God’s Pink Flower, #27

by Phoebe Wilcox

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  Benjamin Frankfurt found out he was allergic to psychiatric medication when he had a bad reaction to Lithium at a Blondie concert and had to be wheeled away through the crowd.  Some gazed at him like disinterested urban giraffes, while others stared as if the sun had just come out in their heads.

  “He fainted,” a pretty girl surmised, as two burly paramedics grazed her arm with Ben’s gurney.

  It was the hottest day in August, savannah hot.  But it was Pennsylvania, so it was humid in the Pennsylvania way.  And it was the Philadelphia Zoo.  So a rock concert came along with the watering hole. 

  Debbie Harry winked sympathetically at him from the stage as he rolled by.  Benjamin wished she would come visit him at the hospital when he got there but he knew she was wrapped up in her own life and would never have time for someone like him.  Her “Rapture” belonged to everybody.  His rapture was his own.

  The ambulance ride was long and bumpy.  The paramedic was an altruistic soul who inadvertently jabbed the IV in so roughly that in an instant a bruise rose on his sensitive skin.  Ben joked with the paramedics about midlife crisis Porsches until he was overpowered by the urge to vomit the last of the Lithium into the green plastic bin that they provided for him. 

  So apparently the cure was a highly potent allergen.  So he’d just have to avoid it and stay manic.  So what?  Really.  So what?  So he liked to paint giant pictures of women’s labia, as if he were the new Georgia O’Keefe, but with a lot less talent, and with a more slapdash approach.  He’d painted twenty-seven of those pictures in the last month until Jessie, his girlfriend and model, said she was tired of living with her pants off.  Use a flower, she’d said and went outside and yanked an iris out of the flower bed in front of his mother’s apartment.  Okay, he’d responded, and went on to paint six more paintings that night.  Jessie, in an attempt to stop enabling him, gave up eating chocolate covered coffee beans.  Then she took a long-needed nap, curled into a little kidney bean shape for eighteen hours.  I love you, but I can’t keep up with you, she told him when she woke up.

  “I’m in the hospital,” he told his mother on the phone, “and I’m allergic to Lithium.  I blacked right out.  Hit my head on the edge of Blondie’s stage—huge welt.  They tell me I was out for a whole minute.  Jessie tried slapping me but I wouldn’t wake up!”

  “They’re not keeping you,” Jessie said when he hung up. “We can leave whenever they bring the paperwork.”

  “Well, I guess the MRI didn’t show any brain damage then.  No more meds for me …ever!” Bennie said.


  “At least I’ll have enough paintings for the show next month.”

  “You’ll have enough to fill the Louvre.”

  “Let’s plant more irises.”


*  *  *

  The kitchen counter at Ben’s Mom’s was loaded with herbal cures and interventions.  He started every day with a protein shake and a tablespoon of flax seed oil.  He’d heard that amino acids were absolutely necessary for proper neurotransmitter function.  And he started eating dairy in the evening in hopes that it would help him sleep, keep him from painting all night with the Violent Femmes in his headphones and Jessie laid out like a half-clad starfish.

  If he could have built a ladder to the stars and painted symbols on the vastness of that great blue canvas there, he would have.  If he could have had Jessie oil a sliding board with flax seed oil so that he could get back down to earth in a hurry, he would have.  He didn’t want to completely abandon reality.  There were certain real people who needed him.  He kind of liked the feeling of painting himself into a corner of nirvana, but he had the feeling that God was a little tricky, that God was behaving in a circuitous and ironic and uncanny manner—altogether brilliant as usual—and that he, Benjamin, was hanging on the ladder just a few rungs below enlightenment with the chronic problem of his puny human pea brain to deal with.  He was glad that he had Jessie and that she would hold his hand whenever needed.  God was a glory and a helpmate and an iris that defied painting, but scary also, especially when He or She decided to open up a little edge of Ben’s mind to reveal the vast ocean of psychic clutter that hid back there. 

*  *  *

  With a smile, Bennie slaps a paintbrush of magenta paint onto his canvas.  It’s 4:30 in the morning and “Heart of Glass” is blaring in his headphones.  He does a little dance and grabs a smaller brush for detail.  The stage-injury welt on his forehead burns.  All over his chest and arms, there are traces of hard-to-remove stickum from the EKG doodads they’d put on him in the hospital.  Three days later, the IV site still aches. 

  Jessie is passed out on his bed with a big bag of coffee beans next to her.  The lamp on the nightstand spreads an ivory veil of light over her bare legs.  She is breathing slowly, her body still and tranquil.  Maybe he could join her, after he finds his signature brush and signs the thing.  After he gets the pallet wiped. 
  After he turns the music off.

  After the noise of his soul subsides. 

  It’s true he may never have a real art show.  He may always live submerged, just an underwater bus station where silver dreams hang out.  He loves how they swim in and out of him.  They flick their tails.  They cast their shadows.


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