"There you are in Mousetrap, Paul. Love the pointy mustache!"
Paul grins and pulls at his pajama bottoms. His legs are so skinny. "Do you remember the guy who played the Inspector in that show? What was his name?"
Sue looks up from browsing through the scrapbook she holds in her hands, anticipating the well-worn story he's going to tell. "His name was Larry."
"Remember the time he was on stage in the middle of the final scene, telling everyone who the murderer was, and he forgot his lines?" Paul laughs. "So he walked off the stage to find where he was in the script and figure out his line? Remember that?"
I laugh politely (did it sound fake? I hope not) and grab his arm. "I know it was a good thing you were there to keep the show going."
"Paul is the master improvisor," says Sue.
Paul turns the page of the scrapbook he's holding. "Oh! And there you are as Scumbiscuit," I say, pointing to a picture of Paul wearing a ridiculous white pastry chef's hat, with the word 'Scrumbiscuit' embroidered on it.
"Mais oui, I am the, 'ow you say, Scoombiscuit," he booms in an over-the-top French accent.
"--and the master of a million and one voices," continues Sue. "He can just hear one once and bam! He can do it perfectly. Hey Paul, do you remember the first show we were both in? The director would come to rehearsal drunk as a skunk..."
"...and take out her false teeth when she got excited, and wave them around. Ha! Hey, Ricky!" Paul says, noticing an orderly passing by. The orderly nods politely, turns around. "I want you to meet a few people. This is my sister Sue, and her husband Rick. And this is my friend, Ted."
"Nice to meet you," says the orderly, and then turns to go about his business.
Paul turns his attention back to me. "Hey, you were in Jesus Christ Superstar, weren't you? You played Judas, didn't you? Were was that held?"
"North Eldredge High School," I replied.
"Great show, great show. Remember the two-record album? Man, I used to play that all the time. One time, a friend of mine took me to see it at PPAC. It was amazing. That opening number, right before they go into Heaven on their Mind...first, there's complete stillness, and then you hear the guitar come in..." And then, he proceeds to sing every note in the overture, staring at me intently.
I had forgotten that Paul liked to reenact albums. It kind of reminded me of my son-in-law, who likes to loudly play songs he's plucked from YouTube, in the middle of parties. Of course, in Paul's teen years, they didn't have YouTube...only vinyl. This approximation were probably his generations' form of mass communication (note: why yes, that was an obscure Jesus Christ Superstar reference. Thanks for noticing!)
I wait politely until he arrives at the fanfare. "I remember waiting for my first song to begin, during that overture. I stood behind the grand drape. The director wanted the stage to be completely covered in fog when the curtain went up. So I'd stand there as the fog machine poured smoke onto the stage, and it would get higher and higher and higher, until it was over my head. And I'd have to breathe it in! I tell you, by the time that curtain went up, I'd choke out, 'My mind is clearer now...'"
"But your voice wasn't," giggles Sue.
"Hey, you!" says a fiesty-looking Italian lady with dark hair, who it turns out, is Paul's Occupational Therapist. "You singing Pink Floyd again?"
Paul laughs, shakes his head. "Nikki! I want you to meet a few people. This is my sister Sue, and her husband Rick. And this is my friend, Ted."
She nods appreciatively. "You sure have a huge crowd today. He tellin' you about Pink Floyd? This man knows everything there is to know about Pink Floyd. Paul, you show 'em the jacket we gave you?" She turns to me. "One of our orderlies had a boyfriend who made her one of the all time great Pink Floyd jackets, back when she was nineteen. She kept it all this time and decided to give it to Paul! It fits him, too, believe it or not."
Paul looks down at his skinny frame, at least a hundred pounds less than when I last saw him. "I have a little trouble with the sleeves..."
That rings a bell with Nikki. "Paul, did you go down for dialysis today?"
Pink Floyd. Funny, just about a month ago, I rediscovered my Pink Floyd fascination, brought about by a Rolling Stone article on the anniversary of Dark Side of the Moon. "So, you're a big Pink Floyd fan, huh?"
"The biggest," says Paul, with obvious pride. "Ask me anything."
"Who was the original lead singer?"
"Syd Barrett," replies Paul. "Their first album was Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Of course, their greatest album, and the one that made them famous, was Dark Side of the Moon."
"It starts off with the really quiet, but then, you start to hear this sound, coming out of the silence..." And suddenly, Paul launches into a recitation of the entire first side of Dark Side of the Moon. Sue turns her head, starts talking to Rick. Paul shifts his attention solely to me.
Politely, I listen. He runs through album, song by song. Speak to Me, then Breathe. Then On the Run.
"...and then, you hear the tick tock of a clock, and suddenly, there's a huge noise of all these clocks going off, everywhere!" says Paul, enthusiastically. "And then you hear the guitar, and then..." And then, he starts singing. "Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day, you fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way..."
As he sings, he gains momentum. I sing along, trying hard not to think of the situation Paul has found himself in, of the world within which he resides. Paul continues forward, the same old smile on his face. "So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking..." His eyes grow wide, he points to Rick, he's unaware of how loudly he's singing. "Racing around to come up behind you again. The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older, shorter of breath and one day closer to death!"
The punchline has been punched. Paul pauses. "Oh...what's next...I forget now..."
"Every year is getting shorter," I sing, helpfully. Together, we finish off the song. Paul seems pleased. "And then comes The Last Great Gig in the Sky. My favorite."
He nods, grabs my hand. "Do you know, if you listen closely to that song, after the second chorus, there's a section that sounds like mumbling? But if you listen really closely, you can hear what it says? Do you know what it says?"
I'm starting to feel a little uncomfortable, "No...what?"
He stares at me, dead serious. "If you can hear this, you're dying." He shakes his head. "That's what it says. 'If you can hear this, you're dying.'"
I glance away at Paul, look over at Sue. She brings a hand to her face. "How long can you stay, Ted?"
"What time is it?" A glance down, to the phone. "Oh,man. Have to pick up the kids soon. Guys, do you mind if we take a look at that jacket, though? I'd really like to see it..."
We pack up the scrapbooks. Rick and I head off to Paul's room, trade small talk. Paul lifts himself up, uses his walker to shuffle back to his room, Psychic Sue following behind. The jacket revealed, photos taken. Then, goodbyes.
"I'll be back," I say to Paul as I hug him.
"You'd better be," he says.
All the way home, I think about life on the dark side of the moon.
"What's the purpose of life, Corb?" I ask, later that night, as he's going to bed.
"That's easy," he says, stretching out his big toes. To live."
"Is that it?" I pace around the room. "It just seems so purposeless, if that's all there is to it. There's just got to be something more, if not, it just all seems kind of futile, if all that living means is you're going to end up in a--"
"But few people really live," Corb replies. "Most people spend their times obsessing about stupid things, like bills and laundry and day-to-day crap, and don't spend any time at all actually living. The trick is living, Ted. That's something only a lucky few achieve."
If you can hear this...