< The oblique tiles of the floor way were familiar, a multiverse of black borders in wax gray, and led to the Emergency Room. ”Someone could die in here,” scoffed Dr. Rhys Webster, DO, facetiously. He wiped dust from the counter top, with a dawning grin, informing a presiding student nurse.
“Dr. Rhys,” as he was known, commanded the emergency room, the ER, of the Coney Island hospital. “At age three, he looked just like David Copperfield,” the doctor commented, charmed the young nurse, relating a story begun the day before somewhere in the middle. “He could have been mistaken for a Brooklyn banker at fifteen, a haberdasher, say, from Queens, twenty-five. After that, he looked like, well, Albert Einstein.”
“Einstein,” she squinted.
“He was Einstein,” he smiled. “That’s why.”
The physician had studied medicine in New York in the nineteen-fifties, and he was due to retire any day it became him; most of the ER staff, their gut collectively rumbling over Dr. Rhys’ replacement, was genuinely surprised to see him at the start of the evening shift. Dr. Rhys was still rugged, and a popular “stalwart of chaos,” his years of medical experience acting, to all seers, and every day, substantially on its own.
The attorney, H.L. Tauri, was concluding a tour of the downstairs of Coney Island Hospital with a crowd of potential clients in tow, and fixed their attention upon the attending Dr. Rhys. He was unwilling to push another heavy oak door for plausible patients/clients, and exclaimed, “Phew, let’s sit!” Tauri lowered them individually into the bank of bright orange, plastic chairs, encouraging the patients to become enamored with the ER.
“Shh, look,” Tauri hushed, pointing to a construction worker who sprayed errant blood on a nurse’s coat. They heard her explain the worker’s injury was “not eligible for workmen’s’ comp,” because he had been at home, trying to carve a frozen chicken. Tauri was smitten with the ER. He meant to ask, but there were probably rules against this type of crowd behavior. He humored Tauri, and the group, drawn by an ambulant feeling of will, gravitating towards the emergency room from several floors above; and a there was a need to walk. It was a sense of gravity, ambient gravity, with a mercurial, unspoken notion — an image in his mind of a dark figure, twice the size of an ordinary man; the mental silhouette, a solemn man, but alert, easing for moment’s rest into a chair.
“I suppose Coma is too much,” Aji laughed. “Our sense of humor is different, too. The Coma galaxy is outside this universe, our universe, near the A-Bells. The photos kick it out, which is, interesting, yes?”
“I’m sure there’s a good reason,” he agreed.
They sat, he and Aji sat, engaged, yards from the pier at Coney Island beach. The sound of waves tumbling in the distance scored their conversation, — their words adapted to it — and the breeze from the sea was unusually warm. She squeezed a furry brown bear, unconsciously, in her hand; the toy bear cost $13 at a Brooklyn flea market.
Aji admired the Atlantic Ocean. “Tell me, where do we live?”
“New York. Florida, in the winter.”
She said, “There’s no valor in ignorance.”
“No, the whole place, home. The super cluster, beyond the Milky Way. Doesn’t everyone know the name of their home. Yes?”
“Coma,” he replied, raising an eyebrow. “Wait — superdome. Not New Orleans. Nah.”
“Alright, stump your friends, then, who probably do know,” Aji said. “Laniakea. That is the name of our home. It’s where all of us live, regardless of time, or space. Yes?”
Aji ignored, continuing, “Virgo, Earth, the Milky Way galaxy, Sombrero, they all exist in the supercluster Laniakea, the same way New York is within the United States. ‘Laniakea’ means ‘immeasurable heaven.’”
Later, Maurice, who was confidently resting his demons, but not sleeping, leaned forward from his arms behind his head in the bed, yanked the privacy curtain, and chuckled, “more history!”
His roommate closed a paperback with one hand, hesitated, and then continued, occasioning to sit back against riser to avoid sunset rays, and forward in a yoga position, a straw in one side of his mouth from a paper cup of Sprite, allowing a temporary pause. “The battle of Stalingrad was the goriest in history,” he said, with comradery. “Two million men died in less than five months. Gruesome. Denikin, and the whites took Tsaritsyn in the first war, but it was taken from the Whites in 1920. Guess who? The Reds, right. No, a young soldier. Joseph Stalin.”
“Uncle Joe,” Maurice chimed, switching a lollipop in his mouth, then checking the ceiling for signs of slumber. “Stalin-glad. What’s it got to do with the Swiss?”
“The whites, remember?”
“The Whites,” Maurice repeated, drowsier.
He continued, “See, the Whites knew the wolves were usually right. My grandfather, he didn’t understand any of that. He once told me the White Army observed this Mass to honor Nature on the eve of a battle in the Sakha Republic. They stacked heaps of vegetables, – celery, tomatoes, corn, everything they could find on a table at a sunder farm. It was sacred: The Whites bowed down to the vegetables. I swear. They danced around them, said prayers, sang songs. There was a moment of silence. They were going to cook, but there was thunder out on the plains. The sky darkened, and it began to rain, pour. Somebody said lightning struck. They could hear crackling, and baying. A lieutenant finally orders them all to them to take cover, and once they were safe, they don binoculars. A cloud of smoke was rising above the base of the trees, puff by puff, billowing into smoky clouds; camp fire, cigarettes? Not the Whites. Reds had opened fire on the vegetables!”
“The vegetables?” Maurice interjected.
He nodded, “They holler, ‘They’re shooting the produce,’ says one of them, safely outside the barn. And they watched as a black wolf sauntered from somewhere in the plain, put a fresh apple in his teeth, and sprinted toward the storm. The Reds didn’t shoot. Rain squelched the fire.”
A fracas spilled onto the undescript floors of the Coney Island ER, and forced Dr. Rhys to contemplate, somewhat calmly, when the last time was he was frazzled. He decided it was yet to occur.
The genesis of the ruckus had origin in the streets of the Coney Island neighborhood, and at a habitué of drug traffic and public scorn known as Alley 13. New York police, the NYPD, reported to an area of Brooklyn darkened by alleged gunfire: a man had reportedly opened his .38 to fire inexplicably upon street lights, and two cars responded to the scene, finding a man shot earlier by an off-duty police officer, who was in plain clothes. It was the street light assailant was wounded in the fleshy part of his right shoulder, an arguable public service. The Latino man was cuffed, and now in custody; parts of his sparse beard were covered by stains of dried blood on his cheeks, resembling a deep, blotchy blush. The Latino screamed, “Get him away from me, get him away from me!”, meaning the police officer. His voice betrayed unlikely tears, — the only reason people continued to watch.
“Who away from who, me!?” the officer raged, the one who shot the Latino. A strange anger augured in the policeman’s eyes, which were riveted on the man.
“Him!” the Latino pointed, weakly, with his good arm, at a young boy, also detained nearby. His chin hardened, and the plain clothes officer stomped, once, then again, to fully instill fear in the Latino man, who was soon ushered to a police vehicle by arriving officers. The plain clothes policeman explained hotly to them, “I am trying to help this guy, the Latino, trying to help him up. He unloads a fist into my gut. He’s nuts! He tried to escape. Plus, all those lights. He shot them out.”
The boy was dressed in a Knicks’ shirt, and white shorts, and was carrying a “large, white object” cradled in his arm. The NYPD obliged Latino and sat the boy in the rear seat of a different vehicle. Perhaps the dubious aspect was they allowed the officer who shot the Latino man to follow them to Coney Island Hospital, where, not surprising to Dr. Rhys, an altercation ensued in the ER. The physician was less bemused to see the Latino man, the one with a bullet in his shoulder, kayo the arresting officer with the beige arm of a steel coding machine.
“Mm,” said Dr. Rhys, scratching his chin at the square window in the door. “We are — all in the right place.”
An attending nurse interrupted him. “Dr. Rhys, we need you on the other one. The boy.”
The doctor followed the corner of his eye to the Hispanic child, who was sitting in the ER behind a partial curtain. Dr. Rhys flexed his knees to squat in front of the boy, and was perplexed to see the object, still in his hands: white, and partly oval, like a huge pepper. He resolved it was probably an ostrich egg, like the exotics used by master chefs on the Food Channel. “Let have a look at this,” the physician said.
He said, “The whites are marching slowly through a forest in Ust-Koulom, where there is supposed to be a lake with a lot of fish. No activity in this part of the world for months. It’s a stunning day, sun lighting the way through the spaces in the trees. They feel it is way too friendly; it’s dry, no humidity, seventy degrees. A pall suddenly shows over the face of one of the Whites, and their hearts begin to pump; four of the whites are hunched behind a beaver log. They’re watching Red troops in their long-johns. Reds, washing uniforms in a brook. Smoking cigars. Their ordnance is a mile away from the bank. They apparently had the same report, no skirmishes in the area.”
He shrugged, “There’s this contradiction. The whites want to ordain nature. But they’re fighting a war. If nature is objective, I’d guess it might spare you; but it may also cut you down. This time they’re lucky. The Reds never knew it: the white leader’s cutlass fell sharply in their midst, and rifle fire smoked the trees into brush-fire. Seventy-two Red soldiers were killed without a single White casualty.”
“Uh-huh,” Maurice responded, and gestured towards an orderly and nurse’s aide, who were steering a gurney into the room. “I’m not a casualty.” He slugged the air with his fist.
He ruffled his johnnie at five in the morning, an unusual time to be awake, concerned the evening regimen would be repeated by the day staff, for no apparent reason. He studied the pattern mix of mauve, and light green, budding flowers of his gown. Maurice slept until eight or nine, he knew. He read gardening periodicals, and reread People; television was not an option: Maurice would surely bark, and maybe bite.
He read a Post story from Tuesday a second time about saving for retirement. He had finished his story about the whites, and Swiss guard, but decided to wake Maurice for breakfast, a show of unity. “Mo?” he whispered into the off-white privacy curtain. “Big Mo.” Nothing. He was unwilling to hurdle the bed, or rappel over the bars, or, in fact, get out of bed. He yanked the curtain with one swipe. Maurice was asleep on his back; his tongue trailed from the left side of his mouth; the blankets were perfectly folded on his chest; a keepsake of the Virgin Mary was firmly between his fingers, the brown string wrapped around his thumb. Maurice’s eyes were open.
He craned his calf on one side of the restraining bar, flexing both arms at the top, and hoped a twist could land him on the floor, but it saddled him more against the bar, and he nearly fell with it to the floor. He gulped for a deep breath: “Huuuh!” Then he blushed, and shuffled routinely out of the bed normally, at the foot. He leaned over Maurice. He put his palm on chest; pressed fingers at his neck. He put the back of his right hand against his cheek: it was pale, it was cold; it was hard as oak.
The young Latino boy cried in an adolescent voice, and shouted, “Keep it! I found it, but you keep it!”
The Hispanic boy shouted an expletive and hit the tile of the ER in his sneakers cleanly, and burst to freedom through the sliding doors, waiting only a moment. Dr. Rhys was not meddlesome by nature, and declined to fuss. He was curious about the budding pepper in the lounge. “We need disambiguity,” the doctor mumbled. Dr. Rhys walked to the ER imaging room, and was pleased to avoid the brawl reveal, content NYPD would ultimately triumph.
“Let’s see,” Dr. Rhys said, putting the oval on a rubber pad, then smearing it with clear goo. He snapped another light and donned a tool, similar to a window scraper. He examined the oval shape of the pepper with the ultrasound wand. The physician’s face was less smoothed, and more stern: the contents in the black-and-white image of the oval on the computer screen was unmistakable; it was an embryo.
He, and Maurice were fugitives in the Rest Area, both in wheel chairs, ostensibly to enjoy a view of New York, and to become surprised about how many trees yet exist in Brooklyn. “My father told this one,” he said.
“Shoot,” Maurice said, wondering if he got the joke about war.
He said, “The first world war all took place outside the famous ‘Red Line.’ It was a literal line in the sand at the Swiss border. Peace, by virtue of neutrality, ruled on the side of the Swiss for centuries, and they were not about to change it. Germany, France, Italy, Austria, those countries lurked over the Alps on the other side of the border, the line. There was a Swiss business man, and he was getting advice from a Swiss banker, a Bourse, as part of his due diligence. The business man had to complete a meeting with financiers of the Hapsburg’s jurisdiction in Germany, in Bismarck’s Ottoman Empire, on the other side of the River Rhine. It was the only way to license his wares outside the Red Line. He would have to cross their neutral border from Switzerland to Germany, an actual red line of paint, in most parts of the country.”
He said, “The man asks the Bourse who would have authority over his business, once he crossed the Rhine, and the Red Line. It was a simple question, but less than it seems. The Swiss had a nation of laws, with neutrality, and equity. Germany, with Bismarck, was a monarchy. There were courts, but no arbiters, or navy; and as my grandfather said, ‘There are soldiers for every side.’ The man asks the Bourse, ‘So, who decides, God?’ His mentor didn’t have to rack his mind for an answer. He replied, ‘They’re decided by the floods.’” ◊
>Vol. I, The End
“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