The fact he hasn’t shown up at the Intensive Care unit doesn’t surprise me. When a father’s expectations are not met, the son suffers, and what I did this time probably borders on extreme – causing acute embarrassment for him. You have to understand for him reputation ranks higher than love, higher than truth. As far as punishment, well, let’s just say I am suffering – experiencing plenty of pain – kind of like the blistering hands that smacked my ass every time I screwed up as a kid.
The fluorescent lights drill into my eyes like hot spikes as the two hulking attendants in crisp white uniforms roll my gurney from the Intensive Care Unit into the elevator, making sure, I’m convinced, that they swing me so my eyes roll dizzily and my stomach gurgles to the verge of vomiting. I suspect they double as spies hired by my old man so I keep my mouth shut.
“You guys are good drivers!” I praise to no response. The bright lights block their features, their pasty skin blending into white coats. I feel their disgust in the constrained confines of the elevator. “Guess you never got drunk, huh?” The bell signaling my floor sound like a cymbal.
Rolling past nurse stations I smile, attempting to wave at them like a homecoming queen before I discover the restraints. Even the attempt to spread my lips releases throbbing across my temples. Had my father known booze would cause me so much pain he might have shared his cocktails long ago.
They take the turn into Room 232 with such expertise and speed, my head whirls, driving their devious chuckles. Spinning into the corner of the room like doing donuts in freshly fallen snow then slamming on the brakes sends me sliding into the head bar. An explosion ignites a carnival of flashing colors accompanied by carousel music. Flip, click, clip, and swoop. The restraining bars drop, my belts and hand restraints are unfastened. I am free.
“Thanks for the ride!” I call after them. The rasp in my voice is sandpaper scraping up and down my throat.
The phone startles me and I struggle to grab it – trying to put an end to the blaring reverberation. “Yes?” I lift my gaze and peer across my small room into what I assume is a hallucination – bloodshot eyes anchored in myriads of wrinkles under bushy wild spikes of white hair. Shocked, I jump clear off the mattress. I am unable to define the vision, nor determine whether it is real or not.
“Dude! You’re alive!” It is Ronny Gander, one of three that helped me consume a fifth of gin that we had purchased from Sally Newman, a sophomore, in a dark alley for five bucks. Old Colony Gin. A brand I’ve already decided will never again pass my lips.
“Not so loud, please,” I request as I fall back into my pillow, staring up into the snow-white ceiling. Cramps in my stomach continue, forcing me to curl into a ball to relieve the tension. “And it sounds as if you are too!”
“You remember anything?” He honors my request and whispers.
His words are drowned out by the gurgles emanating from the ghostly figure in the bed across the room.
“I’m sorry you’ll have to speak up a bit. You have competition.”
“Huh?” Ronny isn’t the sharpest, but does speak up. “I thought you wanted me to whisper?”
I don’t have the energy to explain and ask, “How did I get here? Did you guys just leave me?” This seems to be the most logical scenario. If they did in fact leave me on the doorstep of the emergency room and escaped into the night they might have avoided culpability. This is my hope. “The last thing I remember is peering through the hole in the wall to see if Gizzy was coming.” I shut my pulsating eyes and recall the blinding fog rolling across the field of snow stretching from the barn to Mrs. Davis’s house.
“Did I see him then?”
“No. He caught up with us after we passed your house.”
How ballsy was that? Not the best of shape to do that.
“Did you walk me here?”
“Nope, the dog catcher picked us up and from what they told us, it was good he did. You were going to die of freezing…”
“You mean I was hypothermic?”
“Said you had a temperature of 93.”
I roll my eyes. That’ll do it. “So you were caught too?”
“Grounded til the end of time was what my mother told me.”
“Sorry.” I am. This is my third fuck-up in three years and the three-time rule lingers heavy on my mind. Since the second offense my old man has held it over my head. Each time we hear a news story about some convict he warns me “Three times and you are done.” Done has never been defined.
A nurse, squat and cantankerous, suddenly appears at the foot of my bed. She ignores me as she studies my chart.
“I better go. I’ll catch up with you later. Call me, okay.”
“Feeling poorly?” Her tone is hopeful.
I decide I better slide for a while and just nod. “But, um, is the bathroom here?” I knock on the wall beside my bed, its hollow return attacking my brain.
“You won’t need to visit it yet.”
“But I do. I really do.”
“Take a peek under your covers.” Her cheeks are thick and when she smirks they grow into wide, glowing pancakes.
I am confused.
She comes around the side of the bed. I think she is going for something else, when she lifts both blanket and sheet revealing a winding, flesh-tone tube spiraling like a snake from my penis. She snorts like a horse.
“Glad to entertain you.”
From the ghost rider across the room come giggles that choke him. Wheezing, his white frocked head bobs like a marionette’s and finally gets her attention. She bounds at him and pounds his skinny back – which is a staircase of ugly ribs lacking any meat whatsoever – with the heel of her palm until he catches his breath. Thick slimy drool swings across purple lips over his chin until she swipes it up with a napkin. It is a smooth move by an adept nurse. She has earned my respect.
She lays him back into his pillows.
I fall back into my pillows
“You guys are a hoot!” She stands with hands on hips before marching out of the room on thick legs.
“I am Mr. Schonenberger,” The words are wrapped in phlegm. “I am dying of cancer.”
What the hell am I doing with a guy dying of cancer?
“In a bit of trouble?” His chapped lips curl above yellow teeth.
I nod. He may be dying but he ain’t stupid and he doesn’t lack a sense of humor, because he is grinning, taking glee in my situation. I’m free entertainment.
Rising up on his elbow, his dark eyes glare at me from deep circles that hang from his bony cheeks like torn rags. Not a pleasant vision. His thick lips are melted chocolate. Butt ugly as this vision is, he somehow appears saintly under the fluorescent lamp glow. With the arc of the light fixating on his shrunken body, the rest of the room appears dark. He repeats his early declaration. “I am dying…of cancer.”
“Yeh, you said that.”
He reaches across the room with his pencil thin, saggy-skin arm in an attempt to shake my hand, but it falls short and limply drops toward the floor, agonizingly smacking the side of his bed. He doesn’t seem to notice. “You can watch me die.” He shakes his head slowly. “They refuse to let me die with dignity. Have to provide an audience.”
I’m convinced my father has something to do with this.
Dr. Peters, one of his golf buddies, waddles to the foot of my bed. He doesn’t bother to make eye contact as he buries his nose in my chart. “When I was a young man, following the rules my father set down was the most important thing I could do. I never broke the rules. Never ever caused him any embarrassment. Certainly never almost killed myself.” He puffed up like a toad at that point and said, “And look at me now.”
Crossing pompous asses with power has never gotten me anything but trouble and I figured I was deep enough.
He has a devious grin when he hangs my chart back onto the hook and slowly walks around the side. “Seems you are awake…”
Yes dumb fuck. I don’t say it aloud. But certainly want to when, after he slips on two gloves, flips my covers off and grabs my dick with one hand and deftly but not painlessly pulls my catheter out with a slurping sound.
“Now you may use the restroom.”
After the initial pulsating burn my dick lies on my stomach peering up at me with an angry glare. I’m pissing everyone off.
“Feeling guilty?” It’s the cancer victim, but his tone isn’t one of omnipotence and lacks the edge of vindictiveness I so often hear from adults – as if they’re pissed they aren’t kids any longer and to overcome that inevitability they must lord over every kid they run into.
I hesitate. There is guilt for getting my friends caught. Guilt because I have to make sure my father knows how guilty I do feel in hopes to receive the least punishment possible, which of course hasn’t yet been identified, because the parental hasn’t shown his hand. But what if my roomie is a plant, a spy?
“And scared.” I hold my breath. I am and it pisses me off. The night had started out with such promise and now this.
“But you are alive.” He seems sincere.
“And in deep shit!”
He begins spewing and hacking again. “Shit passes.”
This seems to be going well. Maybe he isn’t a plant. Maybe he is the real thing. “Time will tell.”
“In time they will realize how lucky they are you are still alive.”
Now the kicker. “You don’t know my father.” I turn and study his expression for any telltale signs of espionage.
“No. I don’t.” He clutches his pillow with spider-like fingers. Eyes shut and teeth clench in pain – large tobacco stained teeth. His ravaged body tightens as he winces until the wave of distress passes.
“Are you okay?”
His sigh is so long and deep, I think it’s his last.
“He has time! You have time.”
My father’s lifeblood is holding onto a grudge so maybe this old guy isn’t a plant after all. There isn’t a screw up of mine that comes to mind that he hasn’t continually reminded me of, as though he wakes each morning and recites them in the mirror as he shaves so he doesn’t miss repeating one as we chomp on our cereal.
I rise onto my elbow. The dizziness isn’t overwhelming. I have to piss like a racehorse, I flip my legs over the side of my bed and sit up quickly. The room spins and I shut my eyes. I slide down. The tile is cold and feels good. My bladder is pulsating so hard, I have no shame and let the old guy get a great view of my bare ass as I step awkwardly, using the bed as a walker until I reach the narrow bathroom. The width is less than my wingspan and I can balance myself by clutching both walls at once until I stand over the throne. Using my left hand for support I pick up my gown with my right so I can finally empty…
I scream. I am pissing fiery lava. The toilet bowl water is bloody.
I emerge from the bathroom to a standing applause from my wily witch of a nurse and Dr. Peters accompanied by the barking of my roommate. Facing the old guy, I take a deep bow, revealing the deepest, darkest areas of my soul to the medical tandem.
Finally drifting to sleep, I tussle with a stormy confused set of visions, deep starless skies hovering over a snow packed land, where I wander aimlessly. Suddenly I am dodging 45 RPM records flying at me in Dana’s living room – turning just in time to see them careen off the wall and fall in pieces onto the green carpet. And she is yelling at all of us from the top stair, her blonde hair in curlers as she clutches her bathrobe over her wet, naked body. Somehow I realize this is not a dream but what actually happened the night before.
Permeating Dana’s screams is a squeaking sound. Forgetting where I am, I sit up too quickly – a rush of wooziness. In front of me is Mr. Schonenberger bouncing up and down on his mattress. Pencil thin legs, hairless and bowed, blue veins thick on bleached white skin like magic marker scribbles. The tent-like gown bellows in the downdraft allowing his gonads to smack back and forth against his knees. It is a sight I will never dispel. A phone to his ear, he listens intently before screaming “Danny! Get your Mama!” The chord has been yanked from the wall and swings wildly in mid-air.
I push the nurse’s button as he collapses in a heap of twig-like bones. Wet exhaust spews from his lungs. She rushes into the room followed by an orderly pushing a crash-cart and a doctor right on his tail. They shock him, his frail lifeless frame rising high into the air under the current and after the second attempt he hits the mattress and the commotion settles into serenity.
They march reflexively through a list of procedures – pronouncing time of death and filling in spaces on a chart before finally rolling him out of the room. The sunlight glistens off the snowy roof through the window and fills the space just vacated by Mr. Schonenberger.
I’m still sitting up on my knees and my legs are cramped when she returns. “Sorry you had to see that.”
She is sincere.
I gaze at the sunlight on the floor. “He called for Danny and Mama.”
“His son and wife. They were killed forty years ago in an auto accident.” She helps me lie back down with strong hands and covers me with a blanket before leaving.
The phone rings. My worry alternates from a fear that it is my father ready to bark at me to a fear that it isn’t him. It might be Ronny ready to fill in the blanks – but I let it ring until it finally ends in faint echoes.
The afternoon inches slowly toward night and the sinking sunlight creeps across the room. Still wrapped in hospital sheets and post-mortem stillness, I begin to pull away from the life I embraced before Mr. Schonenberger and I each danced a jig with death.
After receiving his B.A. in English from Colorado State University, C.W. Bigelow lived in nine northern states, both east and west, before moving south to the Charlotte NC area, . His short stories and poems have most recently appeared in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Potluck, Dirty Chai,The Flexible Persona, Literally Stories, Compass Magazine, FishFood Magazine, Poydras Review, Five2One, Yellow Chair Review, Shoe Music Press and Crack the Spine.