“What did it matter?” Little Jack said.
Indeed, what did it matter?
For Maeryn Doucette was gone now, too. The great chronicler of rock ‘n roll when it belonged to the colored people, properly, before it was purloined, perfumed, and peddled to the new, advertiser-created and coveted crowd of Caucasian teenagers, a cohort — successors to Frankie Sinatra’s bobby soxers. The Sound of the DownBeat Generation, and all that jazz. It — He + It, It + He — all was passe long before he passed.
He died on Independence Day, 1969, after partaking in a massive public hootenanny in his native Locoshua, N.H. He ate a hot dog, an all-American 100% beef frank in a white bun, smothered with ketchup and mustard and chopped-up bits of onion. After how many quarts of beer and other forms of strong waters had passed his lips, no one said at the time. They came forth a generation later to tell their tales, when Doucette once again was money, but in the aftermath of that Fourth of July, they were mum. Numb and ashamed.
He bust his gut. Threw up blood as easily as a college frosh throws up mixed-drinks at an early semester late-nighter imbibed at first impressively at an off-campus dive. Blood as bright red as a third of the strands of birthday-cake bunting icing the gazebo in Locoshua’s central park.
Maeryn Doucette died in the emergency room of the Sisters of Mercy Hospital, waiting to be passed on to the physicians beyond the pneumatic doors as the admitting nurse haggled with his brother-in-law over his expired Blue Cross card. He was still conscious, the alcoholic fugue of early afternoon overwhelmed by a new sound in his head, a racing of fluid, counterpointed by an airy emptiness, the beating wings of —
At the SIsters of Mercy, he was the nice polite Catholic schoolboy that had impressed and charmed those who had met this Maeryn Doucette before experiencing what Honest Abe Lincoln — he of the tall hat and ramrod posture perfect for caricature on the 4th of July for some stooge who hadn’t wanted to be Uncle Sam — would have recognized as that which overcame the better angels of our nature. He was apologetic as he heaved his life up over the hospital linoleum.
No one returned his stare. Not even the children, the normally curious children, whom long into adulthood often were the only beings other than his pets that he felt comfortable with. It was said that like F. Scott Fitzgerald, he really never had the stomach for adulthood. That day, he was just one more man strapped to a gurney borne in by an ambulance crew. Commonplace enough not to beggar extra attention where attention already was engaged.
His eyes watched a small boy turn his head away from his own after giving a cursory glance his way, less interested in Maeryn Doucette’s own reeking brightly colored spectacle than he was in expressing irritation that the gabbing man gobbling down his blood in the corner had disturbed his sense of equanimity. As the boy’s head turned, Maeryn looked up, a little slowly, sweetly surrendering immediately to a bright angel who beat her wings just slightly overheard, over towards the ceiling against the wall. A bright-eyed angel whose beautiful countenance consumed the gazes of the children and the other patients-in-waiting, their kin and their kind.
He died watching Let’s Make a Deal on the new color television that recently had been installed in the waiting room to calm the unfortunate waiting to become patients and their kin. And later that day, a new crop of patients-in-waiting in that very same room watched Walter Cronkite announce his death on the evening news, on the very same TV Maeryn Doucette had been watching when he passed quickly through a coma and slipped the surly bonds of this earth.
A disembodied voice read that poem, the one that goes “Oh I have slipped the surly bonds of earth” on the TV over a scene of the Blue Angels precision fighter squadron every night, in the wee small hours of the morning, as part of the sign-off on the TV station. Maeryn Doucette had enjoyed listening to the poem each time, his elated emotion tangling each night with a little regret that the programming was over and the night was now all his to wrestle with alone. A Jacob against night legions of demons.
Tempus fugit it said, in somewhat faded blue tile, on the wall behind the TV set. It was a slogan, a warning, that the patients could no longer see.
“Time sure does fly when you’re havin’ fun!” a handsome young man with chiseled jaw announced during the first commercial break. He was advertising cigarettes.