“Glad I’m not you.”
Day ? Month ? Year?
GM: Beep… beep… beep…
White. Bright lights. Breathing. Every inhalation, every exhalation, a gale wind through his mouth. Hazy figures in green. Murmurs. A white-gloved hand over his face.
Beep… beep… beep…
Day ? Month ? Year?
GM: Beep… beep… beep…
Sterile white linoleum walls. A blue partitioning curtain. Smells of sweat, saline, and disinfectant.
Beep… beep… beep…
Something soft behind his back. The pain. Still everywhere. No longer a roaring bonfire, but a dull, throbbing ache.
Everywhere but his legs.
Emmett: “Ha… ha.” It’s a dream. Just a dream. Just a nightmare. He’s going to wake up soon. Any minute now.
GM: As his surroundings reluctantly focus, Em finds himself already in bed. One of those half-upraised hospital beds. An IV stabs through a vein on his arm.
Emmett: No, he isn’t. Please, God. He knows he’s made some mistakes. But he doesn’t deserve this. Does he? He speaks, and does not hear what he says.
GM: Emmett knows not whether he screams and blasphemes, cries and sobs, or desperately tries to convince himself the past… however many hours didn’t happen.
Pain does not fade. Feeling does not return from whence there was none. No voice answers in return. Emmett is left alone, denied even the comfort of sharing his pain with another human being.
Emmett: Tick tock, goes the clock. Thump-thump goes his heart. Beep-beep, goes the machine. His legs do nothing at all. Tears mark the time like sand in an hourglass, and fall just as heavy.
GM: The sand trickles. The tears flow. Em does not witness them run out. Perhaps he is simply too exhausted, or perhaps fate takes pity on him. Blackness finally steals over the young man’s sight.
Day ? Month ? Year ?
GM: “Good morning. Can you hear me?”
GM: “You’ve been through an ordeal.”
Emmett: That is one way of putting it.
GM: Emmett’s surroundings reluctantly blur into focus.
A dark-haired man wearing a physician’s white coat and stethoscope looks down at him. He looks relatively young for his presumed profession, maybe a few years Lena’s junior. His hair is shaved to a near buzzcut, and his facial stubble is maybe an hour short of five o’ clock. Em can’t say if it’s due to the doctor’s almost-beard or just the lighting, but a shadow seems to spread across his lower face as he smiles down at the bedridden young man.
Emmett: His voice is a dry husk. “Stop smiling.”
GM: “Try not to move too much. It’s going to hurt like hell for you right now.”
Emmett: “Stop smiling.”
GM: “You’ve been through an ordeal.” The doctor’s dark eyes twinkle.
Emmett: “You’re putting me through an ordeal. Look a little sad, please.” The joke, he finds, isn’t one. “Could you just… look a little goddamn sad?”
GM: The doctor’s smile slowly widens.
“I’m sorry. I suppose I’m just happy for you. You’re very lucky to still be alive.”
He gives a light chuckle.
“In fact, most patients I know would be asking whether they were all right or how they ended up here.”
The doctor glances down at something in his palm and seems to consider Em more thoughtfully.
Emmett: “I don’t think I’m all right,” Em says tonelessly. “Where am I? And how did I get here?”
GM: “Great questions. Let’s start at the beginning. Do you remember what your name is?”
Emmett: “Yes. Do you know my name?”
GM: The doctor smiles. “We’re here to talk about you right now.”
Emmett: “I remember my name.”
GM: “Please repeat it for me,” the doctor patiently requests.
Emmett: Em laughs. “I don’t know where I am, how I got here, or half of the last… Christ knows how many days. Why don’t you tell me what kind of frying pan I’m in before I step into the fire?”
GM: The edges of the doctor’s eyes crinkle. “No fire or frying pan. You’re in a hospital, and you’re here to get better. If you want to do that, we need to know how bad off you are. If you can’t remember your name, that would indicate something is pretty wrong. Make sense?”
Emmett: Em’s shoulders sag. He’s can’t feel his legs. His fucking legs. But. He still has his tongue.
“I’m sorry, doc. I know you just want to help.” He forces every broken bone into his voice. Every drop of despair. “I… I have family, and they’re not well off. If they get called, they’ll try to help.” The tears are real enough. “I don’t want to break their backs, too, doc. I’m sorry.”
GM: “I’m sure you don’t,” the still-smiling doctor responds with a humoring tone. “Hate to rain on that parade, but I already know who you are. I’m checking to see whether you do too.”
Emmett: After considering the truth in Doctor McSunshine’s eyes, Em sighs. “Emmett Delacroix. I get to know yours?”
GM: “You can call me Dr. Brown. I’d shake, but, well.” The doctor offers a deprecating smile.
Emmett: But you’re too worried I’d bite you, fucker? Em glances at his arms.
GM: He finds both in casts and slings.
Emmett: “How’d I get here?”
GM: Another soft chuckle. “I was about to ask you, Emmett. What’s the last thing that you can remember before waking up here?”
Emmett: “I…” Em’s brow creases. “I think I drank something. In the Quarter…”
GM: “Something pretty strong, must’ve been.”
Emmett: “No, I think… I think I blacked out, after.”
GM: Dr. Brown raises his eyebrows. “That’s the last thing you remember, before waking up here?”
Emmett: “No. There’s… flashes. I was, um.” Swallow. “Naked. In the dark. I kept fading out.”
GM: The doctor glances down at something in his palm again, then back up at Emmett.
“You have any idea how you might’ve ended up that way?”
Emmett: “There’s, um. The obvious answer. Some psycho slipped something in my drink and… Christ.”
GM: The doctor asks Em a few similar follow-up questions and finally states, “Mmm-hm. Well, maybe it’s for the best you don’t remember too much, but this is out of my hands anyway. The police are going to interview you, once you’re okay enough to have visitors.” The doctor smiles again, stands up, and pats the foot of Em’s bed in seeming substitute for touching the catastrophically injured young man’s body. “So until then, take it easy. We’ll have a nurse come by later to check on you.”
Emmett: “Please.” Em locks eyes with the man. “Can’t you tell me what you know? I’m sorry for being rude. I was scared. Am scared. I just…” the frustration, humiliation, in his voice is all too genuine. “I have no idea what’s happened to me.”
GM: The doctor heaves a sigh and sits back down. “Your landlady found you in the dumpster bin outside your apartment. Gave her quite a scare.”
Emmett: “Oh my god. What about my legs? My arms? How… how bad is it?”
GM: “Your arms were broken. They should heal up fine.”
GM: “Your legs, you’ve lost everything from the knee down.”
Emmett: Em blinks.
“I, ah. I see.”
He sobs, a little.
His tongue. He still has his tongue.
“Have you… called anybody?”
GM: The doctor smiles again, though whether out of genuine sympathy is Em’s guess. “Prosthetics have come a long ways, Emmett. So far as your family, we’ve called all of your immediate relatives.”
“Okay,” he says meekly. He has nothing else to say.
GM: “Turns out your sister’s actually a doctor too. Lucky you, when you’re discharged.”
Emmett: “Lucky,” he repeats.
GM: “Well, lucky in your circumstances,” Dr. Brown smiles.
Emmett: “Has she… seen?”
GM: “Oh no, we’ve not allowed you any visitors yet.”
Emmett: “Could we keep it that way, please? For… just a little bit?”
GM: The doctor laughs. “You just lie back and relax, Emmett. Enjoy some TV. You won’t need to worry about police or bills or whatever else until you’re a ways better.”
Emmett: “Not police. Just family.”
GM: “Afraid that’s not up to either of us. But like I said.” The doctor encouragingly pats the foot of Em’s bed again. “You don’t need to worry about them for now. You just focus on getting better.”
Emmett: Doc Brown’s probably tasted vinegar that was sweeter than Em’s laugh. “Oh. I’ll get right to that. How long does it take legs to grow back, usually?”
GM: The doctor grins. “Well, science hasn’t come quite that far yet. Prosthetics usually take at least a few months.”
He picks up the TV’s remote. “You got a favorite channel to watch?”
Emmett: “I don’t suppose you have Netflix.”
GM: “’Fraid not. Or cable. Just regular old TV here.”
Emmett: “Just… anything.”
GM: Dr. Brown flicks the remote, pats Em’s bed again, and reiterates how a nurse will be around later to check on him. A final shadow-rimmed smile and he’s gone. The television blares down at the invalid young man.
“…this largest tooth whale is also called a chacalot!”
Game show-themed music begins playing. Dooh-dooh dooh dooh, dooh dooh dooh. Dooh, dooh-dooh dooh dooh dooh-dooh. Dooh, dooh-dooh, doo. Dooh. Dooh. Dooh. Dun-dun.
“What is… the sperm whale!”
Cheers and applause sound from the audience.
Emmett: He misses those visions already.
Em’s eyes close; first because the host’s makeup offends him, then because he finds the world is a better place when he doesn’t have to look at it, and finally because the pillow is so, so warm…
Monday night, 7 September 2015, PM
GM: Sleep comes easily and brings neither dreams nor nightmares. Just a blank stretch of non-being, when he isn’t Emmett Delacroix, isn’t a legless cripple, isn’t anybody else.
He comes to later in the evening. If the room’s darkened lighting is an indication, it’s late evening. He is confronted by a stout-framed, middle-aged woman with short graying hair and a jowl-lined, bulldog-like face. Emmett initially suspects her to be an orderly, but she wears a nurse’s scrubs and is holding a plastic bin that smells of talcum powder.
“You can’t use toilets, so you’re going to use this. Do you need me to remove your clothes?”
Emmett: Em raises an eyebrow. He glances at the strange white things that have replaced his arms. Then back at her.
GM: The nurse’s expectant expression doesn’t change.
Emmett: He grits his teeth. If pride had gone before the fall, this would be easier. “Yes,” he forces out.
GM: The nurse sets down the bedpan and pulls back Emmett’s covers. In place of where his legs used to be below the knee are two white-bandaged stumps.
Pain stabs through Em as the nurse hoists him up beneath his armpits like a sack of potatoes, lays a plastic cover over the sheets, and sets him back down. That hurts too. She undoes his hospital gown and raises it over his hips with the impersonal detachment of someone who’s done it a thousand times before. She then lowers the bed and grunts, “Lie supine.”
Emmett: Is that a math thing?
No more pillow talk, please…
Buy me dinner first…
He would have said something like that, once. Now he stares sadly at his cock. It’s cold in here, and he hurts all over.
“I don’t know what that means,” he mutters.
GM: Emmett’s manhood resembles nothing so much as a sickly misshapen eggplant. It’s all blacks, blues, and dulled reds. Faded slashes crisscross its length. Random clumps of hair are either singed or missing.
The nurse just sighs, then takes hold of Emmett’s hips with two thick hands, which hurts, and pulls him forward so he’s lying flat on his back. She turns him on his side, which also hurts, and he feels cold plastic pressing against his buttocks. That hurts too. She rolls him on top of the bedpan and raises the bed, bringing his body into a somewhat more natural toileting position. That still hurts. She does not leave the room, but simply turns her back.
He’s past the shame. He just loathes the dirty feeling. When he’s done, he clears his throat. “I need you to…”
GM: Voiding his bowels is like shitting rocks and pissing razor wire. It hurts. A lot. The smell is coppery and exceedingly foul. The nurse wrinkles her nose. “Glad I’m not you.”
Emmett: “I’m not.”
GM: The nurse holds the bedpan flat and then rolls Em away, onto his chest. He hears something lightly tearing, then there’s more pain. By the time the nurse is done and does up his gown, his ass feels like it’s been scorched with a blowtorch.
“They found glass in your rectum,” she explains.
Emmett: His eyes feel wet, and he doesn’t trust himself to speak. He’s always hated places like this, for no particular reason. Now he has one.
GM: The nurse wordlessly carries away the foul-smelling bedpan. The stool is mostly obscured by discarded toilet paper, which is colored red as much as brown.
Em can’t say how much time passes before she returns. She sets down a tray on his bedside table, re-inspects the splints on his arms, changes the fluid bag hooked up to his IV, and checks a few other things. She then sets the tray over Em’s lap. What’s on it looks almost as nauseous as what just came out of his ass.
The glob of potatoes is wet, gray, and runny, like a hunk of moist brain matter with runny snot for gravy. The ear of corn is discernible as corn, but the kernels are spaced conspicuously close together and are curiously uniform in their shape, like a plastic replica rather than the real thing. Em has no idea what the round-shaped gray stuff is. The brown goop smeared over it would resemble his stool if not for the sickly-sweet smell.
Emmett: “I’m not hungry.”
Unless maybe you have some poison.
GM: The nurse sets a plastic knife and fork by Em’s plate and stares at him.
Emmett: “I’m not hungry,” he repeats.
He sounds like a child. He doesn’t care.
GM: The nurse sets a glass of water on his tray. And stares.
Emmett: His head droops. “I—ok.” Here it comes. “My arms are, um. I can’t.”
“I need you to help me.”
GM: The nurse stabs off a forkful of the snot-like potatoes and holds it in front of Em’s mouth like he’s twelve months old.
Emmett: Here comes the airplane. Right into the towers. He closes his eyes, and opens.
GM: The ‘food’ gets shoved in. It tastes as bad as it looks. Bland, runny, and as far removed from that chocolatey Café Soulé luncheon as his odds of coming first place in a marathon. The nurse watches him as he chews and swallows, then partitions off a second forkful of mashed potato.
Eventually, his plate is cleaned and his glass is emptied. The nurse takes them away and tells Em that someone will come by in the morning to help him void his bowels and hand-feed him another meal. She takes her leave just as the wing’s lights go out. Em is left alone in the dark with his thoughts.
Emmett: It could be worse, right? He’s alive. People have lost more from less to drink. He still has his tongue. People love cripples—or they pity them, which is the same as far as money goes. It could be worse. Right?
But even Em isn’t that good of a liar.