Monday, April 16, 2012

“Dying Among Them” by Andrew Dinsmoor

Tim Willard moved to Las Vegas to die. With nineteen surgical staples biting a seam into his scalp, he drove until I-15 turned into Paradise Road. Until he was sure he’d never see another set of eyes asking if he needed help. Growing up he held his penis with his right hand to piss, but what was given to him at birth was taken away after the first incision into his skull. So he learned to pee lefty, and he learned to never charge over twenty on his MasterCard, because signing was too damn embarrassing—even for a man so near death.

When the tremor started in his right arm he brought it across his chest and held it firmly at the wrist with his left hand, like trying to steady a jackhammer. He had thirty seconds to find soft ground before the world convulsed violently and he woke delirious, in his own urine and tears. But when he got to Vegas he needed a job. His hands shook like plucked guitar strings, but anticonvulsants helped enough—a couple months would do it.

His first five interviews lasted less than ten minutes.

Then on his sixth, Tim became a handyman for Hilton Hotels. He had built beautiful homes his entire life, and carpenters of forty years experience would watch him work and tell him his hands didn’t need saws and hammers to shape wood. “Nothin’ but buildin’ a birdhouse for people,” he’d reply.

At Hilton he replaced light bulbs, tightened door hinges—fixed hotel rooms while he knew his body would forever be broken. Tim worked slower than the other carpenters at Hilton, and after two weeks the healthy sat opposite him in the break room. I need to make peace, anyway, not friends, Tim thought over lunch breaks, and his tongue and lips moved to the words of the Lord’s Prayer each night.

On Sundays he stepped left foot first into Low Avenue Church, his listless right leg dragging like a tired child. He sat alone and sang the same songs he had when there was hair atop his head and a better life to hope for. He offered ones and fives and quarters and nickels, and he drank Christ’s blood and he ate Christ’s flesh every Sunday.

On his third week at Low Avenue, Tim stood, removed his khaki beret and lowered his head in respect for God. From the pew behind came a gasp. He turned in place to see a young boy with fingers for eyes and a frightened woman gawking at the barbed-wire scars on his scalp. He thought back to when he was a boy, healthy and unmarked, and, for a moment, he wanted to run from that church and back to his mother. But like everyone else, she was busy living. So he turned forward and hung the beret on his head. He collapsed at the waist, hands clenching the pew ahead, and cried while the happy people around him sang in the name of God.

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