Wherein Madigan Fiske failed to transcend circumstance and forgive crimes against his soul, but was begrudgingly forced to accept the love of the many.
When Madigan Syntagma Fiske turned six Grandma May told him he could choose his own birthday present at Youth World, but restricted his options to an on-sale Bert or Ernie puppet. Round-headed Ernie seemed the sane and safe choice but because he appeared smug and self-satisfied, little Madigan adopted flustered Bert. When he showed Grandpa Eddie his new friend, he was shoo-ed away like a fly as the Eagles were about to kick off. At that same moment the door opened and eight-year-old cousin Mitchell raced in wearing a Wilbert Montgomery number 31 jersey and jumped on Grandpa Eddie’s lap.
On exactly the 1095th day of their marriage when she was irrevocably an American citizen, Natasha Fiske was re-born Natasha Arnoffskaya upon divorcing Madigan. She paused before offering from among the many choices his “made-up” illnesses and subsequent abuse of prescription medications as causative, and as why he was never again to contact her. They had minimal assets so lawyers were not required. Because of the baby she claimed she was carrying, she would take the $23,740 in their account plus Madigan’s bicentennial quarter collection, his Muhammad Ali autographed boxing glove, and Topps TV card sets from the mid-seventies.
Very rarely fate gave back. Madigan inherited a five-bedroom house in Doylestown PA. when Grandpa Eddie, Grandma May, his mother, father, Uncle Lewis, Aunt Alina, and cousin Mitchell died in a fiery van accident on the Miami Beach causeway on their way back to the airport. The last two texts from his father said that Grandma May called him an ingrate for missing the family vacation and offered a gratuitous description of his odd-shaped head. Familial relationship to those who ran off or were annihilated was plot enough for one life and explained how he wedged into his own story.
His life was the nothing bracketed by a Bert puppet incident and being lopped off like a gangrenous appendage. Madigan would never move past Natasha, a chaste stripper who was teaching him to read Notes from the Underground in the original Russian. She had left over ten years ago. Perhaps the Gods were lining up a reverse Iliad. Odysseus was gone from his home for twenty years, ten at war and ten whipped about by winds as his competitors ate his flocks and abused his castle. Maybe Natasha and a Telemachus would wander back into his life. He would wait.
Using his V-neck tee pulled from under a Gap button-down, Madigan wiped away a tear. Yodeling, high-pitched Billy Joel blared from a CD-radio perched precariously atop the toilet. A second and a third tear puffed out and ran down his cheek. Madigan wondered at his deep connection to a song about a fisherman who never quits seeking fish and is deeply concerned about feeding a family. He couldn’t comprehend persistence as his life was surrender and consequent series of harried reactions to daily tribulations, vast loneliness and boredom, scattered moments of great tragedy and extremely rare good moments. Cue violins.
Sunlight streaked through the bathroom window, lighting up a universe of pollen granules. “Aah… chooo.” He couldn’t figure how pollen crept through the window to feed the pale-yellow matt of billions upon billions of granules congregating on the window sill. A chaotic eddy caused forth by his tatty blue slippers and trailing towel, called his quiescent enemy to random walk into his nasal passages to be sucked into his sinuses. Madigan wondered how many more sneezes he could withstand before a lung burst or one of the tiny bones in his neck splintered, whittled free and punctured a carotid artery.
Madigan dialed to the sharpie mark on the shower wall, indicating the perfect temperature to steam out his sinuses without further chafing his skin, a coat of atopic dermatitis atop a pale mostly see-through layer. Stepping carefully into the stall he negotiated with Imp of the Perverse, the alter ego Poe said we all have within, who if any one of us were on a terrace might make us leap off just to see what would happen. “Imp, the floor is wet so how about we don’t move fast, flip over and shatter my skull.”
A small creek of brick red liquid meandered and then gathered into a circular vortex to the drain. Madigan tried to track the pattern to discern what hemisphere he was in, but was distracted by what sounded like moaning from unbearable pain. Sounded indeed like his brand of moaning. He was sprawled out on the shower floor, the water blasting against his back. The shower smelled like a half-run over squirrel whose tail was still twitching and alive enough to emit an odor of unadulterated fear. His head throbbed. He had fainted, maybe even cracked his skull after all.
Micturition syncope? Or more likely another panic attack or both? The lights flickered around as his mind gave way to new round of panic caused by the fear of the first panic. His mouth opened, silent like the Munch scream. The winches of the roller coaster were pulling his cart up way too high, again. The new panic rose up like a choir of a million cicadas. And the obscene locomotive blew down the track. Madigan disappeared, swallowed by cortisol, adrenaline and Lucifer knows what else that flooded his broken fighting flighting system.
The inheritance provided Madigan a negative space to exist without meaningful engagement. The cul-de-sac developments, with names like Otter Crossing, Croix Landing and Willow Wood Ponds, seemed to Madigan arranged and forgotten about by a disinterested minotaur. The denizens, married with jobs at huge companies like Johnson and Johnson, Bristol Myers, and Lockheed Martin were tribal, cliqued and sheltered. The men’s reading tended towards sales and operations, fantasy football, microbrewing and barbecuing. The women infantilized these man-boys with strict rules on coming and going and tolerated activities. They bought their clothes and scented them in Grey Vetiver or Eau Sauvage.
Madigan imagined the masochistic comfort of being coupled to one of the wives, maybe Lansy Showalter or Carter Vellis or, most intriguingly of all, Jill Gladel. He shuddered so deeply his tube socks dropped to his ankles. What voice might he use to seduce one? Maybe he would date one of the widows or divorcees, but such unfortunate oddballs were instantaneously jettisoned pariahs, and thus were extremely rare sightings in the mazes. And if he did marry one of them it would no doubt come with visits from their friends and then parties at his house where the husbands would stop by as well.
Madigan carefully read, re-read and re-read the packaging. Non-Sedating. NSAH. Non-sedating antihistamine. It would not could not pass to his brain and make him sleepy. He could operate heavy machinery if so inclined, drive a tractor around the backyard to scoop up branches and leaf piles without having to worry about falling asleep and rolling onto Creamery Creek Road or over the rock pile that separated his property from Jorg and Jill Gladel. He could safely manage a tractor without being found dead in their pool.
Jorg Gladel installed a pool plume system that somehow worked through water pressure, arching light blue streams from the sidewalls that dove safely into the other end, and obviated the inherent risks caused by electrical devices. Madigan planned to sneak over at two in the morning, when J and J were deep asleep, and have a look at the guts of the plume maker. Though Pompadour, their yappy schnauzer, would wake the neighborhood, including Jorg, who would rush out macho with a gun, shining a flashlight on Madigan scampering like a Northern Fence Lizard back over the rocks to sanctuary.
Madigan was terrified of Jill Gladel with a tangible fear like Transylvanians have of vampires and werewolves and everyone else has of snakes. It didn’t help that her left eye bobbled around and never quite looked at you, like a house finch on M&Ms. He obsessed over making sure to never ever get himself in a situation where he had to shake her hand and be pulled close by her super human strength to look in her eyes and receive a Satanic whisper crucifixion of absurdly personal questions, designed to help her reason out his continued presence in her neighborhood.
Madigan constitutively forgot that everyone knew he inherited the house after his family died, which made him the opposite of anonymous i.e., spectacularly infamous as in who wouldn’t have sold the house and lived elsewhere. He imagined through Jill’s eyes that he was responsible for the van accident, almost certainly a pedophile or one of those emaciated perverts he saw on Jerry Springer that liked to feed heavy cream to elephantine women. If he ran into Jill Gladel in the supermarket, he would confidently squeeze her hand and not just lightly support it like Louis XVI first greeting Marie Antoinette.
Since Madigan’s recent shower event mal grande, he only washed in the kitchen sink like a heron jabbing at frogs. He reminded himself of the shopping-cart bums that rinsed off in the concrete fountain in Seabreeze Park across the street from his family’s apartment. Once clean enough he would creep out quickly to the car, avoiding even the chance of a conversation with the neighbors, especially the Gladels. In sunglasses and Eagles cap, he would slip out each day for an egg and cheddar on a bagel, a grapefruit juice, and a newspaper, although those were becoming impossible to find.
Madigan smoked a bowl of Strawberry Kush to ready himself to leave, but he had dropped some supposedly non-sedating antihistamine which beelined to his head and tangled with an armory of receptors that it never should have met. Was it somewhat sedating and just called non-sedating as it was less sedating than Benadryl? Maybe it made all people on average less sedated, but he was an anecdote and never average at anything, and he was as sedated as possible while still awake. The unwanted sedation played like a cello off the oboe of his always close to the surface panic.
Thin as rice paper the insert draped to his ankle; it was unclear how it even held print. Symptoms seen in >3% of the clinical trial population, excluding children under 12, included coughing, pharyginaltaxis… What the good God dang is “pharyginaltaxis”? He clicked P.h.a.r.y.g.i.n.a.l.t.a.x.i.s. into the search window. He read pages of gibberish to piece together something about sensations in the throat. The medicine was corrosively tickling his throat. He poked the pink rubber eraser of a pencil down his throat. He pulled an oval Tupperware from the fridge, took a sip of Del Monte’s plain tomato sauce and gargled.
“Hello!” Despite the sedation he was leaning into a furious over-confidence enhanced by the Kush and false anonymity of the phone, “This is Fiske… Madigan S. Fiske… yes… S like in Syntagma… Apparently, Mackey has given me something that has fuck-tickled my throat.”
“Stop right there. We know you may be in distress if you have called the doctor’s service but…”
“I am catastrophically sleepy and my throat feels like a spiked club has been rammed in. He is destroying me with this crap he suggested.”
“Sir. If you cuss once more…”
Madigan hung up.
When he awoke the sneezing and the itching in the eyes was gone. He finished off the Kush and swallowed another two magic non-sedating antihistamine pills. And then forgot that he had — three times within ten minutes — leading to him swallowing eight quickly dissolving pills, which entered his bloodstream and trounced through the brain barrier. He noticed the foil tabs had all been opened. If his Imp did take extra pills, he would make use of his precious Jolt Cola, All the sugar and twice the caffeine, a collectible that he won on eBay, to counteract the sedation.
Madigan’s thoughts flowed like Opimian wine at a Pompeii orgy. He imagined his Green Accord four-cylinder the chariot of the sun. His route blended into one long white chute. No other cars existed, no traffic lights, no signs, no mailboxes, just blacktop and white line, until it opened up to the world map of the Roman Empire Doylestown. Apollo and his chariot rambled into the Rite Aid parking lot off Creamery Creek Road and settled where drainage had eroded the ground. The car tilted unnaturally, giving an impression it would be sucked down through the Gate of Dis to Tartarus.
Madigan single mindedly edged between the magazines and the counter, past the cards, down the Dr. Shoals and heating pad aisle to the back where two exhausted pharmacists appeared swallowed by shelves of pills. Madigan joined a line including a man in his late sixties wearing a green John Deere cap, a dowdy old lady in a long skirt tightly clutching a red plaid pocket book across her chest, and a day-dreaming thirty-something mother with two kids flashing in and out of the aisles. Madigan pawed at these always lurking stock characters like a well-fed lion to shoo them away.
“Caretakers of the armamentarium!” the words emerged jovial from the back of the line. “Present us those meds that have the in- and extrinsic pharmaco-kinetic and -dynamic give and take but the actual most beneficial effects. What do you have that we might sample?”
“Excuse me? Oh, you’re joking from back in the gallery. Please wait your turn and we will be with you.”
“I am here to pick up, but while we wait, I will share a story about therapeutics in ancient Rome, a tale dating to the Caesars passed down the ages by Antoninas Platas through Poggio Bracciolini.”
The John Deere guy called out, “he’s pissed hisself.” A Rorschach pattern formed on the front and back of Madigan’s cargo shorts. His ears rang as if the devil had cymbal clapped his head. He stepped back and rubbed them gently with his wrists, avoiding his hands which touched the door on which mucous-gushing infirm pushed day and night.
The pharmacist boomed in a Rite Aid Sea Captain voice, “Sir, you are not well… please move to the side and take a seat.” The dowdy woman, the mother and kids raced out as if an Old West gunfight would breakout.
When Madigan came too, he was on his back like a flipped box turtle. The neon overhead lights were unnaturally white, meant to disarm and uncamoflauge. The captain said that help was on its way, loudly and slowly like he was deaf and stupid. Calm on the surface, she would need to chug a bottle of Chardonnay once home. Her first mate approached with an eye dropper filled with clear solution. “Easy, Mr. Fiske. This will help you.” The solution was being eased towards Madigan’s mouth, but the first mate’s hand was trembling and the liquid spilled on the floor.
“Phoenician peddlers in pain and doom! Snake oil for sestertii! So this is the way the game is played. You wrap my balls, Antoninas’ balls, in heated honey and wine-soaked banana leaves holding searing coals. Of course, they burn Apollo’s flames. Treatment is far worse than the disease. Roast your thin spit and dip it in arsenic. Pin my arms, roll my pecker onto a flat board like raw sausage on a crisped pita. When Marcus shoved in the thin spit Platas screamed and so shall I: “bitch dogs, one-titted bastards. By Jove’s hairy ass and ballstem, you cock-licking fucktards.”
With the dexterity of Mercury, Madigan flipped from his back to his feet, leaned to the side and stepped back to kick the gawking John Deere guy in the nuts, and then unnaturally twist to elbow the first mate’s arm, shooting the new batch of sedative over the counter; a spiral pattern of wet dots formed on Halle Berry diabetes control poster. Madigan was drawn to the colorful light rays slashing in through the enormous glass window behind the cash registers. The perverse imp hopped him onto the counter and with an atavistic howl leaped and crashed through the glass.
“Owww my head… like spikes have been hammered in.”
A thick forearm tattooed with barbed wire leaned across and pressed on Madigan Fiske’s chest. A waft of fish heads mixed with rotten aubergine, a hint of lavender and clover seeped from a laughing maw that was slowly coming into focus.
“Easy, man. Your head’s been spiked real good, like Jesus.”
Madigan tried hard to focus. “What the heck hell is this?”
“Even though your just babbling, that is good you are trying to talk. Don’t move. I will get the Doctor and let her know that you have come to.”
“Hello Madigan! This is Jill Gladel with Bette Chund! Jorg had to work today… he’s in Charlottesville in Virginia. First, I thought he meant North Carolina Charlotte where his step brother Lou the accountant and his wife Amy, who is a physician’s assistant and their two pretty girls live… Bette and I stopped in to cheer you up.”
Madigan could hear Jill Fucking Gladel shouting from across the rock pile for him to stop burning dried leaves because not only are the fumes blowing towards her kitchen but pile burning is illegal in Bucks County. What wicked deviltry was this?
“Madigan, I have some very good news. Our church group has voted to take you on as our annual charity spotlight. We raised a collection to augment your health insurance, and we hired a full-time nurse and a physical therapist. Since you seem to have no family cause of the accident, you will live at Casa Gladel till you are well enough to live at your house.”
Wow. The face he ascribed to Satan in previous interactions was Madigan’s own with a handle bar mustache and goatee. This Satan rolled its left eye around in an exaggerated madly unhinged warble.
“I took the liberty of bringing you clothes, medicine and books…”
Madigan tried to blow the fog away. Jill went in my house.
“I brought your t-shirts.”
Through my shirt draws and closets and medicine cabinets? No one has ever been inside.
“Don’t you love this one… he wears it when he does mow his lawn. “Galileo or the Church?” See the man with a pitchfork and his wife with a rolling pin? Maddie, Galileo was from a longer time ago than these folks.”
Bette whispered to Jill, “let’s go, it smells like dirty diapers, and he can’t hear you.”
Bette walked out, and Jill leaned in, “Madigan, I was looking around for reading materials for these saintly volunteers to help you wake back up and I came upon something very upsetting. Next to your disgusting porn magazines and those bags of marijuana, pill vials and assorted drug paraphernalia was a pile of notebooks. Seems you were working on an autobiography? She paused to genuinely have a laugh. And you were keeping notes on everyone in the community like they were zoo creatures. Maybe next week we can have everyone over? Co-host a pool party and read them aloud together?”