The End
by Michael Priv
          “Life is a circle, you know, the end is the beginning. Did you know that?” The stranger lifted his grimy Giants baseball cap to scratch the sweaty bald spot.   
          Giants’ fans are all crazy. And no, I didn’t know that life was a circle. How did he know? And who’d know these things anyway? They are all extracurricular... I mean extra-whatchemacallit... anyway, darn complicated stuff. If it was easy, every stray dog and his mother would know this, including me.
          “You an angel or something?” I croaked through my oxygen mask—slightly sarcastic and kind of witty.
          “Who, me? No, I’m no angel,” the stranger snickered, “Name's Ed, the cafeteria cleaner.”
          “Go away, Ed,” I wheezed, “You shouldn’t be here.”
          “I know, man. It’s just that you’re kicking the bucket and somebody’s got to tell you things. Doctors don’t know and don’t wanna know. You’re not going to really die, you hear me?”
          I felt weak and disoriented—complements of the drugs. All my insides ached.      
          “Go away, Ed.”
          Ed continued as if he hadn’t heard me, “Listen, it doesn’t matter if you believe me or agree or not. Just listen. When you kick the bucket, you’ll be so damn confused, you’ll thank me for my instructions. Can you hear me?”
          “No, I can’t.”
          “Good. Rule number one: Don’t panic.”
          I suddenly realized groggily that I was clutching the nurse’s call button in my hand, so I squeezed it. I had to get the crazy bum out of my room. What if he unplugged something?
          I heard the nurse outside the door. Thank God!
          “Yeah, remember not to panic. Just figure things out, work them out. You’ll know what to do, you’ve done it all before. Rule number two,” Ed muttered low now—hurrying, “When you are ready, move to the ninth floor maternity ward and get a new body. You are on the fifth floor now. You hear? Go to the ninth. You did it a zillion times, just decide to be there and you’ll be there. You’ll know what to do when you get there. It’s easy, kind of like sneezing.”
          Like sneezing? Lunatic.
          “Ed, what are you doing here? You know Mr. Smith?” The middle aged Philippina nurse asked Ed with her usual smile. Most of the care takers seem to come from the Philippines. They must know something we don’t over there.
          “Yeah, Lilly, he’s a friend of mine. I’ll see you later, Mr. Smith, you’ll do great!” Ed patted me on the hand and shuffled off. 
         The nurse Lilly pocked around in the cluster of IVs and all the other gadgets they had me hooked up to, talking to me soothingly. I didn’t listen. I was dying. Damn pity, too. It seems dying never hits you at a good time.  
          I’d be seventy-six this March. A somewhat ripe age, although nowadays old geezers are clocking nineties and hundreds. Not me. I was never lucky in anything. Damn life was a bitch. Good thing my wife was dead already. Would probably be gloating now, looking at me. Kids were a drag, the job—waste of time. Driving a bus all my life! I never even had a proper hobby or anything. Just work-work-work. Sometimes drink-drink-drink. Where did the life go? Now dying from cancer. Bummer.
          A tremendous wave of pain suddenly hit me, brutal even through the narcotic fog. The next wave that hit me was my own blood gushing from my mouth. I suddenly felt really high, intoxicated. I vaguely perceived the commotion in the room, kind of looking from aside—doctors and nurses rushing every which way. I was drowning in my own blood. What a great frigging ending to a great frigging life. Shouldn’t I be terrified? Shouldn’t my life flash before my eyes or something? I was just numb.
I was dimly and apathetically aware of my lifeless body below, feeling vaguely ashamed and accountable for the utter failure of this life-time—all apathetically and emotionless-like, kind of dead.  
          I hung by the ceiling in the room morose, numb, overwhelmed with emotionless, dead self-pity. Time has stopped. Was it a day later now? Two days later? Or nights? In my present state time was meaningless. In my present state? What the hell WAS my present state? I definitely felt an emotion now. I was curious as to WHAT THE HELL WAS GOING ON? I remembered reading somewhere that emotions were a product of various chemicals in the brain. With a nostalgic ping I reminisced of good ol’ days when I still had a brain. 
          There was another patient in my bed now, a young, athletically built man with a broken leg, which did not seem to faze him very much as he was chattering away on his cell phone and hooting loudly. Lily was pattering around as usual.
I was suddenly taken by the lightness of my senses and by the beauty of everything I perceived, unfiltered through the crude body machinery. And not having to drag the old bag of bones around was pure joy. Somehow I was not surprised—it seemed the feeling of lightness, freedom and joy was not by any means new to me.          
          What’s next, the Pearly Gates, I suppose? I was as ready as I’d ever be for the Pearly Gates, except I clearly remembered Ed’s maternity ward instructions. That’s on the ninth floor. And where the hell are the Pearly Gates? Who the hell knows. At least I know where the ninth floor is.
          Let’s start anew! Let’s do away with the stupid, wretched John Smith’s life and the sooner the better! Back-breaking toil and thankless, loveless existence devoid of any joy, affection or gratitude—the nightmare of injustice instead of a life; the nasty, ungrateful hag for a wife, who held me to scorn as the blight of her existence. What of the relentless succession of days, months and years saturated with suffering? My wife, Christy, that monster! Of course there was that time when I was happy on a vacation with her once, for about two minutes. Actually that entire vacation, although pretty bad, was not entirely unbearable. The wedding wasn’t completely awful, either. The birth of my no good daughter and the hooligan son. Come to think of it, my childhood was fairly decent, too, except for my domineering and pompous parents.
          It felt as if the floodgate had opened and waves of my last life-time memories washed over me. My parents, being a child, surrounded by comforting care and love, the Christmas presents, the warm hands and gentle hearts. Yeah, but what about..? Nope, that one was my doing, come to think of it. And with my wife Christy also, I guess, things went just fine till about the time I hooked up with that waitress, what’s her name? Linda? Lisa? Lucy? A total slut anyway—a trashy, greedy slut. Of course no denying, that slot was always there for me, even when later I got involved with that student chick, what’s-her-name, on a side. Christy stuck with me through all that.
          What about driving that bus, all the hard, thankless and purposeless work? I seem to remember that I considered it kind of neat at first to help people get from where they were to where they wanted to be. Where did that go? And the hard, back-breaking labor? Honestly? Not really. As for the work being thankless, well... But what about the total lack of recognition from my peers, the ungrateful back-stabbers, and the stupid, greedy management? Well, there was some of that. I probably should have injected a little more love into my work, a little more LIFE. 
          Actually, in retrospect, I had a somewhat decent life. Bearable even. I remembered the prom night, ball games, parties, friends, my wife—so young and beautiful, so trusting and hopeful that she’d find happiness with me. Sorry, Christy, I loved you too, honey, I really did... I still do! Hey, what do you know! I still do! No idea how it all slid sideways straight to Hell, sweetie, I am sorry. So very sorry. The kids, Tammy and little Nicky... Come to think of it, I had a great life as John Smith! I had it all! If I had just... I could have probably died a happy man. Hell, I could have probably LIVED a happy man!    
          I realized I was still in that same hospital room. The young stud with a broken leg was gone, replaced by an old lady. Jeez! Did I look this bad too before I conked out? There was a bit of a commotion in the room. Oh, yeah, the old lady was covered in feces, they were washing her off now. Bodies! Nobody was noticing—or giving a rat’s ass—about me. I was gone forever as far as they were concerned. Not so as far as I was concerned. Not at all. I was, in fact, very much alive, albeit immaterial and invisible, and felt new, fresh and rejuvenated.
          Time to go. I decided to be on the ninth floor and there I was—thanks, Ed, old buddy, old pal, my favorite cafeteria cleaner in the whole world! Where is my little bundle of joy? There! I saw a woman breastfeeding a baby. I reached out with my invisible hands for the baby’s head and decided to assume that body. It felt like a sneeze and there I was, working the new lips awkwardly. Was I a boy or a girl? Who cares! Food, m-m-m-m, tasty. I felt comfortable and sleepy now. My new daddy was standing over me, gentle smile on his face. Nice people. They were talking. What were they saying? Just noise to me, irrelevant, really.
          “Stan, who would you like him to be when he grows up, Stan?” asked my new mother dreamily.
          “A bus driver like me, Jen. He’d be set for life.”
  
                                                                                                                                                                                    © 2015 Michael Priv. All Rights Reserved.