Quiet. Cool. Ana pulled herself off of a stainless steel table and stared at her muddled reflection; a shock of blonde hair without a face, cap-tured on a stainless steel wQuiet. Cool. Ana pulled herself off of a stainless steel table and stared at her muddled reflection; a shock of blonde hair without a face, cap-tured on a stainless steel wall, cornered by another stainless steel wall and another and another. She was in a 6-foot by 6-foot box, sitting at a sterile table, in a stainless chair in green scrubs. There were no win-dows, doors, or dust. She looked down at her body and touched her skin. Dry. all, cornered by another stainless steel wall and another and another. She was in a 6-foot by 6-foot box, sitting at a sterile table, in a stainless chair in green scrubs. There were no win-dows, doors, or dust. She looked down at her body and touched her skin. Dry. No scent. There was no feeling. She just existed. She scratched but there wasn’t an itch or even a burn. She pinched as hard as she could but felt no pain. She yanked on her hair, smacked her cheeks and poked her finger into her eye. Nothing. She leaned back, propped her foam booties up and slammed her ankles into the edge. Nothing. No pain. Just distant sound, like she was still under water, listening. Ana got up and jumped on the floor, searching for seams. Nothing. She walked around the room running her hands against the wall. No smudge. No prints. “I have no fingerprints.” Her palms were smooth. The fortune-telling lines were gone. No scars. She dug her nails into her face and screamed, “What the Hell!” It floated somewhere outside of her, and sounded like it was stuck at the bottom of a well or in a vacuum. She lay on her side, her face pressed against the brushed silver floor and stared for her breath for what felt like a month then peered up toward the desk where she noticed a hidden drawer; ajar. Ana opened it and found a large white tablet with the word “open” typed in the center of the cover in bold black font. She gingerly placed the tablet onto the desktop and slid her finger between the cover and the first page only to find a pocket full of black and white photographs. First photo: Jimi Hendrix sitting at a tea table among shrubbery, holding a fine china teacup gently in his right hand and a burning cigarette in his left. His eyes were smiling at the cam-era but his expression was stoic. Second Photo: Janis Joplin spinning in a macramé poncho, eyes closed to the sky, mouth caught between a painful sigh and elation, illuminated by what felt like blue light. “Wood-stock, perhaps?” Third Photo: All of Ana’s deceased pets. “All of my pets! Peculiar.”
She could feel herself laughing but heard no sound. They were all posed in a Wild West Cantina scene. Hannibal, her childhood St. Bernard was propped behind a mahogany bar, lined with unmarked liquor bottles, wearing a pressed white button down, black bow tie and leather suspenders. Poco, her most effeminate male golden retriever was dressed in elaborate makeup and curls in a corseted blouson, flirtatiously entertaining Rags, the neighborhood Benji, paw-in-paw with Jo Jo, the illegitimate, brain-damaged white poodle mix who showed up on her doorstep one windy, fifth grade afternoon. And sitting at a card table opposite her feisty ginger cat Tangerine, donned in bar wench attire and dealing cards, was her beloved Bernadette. She was a temperamental Australian Shepherd mix, with a shark-like over bite and shifty black eyes. Bernie was what she thought appropriate; dressed in an androgynous black suit and western fedora with a cigar dangling from her teeth. Her eyes then followed the gaze of her sweet tabby Gepetto dressed as a sheriff, striped paw close to his pistol. He stared into the mirror at a lovely buxom gray madam behind the bar with her back turned toward him. “Lily!” It was Lily; the fluffiest, heartiest greatest cat in the history of yellow-eyed, fluffy gray felines. She was gazing into the mirror in a Mae West manner unscrupulously admiring the backside of Hannibal. It was the perfect personification of Lily. She always stared flirtatiously at the boyfriend du jour that joined Ana for the evening then snuggled in with him when Ana fell to slumber. Lily communicated through stare and body language because her vocal chords were damaged when she was a kitten. She couldn’t meow but made only an occasional squeak coupled by a wave of her pussy-willow tail. Ana blinked, then socked her ears. She started to hear things, then see things she thought. She heard the wagon wheels roll by, kicking dust into the saloon doors, ladies laughing, and Hannibal speaking with a voice like Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter.
“What’ll it be, Jack?”
It was difficult to distinguish but it was in her head and ears like she It was difficult to distinguish but it was in her head and ears like she was part of the photo. She closed her eyes and just listened to the banter. There was hushed conversation at the card table, giggling ladies and then a distinctly gritty, distant female voice. She said, “What does a girl have to do for some attention in a place like this? I know that I’m not invisible to you, Hanni-baby. I see you watching me in the mirror sweetheart.”Ana heard her eyelashes wink and her whiskers twitch. She knew she did. Then she heard Hannibal’s slow, deliberate footsteps. He cleared his throat, lit a match, smacked his droopy gums that made a sour pucker sound and exhaled. “What a lovely voice you have Miss Lily.” Hannibal gurgled in her direction. “You should hear me sing, Ana.” Ana’s eyes refocused on the photograph. “Look over here Ana, in the mirror. Right here.” She stared into the mirror and Lily smiled and winked at her. “So you may be coming to join us, huh?” Then Ana heard a sharp whisper lisp into her left ear. “It’s not time, Ana.” The voice was followed by laughs, meows and barks coupled with chuckles and a loud thump. When she came to, Ana was stretched on the floor, chair on top of her and the book entitled “Open” scattered next to her. She quickly gathered up the mess and rose to place it back in the drawer when she heard faint music. It became louder and louder braided with clinking ice percussion, hushed talking, the scent of cigarettes and fresh cut onion grass. She peered to her left and saw a photo on the ground that must have escaped her hasty clean up. The closer she moved toward it, the clearer the crescendo became. It was Billie Holiday’s, “I Got it Bad (and that ain’t good).” She picked up the photo and stared into a black and white animated film clip of her Grandparents. Both couples were sitting poolside drinking martinis and scotch. They were dressed in mid-fifties attire seemingly having a magnificent time. She had never met Harry Sr., her father’s father. It was interesting to see him in action as a young socialite in a pressed Brooks Brother’s ensemble. Her young grandmothers were both summer lovely, soft spoken, cross-legged and tanned while her grandfathers both laughed and boasted about business and Wall Street Journal headlines. A beautiful young man with slicked-back blonde hair and black-rimmed glasses sauntered out of a cabana dressed in black and white tuxedo server attire arm stretched gracefully holding a tray of cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. He handed both ladies a fresh martini and lit their cigarettes for them. “Thank you.” They both smiled flirtatiously at him. He began to walk away when Ana’s young Nan said, “Young man, aren’t you going to offer Ana a cocktail?” “Oh, pardon me madam. How could I be so rude?” He looked up at her and slid his glasses down his nose exposing seamless blue eyes. “Ana, would you care for a cocktail, or perhaps some pennyroyal tea?” She threw the photo into the book and slammed it shut. The young man was the late, great Kurt Cobain. THE Kurt Cobain. “Crazy.” She smacked herself across the cheek and this time she felt it! Ana heard herself involuntarily shower the air with expletives, like the inadvertent spritz that sprinkles the dentist’s face while she or he picks and prods teeth. There was no longer a vacuum-like void of sound. She stomped around the stainless room, relishing the tinny-thump of her feet resonating from the floor. “Where am I? Oz? Wonderland? Hell? Is this Heaven?” She laughed maniacally singing, “Heaven. I’m in heaven.” She danced over to the desk with an invisible partner she wished to be Jack, fell down into the chair and started to cry real tears. “Where are the pearly gates?” She sobbed and sniffed at first not noticing the stream of colors that rained from her eyes. They meandered down her cheeks and onto the floor. “Why am I alone?” She opened her lashes touched the primary braid rolling down her neck and onto her hands like rain on a window shield. A rainbow dripped from her blank fingertips onto the brushed steel floor. It framed her faceless reflection smeared with viscous tears. She closed her eyes and wished her way to what she wanted heaven to be. All of the images in that album of memories would be there waiting for her in spirit not in animated photographs. And then she felt it; a presence loomed beyond steel walls. Me. Ana heard nothing but felt half-sympathetic eyes on the back of her neck. When she stood slowly and stared forward, frightened to peek over her shoulder, the words I Exist, You Exist. Believe, dripped across her reflection. She closed her eyes and dropped her face into her hands. “What’s that supposed to mean?” She waited for a response. Nothing. “Are you toying with my new found existential way of thinking?”“Are you toying with my new found existential way of thinking?” Nothing. Not even an echo. Still, something burned through the nape of her neck. She mustered the courage to turn her face and peer behind her. Nothing. Then, a feathery whoosh. She looked up at her reflection and standing faceless in stainless steel behind her was a masculine, statuesque figure spreading his wings. Me. “What are you doing here, Ana?” I leaned down next to her and stared into her eyes. “Answer the question, Ana.” My deep growl of a voice with a hint of Liverpool dripping from it startled her. Ana thought that I smelled of fresh pine and cigarettes. More 120s actually. She knew the scent from childhood. I was not particularly angelic in appearance: crinkly brown eyes, weathered cheeks and navy Chuck Taylor canvas 1950s basketball high-tops. But I had wings. She knew me I think. She closed her eyes She closed her eyes and heard me speak into her left and right ears in tandem like those weird earphone audio experience booths that they had at Disney World when she was a kid. My voice was crisp and housed inside her mind like the surround barber shop audio adventure that was definitely the highlight of her first and last Disney family adventure; sharp, clean blades of scissors sheared away at her audio locks. I love that trick. “Open your eyes, Ana.”
She fell out of memory into my disguised voice sweetly familiar to her. I sounded of Saul the Knish cart guy who used to sell his wares outside of the Manhattan Mall Path train entrance. Perhaps, because I was Saul. During her short Manhattan work experience stint on her way out of the city and back to Hoboken for the evening, she used to make a point of telling me how wonderful they smelled and to have a great night no matter how she felt that day. She never actually tried one but probably told many that she did for the sake of inciting conversation with beautiful strangers; the story of her life. “Yoo-hoo! Ana, snap out of it!” I pinched her cheek.
“Owww!” She felt it.
“You certainly felt that Ana, huh?” I yanked her earlobe.
“Hey! What in hell is your problem?” She rubbed her ear and stared at my nicotine-stained smile. “You’re my problem, Ana.” I sat cross-legged on the floor, reached into my downy wings and pulled out a pack of More 120s, dropped one into my mouth and snapped my fingers producing a flame. Lighting it, I leaned back and blew smoke into her face. Tough love. “I’m terribly sorry.” I leaned forward to whisk the cloud away from her face, but instead offered her a smoke. “Didn’t mean to be rude. Would you care for one?”
“I don’t smoke.”
“Bullshit.” I laughed and exhaled over her shoulder. “Bullshit?” She was flabbergasted.
“Bullshit! Lies don’t work here, Ana.”
“Where?” She shouted and threw her arms up.
“Where what?” I snapped back.
“Where is here?” She stood up and tripped over her pant leg,
motioning to the four steel walls. “I feel like I am stuck inside some microcosmic Pottery Barn coffee table world or something.”
I laughed and slid my pack of smokes back into my wing.
“Now there’s the Ana I know and love; full of Hades!”
She caught a peripheral shot of herself in the wall; she had horns. “I have horns!” She grabbed her head, and turned to me.
I slapped my knee. “Look again, Ana.” She looked and they were gone. “You think you have horns, so you see horns. Do you follow me?” I smirked.
“No.” She had enough.
“Sure you do Ana. Think outside of yourself for once.”
She scowled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“What do you think?” I leaned over and whispered in her left ear.
“You are selfish.” “Piss off!” She crossed her arms like a child.
“Hey, watch your mouth! I have wings.” She started to get the flavor of dial soap on her tongue, opened her mouth to speak and foam seeped out. She began to choke and cough. I held my stomach and laughed. “I love that one; your mum should have done that years ago.” She spit the remainder of the soap and foam out onto her lap and coughed. “I don’t care if you have wings. It doesn’t give you the divine right to insult me.” I inched forward on the floor and took her hands in mine and she felt immediately calm. “Ana, where do you think that you are?”
“A waiting room.”
I laughed. “What are you waiting for?”
She stood and threw her arms up. “Jesus? I don’t know! Everyone that I love and admire who has passed over to this side of yesterday.” I smiled at her knowingly, almost condescendingly. “What side?” I reached to grab her hand.
She threw my hands away from her and started to rant. “Here! Right here! Heaven or whatever you or I or He or She or It wishes to call it!Heaven! Pearly Gates! Never Never Land! Somewhere Over the Rainbow! Eye of the Storm! Hyperspace! The Moon! The Bottom of the Rabbit Hole! The Abyss! The Milky Way! Paradise! Perhaps Dante’s Inferno, or…” I lit a fag, pulling a flame out of the air. She still wasn’t impressed. “Okay, okay, okay. Understood, understood. You think that you’ve cashed in, called it quits, kicked the bucket and bought the farm..” “Died! Drowned! Swam with the fishes, literally! I am probably about to be dropped from a shark’s ass to feed some hungry clams or something!” She pondered the image. “They have asses, right?”
“Oh my Ana, you couldn’t be more wrong.”
“Oh, they don’t have asses?”
I doubled over and laughed and laughed until I coughed. “Well I may know a great deal, but I am not well-versed in the anatomy of sharks. But I do know one thing that may assist you in figuring out your whereabouts.” She stared at me with earnest eyes that reminded me of her second-grade school picture. I leaned over filling her aching mind like suffocating smoke. She heard my voice slice through her indignant soul. “Ana, you are not dead.” She listened to the brassy echo and held her head to keep out the grating words that felt like a childhood earache. She was too late; they had already dripped blackened oil into her watery conscience. “ You are not dead, not dead, not dead, not d…” Her body felt like it rushed to the surface of something. She opened her eyes and was standing two inches away staring into me. “Impossible!” She challenged me.
I challenged her. “Anything is possible.”