To Blow A Horn Not Yours
By - Robert Aaron Goldsborough
The two sores were no bigger than dimes the first time he noticed them. Just small tender bruises on his back, nothing more. His wife was very affectionate towards him, soothing the minor miseries with ointment and a gentle rub. She said that it was nothing even when the diameters grew bigger than silver dollars. The doctor gave him antibiotics and told him not to worry about the large bumps, which were what they were becoming, they would fade and no he had not contracted some horrible disease. The doctor satiated his hypochondria and his wife salved and bandaged the nasty sores for weeks until she had to leave on business. He was alone tending to his own afflictions when the pain hit; searing heat that cut him from groin to skull threatening to tear him in half. The doctor gave him pain pills and an antiseptic rinse to use on the breaking skin. The medicine dulled the pain, but the bandages were not stemming the flow of bodily fluids from the open wounds. That was when work was out of the question. With his wife gone he contacted specialists who could not say too much about his condition except, "How odd".
It was around midnight six weeks after he had first noticed the sores when it struck. Like lightning refusing to let go of his manhood the pain dropped him to the floor. Not even the pills could over power the two white-hot pokers piercing his back. Unconsciousness saved him from too many mental traumas and he dreamed. The simple shell that was his body lay face down on the disheveled bathroom rug. It twitched and unnerved his dreaming self. There was a voice, like a faint yell played too close to his ears. How he wished he could remember what it said, but dreams are never too important to bother committing to memory, are they? He awoke with daylight streaming in the tiny bathroom window. Wincing and nursing a stiff back he stood leaning against the sink for support. He felt better this morning, better than he had felt in weeks, ambling downstairs for a bit of breakfast. The cereal of choice filled a bowl with milk and he sat to eat. He was having problems sitting back on the couch, the pain had dissipated, but something was making his frame feel awkward.
After breakfast he went back up to the bathroom to change his bandages and clothes from the night before. The mirror startled him breathless.
"What the hell..." his voice wavered when he saw the two bony protrusions on his back. With gentle hands he stretched around to either side of his spine to contact these alien anatomical features. Yes, they were really there. His vision blurred with tears filling his eyes at the realization. Then, he had a vague memory of fainting.
As to how much time had passed when he woke he was never sure, but he was relieved to see his wife standing over his hospital bed when he regained consciousness. There were more specialists hovering in the room behind his wife's frame. He could feel them thinking up excuses for their inability to predict his current status.
"Where are the surgeons I should thank for removing my ailments?" he smiled.
"There were no surgeons that would remove them without you being awake, dear. They said that they had to talk with you before they could prescribe any treatment." His wife repeated the words she was given with a frown.
The doctors offered prolific statements of regret and explanations of how these growths were as attached to him as an arm or leg and their removal would affect his body in harmful ways. Something about nerve bundles and intricate blood vessel patterns being too complicated and too closely tied into his spinal cord. One wrong millionth of an inch and he would be paralyzed was what he did understand. He cried, something he had not done since he was a young man and the release reminded him of how good it was to unburden. The doctors gave him more pain pills, just in case, and antibiotics. They gave his wife sedatives to give him when he realized that the protrusions were not going to stop growing.
Within a week the growths were both a foot long and he had called in a leave of absence to his work. His wife coddled to his perplexing moods and was always there with sedatives at night to make him sleep. After a month and three more feet worth of growth he had to be sedated two to three times a day. His wife was becoming desperate and asked the hospital to send therapists. They lulled him with words of esteem and hope, which lasted only until they were out the door. His wife, even though a very compassionate women, was losing her demeanor with him and feeling very worn through. She had to take a break she told him. He agreed with a grudge and went back to the hospital for the care that he needed. It was a day before his bleary-eyed mood swings found him in the care of full time mental health professionals. He was never suicidal; he had always been rather rational, just unshakable in his depression. He mumbled like a child about how his wife would leave him for someone who was not deformed and how he would miss the most wonderful woman he had ever known. His wife was contacted and she agreed to a full time commitment to a professional institution. She cried when she hung up her mother's phone after saying yes and ran to her mother's room to receive her own comfort.
"Now, now child. Bad things always happen to good people, but don't worry God will take this infirmity away from your husband." Her mother rocked her in her matriarchal arms while she spoke.
The institute was excepting of him and his ailments, like any good hospital that does not know what is wrong with you has to. He got a little room on the west wing where he got to see the sunset, which reminded him of his wife watching the day dying after dinner so they moved him to the east wing. His wife wrote him, pages and pages of letters, just to reassure him that he was the man she wanted and she would love him no matter what happened. He composed himself with time but continued to conceal his body under a heavy robe so that no one, not even himself, could see the status of his afflictions. He knew that they were not dormant, as much as he wanted them to be. Their length began to ache on him after a while and he could feel them go sore like an arm left to rest rigid for too long.
His doctors were letting him ease his way into acceptance of the dilemma without pushing him to hard, and he seemed to be pulling out of the depression. The other patients gave him no notice, consumed by their own confusions. Until a new orderly, one he had never noticed before had to bother with him thinking that he was concealing another patient's stolen property under his thick robes. He begged to be left alone, screaming for the doctors. The other orderlies were too late. When they arrived all they could see was the new orderly holding a robe and the depressed patient from the east wing cowering behind a narrow wall. The new orderly had a look of such shock his colleagues decided to call a doctor to retrieve the hiding patient. After much persuasion and the promise of a new robe did the assembly perchance to view the total scene of this poor man's affliction in entirety. His pajama bottoms were tattered about their hemline from being tread upon by heavy feet. He wore neither shoes nor shirt and the reason for no shirt was made obvious by the mass of white clumped and ragged at his back. The doctor lost composure and demanded that the patient turn around and expose his back so that the he might examine the nature of the affliction.
"Please, just give me a robe. You promised." he begged through chattering teeth. The doctor agreed, but first he must be examined for fear of a terrible infection. He turned and proffered his back. The doctor refused what he saw and covered him with a robe dragging him down to the examining room past the gape-mouthed orderlies. The examining room was the coldest looking facility in the institute. White on white, he sat shivering naked on sterile paper held down on the white table by white metal bars. The doctor poked and prodded. The professional had no rational explanation. It was inconceivable, but true, there was no infection. There were feathers, or rather wings. Mottled and restrained, but wings all the same. The doctor sent him back amongst the other patients without being able to say the right things.
A few days later another patient assaulted him demanding his right to see these wings that the orderlies spoke of. When denied his right to see, the patient tore the robe away so everyone could view the sickly wings trying to unfurl themselves.
"He's an angel!" the patient shrieked falling to his knees in an instant of concise guilt and penitent comprehension. The patient muttered apologizes while the room filled with gasps and hushed murmurs. There was nothing left to do now that he was exposed except stretch his accursed wings. He appeared very angelic at that moment with midday sun shining lazy through his thin plumage. A nurse fainted spilling her tray of pills across the hard tiled floor. A small man followed her descent, not to catch her, but to gobble up her displaced capsules of calmatives.
The doctors came whisking him away into larger examining quarters. They prodded and probed, touched and awed. There was no denying it these were truly what they appeared to be, wings. He sat stoic while the tests were performed and lied motionless even when the IV needle pierced the sensitive skin of his feathered appendages. The nurses stretched the slight muscles and stimulated blood flow to entice the vigor out of the oddities. His therapy lasted for weeks keeping him in isolation. His wife was not contacted concerning his condition. He felt that there was no need, as she had not written in several weeks. "She must have moved on," he thought. How could he blame her? She was wondrous, but there is a point to how wonderful a person could be with their spouse committed to an asylum. He refused to let himself dwell too long on these melancholy thoughts. Yet, sleep was still held at bay in a dark room that echoed his loneliness.
What could mere doctors be expected to do. After more than two months his wife was contacted, "Please make haste and visit." He was released back into the general ward to make ready for her arrival. There was going to be a lot he had to tell her, especially with his strengthened limbs too revitalized to hide. With sweaty palms he gated a slow pace to the visitors room. The doctors had made sure that they would be alone. The window to the room was high and narrow with thin wire criss-crossing, but he could still see that she was nervous sitting at the table with a small red bundle of something he could not make out. She was glorious. He was shocked at how badly the institute had dulled the way he thought of her. There was that sacred glow that had attracted him to her the first time they met. The red bundle made him afraid. What dark secret did it hide? Was this her present to tell him that she had had enough? The red of the bundle burned him with paranoia and he lost sight of her. He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand and found them moist. Terror seized his gut and shivers vibrated the length of his body. A sweaty palm let go of the door handle. His voice cried for a doctor.
"Please help me." he murmured through his building tears. He did not want to disappoint her with his appearance. He had not been afraid of her not showing up, but now that she had why had she stopped writing him. The letters were his support. Why had she abandoned him? The doctor placed a hand on his shoulder and forced him into the room. The air held the whole tentative silence in a vice that gnashed against its hinges. She cleared her throat preparing him for something. He stared at the floor with feathers pointing the way to her. She coughed again, he knew it was signal to get his attention. Without looking up he traced the three steps to a chair and sat down before her. It was her time to feel out of sorts.
"You have wings?" he could hear her biting back a sob of reality. How could she not notice? She was neither blind nor stupid. He felt sorry for the shock he knew that her eyes were driving into her brain. He wanted to leap from the chair, run and hide from this perfect person whom he loved so much. He did not want to hurt her, even if it meant leaving her alone.
"The bag. I brought you something in the bag. I think it will help. I don't know what to say. You are so much better at talking than me. Please say something." She was almost pleading for a word from him.
"They named my affliction. They said I must be an angel." His words grew quieter. His nervous foot traced small circles against the cold floor.
"But I don't want to be an angel. I just want to be me again."
"You are you, aren't you?"
"I don't know right now. Who are you?" his voice trembled.
"I am me. The same me that I have always been. Can I take you home? Are you ready?"
"Where is home?"
She began to cry. Even though he could not hear her, he knew that she was. She stood. The chair made an unbearable scraping sound across the floor. He remained staring downward.
"Look at me." she begged. His throat blocked any reply. He felt very lost. What could he do? Look at her and hope that every thing could be normal? That was long gone. He had wings and could never be normal again. She turned the handle and walked out of the room sobbing. He sat there feeling like the loneliest angel on earth.
He returned to his room contemplating what he should and should not have done or said. "It was too late," he thought. He had changed and that was more than obvious. He had grown out of his life and into something that even he could not understand. He fell asleep repeating one word over and over.
The early morning sun broke the dimness of the room with shards of light. He sat up trying to rub the sleep from his eyes. Patients were starting to shuffle out into the halls in search of breakfast so he thought about joining them. An orderly outside his door accosted him saying that the doctors found it more prudent that he not join the others during breakfast fearing the fragile mental states of the community. He agreed and waited in his room for his meal to be brought to him. Dry eggs and even drier toast made the meal drag into early afternoon when he called for the doctor. The man of medicine stared over his glasses and down his long nose with a grim explanation of how, now that he had nowhere to go, he had to pay special heed to the policy the doctors gave him. The room grew much colder after the doctor left and his wings made it difficult to conceal his body under the warm wool blanket.
"I'm leaving," He told himself after sitting alone for hours. He knew that he was not crazy and it was his right anyway to leave. His wife had left him under his own recognizance and no one had the right to place constraints on an angel. He had wings and felt the need to spread them. He demanded his street clothes, forsaking the shirt, and marched to the receptionist's desk to sign himself out. She fainted and the doctor who replaced her was trying his hardest to besmirch the request for release. He demanded louder for the appropriate paperwork rapping his fist against the desk. The physician grew nervous as he became louder explaining that if he was not allowed to leave now he would make sure that all the patients would hear him. The wings flapped unsettling more than just the doctor's papers. A pen was handed over while the papers were gathered off the floor. He stood with wings extended saying how he had outgrown this facility and had to try his wings. The doctor ignored his comments just to secure the documents and expedite the departure. Another nurse brought a small bundle out from behind a wall setting it on the desk in front of him. He knew it was the same red bag his wife had brought, filled with an explanation that he was too afraid to see. Without so much as a second look he swept the bundle up under his arm not allowing himself to feel the nervousness that came with it. With the signatures in all the right places he turned to face the doors. One hand swung the door wide and he stepped to his freedom.
The early night air filled his nostrils and he knew that he could no longer be just a man. His wife's answer tucked underneath his arm, he decided, would not bother him for he felt her answer in the unwritten letters. What was she thinking? He needed her words to help support him. Not now, he was more than what he was. Not only had he outgrown the institute he had outgrown the need for his wife's compassion. So he told himself. The night was to be his and he would find a new way in it leaving the past behind. Besides, an angel does not need things from people, only other angels. The wings remade him and now he wanted to be with others who were as great as he. So he walked to the nearest convenience store for a drink. The store held few customers and all jeered in their ways, but he was not bothered for they had no wings and could not understand. He called for a cab from a pay phone and waited. After thirty minutes or so the yellow transport showed up and he entered, being careful not to shut his feathers in the door.
"Great costume, but ya already missed Halloween," the cabby pointed out. He followed the driver's comment with a fake laugh knowing that this man was too simple to understand. His destination was the sea, which made the cab driver question his ability to pay. He tossed his wallet onto the front seat saying how he would not need any of it again. With the driver appeased he relaxed as best he could nursing the bundle against his side.
Within two hours they were approaching the seaside and he reveled in how far from everything that he used to know he now was. The driver came to a stop where he was directed to and even opened the door for him. Wishing the winged man well he disappeared on down the dark road. The sea was lined in tall earthy cliffs which dizzied normal eyes to stare over, but he no longer felt like he had normal eyes and stared down their treacherous slope without even feeling faint. It was late, or rather early, so he decided that any place was as good as the next so he laid himself down for some sleep. Using the bundle for a pillow he stretched out on the cold ground. Within a few moments the lull of the driving waves drifted him off into sleep.
A small voice awoke him into bright daylight and fading dreams he wanted to hold onto. It was a small boy whispering, "Hey mister," over and over. Sleep bleared his eyes dreamy as they set themselves on the boy with the long stick. The child was not only talking to him, but also poking at him in the arm. Just wondering if the thing on the cliff was real. He jumped up and grabbed the poker's stick and tried to frighten the young one away with a calamitous shout. The boy could not be dissuaded.
"What do you want boy?" He asked of the young interloper.
"I knew you wasn't dead. I knew it. What are you? Is you an angel?"
"Of course I'm an angel. What else could I be?"
The boy shrugged his small shoulders in agreement and offered some flat muffins, which were retrieved from a flat little pocket.
"My Mom made'em. She sure can make good muf'ns. She would love to meet you. She ain't been too happy since Daddy died. Won'tcha come an cheer her up? That's what ye'r here for ain't it?"
He stroked the little boy's hair and ate the flat muffin in one mouthful. The boy beamed, proud of his mother's handiwork and the angel's appetite. The boy gave over the last muffin apologizing for its flatness and wishing that his pockets were bigger so that he could carry more of his mother's pride. Then the little boy wanted to talk. Lots of questions, actually. What was heaven like, had he seen his daddy, how long could he stay, did he like chocolate cake, and of course he had to like chocolate cake, heaven must have chocolate cake or it would not be heaven. After more than a mountain of questions at the seaside he invited the angel to lunch, begging like only a small boy could. It was the kind of invite that you knew if you did not take it, the child would torture you with explanations and pouty faces. So he walked with the small boy to his mother's house.
The house was more of a cottage, rustic and in need of simple repair. The kind of repair a husband should do. The boy laughed, ran on ahead and yelled for his mom to come out and see who was here for lunch. She came out to see what her son was yelling about. She was no older than thirty, but looked like she had seen twenty more years than she should have. That is when she saw the stranger with the wings stretched out behind him. She did not faint. She just smiled a warm mother's smile and invited him in. Lunch was robust with all manner of vegetables from cans (She apologized for this wishing that her tiny garden would produce more abundantly), and roast beef sandwiches. He complemented the meal all the way through to the chocolate cake, which made the boy beam, but he had noticed the harried look about the mother the whole time.
"What's the matter?" He asked as the meal was being finished off.
"My husband died last summer."
"I'm so terribly sorry." He caressed her hand.
"We were soulmates, you see. He wasn't supposed to leave me alone. We were going to grow old together." She collapsed in tears on the table and he moved a gentle hand across her back. He felt his stomach begin to churn as he thought about his wife and how she had abandoned him. She couldn't even comfort him with a letter. Why had he married someone who could so leave him in his time of need?
"I need him," she sobbed "He was the only man that actually needed me as much as I needed him. It's so hard being without him. I wake up in cold sweats looking for him in the middle of the night. I can still smell him on the sheets. Oh, it hurts. Please give me peace."
He became nervous at this. He had never been asked to prove himself as an angel before. He laid his hands on her head and told her that her husband was in heaven smiling down on her and saw what a wonderful job she was doing raising their boy. She smiled drying her tears with a napkin. She thanked him holding his hands in hers. He smiled saying that it was all right. He felt very big at offering such simple comfort. "It must be true," he thought, "I must be an angel." She gave him a brown bag with some more of her chocolate cake knowing that he had to leave soon.
She smiled as he walked away from the little house with the small boy at his heels. He had given her a sense of peace. He had given himself quite an ego in doing so. He walked with larger steps making the boy run to keep up. They walked for an hour alongside the cliffs looking for an ideal spot just to stare out over the sea. They sat in silence dangling their legs over the cliff's edge until the boy spoke.
"What's in the bag?"
"This bag holds a secret." He stated.
"A secret for God?" The little boy screwed up his face.
"No, a secret for me."
"Show me, please."
"I can't show you."
"Why? Don't you know what it is?"
"I think I do. You just wouldn't understand."
"That's just kinda sad, not knowing your own secret. Why don'tcha just look and know for sure."
"It wouldn't do any good. It's too late for me to know. I'm different now and none of this," he paused, shaking the bag," matters anymore."
"Oh, that ain't true. There's always time for things that matter. I hear Mommy say'in all the time how she wishes she had had more time with Daddy. So there's always time."
"Time before it's too late you mean." He stared into the boy's eyes.
"Yah, I guess that's it. Where ya go'in now."
"I was going to fly away." He stretched his wings putting the red bundle's strap over his shoulder.
"You go'in to fly to heaven? To be with the other angels?"
"Yes, that's exactly where I'm going." He stood bolt upright to feel the wind brush against his feathers.
"Wow! When ya see my Daddy be sure and tell'im that Mommy and I miss and love him very much. Okay?"
"Sure thing little man." He placed his hand on the boy's head and turned to face the sea.
The wind coming in off the water was warmer than the actual air and made the plumage dance on his back like the waves. He held his breath for a moment tasting the salt breeze. The water beat out its tattoo on the rocks far below filling his earthbound mind with trepidation. He did not fear the fall for he was ready to fly. He knew he could, why else would he have wings? He grew the things, they were his to command and he deserved them. He deserved to be free from the hold of this planet and enter that brighter place on his own admission. He would fly right up to heaven and right through those pearly gates because he had earned the right. Had he not just helped a widow with her grief? Truly, he deserved to use these wings to justify what he had accomplished. He was no longer a mere mortal, but an angel and God himself would be happy to see him fly on in. Why God would rejoice that he had done it!
With his head held high and the boy waving farewells he stepped closer to the edge. A second, no more, of dizziness swept up his body. One more step would be all he needed before his wings would have to take over. The sea filled his ears. His heart beat rapid tattoos in his chest. He leaned forward and felt the wings expand to their fullest capacity trying to lift him up. With a hop he helped them catch full air and opened his eyes to see water racing up towards him. His shoulders pulled muscles he was not used to and the wings flapped. The wings beat heavy, cutting great swathes through the air lifting his body up and slowing his descent. A toe, no more, grazed the surface of the sea before the movement of the wings hoisted his frame up and up. He smiled and laughed in a loud raucous voice. He was flying. He knew he could. He was higher than the cliffs again and waved at the boy staring with mouth agape. He climbed through the breezes forcing his wings to beat faster. He felt cool streams of running air begging his body to come sail on them. So he did. He sailed far out to sea and then back to the land, higher and higher. Over small towns and smaller people he flew laughing with joy. He was free now. More free than he had ever imagined. How had stayed so planted in his daily life? He could not even guess that he had been living.
The towns and countryside raced beneath him growing smaller as he ascended with ease. The wings were enormous unfurled and he thought of how beautiful he now was. How wrong he was to think that he had been cursed. This was a blessing and not even the bag on his shoulder could steal that from him. He deserved this freedom.
The sky began to darken for it was growing late and he had a place to be. He turned his nose higher away from the lowly planet and pushed his wings upward. It was climbing without arms and legs. The air grew all the colder. He welcomed the bite of the evening winds and continued to climb up. Tonight he would be in heaven. Won't God be surprised!
The air began to thin forcing him to breathe heavier. The air was growing chillier by the foot. Still he pushed on. There was a slight throb building in his temples, but he just ignored it. Then there were sounds. No, there was music. His head was beginning to pound, but he could hear music. He must be getting close. Ice was forming on his smaller feathers slowing him down, not enough to matter. Heaven was a stone's throw away. He could feel it. No little nuisances like ice and headaches were going to keep him out of those pearly gates. His head was spinning with the music and his eyes were trying to close. 'This must be it,' his aching head was saying. So he let his eyes close.
He opened his eyes again full of pain. He could not move. He was having problems feeling his extremities. He tried to look around, but his neck hurt. He was cold all over. A chill that made him anxious danced deep in his bones.
"Is this heaven?" he thought.
He caught sight of one of his wings out of the corner of his eyes. It was folded and awkward; if he had not known better it should have been broken by the way it sat. There were feathers missing too and patches of ice clinging to him like skin. Where was he? Why could he not move? A pain screamed into his brain from his legs. He forced his vision downward. His legs were twisted around one another and they did appear broken.
"What is going on?" He tried shouting, but the shout was choked back by a liquid warmth in the back of his throat. He stared up and saw only sky. What he felt beneath him was impossible. It felt like dirt. He could not have fallen. He was an angel and angels can fly. He could not be where he was right now. He was not lying here broken in some farmer's field. He could feel his right arm coming back under his control and moved it. It made hideous grinding sounds and seared white-hot skewers into his brain, but it moved. With the arm came the little red bundle, which opened up and spread its contents across his battered chest. They were letters, dozens of them. Each letter with his wife's name written in her delicate handwriting and on them was a big red stamp that read "Return To Sender by authority of The State Medical Facility". She had not stopped writing. The hospital was refusing her letters, because of his developing condition. She was there the whole time for him. It was he who was not there for her. He wept. Trying to tear the envelopes open with his twisted hand, his eyes were clouding out all vision. He could feel the cold creeping into the places where his body was no longer whole and became very, very afraid. He was alone. He was going to die out here without even his wife to comfort him. What had he been thinking? There was no way for him to fly to heaven. His heaven was already here with his wife. Oh how he wished she was here now. He had tried too hard to be what he was not. He was not an angel. He was just a man with wings. Now it was too late for him to find the time to just be. He tried crying, but the blood was filling his mouth and the cold had snuck into his mind. All he was able to do at the end was mutter.
"Just...a...man...with...wings." He could be no more, no less.