For Better or Worse

Light and dark passed slowly overhead.  One long period of light followed by a brief interval of shadow.  Light and dark, light and dark.  Rhythmic. Cheryl must be driving them to his parent’s house.  Taking the first shift driving and he is asleep in the passenger seat, freeway lights moving overhead.  Cheryl, the morning person.  Cheryl, the better driver.

He could feel his thoughts passing from sleepy haze to aware in time to the pulse of light and dark.  A memory of a disheveled room at the Marriott swirled within the smoky, hazy light and dark; sushi eaten in bed; an impossibly small, female foot. But this couldn’t be right. Nylons or panty hose tossed carelessly across the back of the chair next to the bed.  Cheryl seldom wore nylons and never ate sushi.  She especially never ate sushi in bed.  And the ring of laughter associated itself with that tiny foot.  Neither belonged to Cheryl.  The light became more intense. So much more intense it burned out any further thought.

His first whole memory of sense, the vile smell of his breath mingled with strong antiseptic.  A sound followed, obnoxious and insistent, beep, beep, beep, beep.  General Hospital? Daytime television?  That hospital soap opera perpetually punctuated by the sound of a dying man’s EKG. 

Cool air, too cool, prompted a basic need for creature comfort. He felt for the covers with his dominant hand; his left hand.  He could feel his hand probe and pat, though he could feel no added pressure about his abdomen, groin or thighs.  “My god!,” He thought.  “My God, I’m paraplegic.”  He began to pound his stomach, harder and harder, with his left hand.  The sound of the EKG spiked up by ten, then fifteen beats per minute.

A door swung open.  “Mr. Crockett?  Mr. Crockett can you hear me?” He wanted to respond, but the thickness of his tongue, of his saliva, of his breath creaked between his lips as a groan.  Some animal groan.  But enough that the nurse who had entered responded, “Good Mr. Crockett, welcome back.  I’ll be back in just a minute and swab your mouth.”

“The hell?”, he thought.  “The hell can that mean?”  Nothing came to him through the groggy cloud inside his head.  Nothing but the memory of sushi in that Marriott and how out of place it all was.

His room beeped along at 78 beats a minute; some bustle of activity at the door as the nurse returned with a swab kit, a toothbrush sized green sponge on a lollipop stick.  “Here, Mr. Crockett.  I’m setting this here on your stomach.” To his relief and puzzlement, he felt the pressure of a small aspiration dish on his solar plexus.  A lightly flavored mint liquid scraped across his lips and gently pulled the lips apart.  He got the idea, then, and opened his mouth to allow the swab better access while growling appreciatively. 

“That’s right.  That’s right, Mr. Crockett.  You relax and I’ll get your gums and under your tongue.  Then I’ll get your pretty wife from down the hall.  Do you want to spit?”

Crockett nodded and growled out a perceptible ‘yes.’

The nurse lifted the pan to his mouth and with effort, he spat what he could into it.  The nurse wiped his forehead, eyes, cheeks and finally his mouth and chin with the moistened paper towelette from the swab kit.  Crockett felt as though a breeze from a mountain meadow had drifted across him.

“I think somebody wants to see you,” nurse said as she deftly dropped the swab, towelette, rinse bottle and wrappings into the aspiration pan and threw it all into the waste bin followed by her latex-free purple gloves.  “Come in, Mrs. Crockett,” she spoke through the open door to his room and someone stepped inside.

“Harold, how are you doing?”  It was Cheryl’s familiar voice, like a balm to his mind; pierced as it was by that incessant and infernal beep.

Crockett attempted ‘fine,’ but it came out like a deflating hiss. “No, I don’t think you are fine, Harold.  But you are better than three days ago. Do you know what’s happened to you?”

Crockett pulled off a believable, ‘no.’

Cheryl wasn’t a mean or spiteful woman in the least.  Given the circumstances, however, she may have felt that divine justice had handed her a bone.  “After you left my house, you were in a car accident,” she began.

“A dump truck full of road debris had some sort of mechanical failure and rolled down the hill on Fairview Street.  Unfortunately for you, it timed just perfectly to crush that SUV you were so proud to own.  It also crushed your left arm just above the elbow to the point that they had to have me, as next of kin, sign to remove it.  It was either that or an extreme risk of gangrene.  You may have noticed you couldn’t do anything with that arm.”

At this, she paused, expectantly and waited to see if Crockett would acknowledge.  His eyes had the look of hunted prey.

“This must all be coming as a shock, Harold.”  Cheryl had wasted no time in addressing the physical reality Crockett faced.  She felt that efficiency was best for them both.

“Do you remember leaving my house.”  This struck Crockett oddly as Cheryl was always so communal with her pronouns. “Do you remember our little talk?”

The beeps in the room danced more quickly. Cheryl walked to the machine and turned down the volume. “Oh, don’t worry Harold, that didn’t change their monitors at the nurse’s station.  One of the nurses showed me which knob to turn to make the machine quiet while I was in here.  I’ve been in here for most of three days; good little wife that I am.  I dropped the envelope off on the way to the hospital today. I figure I have to fulfill my vows to you for another two weeks or so.”

Crockett couldn’t come to terms with what he was hearing or if this was real.  That tiny foot came to mind.  It wasn’t Cheryl’s, but he wasn’t sure if it was real.

“Your little friend came by, Holly, do you remember her?”  Cheryl waited enough time to realize that Crockett had made some link and had an inkling of recognition.

“Don’t worry, Harold.  I didn’t call her altruistically.  I thought if she came and took over, I could go home and get some proper rest,” Cheryl was warming to her subject.  “Mother is staying with Alexei and Harry, even though Alexei swore that she could take care of them both but, Mother didn’t mind under the circumstance.” Crockett had a sick, bewildered look.  He kept doing the math and coming up with zero.

“Holly was in here yesterday.  She said it took her two days to find time in her schedule to drop by.  She was in here for all of ten minutes.  Then she came out and handed me this.”  Cheryl held up a small envelope. “Would you like for me to read it to you?  I haven’t opened it.”  Cheryl presented it before his eyes and flipped it to both sides like a magician inviting the audience to confirm a trick.

Crockett felt the cool meadow breeze from a moment earlier burn off.  Holly was the foot and the sushi, he thought.  To Cheryl, he gave a nod and clear ‘yes.’

“I should pity you, Harold.  Although I haven’t read this, as you can clearly see, I know what’s here.”  While she spoke, Cheryl tore open the envelope and smoothed the small, pale blue card.

“Dear Harry,” she began reading, “It hurts so bad to see you, broken, like this.  I had so many plans for us that will just never happen.  I hope you will see that it’s better if I just don’t see you anymore.  You were fun, though.  Love, Holly.”  Cheryl stopped a moment and waited to see what effect the note might have.

Seeing no change, Cheryl continued, “P.S. I hope you don’t mind, but I think if I keep the tennis bracelet, we could call it all even.  You know.  I’m good with that.” Cheryl carefully folded the card and slid it back into the envelope.  As she stood, she dropped the note onto the bedside table by Crockett’s head and turned toward the door.  “Don’t worry, Harold. I’ll be back here tomorrow, once I’ve gotten our children off to school.  But, remember, I’m counting the days until this vow is behind me.”

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