Author: Christopher T. Werkman
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 4
Allan Vickery emerges from a coma with knowledge that tears his life apart, only to reassemble it in a way "Vic" could never anticipate.
Is Allan Vickery alive, or is he dead? After a blow to the head from a golf ball, Vic isn’t certain himself. As it turns out, he’s comatose and the things he learns while unconscious are life-changing when he reawakens. But for a man in mid-life crisis—struggling to keep his marriage alive while attempting to become a recognized painter and still succeed at teaching high school art—his new understanding becomes a volatile accelerant for issues that merely smoldered in the past. In the resulting inferno, Vic finds passion in the arms of a lover and riches in the world of high-stakes golf matches. Whether or not you play golf, you cannot avoid difficult lies in your quest to find the fairway to happiness.
His musings came full circle. When he was comatose, Vic longed for his life in Toledo. Now, he hadn't even regained consciousness, and already missed Bascolm, Donald, Jason, and Loon's Lair. And his golf game. It would have been so great to stay and play golf, he thought. He could do that when he was comatose. His body was disconnected, but his perception in the coma was he could play golf—better than he ever had. He knew what that state of existence held for him, and he had no idea what lay ahead if he came to. He was sealed inside an unresponsive carcass. Everything was shut down. He couldn't find the switch to reanimate his body, but he couldn't find his way back out of it either. Of course, even if he could find his way back into the coma, would he wind up back with Bascolm and the others? Maybe that was like trying to return to the same place in a dream, after getting up to take a whiz.
Suddenly, Vic got the sensation he was falling; the cable snapped and the elevator dropped into darkness. His field of vision turned black, and he worried he'd lost his sight. Maybe the head-shot on the golf course blinded him. He strained against the urge to cry, but couldn't help himself. Goddamn! What the hell will I do if I'm blind? Teach art? Paint? Play golf? Not likely. How will I run? How will I drive? What the fuck will I do? It felt as though pins were poking at the sensitive skin around his nose and eyes. He wanted more than anything to reach up and rub his face, but his arms didn't work.
Then someone touched his neck. It didn't feel like any of the hands that restrained him earlier. These fingers were gentle and cool. They stroked his neck and slid up onto his cheek. It had to be someone who knew him, someone he was close to. Nobody better be touching me like that unless I know them pretty damned well. Angie, maybe? Something told him it wasn't her. Then he was suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling the fingers belonged to his mother.
"Mom? Is that you? Oh God, Ma, I think I'm blind."
"I'm not your mother," a voice from out of the blackness said.
"Who is it?" Vic asked, as surprised he could speak as he was embarrassed about the fact that he blubbered like a child.
The voice giggled. "I'm disappointed, Vic. You don't remember me?"
"I'm sorry. I remember your voice, but I can't put a face with it. And I'm blind, so I can't see you."
The voice laughed. "You're not blind, silly. I'm the one who's blind. Don't you remember? We spent a lot of time together the summer before you and Angie were married. Does that help?"
"Jillian?" Vic was thunderstruck. Was it possible? "Jillian Reefe?"
She combed her fingers through his hair. "Now I feel a little better. I'd always hoped you wouldn't forget me. But you never called me Jillian."
"Reefer," Vic whispered, overwhelmed with a wave of affection for this woman. He suddenly didn't care it was too dark for him to see her. It felt so good to be with her again; the blind girl who lived in the apartment across the hall from Vic during his senior year in college.
"Reefer, are you still smoking all that dope?"
"No, darling. I finally took your advice," she replied in her lilting voice.
Vic always thought Reefer's voice sounded like music, and he never tired of listening to her talk. When she was high, which was most of the time back in the summer of 1970, she'd tell him all kinds of funny stories about her crazy lifestyle. Vic remembered one, a story about her friend who had an old Cadillac hearse. The windshield wiper motor gave out on their way home from a war protest in Washington D.C. It was raining too hard to go on without wipers, so the guy found a piece of clothesline somewhere and tied it to the driver's side wiper, routed the rope through the vent windows, then tied it to the passenger's side wiper. They continued on their way at seventy miles per hour, with Reefer tugging the rope back and forth to sweep the rain away. Vic was never certain honest-to-God hippies even existed until he met Reefer. She was one of the first to arrive at Woodstock, and one of the last to leave. She sang and played her guitar in bars and coffee houses. The girl may have been blind, but she was fearless. Wonderful as her adventures were, however, they weren't as captivating as the sound of her voice.
"How's Ziggy?" Vic asked. Reefer's Seeing Eye dog's name was Zig-Zag, after the rolling papers, but Reefer always called her Ziggy.
"Zig died years ago."
"Oh, Reef. I'm so sorry. Shit, I should have done the math." Vic blinked against tears that threatened to overrun his eyelids. Being with Reefer again put him in touch with a raft of long-forgotten emotions, and the death of her big friendly chocolate lab turned them loose.
"No, no. It's okay. Ziggy lived a great life. I miss her, but the memories are good ones. I work with a cane, now. No other dog could replace Zig." She apparently heard him snuffle and wiped her fingers across his eyes. "You cried the first time we went out together. Remember?"
"What was the movie's name? That great anti-war flick with George Hamilton, right?"
"Um-hmm. The Victors. You cried when the soldiers shot Peter Fonda's puppy."
"That's right. You asked me to go see it with you because the manager wouldn't let Ziggy in the theater. Remember? You asked me to be your Seeing Eye dog for the day." He chuckled. "Man, nobody could get away with that shit now, barring a Seeing Eye dog."
"No. The world's a more enlightened place today. But I'm glad it worked out the way it did. We had a beautiful summer together."
A bit over five feet tall, with a curvy-cute body, Reefer wore sandals and tie-dyed frocks with scoop necklines back then. Her long, straight, dark hair accented her olive complexion. She wore beaded necklaces and tied feathers in her hair, which made her look like an Indian princess. Her single conceit was her discomfort about anyone seeing her eyes. She wore wrap-around bubble-lens sunglasses, and only removed them if she was alone, or if she was convinced it was completely dark. As close as they became, Vic never once saw her eyes. Although Reefer lived in an apartment right across the hall from Vic, they'd only exchanged hellos in the hallway or at the mailboxes until that summer. The June afternoon at the movies changed all that. Vic never spent time with a blind person before and was uncomfortable being with her, at first. He soon learned if Reefer needed help with something, she'd ask. She seldom did. Between Ziggy and her own self-reliance, Reefer seemed in control regardless of the situation. All through the movie, on that far-away summer day, she seemed to know what happened, and only asked Vic to explain what occurred a time or two.
When they returned to the apartment building, she invited him into her place for some wine, and later they went out for dinner at a Chinese joint. By the time they returned home, an early evening thunderstorm was building.
"I'm afraid of storms, Vic. Will you stay with me tonight?"
"I—I'm getting married in August," he replied, unable to hide his shock.
"But you're not married now. If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with," she said, more convincingly than Steven Stills himself.
"You're right, Reefer," Vic said, returning from his memories. "It was a beautiful summer. I've thought back on it many times."
"Me, too. How are things with you and Angie?"
"Ah, they're fine."
"Come on, Vic. It's me. You don't have to tap-dance." Reefer's musical voice melted his reluctance to tell the truth.
"Things aren't great, Reef. It started out so good. I love her so much. I always have. But she's not the girl I fell for back in college." Reefer stroked his cheek and said nothing. Vic imagined her cocking her head and dipping her chin, her habit when someone spoke to her. "I know people change over the years," Vic continued. "Hell, I'm not who I was back when you knew me in Bowling Green. But with Angie, the changes are so dramatic. She used to be so passionate. So happy. We used to play silly word games we made up as we went along." Vic decided that was a lame example of the weave of their life together before it unraveled, but he couldn't think of anything else that wouldn't take too long to explain. "Honest, Reef, she looks like she did the day I met her in the student union. Hasn't changed a bit. But it's like Revenge of the Body Snatchers, or something. Like somebody else moved in and pushed the woman I loved out."
There was silence. Vic couldn't even hear Reefer breathing. He was overtaken by the fear she'd gone and he was alone. Then her beautiful contralto came out of the darkness and literally gave him chills. "I understand," she nearly whispered.
"And, I can't believe I'm telling you this, but I've always wondered if it was all because of us."
"Us?" Reefer asked.
"Yeah. Punishment, sort of. You know, like I was unfaithful to her that summer, and this is what I get for it. You and I had a terrific relationship, and now Angie and I don't."
"But you never told her ..."
"Oh, no. She doesn't have the faintest idea about us. No, I mean the karma thing. You know, yin and yang, opposite and equal. The fates evening up the score."
Vic felt Reefer's hand on his shoulder. She squeezed gently. "The universe doesn't operate that way," she said softly, with so much conviction he would have felt foolish if he asked her how she could be so sure.
"Anyway, the main problem right now is Angie and I have been apart. I got hit by a golf ball, and I've been in a coma. Unless you're wrong about it being dark, I'm blind." Again, he slipped toward the verge of tears.
Reefer kissed him on the forehead; her lips were as cool as her hands. She ran her fingers across his cheek. "You are not blind, Vic."
"Then why am I seeing black?"
"You're right, you're seeing black. You remember I told you I was sighted until I was six?"
"Yeah. Some kind of cancer? They removed it, but damaged your optic nerve."
"Yes. And I remember colors, so I know what black looks like. I can tell you for certain, if you're seeing black, then you're not blind."
"I'm not? So, what do you see? Gray?"
She giggled. "No, silly. I don't see anything. Hey, look at me with your nose," she said, giving the end of his a tweak. "What do you see?"
"With my nose? Hell, I can't see anything with my nose."
"There. That's what I see with my eyes. There's nothing wrong with yours. You need to open them."
"But they are …" he insisted, before he felt her cool fingertips exert gentle pressure on his eyelids. Suddenly, he was looking at a light fixture on a ceiling.