Scott is naked. He is stretched out in the hospital bed on the 5th Floor of San Francisco General Hospital. A small blanket covers his body from the waist down. He can’t get comfortable. Every time he attempts to lie on his side, the muscle bound and very serious young man in the navy-blue scrubs quickly repositions him on this back. This wasn’t how he had planned this day.
He had arrived via ambulance just after midnight. Once the stretcher passed the threshold of the ER, Scott was under-the-microscope, he besieged with attention. His shoulder was aching. There were contusions on his right shin and just above his left eye. A peripheral IV line was fashioned on his left hand and a PICC line was inserted in his right arm.
What had they found? He was in the dark. Everyone he attempted to speak to seemed to cock their heads left to right, like an old-time coo-coo clock with a half-smile. They’d pat his hand and disappear like a mirage. On rinse and repeat, he kept hearing, “try and get some sleep” and “the doctor will be in soon.” He was a mime but in reverse. Pity took hold. His body was tight and constricted. Everyone kept picking up a clipboard fastened to the side of his bed and jotting down a few sentences. He really wanted to be home in his plush queen-sized bed but his requests to be released were shrugged off. Scott began to feel tired and began to doze.
Scott was a success. He had plenty of money in the bank. Not a fat-cat but enough to cuddle-up like a calico in the afternoon sun. He never fretted about the future with a retirement and deferred comp package on steroids. Without a moment’s notice, he could pick up the phone and with wheels up, he’d be wheels down in Hawaii or Brazil hours later. Walking into a room, he was treated magna cum laude by friends, family and neighbors. He was Julie the Cruise Director, planning the most elaborate galas or a quiet weekend soiree in Big Sur. Physically, he was forced to duck underneath most doorways. His olive skin was brushed with a light mocha finish having striations in every direction. Lovingly, Scott was Michael Jackson to everyone’s Paul McCartney. Men vied for his attention as if he was a celebrity walking a press line. Scott was loved with an occasional frenemy but always greeted with a daisy, not a bayonet.
Yet, Scott dabbled in deception. His brush strokes were short. Either beige, grey or black. No white to be found. He muted his colors with omission. His expansive canvas was draped in missed opportunities. He never told anyone what was really going on. He regularly stated, “Oh I’m fine,” when asked “How are You?”. Or “Everything is just great.” And sometimes with a chuckle, “No complaints here, no one ever listens anyways.” Scott’s responses were like a cop clearing a crime scene–nothing to see here. It was obvious, Scott most feared judgement or the perception he was weak. Scott didn’t want to discuss his condition. He didn’t want to share about his year long struggle. He had long since abandoned his mantra “Honest in All of Your Affairs” and the cracks in his aging infrastructure were beginning to show.
Not surprisingly, he had found himself being loaded into a set of double-doors below a Code 3 siren. Flashing red and squelching in every direction. And as it sped away through the tree-lined streets, he was speechless. Through the back of the speeding ambulance, the images became apparitions. Appearing. Disappearing. Like dew on a windshield exposed to defrost. First Morning Due Café. Gone. Then Delores Street Law Offices. Gone. Next Tartine Bakery. Gone. His feelings were a fallen boulder upon his chest. Scott was physically exhausted, mentally fatigued and spirituality bankrupt. And then the paramedics with their questions. “When was the last time you had anything to eat? Are you on any medications? Do you remember how you hurt yourself?” Each one damning him to the next. He opened his mouth but only a few words would dribble out. His thoughts trailing off into the abys. His neurotransmitters were on life-support and his circuit board was fried.
As Scott opened his eyes, he focused on the starkness of his room. As he glances around, he’s taken back by the off-white polyvinyl wallpaper showering all four walls. He looks up. There’s a silver-grey colored serpentine pattern which his bed curtain follows. He spots a dry eraser board across the room. In large black letters, he sees Room 504. Below it says “Saturday, September 15, 2013”. That couldn’t be right. Somebody made a mistake. It was only Thursday. He shrugged it off. He eyed two lithographs on each side of the 24” flat-screen TV. The left one read 100th Annual Nantucket Art and Wine Festival. He makes out a muted lawn chair and a beach blanket flanking it. He thinks, very David Hockey.
As he attempts to focus and read the other piece, a small woman in a white coat enters. “Hello Scott, I am Dr. Waybill,” she says. She has pixie length red hair. She’s boyish and elf-like. Scott thinks, oh my God, my doctor is Frodo. He laughs out loud. She has a Cheshire grin. Her pen is adorned with simulated red, green, pink and gold rhinestones. There’s a small lavender and pink ribbon jutting out from the top of it. It’s cheap but pretty.
She picks up the clipboard and stiffens slightly. She begins asking questions. First, “how are you”. Easy. “I’m fine.” Silence except for the short movements of her bejeweled ballpoint pen. Next, “do you know how you arrived here at the hospital.” Another easy one. “Ambulance.” More writing. “Do you know how long you’ve been here.” He thinks for a moment. “Hmmm, 6 hours. No wait, 8 hours tops?” Scott is pleased with his answer. She pauses. Her pen then advances but there’s a procession of sentences. Scott attempts to sit-up. “What, what?” Dr. Waybill looks directly into his eyes. He’s uncomfortable. He can feel a burning sensation between his butt crack. For the first time, he smells his own shit. She tells Scott he’s been here for the last 2 days and they need to run more tests, possibly an MRI. He would need to stay at least another 24 hours. Dr. Waybill returned the clipboard and exited the room. That damn clipboard. What had they discovered?
His rational mind had run a marathon. He was on running on empty. His stomach began to ping. He craved familiarity. Some ramen please! He wanted answers and received none. He clinched his fist. His forearms began to cramp. He relaxed and they slowly receded. He couldn’t even be angry. His body initiated a prolonged yawn and he turned his head away from the window.
Scott drifted again but awoke and he wasn’t alone. A language unfamiliar to him was being spoken. Their inflections were foreign. There were a few hands upon his body. At first two but last count, four. Small beads of water trickled down the back of his legs. He was on his side. Elation to be off of his back. Scott is being held up on his side with two hands and the other set is applying soft, repetitive motions with a warm wash cloth around his ass. Please, oh please, keep scrubbing. The pungent smell of lavender and tee tree filled his nostrils. Scott catches his attributors eyes. He’s short. He’s light brown with jet black hair. His name badge reads Note. Like music to his ears. He’s smiling as he dips the washcloth into the pink-colored wash basin. He slowly wrings it out. Scott can hear the run-off trickle back into the basin. He’s beautiful. He’s an angel. Note applies pressure and moisture to Scott’s crotch. The water droplets move gently through his pubic hair. It tickles only briefly. With small dabbing motions, Note is meticulous. He surprisingly begins washing the shaft of Scott’s endowment. Scott’s nipples harden. Scott tenses up at the sensation. Note continues. Scott’s testicles constrict. His penis is engorged. His brain begins to hum. Note pays no attention to Scott’s recent developments.
Note finishes and as Scott is slowly lowered onto his back, he sees Note standing clipboard in-hand. He’s scribbling down a few lines. Scott didn’t mean to get hard. Why would he write that down? Scott is distracted as Note’s accomplice repositions Scott’s cock and covers him with a new unsoiled blanket. Note returns the clipboard and smiles briefly. Selfishly, Scott wants a hug or a little peck. He dismisses the thought. Not good for the clipboard. As Note turns to leave, Scott attempts to throw him a kiss but he is unable to touch his fingers to his mouth. Maybe next time.
After a few minutes, Scott realized he had more questions than answers. He began to ponder when they scheduled his MRI. Clipboard. When was he going to eat? Clipboard. Was his family notified? What about his emergency contact? What about work, had HR been notified? Clipboard, clipboard, clipboard. His world had shrunk. His life had been reduced to the opinions of people who really didn’t know or understand him. And those opinions randomly scribbled on a sixty-nine-cent clipboard.
Scott’s train-of-thought was interrupted with the familiar cadence of Tagalog. San Francisco and Tagalog were like a burger and fries. He was reassured with a tinge of warmth. A Filipina woman dressed in pastel-flowered scrubs enters. She has a round-face with a small smile. She is mildly jovial. She’s unearthly. A cherub. She attempts small talk while briefly checking his vitals and repositioning his IV lines. She reaches underneath the blanket and with a light touch checks his pulse. She reaches for the clipboard. A quick notation. She reaches behind him and he hears Velcro separating. She states she’ll need the bigger cuff. She sets the clipboard on top of the bed. It begins to slip off the bed. As Scott reaches for it, he manages to displace half of his blanket as he catches it with a few fingers. He’s elated. He grabs it just in time. The afternoon sun pierces the room and for the first time he can see the soft white Velcro bands around his wrists and ankles fastened to the sides of his hospital bed. He can no longer hear any sounds. He is still and silent. His breathing feels shallow. He glances around and his gaze focuses upon the clipboard. It’s slightly askew. He can make out the hospital logo. He begins to read. But his eyes fail him. He shuts his eyes tightly. It’s worked before. He must focus before it’s removed. His eyes open wide and for the first time, he can see. It is clear as the rays of light through the 5th floor window. There it is. It was there all along. EXTREME NARCOTIC INTOXICATION. Scott might be sick but his condition was no longer a secret. They all knew him well. Therefore, the clipboard knew him well. The epiphany exploded in his head. The torment of the benzodiazepines was defined. The amber bottle’s hold on him had been determined. He had been rescued. His days were no longer numbered. They had been replaced with fifty-one fifty. He began to wail. It was over.
Written By: Vincent Calvarese
About the Author: As a writer and visual artist, he found his wings amongst his heroes of Eureka Valley. Using the San Francisco Bay Area as his canvas, he highlights themes of restorative justice in The Final Visit, familial pain in The Flesh of the Father, gun violence in Three Cloves of Garlic, the pharmaceutical crisis in The Clipboard and the gentrifying 7×7 plain in The Slanted Winds Down Guerrero Street. He is a past General and Poetry Editor for Forum Magazine.
Visual Art “Microbiotic” By: Nikos Kihem
About the Artist: Nikos Kihem is a bicycle, motorcycle, world traveler and music lover. He enjoys reading graphics novels in newly discovered lonely benches. He is an award-winning photographer and writer living in Athens, Greece. His poetry publication is “οι στροφές και ο δρόμος”(the road and it’s turns). You may visit him at kihem.com or send an inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org.