Lump Sum Payment

“Lump sum payment.”

“Limp sum payment.”

Giggle and groan.  The realization of alcoholic relapse, a terrible medical term insufficient for the deep soul pain JJ feels as he comes to, then becomes aware.  Failure on an epic scale.  Yet…  (And here’s the rabbit hole of doom).  Yet, what’s the big deal?  He’s here, alive, in a house he owns.  He’s got a shitload of lottery money in the bank.  And the sun is up.  And people are doing whatever people do.  He just happens to be lying here with what feels like a railroad spike lodged in his skull, driven in at the base with point protruding from forehead.  Cold hard throbbing iron.  But predominantly, most painful of all, is the amorphous creature of shame emerged from some gaping unreachable wound behind heart and abdomen.  No organ, this creature, just a pulsating squid of pain, tentacles twisting and twining into heart and limb.  A real fuckin soul ache.

“I’m only hurting myself,” he mutters and tries to get up but sinks back as the squid plops down and splats onto the deck of its cavern and the nausea comes.  Oh man, the nausea.  JJ’s down again, hugging self and giggle-groaning, amazed by this cosmic punishment, this run-of-the-mill hangover.  Gallows humor still intact, that’s good.  Or bad.  He should be devoid of humor, just a fuckin beast, like we all are.  Then the phone is ringing and the old-fashioned answering machine picks up and transmits a beautiful voice through the cold hollow house.

“It’s me,” Lila says.  “I need your help.  It’s…it’s kind of important.  Please call.”

Now the squid of shame, heavy, bloated and gelatinous, shifts position and radiates paralyzing waves of self-disgust.  Because he knows he won’t return the call.  He can’t answer the bell. “You’re up, JJ.”  Can’t do it, coach.  I got this creature inside, this squid.

But, he gets up somehow.  Later he casts this moment in heroic light, like the final push up Everest.  Or the unlikely victory of a doomed army.  The French at the Marne, finally turning to fight the Hun.  “It’s always about you,” Lila would say.  But what she says when he calls back is, “I need you.  My mom died.”

And JJ, fighting back the squid, gets dressed. Or rather, changes clothes.  He then smells himself, takes clothes off again, and gets in the shower.  Much groaning and blasting of hot water to melt the railroad spike, then the brushing and gargling.  Now dressed and stumble-walking out the door, the warrior emerges to save his beloved, raising his arm to fend off the merciless Sun.  He only slips once, landing on his side in a pile of snow along the walkway.  But he rights himself, dusts off the clinging snow, and forges on, unstoppable.

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