THURSDAY: Ossability

BY EMBE CHARPENTIER

Copyright is held by the author.

MICHAEL’S THIRD medical appointment of the month gave him something to look forward to. Today, his attitude and his backbone needed adjustment.

Another spasm. He lifted one foot, then stomped the other hard on the floor’s rubber tile. The tendrils he pictured coming out of his sole found their way, one at a time, with the speed of a hurricane gust into its tiny gaps. No sub flooring shattered. Calm returned.

A full-belly sigh left him winded. He adjusted his pelvis, redistributing his weight. His backbone sagged; its long slow curve slid against its attachment points with the muscles that rebelled against the pain.

Doctor of Osteopathy Balthazar Pine spoke in murmurs. “Michael, please sit down, if your body will allow that today.”

His spine assented. Michael sat yardstick straight in the barrel chair, his gaze directed at the reproduction of the Mondrian behind Dr. Pine. The streets of a make-believe town intersected at right angles — no acute, no obtuse. Primary colours and black lines bisected over a perfectly stretched canvas that knew its limits as it knew its artist’s hand.

Nature was never so regular nor so amenable.

Michael’s usual trips to the osteopath, the chiropractor, and the neurologist possessed the futility of holding back nature. Within the shallows of sidewalk cracks, life typically weaves a spell toward light and heat and oxygen. But when he hit puberty, Michael’s spinal column slid and pushed like needy blades of grass and reckless dandelion stalks. Tingles turned to torment. So his mind and his bones took control, thickening the discs that contained his rebellious spinal cord.

By 14 the vice grip of his vertebrae ensured his fractious central nervous system got back on track, but at the cost of daily pain. Spinal cord surgery and constant x-rays justified his deepest fears. He let his bones do their job. But every decision costs, and in his case, pain had acted as currency.

Pine’s sympathetic words: “Is your body behaving normally, Michael?”

“I’ve been able to do my home school assignments.” He shifted in his chair as his mind asserted itself.

Dr. Pine sat across from him in a swivel chair. “Are you eating properly?”

His spine required a high-calcium, high-phosphate diet. He despised the bran cereal and whole milk, whitefish and watercress diet he ate at the behest of his skeletal system. He wanted Hot Cheetos. He got Tum-ta-tum-tum Tums.

“Yes, sir.” He stared at a neighbouring door. “I know I have to answer your questions, but am I getting adjusted soon?”

His mother huffed her disappointment. “All he ever wants is back manipulation. He keeps asking me to take him to the massage parlour. I explained to him that you don’t really get massages there.”

Dr. Pine pointed at the door. “Yes, Michael, but you know we always consult first.”

Michael watched as Sirena Rodriguez opened the door to the adjustment room. The sight of voluptuous intern with hands fashioned from satin threads sent anticipation through his vertebrae. Thus aroused, his pituitary gland trickled dopamine and endorphins into their appropriate receptors. Michael’s pupils dilated, nearly eclipsing his blue irises.

Michael’s bones commanded him to stand. His longing gaze recognized the hypnotic twinkle within his muse’s eyes. Only a decade Michael’s senior, his brain had its fantasies and savage imaginings of what he and his tactile muse might attempt given the opportunity.

“Not yet, Miss Rodriguez,” Pine said.

Sirena retreated, then shut the door behind her. Michael drooped into the chair.

“Have you done your exercises?”

“I tried, Dr. Pine.”

“He says his spine refused to do his yoga poses this week,” Mother grumbled. “And he only averaged 4,500 steps a day on his Fitbit.”

“It’s tough to have enough time to walk when I have to study for finals,” Michael retorted.

“Making excuses again? I bought you the adjustable height desk you demanded . . .”

“I need to study standing up!”

“Stop this arguing. It causes spinal tension.” Dr. Pine rose and scowled down at Mother before turning to Michael. “Turn your neck to the left. I want to palpate the bones for a minute. When you and your mother start this aggressive posturing, you produce toxins in your body.”

Pine slowly massaged the neck and topmost portion of his back muscles. Michael’s smile burst. His back stretched like that of the satisfied man in the foam mattress commercials.

If he pampered his back with heat and massage, it reluctantly permitted the occasional adventure.

At 15, he’d rebelled. For Christmas, his spine had craved the usual percussion massager from Walgreens. Michael had used his gift cards to buy a Tony Hawk Sin City Popsicle, a glorious 31-inch skateboard red as a bloodshot eye. He’d run outside that morning despite his body’s objections. After performing his first nollie, he’s found himself prone until New Years’ Eve.

Since his reckless wheelie, the rest of his skeleton had submitted to the ossified will of the bones of his spine, all 33 dictators firmly in command. The sacrum and coccyx had been outvoted by the sacral and lumbar vertebrae, so Michael’s car trips were short and limited to the necessary journeys to the squadron of physicians who hadn’t listened to his pleas. Dr. Pine, his ally in his quest for relief and belief, asked him how his back had felt in the past week.

Michael shot his mother a knife-edged glance. “I’ve been trying to complete my program.” But Michael qualified his hopeful reply to make sure he secured his time with Sirena. “But it still hurts if I disobey the vertebrae. They refused most of the yoga poses this week.”

“I have a suggestion for you.” Dr. Pine leaned in toward Michael. “I asked for a sample of an impulse stimulator from the Lasospinal Institute in Midtown.”

Mother’s fist covered her mouth. She shook her head. “I don’t know. We’ve had nothing but back luck with the Lasospinal people. They always want to do surgery . . .”

Michael shook hard enough to rattle his molars until Dr. Pine took a box from his desk drawer. After taking out a small unit that resembled a hearing aid with three leads, he smiled. “I’m not excited about machines. I think touch heals.” Pine cleared his throat and offered the tiny machine to Michael. “However, the impulse stimulator been tested on post-surgical patients as a non-invasive treatment for pain. I’ll put it behind your ear, attach the leads with small bandages, and you may experience a sensation of relief, even pleasure.”

Michael stiffened as he considered the machine’s worth for a few moments. His voice eked a tentative assent. “I’ll try it after my session with Miss Rodriguez,” he said.

“Mrs, Rodriguez,” Mother corrected. “And this is therapy, Michael Stapleton. Your unrealistic ideas about her are pathetic.” She turned to Pine. “How old is she? Twenty eight?” Then she pointed at Michael. “He can’t seem to get over her, not that you meet any girls in home school.”

Michael’s face, thin-lipped and slit-eyed, clenched into a knot. “Are we done here? I agreed to your machine after the manipulation. So let’s go.” He strode toward the door and knocked. His disgusted mother ambled back toward the waiting room door.

Michael shod his clothes, threw on the johnnie, and reclined face-down on the wide table. He placed his face in the well. The huge room, formerly the office of Dr. Pine’s partner in practice, held cabinets of creams, syringes, speculums and boxes of sterile gloves. Michael had noticed that Sirena wore the largest size glove, perfect to accommodate strong, soft hands. New age music coasted through invisible speakers in the darkened room. The pleasant scent of Vionex soap served as an aphrodisiac. He adjusted his back to compensate for the boner that grew as Sirena massaged and manipulated his back.

He swam in the luxurious sensation of skin rubbing against muscles pulling at a backbone that confined errant nerves. Endorphins swelled his cells, and a beneficent smile stretched his cheeks.

He muttered seductive words, which Sirena struggled to ignore.

“Stop this dirty talk.” Sirena laughed. “Find a girl your own age.”

Since Michael only dwelled in the heights of his fool’s paradise for a half-hour a week, so Sirena tolerated his carnal monologue for as long as it took her to manipulate his spine into joyous submission.

“Stay there,” she advised. “We’re going to put on your stimulator now. Your mother makes your spine tense up, mi’jo. We need you to remain relaxed.”

Dr. Pine returned. Michael’s head remained positioned in the well of the massage table as Pine slipped the mechanism behind his left ear. The pads at the ends of the wire leads found their places against the outer shell of his ear and against the bump of his tragus.

After a moment, he felt the pulse. “Some people say this can cause temporary euphoria,” Dr. Pine said, but his voice was a mere muddle in the joyous sensation that flooded Michael from cranium to his pinky toe. Michael flipped and sat up, johnnie tented over his erection.

“It’s phenomenal!” Michael cried. He jumped off the table and giggled. He shimmied and pushed past Dr. Pine to Sirena’s side.

One of Sirena’s cocked eyebrows got him laughing out loud. “Dance with me,” Michael commanded. “Yeah, so it’s that crappy relaxation music. In my head, I’m hearing Flo Rida. This club can’t handle me!”

He began to sing as he raised his fist. His feet flew across the floor. His head dodged invisible bullets. He grabbed Sirena’s hand and spun her.

The dream evolved as he took Sirena in his arms. “You’re my lady fair!” he sang. Sirena and Michael danced until she released him into his freestyle. He kicked his legs like a drunken Jackie Chan. His johnnie flew away from his body as an unrolled ACE bandage into a flying strip. He whirled, jived and twerked against Sirena’s hip. He frolicked and pirouetted and bounced like a Martian gazelle.

Until he passed out.

The acrid odour of smelling salts woke him. Dr. Pine and Sirena knelt, one on each side. “You’re back again, mi’jo,” said Sirena.

Michael rubbed his hand against his ear. “No, no, please. Put it back,” he pled. His back cramped so tightly he stretched his legs out against the hard floor beneath him.

“The unit overstimulated you,” said Dr. Pine. “The instructions said it could cause pleasure, but I’ve never heard of a reaction like yours. The stimulator is contraindicated in this case.”

“Once a week for thirty minutes, just in this office, please,” begged Michael. “You don’t know what my life is like . . .”
Sirena put a hand over Pine’s. “Sirena, let’s check him.”

Michael rose to his feet. He put himself up on the table and laid down on his stomach. “It’s better. You’ll see.”

Pine palpated Michael’s backbone as Sirena held his hand. In the near dark, Pine allowed Michael’s body to relax as his fingers probed the discs and vertebrae as Sirena held Michael’s hand.

“All right, I have the information I need,” Dr. Pine said.

Ten minutes later, Michael exited into the waiting room. His mother picked up her suitcase of a purse. “Well, did the little experiment work?” she asked.

“I feel much better.” Michael repressed a blissful smile. He held a notebook. “I have to keep a log of my pain until I come back next week.”

Sirena stuck her head out the office door. “Next week, bring your sweatpants and save those Florida relaxation files on your phone, okay?” She smiled at his mother. “We hope you approve of this testing program. Due to the experimental nature of the protocol, it’s only a little more expensive, but Michael said he may not need some of his other treatments anymore.”

Mother grabbed the door handle. “I’m so relieved.”

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