Hummers by Lisa Mason

1

Laurel is having a lousy morning when Jerry brings her the gift. The pain is so bad she loses her shredded wheat within an hour after breakfast, but not bad enough to numb her completely, to sweep her off into that suspended, solitary state of soul-annihilation.

This really pisses her off. She’s had a lousy night, flipping over from her right side onto her left and back again, and she had the dream. She dreamed again of the great ox, its big bright eyes rolling with fear. The shrill of pipes, the thump of drums. The flash of the knife, and then the beast’s anguished bellow. She dreamed of blood sheeting across the floor, drenching her feet in heat and a sticky sensation.

Which had bounced her right out of sleep, and sleep, however fitful, is a hell of a lot better than lying awake. Sleep is a hard-won privilege. She wonders how she could ever have taken such a simple act of living for granted.

When she’d woken, she was bleeding again, staining her clothes and bedding like a teenage girl who doesn’t understand her changing body. Laurel’s body is changing, too, and at this late date more mysteriously, irretrievably, than she or the doctors can understand.

What a weird shitty world this is, she’s thinking, when Jerry knocks on her door at 10 A.M. So she lets ol’ Jere have it, and she doesn’t give a damn when his big brown eyes mist over and his womanly lips twitch.

“What the fuck is this?” she says, chucking the box he’s brought on top of the litter of death books strewn on her coffee table. The box is small, oblong, neatly wrapped in bright red, flowery paper. The box looks like a birthday present, a holiday offering, a lipsticked smile, and she hates it, she doesn’t give a damn what’s inside.

“It’s a gift, Laurel.” Jerry quietly goes about his business, but she can tell he’s appalled at how awful she looks today.

“A gift? A gift implies tomorrow. A gift suggests hope. You’re not supposed to encourage my hope, now are you, Jerry? Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying, Chapter 12.”

“No, no, that’s Chapter 8, section C, footnote twenty-two.”

“Don’t get smart with me, mister. It’s cruel to encourage hope, when there is no goddamn hope.”

He flinches, the slightest shake of his delicate shoulders, but she notices his reaction. “Everyone needs hope. Even you, Laurel. Even now.”

“Oh, especially fucking now.

“Want your shot, sweetie?” He turns away with his so-be-a-bitch patience.

What a saint this guy is, and his lover mysteriously, irretrievably dying of AIDS.

He trots out his little black bag. Actually, Jerry’s doctor bag is sky blue. And he’s not a doctor. She wouldn’t let him in her house if he were a doctor. Scum of the earth, that’s what doctors are. Living it up with their big incomes and fancy lifestyles, all the while thumbing their noses at their own dreadful incompetence. Their absurd infirmity at dealing with diseases they ought to have cured by now.

No, Jerry is a nurse. The hospice authorizes homecare nurses like Jere to dispense all sorts of fun drugs to people who won’t live long enough to become a dope-crazed menace to society.

Want your shot, your hit, your high, Laurel baby? Hey, man, sounds like her days in Haight-Ashbury when she was a twenty-year-old old-lady painting psychedelic posters for rock ‘n’ roll bands. Day-Glo pink hearts, electric-blue tears. Damn, she was cool. She tied a leather headband around her henna-streaked hair. Laced Greek sandals up to her knees. Lily Legs, that’s what some guy she’d slept with once or twice had dubbed her. What was his name? If you put a gun to her head right now, she could not remember.

“Sure, Jere,” Laurel says, “hit me with your best shot.”

“Ha ha,” he says, extracting the equipment from his bag.

She can hardly stand to watch as he prepares the hypodermic needle. “Just remember, you’re supposed to get it in the vein, dude.”

“Now she tells me,” he says.

Morphine is Dolly Dagger, Lady Dreamknife, junkie stuff that turns her stomach. Talk about a change in attitude. When did she ever hesitate to ingest a toxic substance during her wild days in Haight-Ashbury? She’d pop a pill just because it was a pretty color. Smoke a lump of soot because it would make you feel like you were losing your mind.

Not now. Now she is afraid of soul-annihilation. She is afraid of Dolly Dagger.

Afraid of the dream that comes whenever she yields to morphine. The humpbacked ox led by a ring in its nose before a feverish assembly. People dressed in weird costumes, long white robes and tall strange hats. Their glittering eyes rimmed in blue and black paint. Pipes and drums and impassioned chants. The knife rising, the knife falling, a flash of light hacking at the captive neck. The animal bellowing in rage and pain, and the great head falling, rolling away. How this disgusts and terrifies her, a decapitated head wild-eyed with fear and pain and horror.

Jerry preps her, tapping the inner aspect of her elbow. “You really should go up to the hospice at San Rafael,” he says. “I’m only thinking of you, sweetie. It would be easier for you.”

“I don’t want easier. I want to die at home.”

He nods, avoiding her eyes.

“I do not want to die in some sanitized bed in some sanitized clinic. I do not want some nameless night nurse finding my corpse and tying a butcher-shop tag on my toe. Number 45, ding! Take it away. After all this indignity, I must finally claim my own dignity.” She laughs, which sends shooting pain through her abdomen. “Some speech, huh?”

“They gave up butcher-shop toe-tagging years ago, for your information,” Jerry says. “But if that’s how you feel about it, you’re going to have to learn how to shoot up yourself, sweetie. Learn soon. Because I can’t be here every time you’re going to need pain relief. And you’re going to need it more and more, Laurel. I’m just telling you.”

“What about this, Jere? What if the goddamn champagne-sipping doctors, what if they find a cure tomorrow? A new radiation therapy? A DNA mutation like the AIDS cure they’re working on in Europe? FDA regulations be damned! What about drinking forty cups of wheat grass juice a day?”

“Drinking forty cups of wheat grass juice a day sounds like a fate worse than death.”

“Oh, but something, Jere. It could happen. It could happen!” She catches herself. “Goddamn it, I’m hoping.” Her throat clenches. “Couldn’t it?”

“What if? Sure, sweetie. What if could always happen.”

And then he pierces her arm with the tenderness of the angels, as if shooting up hard drugs is an act of grace.

Some readers have thanked me for this story. Some find it too hard. This story is not for the faint of heart.

Hummers is on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords.
Hummers
is also on Amazon.com in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

From the author of Summer Of Love, A Time Travel (a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book). On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

The Gilded Age, A Time Travel (a New York Times Notable Book and New York Public Library Recommended Book). On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

Time Travels to San Francisco (boxed set of Summer of Love and The Gilded Age). On US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Brazil, Mexico, India, and Japan.

Arachne (a Locus Hardover Bestseller). On US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle in France Kindle, Germany Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Spain Kindle, Mexico Kindle, Brazil Kindle, India Kindle, and Japan Kindle.

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Strange Ladies: 7 Stories (“A must-read collection—The San Francisco Review of Books). On Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

The Garden of Abracadabra (“Fun and enjoyable urban fantasy . . . I want to read more!) On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

Celestial Girl, A Lily Modjeska Mystery (Five stars) On Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

Shaken On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

Hummers On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

Daughter of the Tao On US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in AustraliaFrance, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

Every Mystery Unexplained On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

Tomorrow’s Child On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

The Sixty-third Anniversary of Hysteria On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

U F uh-O On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

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My Charlotte: Patty’s Story On Barnes and Noble, US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Netherlands, and Mexico.

“Illyria, My Love” is on US Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Germany Kindle, France Kindle, Spain Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Japan Kindle, Brazil Kindle, Mexico Kindle, and India Kindle.

Please visit me at Lisa Mason’s Official Website for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, and blogs, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!

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