Painless Solitude

Anesthesia, secreted daily by his cells, could have made him famous, built us a mansion on a hill with palm trees, swimming pool; earned us front-page headlines in tabloids, made us household names; in short, fame. He chose instead, foolish man, to keep his unusual insensitivity to things that would have made an ordinary man cry locked up, up in the penthouse of the abandoned, half-finished condominium tower on 42nd Street. Up there he would sit, on his windswept, meditative perch overlooking the city, his hair ruffled by the wind, while experts paraded single-file around his unusual body. Come in. Come out. Closed the door after each one, dutiful me. May I interest you in a beverage, Doctor MD? They measured vitals, taking samples of blood, bile, urine, feces. The thought made me cringe. But even the comings and goings of famous medical experts came to pass as he grew wearier; first weekly, then monthly visits allowed only by the most distinguished physicians. They would sit, softly kneading his bared body, vulnerable yet insensitive, poking his belly with needles and razors, marveling at his durability. But even that ended. Sometimes I wonder if it ever happened, the poking with sharp objects and kneading, pinching, extracting. If anything happened at all?

            I remember clearly the day when he announced his, our, goal of total isolation; we were sitting. Or rather, hanging. Suspended in our harnesses, at the transparent table made of Japanese glass he had hung precariously from the crooked antenna of the unfinished condominium tower. Dozens of stories below our bouncing, swinging breakfast scene, the city shrieked with urbanity, threatening to drown out his voice.

“My dear,” he prompted cautiously in a tone that muted the noise of the traffic, as if our ears had switched to a new frequency, “I think it is time that we be hermits. Enough!”

And so it was. We prepared, of course. Demolished the ladder from the back alley sidewalk to the penthouse to make flight the only escape. Knitted several hundred hammocks to hang between the steel beams of the tower’s frame. Stocked up on elastic harnesses. Installed a trapeze. Put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign. The like.

There was work in this Solitude, for me at least. The first week he insisted on crucifixion, and with writhing fingers not in the least reassured by his insistence that he felt no pain, no discomfort in the least, I nailed him to a ten by six cross, handmade, rosewood, which we hung at a ten degree angle, overlooking the Hudson River. Like some amateur glass cleaner I would sheepishly descend on my double harness twice a day, to wash his face, give him watermelon slices, brush his hair. Never speak: he wanted isolation.

He, we, spent another week healing, his saintly open wounds to be swabbed with Neosporin, rubbed with Aloe Vera from our rooftop succulent garden, gently caressed and sung to. He felt no pain, he told me and I believed him. He spoke more and more often, as if emerging from a solitary cocoon, and every day I unwound it further, saw him more clearly.

It was a good life, for the most part, even if our movement was slightly limited by the elaborately constructed rigidity of the system of harnesses, rails, pulleys, cranks that suspended us over the city, like gods dancing over their mortal subjects yet in total isolation. Alone above a city of millions. Just the two of us. He was, he said, happy, was, he said, incapable, medically, of feeling pain, and I, enraptured by his bouts of talkativeness, believed him. Sometimes. Sometimes I had my doubts about him, wondered why, when I had ever decided to chase him up to the penthouse of an incomplete frame of a skyscraper, why here? why alone? In a harness? But my doubts would be quickly alleviated when, seizing in desperation a potted cactus from the rooftop garden and jabbing it into his left arm, I would see no response, no acknowledgment even, and I would know that his anesthesia, his magic, had not worn off. Yet.

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