As Jess’s multiple sclerosis progresses, she feels her lover Slim slipping away from her in this week’s New Voices story, but an MRI tech with a passion for standup encourages her to stay focused, to stay positive. Andrea Gregory explores the subtleties in life in this week’s “Hungry Souls”.
Slim’s no longer holding my hand. The noise is a throbbing series of booms and swooshes. I don’t know how I lost his hand, and it’s too late to find it now. I want Slim’s hand. It’s the only thing I want right now. No, I want it more than that. I want to be able to hold onto this a little longer. My grip is loosening. We’re letting each other become different versions of ourselves. And I’ve lost his hand. And this feels like the longest five minutes of my life.
My lover parks the car in the space closest to the garage elevators. He hangs the handicap placard from the rearview mirror and gets out first. We’re on the fourth floor, something we will both likely forget. We have been losing cars together for almost a decade.
Slim’s fumbling with the wheelchair. He gets it out of the back just fine, but putting the wheels on has always been a bit tricky. Is it supposed to click? he asks. No, it’s never clicked, but I don’t answer him this time. He always manages to figure it out.
He curses under his breath. He’s just mad that the wheel doesn’t seem to want to go on right, doesn’t click like he thinks it should. But when he gets it all together he rolls it over to my side of the car. He opens the door and gives me his arm. “Your chariot awaits,” he says.
We met when I could still walk. Slim was an aspiring writer, a regular at the coffee shop where I worked. He liked his coffee with an extra shot of espresso. When he started calling me beautiful—Good morning, beautiful. Thanks, beautiful. This is for you, beautiful, dropping just as much as his coffee costs into the tip jar—I stopped charging him for the extra shot of espresso. I don’t think anyone ever called me beautiful before. He said it like he really meant it. He means most things he says.
Now Slim says things like I got ya and easy as he helps me out of the car. I’m real unsteady. But that’s not new. It’s been a long time since any of this was new and a long time since I worked at the coffee shop. The girl I used to be seems almost imaginary, but Slim has always been real. Always been there. Still here.
Slim’s got a smoker’s cough. He tries to quit each year on his birthday. One time he made it two months before relapsing. I’ve come to like the smell of old Marlboros that linger on him and his things. I like to wear his sweatshirts when it’s cold. A deep inhale of the sleeve is bliss.
The entire hospital grounds went smoke-free two years ago. Slim lights up in the parking lot. There are cigarette butts on the ground, and there is still an ashtray before you go to get on the elevator. Slim wheels me forward, but it’s only a quick stone’s throw before we’re there. He walks over so he’s facing me. Neither of us smile. Are we still happy? I love you, Slim.