There is a new sky coming through the window. My lights are on. There is a new nurse writing her name on a chalkboard.
Lucinda. My RN is called Lucinda. Beneath that there is another name of a nurse’s aid. Ron.
My nurse’s aid is a Ron.
It’s so early the sun is still hidden by the contours of the land. It has lit up the sky but not thrown down a finger and shown itself. It will be a glowing sun we all know that. As soon as it gets here.
Lucinda leaves without saying a word. Evidently, I had slept through her routine and woken at the end of it. These nurse’s come in my room, they check me for leaks, and then they leave. They write their names on chalkboards as they move from room to room.
I can see the monotony there. The patients all sitting inclined in their beds. The paint on the walls the same, the feet all pointing toward the white and shiny ceilings.
The questions repeated over and over.
“How are you, today?”
“Are you feeling better?”
“Can you wriggle your toes?”
I can wriggle my toes.
I have toes that I can wriggle.
I am me and I begin and end somewhere down below me there.
When I was sweeping streets, sometimes I felt what I feel now. The machine became a part of me and me a part of the machine. Sitting there high upon my chair and grappling with that steering wheel, I was like a Centaur only not a horse but a giant diesel motor pushing vacuums and brushes.
I was a powerful man who collected the filth of the city and disposed of it properly.
Ensconced in the roar of the powerful noise.
At the quietest time of day where the tranquility of dawn filled every peaceful edifice like the eddies of rivers. Roar! Roar! Roar! Listen city. Hear me roar!
I should have roared more when I was married. When I was having sex I should have roared out loud when I was riding hard on top of Barbra. I should have let the beast in me get loose and shattered our pleasant whimpering with massive amounts of powerful pleasure.
I didn’t and that’s perhaps the reason Barbra went home?
We were too kind and too timid to interrupt the quiet with the sounds of mighty animals. We took our pleasure like we were guilty children taking second helpings of scones we weren’t offered from that kind old silver lady down the street (and eating them behind her back).
Shhh! This is delicious. Don’t get caught. Shhh!
Baldeeny starts to snore and I don’t care.
Papa Brown is hovering over my face again. He looks better less-red and swollen. He’s looking into my divot and he’s squinting old eyes.
What does he think he’ll find in there? I don’t know.
“You feeling better?” I ask him.
“You’re alert!” he says to me, surprised.
“You’re up early.” I say to him.
“Early to bed, early to rise,” he says blankly, staring at my divot in my head.
“What do you see in there?” I ask him. This catches him off guard. He straightens up.
“What? Oh nothing. Nothing. I was just curious. Being my usual nosy self. Getting myself into trouble like I’ve done all my life.”
“Does it all look healed to you?” I ask him. “Does it all look ok? “
“Fine, fine. Almost as good as new. More like a good scar for a story, I reckon. A good way to break the ice at a bar. Somebody put a boot-toe into your head is the way I hear it. Is that true?”
“A boot-toe? Someone kicked you hard enough to put a hole in your skull?
“And put me in a coma for three and a half months.”
“What in tar nation did you DO to deserve that? You don’t strike me as the aggressive sort. Someone got that mad at you they put a boot into your noggin? That strikes me as far too much anger for you to generate in folks given your stature and all. Who would DO such a thing?”
“Men on motorcycles.”
“Only they were off their bikes.”
“And you made them mad enough to break into your skull with a boot?”
“I asked them to be quiet.”
“I think so. I have trouble remembering. They drove by my house every evening while I was trying to sleep without mufflers and made me crazy.”
“Crazy enough to go tell them to shut the hell up?”
“I suppose. But I think I yelled “would you just please be quiet!” or something just like that.”
“Fascinating. You said please and they kicked a hole in your head with a boot?”
“And broke sixteen bones.”
“There must be more to the story than that? I mean, you said please and look at you. Why you’re hardly a wisp at the best of times! Did they pinch your face too? Is that what happened to your face?”
“No. I was born with a pinched face. I’ve always had it. There is nothing I can do about it. It’s just me. It’s just the way I am.”
I’m a little uncomfortable with this scrutiny and Papa Brown seems to sense it.
He touches me on a shoulder as he pushes himself a little further away.
“I’m dying, you know,” he says in clumsy words.
“I thought so,” I say back to him. “That cough. What is it?”
“It’s the cancer. Third time’s a charm. It taking over my lungs and there is nothing I can do about it.”
“I’m sorry. I wish I could do something to help you.”
Papa Brown took a deep and sad breath. “Yeah, I’m sorry too. I sure wish you could remember what you saw while you were asleep all the time. If I just knew there was something coming down the pipe I’d sure feel a whole lot better about this old life of mine coming to an end.”
“I wish I could help you too,” (and I mean that). “I just can’t remember anything except that there was nothing. I have three and a half months of nothing that feels like I just napped and woke again. It’s just a blank spot in my mind, a non-existent memory.”
“Well couldn’t you just make something up, for gods sake? Just tell me there’s an ocean full of mermaids or a sky full of angels? Tell me anything, and I’ll try and believe you. Anything at all.”
Papa Brown is crying. He’s not sobbing- he’s a far too proud man for that- but his eyes are reddening and swelling up like his coughing head did last night, and tears are leaking down both cheeks and getting lost around the bottoms of his curly sideburns.
“There is one thing I can tell you.”
Papa Brown shifts and is very attentive.
“It is very peaceful and quiet. There are no lights. No sounds. No one to bother you or pick on you or make you feel bad. There is no pain and suffering, no confusion, no doubt and no one kicking you in the head. You’ll like it there- I liked it there. It’s a really, really safe place to be.”
“Well, I’ll be,” says Papa Brown.