The juice is not refrigerated. It does not need man-made storage because it is pure, fermented and holy. The mother brings us the juice. The mother brings it to us daily at 8 and 10 and 14:00, and when the buzzer goes off we know it is time. I have a wristwatch. I keep the time. There are three of us so far, and also four empty bed-cots. Our room is large enough to separate us according to our goals. Our room is austere because we must focus on goals. Tom has just finished high school and he’s here for the gay. Tom thinks the man in the bed by the window is here for the same, but I’m not sure. I can’t tell. Because the man in the corner is old, he could be here for the age reversing properties of the juice. I’ve begun the most time consuming journey though. I am becoming whole.
The old man drinks from a straw and his bucket is close. He’s in the corner next to the window because he smells. He smells like the juice and the waterfalls and the disease, whatever it may be. He smells because his bucket is close. He is almost cured because he’s been here longest. He had his breakthrough. Tom and I use the buckets in the next room because we haven’t had our breakthrough. Tom’s close, he should be next, but both of us can still get out of bed. Getting out of bed is increasingly difficult. Drinking the juice forces the body to work hard. The body is working overtime, so it’s tired. It is a natural process. The mother often opens the old man’s window which clears the room of the smell, but also brings in the cold air off the lake. Tom and I shiver because of the cold, and because of the process. Hard work leads to a breakthrough. It is a natural process.
The juice is thick and smells. It smells not unlike the man in the corner, but it will regrow my limb. Of that I have been assured. The mother whispers to me that I must love the juice. Her breath is soft, like cabbage leaves. She whispers in code that I think I understand. I must love to drink the juice. If I drink it all, at 8 and 10 and 14:00 then the waterfalls come. If I love it, then the bitter salty greenness will taste better every dose. I can feel its prickly bitterness in my stump. Just below my knee feels thick and green, like the juice. There’s a feeling in my stump not unlike after the amputation, when I swore the leg was still attached and not sitting on a slab next to me. It weighed 17 pounds, far less than I would have imagined. Tom couldn’t believe it when I told him. Adding up our guesses for individual body parts, we tried to sum up our last known weights. The math never came out right. Always remainders left over. Lightheaded, we gave up our calculations but not before a dick joke. He’s a good kid. The mother will set him right. We are all getting out of here better than alive. The kid will be all right. The juice and the protocol will purify his body. Tom will get squared away. The protocol will reinforce his immune system and purge the imbalance. It will reset his DNA. Nature craves balance. Tom will be set right and I will regrow my limb. When you drink the juice at 8 and 10 and 14:00 and the waterfalls come it will purify the body and reverse the damage. I will follow the mother’s protocol and wait for my breakthrough.
The juice is given at 8 and 10 and 14:00, on the dot. I can watch my watch and keep the time. Tom does not have a watch, so I tell him it’s almost time by raising my stump a few inches from the bed. That lets him know it’s almost time. It is almost time. I can hear the steadily increasing clomp of the mother’s shoes walking down the long hall to our room. It’s measured and even. Clomp and clomp and clomp. Closer and closer. Tom does not like the sound. He spat on the mother’s shoes and told her to go to hell. Tom is tied down now. I can get up if I want, but I don’t. Want to, but don’t want to. I’m tired. I’m too tired to reattach my prosthesis, even though the prosthesis weighs less than the leg it replaced. It remains close, at the foot of the bed-cot. Just out of easy reach. It’s time, on my watch. Stump raised, Tom nods. It’s time.
Tom used to talk a lot, in the beginning. Now he is silent. I’ve never been a talker. I am a listener — I listen to what he used to tell me. I can remember it because I am alive with the juice. My particles are energised. My memory is better than ever. It’s like television. I miss television. I watch my memory television playing the show where Tom’s parents had the calling and delivered him to the mother for purification. He is from Ohio. Tom wore glossy lip balm and he kissed a boy. Once. But he was seen. He was delivered to the mother for purification. He will be cured by summer’s end and enter university in the fall. Economics. He drinks the juice to cure his imbalance and purify the body. He was sent to the mother and he will come around if he believes. I show Tom my stump, I raise it in the air higher and higher each time. I want to motivate him. I want Tom to see that it’s growing. I am regrowing my limb. It’s hard work. I want him to know we must all put in the hard work. I sleep until the waterfalls come.
Tom’s got his ear on the burlap pillow like he can hear the man in the corner, or some other voice. He yells back to the man from time to time. Or, rather, into the pillow. I watch Tom communicate with someone. He’s got a secret and it’s sitting inside him. He’s drinking the juice still, sometimes with assistance from the mother. His goose is cooked. “His goose is cooked,” I think while she is shoving the clear plastic tubing down his throat, attaching a funnel and pouring the juice from a high height. I can see it glimmer green in the sunlight from the window. The light shines through and turns the milky green juice bright as fresh cut grass. Tiny bubbles pop and swirl and catch the light like stained glass. The window is open, still. The air is cool and freshens the room. The mother finishes with Tom and he places his ear to the pillow again. He mumbles like he’s hearing something. Maybe the man in the corner is talking, or maybe some other voice. The mother clomps to my bed-cot because it’s my turn. She looks at my limb and tells me my stump is regenerating. She is pleased. Her cool fingers poke the stump and she tells me it’s so much good work done and so much more to do. Her words echo in my body. It’s a long process and will take a lot out of me. I love the juice at 8, and 10 and 14:00.
The old man in the corner drinks from a straw, he has a liter to finish and it’s hard for him. He’s been here longer than Tom. The old man mumbles and screams. He can’t see out the window any longer. He screams that he can’t see anything any longer. He can’t see the lake. It’s cold and he is angry. He wants to leave the mother. He says he’s done. He is angry. The old man’s a quitter. The mother pulls a woven belt through a creaky buckle on each ankle and on one wrist. His bucket is moved underneath the bed slats. She bends to whisper something to the old man. He is still screaming as she leaves his side. He is still angry. He might even be angrier. Tom hasn’t spoken for more than 20 cycles, so when he tries to shout at the old man, “Shut up, fag!” it’s raspy and low. I am the only one who hears. The mother watches me drink. I gulp down my juice because it’s easy. Easy because I’m still at less than a liter per session, easy because I want to regrow my limb. If I drink the juice I will regrow the limb. I can feel my stump lengthening already. I watch it grow with every gulp. It’s growing because I drink fast. I drink fast and let the waterfalls come. I ask for more because I am motivated. I am regrowing a limb. I may also live to be 400. If I drink more and more, why not two cures for the price of one? It can happen if I believe and if I drink the juice at 8 and 10 and 14:00.
Tom is on the good side again. He nods when the mother whispers to him. She pats his head like a good boy and she unbuckles his restraints. The mother helps him walk to the other room where we keep our buckets and I hear the hose. Two men enter the room and move his bed-cot to the side, wet-vac under and around, slosh a mop about. “Elders come tomorrow,” the uglier of the two says to the shorter of the two. The shorter man smiles, kicks the wet-vac so that it rolls forward, then he takes a step to meet it, and then he kicks it again. He repeats this process to make his way into the other room to join the mother. He is followed by Ugly and his mop. The display of inefficiency is nerve wracking and the man in the corner wails. I keep my feelings inside. I close my eyes. Tom’s going home. End of summer. Off to Uni. Economics. I remember that show. I can almost smell school in the air. I always could. Tom’s going home. He’s had his breakthrough and I missed it. I missed it while I was watching television. While I was watching my watch and keeping the time and raising my stump something had happened. I hadn’t watched well. Tom is leaving me. Tom is going home.
Tom is returned to his bed-cot and covered with blue-green burlap. The mother whispers to him and lays him down to sleep. The mother blesses our room and extends special intentions to the old man in the corner. She leaves us in the cold room anointed with her intentions. The man is still yelling. He is cold. The window is open. He is yelling that he is cold. The mother’s special intentions are intended to motivate the old man. He had a breakthrough, but apparently it wasn’t enough. He wasn’t motivated. He is a quitter. We hear him yell about the cold. I have to love the juice and he has to love the cold. It’s simple. Fresh air is purifying. Tom’s ear is to the pillow and he begins to talk through the burlap. I can almost hear him. Tom’s voice grows louder and he tells the man to shut up. I look at my watch and note the time. I don’t need to raise my stump in the air. It is 18:00. We have rest protocol. I don’t need to raise my stump in the air, but I do. I raise my stump in the air and Tom knows it is time. It’s simple. It is time to do something about the old man. I raise my stump in the air higher, and higher to motivate Tom.
It’s high time someone do something about the old man is my thought. It’s my special intention. The mother won’t suffer a quitter. The old man had his breakthrough and he wasted it. He gave up on the mother. Such vile things he said. This is no place for a quitter. It’s absolutely necessary. Tom knows this because I know it. I’ve been watching television Tom all summer. This is the part in the show where something happens. It has to in order to propel the story toward conclusion. I’ve seen this television show before. I want to motivate Tom to do something. I have to motivate Tom before he gets into his parent’s sedan and rolls on home; first stop steakhouse, second stop university. Tom’s got to set things right. Keep this on track. Tom sets ear to pillow so we can communicate. I tell him the old man is a quitter and someone has to stop him. Tom answers me with quiet agreement. This mission is for the greater good. My greater good. Tom agrees. I’m weaker than Tom. He’s younger, faster. Cured. He’ll deal with the man. I’ll keep watch. He’s got my back, this Tom. He’s a good kid. The best. It’s lonely here. But we’re friends. We’ve got each other’s back. Tom’s like that. The old man has to go. He’s killing the energy I’m creating over here on my side of the room. My stump isn’t growing as fast as it should because of him. Because of his negativity my stump is at a standstill. Tom agrees. I offer him my only weapon. It weighs less than the leg it replaced, but it’s still heavy. But Tom is strong. He’s accepted the mission. He’s doing it tonight. I tell him to do it while my waterfalls come so I have plausible deniability. He’ll do it while I sleep. He’s a good kid. He’s a true friend.
It’s morning and the room is quiet. I’ve slept all night. I’ve slept through. The room is still and cold. Tom has completed his mission. The mother enters with Short and Ugly and they take Tom from his bed-cot. They are taking him away. I still cannot see his face. I shout my goodbyes. I shout my thankfulness. I shout, “You’re squared away, Tom!” Ugly stops, and Short turns his head to look back at me. Now I can see Tom. I see his head loll. It is a slight nod. He is stoic. He has done what was asked of him. He requires no acknowledgment. He has done what was asked. A true soldier.
When the door shuts I breathe in the cold air. It hits my lungs with its familiar sting, but today I’m glad for it. I will grow this limb double time today. I take another deep breath and hear the noise. It’s a soft shift in the silence which could be the rustle of fallen leaves gathered on the windowsill. It grows louder, and then from the corner comes a feeble “It’s cold!” With effort I lift my head from the pillow. I see the old man, still breathing. The prosthesis, that shit imitation of the good leg, is missing. I bury my head in the stinking pillow. I stifle my scream. I muffle the word traitor. My watch says it is almost time.
It is said that writers will find any number of ways to procrastinate. Kristen Langereis has spent close to twenty years in increasingly corporate, dead-end, spirit- crushing near-professions to distract herself from taking writing seriously. Now based in Amsterdam, she is currently taking classes with the International Writers’ Collective. Being part of this community of writers has breathed life into her daily writing practice.