The Manfred Story—1985 Writing Assignment…
Manfred padded into my hospital room wearing bedroom slippers and no socks about three the next day, not wanting me to expect regular visits of compassion, his being busy with his cockroach collection and all. Told him I neither expected nor wanted them, his camaraderie being something I had gotten used to doing without some fifteen years ago around the time we began sharing the dim little flat I hated to admit was home. He did tell me he wouldn’t rent out my room while I was laid up, felt he owed me at least that since I was his brother and all, and felt like he owed at least that much to our mother, “May she rest in peace.” He had this annoying habit of always tacking on that stupid epitaph whenever he mentioned our long-dead mother. I knew at that moment that by the time my confinement ended, I would probably not only hate my priggish brother, but my poor mother as well.
Thinking about being chained to that bed by the octopus contraption suspending my mangled leg, and having to endure even irregular visits from Manfred, I began plotting my escape. There had to be a way out, but the doctor only laughed when I suggested that night that a pair of crutches would free the bed up for somebody who really needed it, malpractice suits, that sort of thing.
I was doomed to endless ramblings about gutter-side neighborhood happenings, listening to excerpts from The Old Man and the Sea, insincere words of cheer, from Manfred’s drool-dripping lips, until in my second month of sober imprisonment the idea struck of pretending to lapse into a coma, a result of a delayed concussion from the tumble into my premature grave.
Manfred, being the ignorant porker that he was, believed these theatrics for two-and-a-half weeks until one of his cronies told him he overheard a doctor on the street at his lunch hour talking over my case with another hospital type. Reported that they were going to release me if I continued to improve at the rate I seemed to be.
He descended on me within days of hearing this good news to assure me he really was glad I had regained consciousness, because he had something urgent to discuss, which turned out to be not so urgent, but he thought that was the only way I would agree to let him stay in the same room with me for more than two minutes. And he was right, having been without a drink for about two months, I was not fit company for even normal folks, let alone this sloth I had to admit was related. Sobriety making it even more difficult to look at him, his distended belly eliminating even a hint of belt somewhere where his middle was assumed to be, yellowed teeth, stained tee shirt, that sort of thing. Anyway, it seems when he agreed not to rent out my room he was sure I’d be up and good as new within a week or so, but my coma act convinced him that taking in a boarder might not be such a bad idea after all, him being afraid of being alone as he was, which he did, but now didn’t know what to do about, so he wanted me to be sure to give him plenty of notice so the other guy could clear his pigeon coups and stuffed squirrel collection, that sort of thing, out of my room before I got out and came back to the flat, if that’s what I was planning to do. Told me he would understand if I wanted to look for a place of my own, since he guessed I probably wouldn’t be drinking anymore because of the fate it brought me to.
Good God, what an idea, not to go back there, maybe sobriety would be worth it, my head gears shifted into third. No more Manfred, no more enduring conga-accompanied monologues about Moby Dick, watching spit drip down that double chin. Maybe sober I could do it – escape, sweet thought. Had to concentrate. Manfred left.
Spent the next week and a half reading apartments for rent pages, too much money, no private bath, that sort of thing, until at last I found it — third floor one bedroom, he’d never make it up all those steps, it was perfect. Called and set myself up for the day I was getting out.
Had to see Manfred one more time before I could leave, called, said he was busy reading or something, couldn’t make it out. Told him he could keep his new roommate, I wouldn’t be coming back, but now I couldn’t leave the hospital with no trousers to wear because of the shearing they took when I was brought in. Said he would see what he could do since he promised our mother, “May she rest in peace,” that he’d look out for me when she died. Told him I would let him out of that promise if he’d just bring me the trousers as quick as possible, I was anxious to breathe fresh air and take a walk and maybe see some other faces, and he brought them, after waiting two days, that was to be expected.
Manfred was a little slow-witted, not all home, playing with a light deck, that sort of thing. And I was ready to forgive him for taking so long and all, and I would have, if he hadn’t taken that awful tumble on the way into my hospital room, hitting his head on the protruding part of the bedpan on the table by the door, and died before I could. That was to be expected, if you knew Manfred as I did.