A little treat today: a first glimpse at the opening of my new novel. No worries, life observations will likely return tomorrow.
A sound, a muted sound. Something stirs. There is thrashing. Fear. The fear is real. The dark is smothering. I gradually gain my senses, though the fugue lingers. For a moment I don’t know where I am. Instinct makes me rise. Only after I make it to my feet do I realize it’s the beeper. Reality floods in.
It’s late. Too damn late. At least for the living. The dying. This is their time.
Under a starless night sky, the freeway is empty save for the rare pair of headlights floating by temptingly. Mile after mile. So many exits passed. Bobbing and fading, I turn up the radio, blink wearily, and struggle to stay lucid. It’s all about the bass. These are the strange hours of whispers and wisps, when the world seems malleable and dreamlike; uncertain. The fringes fray.
I got the call. I didn’t want it. I wanted to sleep. Yet here I was, driving past midnight to yet another uncertain horror show. The trip is shorter than desired, the medical tower soon looming in twilight; the moon peering from behind. Turning in, the hospital parking lot is practically empty. Surveying all those empty plots, I sigh, cut the engine, and step out. It’s a summer night, warm with a soft breeze that carries the faint acrid smell of the factories nearby.
Inside the tower the halls are empty. But the quiet is deceiving. Interludes usually are.
First one here. Time to get ready. Strip off my clothes to change into threadbare scrubs. Wash my hands then grab the keys to the procedure room. A deep breath, muttered words, and then inside. The stark cold pours over me like frigid waters. The lights are blinding. Within all is scoured white and tarnished steel.
Boot up the computers, warm the fluoro, hang the meds. Lay out the instruments in the prescribed order. The routine makes prep blindly simple; calm and certain like a ritual. Gods be with us. The others show up minutes later, exhausted before we’ve even begun. They take their places. The show’s about to begin.
The pinging grows outside the door accompanied by frenzied commands and shouting. Band’s tuning up. The doors kick open and I see him, ashen and emaciated; mouth gaping, gulping like a fish. Someone is attempting CPR but their position is wrong, their rate off, gibbering nonsense. Nurses clutch at the gurney, glassy eyed and petrified. We throw him on the table. The EKG is erratic, jagged lines like cracking glass. The electronic tone is steady, a mantra clearing out the chaos. Calm settles over me as the noise of the world wanes.
Still no doc. Pushing staff out of the way I move as fast as I can, cutting away his clothes, shearing him for the procedure. His rhythm changes. There’s no time to think. It’s all reflex. Warning the mob back, I shock the patient back into sequence. His limp arms flail as something sparks upstairs. Treading water. A kicking leg catches a nurse’s head. First blood. The patient is wild, frothing crimson spittle. Broken ribs.
The patient’s wife loiters at the door, lips quivering, eyes swollen and soaked, weakly reaching for her husband. ‘Will you get her out of here?’ I don’t say it out of sympathy. I simply want her out of the way. I can’t stand their eyes on me. Those pleading gazes…
The doc finally shows as I finish draping. He goes through the same spiel he professes to each patient and their family, regardless of the fact no one is listening. Keep to the script. The mantra drones on. We will take care of you. Don’t worry, things will turn out ok. Have faith. All those empty words.
The hour passes in seconds. X-ray peers through that fragile shell of humanity and within, with each black injection, we discover it’s hopeless. But the doc still tries, wasting time and effort. Lazarus, oh Lazarus. The futility enrages me even though it shouldn’t. I want to shout at him. Shout at everyone. Why? Why are we doing this? What’s the point? I retreat into the fugue. Let my body react, detached.
The rhythm abruptly ends. As the poor soul passes, I don’t think about his wife or his family. I don’t care about what was “lost.” I’m numb. The cycle has played out.
“God’s instrument” laments his fallibility. Forsaken. Cursing his Maker, the doc rips off his gown to go grab a coffee and then grumble over the paperwork. Bury it all in mundane bureaucracy. He will speak to the family later. Likely the same speech. It was his time. There was nothing that could be done. Accept that he is at peace. By the way, here’s a questionnaire. Remember we care as you fill it out. We’ll be wheeling your loved one out shortly for display. Two hours to mourn before he goes down to his slab.
Exhausted, I tear off my blood-stained gown and drop into a seat across from the surgical table. Head in trembling hands, consciousness just drains from me. The room empties. In that serene space, I glance over at him wan and withering in the sterile glow. I steal a breath and hold it; hold it until it burns. Sometimes we let go of life too soon, sometimes we hold on too long. But when is it ever truly time to let go?
The sun teases the horizon as I pull into the garage. Climbing the stairs, legs straining, back aching, stinking of sweat, I take a left instead of a right. With gentle care, I open Samara’s door. The night light gleams in the corner. I see her sleeping, softly breathing, dreaming of better worlds far removed from this one. Peering in, she is cherubic. I just watch her, forgetting all else. So many thoughts pass. Morning’s light creeps up on me.
I return to my room. Ana is still asleep. I doubt she even noticed me leave. She has become accustomed to my absences. I pass her on my way into the bathroom. Leaning against the counter, staring into the mirror, I see the subtle gray in my beard, the lines around my tired eyes that tell a story. Yet they don’t tell me how I ended up here. There was so much I wanted to do. And now…I’m just tired, so damn tired. I hit the light and reality recedes.