Long Days

Dan O'Brien

Summer 2018

Dan:      Thank you for these pages, Paul. Normally

pitching is prose. Conversation, really.

But yeah, it sure is fun to imagine.

I had hoped to finish our pitch before

going under. Aware that surgery

carries with it the possibility

of not waking up. Uncontrollable

bleeding. Heart failure, stroke. Clots. Infection

in the days after. In the days before

I start anxiously googling myself,

to somehow assert I’m alive, and find,

instead of my author’s photo, Google’s

using an image of Kevin Carter,

a white South African war reporter

in the nineties, member of the so-called

Bang Bang Club, who won a Pulitzer Prize

the same year as you, who haunts you because

he killed himself. What could it mean? What kind

of sign is this? I leave my wedding ring

on the dresser top. Wear comfortable shoes.

Drive to City of Hope, in the desert,

where in the 1920s and thirties

tuberculosis patients came to die.

Some survived, of course. Like Eugene O’Neill,

though he didn’t convalesce here. He’s been

a hero of mine, till lately. Long Day’s

Journey into Night felt like a memoir

of my own childhood. I saw it in school

and walked out of there like I was walking

on air. I worshipped him. But I fear him

now, his life’s tragedy. I want to live

comedies now. I disrobe. Nurses plug

a hose blowing warm air into a hole

in my paper gown. Make a pincushion

of my veins. Put socks on me. The gas man

stops by to creepily ask if he can

bend my head backward precipitously

while I lie unconscious, the easier

to ram his breathing tube in. Dr. Fong,

my surgeon, is world-famous. He’s smiling

as I roll into the operating

theater. Just another workday for them.

Blue gowns and masks. The bold white freezing room.

More intros offered. Ceiling lights whirling

like UFOs. Or medical halos.

Fong:     Oh, about six hours. We’ll open you up

along the same incision the other

surgeon used for your colon resection

in March. We’re going to have to cut higher

though, because we need to reach that corner

of your liver next to your diaphragm

here, on this side. Feel it? We’re going to take

about fifteen percent of your liver,

at least that’s the plan. Your gallbladder too,

just for good measure. Ha ha ha. It’s good

you’ll be wide open! We’ll see more that way,

lesions the scans have missed. I’ll feel around.

—Don’t worry! I’ve done this a thousand times.

What does Malcom Gladwell say? Anyway,

I’ve got that beat. I’ve got a good feeling

about you. Feeling sleepy? Breathe in, Dan.

Breathe in. You like Trump? What are you thinking

about Syria?

Dan:                                      Did he ask me that?                     Lights slowly

Fong:     Oceans of refugees, children drowning                            dimming.

off Greece.

Dan:                                    A while back I gave him my play

about you, Paul. Inscribed. I was hoping

he might surgeon a little bit harder

if he liked my playwriting. He’d studied

medieval lit at Brown. The next visit

he said he’d tried to read my play. Teared up

as he confessed. It was too sad! he cried.

I couldn’t finish! He seems confused, Paul,

as people sometimes are, as to whether

you’re a real person or just somebody

I made up. They think I’m you. I confuse

myself sometimes too.

Dan O’Brien is a playwright and poet living in Los Angeles. His The House in Scarsdale: A Memoir for the Stage received the 2018 PEN America Award for Drama.

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