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Deadly Attachment

Love Triumphs Where Fate Falters

by Ujjwal Dey with illustrations by Wayfarer
10/1/2023


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The cards tumbled faster than the houseflies on her wound. He would wave a week-old newspaper with his left hand while trying to arrange his castle of cards on the night table next to her bed. She was always frail and tender. Now, she had become rigid and cold. The love of his life, a random stroke of lucky soulmate affection, and then the lottery of blood cancer. Her bed sores had become scabs. Her beauty had become an embarrassing reflection. Her memories were ghosts haunting her present misery. She was reduced to tears. He only feared she will continue to fight and survive to be in horrible pain for yet another day, another hour. Clock ticked by. It was time to get back to work.

As a handyman, Richard had little to offer than stained clothes and bleached hands. He had worked odd jobs so often and so many, the obvious thing to do was to list himself on classifieds for any small home-repairs. From furniture to electric switchboards, from plumbing to roofing and gardening. He did it all. He was on retainer with two buildings and found time to do projects and minor repairs from references received through word-of-mouth publicity. During holiday season, he had so many enquires, he had considered enlisting a helper—but then the timer would go off on his 1980s design Casio and he would need to rush back to the basement room he rented in the cheapest neighbourhood in the worst corner of Bronx, NY.

He stood out like a sore thumb among the coloured crowd. Red hair, freckled, ghost-white face, a barrel chest which merged his head on his shoulders sans any distinguishing neck. While his youthful looks stayed hidden in his disregard of his appearance, his active lifestyle ensured he got more than enough exercise to burn calories from fast-food with a side-dish of long working hours.

“What did you do today?” asked Rachel.

“This and that. The usual!” answered Richard, not taking pride in his labour.

“90% of this city can’t do what you do. Don’t sell yourself short. You are 5’10’ with a heart of gold and arms of steel.” Rachel tried to reach the drooping hair on her lover’s forehead and then realized she can’t lift her arms that far and high.

“You will reach great heights. Your name will spread far and wide.” She giggled, with cognition of Richard’s likely response.

“You and your cards! They spook me at times. Yesterday, it showed me ‘Temperance’. It’s been three days in a row and it shows me the same card. While for you, it’s been ‘Strength’ and ‘Empress’ and such. Why do you bother?”
 

“Because they helped me find you. When you believe it, its true, otherwise love, family, friends, strangers, Gods, angels and ghosts—they are all just labelled boxes in a vast, dysfunctional toolbox called Earth.” She chewed a spoonful of mashed up peeled apple and added, “which reminds me, did you find that missing screwdriver? Otherwise, you would have to buy a whole set.”

“What do you think your Tarot castle in the air suggests?” retorted Richard.

“Stop calling it that! And get yourself a pack of cheap playing cards at some 7-Eleven on the way to work. You will ruin the artwork and detail, playing with my collector’s edition. Did I mention, it was blessed by that 109 year-old veteran from Louisiana?”

“Your old wives’ tale. She looked like any 50 year-old chain-smoker. And it’s a collectible only if it remains unused in original packaging. You read it every other random hour of day and night. Sometimes, you spend more time admiring them than your man-Sunday.”

Rachel laughed and then coughed with that effort on her tiny frame. Richard would only take one Sunday off per month—working round-the-clock every day. Your faucet is dripping, irritating singular drops that keep you awake at 2 AM? Sure, call Richard! Your cat got stuck in the cookie jar at dawn? An emergency you say? Call Richard. Your husband sawed off the wrong end of the furniture and needs fixing during holiday season, its only a holiday if you have a permanent job, so call Richard. Super Bowl and your kid fiddled with the LED TV settings? Google that shit, but you will call Richard at primetime after giving up on your own tech-busting skills.

It was the last Sunday of the month. Richard switched off his phone at dawn, the silent alarm vibrating in his breast pocket to ensure Rachel slept as much as possible through her pain and medication. Whatever savings they had, they had spent, pawned off whatever they considered unnecessary including her prom dress and his father’s handmade Swiss watch, a heirloom given from father to son since before WW-I.

“Want me to give you a bath?” he asked as he sensed her head move when he got off the bed.

“Just fix me!”

“Huh? Too early for breakfast, but I got eggs, sausages, waffles and cake. Coffee or tea?”

“No! Fix me.” Her eyes rolled upwards, just the whites peeking out of half-open eyelids.

“Rachel? Hold on, I will get the ambulance service on-line”

“No! Never! Please, I don’t want to die in a hospital. Promise, me. No more hospitals?!”

“What would you do if I were you, Rachel? Please, just breathe, that breathing exercise you had taught me to deal with the landlord upstairs. And hey, lets play your cards. It will ease you till the medics come.”
 

“Stop it, Richard. I was a born gypsy. You were an aspiring garage owner. Now look at us? Stuck in here like rats in a cage—with the medics, the society, the social media assholes commenting on our lives, our love. Those relatives don’t even visit, fearing that we may ask for money for medical treatments. Just tie me to the sissy bar like the scarecrow I am. Lets ride to that field again. Fields of golden corn and empty skies. Where all hope awaits and the horizon greets us with a new light of that familiar sun. Let me die among the wild than live among the dead at heart.”

Richard was too busy to pay attention to her fresh castle in the air as he dialled multiple helpline numbers who may pick up on a Sunday, when doctors had the day off and matrons were understaffed due to unavailable resources.

Living on favours and charities, he finally took the last option of payable, billable assistance from the nearest hospital emergency room. He turned to give Rachel assurance of help on the way. She had passed out due to the pain, stiffening her joints and soiling her pyjamas.

Working in public places, Richard never had a deaf ear to chitter-chatter. He overheard things, his mechanical brain, filtering messages and sounds to sort the important from the mundane, the wise from the raving loon. He picked up all of the 60 pounds that was Rachel, cradling her in his arms, he climbed out into the cold night to the back alley where he had chained his Triumph Bonneville.

Few had chopped a Triumph since it was such a collectible. But after years of maintaining the beautiful machine, he ran out recreational cash to pay for authentic parts and spares. The chopper was sleek and rigid. Ape hangers accompanying a stepped seat.

“The Sun – that’s the card for tonight” she whispered. Richard didn’t tie her to the sissy bar. He already had a premonition of such a situation. He had modified a baby wrap style carrier and it fitted the thin barebone frame of Rachel like a tailormade dress. Her latest and last motorcycle gear—it had been three years since she had been on the bike. When the Triumph engine roared, she almost skipped a heartbeat.

Bounding off major checkpoints, they made their way out of New York city—toward open highways. Catskill Mountains was 3 hours away in this thinning midnight traffic. It wasn’t corn country, but she would love revisiting it more than ever before.

As the motorcycle cleared through the city, Rachel picked 6 numbers at the gas station stop. She winked at the attendant who was about to jump for joy—she had won the jackpot on her first try at scratch cards.

“It’s a gift, he will spend it all if I give it to him right now” she hissed through the strain of explanation.

The attendant wanted to yell and scream and take a selfie—but she was gone as soon as Richard returned to strap her on to his back and ride out into the wind.
 

Over a hundred and thirty miles away from home, they lay on their backs, staring into the bright constellation, waiting for sunrise.

“What did the cards say?”

“The Sun, I told you. It’s a bright and sunny new day for you and me,” predicted Rachel.

“What does it mean Rachel?”

“Promise me you won’t open the gift I mailed you in an envelope....at one of the USPS boxes tonight....not until after the funeral....”

“What?” Richard almost jumped up, “You sent what?”

“Relax. You can use it. Consider it payday for the love others called labour.”

“Hmmm”

“Its not much, just a few dead Presidents to watch over you when I am gone.”

“You hid cash from me instead of getting you to an intensive care unit?” Richard speculated.

“No, I found some gold among fields of corn and crows.”

“I would rather have you than the last penny in my pants,” moaned Richard.

“Hey, sure, not a penny more, not a penny less.” She turned her cheeks to face him, “I want you to cremate me and spread the ashes among the wildflowers.”

“Write that down and mail it,” he said.

“Kiss me you fool, I am dying.”

The clouds cleared and the rays of sunlight bounced among mountain tops, dazzling on a chrome tank and silver mirrors. A morning was wake in the woods. A new day began, dewdrops evaporating into mist, birds took flight, as a life and love settled into the dirt.

 
Chance of a lifetime. Click and join.
Chance of a lifetime. Click and join.


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