Sex with Camel

hospital_JCO

This story has been drawn from the May/June issue of the American Reader, available here.

“Lots of things are overrated. Like suicide.”

The boy laughed at his own cleverness. The grandmother, who was driving in mid-morning traffic, seemed distracted.

More emphatically the boy said, “There’s, like, two competing suicide hotlines for ‘teens’ in just Boondock County, USA.”

“Boondock County—where’s that?”

“Are you kidding, Grams? Here.”

“Oh, here. I see—here.”

The grandmother smiled but didn’t laugh. Not that the boy had made a witty remark, but it wasn’t like her not to laugh at the boy’s remarks however unwitty.

“At school we get email announcements all the time. If you’re lonely and troubled and need someone to talk to. Crisis Counselors are waiting for your call which will be held in the strictest confidence. There’s a new one—Do you feel safe in your home?” The boy laughed.

“Well, do you?”

“Are you kidding, Grams? Statistics say—ninety percent of fatal accidents are in the home.”

They laughed together. This was good.

He liked entertaining—well, anyone. He’d been a clever bright boy almost since he’d learned to talk. Though in cuteness, he’d probably peaked at about age eleven.

Next birthday, he’d be seventeen.

The grandmother who was elegantly dressed as always when she left the house—smart white-silk turban, white cashmere sweater-coat, sharp-creased pale blue linen trousers, good shoes—was driving to the new hospital. The boy had wanted to drive of course but the grandmother had insisted for she was nearing an age—(she was not yet there, but she believed she was nearing there)—where such basic skills as driving a vehicle might begin to atrophy, if she didn’t practice them daily.   

Superannuated. The grandmother didn’t want to be that, she’d said. The boy had been impressed with the word which he’d appropriated as one of his own.

As a young boy, he’d collected words. Zygote, parallax, exsanguination were examples. Now, superannuated.

This morning’s drive was something of an adventure—the new hospital was, according to the Google map which the boy had printed out, 6.7 miles farther from their house than the old hospital.  

They’d worn out the old hospital. It was time for the new hospital which had just opened the previous week, on the far side of a rushing six-lane state highway.

“Suicide is, like, some kind of dumb hobby. Ninety percent of suicides are mistakes—the person hadn’t actually intended to kill himself.”

“And why are we talking about this?” The grandmother who’d been an administrator in a small liberal arts college in a former lifetime spoke with an air of bemused disbelief. The grandmother cast a sidelong glance at the boy that would have been, if the boy had acknowledged it, withering.

The boy shrugged. He’d only meant to be entertaining, nothing he said had the slightest significance or depth.  

“Who brought it up?” the boy asked. “Not me.”

“Well, not me.”

In fact as the grandmother drove the boy had been skimming emails and text messages on his smartphone. It was one of the slew of mostly unwanted emails from his school that provided a link to the crisis hot-line, he’d deleted without a second thought.

“Tell me something funny. I mean, funny.”

“There’s this kid accompanying his Grams for something to do on this perfect autumn day when he could be hiking in Peace River Canyon with his friends or alone with his Nike D200.”

“Very funny.”

“Dyslexic guy walks into a bra.”

“A what?”

“A bra.”

The grandmother laughed. “That is funny.”

“You’re so ugly, in the sandbox the cat tried to bury you.”

“No. That’s not funny.”

“C’mon, Grams—there’s, like, a million ‘You’re so ugly’ jokes. That’s one of the least nasty.”

“I don’t like jokes that turn upon people being ugly, or stupid, or—” the grandmother’s voice shifted just perceptibly, so the boy knew she meant to be funny, “—Polish.”

The boy wanted to point out to the grandmother that jokes are based upon insults mostly. Where’s she been all her life? The jokes he hears from his friends and tells are pretty crude, taken from the Internet or cable TV.

“There’s this guy riding through the desert on a camel. He’d been alone for days so he felt the need for sex. No women anywhere in sight so the guy turns to his camel who has become wary of him, like the camel had had some kind of experience like this before. So the guy tries to position himself to have sex with the camel but the camel runs away. The guy runs to catch up with the camel and the camel lets him on, but just to ride. But soon the guy feels a need for sex again so he tries the same thing again—but the camel runs away. Finally after crossing the desert the guy comes to a road, and on the road is a broken-down car with two gorgeous blonde women in it. The guy asks the women if they need help and they tell him if he fixes their car, they’ll do anything he wants. The guy works on the car and gets the motor going and the women thank him saying, ‘Now what can we do for you?’ and the guy says, ‘Could you hold my camel?’”

The grandmother seemed to be contemplating this. But the grandmother did laugh, finally.

“O.K., that’s funny. Only just not very.”

“There’s dirtier jokes that are funnier, Grams. But I’d guess you don’t want to hear them.”

There was an edge to the boy’s voice. The grandmother declined to reply.

The grandmother continued to drive, now engulfed in a swirl of traffic at a roundabout. The boy knew to remain silent as the grandmother navigated the exit—not the first, not the second, but the third exit.

The boy felt really old sometimes. But that was his secret.

When the grandmother had exited the roundabout properly and was driving at a normal speed again the grandmother said, “At least five people have asked me, over the phone, who is coming with me to the hospital and who will be driving me home. What they don’t want is someone stepping out of their unit after waking from a ‘procedure,’ fainting and falling down. Worse, falling down some stairs.”

“What they don’t want,” the boy said, “is a lawsuit.”

The grandmother chewed at her lower lip, thoughtfully.

“I guess you must be right. I never thought of it that way. I’d thought they gave a damn about me.”

“They can give a damn about you, Grams, and still not want to be sued.”

 

 

“Can you read the directions to me? Please.”

“I did. I have been. Jesus!”

The grandmother was driving slowly along a newly paved road in the direction of a high-rise building that looked to be made of dull-green shimmering glass, in several flaring wings. Beyond this building were smaller and flatter buildings. All were surrounded by parking lots. The boy was trying to match up the Google map with the actual landscape and was having difficulty.

The “new hospital” was a congeries of sleek buildings constructed at the edge of town in a lunar-landscape of parking lots and mostly bulldozed soil.  Yet, there were areas planted in fragile new grass, and sprinklers rising and falling in the sunshine.

Though everything was new, the parking lots closest to the hospital were near-filled. And these lots were vast and daunting. Even the boy was feeling daunted.

There was a drop-off place for patients and visitors near the front entrance of the high-rise green-shimmering building and the boy and the grandmother were trying to determine how they could spare the grandmother walking what looked like a mile from the parking lot. Finally the boy said, “Just get out, Grandma. I’ll park the damn car. There’s not gonna be New Jersey traffic cops on private property, asking to see my license.”

It was a measure of the grandmother’s mounting desperation, she agreed to this. The boy slid into the driver’s seat when she got out of the car, and drove into Lot B.

By the time the grandmother had made her way into the fiercely air-conditioned foyer of the sparkling new building, and was glancing about looking for assistance, the boy had parked the Acura and had run back to join her.

The boy was a damned good runner. At times like these especially.

In school sports, the boy was too lazy, or dreamy, or distracted. Couldn’t take seriously what the other guys took seriously. All that crap was like living your life with your face pressed up close against a mirror, you couldn’t see your own face let alone anything surrounding it. Kid stuff didn’t engage him, now he wasn’t a kid.

Everything was shining-new in the new hospital. Glancing up you expected to see welcome balloons bouncing against the ceiling several floors above.

“Hel-lo! Can I be of assistance?”

A smiling young woman in clothes color-coordinated with the soft pinks, greens, blues of the foyer appeared at their elbow. The grandmother said yes thank you. As if she hadn’t memorized the words, the grandmother frowned at a form she was holding saying carefully, “It’s the Ambulatory Surgery Unit we’re looking for.”  

The appointment was for 9:30 A.M.  It was 9:22 A.M. now.

The smiling young woman informed them that they were in the wrong building—the hospital. The Ambulatory Surgery Unit was in the Medical Arts Pavilion at the far side of the hospital. “You should have parked in the east lot and entered by that entrance.”

“How’d we know that? ‘East lot.’” The boy was feeling belligerent.

“If you’ve come for an appointment, you should have been given directions and a map to the Medical Arts Pavilion.”

“‘Pavilion?’ What’s that—like, a carnival or something? A band plays on a ‘pavilion?’”

The smiling young woman looked perplexed. “‘Pavilion’—it’s just what it’s called. Where Medical Arts is.”

Quickly the grandmother intervened. “The Medical Arts Pavilion is in—this direction? Through here?”

The smiling young woman said yes. She was pointing into the interior of the hospital—you could see a bank of elevators, a long wide gleaming corridor, an atrium with potted trees, an “outdoor” café. Workmen were noisily installing something involving electrical wires beyond a sign that smartly read PARDON OUR PROGRESS!

The boy, whose blood had begun beating hard since he’d run in a fast sprint from Lot B, said to the smiling woman, “How’d anybody know that?   They told us to come to the hospital.”

Strictly speaking, this was probably not true. When the grandmother had spoken of her appointment at “the new hospital” she’d spoken in a general and therefore careless way, which the boy had taken literally, and now was reluctant to surrender, the way a loyal dog will not surrender something his master has tossed for him to fetch to the wrong person.

“If you’ve come for a medical procedure, you should have been given information, a sheet of paper with a map,” the young woman said evenly. She was still smiling but her smile had become strained. “But there’s no problem, I’m here to guide you.”

The boy was fuming. Hard to say why. Maybe seeing the grandmother through the young woman’s practiced eyes, a woman in her late sixties too elegantly dressed for the circumstances, determined to play the role of composed, calm.

“Just tell us which direction, we can find our own way,” the boy said, but the grandmother said, “Thanks! That would be really kind of you.”

Together they walked into the interior of the high-rise building, the smiling young woman in the lead.   

The boy was smoldering and grinding his back molars.

The boy nudged the grandmother who was clutching her overpriced oversized handbag in a way that annoyed him.  

“The grandma routine gets old, fast.”

“The bratty grandkid, faster.”

The boy laughed, harshly. The boy observed in a voice heavy with sarcasm that they must’ve taken a wrong exit to bring them here—“I think we’re in the Marriott.”

The corridor led into another building, the “Pavilion”—which did resemble an upscale hotel. In the center of the foyer was a burbling fountain into which, already, though the Pavilion had been inaugurated just a few days before, wishers had tossed copper pennies. Overhead were mobiles in the shapes of birds with outspread wings, Disney-renditions of austere Calder sculptures.

Both the shiny pennies and the floating birds annoyed the boy. A medical clinic isn’t a fun place.

The smiling young woman prepared to leave them now. “Take the first elevator to the right. On the second floor, turn right. You can’t miss it—‘Ambulatory Surgery.’”

Now, the strange thing. The unexpected. Too often, in the boy’s recent life, there was this—this extra thing.

For the young woman was smiling at them, but in a new way. As if she hadn’t taken in both of them, the grandmother and the boy, until now. The boy felt a shiver of dread.  

“You know? I think I remember you. From the old hospital? The two of you? And someone else?” The young woman glanced around as if a missing person might appear. As if one of the strangers passing by in the corridor might turn and smile and identify herself.

Hi. Bet you wondered where I was.

Unfamiliar places could be more dangerous than familiar places, unexpectedly. The boy had been discovering that an unfamiliar place was more easily “haunted” than a familiar place simply because there was less there to distract the memory.

“I don’t think so. I think you must be confusing us with someone else.” With a cool smile the grandmother turned decisively away, as the boy glared at the shining floor in silence.

On the second floor they turned right. Here was, not a medical unit, but a suite. Very lavishly furnished and decorated, seen through floor-to-ceiling glass panels.

The grandmother murmured ambiguously, “There are worse places than the Marriott.”

The boy halted outside the doors to Ambulatory Surgery. It was as if his legs were refusing to function, like comic-robot legs.

The boy was beginning to experience that feeling—it didn’t have any name, and he couldn’t have described it. And after it lifted, he could not really remember it.

The grandmother said, “You can wait out here, Billy Bob. You can explore the grounds. You can hang out in the café. What do kids do?”

Billy Bob was a playful name. A joke-name.

Nothing very bad could ever happen to Billy Bob, seemed to be the promise.

The boy indicated his new smartphone, that fit in the palm of his hand. “Grams, never have to ask what kids do.”

 

 

The boy didn’t accompany the grandmother into the suite designated Ambulatory Surgery but the boy remained outside looking in. Through floor-to-ceiling glass panels you could see people in the waiting room who might have been people anywhere, in an airport perhaps, except some of these people were in wheelchairs and some were bald—(bald at a wrong age, and in the wrong sex)—and the boy knew from experience that if he stepped inside the room a certain alteration of the air would unnerve him—he’d begin to feel that strange sad clutching sensation, that was also a sensation like that of sand slipping away beneath your feet, he’d do anything to avoid.

The grandmother was giving her name to the receptionist. The grandmother would be asked, Do you have a living will?

The boy was sweating in the air-conditioned air.

The grandmother turned, to point out the boy to the receptionist—there was her designated driver, it was he who would take her home.

The boy waved to the receptionist to signal That’s right. I’ll be here. No worry!

The boy was tall: five feet ten. Tallness gave him confidence at times like these.

For ten minutes or so the boy stood outside the glass panels and made faces at the grandmother who was leafing distractedly through a magazine (the grandmother had brought herself: she knew not to rely on waiting-room reading) and who glanced over at him smiling, or half-smiling—for she was distracted, the boy saw, though pretending not to see or not to register seeing.

Being a grandkid, you can so easily regress. All the ages you ever were are all recalled by the grandparent, in a shimmery love-haze like those blurred faces on TV in which identities have been disguised.

The boy was behaving strangely outside in the corridor as others came and went. Outpatients, and their companions. The boy did not want to go away, neither did the boy want to remain.

You want something to happen, finally. You want something to be decided and the results revealed.

You did not want anything to happen. You did not want any results.

The boy knew of results. The boy knew that some results are irrevocable.

The grandmother’s name must have been called, for the grandmother stood suddenly, looking frightened, which the boy wished he had not seen, but he’d seen, so he would try to forget seeing, which is not so difficult as you’d think. A smiling youngish nurse in pastel smock and pants came to escort the grandmother into the interior of the medical unit walking with her as if steadying her, and they disappeared. And the boy was dry-mouthed, observing. And the boy backed away, and turned away.

Approximately ninety minutes, the grandmother would be in Ambulatory Surgery. All this time, unfolding before the boy like an elaborate card trick.

 

 

The boy was crazy for his smartphone which could occupy him for many minutes. On the boy’s smartphone were countless apps—a small galaxy of apps. But the boy had more than the smartphone in his sweating hand, he had also his geometry text weighing down a pocket of his khaki cargo pants. He’d become the sort of wise-ass kid who tells adults he likes geometry for its orderliness and sanity.

The boy was wandering on the second floor of the Pavilion. Discovered a stairway, and ascended. Too restless to stay in one place plying the smartphone.

He thought I should have the car keys now. In case something happens, Grandma has to stay in the hospital overnight.

It began that way, usually. Tests, overnight.   

Through floor-to-ceiling glass panels on the third floor the boy observed a waiting room furnished exactly as the waiting room in Ambulatory Surgery. Here too were rows of chairs, and a few wheelchairs. Except here, the patients were all young girls.

Slender girls with long straight hair to their shoulders, falling down their backs. Girls with size-zero figures. Beautiful angel-girls, with faces that clutched at him. Hot-looking except they were, on second glance, too skinny—scary-skinny. Though they wore loose-fitting clothes you could tell they were scary-skinny for there were girls like that at his school, not many but a few, and of these some of the most beautiful girls, you learned not to stare at, but you stared. He’d turn away now but a face on the other side of the glass panel so clutched at him, such a face, he was paralyzed. Counting nine girls in the waiting room. And with them—he’d hardly noticed—older women who had to be their mothers. A waiting room exclusively female.

The boy stored up the information to relay to the grandmother on the drive home—“Guess what it was?—Eating Disorders Unit.”

The grandmother would say, “Eating Disorders! I could envy them, that kind of condition.”

The boy would say, reprovingly, “Actually, they die. A lot.”

He knew, he’d read statistics on the subject. And a girl in his class had died—(of a heart attack?)—who’d weighed only seventy-seven pounds at the age of fifteen.

The boy would entertain the grandmother, but maybe not with Eating Disorders.

The boy exited the Pavilion and was struck by hot gusts of wind rushing across the vast parking lots.

The boy hiked around the hospital to check out Lot B, a half-mile away.  Just to see that he knew where he’d parked the car. (He did.) The landscape was part primeval, gouged-out earth, mounds of red earth. Hot rushing winds that took away his breath. Hi. Bet you wondered where I was.

Back inside the Medical Arts Pavilion the boy liked feeling invisible among a continuous stream of strangers. At sixteen you’re an invisible age. He sprawled on a vinyl sofa by the burbling fountain. Couldn’t prevent himself from counting the shiny copper pennies in the fountain that he could see: thirty-two.

If he counted again, possibly he’d get another number. He thought in wonderment Why? Why do people do such fucking stupid useless things? It was envy he felt, not scorn.

The boy checked his smartphone for the fifteenth time that morning.  Mostly, he deleted messages. His thumbs had become practiced assassins. His life had become a series of rapid deletions—you deleted them before they deleted you.

Boring! The boy was restless suddenly, jumped up and took an elevator to the fourth floor—Pulmonary, Acute Asthma—took stairs down to the third floor where he leaned over the railing gazing down at the burbling fountain. From this height, you couldn’t see the shiny copper pennies and you would not speculate on what asshole-useless wishes they were.

One of the girls from Eating Disorders was walking slowly in his direction. Except that the girl’s eyes were open and unnaturally wide, she might have been sleepwalking.

She might have been nineteen though she looked fifteen. Crinkly red-brown hair fell halfway down her back. Unlike most of the Eating Disorders girls she wore tight-fitting clothes—black Capri pants, a sweater so tiny her tiny breasts were showcased like Dixie cups. Her wrists were so small, the boy stared seeing how he could loop his crude guy-fingers around them twice. He was staring at the girl so intensely, the girl took notice and laughed at him.

“Am I somebody you think you know? Or—are you somebody I’m supposed to know?”

The girl was just so gorgeous. The boy hoped his mouth wasn’t drooping open like a dog’s.

Anorexic girls had breaths like acid. It was part of all that the girls didn’t know about themselves. The boy knew that, when the girls looked in mirrors, they saw something totally different from what normal people saw, but he couldn’t imagine what they saw.

“Sorry. Am I scaring you?”

The question, from the girl, should have made no sense, but made sense. The girl laughed. Her laughter sounded like small flames darting.   

Clumsily the boy said, “I’m looking for the elevators.”

“Not looking very hard, are you? Elevators are over there.”

The boy was telling one of the guys boastfully This girl I met, she’s really cool. She’s a little older than I am. Smart…

“Are you in ‘Eating Disorders’? There’s almost no guys, I never run into guys.”

The boy laughed. He didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted.

“Do I look like ‘Eating Disorders’?”

“Well, don’t be so smug, Fred,” the girl said, “you could be, one day.”

“I don’t think so. I like to eat too much.”

“We all like to eat too much. That’s the definition of ‘Eating Disorders,’ stupid.”

She was the most gorgeous girl he’d ever seen in actual life but being called Fred or stupid wasn’t a turn-on for him.

He’d turned away. He had somewhere to get to. The girl caught the look of surprise and hurt in his face and relented.

“Excuse me? Hey.”

The boy turned back, but hesitantly. Body language suggesting he didn’t trust her but maybe, he’d be surprised.

“I’m on fucking meds, see? That’s why I say fucking stupid things I don’t mean, Fred.”

The boy said O.K. That was cool.

“Yes, but you don’t mean it. You’re looking like you want to escape. My point is, I didn’t mean it. I don’t mean it.

The boy said O.K. But he had to leave now.

The girl said, in a rising voice, “It isn’t O.K., asshole! I’m talking to you.”   

“Miranda!”—a woman was approaching the girl, agitated. A mother-looking woman from whom the girl flinched with a look of such juvenile loathing, the boy was shocked.

“What the fuck do you want? Where the fuck did you come from?”

The woman tried to placate the girl but her mistake was to touch the girl’s flailing arm.

“Fuck fuck fuck you. I said—fuck you.”

The boy escaped to the elevators. He heard angry sobbing, and angry whispering, and a sound of struggle, but he did not glance back.

 

 

This girl I met yesterday, she really came onto me. Must’ve been, like, twenty years old. So hot…

“Fuck you, Fred. This is going nowhere.”

The boy’s aloud voice was cracked, hostile. The boy was feeling loosed as an electron spinning into space—no gravity, no “orbit.”

 

 

He’d skipped breakfast that morning, now he was ravenously hungry.

In the first-floor café he ate. Stuffed his face. Washed all of it down with a giant chemical-Coke. You’d think you couldn’t buy such toxins in a hospital café but you’d be mistaken.

He loosened the belt of his jeans. He was a skinny kid, and skinny kids bloat fast.

Why was there so much bias against suicide? People should do what they fucking want.

The boy checked his smartphone on the average of once every three minutes. He wasn’t addicted, it was just something he did. Other things felt boring, or old. You’d done them already. You’d heard them already. His geometry text he’d lugged to the hospital with the intention of catching up on the assignment but the environment was too distracting for concentrated work. The grandmother had said it was not a good idea for him to miss school for her, but then the grandmother had relented saying he should get his assignments from his teachers and try to get some work accomplished waiting for her and the boy had said irritably that that was exactly what he’d planned to do, for Christ’s sake.

At each table in the café there were these trapped people—you had to be trapped if you were here, nobody would be here who’d chosen to be here even in the shining new hospital with bobbing welcome balloons. Even if the café was kind-of attractive, not a bad place—the menu not-bad, for a place like this. Each person in the café was a visitor to the hospital or the medical center and each had a probably sad, possibly awful story to tell. (The medical center had a notable Oncology Department, for one thing.) The boy who’d been stuffing his face didn’t want to hear a single one of these stories. The boy was sick of his own sad story.

Yet he was listening to two women talking together at a nearby table: one was in civilian clothing and the other was in a blue hospital nightie with a robe over it, hospital-issue socks. There was a needle in the back of the woman’s hand dripping intravenous fluids into her from a gurney she hauled around with her, with a jaunty smile. The women looked like sisters—not-young, but not-bad looking—laughing more than would seem normal.

At the old hospital, patients would sneak outside with their gurneys and smoke. It was against hospital rules as it was against common sense but the boy had abetted one of these patients more than once.

One of these times she’d said, “Good news and less-than-good news.”

“Will I be able to tell which is which?”

The patient laughed. Laughter turned into a coughing fit. The plastic IV container quivered. “You’re right. There’s not much difference.”

Later she said: “The good news is, they’re stopping chemo. The bad news is, they’re stopping chemo.”

That had been the old hospital. The boy thought, the hell with the old damn hospital.

 

 

The boy took the elevator to the second floor, turned right. He was feeling a little panicked now.

It was precisely ninety minutes. He’d had to resist coming early for it was a fact of this life, medical things are never completed early.

This time, the boy pushed open the doors and stepped inside. The boy checked in with the receptionist, gave the grandmother’s name and his own name. The receptionist called back to the medical unit. The boy was told please take a seat for the grandmother wasn’t out of recovery yet but the boy pretended not to hear for the boy did not want to be trapped in a seat, the boy wanted free use of his legs. The boy was too tall and too old to be drifting around the waiting area annoying patients in chairs, some of them in wheelchairs, drifting about the waiting room taking up magazines like Smithsonian, Scientific American, Your Health leafing through them then shoving them back in the magazine racks.

After about twenty minutes, the grandmother appeared accompanied by a nurse.

The boy stared at the grandmother and something began to fade in his head and he began to feel really weird but quickly recovered, pretty much recovered by the time the grandmother was wheeled to him with her hand uplifted—to him.

“Billy Bob—you’re looking kind of sick.”

The grandmother spoke in a jovial way. The grandmother had applied fresh lipstick to her bloodless lips, to suggest she was in a very good mood, looking and feeling damned good after the ultra-“invasive” procedure.

It was just—it was just the sight of the grandmother in a wheelchair was—a kind of a, a shock….

“Yes, my young friend. You’re looking kind of ghastly.”

The nurse who’d been pushing the grandmother in the wheelchair laughed at the grandmother’s humor. As the nurse helped the grandmother up and out of the chair the grandmother thanked the nurse saying in a voice of notable clarity that she felt “one-hundred-percent recovered” and did not require any more assistance.

It was medical protocol to wheel patients out of recovery, whether they felt weak or not. It didn’t mean anything, as the boy knew.

The boy was shaky. The boy was trying to think of a jokey response. The grandmother was laughing at him.

“Fooled you, eh? I saw your face.”

“Problem was, I saw your face.

(This was pretty lame. The boy searched his brain for witty one-liners.   All he could think of was you’re so ugly jokes. Like shoving your hand in a pocket desperate for a tissue—nothing there. Have to blow your nose in your hand.)

The grandmother was feeling good, she said. Oh maybe a little light-headed but good. There was no pain—none! Or, if there was, it was like in another room—not immediate. Taking the boy’s hand, so the boy felt her icy fingers, and another time worried he might faint, but didn’t.

Oh Jesus: the grandmother’s fingers were so thin.

The boy escorted the grandmother from Ambulatory Surgery, down to the foyer. The boy would leave the grandmother at the entrance and the boy would run, run—run to Lot B—to get the car to pick her up. 

 

 

“The funny thing about anesthesia—you’ve been out, but you don’t remember. When you wake up you aren’t really sure you are not dead, but you guess you aren’t fully alive either.”

The boy sniggered as if this was meant to be a particularly witty insight by the grandmother.

The grandmother was settling into the passenger’s seat. Now, the grandmother conceded, maybe she was feeling a little—tired. Maybe she’d close her eyes on the way home. Maybe at home, she’d have a nap.

The boy was thrilled by the new-model Acura in Bellanova White Pearl, that held the road so beautifully. A quiet engine, like a heart that doesn’t rattle.

He’d helped the grandmother select this vehicle. They’d traded in an older, inferior vehicle.

The boy felt good, driving. The boy felt very good.

“What did the doctor say? Was there an X-ray? Bloodwork?”

The boy hadn’t planned to ask these questions. Yet the boy heard himself ask these questions.

“The doctor said,” the grandmother pitched her voice in imitation of a male Chinese voice, “—‘Good news and not-so-good news.’”

The boy was listening, yet the boy hadn’t heard this. Not clearly, the boy hadn’t heard.

The grandmother laughed. “No. Dr. Wei didn’t say that. What he said was,” and again she pitched her voice, as if the boy’s resistance to laughing was a part of the joke, “‘Results not in yet, Mrs. Cosby. Will call tomorrow morning.’”