“I made bad choices. Okay? I made a lot of mistakes, and some of this is my fault, and I’m an idiot. That’s what happened.”
Sunday noon, 13 September 2015
GM: “Oh my god… Emmett, what happened?”
Emmett’s older sister stares at him with one hand over her mouth. Eveline Merinelli is a plump woman in her late 30s with formative wrinkles around her mouth, shoulder-length sandy hair, and a face that’s round from the weight she never fully worked off from her first pregnancy. A pair of carolyn-framed glasses sit over her nose, while her makeup is minimal and her jewelry absent. She’s dressed in a pastel blouse, dark slacks, and leather clogs. All things told, she looks like she just removed her doctor’s coat after getting off from work at the Children’s Hospital New Orleans, and perhaps she did.
Emmett: “Lena,” he says. He feels his eyes getting wet. “Hi.”
GM: Lena sits down and wraps her arms around him in a hug. The doctor tries to be gentle, but the sister can’t resist pulling him close against her chest.
Emmett: “Ribs,” he mutters. “I need my ribs, at least.” The joke takes what little energy he has left.
GM: His sister’s touch lingers for a moment, but she finally pulls away at his protests. Her face is overcome with a palette of emotions, shock and concern not least among them.
“Em, what happened?!”
He’s thought a lot about this moment. He’s spun webs of lies to make spiders weep, rehearsed in the empty hours of the night when sleep won’t come for him.
None of that matters, now.
“I…” He bites his tongue. “I…”
Just do it. Just lie, you lying liar fucker. Just DO IT…!
“I can’t,” he says, and bursts into tears. Somehow, this is worse. This is worse than the ass-wiping, than being raped, worse even than the moment he realized he couldn’t feel his legs.
“I made bad choices. Okay? I made a lot of mistakes, and some of this is my fault, and I’m an idiot. That’s what happened. And I can’t talk about it, right now. I can’t lie here in my shit without legs and talk about how I got here. I’m sorry, Lena. I’m just… I’m really sorry. Please don’t make me talk about it.”
He can’t see the room anymore. It’s all one big, saline bubble.
GM: Em might not be able to see, but he can still feel someone’s arm around his shoulders in another half-hug. “Em, that’s… that’s okay. You don’t need to talk about anything right now. I shouldn’t have even asked, not this soon. After…”
She gives him a squeeze. “Thanks for being honest.”
Emmett: He sobs subside, slightly. “I’m… I’m sorry. For everything.” More than you know, Lena.
GM: “It’s all right. You’ll get… get through this.” Lena takes a breath and tries to put on a comforting smile as she pulls something out of her coat. “Maya and Noah made you a card.”
Emmett: He manages an uneven laugh. Get well soon. Get well soon…
“That’s nice,” he says. “Are they all right?”
GM: “More than. They’re in school right now. They can come visit later, if you’re feeling up for it.”
Emmett: “That sounds great.”
And more fun than going to their funeral. Oh Christ. Oh my god.
He starts crying again. “You know I love you guys, right?” he says. His throat burns.
GM: Lena dabs his face with a second tissue. She dabs hers with the first. “We… we know. We love you too, Em.”
“Listen,” she says more slowly, “another thing to think about is bills. Every day you’re here is going to cost you more money. I’d need to talk with your doctor to get a better picture of what condition you’re in, but if he thinks an early discharge would be okay, you’re welcome to stay at my family’s house.”
Emmett: “I don’t want…” to watch you die. “…to be a burden.”
GM: “Well, you wouldn’t be,” his sister states matter-of-factly. “We do have a housekeeper, lord knows we pay her enough as it is. And it’s going to take at least a month for your arms to heal.”
Emmett: A home. Warm food. His nephew and niece. Christ. He even misses Dan.
“I don’t want you to… I need care. I can’t do… things for myself anymore.”
Things like feeding myself, he doesn’t say. Things like brushing his own teeth and wiping his own ass.
GM: “I know, Em. I’ve seen my share of hospital patients. We can have Paula do some of those things, if you’d prefer.”
Emmett: He laughs a crippled laugh that never gets off the ground. “That’ll be a fun conversation.”
GM: “And you’ll miss out on, poor you,” Lena offers with a nose-crinkling smile. “Another thing I’m going to do is start a few applications on your behalf for Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income, or SSI. That probably won’t take care of all your bills, but if you get approved, it’ll help.”
Emmett: “If you’re sure… I’ll pay you back for this. Someday.”
GM: “I’m very sure. And nonsense. What family’s for, isn’t it?”
Sunday noon, 13 September 2015
GM: Em can make out the voice of one of his nurses just past the door.
“…and he’s in here. Please try not to make any… noise with all that.”
Emmett: He lifts his head, squinting.
Mouse: “I can try, ma’am,” another voice replies with a lilt. It’s pure as water and smooth as black velvet whiskey.
The door handle to Em’s room turns as a svelte man enters. He looks a few years younger than Em, but still old enough to be out of high school. His chocolate-brown hair is an unruly mass of frizz and curls. His sea-green eyes look over Em’s bedridden, crippled form with a juxtaposition of sympathy and oddly unrelenting cheeriness. A tired, beat-up guitar is slung over his right shoulder as he takes a couple soft-footed steps forward. He’s carrying a large card and several balloons in his free hands. He turns back to the nurse and gives her a shy look as he thanks her for showing him the way to Em’s room.
Emmett: Oh, just what I needed. The power of positive thinking.
Em manages to make his eye-roll look like a spasm. “Hey, Mouse. Been a while.”
Mouse: Mouse smiles back. “Hi Em.”
He approaches Em and awkwardly proffers the card and balloons.
Emmett: Em flicks his eyes at his cast-bound arms.
“Maybe tie it around my arm?” he suggests weakly.
Mouse: “I can do that,” Mouse answers nervously, still clearly surprised by Em’s condition. He puts the card on the bedside table and ties the balloons to Em’s nearest cast-bound arm with a dextrous flourish.
“What happened?” he asks softly.
Emmett: “Crippling debt,” Em says simply. “I’d… rather not talk about it, if you don’t mind. How’s prison? Sorry, Tulane?”
The casual shift in topic feels about as natural as the stumps where his body ends.
Mouse: Mouse gives a humorous smile. “It’s not as bad as a prison, Em.” He laughs quietly at the joke. “They make all student residents adhere to a meal plan, though. How’s the hospital food?”
Emmett: “I haven’t tried it yet. They have stuff that looks like food, though.” Em smiles, painfully. “Fizzy still… Fizzy?”
Mouse: “Yes. Fizzy is still Fizzy.” Mouse beams with pride at the mention of his older brother. He adds in a hushed tone, “I didn’t tell him I was going to see you, of course. He doesn’t really like me hanging out with you.”
Emmett: “What’s he gonna do, break my legs again?” He sighs. “I appreciate you coming, though—” He stops. “You, uh. Still living the high life? Gallery openings, whatnot?”
Mouse: Mouse’s eyes drift conspicuously downwards to Em’s lower half.
“Yeah…” is the most manages, his tone deflated. When he forces himself to meet Em’s gaze again he looks like he’s barely holding back tears. “Are… you hungry? Do you need me to get a nurse for you?”
Emmett: Em has an idea. Granted, ideas have not worked well for him recently. But how much worse can things get?
He summons every ounce of self-pity and makes it sound like sympathy. “Hey, man. You don’t need to cry over me. I’m gonna bounce back. It’s going to be—” he starts coughing, an ugly, ragged noise.
Mouse: Mouse’s eyes widen with alarm.
Emmett: He eases himself out of the fit, shaking his head. “I’ll be fine, really. It’s the money I have to worry about. They may as well break my back, ha ha…”
The joke falls flat, as the bitterness in his voice becomes apparent. He shakes his head again. “I’m sorry. You don’t want to hear about my problems.”
Mouse: Mouse shakes his head, drying his eyes with his shirt as inconspicuously as he can manage. “It’s okay, Em,” he says, trying his best to be the strong voice of support. “I don’t mind listening. It’s the least I can do.”
Emmett: “If you’re sure.”
Em talks in circles, letting Mouse’s artist mind paint the picture. His family’s offered to take him in, until he can find a place he can afford. The hospital isn’t so bad. It’ll be nicer than the jail he’ll stay weekends in.
He trails off when he says he hopes to hit the ground running. Finally, he seems to hesitate.
“Mouse… I can trust you, right? For old time’s sake?”
The artist can’t help but remember the 19-year-old bleeding after his older brother had a ‘conversation’ with him.
Mouse: “You know you can trust me.” Mouse’s smile takes a bit to reemerge, but it never leaves his face.
Emmett: “What do you know about…”
And: “…the Dixie Mob?”
Mouse: Mouse just looks confused by the name.
Emmett: Jesus Christ, Fizzy does the heavy lifting, doesn’t he?
“It doesn’t matter,” Em says quietly. “The short of it is, I owe some money to some bad, bad people. People even Francis probably doesn’t fuck with. And… and they’re going to hurt my family.”
He hangs his head. The pain, at least, is real enough.
Mouse: “Why would you owe them money?” Mouse asks. “You should know better than to deal with bad people, Em.” His voice might be soft, but the words are hard, even if unintentionally.
Emmett: The tears are real, too. As is the humiliation.
“Yeah, I should. I know, man. It was my damn lawyer. He said he had a way I could pay his fees, and I didn’t realize what I was getting into until it was too late.”
He sighs. “I’m sorry. My problem. I shouldn’t have made it yours. Thanks, anyway.”
Mouse: “No. I’m your friend.” There’s still a strain to Mouse’s voice, but there’s sudden strength to it too. “Who’s your lawyer? What did he do? I’ll do whatever I can to help.”
Emmett: “The lawyer’s out of the picture. For better, trust me.” He closes his eyes. “12 grand. I need 12 grand. I can’t ask you to come up with that. It’s out of your hands.”
His hanging head bats one of the balloons tied to his arm out of the way. The image would be funny if it weren’t so pitiful.
Mouse: Mouse’s eyes bug out. “I wish I had that kind of money. You know if I did, Em, I would pay for everything right away.”
He looks almost as helpless as his invalid ‘friend’ for a moment there.
Emmett: I think college might actually make people stupider.
“Of course not, man,” he says. “I’d have to ask your brother, if anybody. And that wouldn’t go well, right? Hates my guts.”
Mouse: Mouse pauses for a moment. Then his eyes then light up as if a switch has been pulled inside his mind. “I could go and ask Francis for help!”
Emmett: There we go.
“Are you sure he’d have the cash?” Em’s voice contains all-too-real hope.
Mouse: “I don’t think he does,” Mouse says uncertainly. “But I could ask him if he knows anybody who could possibly help.” He gives Em a hopeful and hopefully encouraging look.
Emmett: Em’s already shaking his head. “No. I won’t make my problems his. I’ve wronged him enough. If he doesn’t have the means…” He pauses. “You’ve still got some friends in high places, right?”
Mouse: Mouse blinks. “High places?”
Emmett: “You’re a musician, man. I went with you to that concert once, remember? You seemed pretty comfortable with some of the… more well-off crowd.”
Mouse: “Thanks!” Mouse beams. “I get along with pretty much anyone.”
Emmett: Oh my god, I’m fucked.
“Cécilia Devillers,” he snaps, before composing herself. “I think that was her name, anyway. We had a good time, remember? And she said her mother’s got all sorts of non-profit projects. Maybe we could get some help there?”
It takes most of his remaining presence of mind to avoid screaming.
Mouse: Dawning understanding lights up Mouse’s face. He gives Em his brightest, most hopeful smile yet.
“I could definitely try! I can talk to my agent about getting in contact. She’s the one with all the connections, y’know?”
Emmett: “That would be… awesome, Mouse. You’re a good friend.” He clears his throat. “The only thing is, whatever we do, it has to be quick. Within the next four days.”
Mouse: “Why’s that?”
Emmett: Because the Mob doesn’t screw around with deadlines, you fucking airhead.
Em bites his tongue before that sentence passes his teeth. “Because that’s when they promised to hurt the people I love, Mouse.”
Mouse: Mouse’s eyes widen in shock. “You can count on me, Em!”
Emmett: Probably not, but at least you won’t cut off my leg.
“You’re the best friend I’ve ever had, Mouse,” Em says, and isn’t quite sure how much he’s lying.
Mouse: “No worries!” he grins. “You’re a really, really great friend, too!”
Emmett: “Thanks, man. That means a lot.”
Almost as much as that stupid fucking card… is that a spit stain? He must have… no, he couldn’t have tried to get his brother to sign it, could he?