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November  2012

‘KEN’ by Lesley Fletcher

Ken – a 61 year old male plagued by a lifelong battle with alcohol and mental illness. His high functioning days have long passed.

Jackie – 60 year old female, sister to Ken and advocate of his needs.

 

Ken stands before his audience telling his story. He is dressed in sweatpants, a t-shirt and cardigan. His voice is deep and grovelled; his pace of delivery is slow and deliberate. It sounds as though he is drowning, gurgling when he speaks following repeated guzzles of beer. He peers at the audience without seeing them. Jackie, his sister adds to Ken’s story by expressing what took place in fact. She stands off to one side allowing him his own voice.

 

KEN

I’ll probably die today and I’m okay with that.

I’ll have earned another label then. The friendly schizophrenic who couldn’t take life anymore in spite of medi-cocktails, cigarettes and cases of beer. But that wouldn’t be true. It is my physical pain that is killing me by the minute. It is that pain I can’t tolerate anymore. Nineteen lives, electro shock, and it is this pain that will likely, finally do me in.

JACKIE

My brother, within the boundaries of his physical illnesses, alcoholism and mental illness has none the less walked tall through life with a gentle soul and a giving spirit. He isn’t prone to a depressive episodes. I fear the pain from the fall, four months ago will be the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

KEN

Are you thinking (now) what I think you are thinking? Who cares? He is going to spiel black poetry, where is my phone? where is the exit? I am uncomfortable with this. What if he starts talking about maggots taking over his corpse or worse – what if he starts spewing paranoid black poetry…

(theatrical voice along with awkward arm movements)

‘And convoluted passages of thought,

in skeins of turmoil, fret beneath my skin,

till everything is convoluted

coil and fractals of complexity unsought,

and disembodied thoughts are trapped within,

till to even try to speak is too much toil.’

(embarrassed giggle)

A brethren wrote that. I understand it well.

No, today is not a day of convolution.

Clearly when I walked into the emergency room, four times over the past three months I was not convoluted. I remember wondering why the same doctor was there each time. I remember knowing that the same treatment would be suggested. ‘Go to the pharmacy and pick up these pills for your back pain.’ She advised. ‘I can’t prescribe any pain narcotics for you.’ ‘Oh, and take a warm bath’. And each time, I cried  silent tears as I shuffled away, knowing the pain would continue and my stomach would burn and wretch, escalating my pain to the next level once again.

JACKIE

Although I told him to have a shower and put on fresh clothes to go to the hospital he didn’t. Time after time he hauled his super-sized zip-lock bag of prescription meds and his sorry ass into the emergency where he was greeted with distain. Weeks worth of grime on both his clothing and his skin forged the doctors’ conclusion that he was exaggerating his pain for gain of a narcotics pain killer. He looked like a street bum. They were wrong. Dead wrong.

KEN

So. Today I took them all. Pills upon pills upon pills upon pills. My case is propped beside me. The beer is getting warmer by the hour.

I am human first after all.

Sleepy now. Sleepy now. Sleep will come soon I hope because sitting in the warmth of my own urine is making me cold. I wish I had a blanket.

JACKIE
We had formed a pact after our mother died to call each other every day. This day I couldn’t reach him.

KEN

Ah there it is – the perpetual knocking at my door. It’s death calling on me.

 

JACKIE

I knocked as hard as I could on the window. He didn’t move.

KEN

Finally I hear the bells – The bells of the cathedral of eternal love.

JACKIE

The ambulance attendant smashed the glass of the window. He didn’t stir.

KEN

It is breezy – I am refreshed by death.

JACKIE

They seem to take forever to get through the tiny basement window of his apartment.

KEN

Something is not right – I am being kidnapped. They have gagged me. I am in restraints! Oh god please tell me there’s no psych ward in heaven!

JACKIE

The attendants were rough as they snapped on the oxygen mask and strapped him tightly to the board.

KEN

I’m in the trunk – they won’t get ransom for me. They are driving too fast. They’re going to get caught speeding. They’re going to get caught. They won’t get ransom for me. I am dead. Ransom for corpses incorporated.

JACKIE

They are taking their sweet time. Does his life not deserve sirens?

KEN

Only know that death is just a continuation of life now.

JACKIE

What if he wakes up? He’s going be scared. He’s going to think they are taking him back to psych.

 

 

KEN

The doors to the morgue freezers are closed now. The slab is cold. I wonder when death will start to feel heavenly.

JACKIE

Finally the ambulance arrives at the hospital.

KEN

He’s opened the fridge door again.The mortician is sliding me back out. The spray is cold. They are washing my body. Preparing me for heaven.

JACKIE

The February rain is teaming down in buckets

KEN (silent scream eyes open briefly – lasting until he passed out again)

JACKIE

They drop the fuckin’ gurney. It slams hard onto the pavement. I see his body bounce. The restraints break open.

KEN

I’m numb.

JACKIE

He opens his mouth to scream but no sound comes out. He tries to move but can’t. He is almost dead. In shock.

KEN

The mortician is poking me with needles. Preparing me for heaven…

JACKIE

They immediately run him into emerge. It’s about bloody time. The doctor administers some relief.

KEN

Ah Heaven … Finally

 

 

JACKIE

Well, as a result of the careless mishandling of him as a human being, Ken finally got his back x-rayed. It has been broken in three places since his fall in November, four months ago. They are really good to him here. They don’t want to get sued.

He lives a life he could have only dreamed of. His meals are cooked, laundry washed, pills administered, bed made. He is reminded to take a shower and to pick up his Tim Horton coupons. His doctors’ appointments are taken care of along with dentist, dietitian and physio-therapy and every specialist possible. He is not in the psychiatric ward. Ken has made friends with the other long-term patients. He is the self-professed king of the ward.

Ken still calls the head nurse, Nurse Rachett. He misses his beer. She caught him sneaking some in and confiscated it. Ken swears she’s an alcoholic. Occasionally he tries to stare her down but she just smiles.

Life is good as each morning he greets the arriving staff and patients with a smile and a wave while he feeds the birds from his perch outside the hospital doors. He is there to say goodbye at night.

KEN

They want me to leave and go into a home.

JACKIE

They make him the poster boy for the check-out policy. It is to this day plastered all over the hospital in large format. Ken, in the photo is grinning from ear to ear as nurse Rachett is pushing him out in a wheelchair. The caption reads ‘Preparing to Leave the Hospital?’ ‘Follow these instructions.’ The staff and all who know him laugh at the irony of it including Ken himself. It is his fifteen minutes of fame. He is stalling on leaving the hospital but it’s been two and half years. He’s was given notice six months ago. He is expected to be permanently released some time over the next two weeks. I don’t see him in an old folks home.

KEN

I’ll probably die today and I’m okay with that.

(Jackie moves to Ken’s side and holds his hand)

JACKIE

Ken dies peacefully, in his room, while eating his favourite lunch of peanut butter and jelly on white bread with a milk chaser. He didn’t get a chance to go outside for a final cigarette. The birds miss him. He is 61 years old.

LESLEY: Ken Fletcher was my big brother. Eleven years my senior. I felt compelled to tell this story in spite of the severe pain it caused me to write it and in spite of the number of tries it has taken. I am his voice. The voice that asks everyone not to judge a book by its cover – to respect every single human being – always. 

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