<--Uptime | Park Ethereal | Downtime-->
On The Wrack
Park Ethereal - Chapter 5
I had the sudden feeling, as I approached the bolthole, that maybe the reason I kept ending up in the tunnels was so that someone could strike the sets and prepare for the next act. The thought was enough to drive me to sudden leaps around corners, hoping perhaps that I would flush a startled stagehand who would jerk their head up in sudden guilty terror and drop the scenery and I would stand triumphant as the tunnels crashed and roared around me until nothing was left but the stage, lit from the footlights throwing great wavering shadows against the back drop.
The bolthole, when I reached it, was empty of all save the rucksack. I placed my hand on it, momentarily, realizing how much of a landmark the rucksack had become. Here stand I. No less rooted to my time as my space by the presence of a bit of nylon and aluminum and fiber.
I tried to sleep, but it wouldn't come. Frightened by the crash and mutterings of the shift crew, no doubt. Tossing (which isn't very comfortable on a concrete floor) I tried to tease it into existence, but it wasn't having any. Finally, frustrated, I made my way upstairs to street level. Letting the access door slam closed behind me, I looked up at the chill night stars and walked as purposefully as I was able towards Madison.
Madison flowed downtown in a smooth chute, the currents of normalcy pressing me on. In the thirty minutes it took to walk slowly to the park, I drank in the people I passed, the cars that drove by, the occasional rushing mutter of the jetliner overhead and once the stuttering call of a helicopter far above and several blocks over.
The bench was still there, which was a relief. I stayed on the east side of the avenue, and walked up to the diagram of...I was surprised to note that I had been wrong. The word AUSCHWITZ was carved somberly along the tilted edge of the diagram. I leaned as far over the limestone (marble?) barrier to run my hands across the rooftops of the little camp. I wondered if anyone who had been there had ever had the feeling that someone was watching from far above and future-distant? Probably, but more likely in the abstract than the definitive. The miniature buildings felt like no more than small lumps of stone beneath my fingertips. I leaned back, slowly, and read the inscription which told me that indifference to injustice is the gateway to hell. Or words to that effect. I couldn't see through the sudden tears, tears not for the camp which would have been okay, but (guiltily) tears for Ellyn. I knew, of course, that she was dead; I suppose I had known it all along, really, since not finding her in the phone book. Denial is an important survival tool on the street.
Turning, I crossed the avenue and took up station on the bench. Folks passed me by, and by, and by and by I fell asleep in the cold.
* * *
Shivering, I opened my eyes and breathed in a breath of achingly cold air. Jumping up as best as I was able, I felt my bowels go watery as I stood up, and was dismayed to recognize the first symptoms of generic nasty illness. How much of an inconvenience this would be if I could just stay in bed; here, of course, staying in bed meant freezing. I waved my arms and generally made a lot of excess motions meant to move my blood and get the metabolic furnaces going. It must have worked; I didn't freeze.
I realized somewhat cheerfully that not only did I not know what day it was, I truly didn't care. The feeling was vastly liberating, and for a moment I just giggled at the thought that it was indeed some day of the week and possibly for the first time in my life my automatic reaction wasn't to try and find out which.
The gnawing in my stomach had gotten worse. I realized through counting on my fingers that it had been some- well, at least two days since I'd last eaten that Mcburger and coffee. Ah, coffee. Ever hear the phrase '...would kill for some coffee?' It's hard to comprehend how close to the truth that phrase can be until you've been several days without a regular sleep pattern due to irregular hours and occasional knocks on the head, and it's roughly the temperature of an Arctic outhouse around you.
I ran uptown in an effort to stay even warmer. This helped serve me a vicious reminder of how terribly out of shape I was; I was wheezing before two blocks had passed by. I kept at it, though, ignoring the diminutive advisor inside who kept telling me that sweating in this temperature was sure to worsen whatever it was I was coming down with. I wondered idly if I would become delirious if I pushed the illness too far; and if so, whether or not I'd be able to tell the difference between dreams and reality. My dreams of late had nothing on my reality, or at least what I hoped/thought was my reality. This, of course, could all be a dream, but that didn't bear thinking about, again. Onward.
The columns of towers of people in orderly procession towards the firmament were a comfort as I ran up Park Avenue South. My head was thrown back, making the procession of buildings silent and stately once I mentally edited out the gaspings of my breath, the slapping of my feet against the ground, and the disconcerting way the buildings had of swaying back and forth as I ran, sometimes not in an even pattern. I kept going through sheer cussedness and didn't stop until I saw the roof of the Station weave silently into view along the bottom edge of my vision. At that point, I stopped and fell to my knees, my hands thrown out to brace myself as I let my head sag between my arms and breathed in great gulps of wonderful air. Oxygen, I decided, should definitely be a controlled substance; look what it was doing to me...I let myself fall to the ground in a half roll that ended with my looking up at the blue sky.
blue sky - blue sky - goodbye this was bad, Pink Floyd wandering throughout my head, and I couldn't imagine a group I'd less like to have wandering around up there in my mental attic. Ah well, nothing for it but to stand...and stand I did, although it wasn't a pretty sight. I fished through my pockets for lack of a better thing to do, and came up empty. That's when the hunger, pushed back from consciousness by dint of forceful exercise, came roaring out of the stall it had been shoved into and threatened in a calm clear concise fashion to eat my brain if I didn't do something about it.
I staggered inside.
It seemed the most likely thing to do, and certainly was better than remaining outside where, I was sure, I would probably sit on the curb and mutter until I froze quite unaesthetically solid.
Through the plyboard walkway that hid the main Waiting Room from sight, into the main lobby which was crowded with commuters (I wondered idly what time/day it was) and right towards the Chemical Bank where the saxophone played. The saxophone...music in my tattered soul, it drew me on, shuffling, staggering, stumbling, at last to burst through the edges of the respectful crowd and fall to my knees once more, this time on cool smooth marble (granite?) in front of the saxophone which continued on its luscious way with a mere nod of its shining bell to acknowledge my presence. I crawled past him, shuddering with fatigue and illness at last, and collapsed against the wall of the bank to curl up in vertical fetal position, hugging my knees to myself.
The sax played.
Music curled up into the air, around him, around me, around the crowd that stood there in rapt attention. I watched the silvers and the blues and the earthen greens and browns and occasional sharp reds weave throughout the constantly shifting parcel of empty space that was defined by its negative as the interior of Grand Central Station. Each step taken, each arm waved, each motion, changing the space, changing the shape of it, and I could hear it changing the music with it as well, a constant human-driven reverb as the mathematics of the echo kept dancing with the constant stream of people. I watched decimal places shift and values slide up and down their parameter ranges, and the saxophone take it all in stride, pushing its sounds out over the crowd, at which point I became concerned that my life was more and more becoming moments of light between periods of complete and utter darkness before I rolled slowly sideways, unable to even remove my arms from my knees to catch myself and winked out-
The light took its time returning. I had enough of a break to watch three or four rather grisly dreams, play an entire game of gin in my head with a shadowy opponent, and feel myself shivering through the soft muzzy wall of consciousness where my body waited. When the light did come back, sliding a chisel under my eyelids and banging sharply down on the free end with a mallet, all I could see was floor.
The range of the floor in question was hard to define. It was indistinct enough to be off the far far distance, but the amount of my vision it wascovering said that if this was the case it would have to be the biggest damn empty floor I'd ever seen, which meant that probably...probably, it wasn't that big, because it wasn't that far away. Blinking twice proved the second hypothesis, as a film of whatever that stuff is that coats your eyes when you've been awake or asleep too long swept aside to show me the fine grained pattern of a very very nearby stone floor.
Stretching, or rather trying to, brought no result but many joints which flatly refused to flex, announcing with little and large alto and bass messages of pain that they were seriously considering becoming entirely dysfunctional, especially if I did something as stupid as stretch.
There was no sax music. I looked up, and there in front of my nose was the saxophone in its case, the top open and the brass shining at me from the velvet bed. I reached out tentatively, to touch it, and felt the icy shock and thrill as my fingertip brushed one of the valves. Rolling weakly over, I surveyed my immediate surroundings. For the most part, they were familiar; Grand Central's main lobby, commuters rushing past, the wall behind me holding up my back and the Chemical Bank, and shuffling across the lobby toward me with two cups in his hands, the owner of the sax with a tired smile on his face which faded to concern as he drew closer and found me awake.
"Son, you look worse'n hammered dung. Swear by my mammy. You oughts to think about spending some more time indoors." The admonition punctuated by the cup, which I reached out a (shaking?) hand to take. I smiled weakly (everything I did seemed to come that way) at him and sat up straighter to drink my (take a sniff; doesn't help, take a sip) coffee.
"Thanks." My voice sounded about as I had expected but without the vitality. "Warm..." was all I could get out as I clutched the cup in both paws. I couldn't get anything else out for a bit, as I sipped at the coffee and felt it burn through my gut. I thought of the molecules inside me trading energy states, reaching equilibrium. There was something kinky about it, when put that way...I smiled at the thought, provoking a cackle and a slap on the knee from my companion.
"Thas' my boy. Smile, son. Keep smilin'. Hold on to it, wrap it 'round, don' let it her go. She's your hope for salvation." He was, obviously, readingmuch more into the smile than I had gotten out of it, but I smiled again, weakly of course, and it seemed to cheer us both up. I watched, snout buried in the cup, as he slowly let himself down to sit against the wall next to me. He was warm, too. He seemed to know it; he sat down tight up against me, and reached over and tilted the coffee cup to make me drink. A nod was his punctuation as I took in some more of the dark bitterness.
I had never thought about bitterness being warm. In all my thoughts on the subject (many of which, I'm sure, I couldn't remember) bitterness was a cold, hard thing, not fluid and warm. I'm sure Columbus was surprised too. Or was it Cortez? Pizarro? I couldn't for the life of me remember.
The old man (he was old, I realized) pulled the sax lovingly from his case and ran his hands over it familiarly. Not even sensuously, just a reminder of a familiar object in a strange time and place. Welcome to the jungle.
The lobby flowed on around us, and I sat there and watched the currents and eddies of the crowd for a while, that particular physics that only works in large masses of people. There was a small knot of what appeared to be students, foreign perhaps, heading for the subways under Lexington bearing huge metal-frame rucksacks. They talked and joked as the went, but I was too far to hear the language. Their pathway took them directly towards the trash can that sits accusingly in the middle of the corridor leading past the Chemical Bank, and their group was dashed against the barrier, flowing around it as a fluid. One of them jostled against an older woman coming the other way, obviously pulled off balance by his rucksack as he skipped around the trash can, one hand on the rim to steady himself. There were murmured apologies, but no real pause, and then the group was gone, and the woman had continued her trip on into the Main Lobby.
She, in turn, brushed someone else, a young girl who appeared to be trying to make her way against traffic towards the Information Booth at the center. There wasn't even any acknowledgment, this time, merely a slight rustle in commuterspace and then the girl was free, heading for the Booth. I watched her jostle someone else, and became lost in the game of watching the endless game of tag that I had found. The imaginary ball, or 'it', passed fromperson to person. I watched it make a complete circuit of the Lobby, involving perhaps twenty or twenty-five players; I didn't keep count.
Ten players more, and it had passed across the room, heading towards the west. I almost lost it out the arches, towards my private maintenance room entrance to Grand Central, before an obviously tipsy player, a man of later years wearing an enormous wool overcoat, stumbled into the path of the current carrier, then managed, with the grace limited to the very young, the very trained, or the very drunk, to reach the side of the lobby nearest me before stopping to lean against the wall to catch his breath.
The game suspended, I turned to my companion, now-empty cup in hand. He looked back, a slightly amused expression on his face, and nodded in approval as I checked what I had been going to say. "Ain't no need, boy."
I had, in fact, been about to thank him. I nodded back. "Can I..." I had to clear my throat, which sounded awful but actually made me feel much better. "Can I ask you a question?"
"May, son. Yes, you may ask me a question." His voice was jazz, the rough and gravel of it the burble of water over pebbles. I could see where it went, before it went through his horn, and the end result was much the same. The warm weight of his voice was settling over me, in a drape of numbness and viscosity, forcing me to speak before I lost the thought or my consciousness...
"Did you find that sax at a bus stop near Sixty-ninth, on Lexington?"
"What?" The question threw him, apparently; it just hadn't been one he'd been waiting for. I repeated it, glad for no apparent reason that I'd been able to perturb him.
"Yeah. " (Yea-uh, two syllables...) "Yeah, I found it next to a bus stop pole on Lexington Avenue. May have been closer to Sixty-Eighth, but how'd you know that?"
"Oh, it's not important, I guess."
"You guess?" That hadn't been what I meant, but I shrugged anyhow. He wasn't satisfied. "Listen to me, son, this is important. It meansthings. You answer me, and answer me right now. How you know where I found that horn?"
The reluctance to tell him the story was natural, I suppose, placed there by our desire not to appear completely detached from reality in front of our fellow man. I told him anyway.
He was quiet, studying his shoes.
I tried to force the story to fit: "Look, I'm really not that well, I probably dreamed the whole thing. I don't really have any idea-"
He cut me off. "Shut up, son. This mean she ain't done with you yet."
I stared at him. "But, but she's dead. I mean, to me, even, I saw her die in the tunnels-"
"Boy, you jes' aren't listening when I talk. What I tell you she is when we first met, hey?"
"Well, the Angel, sure, but..." I paused, ostensibly to sniffle, really to wonder how I'd gotten so confused so fast. "I thought you just called her that."
"It don't matter none what we call her. She's the Angel, sure and enough. She been dead, she been alive, and it don' make no sense to try and figure out when for each. Alls we know is that she's there, and she's always gonna be there, until she's done with you. Me and my horn, that's an easy one, all I needed was somethin' I could do, that I was good at, to fix me up. You, mus' be something else that needs fixin' or she would've been done with you by now. What you got on your plate needs fixin'?"
I laughed. The question was so simply phrased, and I just didn't know where to begin. I ended up telling him about waking up in Central Park, and went on from there. By the time I finished, about fifteen minutes later, he was looking at me with a quiet expression that bespoke of lots of thought, awe, confusion, or maybe a little of each. I waited for him to finish ruminating over all I had told him. Didn't take him long; maybe thirty seconds, I don't know. "Son, there's some powerful changes in your life. Been some, goin' be some. Alls I can tell you is try not to get caught underneath, hear? Make sure you're doing, not watching. Alls a man can hope for is a voice in his destiny, and it sounds like you gots more of a voice than most, so far. Follow her. Listen to her. Watch her. She's for you, now. Ain't many had this long a run, and there's no telling where she goin' take you, but you best hold on with both hands and mebbe two feet fer good luck, 'cause that train ain't makin no stops." He sat back, still staring at me, and I watched his head jar slightly as it hit the wall behind him and his eyes went away from me to stare at the cafe. I didn't speak.
He didn't either. There wasn't much to say to that.
He didn't follow me, and neither did his eyes.
The tunnel enfolded me, and I felt the smell of homecoming force its way up my nostrils with the power and clarity of the memory I no longer had.
I kept walking, this time. I didn't look around me much, except to let the occasional train pass me by. I didn't notice how long it had been until I looked ahead to see faint light, and realized that the Ninety-sixth street egress was just ahead, Park Avenue diving gracefully over the tracks like a river over a branch, flowing away down to either side in a motionless fluid stream of asphalt and steel. There were sounds, out there, sounds of the city, which repelled me. The silence and fragility of Ellyn's New York was calling to me, and I couldn't find it. I couldn't find her. For the life of me, now, I had no feeling of what to do next, and for the first time, I felt that if I wandered I would just end up somewhere far from where I was meant to be.
In the far back reaches of my head, the saxophone played on, flowing down the tunnel in waves of bitter alcohol and the smell of burning wood, and I turned helplessly in disgust back into my dark world, watching over my shoulder as the lights came brighter in the gathering dusk. A sharp sound, a gunshot, the engines, people. Walking, driving, running, living- my worldsplit in a rending blast of light so bright as to be entirely colorless, a physical pain rather than a fine sense, and of vibration shaking bones as with a rhythmic roar a diesel passed me on some mysterious errand out of Grand Central with its lights ablaze and the air horn issuing its operatic information to the night. The train passed. The world shook. The tunnels settled, and the dust that sifted gently down from the ceiling danced a Brownian waltz before laughing and retreating out of the light and into anonymity once more.
The light left the world behind me with an audible slam and I felt the seams give way once more. I was getting better at it, now; I could tell, perhaps one to two microseconds before the actual occurrence, that I'd fallen over the edge once again. It was far too late to do anything about it, of course; the body continued on blindly in midstep, unaware and unreacting as the darkness splashed in from the edges in great sweeping waves of pain and red which for the briefest moment felt as the release one feels as the head is laid to the pillow after too long a day, before laughing and shattering into ninety-five million glass and steel shards which cut the light from the air and left me falling.
Track beds are probably quite painful to fall on. Do you know, I can't remember one of the many times I've done it.
Water dripping. This was new. I'd never remembered anything actually happening in my private interludes. Of course, I thought, you may not remember this later either.
I felt I would, though. The water was dripping from a great height onto a clear dark still pool, which damped the waves from the impacts far too efficiently to be as small as it was. I couldn't see it, really, but I could feel it- the water fell, one small drop elongated, the surface tension of the molecules stretched as the perfect globe of physics was smashed along its axis by air, more physics pressing it out into a hemispherical capped cone - it struck; the crown of droplets rising perhaps six inches in flutteringly quick motion before slowly settling back into the greater mass of fluid. Another fell. I watched in silence, reduced by my life and times into a mere observer of my experience - I hoped I was learning something. Teachers kept telling me that. Learn something from the experience. Parents. Parents- the white slid down again in a wash of pain, forcing me to wince and bring my hands to my face. I rubbed them over my cheeks and eyes once, twice, then looked up. The water was still there, and moreover, I could smell it, as well...and feel stone underneath my knees. I was kneeling. I looked up.
Far above, the light waited, a grey dim beacon cut across by crosshatching. I watched as the rain came through the grating and fell around me, onto smooth concrete that was grey as well, and wet - the pool was gone. I looked for it, within, but found no trace, and twisted on my knees to see the tunnels behind me and I cautiously stuck my head around the corner of the alcove in which I was kneeling to see that no trains were coming. None were; I scuttled off into the darkness with my head doing its level best to completely disintegrate into pieces of bloody flesh and scraps of brains as the pounding stressed the seams at my temples.
There was a character waiting in the script. It was getting to the point where I could almost see the lines, written carefully in perfect calligraphy across the parchment pages of the leatherbound folder, floating in front of my face and taunting me by refusing to open more than a page in advance. There was someone waiting, there, someone who had finished their costume changes and was waiting breathlessly in the wings for me to finish my scene so they could dash on into the glare and gently push the story...Then I knew, and staggered off downtown towards the Station, my guts sloshing disturbingly as my sinuses filled and my joints began to complain in syncopation.
The Station waited impassively, looking over my head as I approached. I ignored it as well, and trudged through the lobby to the exit and from there on down Park. The blocks went slowly, this time, and I stopped once to kneel at a wall as my stomach wrung itself out, the pain a disappointment that there was nothing left to expel. I felt my muscles strain, entirely out of my control, in a futile effort to rid my body of whatever it had decided was poisoning it, but nothing came except sour bile, which spattered the wall and seared my throat. I spat, endlessly, until my mouth was too dry to taste, then pulled my way back to my feet and continued on downtown. I don't know what time it was when I arrived at the bench. I sat down, collapsing into a heap of disjointed limbs, and focused my will on not freezing. I pictured my heart pumping, and my lungs working, and mentally drew the blood in from my extremities in an effort to triage the situation. A buzzing sound had started in my temples, and I looked up from my interior struggle to notice without much interest that the world had changed axes, and that I was looking out across pavement which was running parallel to my nose. The bench was nowhere to be seen; all that passed my vision were occasional hurrying feet and the bottoms of cars and buses as they moved up Madison. I tried with actual passion to move my head and lift myself, but there simply were no resources to do so.
I could feel my right side freezing slowly.
One tear, perhaps, made its way down past my nose, stuffing my sinuses even further. Mucus ran down my face as I breathed raggedly in through my mouth, and Jethro Tull mocked me in my head-
Sitting on a park bench
Try as I might, I couldn't get my hands out of my pockets.
Eyeing little girls with bad intent
Ah, thank god for little girls, please, let one of them stop-
Snot is running down his nose
...and dripping on the pavement now, I could tell as smaller and smaller areas of my body occupied more and more of my limited attention.
Greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes
That's right, Ian, except that I can't get my bloody hands to work, so how could I even if I wanted to-
Aqualung. The sound reflects the filth, somehow, and the lack of interest. I wiped my nose against the pavement, noticing with an internal laugh how my standards had fallen. There were shoes near me.
That was all I could tell, really, and I coughed rackingly as I tried to lift my head and listen past the buzzing which had taken my hearing with it. My head was lifted towards the sky, the light washing across my retinas. My eyes closed of their own volition, and I felt the blackness swooping past me with its inky laugh. Its hands extended, it brushed them across my forearms, and I felt the touch become a pull as I struggled to hear -
Good Christ, me boy, what the hell're ye up to? Come on, lad, answer me, will ye?
I tried to laugh through lips suddenly puffed. The script floated another page past, and Kelly flew from the wings to catch me as I crumbled in front of the footlights. Ink swam up my nose and drowned my eyes.
There were no sounds, this time, even though I waited for the water to return. There was just blackness, until the sudden acrid smell and light that bounced my eyelids open. I felt nothing good; pains in my chest, my joints, full sinuses, a cough that as I thought of it lunged forward from where it had been waiting and convulsed my protesting joints as I shook. Hands held me down, and I grabbed weakly for them, but they batted mine aside and I became aware of motion as the lights wavered momentarily. I forced my eyes to focus, and saw a ceiling sliding past, which led me to turn my head past the limit of its traverse - perhaps five degrees to the right - and see the faces there. Most were looking away from me, towards our line of travel, but one was looking down. It had red hair and a worried expression. It said something, but I couldn't make it out, and I reached a hand up to feel it clasped tightly.
"Kelly?" The word came out sounding nothing like I envisioned it would, but the hand gripped tighter, another pressed my head gently back to the pillow and the warmth of it brought the curtains crashing down again.
I awoke, the next time, in a bed, feeling actually warm. The shock was such that I was reluctant to open my eyes, but after several minutes I managed to do so and found myself in a spartan room under many blankets with curtains around me. This translated quickly to 'hospital' and I smiled weakly in pride at the quick answer.
All hospitals that I have had the displeasure to be in have sported identical drab decor from which, I suppose, bloodstains and other effluvia may be easily washed. My sight was wavery, and the rectangle of the ceiling fluorescent panel rippled noticeably in the white paneling which cradled it, waiting to drop it with loving precision onto my head. I resisted the urge to put the pillow over my face, more through inability to move my limbs than willpower.
A face swam above me.
I felt I should know it, but the name eluded me. I wasn't sure if I should believe the face was there; what with rippling light panels and stealth grey and pale blue decor it would be hard for me to prove conclusively that there was anyone in the room. I wondered idly if it would make any difference if I was feeling well.
Hands brushed my lips, and they were warm. I forced my hand out from beneath the blanket and scrubbed my face, dislodging the worst of the gunk from my eyes. There was no mistaking the blond hair, its ellipse unaffected by the beret which perched atop Ellyn's head with a rakish sort of smug aplomb. I struggled to sit up, but to no avail. Ellyn put her finger to her lips, waiting until I acquiesced before gently pressing me back into the bed. I reached for her hand, finally, but before I could capture it in mine she smiled (smiled! Wasn't that how I'd gotten in to all of this in the first place?) and slipped out of my field of view. Through main force I rolled over slightly, and saw her holding the door itself, still looking back into the room at me. He expression held a longing, a woman's professional please-follow-me. I swung my legs over the edge of the gurney I was on and was completely unsurprised that they stubbornly refused to pay any attention to me, dangling over the edge of the sheets. I dropped to the floor, the cold shock of the linoleum bringing the realization that I had some sensation in my toes.
Recovering and padding across the floor, I reached the door in time to grasp it tightly with my eyes closed in a silent ten-second struggle with gravity. I won, barely, and stepped outside. There was no one there, and no sound save a faint hiss of static from what must be a public address system; it appeared to be coming from the ceiling.
I looked left, then right. The corridor was completely empty of human life. Various bits of medical equipment were stacked along the walls, carts laden with the various and sundry hundred bits of plastic and metal and chemistry with which doctors ply their trade. IV stands hung their heads quietly, their shadows looking even gloomier. Four gurneys, two with their rails down, two which - a-ha - appeared to be occupied. The building rumbled slightly in its structure, a whisper of a deep singing bass note passing through my feet.
I stepped to the nearer occupied gurney in curiosity, only to find the sheet pulled up over both ends of the form beneath. Having seen far too much television not to know what that meant, I recoiled, coughing as my startled reaction caused me to draw in too much overly conditioned air. I held one hand against the wall for a moment, until the spasm passed, and then cleared my throat and spat in a medical hazardous waste container squatting near my door.
Power of the line and the script moved my hand, I suppose; I certainly didn't want to see under those sheets. I watched, fascinated, as my fingers clutched the edges and my wrists and forearms drew back in perfect ballet, all beyond my control. Although I did my best not to look, it was no use, and the dark drying blood staining the blond hair did nothing to hide the face, composed and looking almost at peace, a shattered arm still draped across the chest where it had fallen after protecting the head. I screamed in pure reaction and fear, and fell against the nearest object, which happened to be an IV stand. In flight, it smashed against a pharmacy cart and plastic bottles and medication sprayed around me as I crashed to the floor with my feet sliding out from beneath me across the suddenly lethal linoleum.
I lay on the cold surface, trying principally to head off the next coughing jag that was peering intently around the corner, waiting for me to draw too deep a breath. I raised my head (gently, slowly) to watch the gurney above me throb slightly in time with my pulse. To knees, yes; then one leg under, followed by the second. Grab the rails, pull, and we're upright. Barely. The silvery tubes sucked kinetics from my hands, precious heat flowing intothe metal. I leaned over and examined the face carefully, my reaction all used up; it was indeed Ellyn. There was a massive bar of bruising across her face, no doubt where her arm had hit it, but her features were otherwise undamaged, and her open eyes stared past me in peaceful contemplation. There was a fleck of blood just above her right eye, and slowly I brushed it away, the dried spot flaking off at my touch. Her flesh was chill, the gurney having worked its thermodynamic miracle on her as well.
For a brief moment, I clung to the metal tightly, hating it for still being cold; surely Ellyn could have in dying warmed it. The cruelty of its chill forced tears from me, slapping wetly on the nearer railing which drank their warmth implacably. The impersonal nature of the theft was comforting, though; I sniffled, and turned my attention back to Ellyn's face. Impulsively grasping the hand that showed, I reached beneath the blanket for the other, and the slightly raspy touch of felt thrilled my hand, urging me to turn the blanket back. I flipped it up from her side, and the beret greeted me as an old friend, still clutched tightly in her left hand. I uncurled her fingers enough to pull it from her grasp, and clutched it to my face where my tears and their warmth might remain, preserved, nestling amidst the Chanel rather than rushing futilely into the building's structure.
The felt was comforting, and I held it to my eyes while I cried for several seconds. Lowering it, I looked down into a stranger's face, and was jostled as three attendings rushed by with another gurney. Long past surprise, now, on into steady acceptance which tends to be written as resignation. I pulled the blanket over the ancient gentleman before me before turning to reenter my room. The bed was as I had left it, and I climbed in carefully, making sure not to lose my grip on the beret which was crumpled in my right hand. Once the blankets had closed me in, I shrank beneath them in an attempt to conserve warmth, pressing the black circle against my side. Despite the inevitable hospital drone of voices, machines and buildings, sleep reached out to press me against its own a moment later.
The light which forced its way onto the sandpapered salty spheroids of my eyes was a wan one, dimmed into weak helpless murkiness by the atmosphere of the hospital. I rolled over to my right and coughed instantly at the searing pain in my chest. A terrible clot of waste came up with the cough, not, I realized sadly, from my gullet but from my lungs. Pneumonia. Wonderful. I lay out as flat and still as possible and waited for the world to focus.
When it did so a few moments later, there was a grinning face beside the bed, and I had an overpowering desire to cry which was suppressed mostly by the pain.
"Kelly." A rasp, really, in classic whispering harmony.
"Well then me boy." The smile grew a bit wider, and he held out a hand above my right side. Barely able, I clasped it. "'Twas a near thing, don't you think? Welcome to Lenox Hill Hospital, you silly sod, and don't you be leavin' anytime soon."
Grinning was unavoidable; the man was infectious. I did so and drew back from the laugh at the threats muttered from deep within my chest by both lungs. As I took stock, I realized with a sudden shock that there was something gone from me, and I felt beneath the blankets in anxious apprehension. This drew concern from my observer, who frowned and cocked his head in inquiry.
"Kelly, have you seen a beret anywhere in here? Black, felt, fairly new? I had it on me before I fell asleep."
"No I haven't. I came in with you, and you surely didn't have anything like that on you then. Although I do have this." He reached into his jacket and dropped a beret on my blanket. Letting loose his hand, I grabbed at it. It was old, and cracked, and the letters were still legible. I raised my eyes to him.
"Where'd you get this?"
"You left it. That time at me flat. I meant to tell you what I'd found, but I didn't see you until...well." His accent was wavering again, I noticed. I felt flattered. "I'd written meself a note-"
"On a matchbook. An NYPD matchbook." His face creased. "Yes. I didn't give it to you though, did I? It's still on me desk at the station somewhere."
I drew the matchbook from my pocket and held it out. He took it, surprised. "Where'd you get this? Were you there-"
"No." I made apologetic motions for cutting him off, which turned into a 'hold on' wave as I coughed furiously. When they subsided, I told him where I'd found the matches. Although not how. He looked thoughtful, and waited patiently. I didn't have anything else to say and the moment, however, and looked at the window. Not much was visible except the inevitable neighboring buildings. "Her name is Ellyn Santano. All I know of her that I can tell you is that she died in the tunnels beneath Park Avenue sometime years ago. She was being chased by someone while looking for this-" -I flipped the beret- "-and they were both hit by a commuter rail and killed."
Kelly watched me for a moment. "Yep. That's the scoop. Took me a few hours and favors to track it down. How do you know all that?"
I thought about it. "Kelly, I can't tell you yet." He looked disappointed but hid it gamely. "I'm sorry. Really. But you'd probably have them come move me somewhere softer and more secure. I-" Another coughing fit. "I want to figure out what's going on, is all. Then I can." A sudden thought hit me, and I laughed as my fantasies played themselves out. I was holding the aged beret. The other was gone. Never in the same place twice. Had anything been, so far? I couldn't remember anything...no, wait. I was. I was there. I was there as the tunnel dweller, and I was there as me. Both times, I was there.
That meant something, but damned if I had any idea what.
"Kelly, do you know the name of the man who died with Ellyn? All I know about him is that he lived in the tunnels."
"Just his name. Umm..." He tilted his head back in thought. I wondered if the purpose of that was to increase blood flow to certain areas of the brain. Maybe that's where memory is. Come to think of it, the hippocampus is in the back, right? Maybe it sloshes the RNA in the hippocampal fluid enough to click into place. Kelly's eyes focused just at the end of my private theory session. Disappointment rode his gaze. "No. Sorry. I may have it on me desk. I'll have to look and let you know."
I nodded my thanks, then lay back on the pillow. Another thought struck me and I turned my head again. "Kelly, what the hell am I doing in a room?" I was, in fact, in a semi-private room. The other bed was by chance empty, but I wasn't in a stacked emergency room which is where folk of my standing usually end up in emergency services. The quick look right surprised a look of guilt on the other's face. "Kelly, what did you do?"
"I was goin' ta tell ye, really. 'twouldn't have been much longer."
"Well, ye might want to remember that yer me brother. Dennis Kelly, in fact. If ye were ta let on that ye don't know yer name, the insurance folk would get all hot an' bothered, and there'd be a stack of paperwork the size of yer carcass with a fraud summons at the bottom."
I looked at him expressionlessly.
"I couldn't leave ye in the street, man! And...and..." he ran down, looking confused. His eyes wandered. I made an intuitive leap.
"It was right that I be in this room, wasn't it?" He turned to me with the surprise flowing across his features.
"That's exactly it! I couldn't have told ye, I'd feel too strange, but that's it exactly. Hey, what the hell is goin' on here? Don't be brushin' me off again, me boy. Talk to me, hey?"
"Kelly, I can't. You're in the script. If I show you what's going on, the story will fall apart."
"Are ye writin' this, readin' it or are ye a character yer own fool self?"
"I don't really know, yet. That's why I can't tell you."
There was a silence for a time. Then Kelly sighed and picked up his hat which was on the chair next to his. It was his blue hat, and I realized with aslight shock that I hadn't noticed he was in uniform. "Well, I'm off about me rounds. I'll be back off shift. Maybe I'll bring the wife."
I looked up at him seriously. "Only if you think she's in the script, Kelly. Remember, from now on. Don't break the script." The vehemence of my warning surprised him; it sure as hell startled the shit out of me. We looked at each other in surprise and speculation, then he grinned, patted my shoulder and swung out, Kelly exiting the room and the Beat Cop swinging down the corridor. A nurse slipped in to replace him, and she was pretty, but she was holding a tray which was small and rectangular. Although I couldn't see into it, I knew it had a hypodermic needle in it, and I hated the very thought. I smiled weakly at her. She smiled perfunctorily at me, lifted my rather limp arm in order to swab the inside of my elbow. I sighed, and waited for the stick.
When she was finished, she efficiently slapped a Band-Aid over the wound and marched out, closing the door behind her. The hum of the fluorescent became more audible in the sudden quiet of the room, sixty cycles of schizophrenia, electrons rushing hither and yon through the ballast and elements, jumping shells, crying photons in their long fall back to rest. As I listened, the hum grew louder, perhaps, the cries of loss running and smearing into a long drawn-out wail. It was too much to bear, really, and I slowly hunched fetal in the covers, drawing my hands up over my ears and having time to notice how sweaty and shaky they were before coughing again and having it go on and on and on into the black.
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