[Read part one.]
It didn’t feel like he had a hole in his ear. Felt like a wad of something.
Rivard opened the medicine cabinet, took out and opened a bottle of peroxide, poured a cap full, tilted his head sideways over the sink. He felt the liquid swish in. This he felt. He counted, one, two, three, four, five, until he couldn’t stand it, flopped his head back, and felt the liquid run out. His ear was on fire. Rivard turned the water on full blast — it leapt from the sink onto his pants — and he filled the cap with water, poured the water in, filled cap, poured again. Water ran over his face, down his neck onto his shirt. He beat the side of his head with his hand. Black firecrackers burst in his eyes, and suddenly his throat was closing, his tongue, splitting.
He stared at himself. The vein in his temple had started jumping, and the one in his throat bulged. He put his fingers to his throat, closed his eyes and began to count: One-ticka-two-ticka-three-ticka. He opened the medicine cabinet, grabbed his bottle of Prazosin, squeezed the child-proof, shook out a pill, but two came, the last two, jumping like Mexican jumping beans. One bailed from his palm, then the other. He dropped the bottle and slapped at the sink. Down the drain. Just like that. He leaned over and peered into the black hole. He poked it with his finger.
He sat on the edge of the bathtub and put two fingers on the vein at his neck. He stared at the piping underneath the sink. There at the pipe’s neck, two alpha blockers were doing their thing — There was fizzing, a fluttering in his bad ear. Like mosquitoes. He cupped the ear with his hand. He heard the fizzing in his other ear. Why would he hear it there? He plugged the good ear. Ba-da-da, ba-da-da. His heart beat triplets double-time in his good ear. Way too fast. He stood up and everything went black.
He was being sucked ass-backwards into the tub, feet up-ended, arms akimbo, and even as he fell, bashing his head against the wall, the whole thing struck him funny, the whole alpha-beta trip, which wasn’t so very different from other drug trips, this falling backwards into hell, this butterball movement into don’t-come-back, the whole thing struck him funny — should’ve asked, what about the alpha blockers, Doc? Ever known Prazosin to eat a hole in a man’s brain? If I end up dead, doc, could it be the Prazosin? And even as he fell he was thinking of how many people would be pleased, old Jack, Dr. Fuzz, a whole cadre of musicians — “Gone deaf? Can’t hear?” — a whole slew of snot-nosed, think-they-cans — “Gone deaf? Can’t hear?” — more people than he even remembered, probably more people than he even knew, how pleased they’d be, and even as he fell he thought of Old Cisco in the audience last Thursday night; they’d called him up, Cisco Reed, seventy-five years young, Youngsta! played the funky tuba, in his prime played “Flight of the Bumble Bee” without any hands, would hold his hands out like Jesus Christ, and he tried again last Thursday, lord he did try: “Woik it, old man!” Heaved all he had into that tuba, eyes bulging, mouth foaming, horn spitting, had danced around like fucking Babar — and they’d all yelled, “Woik it, man” and “Go man, go!”
Thinking of it as he fell, Rivard just had to laugh at the shame of it all.
While he was in the bathroom, Betty had brought the coffee maker and coffee over to the TV. She’d brought the thermos of water she liked to drag all over the house, too. Rivard stood in the doorway watching her. His feet and pants were wet, and he had a pretty good knot on the back of his head.
Gourmet Chef was over, and a re-run of Wild, Wild West was on. He watched Betty measure the coffee, insert the filter, and push “brew.” He listened to the machine gurgle. Then he started picking up dishes and carrying them to the sink.
“What are you doing?” Betty said.
Rivard picked up the bread and put it on top of the refrigerator. He picked up the butter and put it in the refrigerator. “Rivard?” Betty said.
When he cupped his bad ear, he could hear his heart in the good: Ba-dum. Ba-dum. His good ear was kicking on The One. If he plugged it and cupped the other, he heard triplets: Ba-da-da, ba-da-da. That was something: This little ventriloquist action going on between his ears.
The phone rang. Rivard heard it, clear as a bell. He walked over to the TV, stood next to Betty, and unplugged the coffee maker. Betty stared, her mouth open.
The answering machine came on. “Rivard? Hey man, you there? This is Tony.” There was a long silence. “Are you really not there? Look man, I fucked up. I’m sorry, OK.” The coffee maker gurgled. He reached down and picked it up.
“Rivard!” Betty said.
It was vibrating. Felt like a dying roll on a muted snare. Betty scuttled like a rat and clutched his leg. She was screaming at him, this he heard, and he dragged her all the way to the cabinet where he put the coffee maker down, and then started to drag her back to the TV, but stopped. “Shut up,” he told her. “I want to hear this.”
He cocked his head and listened to Tony babble. Last night Rivard had fired Tony. They were playing a wedding, a $2,000 gig, and Rivard had found Tony in line at the champagne table. “I was invited,” Tony told him, “the groom invited me,” and Rivard had to explain some things, like how the groom always invited and the band always refused. They were professional people. They weren’t kitchen staff.
“Look man, I really fucked up. Playing with you’s the best thing ever happened to me. Man, I don’t know what I’m going to do if I fucked this up so bad. Look, I promise you I won’t drink anymore. Please man, pick up.”
“Let go,” Rivard told Betty. “I need to answer the phone.” Betty’s pretty face was a blotch, her eyes, fire.
“Hey Tone,” Rivard said into the phone, “how you doing? I was just about to call you, man, yeah, you were one sorry fucker last night.” When Tony spoke Rivard switched the phone to his other ear. He heard a swirling, like the ocean. He switched back and listened to Tony say what a sorry, motherfucking drunk he was.
Rivard watched Betty. Looking at the kill in his old lady’s eyes, Rivard was glad the knives were out of reach.
“Yeah man,” he said, interrupting Tony, "my old lady, she’s getting house-a-tosis. Now, Tone, I need a little advice here. I know what you’re doing. You’re over there screwing that girl I saw you with last night, don’t lie to me, I know what you’re doing. You got her there, don’t you. You ain’t even really talking to me — the shit you’re pulling, Mr. Casanova, Mr. Don Juan, you get all the ladies. Me, I’m just a country boy. I’m a pumpkin in the pumpkin patch — " Tony was laughing and coughing into the phone. "What’a you think I oughta to do with a female suffering from house-a-tosis? Maybe sling her over my shoulder and take her out to dinner? She’s crawling the walls.
“Hey man, now what’s that mean when they, you know, when they put the third finger up and the other three down? Yeah, that’s what she’s doing right now. Now what’s that mean?”
Through the receiver, Rivard listened to Tony’s long, lushy laugh. He switched the phone to the other side. He liked Tony. Tony always laughed at his jokes. He listened to the silence of Tony’s laughter in his bad ear, and he winked at his old lady’s melting face. Any minute now he was certain he would start to feel better.