head and this, I know, is the dismal end of my brain. The line of communication is dead and I'll never be able to talk again.
Who can go through with this? Not me, of course. I have been much too active all my life, my pride wouldn't take it. The solution is built in, so to say, we live 20 stories high in the penthouse. It's in my own apartment complex. A whole block of the city is mine, the result of hard work and good thinking. I am rich, inventive, problem solving is a cinch for me. The remaining half of my brain will deal with this whole situation the most appropriate way. The right side of my body is useless, it lies beside me like a dead stranger, I will have to drag the bloody thing with me, it will be a great nuisance but my left side is very strong.
I manage to crawl to the balcony, pull myself up and mount the concrete railing like one sits on horseback. After a final look, I lean out hanging on with my good arm for a second, my paralyzed arm flops down, and... I let go and we begin to fall. A beautiful slow fall, a mixture of fear and joy, almost to the point of ecstacy. It's a pity that life is limited to seconds. It was an idiotic race: ambitions, anxieties, nastiness, all in vain. Too late, of course, for wisdom, but not late to forgive. "I forgive you Norman," I shout and watch the cracks on the concrete rushing towards me (shouldn't have sued the contractor for the cracks)... A thud... something is torn in my chest, my body jerks, the soap bubble explodes.
"You kicked me," I hear Margaret saying, than I feel her good smelling hair brushing my face as she turns.
"Sorry, darling," I mumble, giving a gentle pat on her shoulder. She acknowledges my touch with a smiling little moan. "Your hand is cold," she whispers and falls asleep again.
I look at the clock. It's 10 minutes past five. Time has not moved outside the soap bubble. I feel good and relaxed watching with sleepy eyes the numbers on my digital clock changing. It's 11 past five... the clock is working, it was time that stopped. A queer sense of being alive and dead floating gently in a giant soap bubble, my usual aura tells me that I probably will wake up with a migraine.
back to the Short Story Page.Inside the Soap Bubble, 16 May 1997