On the edge of death

September 20, 2011

When I was having a heart attack (they called it a quiet attack) I went to a clinic. Thought I had some kind of bug. A flu. It was hot out. So I was sweating. Feeling like I wanted to vomit. Sat amongst a crowd of people. Mostly mothers with kids. A lot of pain. Felt like a prisoner of that moment. Couldn’t day dream. Which is my usual practice in crowds. They make me feel ill. I think that is why some of my ancestors came to the New World. The old one was getting too clausterphobic. One of my uncles lived in a cabin. By himself. Far from town. My other uncles lived in alcohol. One lived with an Indian woman who he beat when he was drunk. My mother said that the woman was one of the kindest people she’d ever met. And these were the genes I was carrying. Feeling crappy. On the edge of death. Without knowing it.



“Do you have any idea how long we’ll be waiting?” the woman asked. The receptionist. In the medical clinic. I’ve got things to do.

Clutching the woman’s hand was her daughter. She looked up. Her frightened eyes spoke.

Mommy! I’m not feeling better. Like you promised this morning.

The receptionist turned her radio down.

I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.

“Can I see your medical card?” The receptionist looked up. Routine questions. Another routine day. Every one like the one before. The receptionist was chewing gum. It irritated the mother with the daughter.

“Must you do that?” The mother said.

The receptionist looked up.

“Excuse me?” The receptionist looked lost in the question.

The mother pointed to her own mouth. Open. Still. The receptionist could not gleam any clue.

“The gum.” The mother enunciated slowly.

The receptionist. She chewed on.

The woman pointed to her daughter.

“I’m trying to set a good example. To my daughter. Takes a village to raise a child.”

The receptionist blew a small bubble. Which looked a lot like an “F”. And a “U”

“Your medical card.” The receptionist repeated. Snapped her gum.

The mother handed over her medical card. The receptionist turned up her radio. The lights began weeping.

Got no mansion, got no yacht,

Still I’m happy with what I got.

I’ve got the sun in the morning

And the moon at night

The mother looked around. She felt like dancing. Were there cameras? In the room. She’d had better days. When she wasn’t loaded down. With a daughter. That was a mistake. Was no one here feeling sorry? For her. In a clinic. With her little daughter. Not even Carl’s. Who’d been away that weekend. Fishing. A day wasted. In a clinic. When she could have been with…

Nothing ever works out the way you expect.

The receptionist looked at the card. She had plastic gloves on.

You never know where these people have been.

“Have you been here before?”

The mother turned back to the receptionist. She nodded her head. She realized that the receptionist was not looking up.

She responded. “No.”

And I’m not crazy about being here this time.

The receptionist handed her a clipboard. With a form. And pencil on it.

“Fill out the form and return it to me.”

The receptionist looked at the woman. Blew another bubble. She hated these people who came in here. Begging for help. And yet still looking down their straight long noses at her.

God, I wish I was working at the cosmetic counter. Someplace where you could get some respect.

“Will it be long before we see the doctor?” The mother repeated her original question. Which the receptionist had not heard. And perhaps was never asked.

“It’ll be a while.” The receptionist’s monotone voice seemed drained of care.

The receptionist turned her attention back. To her radio.

If I was a little bird. I would fly from tree to tree.

I’d build my nest up in the air

where the bad boys couldn’t bother me.

“My daughter is very sick.” The mother’s lip quivered. A little girl. Who was frightened. Who wasn’t really expected. But who now was sick.

“I think it is something she ate. She’s had the runs. A stomach ache.”

The little girl continued to pull at her mother’s arm.

This is taking an eternity, mommy. And I’m hurting now.

“The doctor will get to you as soon as he can.” The receptionist looked at the little girl. With regrets. Something in the little girl’s eyes. Like she knew. She wasn’t expected. Wasn’t wanted. Wasn’t needed. The receptionist knew the feeling. She didn’t want to look at it.

“Take a seat.” She said.

When am I going to get a coffee break? I have to pee.

The woman looked around at the other patients in the waiting room.

“I’m sure that these people wouldn’t mind if my little girl…”

“I’m sorry, mam.” The receptionist intervened. She enjoyed that. Interruptions. “You’ll have to wait like everyone else.”

The woman took a deep breath. Turned around. Looked for a seat. They were all taken. A red headed man stood up and offered his chair to the little girl. The woman nodded her appreciation and sat down, her daughter climbing onto her lap.

The little girl looked at the red headed man. She decided to call the red headed man… Walter. Walter was an uncle. He had died in Vietnam. One of many Canadians who served in the American forces. Her mommy was always taking out pictures of him. And crying. Over a glass of wine. While Carl made dinner.

Walter leaned against the wall. The air-conditioner droned on. Music squeezed out of the small radio. From where Walter stood it could hardly be heard.

I spoke last night to the ocean. I spoke last night to the sea.

And from the ocean a voice came back

‘Twas my Blue Jacket answering me

The dingy green painted walls shot arrows of pain. Into Walter’s brain. Sweat ran down. Walter’s forehead. His breathing was. Shallow.

God, I hope this is the flu.

Walter’s father had died from a heart attack. As had his grandfather. The family talked about it. At Christmas. At Thanksgiving. On Labor Day. All the time. Like it was the curse of the family. But no one told Walter what the symptoms were.

I like eggs and bacon served by the one I love.

They only said it was inevitable. Walter would die. And soon. Walter undid the top button of his plaid shirt.

Gotta get out of here.

Turning, he stepped out of the clinic and into the pharmacy. He needed fresh air. Stumbling through the aisles, he apologized to an old lady who pushed her walker across his path.

“Why are the young in such a hurry?” Mrs. Murphy shook her head.

Walter headed for the front doors.

Once outside, Walter leaned against the glass walls. Of the drugstore. He took a deep breath. A few yards away. An Asian kid with a Fu Manchu moustache sat Buddha like on the cement. Bumming money. Reading a book. Nietszche. And listened to headphones. Ella Fitzgerald.

“You alright?” Fu asked, removing his headphones.

Walter slid to the cement. He shook his head.

“Food poisoning. I think?”

“Vomiting and diarrhea?” Fu asked.

Walter nodded. “I thought I was dieing.”

“Drink a lot of liquids,” Fu suggested. “Especially water.”

“I think I’m over the worst of it,” Walter said.

“A guy gave me his lunch one day,” Fu said. “Instead of money. I was sick for two days. I think the guy tried to poison me. You’d be surprised about the amount of rift raft you meet in my profession.”

“What’s your profession?” Walter asked.

“I’m not sure there’s a word for it,” Fu responded. “Beggar is too pejorative. If I lived in the middle-ages I’d be one of those guys who lived for years at the top of the pole. A sage. I think they were called sages. Can’t be sure. What do you think they were called?”

“Nuts, maybe.” Walter took a handkerchief out and wiped his neck.

“My father was a magician,” Fu said.

Walter looked at Fu wondering why the beggar had parted this information to him.

“And my mother was a lawyer,” Fu added.

“Your mother was a lawyer and your father was a magician?” Walter asked.

Fu nodded.

“How did that work out?” Walter asked.

Fu smiled. “They had me.”

“I’ll bet you were a blessing,” Walter said. Feeling better.

Maybe all I needed was fresh air.

“You would have thought so,” Fu responded.

Just at that moment, the doors of the drug store opened. The little girl who had been in the doctor’s office with her mother, ran out. She looked back and forth. She couldn’t decide where she was headed. Her mother rushed to the door. Almost reached her. The little girl made her decision. She stepped over to Walter. Sitting on the sidewalk. She opened her mouth. And gagged.

“Please! No!” Walter begged. And threw up his hands.

“No Tara, not on the man!” Her mother cried. Too late.

One Response to “On the edge of death”

  1. Thanks for another greet post. Keep up the good work.

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