Saturday, March 3, 2018

59 Minutes

“Four O one? I have to get up in fifty nine minutes,” I groaned
It was still dark. There was only a faint glow from the clock.
I stared up at the gloom of the early morning.
“I can’t do it,” I thought. “Face another day of “good mornings, how are you doing? Are you OK? …Can I do anything?”
I flipped the pillow around to avoid the damp spot. I turned on the music. The Complete Simon and Garfunkel began to play randomly.
Hello darkness my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again…
How true, Mr. Simon. That’s all that’s left for me. Darkness. It’s all I’ve felt for weeks now. She died exactly nine weeks ago today. That was the day darkness descended. And, I could have prevented it. I should have taken it more seriously.
...and whispered in the sounds of silence.
I took a sip from the glass perched on the dresser next to my bed. The water was still cold as I felt the sticky cottony feeling wash away with the soothing coolness which bathed my throat.
I wish that water could wash away all my memories.
I pulled open the top drawer and flipped on the light.
“If things get too overwhelming take one of these,” George said. “It’ll take the edge off.”
George was a good friend and a pretty good Internist. And smart, he only gave me twenty pills. Not enough…not enough to do the job.
“…he turned on the gas and he went to sleep
With the windows closed so he’d never wake up…”
Isolated, alone. I feel like that “Most Peculiar Man.” Maybe his way will work. Not gas, though, too dangerous. Too much potential to hurt someone else if there was an explosion. But maybe the car in a locked garage. Should be fairly painless. Maybe a little coughing. Take a few of those pills, start the car, go to sleep and …the end.
Richard Cory went home last night
And put a bullet through his head.”
That would work, if I owned a gun. Too messy, maybe? Of course I’d be dead, so who cares? But I don’t own a gun. Besides, with my luck I’d probably miss and blow off half my face and have to live the rest of my life breathing through my neck and being fed through a tube.
There’s something wrong with me, I thought. Quite an understatement.
I suppose, being a surgeon, the best way would be to slash my arm. At least I know how to do it. Fill up the tub with hot water, take a scalpel and cut the brachial artery longitudinally.
Use a little topical Lidocaine and it would be quick, fairly painless and effective.
I remember that patient, the one who broke a window to rob somebody’s home. Came in with BP of forty over zero. And, all he had was a little laceration on his arm, right in the middle of the antecubital fossa, maybe one and a half centimeters. But that window did its damage. The hole in the artery was also one and half centimeters. Later on the police told me there was blood sprayed all over the ceiling and walls, almost like he was trying to create some form of art using his arterial spray. Alan, that was his name; not the brightest thief I’ve ever met.
I fumbled around in my nightstand and pulled out a #10 scalpel, still wrapped in its sterile bag. It gleamed in the pale light, beckoning, almost imploring me to release it from its plastic bondage.
“I could do it right now.”
I lay back and put my hand under the pillow, still clutching the sterile lifeless blade.
Maybe it would be for the best? After all, do I really do anything good? Oh, sure, suck out gallbladders left and right. Big deal. If I’m not around, there are still half a dozen competent surgeons in the area capable of doing the job; well one or two anyway.
“August, die she must
The autumn wind blows chilly and cold
September, I remember
A love once new has now grown old.”
It hasn’t grown old, it’s dead. No more love. No more romance. No hope. No more anything. Just loneliness and sadness intermingled with a few hours escape at work.
“What’s that laugh?” I said out loud. But I knew who it was. It was her laugh.
I flipped on to my back and held the scalpel in front of my face and then swiped the plastic against my arm. The laugh grew louder.
“Please, don’t do that. I’m sorry…so sorry,” I screamed out loud.
And there she was. Her long brown hair hung below her shoulders, just reaching the top of her breasts. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but then closed it, smiled for a moment as I reached out to touch her silky hair. The vision faded away, leaving only the silhouette of the scalpel, still safely wrapped in its plastic cocoon.
“What’s the point?” I thought.
“What about last Monday? That gunshot wound to the abdomen. If you hadn’t been there he never would have made it.” I stated this out loud, challenging myself.
Is this what it’s come to? Asking myself rhetorical questions? Ok, I did save Mr. Cortez’s life. But, to what end? How did he get shot?
Was it really the proverbial two dudes that came by and shot him while he was sitting on his porch reading the bible? At three am?
I let the knife fall to the floor.

Why did I have to say, “Oh, it’s just a little cough, probably a virus, it should go away. Why didn’t I get a chest X-ray? We could have found the tumor months earlier and it would have made a difference. I know it. And how you suffered. Pain with every breath, violent coughing, so many moments of sheer panic as you vainly tried to take in enough oxygen.
How can I forget that mask of impending death. Sunken cheeks, dark hollow eyes, blue lips, the rasp with every … How can I ever find forgiveness?
“Meow, meow.”
I looked up and saw Midnight staring at me from the foot of the bed. Her black cat.
“I hate cats,” I’d remarked when she walked into the kitchen clutching the little black kitten to her chest.
“You’ll get used to him,” she replied. “He won’t be much work. Don’t worry, I’ll empty the litter box.”
And she did. I got used to him, sort of. I guess we tolerated each other.
I looked at him as he eyed me from a safe distance.
“You miss her, too? Don’t look at me with those angry, accusatory eyes. Haven’t I been feeding you?”
 “I know I’m fakin’ it
Not really making it.”
I guess “just feeding you” isn’t enough.
“Am I supposed to play with you? Cuddle you? Whisper sweet nothings into your black ears?” I asked softly.
Midnight stared back at me, then jumped off the bed. I got up to look for him, something I’d never done before.
“I have to get up in a few minutes anyway,” I muttered.
I stopped and looked out of the window at the dark, clear early morning sky. Stars twinkled down at me. I saw a particularly bright star.
“Probably Jupiter. No, Jupiter should be over to the right. Maybe it’s her staring down from heaven; looking after me. She would do that. She always cared more about me, more than herself. How many times did I laugh at her silly thoughts, how many times did I dismiss her worries, her fears. Why did I pooh pooh her God. Well, if her God is up there, she’s with him now. Happy, I hope.”
I stared into the dark early morning sky.
“It’s not fair. You should have taken me,” I almost screamed, staring out at the early morning sky.
 What I wouldn’t give to see her lying next to me right now?
“Hallelujah, Go tell it on a mountain
Over the Hills and everywhere
Go tell it on a Mountain
Jesus Christ is born”
Is that really Simon and Garfunkel? I guess they did sing that song. It was on the album Wednesday Morning 3 AM.

Midnight jumped up on the window sill and into my arms. He pushed his head into my chest.
“What’s gotten into you, cat? All of a sudden, you’re not treating me like I’ve got feline plague?”
“Meow,” he answered.
“Is that all you can say?”
He licked my hand with his rough tongue.
“I know, I know. I miss her, too.
“Down in a lowly manger
Humble Christ was born
And God sent salvation
That Blessed Christmas morn”
Midnight stared into my eyes with a look I can’t explain. I’d call it determination, inquiry and pity. He meowed again. Then he whapped me on the forehead with his paw as if he was saying, “Don’t you get it? She was right. You hear the song, but you don’t hear the words.”
As if on cue, the song played again.
And God sent salvation…”
Is it really that simple? Why did she have to die for me to hear this message?
“Love crucified arose
And the grave became a place of hope
For the heart that sin and sorrow broke is beating once again.”
Wait, that’s not Simon and Garfunkel. It’s one of her songs. I don’t have it on my phone.
I looked at the clock. Four fifty nine.
I shut off the alarm. I picked up the scalpel. Instead of putting it back in the nightstand, I opened it and broke off the blade, wrapped it in aluminum foil and flushed it down the toilet.
I turned on the shower and stepped under the hot water.
There was a loud buzzing noise. It was the alarm.
My head popped up from the pillow as my arm reached out and pushed the switch to stop the buzzing. My chest felt warm and clammy as I turned away from the alarm and looked.
There was her long brown hair splayed out across the pillow. I watched as her chest moved up and down with long even breaths. I kissed her hair and she turned toward me and smiled. I kissed her cheek as she opened her eyes.
“I think you should get a chest X-Ray today,” I whispered. “Check out that cough you’ve got. It’s probably nothing, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Or suicidal, I thought.
“Oh, and what’s the name of your church?” I added. “I think I’ll try to meet you there this weekend.”
She murmured something Presbyterian and went back to sleep.
I stopped and looked out the window and gazed into the gray sky. Then I Looked down at her, peacefully asleep.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
I pulled off my scrub bottoms and stood under the warm spray of the shower, washing the sweat, sorrow and guilt away.