And joselito who wrote bad, class-conscious poetry began to cough. The German doctor made a brief examination, touching Joselito’s ribs with long, delicate fingers. The doctor was also a concert violinist, a mathematician, a chess master, and a Doctor of International Jurisprudence with license to practice in the lavatories of the Hague. The doctor flicked a hard, distant glance across Joselitos’s brown chest. He looked at Carl and smiled – one educated man to another smile – and raised his eyebrow, saying without words:
He said aloud: “It is a catarro de los pulmones.”
Carl talked to the doctor outside under the narrow arcade with rain bouncing up from the street against his pant legs, thinking how many people he tell it to, and the stairs, porches, lawns, driveways, corridors and streets of the world there in the doctor’s eyes… stuffy German alcoves, butterfly trays to the ceiling, silent portentous smell of uremia seeping under the door, suburban lawns to sound of the water sprinkler, in calm jungle night under silent wings of the Anopheles mosquito. (Note: This is not a figure. Anopheles mosquitoes are silent.) Thickly carpeted, discreet nursing home in Kensington: stiff brocade chair and a cup of tea, the Swedish modern living room with water hyacinths in a yellow bowl – outside the china blue Northern sky and drifting clouds, under bad watercolors of the dying medical student.
“A schnapps I think Frau Unterschnitt.”
The doctor was talking into a phone with a chess board in front of him. “Quite severe lesion I think…of course without to see the fluoroscope.” He picks up the knight and then replaces it thoughtfully. “Yes…Both lungs…quite definitely.” He replaces the receiver and turns to Carl. “I have observed these people show amazingly quick wound recovery, with low incidence of infection. It is always the lungs here…pneumonia and, of course Old Faithful.” The doctor grabs Carl’s cock, leaping into the air with a coarse peasant guffaw. His European smile ignores the misbehavior of a child or an animal. He goes on smoothly in his eerily unaccented, disembodies English. “Our Old Faithful Bacillus Koch.” The doctor clicks his heels and bows his head. “Otherwise they would multiply their stupid peasant assholes into the sea, is it not?” He shrieks, thrusting his face into Carl’s. Carl retreats sideways with the grey wall of rain behind him.
“Isn’t there some place where he can be treated?”
“I think there is some sort of sanitarium,” he drags out the word with ambiguous obscenity, “up at the District Capital. I will write for you the address.”
His voice falls flat and heavy in the damp air.
“Who can say. They are all stupid peasants, and the worst of all peasants are the so-called educated. These people should not only be prevented from learning to read, but from learning to talk as well. No need to prevent them from thinking; nature has done that.
“Here’s the address,” the doctor whispered without moving his lips.
He dropped a pill of paper into Carl’s hand. His dirty fingers, shiny over the dirt, rested on Carl’s sleeve.
“There is the matter of my fee.”
Carl slipped him a wadded bank note…and the doctor faded into the grey twilight, seedy and furtive as an old junky.
Carl saw Joselito in a big clean room full of light, with private bath and concrete balcony. And nothing to talk about there in the cold empty room, water hyacinths growing in a yellow bowl and the china blue sky and drifting clouds, fear flicking in and out of his eyes. When he smiled the fear flew away in little pieces of light, lurked enigmatically in the high cool corners of the room. And what could I say feeling death around me, and the little broken images that come before sleep, there in the mind?
“They will send me to the new sanitarium tomorrow. Come and visit me. I will be there all alone.”
He coughed and took a codeineeta.
“Doctor I understand, that is I have been given to understand, I have read and heard – not a medical man myself – don’t pretend to be – that the concept of sanitarium treatment has been more or less supplanted, or at least very definitely supplemented, by chemical therapy. Is this accurate in your opinion? What I mean to say is, Doctor, please tell me in all sincerity, as one human being to another, what is your opinion of chemical versus sanitarium therapy? Are you a partisan?”
The doctor’s liver sick Indian face was blank as a dealer’s.
“Completely modern, as you can see,” he gestures toward the room with the purple fingers of bad circulation. “Bath…water…flowers. The lot.” He finished in Cockney English with a triumphant smirk. “I will write for you a letter.”
“This letter? For the sanitarium?”
The doctor was speaking from a land of black rocks and great, iridescent brown lagoons. “The furniture…modern and comfortable. You find it so of course?”
Carl could not see the sanitarium owing to a false front of green stucco topped by an intricate neon sign dead and sinister against the sky, waiting for darkness. The sanitarium was evidently built on a great limestone promontory, over which flowering trees and vine tendrils broke in waves. The smell of flowers was heavy in the air.
The commandant sat at a long wooden trestle under a vine treillis. He was doing absolutely nothing. He took the letter that Carl handed him and whispered through it, reading his lips with the left hand. He stuck the letter on a spike over a toilet. He began transcribing from a ledger full of numbers. He wrote on and on.
Broken images exploded softly in Carl’s head, and he was moving out of himself in a silent swoop. Clear and sharp from a great distance he saw himself sitting in a lunchroom. Overdose of H. His old lady shaking him and holding hot coffee under his nose.
Outside an old junky in Santa Claus suit selling Christmas seals. “Fight tuberculosis, folks,” he whispers in his disembodied, junky voice. Salvation Army choir of sincere, homosexual, football coaches sings: “In the Sweet Bye and Bye.”
Carl drifted back into his body, an earthbound junk ghost.
“I could bribe him, of course.”
The commandant taps the table with one finger and hums “Coming Through the Rye.” Far away, then urgently near like a foghorn a split second before the grinding crash.
Carl pulled a note half out of his trouser pocket…The commandant was standing by a vast panel of lockers and deposit boxes. He looked at Carl, sick animal eyes gone out, dying inside, hopeless fear reflecting the face of death. In the smell of flowers a note half out of his pocket, the weakness hit Carl, shutting off his breath, stopping his blood. He was in a great cone spinning down to a black point.
“Chemical therapy?” The scream shot out of his flesh through empty locker rooms and barracks, musty resort hotels, and spectral, coughing corridors of T.B. sanitariums, the muttering, hawking, grey dishwater smell of flophouses and Old Men’s Homes, great, dusty customs sheds and warehouses, through broken porticoes and smeared arabesques, iron urinals worn paper thin by the urine of a million fairies, deserted weed-grown privies with a musty smell of shit turning back to the soil, a wrecked wooden phallus on the grave of dying peoples plaintive as leaves in the wind, across the great brown river where whole trees float with green snakes in the branches and sad-eyed lemurs watch the shore out over a vast plain (vulture winds husk in the dry air). The way is strewn with broken condoms and empty H caps and K.Y. tubes squeezed dry as bone meal in the summer sun.
“My furniture.” The commandant’s face burned like metal in the flash bulb of urgency. His eyes went out. A whiff of ozone drifted through the room. The “novia” muttered over her candles and altars in one corner.
“It is all Trak…modern, excellent…” he is nodding idiotically and drooling. A yellow cat pulls at Carl’s pant leg and runs onto a concrete balcony. Clouds drift by.
“I could get back my deposit. Start me a little business someplace.” He nods and smiles like a mechanical toy.
“Joselito!!!” Boys look up from street ball games, bull rings and bicycle races as the name whistles by and slowly fades away.
“Joselito!… Paco!… Pepe!….Enrique!…” The plaintive boy cries drift in on the warm night. The Trak sign stirs like a nocturnal beast, and bursts into blue flame.