by Kim MacDonald
She steps out of the shower and wraps her hourglass shape in a cotton towel. Her wet feet leave a path to her room on the decades old wooden floor. From the bedside table her phone vibrates and rings. She is in a rush, so she lets it go to voicemail. When she finishes dressing she picks up the phone and she sees the number from the missed call. Her heart drops to her feet and her pulse accelerates. She doesn’t have to listen to the voicemail because she already knows what it will say.
She hadn’t spoken to him in over a month. It was an unusual amount of time to pass for them to not speak. Although she tried to dissociate from him a year ago when she suspected what he was doing she could never break the tie all the way. Her heart would not let her. She worried when he didn’t return her calls and became suspicious, but pushed the fear aside in hopes that she was wrong. Without listening to the voicemail she calls back the missed number. The shaky voice on the other side confirms what she already knew. He isn’t well. He is not expected to survive. Things turned quickly after they found him alone in his mountain retreat. He is brain dead. He looks bad so prepare yourself if you go see him. They will take him off of life support on Thursday.
With tears in her eyes and adrenaline pumping, she walks back to the bathroom to dry her hair and apply her makeup. In a vacuum she readies herself and tries her best to mentally prepare for what she will see. This was what she foresaw two years ago when they met, yet she feels blindsided. She successfully holds back the tears as she drives to the hospital.
She enters the hospital through the automatic glass slider. Her black heels click on the utilitarian hospital tile on her walk to the intensive care unit. This was not the first time she has visited him in the hospital, so she knows the routine. She gets to his room with his last name written to the right and the warning sign on his door. There is a cart outside, like there always is, with the mandatory yellow gown and rubber gloves that all visitors must don before they enter. Her hands shake as she ties the gown and puts on the gloves. Grasping her purse in an attempt to calm herself she turns the door knob and slowly enters.
She does not look on the side of the room with the hospital bed right away. Her plan is to enter and slowly acclimate to how he looks. So she walks to the opposite side of the room and quickly glances in his direction and averts her eyes. In shock at the familiar stranger she looks for a place to put her purse. She stands with her back to him and gathers her strength, stiffening her muscles and obtaining her balance. She pivots and faces him lying in the motorized bed with clear tubing exiting his nose and mouth. The machine next to the bed beeps rhythmically and drips liquids into his bulging veins. Out of habit she looks at his vital signs displayed on the monitor. They are strong enough to sustain life, so maybe he can pull out of this. She needs him. He stops her from falling. She hopes his neurons will turn back on, the electrical impulses will restart his brain and she will get him back. Her science background tells her wishing heart this is impossible.
She sits next to his bed in the vinyl chair. His once thin face is swollen beyond recognition, his half open light blue eyes stare at nothing, and his long legs are wrapped in white gauze. She pulls the stiff sheets back and looks as his familiar legs that have been eaten with MRSA. Red blood stains soak through the gauze and the smell of rotting flesh hits her nostrils. Her trained eyes inspect his infection ridden body. His ears have both turned black and half of them have rotted off from his years of drug abuse. His futile attempts to remain sober were disappointing to everyone, even him. The masculine bulge in his throat swallows intermittently as she stares at his cocaine overdosed body in disbelief. Her pale hand takes his and holds it tight. Memories fill her mind as she shuts her teary blue eyes.
He grabs her hand and they jump off of a cliff together. The free fall is euphoric. They spend weekends together at his mountain cabin with nothing, but rum and coke. In the intimate enclosure, in the month of December, with snow falling sideways out the window, they laboriously feed wood into the mouth of the iron stove in the corner. When the fire is roaring, he sits in a stuffed chair in front of their efforts, and fully clothed she straddles him. Hot air from the stove hits her winter feet. His six foot three frame underneath her five foot ten body makes their union all arms and legs. Time freezes; their bodies meld and he whispers into her waiting ear that he loves her. Without hesitation, she whispers the words back to him. In the embrace, he confesses his shortcomings to her and heartbreak over what he cannot control. Tears fill his guilty eyes. Today there are no witnesses, or jury, so he will not be sentenced to punishment. He tells her his shameful addiction is stronger than the love he has for his children, than his employment and his ambition. Time has now proven that it is also stronger than his life.
She opens her eyes to look at him one last time. She leans to kiss his cold, dying lips and whispers to him “I love you. Thank you.”
Sobbing and light headed, she tears the paper hospital gown off of her body and obediently puts it into the hazardous waste container. Breaking the laws of gravity, she exits his room. She floats down the shiny hospital corridor in the opposite direction knowing she will never see him again. Her body is hollow and her heart is fractured as she drives in the half dark towards home.
In the headlights up ahead in the distance, she sees an enormous bump. She knows it will toss her from her seat when she hits it, but the road is curved and she cannot swerve to avoid it. In preparation for the imminent collision she grips the steering wheel tight, knuckles turning white. Inevitably, she hits the bump, is abruptly ejected from her seat and sails through the air. She free falls through the clouds. She hits the ground and it hurts like hell…even though she saw it coming from a distance.
by Kim MacDonald
The thought of his impending night excites him as he drives from work. The cash in his wallet forms a bulge between the leather seat and his body, serving as a reminder of his destination. His guilty mind remembers–wife wants a new washing machine, his two kids are starting school, and his gas tank is almost empty. However, his urge is too strong to deny. He has to get his fix tonight.
Like a true junkie his body shakes with adrenaline as he pulls up to the old building on the wrong side of town in the neon lined corridor. A small group of people stand next to a dumpster in the parking lot. The twenty-something-year-old men wear jeans and baseball hats and the younger looking women are scantily dressed. These are people he would never interact with in his nine-to-five world. He gets out of his brown Mercedes in his expensive suit and tie and they all stare. He knows he is not the typical customer here, so the stares do not bother him. His perfectly coiffed hair and expensive cologne give no indication of the destructive behavior underneath. The smell of marijuana and cigarettes blows in the breeze and one person bravely asks, “ Hey man, you straight?”
He impatiently waves the question off with his hand as he walks past the group. He readies himself in the parking lot by turning off his phone and puffing on a Marlboro. He flicks the bud onto the sidewalk and walks around to the front of the brick building with graffiti sprayed on the side. He knows his addiction has spiraled out of control, but he cannot stop himself, nor does he want to. The needle seems to fix the part of him that is broken and sedates his whirling mind. He reassures himself that he is okay because he has meticulously hidden the apparent signs of his addiction by his five-days-a-week uniform of starched white shirts and suits.
He enters the familiar building where signs are hung on the wall in disarray. He glances at the hand drawn pictures of unique images from minds of the possibly insane while walking towards the back. He looks for Willy, the man that gave him his first high and keeps him coming back for more. He finds him in the back corner slumped over a table with a pencil in his hand. Willy looks up and says, “What’s up, you ready?”
Trying to contain his excitement the man in the business suit replies, “I’ve been waiting for this all week. Ya, I’m ready.”
“You come here a lot. Thanks for the business.”
The business man jokes “Ya. This shit’s my only escape right now.”
Their ritual is perfectly choreographed from months of practice. They both sit down on the black vinyl chairs and the business man slowly rolls up the sleeve from his dry cleaned shirt. The marks from the past are permanently etched on his arm. There is only one spot that is not used up by the needle. Everything else has been disfigured. Willy picks up the needle and the mechanical sound starts. With anticipation and awe he waits for his fix and watches as Willy gives him the last tattoo that can fit on his left forearm.
About the Author
Three years divorced, two grown children, full time student at Arapahoe Community College, part time CNA, maniacal writer. Kim MacDonald is blindly navigating her way through the maze of life with daily stops at her computer. The blinking cursor and active screen are her necessary therapy.