Tuesday, December 28, 2010


He was brought in toward the end of her shift at the overnight walk-in clinic. It had been slow, the usual aches and pains and one sprain that needed to be X-rayed to rule out a fracture. The man the police had brought in an hour or so ago lay on a gurney with its head end somewhat elevated. He stared at the line where the wall met the ceiling.

When the doctor on call came in she looked up from the paper work she was filing in. All he had to do was say “nurse” and she began to recite the patient's history while he prepared to examine the man on the gurney, as much of the history as she knew.

“Someone discovered him slumped on the steps of the library, approximately three a.m. Saw he was unconscious and called ERS. No response to regular stimuli, no sign of trauma or alcohol or drugs, so paramedics and police brought him here. Dumped him.”

“Regained consciousness?”

“About ten minutes ago, after I had called you. He doesn't seem to respond to the usual sound or pain stimuli, only reflexive responses of the pupils to light. Both equal but slow.”

“His name?”

“They think he's one of those street people, the homeless but a new one. They haven't had to deal with him before. You know how those guys are; no I. D. or anything. This one, all he had on him was a library card with the name Thomas Duhammeloc. He didn't respond to his name when I tried to speak to him earlier, but the police did promise to look through shelter records for us.”

The doctor approached his patient. “Mr. Duhammeloc? Am I pronouncing that right? I just want to check your signs to prove you're OK. May I call you Thomas? Or do your friends call you Tom?” The pulse, respirations and blood pressure were within normal limits but the patient showed no response to the doctor's voice or the touch of the stethoscope, nor did he respond to requests for a deep breath. The doctor turned away and began to make his own notations in the man's file.

“Just monitor him for the time being. I'll make arrangements to have him transferred and seen by a neurologist in the morning.” He turned back to the patient and noticed a broad smile on the face, even though the eyes still seemed to be focused on the juncture of wall and ceiling.

Doctor and nurse chatted for a few more minutes, and the doctor prepared to leave. Then a voice came clear and strong from the man on the gurney.

“My mother calls me Richard.”

Monday, December 27, 2010

Once Bitten

I have to blame my sister. None of it is really my fault.

My sister Anna was the one who decided to hold a birthday party for one of her coworkers at our house, to hold it on an evening when our parents were away, of course. She was the one who decided it would be girls only. And she was the one who invited Raisa, the girl who had moved to our town a few months ago.

Raisa. The Ice Queen as she was politely referred to in some circles. The Russian Bitch. None of the guys of my acquaintance had been able to date her, not even so much as to accept an offer to buy her a coffee. No man had got close enough to her to chat her up, and the best had tried.
I don't know how Anna became her friend. They never hung out together at work, but Anna seemed to know a lot about her. My sister claimed she had a gentle, shy personality and that beneath her unremarkable clothing was a smart woman with a trim body. It was none of my business why she didn't want anything to do with my friends. And besides, I was moving in on a sultry Latina who knew how to laugh. Loud and musically.

For some reason I was alone that evening. The girls, pardon me, the ladies spilled from the containment of the rec room and spread through most of the first floor with giggles and gossip while music blasted away downstairs. In the local pub, I knew, I would find people I didn't want to see; I locked myself in my bedroom with a DVD and earphones. When I resurfaced after midnight, things sounded much more subdued. I went down to see if there were any munchies left to snack on.

Some of the guests had departed; others were preparing to leave. Anna happened to corner me in the kitchen by the fridge.

“David. I need you to drive Raisa home.” It wasn't a request; it wasn't a suggestion. When Anna has a plan in mind she gives orders that can not be argued. I shrugged my shoulders, made a face.

“Just save me a chunk of that fancy birthday cake. Oh yeah, and any of that giggle juice you guys haven't consumed. I'll have it when I get back.” If I had to spend time with the ice queen, there needed to be some reward.

I waited while Anna and Raisa giggled and said their goodbyes, then led the way to my car. I opened the passenger door for her. She slid in quite primly and said thank you in a soft voice, as if remembering the manners her mother had taught her. I went around to the driver's side, buckled in, started the car and looked over at her.

“So, where to?”

She never even looked my way. She recited an address and asked, “You know how to get there?” I didn't deign to reply.

There was no real conversation during the drive, no matter how hard I tried. Any remarks I made about the party, birthdays, my sister, her employment were met either with a quiet “mmm” or complete silence.

Her destination was a split level on a side street. I guess that, like many of us, she still lived with her folks until there was something permanent to move into. I parked on the street and like the gentleman I am, rushed around to open her door and assist her from the car. And then, like a gentleman, I walked her to her door and waited while she found her keys.

It was then, standing behind her as she fumbled with the key and the lock, that insanity grabbed me. I put my hands on her waist and pulled her toward me. I like to pretend that I don't know what came over me but that's a lie. I could see myself bragging to all the guys that I had kissed the Ice Queen, and lived to tell about it.

Instantly, at the touch of my hands she turned. The keys dropped to the ground and her mouth opened to protest. I covered her mouth with mine. I believe there was about a ten second delay while I enjoyed the feel of her lips against mine, while I caught a hint of the scent of her hair. Then she reacted.
She clamped my lower lip between her teeth. She bit down. Hard. I tasted my blood.

Afraid to pull away, I growled. She let go and stepped back, panting, her eyes flashing and what seemed like curses beginning to form in her mouth. I couldn't help it, honestly. It was automatic. I slapped her across the mouth.

Whatever response I might have prepared myself for didn't happen. An intense glow lit her eyes. She grabbed me by my collar and pulled me toward her, mashed her face on mine, her mouth pressed fiercely on mine. I stood helpless as she ground her body against me.
What saved me was a noise from inside the house. She heard it too, and pushed me away. She snatched her keys from the ground and attacked the lock, hissing at me over her shoulder.

“You must go. Hurry. But call me. Anna has my numbers.”

She disappeared into the darkness behind the closing door, and I scurried back to my car. For a long time I sat there, awash in confusion.

Then I remembered the large chunk of birthday cake. The bubbly chilling in the fridge. My take-charge, know-it-all sister. And some words of explanation, perhaps.