A below, below any hospital looks like a tunnel fasted by an engineer who had to cancel his dates. The vacuum down there snips di from urnal because it is a freeway for the chase scenes of only dead people. "Stop thief! That's my last breath." They never catch up.
At a monthly meeting these secret tunnels get together with other union members. The Local. In a hotel banquet room or in the cretaceous bedrock, some very large convention hall that has no walls so that secret tunnel can pass through secret tunnel can pass through secret tunnel. The hospital belows, ant farms, fiber optic cables, large intestines, even the spoon-fed efforts of escaped cons chat but feel inadequate because there is an Italian by the buffet, a non-local. She is the lava caves that know Mount Etna's molten biblically. Etna makes the other passageways tremble in nervous conversation. Start and finish time with judgement, speak only of other tunnels, say cruel things like Humpf. When was the last time she erupted?
The tunnels are so jealous they fill up on dumb snacks without one kind word to Etna. She leaves lava on a hanky in the ladies room. I think she is not inclined to others anyway. She is closer to the Union's original impetus: secrets. She makes a case, recall our mission statement! "I've got a secret," she whispers. They try to guess but they are impatient to return to their hiding places. "Give us a hint." So she does, "It's orange, pink, blue, black." No one guesses and that was an easy one. Eruzione! An Italian revolution though color is no secret. Her real secret is the number, in degrees that makes rock turn red. I'd like to know that secret.
I am jealous of even the lowliest secret tunnel. They are so much lower than me. They are so much more secret too. And still beyond and even exceeding these excellent qualifications for envy, secret tunnels get to spend a life or seven lives without ever being discovered by the non-dead. Footsteps approach but footsteps rarely find the hidden panel, the false boulder, the underground stream that floods with secret tunnel adrenaline when, for a moment, after centuries of moments, the tunnel believes it is about to be caught in the tunnel act. I am jealous of that hard flood. And then it is not caught. And then it can return to sniffing the dark dirt or attic air pushing just outside its walls.
I am in a hospital while I write this. I myself am full of secret tunnels. One begins at my belly button and houses a camera I can't see. "Think of a vacation spot," the anesthesiologist advises but before the slopes of the volcano even come to mind I have fallen. The anesthesiologist offers me a mint—two and one half hours for a moment of experiencing real death, not dreaming, real blackness, not caves. I take it.
Etna came to my bedside while I was knocked out cold. She was hot. I wouldn't have known she'd been here but she left marks where she touched me. She said, "Your father has been vacationing with me." But vacation in a volcano sounds like hell. He might be in Italy but he's not in hell. She was lying. The way people lie in hospitals. She petted my hand, "You look a lot better." The way people lie in hospitals. After a few hours of the silent treatment, I'm unconscious, for someone's sake, Etna felt guilty. "I didn't mean to ruin the little town," she said. . . .
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