The Miraculous Nature of Everything

—Timothy S. Miller—

[excerpted from Random & Entirely Coincidental]

"School Nurse" (detail)—Richard Bowes
          Tyler is sluggish, not his normally rambunctious self, but Maggie doesn't worry until she starts getting him ready for bed and rubs up against his forehead. He is hot to the touch. Not warm. Not sweaty. But burning up.
          Something is terribly wrong.
          She calls me on the way to the hospital. The kind of panicked call that you never prepare yourself for. It soothes me. It is this cry for help—not typical for Maggie—that gives me a feeling of closeness, makes me feel closer to her, makes me feel like her attempt at reaching out is her way of trying to make things better. This attempt, this cry for help, seems like an attempt to erase the tension that has been hovering around us for the last several weeks.
          It really is something, Maggie reaching out this way.
          She didn't have to call me.
          She called me first. She could have easily called her mother. She could have called her sister. She could have called Victor.
          But she didn't.
          I am not used to this. I am accustomed to the Maggie who puts up walls and refuses to let her barrier down for anything whatsoever. She would never ask for help. This is not in her nature. Her first instinct is to build a wall. And then cry for help. By then it's too late. By then the walls are so thick that there is a very good chance I won't hear her.
          But none of this matters.
          Because she calls.
          I tell her I will meet her there.
          I tell her not to worry. Everything is going to be all right.
          It is not going to be all right. Maggie knows this. I can hear it in her voice. Mothers know these kinds of things. Mothers have that sixth sense. They have that connection with their children, that sense that tells them when something is wrong, that sense that screams bloody murder when there is no help to be found.
          Whether or not Maggie seems close to her son, whether or not she has seemed distant from him lately, the voice over the phone makes it clear that Maggie is still in contact with that sixth sense that warns her when her child is in danger.
          Tyler is in danger. Capital letters, danger. DANGER.
          My words don't comfort her. She is trying her best to find something in my words to push her on, calm her nerves, that will ease her mind, but it is not there. She will search. She will sift through my words in a frantic effort to find peace. But none will come.
          When she hangs up the phone, I feel like a failure.
          I rush down the stairs without even locking the door and speed down the street in my car. Go down Live Oak to Ross and speed down Ross towards Baylor Hospital downtown. I am not concerned for my safety. I am not concerned for the safety of others. I run red lights without looking both ways. I run red lights without using my horn.
          In my effort to be there for Maggie, I have forgotten everything I have ever learned about every action having a reaction, every action having a consequence.
          When I find her in the emergency waiting room, she has forgotten our conversation, has forgotten the fact that ten minutes earlier she had reached out, that she had asked for help. In just ten minutes, Maggie has constructed a wall. There is no getting through.
          Her face is void of emotion. Her face is blank. No anger. No sadness. No joy. No fear. Nothing. There is no trace of anything. Not even solemnity in the face of so dire a situation.
          She barely recognizes me.
          I go to hug her, and she pulls back. I am a total stranger. She does not know who I am.
          "Have you heard anything?"
          "Have you spoken to a doctor?"
          Nothing. She doesn't blink. She backs away until her legs bump into one of the straightbacked chairs in the waiting area, forcing her to sit down. She cannot back any further.
          "Everything is going to be ok."
          I grab her hand.
          She doesn't respond. There is a total inability for her to react at all.
          We sit in the Baylor Hospital waiting room for the next half hour without saying anything. We both look straight ahead without blinking.
          Until the doctor walks out, I almost forget why we're there. This sitting in silence, this absorbing Maggie's numbness places me outside of myself, outside of anything I may be feeling. I don't feel anything.
          The doctor arrives. If I don't snap out of my momentary catatonic state, nobody will be present to hear the news. If I don't snap out of my momentary catatonic state, we won't know how Tyler is doing, if Tyler is going to pull through.
          I am expecting Maggie to follow me as I walk across the waiting room, am expecting Maggie to follow me to hear the news of her son's condition.
          She does not move.
          "How is he?" I say.
          "Are you the father?"
          "No," I say. "No. I'm with his mother. That's his mother. Maggie. Maggie is his mother. Maggie is Tyler's mother. That's Maggie. She's going through a very hard time. Can you tell me how he's doing? Can you tell me what you know? Is he going to be ok? Is everything going to be ok?"
          I can't stop. I have the urge to spill these questions uncontrollably. I can't make the questions stop. Maybe I'm afraid to stop because I'm afraid of the answer. Maybe I'm afraid to stop because I'm afraid of what the doctor is going to tell me.
          The doctor is patient. The doctor understands what a difficult time that this must be. Understands that Maggie is experiencing a grief that is out of her control, a grief that has stolen her emotions.
          "It isn't good."
          I glance at Maggie. I'm waiting for any kind of reaction. None comes. She is not hearing anything. She is not here. She is somewhere else.
          "What does that mean, Doctor?"
          What does that mean? Why wouldn't he find some way to deliver this kind of news with a positive spin? Why wouldn't he find some kind of light at the end of the tunnel? Isn't there a way to be truthful without being brutal? It's so cliché. Of course it isn't good. Nothing is good about this. I know this much, Doctor. Tell me something I don't know.
          Maggie's missing out. She is supposed to be here for this. This will crush her. The fact that she is not here. God forbid her son doesn't recover. God forbid Tyler Smith slips away from the present, is ushered into the Great Hereafter. She'll never forgive herself. She won't be able to live with herself. She will be lost in grief. She will never find a way out. She will search for him for the rest of time.
          She will drive around in her old Plymouth Chrysler, will drive down lonely Texas highways. She will go twenty west, past Fort Worth, find herself on the road to nowhere. She will stay in cheap motels. She will run out of money. She will give strangers blowjobs in exchange for their beds. She will make them sleep in their cars in the parking lot. She will rifle through their clothes and take what she needs. She will steal Ritalin. She will steal Oxycontin. She will steal Viagra. She will take Viagra by the handful and drive toward her future with an erection. She will pick up more men and fuck them with her new dick.
          She will look in the mirrors of cheap hotels and will not recognize the woman she sees in the mirror. Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who's the fairest of them all? There will be no answer. Only that naked body with ribs sticking out of her skin like piano fingers, sunken eyes like big black bowls, hair that is falling out in dark pieces, all that beautiful hair breaking off like matchsticks, which she'll rub together in her fingers until her hands look like ash. She'll put on a slinky dress and walk into a cheap hotel bar with Ford trucks and diesels parked out front, a pool that hasn't been cleaned in forever, will lay out by the pool until her skin is scorched, concentrating on messages from her son, messages that tell her where to go, that he is close if she just keeps driving. The sun will wear her out. She will feel tired.
          She will follow the sounds of piano playing into an old bar. A blind man will be playing the piano. He will be wearing a sparkly gold jacket with a dark green shirt, unbuttoned. He will smoke thin cigars, will sing with a throat that lost its sound long ago. She will smoke at a table close to the piano, will listen to the songs hoping that their melodies, their lyrics, will give her clues as to the happiness of her son's soul.
          She will fuck the old black piano man. Will fuck him long into the night. Will kiss his stale cigar breath. Will suck him until he has lost all of his breath, while he thanks the sweet Jesus for sending him one last angel. He will hold her as she cries and he will kiss her to comfort her. They will sleep soundly with no dreams to call their own. He will wake. She will be gone. He will remember her forever, with dreams of her driving down a lost and lonely road searching for salvation.
          "What does that mean, Doctor? What does that mean?"
          "He has meningitis."
          "Yes. It's bacterial meningitis. We're doing everything we can do."
          "Will he be ok?"
          There are doctors everywhere. In their white coats, their stethoscopes, their surgical tools. Doctors hovering over a little boy—making their diagnoses, snapping their gloves, wearing their surgical masks—treating the child with extreme caution.
          "We're doing what we can. You just take care of his mother."
          What do you do with an edict like this? How do you care for the comatose? How do you care for confusion, this decreased level of consciousness, this stiff and painful neck? How do you care for this fever, this severe and persistent headache, this sluggishness? These muscle aches, strange feelings, tingling, this weakness throughout the body? This eye sensitivity, this eye pain from bright lights, this skin rash, these dizzy spells, this vomiting?
          Maggie takes on all of the symptoms of her son's illness. Maggie takes on the sins of the world. She takes on all of the world's suffering so that Tyler might have life more abundantly.
          I sit next to her in silence, in these straightbacked chairs, wondering if we will sit here forever.
          There are all of these things that I want to say.
          All of these things that I want to do.
          All of these things that I need to manufacture in order to make Maggie feel better.
          But I don't utter a prayer for the safety of her child.
          Whether it is because my search for God was born out of pain and not the inherent need for salvation or whether Maggie's comatose state has hardened my heart to anything that reeks of the miraculous, I will not pray for a miracle.
          We wait for hours.
          I take her hand, and it feels cold and lifeless. It is like holding a ceramic cup. I close my eyes and pretend that I am sipping iced coffee out of a cold ceramic cup. I take the cup to my lips, and it doesn't react. It doesn't breathe. It offers nothing in return.
          The doctor returns and says there is really nothing we can do here in this waiting room, that we should try to go home for a few hours. Of course, there is a small room right off of the emergency baby ward if we would like to try to rest there. A couple of soft chairs, a couch and some pillows. We could always bring you a blanket.
          Maggie offers no commentary. She doesn't look at the doctor. She looks past him, looks past him at the admittance desk. The unmanned admittance desk. An empty desk with a large white phone resting on top of the empty desk. She looks at the phone. I half expect it to ring. I half expect it to ring, half expect Maggie to walk over and pick it up and wait for instructions. The voice on the other end of the line will tell her that she should go home and try to get some rest.
          But she doesn't move. She continues to stare at the phone.
          The phone will not ring.
          I walk over to the table in the center of the room, and I pick up a People magazine and walk back over to the straightbacked chairs and sit down.
          Maggie continues her surveillance of the phone.
          I open the magazine and start flipping through its pages. There are pages upon pages of Hollywood stars that are starving themselves. Their ribs are jutting out of their skin, these pretty carcasses with their white and shining teeth, these pretty carcasses with their saline boob jobs and their pouty lips. They are famished, these women. There are the stars of yesterday in their bikinis, caught lounging on the beach in their cellulite. The varicose veins are highlighted. There are little arrows pointing to the various lines of cellulite. The veins are even named on one photo. Each flab of flesh has an arrow pointing to it and little captions of what may have caused this hideousness. Krispy Kreme vein. Chocolate Chip Cookie vein. Blue Bell Ice Cream vein. Pepperoni Pizza vein.
          There are stories of Britney Spears leaving her husband. There are stories of little baby Britney falling out of his highchair, stories of little baby Britney's car seat facing the wrong way, stories of little baby Britney sitting in Britney's lap as she is driving to the store to buy some Blue Bell Ice Cream. Some Chocolate Chip Cookies. Some Krispy Kreme Donuts.
          There are photos of Brad and Angelina on the beach with their children. There are fuzzy photos of their new baby strapped into a harness on Angelina's back.
          There are photos of the stars doing the kinds of things that we all do. Look, these stars are people, too. These stars buy Triple Skinny Breve Caramel 180 Degree Lattes. These stars go out for walks in the park. These stars take their kids to the zoo. These stars, these famished stars, have Blue Bell Ice Cream at the local ice cream shoppe.
          These stars buy Kate Spade Handbags. These stars buy their Diamond Rings at Zale's Jewelers. These stars wear Seven Jeans. These stars shit just like you do. These stars wipe their own asses with UltraSoft Toilet Paper. These stars have periods and use Maxi Pads. When these stars fuck each other's husbands, they make their lovers use Trojan Condoms. When these condoms don't work, when these condoms break and these stars get pregnant, these stars drink Makers Mark's Finest Whiskey. When these stars can't get over the guilt of their affair, they take Zoloft. When these stars can't quit the booze, can't quit the pills, they go to Betty Ford.
          It is eleven o'clock. We have been sitting here in our silence for three hours. Maggie cannot overcome her nostalgia for silence. Our whole night will pass without a single word. Maybe a word or two from the doctor, and we will do this over and over again. We will get old in these hard, straightbacked chairs. We will listen to the television drone on in the background—CNN telling us that it is the end of the world—forever. Wars will be fought over and over. The stock market will rise, and the stock market will fall. Consumers will continue to shop. They will continue to buy Kate Spade Handbags. Consumers will buy their Diamond Rings at Zale's Jewelers. Consumers will wear Seven Jeans. They will wipe their asses with UltraSoft Toilet Paper. They will use Maxi Pads during their periods. They will fuck their girlfriend's husbands with Trojan Condoms. When these condoms don't work, when these condoms break and the consumer gets pregnant, they will drink Makers Mark's Finest Whiskey. When these consumers can't get over the guilt of their affair, they take Zoloft. When they can't quit the booze, can't quit the pills, and their high insurance premiums will shatter dreams of going to Betty Ford, they will continue drinking. They will drink. They will use pills. They will lose their families. They will lose their children. They will struggle to keep their high. They will do more pills so they can drink more, will struggle to manage just a little while longer. Occasionally—once in a blue moon when they find that perfect high—they will feel glamorous. They will have delusions of stardom. They will be famous.
          I walk over to the nurses' station and ask for a flashlight.
          They act confused.
          They pat their pockets as if to show me that they don't have one.
          Maggie is still absorbed in her silence. Still looking straight ahead. Still looking at the white phone on top of the unmanned admittance station.
          I wait in silence. I twiddle my thumbs. I grasp my hands together and send my thumbs in a circular arc. My thumbs circle like a miniature Ferris Wheel. Over and over. I witness riders as they make their circular journey. Over and over. As they ride this Ferris Wheel in the cool night air. They are at the State Fair. It is October. Shortly before his brother's accidental death, when he chases a ball into the street and gets runover by the neighbor's car. They are at the State Fair and they spend a good portion of their evening roaming the aisles of numerous vendors in the Food Building. Spend a good portion of their evening listening to the hucksters hustle their wares. They sit in on a cooking show that is being filmed for Public Television. They go to the Dr. Pepper Circus inside a huge canvas tent and watch Chinese Acrobats flip from white pony to white pony, balancing on each other's shoulders. The Midway is all lit up in bright light, loud rock and roll music filling the night with heart-thumping beats that make his mother and father uncomfortable. His father calls it the Devil's music. The rides are too expensive to ride many. They waste some of their coupons on a turkey leg and a stroll through a funhouse that isn't very fun. Before they leave, the boys beg to ride the Ferris Wheel. They make circular arcs as the Devil's music plays in the distance, and they try to spot their house from the top of the Ferris Wheel as it makes its circular arcs into eternity.
          "You the one that needs the flashlight?" says a maintenance man in blue coveralls.
          "Yes," I say.
          "Bring it back," he says.
          Maggie is doing what she's been doing best. Sitting. Not saying anything.
          "Ok," I say. "I've just had a word from God. Believe me if you want. I don't give a Goddamn. I'm about to lead you to a miracle. If you want to wait for the doctor to come out and tell you that Tyler is dead, you sit your somber ass here for another four hours and feel real Goddamn sorry for yourself."
          Maggie is motionless.
          "I'm not going to wait for you. If you want your miracle, follow me."
          I walk through the double doors and into the night air. I walk across the parking lot to my car. I start it and drive toward Dealey Plaza.
          Maggie sits next to me. She doesn't say a word.
          It is cool out.
          The visitors that crowd the Dealey Plaza on a daily basis have gone back to their hotels to get some much needed rest before waking up to take in the sites of downtown Dallas before going back to their respective homes—relegating all of their memories to a couple dozen photographs in a scrapbook that they will pull out every once in a while between nine-hour shifts at a job that they don't enjoy, between soccer games and gymnastics and elementary school plays—to forget it ever happened.
          Maggie doesn't ask where we are going.
          She has seen all of the news coverage about the appearance of the Virgin Mother in a patch of mold under the Triple Underpass, has witnessed the many pilgrims as they made their pilgrimage to the Triple Underpass in order to find their miracle.
          Or maybe not. Maggie has been busy with her own life. Has been busy taking care of her son while working as a teller at Bank of America, has been busy taking care of her son while living a secret double life. Maybe miracles are beyond her understanding. Maybe the headlines "Virgin Mother Appears Under Triple Underpass As Sign That God Forgives City Of Hate At Last" was undecipherable to Maggie, was like reading a foreign language.
          We walk across the Grassy Knoll and toward the sidewalk that leads into the Triple Underpass, now covered in darkness. A few lamps leading into the tunnel flicker on and off—the lights around the Dealey Plaza turn the blackness into a soft gray—but there is still not enough light to really get a good look at where we are going. Unless you have a flashlight.
          As we walk towards the Virgin Mother, past a homeless man that asks us for some change, I have no thoughts of the Umbrella Man or the Dark-Skinned Man or Lee Harvey Oswald assembling his Russian-made rifle. I have no thoughts of Jack Ruby. I have no thoughts of secret meetings held by the John Birch Society behind closed doors. Have no thoughts about the Mafia planning the assassination of John F. Kennedy in the smoke-filled rooms of the Carousel Club or the Egyptian Restaurant on Mockingbird. I have no thoughts of LBJ conspiring with Dallas oilmen for his only chance to become the President of the United States of America.
          I don't even have thoughts of miracles.
          I am where I am supposed to be.
          The small beam of light breaks the darkness, and Maggie reaches out to hold my hand. I realize, at that moment, that we will stay together.
          We walk in almost complete darkness. I know it is up on our right, know that we are very close because I've been here before. But not just that. It's a feeling I have. It's like I've been on a long journey and suddenly realize that I am almost there, almost home.
          As we're walking, I get that kind of feeling.
          I search my soul for what I will wish for.
          I smell roses. As if thousands of rose petals are scattered everywhere, their petals throwing out a scent so sweet it is overwhelming.
          We stand in front of the Virgin Mother. The flashlight casts a thin stream of light onto the patch of mold—hints of blue, her eyes breaking through—onto pursed lips, pursed as though they are about to say something.
          We stand in the near silence of the Triple Underpass, the faint sound of cars in the distance, the small echo of tires, tfph tfph, tfph tfph, tires and their low thud as they drive away from us. Maggie doesn't say anything. I don't say anything. We stand in front of the Virgin Mother. With our thoughts. Soon, even the thoughts are gone. We stand there, naked and empty. Waiting to be filled up.

Timothy S. Miller lives in Dallas, Texas. He's been a ranch-hand, waiter, contract driver, and a professional clown. Currently, when not writing, Tim works in the financial industry.

[ photo, Paulette Bowes ]

Richard Bowes's most recent novel is the nebula-nominated From the Files of the Time Rangers. His most recent short fiction collection is Streetcar Dreams and Other Midnight Fancies. He won the World Fantasy, Lambda, International Horror Guild and Million Writers Awards. Recent stories are in F&SF, Subterranean Magazine, Fantasy Magazine, Sybil's Garage, Salon Fantastique, The Coyote Road, So Fey, and Datlow Del Rey anthologies.

content Copyright © 2007, Timothy S. Miller—All Rights Reserved
image, "School Nurse" Copyright © 2006–2007, Richard Bowes—All Rights Reserved