AB Negative, the second rarest blood type, which enough well-intentioned citizens of Colorado had donated to bring him from the brink of death. Makeshift bandages stemmed the flow enough for one of the many annoyingly early morning cyclists to call 911.
Sterile Mercury gas tube lights, bright and artificial hummed in the background; illuminated the sanitary curtained cell he woke to with a sense of regret.
Intravenous drip flowing through a thin needle into his hand on one side; black-red tube flowing into the other. Heart rate monitor forming peaks and valleys, covered in sheets laundered white from the fluids of many past patients both alive and dead; covering him for warmth, the clinical smell of disinfectant lingering slightly in a morning fresh obfuscation of unwanted life.
Stomach muscles flexed, igniting sharp pain, his fingers explored the stitched area on his side through the garish hospital gown; faded blue with white dots. He counted six in front, four in back. His forearm was similarly sutured, with a number of stitches gracing the back end along the bone.
There is and understanding that hospitals must maintain a sanitary environment, but he often wondered why a more terracosmic approach to healing and could not be made.
Why must people die with blaring white uncaring lights on their face; stainless steel bars framing them like a cradle in the moments before they become a corpse? Ceiling tiles, fiberglass rectangular monstrosities; off white and pitted like slabs of bleached bone, while the corner mounted flat screen television screen spewed forth an endless deluge of late night infomercials. Decent people didn’t deserve to die like this.
He imagined the ritualistic ceremonies of the dying performed by the early ancestors of humanity. Villages gathering in a field to pay respects to the passing; imploring spirits to care for them in the afterlife. The sounds of nature present amongst the loving eyes of all who understood. Scent of grass and wildflowers, pine boughs burning in a pyramid of flame, sweat and tears for those who toiled and mourned what was to come while clouds drifted with occasional peals of distant thunder into whatever lay beyond, like gods weighing the blessed and damned alike.
If at night – no sodium street lamps would poison the sky – would not hinder the wonder of millions and millions of stars, cascades of metals and rock igniting in the entry of the atmosphere to wish upon; or hide the Aurora Borealis.
He closed his eyes, letting his imagination fly to that place, only to be brought back by the incessant hum of the industrial lighting, the beep of the heart monitor someone felt necessary to leave on for him to hear while unconscious.
He would not die today. He was not in ICU; too little privacy and not enough tubes. He closed his eyes to the environment, wondering if the recovery of his wounds was making him feel so hot and sweaty, sick to his stomach. The door opened, a squeak with a change of pressure that made the curtain sway with the rattle of plastic clips resting in the metal track of the ceiling.
Light yet purposeful footsteps (sneakers on linoleum) rounded the curtain. Clipboard unhooked from next to the bed, pen scratching paper. She, it was undoubtedly a she, lifted the side of his gown, touching around the stiches, checking the wound.
He was content to let the examination go by without her being aware of his consciousness, but curiosity of his condition got the best of him.
“How bad was it?” He asked as he opened his eyes.
She started at the unexpected sound of his voice, jumping slightly; conversely, he was confused and surprised to find that he recognized this woman. Avè.
“Well, considering you’ve been here for four days unconscious, I’d say pretty bad.” she responded, regaining her composure.
Everything looked fuzzy and the growing headache was not helping. He took a moment to bring his mind in accord.
“Well, I should probably let the nurse talk to you about your medical condition, but I’m glad I was here when you woke up. You were stabbed and lost a lot of blood, but I’m sure you knew that.”
“I have a headache.”
“I’ll get the nurse, they’ve been wanting you to come out to ask you some questions. You’ll be ok though and I’ll come back and talk to you, alright?”
He shook his assent, immediately regretting it. Holding his hands to his temples, he could feel beaded sweat from what was undoubtedly a fever, though his body felt and cold.
A few minutes after Avè left, a nurse and a doctor entered. The nurse picked up his chart and began writing down his vitals from the machine. The doctor came to the bedside and smiled the way doctors do when attempting to assuage whatever fears a person has over what they’re about to be told. She greeted him, asked him how he was feeling, and a few other questions before giving him the rundown. Apparently, he had been a Jon Doe, owing to his wallet being taken in the attack. No prints registered in the police database. Almost like he didn’t exist.
He suffered several deep cuts and a stab to the abdomen resulting in severe blood loss. He had other wounds that indicated he had been attacked recently as well. An injury on his thumb, which included a cracked knuckle, a tear on his neck, scratches on his back and second degree burns on his chest, along with bruising in other areas and a laceration on his head, a result of blunt force trauma. Several of his ribs were cracked.
He was treated with an antibiotic – Keflex, a routinely common practice to prevent infection, though he reacted to it adversely. To his knowledge, he had never been administered Keflex, so he had no idea he was allergic to it. Apparently, he was suffering from some form of infection, but they were hesitant to attempt to treat him with antibiotics again, since the first dose had nearly killed him.
“We’ve been filtering your blood with transfusions to keep the infection at bay.”
A police officer appeared from around the curtain with Avè in tow.
He lay in the bed observing the quartet in the room. Doctor, Nurse, Police officer and Trauma Councilor.
The nurse sat with his back to the group, monitoring the devices, writing things down with all the bedside manner of a brick. For a Nurse, the man didn’t seem to be in very good shape, a rotund gut rested on skinny thighs covered in green scrubs that did nothing but accentuate his belly in some mocking simulacrum of pregnancy. Smiling doctor, white coat buttoned down and adorned with an ID tag and card with magnetic strip. Brown hair, cut short and worn styled like a business woman, her aged smile held practicality and warmth, with eyes that not quite but closely mirrored his own. Police Officer. American police officers always had a way of making him feel he did something wrong, even when he hadn’t. Blue shirt covering a protective vest, utility belt with Taser, firearm, handcuffs, extra ammunition clips, and radio, all ensconced in black leather patterned like steel plate tread. Crew cut hair, young with a face that was firm but relaxed and compassionate. Avè. White print scrubs featuring Golden Retrievers chasing bones draped over a form that was fit and alluring, her smile hiding thoughts he couldn’t divine at the moment. Her thick dark hair pulled back in an intricate braid, displaying a genetic predisposition of body and fullness that was undoubtedly the envy of most women. Several tattoos ran up the length of her arms, depictions of fantasy creatures and flowers. He recognized the Ghost Orchid, a unicorn, an owl, but others he didn’t, wrapped with tribal vines and other figures he didn’t recognize in a beautiful scene that disappeared into her upper sleeves.
The next several hours consisted of filing a police report, giving details of his experience that night. They were curious as to why he was walking an out of the way trail in the dark early hours of the morning. They found a pet carrier and had questions about his glove.
He told them he was looking for his dog that was lost the other day. That sometimes when she’s scared, she can bite; hence the glove. She was a Chihuahua, about twenty pounds, named (here he rubbed his head, not so much to relieve the headache but to give him time to think. With a quick glance at Avè, the name rolled out.) Queso.
He had an infection that they believe may have been contracted before the attack and asked him about his injuries. He told the lies he related to Avè the other day, with the addition that he fell asleep in a chair on the patio of his home and the sun managed to burn just his chest through the lattice that enclosed it. Thumb, a hammer accident the other day.
In the end, he had lied to everyone – believable, accepted and a course of treatment was put in order. The police officer had written down everything he said relating to the attack.
“We found your phone at the scene, we have yet to identify the second suspect. If you can think of anything else, call me.” He said as he laid his card on the food tray nearby. “I’ll call you in a couple days to follow up.” He felt the officer would do that, he had an honest face.
They left all except Avè.
She poured some water for him, which he took up immediately and downed with difficulty some pain killers the doctor handed him.
“You’re pretty full of shit.” She said with a smile.
He winced as he swallowed the last of the water, throat working again. He coughed a small cough. Excuse me?”
“I think you heard me.”
“Aren’t you a Trauma Councilor?”
“Yep.” She stared at him with a kind of sassy attitude that was playful and direct.
“I’ve never heard of a trauma councilor that uses profanity and calls patients liars as a means of rehabilitation.”
“Yeah, well, I call it like I see it. And if you want someone to come in and talk about your feelings, ask you about your mother and give you the ‘poor unfortunate soul’ treatment, I can send Ruth in and I’m sure she’d be happy to do that for you.”
Eyes the color of Pepsi on ice bored into him, daring him to make her go get Ruth.
He grimaced, looking down at his gown. Ruth sounded like a psychoanalyst. He disliked psychoanalysts. Avè walked to the side of the bed and sat in a chair next to him, arbitrarily reaching over to the bed controls without asking and lowered his bed to just below her eye level.
He raised an eyebrow. “So what?”
“Well, you can play games and pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about or you can talk to the person who is sworn to confidentiality. As long as you’re not going to harm yourself or someone else, my lips are sealed. Besides, you owe me, I walked you to your car after that nasty ‘fall’.” She accentuated the last word by raising her fingers in quotation marks.
He took a moment, thinking hard about it. Normally he admired smart people, but not right now, not entirely at least.
“I got attacked by two guys…”
“I know that, I was here when you made the report, remember? Start with what happened before that. A Chihuahua named Queso? As cute as our dogs would be walking together as Cheese and Crackers, I think it would actually require that you own a dog. So since I’m pretty sure your story is bullshit, I’m left wondering who the she was you were freaking out about when I approached you. Were you attacking some woman on the trail or something?”
“What? No! I…” He resigned. “It’s hard to explain.”
“Good, cuz your easy explanations are full of holes. Interesting and creative, but full of big gaping holes. I think the others kind of bought it, but I wouldn’t expect it to hold up to scrutiny. I guess the good news for you is one of the guys that you described in the report is here at the hospital.”
“Yeah, Tracheostomy, his larynx was hit by a blunt object or something, he spent a few days avoiding the hospital only to collapse on the street. Paramedics picked him up, his trach collapsed. I’m assuming that was your work. You don’t look like the Bruce Lee type though.”
He mind reeled as he tried to understand what the hell was going on. He had strong feelings for an owl – who attacked him, he was mugged, beaten and stabbed, and he had nearly killed a man. He didn’t understand how a bio-chemist in a lab could have come to this. His lot was quiet obscurity, not police, hospitals, knife fights and Alfred Hitchcock reenactments. Yet for some reason, it was exciting; different in a way that made his limbs tingle with adrenaline.
So he did it. He told her. Not the whole story about how he felt, but that he had been feeding an owl and it had perched on his shoulder. He told her when he tried to pet her, she attacked him. That the carrier was for food that he bought to lure her in, and the glove was for her to land on. The fight with the guys happened exactly as he told it.
“And the burn on your chest?”
“I got it in the shower. I passed out after I saw the blood and it was running hot on my chest.” Truth with gaps he thought to himself.
“Well I didn’t see any owl on you when you were on the trail. She must have flown away. You’re crazy, by the way. Not clinically delusional, I guess, but certainly not making good choices. You just wake up one day, see big predatory owl in a tree and decide to try and make nice with it?”
“Pretty much. I don’t have much else to do.”
A silence ensued between them, something foreign to him. He assumed he was going to be peppered with questions. She talked so much on the way back to the car the other day, he took her to be another outgoing hipster type bent on saving the world one damaged soul at a time. Now she just sat in the chair picking at the old red nail polish that was flaking her fingernails.
He grew uncomfortable with the silence, even though he didn’t want to talk. Maybe she wasn’t an idealist, but just a crappy therapist. All but ignoring him after a near death experience that apparently took priority second to her fading manicure. He grew pensive and anxious the more time that passed. He looked to the nearby window just behind her, overcast skies twirled with dark clouds pouring over downtown. He wondered what happened to Minerva, and the thought of her sent an emotion through him he couldn’t quite identify.
Minerva saw him fight, witnessed him get stabbed and fall. She was an owl, but he was saddened that after he had just been attacked, she simply flew away. With indifference, she took flight, likely to return to Bible Bob and rest for the night. There was nothing less to expect, but a part of his heart wanted her to come to him, to some way let him know she cared; but she was a predator, an animal and knew he was foolish to have any expectations of something so wild. He stared out the window of the hospital, to the fading treetops that rested only a few meters from the building and wished more than anything that she would appear to perch on a branch, speak a word of greeting and comfort to him.
Avè remained seemingly oblivious, and he wound the course of possibilities that could explain her actions, determining that this was perhaps her mean of getting him to talk.
Instead, he took a deep breath and closed his eyes, resigned to sleep (or try to). He wouldn’t be the pawn of a therapist’s manipulations; would show her that the techniques she studied diligently in college would not coerce him into baring his soul to her. Without much effort, his body gave itself over to rest, and he dreamed languid fantasies of peace.
He woke sometime later. Avè was gone and it was dark outside. He couldn’t see the trees, the light was off in his room and he wished he had been able to sleep longer. For years he regretted waking from a good dream, or no dream at all. First consciousness was the worst feeling.
The beeping still annoyingly emanated from the monitor and though painful, he raised himself to the bedside to shut it off, thankful that the mute button was clearly labeled. His head still hurt like hell and his body ached all over, not just where he was injured. The clock on the walk ticked away; 10:00pm.
There was only one thing on his mind – Minerva.
He had to go see her. To know if she was ok, if she cared if he were alive or dead, to let her know she didn’t have to dine on the white rats from now on, because he would be there for her. He removed the I.V., he removed the needle feeding new blood into his arm, watching for a moment as the needle formed a puddle on the floor. Knowing he would have to be quick, he removed the other monitoring devices, those tracking his heart rate and blood pressure. Immediately he stood, gaining his balance in spite of a wave of dizziness that threatened to overwhelm him.
He didn’t see his clothes, and likely they were thrown away when he was admitted, either destroyed or soaked in blood, though his phone and keys lay in the drawer of the table next to his bed; the phone was dead.
Garish gown open in the back, he approached the door and cracked it, looking about. His room was a few doors down from the nurse’s station, no one was in the hallway. He moved quickly, making to the door across from him, feeling every bit the excitement of his youth when he would sneak out of class to play hooky and go to the theatre to catch a movie. The room was the same sterile environment his was, but with two sleeping occupants, both male. Wincing through the pain in his side, he checked the small wall closet next to the man who looked close to his size and found hung there Khaki shorts and a garish Hawaiian shirt.
With a small shake of his head, he quickly donned the outfit, knowing it be the most conspicuous thing he could wear in his escape, grabbing the shower flip flops from the restroom, realizing only the that his arms were bleeding where he pulled the needle out. Looking behind, sure enough, there was a trail of droplets leading out of the room. The towel in the bathroom tore easily into strips and bound the holes, while the rest of it, once wetted wiped the fresh blood from the floor.
He couldn’t waste time now, thinking that any second the nurses would check to see why his monitors were reading a flatline. Already he could hear the machine’s alarm beeping from his room. Throwing caution to the wind, he walked out of the room, summoning as much strength as he could to walk casually and normally.
On his way past the nurse’s station, the out of shape nurse from earlier walked from behind the counter on his way to the alarm, tired annoyance accompanied by a yawn. The man passed within a foot and didn’t even look up to see who the “plain clothes” person was, so engaged was he on checking Facebook.
A no-nonsense woman behind the counter looked up momentarily from a pile of charts, pen in hand, to which he smiled and nodded as he passed. She simply looked down to the charts again and went back to writing. Head down, hair a mess, he quick stepped to the elevator and pressed the button. Time seemed to slow down, the elevator was taking too long. A call down the hallway sealed it for him and he made for the stairs to escape, knowing full well it would be painful and dangerous, but he was past the point of reservation. Time to throw caution to the wind.
He made it down the first flight, holding his side with one hand, while supporting his weight on the rail with the other, convinced there were dogs on his tail. The thin cotton towel strips seemed to be working, but blood had seeped through. Pain in his back, head, throat, sinuses, side and ribs. The stairwell darkened several times, blurred in and out randomly. He closed his eyes to avoid the sensation of vertigo that threatened his tenuous journey, letting the sense of touch guide him.
When he came to the door at what his count of flights thought to be the bottom floor, he opened his eyes and stepped through into another hallway. The wall mounted directory pointed right for the lobby. If security had been called, that would likely be the first place they would secure in their search for him. The gift shop would be closed, and likely the employee areas would be secured. To his relief, there was a posting for an emergency exit close by. The pain in his side was throbbing now, no wonder since the hole went all the way through, front to back, likely internal kept it all together and for a moment he considered whether he had ripped them in his flight down the stairs.
He put his mind on the one task of forcing his body clumsily along the hallway, heart beating faster the closer he got to the heavy door at its terminus. He ploughed through, slamming the red bar labeled “Use only in case of Emergency”. The alarm buzzed – an angry Cicada shrieking – and emerging onto the downtown sidewalk – ripe with the party crowd of young adults hoping to lose themselves in savage music and firewater. The stink of the city wafted into his pores, black watermelon-scented sidewalk gum, stale cigarette butts resting in a cement cylinder filled with wet cat litter; car exhaust carrying the memory of Shalimar on a corpse, carbon monoxide teasing the brain with odorless promises.
Hand to his side, he crossed the street, to disappear into the alley across the way. Dumpsters, human filth, the stink of vomit and alcohol. He added to that whatever contents had been in his stomach, perhaps soft food the hospital had given him. Had he been spoon fed tapioca pudding and canisters of ensure? Four days. Anything could have happened in four days. His Beverens would be out of food and water. Minerva could be hurt. He didn’t even think of his job, or if anyone had called them to make sure they knew he was in the hospital. Tonight was cold, he could see his breath puffing out in clouds with labored breaths.
He emerged from the alley to spot a late night coffee and wine restaurant across the street. He crossed – a car nearly hitting him. It didn’t honk, didn’t swerve, didn’t slow down; just kept its speed as it passed, pulling the night’s chill in its wake to steal his body heat. Outside the entrance, he broke for a moment to lean against the wall and compose himself. The crowd inside lifted glasses of wine to the final soft notes of a guitarist on a small stage near the front. Applause, food smells, well-dressed patrons. A couple deep breaths, a couple more to clear his head.
Inside, people smiled, sipped wine, drank water, a few nursed large handmade coffee cups filled with specialty lattes, lattice and flower patterns carved into the top foam. He looked out of place, sporting a bruised face, sweaty countenance and tropical attire. Nonetheless, he made his way through the crowd to the front counter. A barista welcomed him, young girl, tall as he, pretty.
He asked if he left his charger her the other day, white plug and cord. She checked, and pulled one that fit the description from a lost and found box. He indicated that was it, thankful that it was the right type for his phone. She handed it over, he thanked her and slunk to the furthest unoccupied table near the restrooms. These places had outlets everywhere. Plugged in, phone charged enough, turned on. He called an Uber and laid his head down to rest.
The phone rang, sickening consciousness settled, confusion set in. Calypso beats from a native drummer joined the flamenco of the guitarist. He looked at his phone, 10 percent charge, Uber driver ringing. He answered and told the man he’d be right there. Dropping the charger on the bar counter, he left.
The Uber took him where directed, which was first to Wal-Mart to bu new clothes. Paranoia drove him to think the hospital would call the police toy find him and put him back in the hospital. Not the worst thing that could happen, but he had something to do and couldn’t rest another day till it was done.Using his card app, he bought the most non-descript outfit he could, then summoned another Uber to take him near to the trail head.
He exited the silver Coup and watched it drive away, waiting till it was gone before throwing up in the rocks of one of the random islands dotting the parking lot. Whatever was wrong with him wasn’t getting better. Logic determined he should be in bed, resting, allowing the body to repair itself.
This, none of it, was logic or reason. It was desire, passion, instinct; and it drove him down the trail with frequent stops and clothes, that despite being suited for warmer weather, became saturated with the salt sweat of his fevered body.
He came to the bridge, stumbling hard on the Jesus Dick Support beam, thankful that he was almost there. And he noticed something in the water, something he felt were a dream, or figment of his state.
A woman in a thin, white homespun gown, like a hypnotic vision of a child of Woodstock. Burning white dreadlocks hung long down her back, tied back to reveal features haunting and sallow. She stood in the water, the creek running past her feet, wetting the bottom hem of her garment. On her shoulders, white rats played about her hair, sniffing the air with little awkward jerks of their head; little clawed feet played about her bare shoulders.
He scowled and knew who she was.
Why was she out of jail? Who was this girl? Blackness closed in on the sides of his vision and he felt it best to continue to his meeting spot with Minerva. He stumbled and fell, the clamor on the wooden planks beneath him significant, the pain in his body screaming. A quick glance to where the woman was; she was gone.
He pushed himself up with the support of the rail and moved on, reaching his destination and falling against the Cottonwood. He called her name and waited, hoping she would come. Somewhere between dreaming and wakefulness, he hear her familiar tone; the alight of her form on the greeting branch. Her eyes were tired and sympathetic, but all he could think, in his half state was why she did not come to him when he needed her most? He was attacked, he had been beaten, could she not have found a way to perch outside on the tree outside his window? It took him coming to her, little could she be bothered to break from her routine in the face of his trauma. He lay bleeding the other night and she flew away, careless whether he lived or died. It was irrational, it wasn’t something a wild animal would do, but he hoped she would have just been there for him.
He shook his head and talked to her. She remained, staring into the night. He spoke, slurred and drunken with infection, revealing his past, his philosophies, his anxieties and fears while she remained impassive and watchful. Time melded with the dementia of fighting off sleep, not wanting another motivated cyclist to save his life, perhaps wanting no one to. Cold seeped into his moist skin, the night saturated his perceptions ending in a feeling, perhaps dream, of a feathered form landing on his folded thigh, looking into his heavy lids with a reflected Aurelian glow of sympathy. Lids closed, wet and swollen, while the warm down of feathers leaned against his chest; the comfort of a friend, the intimacy of a lover. He dreamed the feeling of her taking flight, soaring to the south, back to Bible Bob before the hour grew too late.
He remained, broken and alone until the tenebrous shadows of trees entwined both mind and body in the peace of oblivion.