: A Balancing Act :

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an excerpt by Rick Demarinis

Wind thumped the house all night. I wake up early out of a bad sleep, seeing double. With the flexible logic of half-consciousness I believe it is this seasonal wind that has caused my vision to divide the world into separate but equal halves. I also have a brain-shredding hangover. But I didn’t drink last night, did I? Flu? Maybe I’ve got spring flu. I head for the bathroom and throw up, a noisome retching. Carole has got out of bed. She touches my shoulder as I grip the cool commode. “What is it?” she says. “What’s wrong?” The answer is a month away, in an Idaho MRI lab, but now I can only shrug and mumble, “What did we drank last night?”

* * * *

The relentless March winds in El Paso bring the desert into your house. Little dunes of sand fine as pumice ripple your sills. You can feel its abrasive texture in your teeth. You can taste it in your food. It lays a superfine grit against the bronchioles of your lungs and you develop a high, thin, hacking cough. Sometimes you come down with a flu-like disease carried by this invasive dust. In Phoenix they call it “valley fever.” A desert fungus lofted high by the wind becomes part of the air canopy. You breathe it in and for a while the fungus flourishes in your damp interior. It feels and acts like the flu. There are no vaccines for it. You ride it out. Valley fever. Maybe I’ve got the El Paso version of it.

* * * *

The double vision persists. I’m wearing an eye-patch—a piece of black construction paper taped to the inside of the left lens of my glasses. Pounding headache all last night, a headache that brings me to the edge. I have never in my life screamed in pain but I know I am close to bellowing. My left eye has drifted to the left corner of its socket. I am as wall-eyed as Jean Paul Sartre. The lid is halfway down and I can’t raise it. I try to exercise the eye, forcing it front and center, but this makes the headache worse. Time to call a doctor? No, I have always disguised my fear of doctors and distrust of hospitals behind a mask of stoicism. It’s a generational thing—a lot of men my age claim they’d rather tough things out. I tell myself that it’s probably a sinus infection. Maybe the ethmoid or maxillary sinus between the eye and nose got a few grains of desert fungus in it. The swelling there presses on my left eye causing all the vision problems. It’s a theory I can live with for now.