Ziggy was in the head with the door open and sharp, medicinal scent was filling up the bus. I went to see what he was doing.
Pouring a bottle of Listerine down the drain.
“You won’t need that?” I asked.
He shook his head, opened his mouth like he was going to speak, then clamped it shut again as he remembered what Magenta had said about not speaking. I could hear his teeth click, then grind, I swear. He dug his notebook out of his bunk and sat down at the dinette in the back lounge, writing: It’ll only make it worse.
He wrote: Throat swollen. Not from germs. From singing. He underlined the word germs.
He pointed in the direction of the bottle, then wrote: That shit stings like a mthrfckr.
“Okay, wow. I was thinking it was like Chloraseptic which numbs it.”
He drew a question mark.
“Just this nasty spray medicine we had when I was a kid. For sore throats. It was bright red, supposedly cherry-flavored, but since it numbed your tongue when you sprayed it on, you couldn’t really taste it. I don’t even know if they make it anymore. Yeccchhh.” I felt really weird talking to him aloud when he was writing, but it seemed kind of weird for us both to write on the paper, too.
On the other hand, we sat there together in silence for a minute or two, because neither of us wanted to go anywhere else or do anything else. He couldn’t speak and I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to make conversation, even though I thought of things I could say, like, hey, Magenta turned out to be nice, didn’t she? Or, you gave Antonio a scare.
You gave us all a scare.
I plucked the pen out of his hand and turned to a blank page, and wrote: I seriously thought you were gone.
He took it back and wrote: I’m right here.
Then I crossed “gone” and wrote: a goner. Gave me a heart attack.
It was only then it occurred to me that his vocal cords being stressed couldn’t have been what made him black out. We had gotten so focused on that, but…
He read what I had written, and then took the flat of his palm and laid it on my chest, warm and solid. The lump returned to my throat and I had to look away, and then looking away wasn’t enough anyway, so I looked back, his eyes big and smoke-rimmed and looking right through me. And I cracked.
And I know it’s stupid but I still think of myself as a sissy for crying. I choked a little, and I’m sure he felt that, and the way my breath stuttered, but I’m a quiet cryer. It took a couple more seconds for the tears to brim over.
We sat there like that, with me crying and his hand on my chest, for a couple of minutes. Then he hugged me, and I hugged him back. My crying had made him cry, so then even though I stopped pretty quickly, it was another couple of minutes–or million years, I’m not sure–before he pulled himself together. At which point we just sat there together, arms tangled, not crying, and not moving either.
I finally said, “I guess I needed that.”
He nodded. Then he extricated himself from me and wrote: I need rest. Really.
“Are you still having trouble sleeping? You were out like a light in Toronto.”
He seemed to debate what to respond, maybe it was too much to write down. He finally settled on: It’s bad until it catches up.
I wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but I nodded like I understood anyway. I understood generally anyway. “Will it help if I rub your head?”
He wrote in big letters: YES
“Get ready for bed, then, and get in your bunk, and I’ll rub your head until you fall asleep.”
I brushed my own teeth and stuff. He climbed into his bunk. I still had all my clothes on but I didn’t care. I got in after him, closing the curtain as far as I could and then spooning him against me. I pillowed my head on my left arm and massaged his scalp with my right hand.
He dozed off after a while, and I decided I didn’t want to move and wake him, so I dozed off, too, with my nose in the back of his neck.
I woke up what felt like hours later, and I figure it must have been. The bus AC was going full blast, the white noise masking the sounds of everyone else asleep in their own bunks. I slipped out and into the head, feeling like I had to pee but I was too hard to do so. I guess I couldn’t help it, breathing in Ziggy pheromones all night. I took care of that as quickly as I could and then climbed into my own bunk to finish the night.
(Another hit from the 1989 charts.)