"The fate of your world depends on this kiss."
Arthur started at the voice, mentally demanding that the fog of his consciousness lift so that he might see it's source. The fog persisted, however, and the most he could manage was a dry croak.
"What? Who's there?"
No response came, though, and Arthur fought against the urge to drift into unconsciousness. Instead he focused on his surroundings. A spartan hospital room, with a television mounted to the wall; it played a rerun of The Andy Griffith Show and Arthur inwardly scoffed at young Opie's heartbreak at killing a bird with his slingshot. The curtains were drawn across the window and this was another source of annoyance for Arthur. He had lost track of his time there, not knowing if it was night or day or even how many days had passed while he wasted away in bed.
"No one wants to kiss me anyway. Daft old man." he laughed to himself.
He fought the shaking in his hand and eventually succeeded in controlling it enough to change the channel on the remote control to the television. He'd found that there was nothing to do between the myriad of visitors that feigned concern over him, besides find mind numbing droll in the flickering lights of the screen. It had offered him solace at times, but also a sort of manic depression. It was the only thing to look at, the only thing to talk to and his only companion.
"I'm going loopy with this idiot lantern as my only friend. I'd better look out before I start talking to myself." he mumbled. Then, as if realizing the absurdity of his statement he choked out a sob, screamed and threw the remote with all the strength he could muster. It turned out that was only far enough to hit his foot.
After a moment of his screaming, a nurse entered the room, young, handsome and muscular. Arthur did not stop his howling, but he did notice the young man's handsome features and continued looking at the man, enjoying the beauty he brought into the room.
"Arthur!" he said sternly,
"Arthur! Stop screaming this instant! I have other patients and I can't have you waking everyone up."
"Wake them up! I don't care! I've had enough of this prison." Arthur barked.
"Arthur! That's no way for a man of your years to speak. You know we all love you here. We're here to help."
"Help? You want to help then get me out of this bed and off this floor. I have to get home. It's late. My missus will have my ass for this!"
"Your missus? Arthur . . . you're missus, she left. Remember?" the nurse said softly.
"Left? What do you mean 'left'?"
"She left you here with us. Remember?"
"Hell no I don't remember gettin' left nowhere. I don't even remember what's wrong with me or how many days I been here."
"Oh dear." the nurse sighed.
"Arthur, how about we make a deal. Why don't you calm down and we'll have a bit of a chat. You and me. Now, I'll answer any questions you have, but you've got to promise me you'll stay calm and talk to me man to man. Is that a deal?"
Arthur considered this and stroked the stubble on his chin thoughtfully.
"I used to have a beard." he said flatly.
"Arthur, is that a deal?" the nurse pressed. His name tag came into focus and Arthur saw that it read 'Jim'.
"I guess you got yourself a deal, Jimmy. Seems to me I had a best friend named Jimmy once. Followed me everywhere that fella. Still, I'd have been lost without him." Arthur positioned himself in his bed, managing to scramble into a sitting position.
"Now then, why don't you start by telling me what the fuck is wrong with me?"
Jim looked at the old man and sighed, his eyes watering slightly.
"You've uh," he choked.
"You've got mid-stage Alzheimer's." he managed.
Arthur considered the other man for a moment, his eyes going glassy.
"Ain't that about a bitch." he said finally, laughing.
"You think this is funny?" Jim asked.
"Course it's funny. Goddamn hysterical. So is that why I can't remember how long I've been in here?"
"It could be. It could also be that the days and nights have begun to run together and you're perfectly normal in that respect."
"What have I forgotten?" Arthur said, then began laughing again.
"What a dumb question to ask. How would you know what I've forgotten?"
"I can't tell you specific memories. But, well, you don't remember getting here. At least you didn't a moment ago."
"I do now. Damn bitch locked me up in here to die. I always suspected she never gave a damn. Still, I did and I guess now I know what giving a damn gets you. What about visitors? Do I get any visitors?"
"Here and there. More than some patients and less than others."
"My son? Does my son visit me?"
"Everyday." Jim said.
"I wish he wouldn't. I don't want him to see me like this." Arthur said. His eyes had gone from glassy to glazed and now tears dripped out of them.
"Do I still wipe my own ass?" Arthur barked, staring at the television just beyond Jim's head.
"Yeah. You still wipe your own ass." Jim chuckled.
"How are you feeling now Arthur? Do you need anything?"
"I'm tired. Worn out. It's not everyday you get told you're losing your mind. Wait, is that even true? How many times have we had this discussion Jimmy boy?" Arthur asked.
"More than once. Not everyday though." Jim answered, simply.
Arthur considered the man and then looked away.
"I guess I'm tired. I'm an old man I'm allowed to be tired."
"Yes, you are."
"How old am I anyway?"
"87 next month. Would you like something to help you sleep?"
"Yes, I believe that would help." Arthur said thoughtfully.
Jim stood and walked out of the room, leaving Arthur alone with his thoughts, which were scattered. In truth he wasn't tired, he just couldn't think of a better way to shut off his own mind than to yield to unconsciousness. He awaited Jim's return with agitation, but did not have to wait long. The young man returned with a small cup that held two pills, and a small glass of water. Arthur swallowed them dutifully and laid down, closing his eyes right away.
"That's better, isn't it?" Jim said.
"Of course it is."
Jim smiled pulling the blanket up around the old man.
"There now," he said.
"The fate of your world depends on this kiss."
Arthur was feeling the effects of the medication already but his eyes darted open at the younger man's words.
"What did you say?" he demanded.
Jim continued tucking him in without reply and soon, the younger man was gone.
Arthur's mind whirled. Quite a coincidence to hear such a strange turn of phrase twice in the same hour. Had he heard it right? He must have been mistaken. He wasn't kissing anyone. In fact he couldn't remember the last time he did kiss anyone. As he drifted off to sleep, wondering about this kiss that the fate of his world hinged on, he did recall a kiss. Just for a moment . . . then it was gone and the darkness took him.
Arthur opened his eyes as a cool night breeze brushed across his face. It felt good, renewing his spirit and he drew strength from it while giving thanks. Looking up at the night sky he saw nothing but stars, then a shooting star. He made a wish and stood up smiling. He vaguely recalled the dream he'd been having. An old man in a hospital bed and something about a kiss. It was fading fast and he sped it along; his blood running cold at the image of himself in a hospital bed. He quickened his pace and fairly jaunted down the street. He felt as if he hadn't been here in years, though he knew it had only been a matter of days. Deciding the dream must have really affected him more than he'd realized, he walked into the nearest building, a bar, content to get a drink and calm his nerves.
Sitting at the bar, he waited patiently until the bartender, a muscular man, bearded with crystal blue eyes, walked up to him.
"What'll it be?" he asked, jovially.
"Whiskey, neat." Arthur said.
A moment later, a short glass that was two thirds filled with amber liquid appeared in front of him.
"That'll be $3.50 unless you want to run a tab." the bartender said.
"I'll run a tab . . . " Arthur trailed off waiting for the other man's name.
"Aaron." he smiled.
"Aaron. I'll run a tab if you don't mind."
"Sure. You meeting anyone here?"
"Not that I know of. But I'll keep it in mind." Arthur said, taking a long drink of his whiskey. He took his drink and moved to the back of the bar, observing. There was a pool game in the corner and various men at the bar drinking a variety of drinks. Arthur breathed deeply and reveled in the smell of hops, barley and liquor.
"How long since you've been in a bar?" came a voice.
"It's been a while." Arthur admitted.
"You falling off the wagon?"
"What?" Arthur asked, puzzled.
"Sorry, I'm Jim. I was being funny. Like, are you here instead of an AA meeting or something."
Arthur took Jim's proffered hand and looked the man up and down.
"Nothing like that. It's just been a while since I've gone to a bar."
"How long since you've been in a gay bar?" Jim pressed.
Arthur went pale. He hadn't realized, but he supposed he should have.
"Um. Never." he admitted.
"Ooh! A straight boy. Well, that's okay. We're cool with you if you're cool with us."
"Yes. Of course I am. I just . . . I, uh, didn't know." Arthur stammered.
"So you're straight then?" Jim asked.
"You guess? What does that mean? Wait, let me. You're bi curious and you worked up the nerve to come in and get a drink and get laid by a guy for the first time."
"Not at all." Arthur replied, recovering his composure.
"I just never thought too much about it to be honest."
"Interesting. So you sleep with women because, what, it's convenient?"
"Well, I'm not sleeping with anyone at the moment." Arthur pointed out.
"I'm drinking whiskey with a gay guy I just met, who I admit, I believe is flirting with me."
"What if I am?" Jim asked, smiling.
"Mind if I sit down?" Arthur said, raising his glass and pointing at it so that the bartender could see he wanted another.
"Not at all." Jim said, still smiling.
Arthur sat down as a fresh glass of whiskey appeared at the table.
"I am, you know." Jim said, taking a drink of the beer he'd been nursing.
"You're what?" Arthur asked, oblivious.
"Flirting with you. Just thought I should get that out there in case you're uncomfortable. with it."
"I don't guess I'd be too uncomfortable with it, being that I decided to grab a drink at a gay bar."
"I don't guess you would be." Jim said, mockingly.
"So what's your story? Really. Bi curious?"
"Not really, no." Arthur said,
"I really haven't given much thought to it. It's always seemed to me that people will be attracted to what they're attracted to."
"So what are you attracted to?" Jim asked.
"Are you asking if I'm attracted to you?" Arthur asked, deflecting.
"What if I am?" Jim was openly coy in his response.
"I don't know. I've never really been the flirtee. I've always been the flirter. I gotta admit. I sorta like it."
The two sat in silence for a moment, finishing their drinks. Arthur looked at Jim and began to feel the stirrings of something at the edge of his consciousness. He couldn't pin it down, and his thoughts had begun to swim in the whiskey. He silently willed himself to focus and was disappointed to learn that he couldn't.
"I think I'd better go." Arthur said.
"I was just thinking the same thing." Jim said.
"Let's get out of here."
Arthur didn't remember much about leaving or even consenting to go to Jim's house. He was focused on the nebulous feeling at the edge of his consciousness, trying to pinpoint its source. He wasn't surprised when they entered Jim's apartment and he found himself kissing, soft but intimately, feeling the tickle of Jim's beard against his face. Things progressed intensely, passionately. Arthur maneuvered on top of Jim, pulling his shirt off in a smooth motion before returning his lips to the waiting mouth of his lover. Gone was any thought of the nebulous feeling he'd been preoccupied with as the two of them danced their dance, casting shadows on the wall that gave the illusion one man existed where two could be seen.When Jim forcefully threw Arthur to the bed, facedown and breathless, Arthur knew something real was growing between him and this man. When Jim entered him with a soft grunt he thought,
"Can you read my mind?”
The two of them passed away what seemed like hours in this fashion. Only the moans, grunts and low growls of men making love filled the room. Arthur, in utter ecstacy felt a pang of disappointment at the knowledge that their coupling would soon end. He allowed himself to sink into the pleasure and lose himself beneath the power, sweat and sheer command that his lover held over him. At last, it did end and their urgent movements slowed, their bodies moving in time with one another as if connected like the gears of a machine. Jim lay next to Arthur, who was out of breath but still softly kissing Arthur's chest.
They lay there for a while, each of them aglow with the embers of their passion. Their fingers played light imaginary songs on each other's bodies; each seeming to intuitively know what the next note would be. It was Jim that broke the silence.
"Thank you." he said, breathlessly.
"This is what happy feels like." Arthur offered in reply, nuzzling closer to Jim's chest.
His mind wandered through the plethora of memories that had led him here, to this night, with this man in his bed. The images danced before him like the fast moving still images of an old-style Nickolodeon. He watched them float by until he saw Jim's smile in a memory of the dinner they'd shared earlier that evening. Lazily, he opened his eyes to be greeted by that same smile in reality.
"I think there's long term potential here." Jim said.
Arthur struggled for only a moment to mask the excitement on his face before he decided it was a futile struggle and he let his crooked grin take over his face. Jim pulled him in for another kiss.
"The fate of your world depends on this kiss." he said, and they kissed again, tenderly and lingered in each other's breath.
The feeling that Arthur had been preoccupied with exploded behind his eyes and he looked at Jim in shock.
"Wh-why did you say that just now?" he asked.
He never received his answer. Sinking back to the pillows he was once again overtaken by darkness. He could feel everything around him becoming fuzzy. The warmth of the body next to him faded and the bed melted away. He couldn't remember where he was or the name of the man that had been laying next to him.
Arthur opened his eyes slowly. He sighed as the semi-familiar surroundings of the hospital room. He wondered how reliable his memory was, given his condition. The dream he'd had felt like a memory, but he knew that he'd also been in a drug induced sleep.
"Awake again?" a voice called.
"How long was I asleep?" Arthur asked, his voice raspy; the result of a dry throat.
"About an hour." Jim said. Arthur could now recall that Jim was the name of the man from his dream, though a different Jim than the one who spoke to him now. Still, there was something familiar in the nurse's voice, and in his gait. It was as if he could be the son of the man Arthur had dreamt about.
Struggling into a sitting position, Arthur looked the man up and down.
"Jim?" he said, as if uncertain of the younger man's name.
"Yes. I'm Jim. That's good Arthur." the younger man's tone was gentle.
"Oh don't patronize me. I have alzheimer's I'm not stupid." Arthur said, with a dismissive wave of his hand.
"Okay then. Tell me how you got here." Jim's reply had a hint of playful challenge. Arthur did not back down.
"My wife put me in here. Married for 37 years and at the first sign of trouble he carts me off to this godforsaken hellhole-"
"We prefer 'assisted living facility.'" Jim interrupted.
"Godforsaken hellole," Arthur repeated,
"And left me to rot. She hasn't been to see me in . . . in . . . ." he struggled with the memory.
"She hasn't been to see me. Stupid cunt. I gave her everything. Beautiful children. A home. Worked my fingers to the bone. Just so she could abandon in this place." Arthur's eyes became glassy and the tears began to spill.
"Arthur. It's okay." Jim soothed,
"It doesn't have to be that way."
"Course it does. You can't change the past."
"Every choice, Arthur. Everything we do changes things. The fate of the whole world can depend on a kiss. Kiss the girl and," Jim motioned around the room.
"But kiss the boy . . . ." he trailed off.
"Who are you?" Arthur whispered.
"Who do you think I am?" Jim smiled.
"How the hell should I know? I'm a crazy old man, remember?" Arthur said.
"Why are you doing this? Why all these goddamned questions? I want to go home."
"Where is home, Arthur? Do you remember?"
Arthur closed his eyes and struggled to remember. He was dismayed to realize that he couldn't remember his home. He couldn't picture the place he'd spent 37 years of his life with a wife and family. He couldn't remember if he'd had a dog, cat or any other pets. He couldn't remember his children's first steps or what schools they'd graduated from. He couldn't remember their names or if they'd come to visit him. He choked back a sob at the indignity of it all. He refused to accept that he didn't remember his life. He refused to let Jim see him this way. In defiance he described the only place he could remember as feeling anything like home. The apartment he'd spent the night in from his dream.
"Are you sure that's home Arthur?"
"Course I'm sure. I know my own house. Now you take me there. This whole thing has been some misunderstanding."
"What if it was Arthur?" Jim put his hand on the other man's face and stroked his unshaven chin gently.
"What if it was all a misunderstanding?"
"What do you mean?"
"What if your life had been different? What if you could go there?"
"Can you take me there?"
"Maybe. Want to find out?" Jim asked. Arthur only nodded as tears flowed from his cheeks.
"The fate of the world depends on this kiss." Jim said. Then, slowly, tenderly, he leaned in and kissed Arthur with all the hunger of a starving man. Arthur yielded to the kiss, breathing deeply.
It was one night. It was decades ago. In a bar on my own I found you. A lifetime later, you saved me.
The thought passed between them, as if conducted by the kiss. Arthur didn't know if he'd thought it or if he'd somehow read the other man's mind. He felt darkness close in on him once again and this time he welcomed it. The fabrication of dementia, a dream, or an altered state of reality; it didn't matter. He knew that his fate was irrevocably altered by one simple kiss; from decades ago to the current moment in time. Everything changed around him, everything changed inside him and he knew that no matter what his mental condition was, he was finally whole.