Ruby Red Glow-in-the-Dark
Doctor Chapman stood in the atrium/hallway outside Tim’s glass-fronted hospital room and watched me and Jack come around the corner and down the hall. It was Sunday, so Doctor Chapman wore his weekend outfit, a brown corduroy blazer and gray slacks with an electric blue turtleneck. The stethoscope around his neck was the only sign of his profession.
He raised a hand and smiled with one side of his mouth. “Here we are again,” he said.
“What is it this time?” I said.
“Electrolyte imbalance. Prolonged vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, he’s been losing body fluids. He just needs to be rehydrated, we’ve got potassium and magnesium going in, bring him back into balance. Couple of days, maybe less, he’ll be okay.”
Through the glass wall I could see Tim hoisting his legs off the side of the bed, holding onto his IV stand and trying to hold his gown closed in the back. He had seen us. He was going to try to act normal now, especially with Jack there.
“Hey, buddy,” Jack said, and Tim gave him a high five, causing him to topple against the bed and grab for the back of his gown.
He didn’t make it with the gown, couldn’t conceal that he wore an adult diaper. His mouth turned down hard.
“I need to get back in bed now.”
“OK, Jack can help you. I’ll wait out in the hall.”
Glittery eyes, hard mouth. “Thanks.”
Tim hiccuped all the way to the ER. He’d been hiccupping for days.
“I’ve tried spoonfuls of sugar, dry bread -hic- crushed ice, gargling, sucking a lemon -hic- smelling salts, holding my breath -hic- breathing in a paper bag -hic- peppermint water -hic- nothing works.”
He was as miserable as I’d ever seen him, and limp with exhaustion. Doctor Chapman had told Irene to bring him to the ER, there were new medicines that might help. Maybe a muscle relaxant, or a sedative. If all else failed, a nerve block.
Tim rolled toward me onto his side in his hospital bed and leaned on one elbow, his hand supporting his head.
The room was bright with overhead fluorescents. Tim’s bed faced a wall of windows opening onto the outside corridor. Beyond the corridor was another wall of windows. Outside the sky was turning from overcast gray to dark blue. A woman took slow steps down the corridor, her white bathrobe reflected in the windows.
“I need a clock,” Tim said.
“You’ve got a clock.” The clock was a large round one on the wall behind his bed. The clock’s hands were at five o’clock.
“Can’t see that one,” he said. “It’s behind me.”
“Okay, I’ll bring you a clock. Next time I come.”
“Has to glow in the dark.”
“Glow in the dark? Why?”
Tim tapped invisible trumpet keys on his blanket with his three-finger hand.
“Gets dark around five-thirty now, and doesn’t get light out until around eight. When I wake up in the night it’s so dark out I can’t tell if it’s midnight or six in the morning.”
“Why does it matter?” I said.
He dropped back onto the bed, his body flat under the blankets.
“Crank me up,” he said. He had his own remote that cranked up the bed. He was stalling.
I got up and pushed the Up button at the foot of his bed. The top half of the bed moved up.
I sat back down.
“Why does it matter?” I said.
He looked straight ahead, out the windows.
“Okay, but why?”
He smoothed the blanket across his chest with both hands.
“Because when I wake up I don’t know whether I’ve got eight more hours to wait for the light, or two,” he said. “It matters.”
I let my head fall back against the chair, closed my eyes. The dark behind my eyes the only place I had left to hide. Dark was always waiting for the eyes to close, dark was there in the night when they opened and stared. Was it midnight behind my eyes? Six in the morning? No way to tell. Just dark.
“I’ll bring you a glow-in-the-dark clock,” I said.
Later that night, Jack was in bed and I was in bed, home together, reading. I turned off the lamp beside my bed, lay my book on the bedside table. The clock was glow-in-the-dark squared-off ruby red numbers, bright high-tech jewels burning paths into the dark, 12:05. Midnight. I punched up the pillow, laid my leg across Jack’s legs, pulled his back against my belly. His skin was hot, burned energy even when he slept. I could only stay this close for a few minutes before I’d have to throw off the blankets and roll away from him.
“’Night,” Jack said. His voice had already drifted away. He reached one hand back to cup my hip and stroked it reflexively.
“’Night,” I said.
The ruby-red-glow-in-the-dark was the clock I would take to Tim tomorrow.
A cord at the center of my chest, thymus just above the heart chakra, drew me up by the breastbone, lifted me up off the bed, feet on the floor, feet into slippers, into the closet, long black raincoat over flannel pajamas. I unplugged the ruby-red-glow-in-the-dark clock, wrapped the cord around the clock over and over, put the glow in the dark clock in my raincoat pocket.
Jack rolled over on his back and opened his eyes. “You going somewhere?”
“Got to go to the hospital.”.
He pushed himself up on his elbows.
“You were just there this afternoon!” he said. “Did you get a phone call?”
“No phone call, but I’ve got to go. I’ve got to take him this clock.”
Jack sat up. “What clock?” I held it up.
“Take him the clock tomorrow,” he said. “Visiting hours are over. It’s—”
He looked at the table where the clock belonged.
“It’s late,” he said.
“Can’t wait. He needs me right now.” That invisible cord.
“I’m hearing it Within.”
Jack laid back down. “You sure?”
“I’m sure,” I said. “It feels kind of urgent.”
“Okay,” Jack said. “If it’s from Within. But drive carefully, the temperature is dropping.”
“Don’t wait up.”
He was already drifting. “I won’t.”
Ellen’s chair was just inside the entrance to the cancer ward. Her tailbone was down to the edge of the chair, eyes closed, feet in white ankle socks splayed out, white shoes off, head back, hands folded on her chest.
My fuzzy blue slippers soft-footed down the hall.
“Wait,” Ellen said, up off her chair and after me. “Where are you going?”
I pulled the clock out of my pocket, held it up, a black plastic rectangular box, its face a blind black panel, no ruby red. The cord came unwound and spiraled down to the floor.
“Oh, it’s you,” she said, and yawned.
“Just taking this clock to Tim in 4-F,” I said.
She looked at her watch. “Now?”
“I’ll only be a minute,” I said. I wound the cord around and around the glow in the dark clock.
The nurse waved me off with both hands, went into the nurse’s station.
Tim’s bed was cranked up to a full sit, his lamp on. When I stepped through the door he was watching me, loopy smile, devil in his eyes.
“Hi, Judy.” No surprise in his voice.
“Brought you my glow-in-the-dark clock,” I said, holding it up.
“How’d you know?” I said. I looked for an outlet, couldn’t find one, pushed his bed out of the way and saw it, a four-plug outlet behind the head of the bed, three of the outlets already in use.
His loopy devil grin. “I just now called to talk to you,” he said. “Jack said you were on your way.”
“Like you didn’t already know that,” I said. I unwound the cord from the clock and hunkered down on the floor.
“Never can be absolutely certain you’ll get the message unless I call.”
I plugged in the clock, ruby red 12:00 blinking on and off, and stood up.
“So why did you call to talk to me,” I looked at the wall clock, “at 12:38 in the morning?”
“Why couldn’t you sleep?” I said. I pushed plastic cups and emesis pan and plastic pitcher to the back of his bedside table.
“Something new happened,” he said. “Kinda scary.”
“What happened?” I said. I held down the time button and the minutes button together, watched the numbers scramble ahead to ruby red 12:38.
“Vomited blood,” Tim said. “First time I vomited blood.” He coughed, wiped his hand across his mouth then looked at his fingers.
I set the clock on the bedside table where he could reach it from the bed, ruby-red-glow-in-the-dark numbers three inches high. Took off my long black raincoat, laid it on the other chair, sat down in my sheep pajamas, white sheep in blue sky with clouds.
His devil grin was still in place. “You kidding me?” I said.
The grin lost heart and went away.
Couldn’t see the clock from my chair. I got up and moved it so we could both see it.
“No, no kidding,” he said. “There was blood.” He coughed. “A lot of blood.”
“Tim, you’ve been coughing for days,” I said. “It was probably just from your raw throat.”
“Yeah, probably was,” he said. “Probably that. That, or my stomach.”
I folded his blanket down to his hips. His chest was nearly concave in the hospital gown, his breastbone protruding through the thin fabric.
Both of my palms flat on his belly, one just forward of the other. His skin twitched beneath my hands. His belly felt hot, not like Jack’s body was hot from high metabolism, this was a malignant heat, a desperate sick heat.
“Do you have stomach pains?”
“No more than usual.” He shut his eyes and breathed with the humming energy that came from my hands. I pressed around the sides of his belly, then back to the center. My voice within spoke, It is the stomach. I felt it in his stomach, felt the swollen hot misery, had to amp up the heat in my chest and burn it off.
“What did Ellen say?”
Tim opened his eyes, shrugged. “Nothing. She just cleaned it up and left.”
“It was only your raw throat,” I said.
“Not your stomach,” I said.
It is the stomach.
He closed his eyes. My hands stayed but I stepped aside. Jesus was there. The Presence. Warm undulations. Ruby red time passed, and passed.
“Will you crank me down, please?” Tim said.
Shut up. But don’t leave.
I moved to the foot of his bed and pushed the Down button until he lay flat, then reached under the blanket and took his feet in my hands. I hummed. The Presence was still there. I ran healing energy into his feet, tried to stay out of the way, tried not to feel vomiting blood, tried not to feel the dark behind me, tried not to feel eight more hours until the light.
I didn’t want to think about Tim vomiting blood. Vomiting blood meant the Easter eggs were breaking in his stomach, or pushing through into new territory.
When the Presence lifted off, it was ruby red 1:15 and Tim’s soft snores. I turned off the bed lamp, put on my raincoat, and slipper-footed out of the room, past Ellen asleep in her chair, home to Jack.