I’d been staring at the flaking yellowed plaster on the ceiling, avoiding eye contact with my parents. They stood beside the bed. Dad gripped the metal rail with one hand and rubbed his chin thoughtfully with the other. He leaned over slightly, trying to look casual. He nodded to nothing in particular and occasionally paused to offer a sympathetic smile. Mom was intermittently patting my hand and squeezing it. She was humming the theme of Matlock, something of a nervous tick.
“Gah!” I sat up abruptly. Mom squeezed my hand. The nurse pulled a foot long needle from my arm. The metal skewer glinted in the florescent light, momentarily blinding me. The nurse arched her eyebrows with amusement and roughly patted the injection site.
“Aw, poor baby,” she said, soaking a rag with the pint of blood that was geysering from my punctured skin. “I thought you were a big tough guy.”
“I am,” I said. My voice cracked. “I was just…surprised, is all.”
The nurse cackled to herself. She tossed the mammoth syringe into a barrel of other used weaponry and left the room, presumably to find someone who could appreciate a little sadism. Or whose parents weren’t watching.
“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” My dad was holding onto the rail with both hands now and leaning forward. He looked like he was stretching for a big run.
“Nah.” I was rubbing my arm to numbness. “Not bad.”
“Well, don’t you worry,” mom said, holding my hand between both of hers. “It’s going to be just fine. Right, Peter?”
Dad was still standing in his pre-race position. He stared at me thoughtfully.
“Peter. Right?” Her grip on my hand tightened. She glowered at him, her head cocked and jaw set, psychically wringing an agreement from his lips. Apparently he’d forgotten his lines.
“Right,” he said finally. “Absolutely. A-Ok. Righty-o. Ha-ha. Magnifico.” He said it like an Italian chef who’d just created his masterpiece, bringing his fingers to his lips and throwing his hand to the gods of creativity. “Be outta here in no time.”
I sunk back into the bed and felt the starchy sheets scratching at my skin. The antiseptic smell of the room made me dizzy. The heart monitor beside the bed seemed to beep a little too briskly. The more I listened to it, the quicker it got.
‘Breathe,’ I thought. ‘Calm yourself. Zen. It’s all magnifico—Mag-KNEE-FEE-co—Italians—pizza—man I’m hungry—aren’t they supposed to give me Jell-O or something? Where’s my damn Jell-O?’
I quickly reprimanded myself. ‘Calm, remember. Easy. Everything is going to be—’
I looked at mom. She was staring wistfully at me. She masked her watery eyes with a yawn, rubbing the tears away. She started to hum again.
Dad stood with his arms crossed and his back stiff. He was looking out the window, at the infinite expanse of a world that had suddenly slipped out of my reach. His only son, the heir to his kingdom, cut down in his youth. A tragic tale. He slowly turned around and caught my eye. He forced a smile and nodded again. ‘Yeah, you’re screwed,’ he was thinking.
“Alrighty folks!” A boisterous doctor rushed into the room. The buttons of his white lab coat had given up their fight with his belly and the coat hung open. A mustard stain accented the collar. “How we doing in here?”
Mom grabbed her husband’s arm with one hand, and mine with the other. “We’re doing ok,” she said. It sounded more like a question.
“Excellent. That’s a good start.” The doctor looked around, patting his coat, searching for something. “Where’s that…ah-a.” He walked back to the door and pulled my chart from the plastic cubby. “Now let’s just see…alright, alright…” He stared down at the chart and walked back over beside the bed.
“Well, Mr. Stewart, it looks like you’re—” He tripped on a cord and stumbled, sending the chart scattering across the floor. The sensor attached to the cord ripped from my chest. The heart monitor flatlined. Mom’s sudden shriek briefly eclipsed the piercing, steady tone of the machine.
The doctor quickly crawled across the floor, crab-like, picking up the papers. “Whoa-ho! Sorry!” he said, snatching at each piece. “Excuse me! So sorry!”
The sadistic nurse charged into the room. She stood at the door, wild-eyed, her back rigid and legs apart, ready for a scrap. She looked down at the frantic doctor and my pale mother and my red-faced father and then at me, obviously still alive. Relaxing—and slightly disappointed—she walked over and muted the machine.
“You giving the doc a hard time?” she asked, slapping the monitor patch back on my chest. She looked at the doctor getting up off the floor, and then eyed me suspiciously.
“No no, nurse,” the doctor said, straightening his coat. He cleared his throat. “Entirely my fault.”
The nurse continued to look at me. She pursed her lips in consideration. “Alright,” she said hesitantly. She started to walk to the door but stopped beside the doctor. She leaned into him, confidentially, and looked back at me. “If he gives you any trouble, you let me know, Doctor.” The doctor laughed uneasily. Passing through the door, the nurse said, over her shoulder, “By the way, tough guy here doesn’t like needles.”
“Well!” the doctor said, as if he’d just been let in on a wonderful joke. “You’re going to love them soon enough.” He chuckled and then caught himself. He rubbed his upper lip and hid his amusement.
I clutched at the sandpaper-like sheets. The heart monitor was picking up speed again. Mom was cutting off the circulation in my wrist.
“For crying out loud, man,” dad said, making a sudden lunge for the doctor. “What’s wrong with him?”
The doctor stammered backward and raised the chart in front of him, hoping it might deflect a fist.
“Sir! Please!” He cringed and braced himself for the worst.
Dad stopped short. He looked at the doctor, his eyes wide and mouth hanging open, expectantly. “Well?”
The doctor straightened himself and smoothed out his coat. “Your son is di— ”
‘Oh God! I’m going to die!’
Dad closed his mouth and relaxed his stance. Mom looked at me and then at the doctor and then at me again. She let go of my arm. The blood rushed back, erasing the white outlines of her fingers.
I stared at them, uncomprehending, looking for some sign of what that meant.
“What?” They were all looking at me. I couldn’t decide if they were quietly saying their goodbyes or working out the logistics of my funeral. “What does that mean?”
My mom leaned over and hugged me. “You’re not getting any Jell-O.”
Kyle Stewart currently lives in Surrey, BC, where he is finishing his B.A. in English at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
Volunteers for Issue 8
For copy-editing this issue of MTLS thanks:
- Amanda Tripp
- Carmel Purkis
- Rosel Kim
- Julia Cooper
- Lequanne Collins-Bacchus
MTLS is grateful to Jean-Pierre Houde for his hard work on web management.