It used to be that pacing around waiting rooms was relatively quiet but now that everyone had a cell phone people could multi-task their grieving with the pressing chores that came with a hospital stay. Lynn barely noticed the fake flowers and soothing pink walls.
She circled the purgatory that was the waiting room, a space empty of time and full of memories. But other people's memories, as if you felt the weight of all the tragedies announced. Yet, it was boring.
She wanted to be angry with Alex, but the circumstances wouldn’t allow it. Instead she pondered all the things she’d done wrong. Why didn’t she realize sooner? Why didn’t she call 911 right away? Emotions boiled in her belly, propelling her around the plasticy chairs. She hated the way hospital chairs, though joined at the feet like a couch, always had armrests, as if their sole function was to deny you the right to sleep. She spitefully ignored them and paced. And paced and paced and paced.
There was a picture on the wall, a reprint of an old cover of the Saturday Evening Post. It showed a Doctor testing the heartbeat of a girl's babydoll.
The Saturday Evening Post always reminded Lynn of her father's office, as he was the only person she ever knew that read it. His office was a small library, the walls packed with bookshelves on all sides. There was a window on one wall, that shed light on a big, oak desk. The desk was always covered in stacks of papers, notebooks, magazines and a globe.
Lynn's mother did not like for her to be poking around her father's desk, but as the majority of the house's intellectual stimulation was stored there, she permitted it cautiously. Lynn would look at the globe, browse through the books and magazines looking for pictures, and coloring.
One day, when Lynn was five, her mother said, "Noodle, you be careful. You can play in this room, but only as long as you never go in Aappa's desk. Never. Do you understand?" Lynn's mother could be severe when need be. This was one of those moments.
Lynn had nodded solemnly. From that day on she regarded the drawers as if they were the forbidden burners on the stove. But where her hands didn't dare go her mind lingered.
The Saturday Evening Post always put her in a reverie, recalling memories of the old pendulum clock, all the thousands of books, and its mysterious, forbidden drawers.
Lynn was struck by a sudden perverse urge. The beautiful painting was a reminder of how terrible the world was. She couldn't explain it but sometimes the strangest thing---a long forgotten scent, a turn of phrase, an old smiling picture---could hold some part of her subconscious in a mighty grip and she became very sad or angry. She would like to say she was depressed, but surely depression had some logic to it. Surely depressed people cried too long and too hard over some real loss. But Lynn found an old Norman Rockwell painting and she was full of revulsion. This was madness. She knew it. But she couldn't control it.
A blond, overly tan orderly updated her on Alex’s condition. She could see him, but he couldn’t go home.
‘Oh, wow, he’s awake?” Lynn said.
The orderly winked and suddenly he looked like Max Headroom. “Naloxone, baby. Blocks opium receptors. But when the Naloxone wears off there’s a chance he’ll overdose again. So we’ll need to keep him a while.” The orderly beamed as he explained Alex would need to undergo a pyschiatric evaluation, when they'd decide what to do with him.
Alex seemed even more lost in his abundance of shaggy black hair than usual, a little more hunched over than the morning before. De-evolution had kicked in. By months end he would be a monkey and by next year she would be sleeping with a shiny wet amphibian.
“How many Vicodin did you take?” She asked him.
“Too many, it would seem. Have you ever had your stomach pumped? I don’t recommend it.” His voice was hoarse and he was sweating heavily.
“That’s not an answer.”
“They actually stick a tube down your throat, through the windy cords all the way into your stomach.”
“The small intestine alone is like 23 feet. It must be a hella long chord they stuck in me.” Whatever they had given Alex to revive him was making him jittery.
“So my throat hurts. A lot.”
She pointed her eyebrows at him.
“I don’t know, Lynn.”
“I’m sorry.” His nose was awkwardly shaped but just right for his face and his wavy black hair fell into his eyes. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“I spent an hour cleaning up your vomit this morning.”
“You’re the best girlfriend ever.”
“They’re going to keep you another 72 hours to get your head shrunk. And then they may ship you over to mental. Or put you in rehab. How are we going to pay for this?”
“I know. I mean—I don’t know. We were fucked before. Now we’re more fucked.” He soothed his adam’s apple during the long awkward silence. “Next month the FCWI will get our grant money. If I can just transfer some money from my personal account…” He tapped his hand on the tray table they served his food on.
“We can barely make ends meet and you want to loan money to your business.”
He swallowed, still massaging his throat. He nodded.
“We barely have enough for the rent.” She knew exactly where he was going with this so he may as well get to the point.
“And you know I’ll loan it to you but I can’t cover you and the company too.”
“If you’d kept your zipper up we wouldn’t be in this mess. I’d be at the bar right now”
“You know she’d be happy to give you the money. It would be so easy.”
“No Alex, I’m not going back there. Stop asking.”
“ No way we can pay the rent if neither of us has a job.” He slipped the IV out. A rivulet of blood flowed down his arm.
“Alex,” she whispered, “What are you doing.”
“No way I’m staying here another—what? 72 minus…how long have I been here? Doesn’t matter. I’m not sticking around so they can milk me for another week’s worth of fees.”
He stood in his hospital gown, a style famous for making any man or woman look ridiculous.
“You can’t leave. The doctor said you could relapse.”
“Get real. It’s been hours. Whatever they’ve got me on, I’m crawling out of my skin. I can’t sit still another minute. Trust me, this is not what Vicodin feels like.”
“You’re not going to get far in that outfit.”
“It will be easier to break out of here than the mental ward.”
“Come on Alex. You can’t just not pay your hospital bill.”
“I’ll pay the bill. But I’m sure as hell not going to give them any excuse to charge me more. Now are you going to be my lookout, or what?”
“Or what.” He peeked his head out the door.
“Alex, wait.” She shut the door. Then she took off her shoes, then her socks, then her leggings. She handed them to him. She glanced approvingly at the long scar across his chest. It reminded her that they were the same, both torn, both permanently unhealed. Minutes later, he was wearing her hoodie, belted tightly, and her leggings. The leggings only reached his calves, where dark black fur sprang out from them. The hoodie stopped mid crotch, so that there was a tightly-packed bulge peeking out beneath. He wore her socks, which were argyle, but couldn’t wear her shoes. He wiped the blood from his arm, but the spring renewed.
“How do I look?”
“Like a patient escaped from the mental ward.” He shrugged. They mirrored each other with crossed arms.
“If you make it, will you come straight home?”
“That’s the first place they’ll look. I have a Black Rock meeting later. I’ll go there. They’ll give me some clothes.”
“Let’s hope so.”
Then he was gone.