Fiction

In Transit

By: Michael Summerleigh

Aaron looked around at the empty apartment…sunrise through naked windows setting newly-emancipated dust motes to dancing…a table and a chair…the laboured hum of the old refrigerator now reprieved from cooling anything at all…

In the freezer was a small glass vial that he put in his pocket…picked up the small carry-bag with his toothbrush…a cell phone…a change of clothing and two things he needed to put in the mail…he took one last look…from the doorway…closed the door and locked it before walking slowly down the stairs…one step at a time…slipped the key into the super’s mail slot…

Outside it was already shaping up to be a scorcher…humid…heat from the day before that had been trapped in the city streets…now escaping into the brief cool of morning. In front of his apartment building he called a cab and then stood perfectly still…waiting… watched pigeons on the sidewalk across the street wrangling over a scrap of something…

some finches arrowing around a bird-feeder on a window sill three floors up…

Some local kids poured out of a doorway…waved good morning he waved back…briefly wondered where they were off to at barely-past-five in the morning…then noticed the baseball gloves and the broom handles it was never too early for stickball when school was waiting in September…

Up over the rooftops the sky was blue, smudged white with wisps of cloud being lazy.  He breathed in air still sleepy enough not to be spiced with diesel fumes or exhaust.

The city would wake up around him soon enough, but he intended to be well on his way way by lunchtime.  He brushed some damp strands of hair from his face and slowly walked the half block to the mailbox on the corner…retraced his steps to wait for the cab.

When it arrived he handed the driver a twenty and gave him the address, nodded to the East Indian accent of Good morning…suddenly cautious with the twinge in his chest he tried to be polite…smiled when the bearded face beneath the turban made the connection and offered small-talk requiring no response from him…

In front of the hospital he said Good luck sir and Aaron thanked him…waved off the offered change back from his twenty and stood for moment to catch his breath…let the sudden pounding in his chest slow down a little before moving again…

When he turned he realised there was a man not far from the entrance to the hospital dressed in tattered camo…scarecrow thin…bearded…not as filthy as he could have been…still needing a place with some extra kindness and clean water.  Aaron saw a small cardboard sign…hand-lettered with black marker…looked into the man’s eyes and again reached for his wallet… emptied it…another twenty…a ten a five and three ones…

“Breakfast,” he said softly. “There’s enough for breakfast…and then the whisky afterwards.  Have the first shot for both of us…”

He couldn’t really say which war had been young enough to wound him, but the ageless ancient ravaged face for a moment softened and became human again…lips moved and whispered some gratitude.  Aaron nodded and half-lifted his hand…flashed a peace sign…

“I was in the battle of Chicago,” he said.  “Nineteen sixty-eight.  I wish we’d tried harder…”

Inside then the candy-striper at the information desk was named Brianna…fresh-faced and cheerful he could smell soap and just a hint of something she might have dabbed on a day or two before…bright blue eyes…shiny blonde…he gave her his health card…

“Mister Standish?”

“That’s me, ” said Aaron, another little twinge of heartache for the way she had called him Mister…not recognising the possibility there might still be a prospective suitor alive somewhere inside of him.  “I’m lead-off today…”  

“Six o’clock…”

“Triple bypass,” he nodded.

Brianna reached for a folder and handed it back to him with his card, pointed him in the right direction for his last-minute prep and pep talks.  He thanked her by name, so she would know he had noticed, and she wished him good luck…fresh-faced and cheerful…

                                    *                                  *                                  *

He found a seat three or four removed from one of those occupied in the cardiac unit waiting room, put his bag on the chair beside him…still a bit winded even though they’d offered a wheelchair he insisted on walking…

The air was hospital clean and sterile but there was the smell of perspiration anyway… and fear…Aaron looked at the guy three chairs away reading the newspaper…older… heavier…ferocious grey eyebrows over eyes chewing up the words on the page some last-gasp bit of sustenance…a frenzy of intent to keep the terror at bay…

“I’m sure you’re gonna be all right,” he said, as kindly as possible…and realised he was calm and totally unafraid himself …somehow…and he should try to share some of it…

The older man looked up…angry as well as scared…

Aaron said,” Really…they’re all very good here.  Who’ve you got?”

“Andrews.”

“He’s doing me in a half hour,” Aaron laughed. “He should be in the groove by the time he gets t’you.”

“He’s a prick.”

“Well he does have a pretty good opinion of himself, but I hear he’s best of the bunch… except for his taste in music…”

“Huh?”

Aaron tried to explain. “You got the whole prep talk, right?  This is what we’re gonna do…this is how long it’s gonna take…blah blah blah…?”

“Yeah…I told him I been smokin’ since I was twelve and he says t’me I better quit or I can find me another fuckin’ doctor…”

“I sort of got that too…but when he was done he wanted t’know if I had any questions, so I said I had one and it was really important…”

“Yeah…so what happened?”

“I told him I needed to know if he knew who the lead singer for Jefferson Airplane was. He said Stevie Nicks.  I said Wrong!…he was gonna have t’find me somebody else t’do my surgery.”

“What’d that have t’do with it…?”

“Absolutely nothing. He looked at me like I’d lost my mind.”

The old guy laughed…finally…coughed a smoker’s cough into his fist.

“Well he’s still a prick…not as bad as these fuckin’ terrorists…or the bastards runnin’ this country…but almost…”

He offered the other hand…introduced himself as Joe Pantiglione…plumber’s union this number and that…

“My daughter was supposed t’meet me here but she’s late as usual…”

“Not married?”

“She died two years ago. Cancer.  How ’bout you?

Aaron shook his head ruefully.  “Nope. Don’t know how I managed it…”

“So you got anybody t’look after you when you get out…?”

Aaron shook his head again.  “I’m on my own…”

Pantiglione looked at him as if he’d lost his mind.  Aaron shrugged.

“I’ll just have t’go slow for a while…”

The nurse at the desk called his name and he stood up. He and Joe shook hands again.

Joe said Good luck maybe I’ll see ya around and Aaron leaned over, patted him on his knee and told him to count on it.

                                    *                                  *                                  *

Sharon was all business as she led him down a corridor, indicated a curtained cubbie where he could change into the gown and we can get you something for your feet if you didn’t bring anything…the floors…germs…Aaron said thanks he was good. 

“Nothing to eat?”

“Not since yesterday afternoon.”

“So I just have to check all this before we get you ready to go…your wife is Sandra…  daughter is Haley…”

Stocky and all business in her floral scrubs Sharon rattled off telephone numbers and addresses and Aaron smiled and nodded it was all the same information he’d given them at the start…no changes…when she was gone he slipped out of his clothing and into one gown facing front and another one facing back…

No hurry now…in the pipeline…he stuffed all of his clothing into his carry bag…kept the glass vial from his pants pocket…back out into the corridor for a moment he found a water fountain and quickly swallowed the three tabs of lysergic acid…took the empty vial and his wallet and his bag and walked barefoot back to the trash chute he had passed on his way down the hall…sat in another small waiting room…

Waiting…hoping the acid wouldn’t kick in too soon…so tired…thinking…

Of the girl he didn’t marry.  The daughter he never had. The Battle of Chicago…and how they had somehow managed to let things go so badly that after all this time gone it was worse then ever…the greed…the corruption…the hatred…the lies now as good a currency as the Truth had ever been and the myth of America…land of the free and home of the brave…where anyone…regardless of race creed or colour…could grow up to be somebody…just one more lie told over and over and over until it might as well be the Truth…   

                                    *                                  *                                  *

Kenzie came for him.  Something tall and willowy with long brown hair and beautiful dark brown eyes that were warmer and more lovely than anything Aaron had ever seen in all the days that had come and gone since Sandra had gone…

Her voice was soft and reassuring not realising he wasn’t afraid she went on about silly things trying to make him feel more at ease…promising he’d be just fine…he said:

“Are you going to be here the whole time, Kenzie?

She nodded.  “Andrews like to have newbies around so he can show off.  He’s good though…you don’t have to worry…”

 “Can I ask a favour…a big one…?”

“Sure of course you can, Mister Standish.”

“Would it be all right if I pretended it was you who was holding my heart?”

They stopped right in the doorway of the operating theatre.  He could hear them all inside checking this and checking that.  Andrews was on his way they only had a few more minutes…

Kenzie tilted her head to one side and Aaron watched sterile fluorescent light coming alive in the curls and the waves of her hair…the sweet curve of her lips and the cinnamon spice on her breath…

 “And no matter what happens…no matter what…don’t freak out it will be okay.”

She nodded…not understanding…and they went inside she helped him up onto the table gently tied his left arm down…the one where they would harvest the artery for the bypasses…stood close by as the anesthetist prepped his other arm they stretched him out like Christ on a fucking cross and she stood close by not understanding…her hair trapped in a surgical cap…her lips and the touch of her breath behind a mask…he heard the arrival of his surgeon…felt the sting of a needle in his right arm and dutifully began to count backwards from one hundred…felt the chill and the darkness traveling up his arm into his brain…

And somewhere between the worlds he knew there had been a passage of Time…that pale ghostlike figures stood over him with scalpels and clamps and sponges and no one of them knew he was still there…watching and waiting…

He opened his eyes.

She stood over him…he watched shock and horror pass through her…shook his head ever so slightly…

It’s okay Kenzie…it’s okay…

Watched amazement and then calm in her wondrous sweet brown eyes…he could feel the acid in his blood expanding…every cell in his body disconnecting…slowly…singing  songs in the key of every colour that had ever been created by whatever it was Man had intended God to be…

He tried to smile at her around the tube in his mouth…thought:

Thank you…thank you so much…

And the deep deep brown of her eyes seemed to melt into the halo around her silhouette, cold white light that had turned to gold and rainbows…he closed his eyes again…felt something soft and gentle lift him up and carry him away. 

Categories: Fiction

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