| Episode 11
< He wanted to be mixing Cosmopolitans, or hearing about “how bears can stay cool,” or barking deer. Aji had been absent three days. They had travelled to Florida from Coney Island, donning contrasts of hurricanes Irma, and Katrina, eschewing Human billboards, and remotes for Times Square. How could you reach Sombrero? He heard no celestial dial tone, leaning hesitantly at the glass cover of a kitchen microwave, perhaps too glibly.
Particle theory was weather to Aji, and reminded her of “dark space.” The Mets were trifling. Her domain was fabled places like Wolf, Kapteyn’s Star, and The Shadow of Mines. He shouldn’t think too much about Hurricane Irma, Aji claimed. Nature was not offended, if ignored; mankind was “obtuse, and largely in the way.” Storms, she had said, in transit lanes of Interstate 95, circling Washington, D.C., “are about nature, and Nature; not about us.”
Certainly not scarce was H.L. Tauri, an attorney. He met Tauri at Coney Island Hospital. He was one of those people who invited sequential hyperbole, and difficult to unhitch from medical nostalgia. Tauri was a part-time mime, in the long version. He dreamed of becoming a full-time mime in Times Square. Inexplicable. His business card was yellow: H.L. Tauri, Attorney-at-Law, Nibiru. He wondered if Tauri’s acrobatic yarns at the side of his hospital bed were less discernible than somersault from the bath, alone, in his Coney flat. It was one seamless arc from the flat to the hospital room, he decided. (He had been unconscious.) He repaired to Tauri’s soliloquy, midstream, but missed the beginning, and the end. Now too soon for coincidence was the influx of a rather stout volunteer, a woman named Mare, pronounced “Mary,” Ligeia, a purported mainstay of the Coney Island facility. She bore candy bars from the 1930’s, used magazines, and individual sticks of gum. Mare was cast, and into his unhappy situation, and, although, possibly, a product of his state, which was discoloring his image of all things all, completely “insufferable.” His roomie in the ward was Maurice, or, as Mare pronounced, “his Baptist teammate.” Maurice glowered, knowingly, from the bed next to him. His mood was similar, and more subdued; his condition was more acute; his prospects were “virtuously nil.” He was an F.O.E. Eagle. Maurice narrowed his eyes, at him, rose in the bed, and craned his neck, as if to peer down upon him. “You’ll be getting out,” Maurice said. “Not me.”
The intentional boost left him flat. He felt suddenly hapless. And Maurice was gross. His hospital gown was too small, and continuously revealed bloating paunches, with bright, oddly-shaped lesions generally concealed. He was a patient in oncology, which was among the medical linguistic typically escaping him. His tongue drooled with saliva, uncontrollably, and it congealed as he spoke. Maurice didn’t notice any drool; it rested defensively upon some point near his chin. His hair was merely entertaining. He regained enough color before a fit of cough to quietly ask Mare is Maurice’s hair stylist was “lightning, or maybe electrical shock.” He knew confiding in Mare was an incalculable mistake, but meanwhile, his hair defied teams of nurses, who finally moved the bed to wrastle it with a comb, but it momentarily regaled them like a stark, winter forest in the Ardennes. Maurice refused to emerge from beneath the hospital blanket and smothered the television controls to the far side like a recovered on-side kick. He reminded him at breakfast, dinner, and lunch his admission had been “forty-eight hours” earlier; it entitled him to dining service first, and usually the window. He said, “That was gimmie, you know,” since the staff had put him in the hall side bed, and he was unsure if it possibly cost less. Maurice then launched into a deep, routine spell of the fond regurgitation of remnant cigars; it made him blush, stoop, roll, kick, spindle, and reach facetiously for the Panic Button to alert the nurse. The button became Maurice’s toy. He’d conclude his reboot with a heavy, friendly moan.
He was a New Yorker, and thus avoided comfort; but he chose not to disagree with Maurice about which of them would eventually leave the hospital, if it, in fact, was only one. He was more assured about it with each beat of his heart: other people die, however, fortunate. Yes. The foggy concept of morale slowly faded into a disquieting frown; did this mean, necessarily, Maurice was otherwise right about everything? His face was quizzical.
Hippocratically, a hospital is a place for doing no harm. He spoke hardly at all, because he would have said things like H.L. Tauri, the lawyer, was “despicable,” except for his smell. Tauri smelled “very okay.” In fact, his scent was formidable. He guessed Tauri had once been forgiven military service aboard a merchant marine vessel, say, shortly before it sank in a place such as the Calypso Deep, because of the bouquet, a full and complete atmosphere of Aqua Velva about him; the crew perished, but Tauri had agreeably floated bobbling in the waves of the Mediterranean Sea upstaging the grim waves of a grateful, but ill-fated crew.
H.L. Tauri had a real deal wringer. It was Tauri’s snarky catechism, his coup de grace, the assurance to any injured party, — anywhere, awake, asleep, or napping, — that if a minimum of a single arm lay near the rail of a gurney, H.L. Tauri, the very same, could get unquestionably… “ugly.” The attorney pledged to get “ugly” with scofflaws, with medical neglect, with positively other attorneys; he’d be ugly with orderlies, kitchen staff, federal judges, tax examiners, owners of stretch limos, and anyone towing a “big-ass” truck; also with chiropractors; the overseers of weed blowers; wholesalers of plastic toys; mailmen; dogs; process servers, and, ultimately, “every other kind of lousy gypsy on Earth.” He disliked gypsies.
It was Tauri who volunteered to help him exercise. He gazed down at Tauri and blinked in captive exasperation. He had no choice, Tauri was short, and wide, and his faculties required devotion to the frailty of his hospital gown, a “johnnie.” He grasped the wood railing of the Coney Island Hospital wall, as Tauri extolled his knowledge of the “johnnie,” patented in Maryland in 1951; the original prospect was to “hermetically seal” hospital gowns in cans, like tennis balls. The johnnie was a minor inconvenience; his arm was hijacked by Tauri to escort him in the halls. Tauri noted, with bright vitality, “If you kept one finger on the wall, and you kept walking, you’d eventually return to the exact same place in the hospital.” He chuckled, one of, maybe three times in containment: Huh, who would ever do that? The recessed lighting spared no illumination for Tauri’s metallic blue teal suit, or his yellow tie, one with dancing teddy bears, and his beige, wrinkled shirt, a replete package going forward in gray, alligator shoes. Nodding, Tauri insisted. “Really, I can get ugly – really ugly.” Tauri was Hispanic, and invited anyone to the mythic pique about “Spanish lawyers.” He repeated, “You wouldn’t believe how ugly I can get.” He gazed swiftly in every direction at each hallway four-way, like a Kennedy at a campaign stop. He had insisted on propping him ahead for exercise, a pleasant trek of the hospital. It was a pro-bono service. It was his “pleasure” to consider the young physical therapist’s claim: if he did not walk, his cardio-pulmonary system could suddenly burst in his chest, like in the movie Alien. Tauri’s tone was ominous. He was unsure what to say next.
Truthfully, it had been his own fault. The boredom had been too complete, and making “a usual mistake,” taking the floor, he’d told Maurice about Florida’s hurricanes, and a story about tornados in Oklahoma.
This was about a cattle man, or an orange grower, he’d forgotten, but it was one, or the other, the saw probably loaned too often for special occasions. The farmer, shall we say, is careening past the trees and fixtures of his farm to avoid the real peril of the weather looming in the sky, a funnel cloud just a mile behind him; (n.b., the 21st century no longer has actual storms, or tornadoes, but ‘weather’; hence, ‘the poor Oklahoman running from the weather.’) His aim was to dive into his emergency fallout shelter, — a concrete, sink hole dug, furbished, and installed in the back yard, and warrantied to withstand anything, including a nuclear attack, as well as note-holders from the Department of Agriculture. But he can’t make into the shelter and is pushed side-to-side by the gusty winds. He tries to hoist the shelter’s heavy steel cover in the pelting rain, with the howling, sideways wind, “but the grower is raised into the air by a powerful gust, and gobs and gobs of water pour over him in waves, splashing from the facia of the roof drain for the barn. He seizes a leather saddle belt from the barn. He wrestles with it, grasping it with one arm in the weather, and finally tears it from the saddle. He ties it around a barn post, and then he ties it around his waist, like a tourniquet. Safe from the wind, the farmer bows his head carefully under the roof to stay dry in the downpour. But a fence post breaks free at that moment, in another rush of wind; actually, it broke partly-free, because, it broke in two, like a hinge, and straddled the fence behind him; from then on, until the windstorm subsided, the two-by-four never stopped whacking his butt.”
Tauri won his admiration after several hours of jousting the “ugly.” The intensive care nurse was tasked to study both he, and Maurice, from a triangular captain’s window built into the corner of the room, to allow staff to constantly peer at them through the gathering night. She was “grizzly.”
The night yet gathered. Mare read People in a stuffed chair next to the bed, which startled him as he awoke in the midlight from a twenty-minute nap. She apologized for the surprise; a moment later, asked cheerfully, “Do you like People?”
He responded, “No,” and rolled the other way.
Maurice was snoring, more loudly than usual. Mare laughed, self-consciously. “I think it’s a cool magazine.”
“I thought you meant people people.”
“Well, whatever you’ve got, it’s an act of God,” Mare said. “Whatever it is you’ve got. I duck into the chapel when I volunteer to get his attention. You know, capital-H, His.”
“It’s not an act of God,” he replied, contrarily. “Do you have a Pepsi?”
“All gone,” she said. “Maurice. God must not want you to have a Pepsi.”
“It’s an act of…Maurice.”
Maurice chuckled on the other side of the curtain. He heard him hiss, and cough. “You know what?” Mare said, puzzling the floor. “You’re not a very friendly guy. It’s what I was going to say, but you’re sick. You don’t even like poor Mr. Tauri, who helps you walk. Do you know where he is right now? The children’s wing. He’s trying to find a way to pay for the children’s health care. God is not going to pay the bill, now is He. Three-year old child from Long Island. Football player from the Bronx.”
He breathed in frustration. Maurice was silent.
“It’s an Act of God,” Mare assured him, and he became vexed.
He desisted in a hopeless pause, “It’s not an Act of God. He has nothing to do with it. It’s not God. It’s nature. And it is not very complex: I’m to blame.”
“Of course not!” she said, wider-eyed.
“Do you how hurricanes start? You think it’s God? Is it witches, stirring the ocean basin? No. It’s warm water. The ocean is heated by the sun, and the water evaporates; if enough water gathers in the air, a hurricane forms. The sun warms the ocean.”
Mare responded, “That’s hurricanes. How about evil ?”
Maurice pressed the panic button. ◊
Theme | Blackstreet, No Diggity; “Flea Markets, No. 13” | playlist, nos. 1-15
“The Shadows” is one of three works by SODA TOM.
“The Shadows,” by Soda Tom, Vol. I of III,
from The Echo By Seas; & Other Stories
Copyright (C), 2018; 2017, ff., by the author.
All Rights Reserved.
Created by Soda Tom