Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapter Six

Chapter Six

The anaesthetic wore off and Jordan opened his eyes to the sight of a ceiling not his own. The misadventure had been lost in the compression and stretching of the hospital patient’s consciousness. With time, however, the overall plot slowly came back into focus: He’d (maybe) been stricken with appendicitis and shipped down to the poor folks’ hospital thanks to no-health-insurance.
Jordan sighed. Rather than move forward with his life, it would now take a number of weeks, months even, just to get back to where he was the night of his last tranquil cigarette.

“Hey,” came a smooth voice that rounded to a rasp at the very end. Jordan sat up; a sharp pain cut the movement short and slammed him back to the mattress. “Take it easy,” he heard as Joya’s head moved into frame on high. He felt life flow afresh through him.

“Why Joya’s Joyas?”

“Joya’s my name and that’s how Spanish people back home spell jewels – except it’s pronounced like an H so that it’s ‘Joya’s Hoya’s,’ except no one says it that way. Joya’s Joyas they call it. It’s my store.”

“Okay,” Jordan said satisfied with the explanation, which neatly fit the logic of trendy metropolitan retailing as he understood it. There was a pause. “So how’s business?” he asked, and she laughed in answer, which was also to his satisfaction.

“I guess we don’t really know each other very well.”

“No, but I’m grateful. I just grabbed the card you gave me from the night before because I was practically delirious. And now, you’re the first – maybe the only – person to visit me.”

With neither having much to say Joya left shortly thereafter.

Jordan thought that he’d never felt so lonely in all his life, except when she’d left him at the first hospital two nights (was that all?) ago. He’d have preferred to get away from that girl, from the way she kept leaving him feeling so alone, but she had turned out to be all he had. Jordan smiled to himself, for the fear is always worse than the thing itself and the thing itself was upon him.

He took measure of the surroundings and his confidence absorbed a glancing blow. The hospital was a product of the thirties or forties, two decades Jordan thought he would have loved to experience, so long as he could get 21st century technology when the situation called for it. Directly across from him was a young Latino with shaved head. He’d always been scornful of people who made sweeping racial and cultural generalizations, but he couldn’t help but deduce – influenced by a messy wound to the guy’s groin – that here was yet another gangbanger bent on wasting his life away through senseless violence.

The roommate’s condition obligated the elevation of his pelvis by pillows to facilitate healing and observation and this is what Jordan was observing. After a while the roommate’s family arrived, very distraught over the unfortunate condition in which they found him. There were young guys under shiny smooth pates exchanging embellished handshakes with the victim (if the noun applies). And his mother was there, in tears, and his grandmother in the very same condition. Their distress mystified Jordan who thought his roommate had gone looking for trouble and found it.

He thought (without the slightest notion of what had really happened) the guy’s misfortune was not misfortune at all, rather stupidity, before waves of guilt and counter-heretical sentiment overwhelmed and corrected him.

A young orderly came by to check on Jordan. He was kind and attentive and boy did that make a difference. He lifted the patient’s tie-it-in-the-back standard hospital-issue nightgown to check the stitches. Jordan was surprised to see that they were actually metal staples. “Finally, a medical innovation,” he hoped.

The fellow asked Jordan how he felt and received the response, “Fine.” The orderly told Jordan that he was on painkillers that would eventually wear off and that it was incumbent upon him to push the little button – and he showed him the little button – to call for more, or he’d get an idea of, “just what really happens to your body when somebody takes a knife to it.” J. could have done without the crime novel prosody but appreciated the intent behind it, sensing a male camaraderie in the gory, tough-guy way the information was imparted. The orderly asked Jordan if he’d “passed gas” yet and the patient explained how he’d just awoken to a beautiful woman hovering over him and no, he hadn’t. “Try,” said the orderly, “once that happens you’ll be on your way.”

The guy then produced a plastic item that, when blown into, propelled a Ping-Pong ball in an air chamber to float on the force of the channeled current. He told Jordan to blow into it as much as he could and went on his way. The roommate was sitting up, already provoking the papery orb’s suspension and Jordan reflected on the desire for survival, the visceral will-to-life in this guy who was much worse off than him, but seemingly less affected by his misfortune.

Jordan was waiting for someone to throw a penalty flag against the world for his rough treatment, and to award him a 15-yard advance in the territorial battle for survival and comfort. The gangmember wasn’t interested in any such assistance, which unlike Jordan, he knew has never been forthcoming and never will be.

The Latino pulled Jordan into his sphere with a look. He smiled. “I’m sayin’” he said and shrugged.

“Not much,” thought Jordan, exhausted by the operation, which (though not considered major) represented an extraordinary departure from his daily routine of morning coffee house and an afternoon-hour scowling at the mainstream media. He lingered on the vision of somebody he’d never met rooting around his insides with the plan to remove a piece. Such intimacy! Who was this guy? (let it be a guy!)

These were the things badgering Jordan in that gauzy region between waking and dreaming that drug-assisted hospital stays produce. He drifted away from the world of work and dates and bills, mind stumbling around an unfamiliar with the universe of bare necessity. He did not like what he saw. It was lonely and cold and he could not divine where any of the paths led except toward the darkness awaiting each of us. He shuddered, dreading an end in the trailer park of abandonment.

“To not be a three-legged table,” he prayed, “left to the side of a desert road. Not a tumbleweed rolling through scrap-heap, pushed by a large whispering, indecipherable, addictive.”

Soon, a dinner was served which, for all its intentional mediocrity, struck Jordan as fare fit for an inhabitant of Olympus.

“Thas’ good,” said the black nurse, “you hungry and you eatin’.” Jordan marveled still at the kindness of the employees at this medicine factory. Was it all an act, a professional requirement? Or were they still driven by the need to help people written about in eighth-grade Career Day essays?

More drifting in and out of sleep. Once he stirred and looked beyond the bloody crotch of his roommate to catch the guy looking at him with a sweet face. Go figure. Jordan nodded slightly in that direction and he got a second smile in return. Jordan never met a second smile he didn’t return and suddenly he wasn’t so alone anymore.

He went under yet again and in the gray of very early morning awoke to a pain more indicative of a knife incision than any of his post-operational agonies thus far. He fumbled for the button and a fat white lady came. She was, needless to say, very kind. The kindness ran across cultures and classes here – a lesson for all the world. The painkiller administered, Jordan fell into a woozy bliss during which he dreamed of calling the nurse for another dose. Hospital life, he found, was very cyclical and tended to limit the variety and size of one’s aspirations.

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