“Beyond the Yellow Brick Road”
Ronny was on welfare, barely making ends meet walking dogs — much more able to afford the co-pay on his bipolar meds — when Dr. Bledsoe broke the news. After an hour weeping himself red in his Corolla, he finally drove out of the parking lot. His spirit was crushed but the flesh persisted with its appetites, stomach grumbling away like an unhinged motor. It was dinner time.
He drove to the El Pollo Loco on Olympia St and told himself it was better not to leave this world hungry and empty. Now, this fast-food chain was Ronny’s favorite; and for Ronny to miss his daily combo meal would be tantamount to the devoutest of Catholics skipping daily Communion. So, although the grim prognosis darkened his mind, it did not subdue his belly. Ronny told himself he was buying his last supper and it was best he eat it alone.
Sitting down at his squalid apartment, a faint sweet scent of cat urine rising from his grime-caked carpets — Ronny looked around with an uncanny sense of clarity. As if for the first time, he noticed his apartment was empty and filthy. How had he ignored this reality for so many years? His El Pollo Loco combo meal steamed up the yellow plastic bag like a noxious yellow plastic bladder, the escaping fumes betraying savory, greasy chicken aromas. Before him stood his daily liter of milk beaded with condensation like his furrowed pink forehead beaded with sweat. Ronny felt flushed and lightheaded. He completely lost his appetite and shifted to his crowded bedroom.
Life, however misleading, disappointing — or elusive of romance — was coming to a close now, he told himself, starting for the drawers. Ronny accepted that he had never met the right man in his life and now it was all over.
From out the drawer, Ronny pulled out an old revolver, snapped the cylinder shut, and pressed the cold steel beneath his meaty chin. With labored breath, eyes closed, he pulled off his baseball cap and drew one last breath. Then, he pulled the trigger, all mortal memory roaring through his consciousness like a burst dam unleashing a violent river:
I need twenty-five for the pipe, promise it ain’t more, sweetie — Sorry sir we’re out of the number five and the manager is too busy to talk to you — No, I didn’t forget to call you babe, it’s just I met another man, can I be honest? — Sir, your insurance won’t cover this. You said you’re Ronny Furling or Spierling or Spirling? — You’re the best prom date ever, Ronny! — Fag! Only fags listen to Elton John! — Your mother left you when you were three, Ronny… — Goodbye yellow brick road — !
Light washed over all his being, a fuzzy warmth blossoming tenderly across his face. Did he still have a face?
Ronny, he heard a voice say. How could you? You have broken my heart, my son. Still, I have known your sorrows and that is why I will give you a second chance. But you must consume what I am about to give you.
— Consume? What do you mean, like eat something? Please, I will do anything! Ronny said. What is it?
— You must consume this love which I freely give to you, my child. Will you take it?
— Yes! But how am I to consume love? Please, tell me?
Ronny felt more warmth spreading across his chest, a gentle weight pressing down.
— Take and receive and return now, Ronny. And once you are back, you must call this toll free number for your trial of LoveRx, the only non-prescription male enhancement formula made from all-natural ingredients.
LAPD reports that Ronny’s landlord came to collect rent only to discover him lying motionless, revolver in hand with his leaky-bladdered cat perched atop, while his TV was left running adult programming. The reports do not omit that Ronny, whose last name is not “Spierling” or “Furling” but “Fielding” (as his landlord pointed out) suffered a cardiac arrest after his revolver failed to fire. The forensic ballistic department points out that through some miraculous fluke, the bullet did not discharge because of an obstruction in one of the cylinder chambers of the old, corroded revolver.
But most importantly, the reports bring to light the source of this tragedy (or comedy?) of errors. Ronny habitually provided variations on his name on medical forms so as to avoid incurring hospital debts. A confusion of records led Dr. Bledsoe, who had a patient under one of Ronny’s pseudonyms, to mistakenly diagnose Ronny with only a few weeks left to live.