Devin Wants to Make a Movie

*the following is an excerpt from an anthology expected to be published in entirety this summer.

San Francisco General Hospital. A short white-on-white hallway with six or eight doors set close together all the way down. It separates into a dead-end T-shape with two semi-private rooms going off in either direction. Devin is in the left-hand room. The other bed is vacant, its light blue sheets stretched tight across the foam mattress, the back bent slightly, as if to support someone in a half-sitting position, maybe to watch the enormous television hung from the wall at an angle in the opposite corner. A former patient has kindly donated the TV set to the room.

There’s a table on wheels to the left of Devin’s bed and a long, empty space between his bed, table, and the door. The room is quite large actually, but the beds being set away from the walls, the low ceiling, the bulky movable tables, and the fact that there’s only the one narrow row of windows, give it a cramped, but not a cluttered feel. It’s like most workplaces: functional and impersonal.

The television is on, its changing colors flashing across the half-closed curtains that are meant to form an imaginary wall between Devin’s half of the room and the other, vacant half. The pleats in the partition are dark—the windows are next to Devin’s bed but the Sun is busy setting in the West, on the other side of the hospital. The open, empty space around Devin’s bed is filled with a flat, drab reflected light. The bulging edges of the curtains change from blue to red to yellow as the images on the TV dart from scene to scene.

Devin lolls uncomfortably in the bed in a propped-up position. He can look out the windows to his right by raising his head a little, and the table on his left, just a bit higher than the bedclothes, is close by should he need anything from it. Directly in front of the foot of his bed looms the television, easily manipulated by the remote control lying on the table with all the rest of his stuff.

The long white wall to the television’s left has four large sheets of art paper tacked to it, a pastel drawing on each. Devin claims that the works are “a representation of the interlocking themes of my process of recovery.”

The first drawing in the series, in soft shades of red, pink, and light blue, vaguely, expressionistically depicts the face of a woman, a tear dangling from the bottom lid of her left eye. There’s writing in the four corners of the drawing. The words begin in the upper-left-hand corner with “Dear…,” and end in the bottom right with Devin’s signature.

Another of the pastels represents the view one would have from the television’s perch high up in the corner of the room. The figure in the bed is obviously meant to represent Devin himself, although the section of the figure’s chest that’s visible beneath the pajamas isn’t flesh, but bone—the sternum and rib cage—and a dark, grinning death’s head sits atop its shoulders. The figure’s hands are flesh, but inert, their long fingers at rest on either side of the thighs. This picture, the artist explains, was drawn the day his ex-girlfriend Emma, who had broken up with him and left town while he was in jail, returned to San Francisco with her new boyfriend.

There’s another drawing taped onto the center pane of the windows next to the bed. This is an older picture, one of the few things a friend has been able to salvage from Devin’s abandoned apartment. It’s a portrait of Emma, painted in dark colors, a mass of permed brown hair drooping down over one of her eyes and casting a shadow over her cheek to the ridge of her nose. Her other eye shines out brightly, as does her smile; her head is apparently resting on her palm, but it’s not tilted in that direction, so the effect is more like someone touching their own cheek to see how it feels, or to enjoy how it feels.

By now the sun has finished setting and the unoccupied portion of the room has gone totally black, except when it’s lit up by a particularly bright scene flashing across the TV. You can still see the last grayish light of the day brushing the architectural details of the Victorian flats in rows outside, through the windows, across the freeway on the inland side of Potrero Hill. Devin has switched on the lamp that comes out of the wall above his bed. On the table below, now brightly illuminated, are several empty cans of an orange soft drink, one half-empty can, two empty packs of cigarettes, a disposable lighter, a Dixie cup, and several spare pain pills for emergencies. There’s also a green push-button telephone and an open box of pastels, some of the crayons scattered over the Formica table surface and others nestled in the folds of Devin’s blanket.

The blanket covering Devin’s left leg and abdomen is thin and slipping off the bed because he’s constantly squirming around to get at the phone, his cigarettes, the pastel crayons, or his orange drink. At any rate, he only needs the blanket on his left side from the waist down, as his right leg is covered with an enormous cast. The cast is decorated with drawings and comments made mostly with the pastel crayons by his friends and the many acquaintances who’ve come by to visit. The leg is in traction, hung from a pole running above the bed by a nylon cord that goes through a pulley system, balanced by plastic bags filled with water that dangle at the foot of the bed. The nylon cords are anchored to a steel pin that passes through Devin’s cast and his ankle. The leg in suspension, he tells us, is broken in seven separate places.

Devin has hooked his large art pad to the pole running above his bed so that it’s always within reach—otherwise it would completely cover the bedside table. He’s taken the pad down now, curled his left, free leg up, and propped the pad against his raised knee. He draws, picking up and discarding the crayons scattered about the bedclothes, as he needs them. The picture that he’s working on will be the fifth part of the series hanging on the wall. This drawing will be about escaping. It will show two figures—probably a man and a woman, a couple maybe, but it’ll be hard to tell exactly—one standing guard while the other sleeps, a burning city in the background. Devin will never get around to actually finishing this one.

His hands move in short sure strokes across the paper, but his mind is somewhere else. It’s running through memories and reflecting, going over things he’s done—or thinks he’s done, or doesn’t remember having done but people have told him that he’s done. He’s retracing each step along the path that’s lead him to this hospital bed. These memories make him wonder about what will happen next, to make plans, to dream. He’s trying to decide who his real friends are, what he can learn from them, how they can all contribute to the movie that he wants to make. Then his mind goes back once again, revisiting the events that snowballed into his breakdown and his now patient process of recovery. He wonders about old friends he’s not sure of anymore, or hasn’t seen in years, and these thoughts eventually bring him forward in time, up to his present state, and he again acknowledges the television, the empty bed on the other side of the room, the picture he’s drawing on the pad leaning up against his knee, and the lit-up windows of the Victorian houses of Potrero Hill out the window. Then, running off again, his thoughts will come back up against the inevitable wall of the future in front of him, the terribly slow process of healing, and the ever-closer terminus of his approaching court date.

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Lee Foust hails from the eastern side of the San Francisco Bay Area but has lived for many years in Florence, Italy. There he writes, performs his compositions—with and without banging a drum—and teaches literature and creative writing to US students studying abroad. Lee is the author of Sojourner, a collection of stories, verse, and prose poems gathered around the theme of place: home, travel, escape, getting lost, and expatriatude. “Devin Wants To Make a Movie” is part of the forthcoming collection Poison and Antidote, nine inter-connected stories of the artists, writers, musicians, and Bohemians of the San Francisco art scene during the Reagan years.

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