I awoke in the Louisiana swamp, looking up at the moon. Why was I in Louisiana? I now knew. I came to kill Matthew Remy, the father of my wife’s second child. He was a car salesman from New Orleans. She met him on Facebook, taking about cars, movies, and their neglectful spouses. And then they fucked. That was all I knew from living halfway across the country. Was she still pregnant? “Leo? Are you here?” As I stood up, I could tell I was in a different place from where my body had been dumped. The ground was solid, the sky open and bright. I picked a direction that seemed to go towards the main road or any road. This area was getting darker, the trees pulling closer together. For a moment I was regretting my choice of direction.
I looked up at the sky. The light shined through the foliage in a very distinct shape, ‘S-l-o-t-h,’ written in cursive. Sloth? Really? I pulled myself to my feet. Yes, I was aware that giving in to ‘sloth’ would kill me. No matter how difficult, I needed to walk. My legs were strong enough to hold my weight but standing up felt like my lungs were on fire. I blinked my eyes. I could feel the blood rushing to my limbs. It all felt too heavy. I continued to crawl my way to the light. A multi-colored light.
A cop? No, there was too much light. But not sunlight. It took me a moment to realize what I was seeing; reflective metal, music piped in on cheap speakers, and lots of colorful light. “Oh, Fuck.” This was a carnival. I didn’t want to die but I also did not want to scar an innocent child.
“Too late,” chuckled Jamie’s voice.
I blinked once, then twice. Jamie was teleporting around the fairgrounds, his long hair whipping in the wind as he blipped in and out of reality. With his youthful smile, and his free-spirited, mystical appearance, I imagined he was attracting the attention of a small army of children.
He disappeared out of my line of sight, but in a matter of moments he had a trail of six curious little ones, all high on sugar and the excitement of the carnival. It was almost too easy for Jamie to lead them just close enough for one to see me. My heart was racing. As blood tricked out of my mouth, I knew I needed to stay low. Somehow, I had to try to look like a victim not a monster. I avoided eye contact with the children, glancing just long enough to see general features.
A little girl with messy brown hair came close. Her clothes were dirty, her skin was a soft shade of tan. She looked at me, tilting her head like an owl. “Hello?” Although already small, she got on her knees, looking me in the eyes. Her eyes were a familiar shade of emerald green. So, it came as no surprise when she poked me in my injured eye. After a moment she started to laugh. “Hey, Scout,” she shouted in an adorably innocent voice. “I found a dead body!”
An older girl joined her. She was taller but with her tomboyish appearance, I would guess she was no older than nine or ten. “Jade, I don’t think he’s dead.” She quickly scooped up the smaller girl.
It didn’t take long for the police to find me. They seemed unconcerned, with the words ‘homeless’ and ‘junkie’ being peppered throughout their dialogue. After a short drive, I was booked and taken a waiting room while I awaited medical care. The arresting officer unlocked my handcuffs, allowing me the first view of her face. “Can I get you anything, sweetheart?” She asked in a gentle voice.
I wanted water for my parched throat. I wanted to go to a hospital to get and IV full of pain meds. …I wanted to see my daughter. But in that moment, all I wanted was to not be alone. “No, thank you ma’am.”
“Ma’am?” She said with a laugh. The woman was about my age, with kind, motherly eyes. “Awful proper for a drifter. Can you tell me your name?”
“Adam,” I replied quickly, anxiously trying to hold back my emotions.
She wrote it down on a clipboard. “Last name?”
I shrugged. I was too tired to spell out my unpronounceable last name.
“Ok, well we’re going to get you to a hospital, but first I’m going to get your fingerprints and see if we can find you a last name.”
I was taken to the nearest public hospital where I was given an IV. I tried to remain still, but with my lack of water, my veins were playing the worst game of ‘hide and seek.’ Eventually the decision was made for a PICC line, sending much needed fluids and medication directly into my neck.
As I laid in the bed I realized what ‘sloth’ meant. My body felt calm, peaceful, serene. I felt dead. With no feeling in my muscles, my mind slipped into darkness. No dreams, only silence. I’m not sure how long I was asleep for, but I awoke to the feeling of my own breath or lack of. Pain shot through my chest. It was like the devil himself was pulling me into hell.
“Hi, Sweetheart.” My wife’s voice floated in like a hallucination. She spoke with such love I couldn’t help but open my eyes. “Adam?”
My mind was trying to prepare. It had been so long; I had no memory of what she looked like. Well, not completely. I could see the eighteen-year-old girl I married. The version of my wife who looked at me with innocence and love. What did I want? Did I want her to be ugly, deformed, punished? No. What would that do? I guess I could save her a seat in hell, by my side. I opened my eyes, scanning the room. A pregnant brunette was standing in the doorway, with her hands over her stomach. Marni looked so different. Older? No, her face never seemed to change. She still had the same youthful round cheeks, like a porcelain doll. Did she look younger? No, especially not in her current state. Happier: yes, that must be it. She looked happier.
She wore a blue sweater over a long skirt. No, on second glance, it was a dress. The way it hugged the curves of her body.
She’s so beautiful.
I started to laugh. at first, just a chuckle then a deep, long sound that didn’t even feel human. “So, what the fuck do you want?”
Marni pursed her lip. Even from where I was, I could see tears swelling in her eyes. Her hands were trembling as she crossed her arms. She took one step into the room, then paused and looked at the ground. “The police notified the base of your location. Your command thought you were AWOL, but General Blake convinced the people in charge to give you a little more time or at least launch an investigation.”
I coughed slightly, forcing air into my chest. “Because, otherwise, your dependent pay would have been cut off.”
She nodded. “That’s why I knew you weren’t AWOL. You would never let that happen.”
I swallowed hard, choosing my next words carefully. “For Cece.”
“I know.” Marni took a few steps forward, careful to not get too close. She cupped her hand over her mouth, as tears flowed freely. “I know.” She was now sobbing uncontrollably. “I came here to bring you home. I fucked everything up and this is the only way to save my family. I want you to come home.” She started to hyperventilate. “I don’t expect you to forgive me. I want you to come home because our daughter needs you.”
“Where’s home?” I asked calmly.
“Mississippi, just across the state line,” she said as she took a seat on the floor. “Just where you left us.”
“You okay?” I wasn’t worried. As a pregnant woman fainting in a hospital, she wasn’t likely to die.
A bright light appeared from the window and suddenly Leo had his arms around my wife. “Hey, relax.” He glanced at me with his emerald eyes. “You’re here for a reason.” That last line echoed, over the hospital intercom. It was meant for both me and Marni.
Marni took a breath as she struggled to stand. She took a step towards my bed, reaching for my hand. “You’re going to be fully sedated for transport, your body seems to have lost the ability to metabolize pain medication.”
I knew what that meant; I fucked up my liver, brain and God knows what else. “I’m not a child, you don’t have to sugar-coat the dog shit.”
“And I’m not a doctor. But from what they told me you’re going to be on disability for the rest of your life.” She stroked her fingers over mine, caressing the scars, and dried blood. “I’ll see you in Mississippi.”
“Marni, wait!” I moved my fingers as much as I was able, gripping her just enough. “Please stay.” I needed to know the truth. Where did I stand? “Please.”
She moved my hand to her stomach. “I’m having a son.” She softly kissed my fingertips. “Our son.”
A nurse knocked before entering. “Mrs. Severgine?”
“I’ll be right out,” she replied, still looking in my eyes. “I’ll see you soon, my love.” she leaned and kissed my forehead. I closed my eyes, lost in the softness of her touch. I could feel her smile, her breath as she kissed me down my nose to my lips. I could taste the sweetness.
I heard footsteps, someone entered the room. Marni held the kiss while the second person added something to my PICC line via a syringe. It was truly heaven.
Marni pulled away in slow-motion, her voice like syrup, “Sleep well.”
My mind drifted away into darkness. I felt a hard, solid pain, radiating from my chest to my back, to my head. I open my eyes in a shadowy room. The enclosed space seemed small, like a coffin. I was nearly blind but somehow, I knew I could sit up. Ok, this was a good sign, I wasn’t dead yet. “Leo, please tell me you’re here.”
“I’m here.” I could feel his hand, but his voice seemed to come from all directions. “Your heart just stopped.”
“So, what’s the next word?”
“Envy, wrath, lust, greed, and now sloth- what’s next?”
Leo snickered, “Oh, you’re not finished with sloth, not by a long shot.”
“Well, I can’t exactly force my heart to restart.”
“Your heart is the problem; you still love her.” Leo reached out his hand to close my eyes. “From the darkness we are born, in the darkness we reside.”
I’m eight years old,
naked, starving, dying.
But it’s ok.
but it’s ok.
I’ll be ok.
“Mama?” I reach for the bones. “It’s ok, Mama. Daddy left us here alone, maybe he won’t come back.”
Daddy says I’m a sinner, a mistake. That’s why he hurts me. He’ll drive out the demons so I can go to heaven. I want to go to heaven.
I think Mama is already in heaven. She doesn’t make a sound when Daddy hurts her.
I’m a boy. I think my name is Adam.
I’m not sure.
I can remember what it was like to be happy.
To eat, to drink-
I remember what it felt like to be able to sleep. I can’t sleep.
Why can’t I sleep?
I want to sleep. I want to go far away from here.
I sucked in my breath, my stomach, my body. I’m folding up like a star. Was i becoming a star?
Stars live in heaven.
Apparently I managed to sleep when I had a seizure. I awoke in a room of light, unable to breathe or speak.
A woman wearing a suit is by my side, holding my hand. “Hi, sweetheart,” she says, her voice on the verge of tears. “I don’t know if you remember me.”
I mouthed the word, “Mama?” She had my mother’s hair, eyes, smile.
“No, Adam,” her voice broke as she choked back tears, “Your Ma is gone. But so is your Pa.” Her sadness overtakes her. “…at least I saved you.”
In the darkness, I could hear Leo tapping his fingers against a metal floor. “You can wake up whenever you want.”
This was the sloth. I could take the easy way out and die, just like I always wanted.
“But just remember, that little boy wanted to die because he had no one in his corner.”
“And if I wake up you and Jamie get your wings?” I knew I had reasons to wake up. I just wanted him there.
“Excuse you,” he said, making his form glow against the darkness, “I have wings, and they are goddamned sexy.” Shimmery neon yellow wings blossomed from his back like a flower, wrapping over his shoulders.
“Will you hold me?”
I assumed he was going to hug me again. I just wanted to feel something other than pain.
Leo reached his hands through my chest, as if he was a hologram. It felt cold, but soothing. I sat up, wanting to be closer to him.
All around me I heard creaking, breaking, then a sharp painful cold. “What are you doing?”
“Look at your hands, Adam.”
I was a small child, younger than when my mother died. This was back when I had hope. “Leo?” my voice was small, foreign.
“I’ll hold you, in this form,” he said, ruffling my hair. “This is your true soul.”
This was a joke, right?
“It’s not a joke,” Leo said with sincerity, “if you die right now, this is the only part of you that will survive, because this is the one piece of your spirit that’s not broken. I mean it’s not the worst fate.” he ticked my cheeks causing an involuntary smile.
Sloth, the desire to stay where’s it safe. It was a sin for a reason.
Fuck this. My chest hurt as I forced a breath. If I was going to dive back into the agony of my drug damaged body, I was going on my own terms.
I awoke with a breathing tube in my throat. Well, this is familiar. I forced my eyes open. Judging by the decor of the room, I was in Mississippi, in the on-base ICU. The feeling of air being forced into my lungs gave me the energy to want to throw myself out of bed. even if I couldn’t walk, I could crawl. I just needed to get freed from the wall.
I reached for the nurse call button. It was just out of grasp. Waking up from full anesthesia, my body was numb. “I don’t want to be numb, I don’t want to be dead,” the mantra escaped my lips before I realized I was not alone in the room.
My wife was asleep under the light of the window, her body laying across two blue plastic chairs. Her long brown hair was all over her face, shimmering with a heavenly glow. As Marni sat up, turning her gaze toward me with her big brown eyes, she looked… ethereal. “D-Did you say something?”
With the breathing tube still in, I probably sounded like I was choking to death on my own vomit. I forced myself to nod, I needed her to know I was still there.
Marni returned the nod. “I’ll be back, I promise.” She ran outside and after a few moments came back, resting at my side. “The doctor has been paged, everything is going to okay.”
‘Is it?’ I squeezed her hand as my eyes darted around the room.
Leo was standing in the corner looking at a comically oversize pocket watch. “I’m impressed. The sloth level is just about defeated.”
The doctor came in with a few assistants and the procedure to remove my breathing tube was uneventful. I could breathe on my own… just about. I had to be given an oxygen mask to keep my levels at a reasonable percentage.
The radiating pain was like feeling my body for the first time. My ribs felt like rocks, stabbing into the muscles of my chest. My dry throat was clenching, as my limbs became frozen in a state of spasm.
Marni gave my hand a delicate squeeze. “You can do this.” As her grip released, her fingers traced the lines of my scarred hands. “Just hold my hand. I’m here,” her voice paused as her fingers caressed the places where I used to shoot up heroin, “and I always will be.”
Just to feel her touch drove me to tears.
Marni continued to hold my hand. “Just focus on me.” With her comfort, somehow my stats settled at a satisfactory level.
“Mrs. Severgine,” the doctor said only to her, “the next few hours will be critical to just how much of a recovery your husband will be capable of achieving.”
When the medical staff left us alone, Leo reappeared. He leaned against the wall, like a model, or a superhero, staring me down. “I think you know what trial is next. It’s what destroyed so many strong, noble individuals. Including myself, so many year ago.”
I knew exactly what he meant. I had to make a choice between love and anger. I truly did love Marni but there was a massive elephant in the room: why did she keep Matthew Remy’s baby? Was it for religious reasons? We were Christians, but would I have wanted her to terminate?
Then I remembered her words, ‘Our son.’ Could I do that? I mean, now I knew for certain that it was my body that failed; I was sterile. Marni deserved the chance to have a child. But could I find the strength to stand by her? That was the real question.