Triage nurse asked I’d been drinking.
“Tremendously. A great deal,” The Bakery Girl said.
“What’s your name?” The Nurse asked me.
“Okay, Ray. Let’s check your vitals,” said The Nurse.
Plantman in Egypt to save Pharaoh’s ailing Date Palm. Papyrus. Literature is only corrupt as its paper. Important plant priest, celebrated immortal. Statue myths. Royal garden. Scissors bucket. Ancient days, too distant to count. Moses in baby booties.
“His temperature is one hundred and six,” said The Nurse.
“Holy shit,” said The Bakery Girl.
“We could fry eggs on his head,” said BEING.
“Has he been taking drugs?” asked The Nurse.
“I don’t think so,” said The Bakery Girl.
“Those are the color of the pills, Ray?” asked the nurse. “Can you name them for me? Are they prescription pills, Ray? Did you get them from a doctor?”
“Infection. Disease. Mealy bug. Pharaoh’s Wandering Jew. Dead. Dead. Quarter million dollars in replacements.”
“Have you been mixing drugs and alcohol, Ray?” asked The Nurse.
“Frame me, Pilate. Joseph’s pink coat blue one. The Baker’s fat calf must die all these replacements. Reparations.”
“It’s the fever,” said The Nurse. “He’s hallucinating.”
Magnificent pyramid gradients TKI sun-blast desert hues. Sphinx body. The Heir’s dot head on behemoth stone shoulders.
Test-tubes to the brim with blood. Nurse’s aqua scrubs. Pharaoh’s Priests, Magicians, dressed like birds. . .
“How long have you been sick like this?” one asked.
“Are you having trouble breathing?” one asked.
“I inhale,” I said. “I exhale.”
Tubes numbed my proboscis.
“Oxygen,” one medico said.
Attractive fortyish “Nurse Mimi.”
“I’m your nurse,” she said.
“I’m your patient,” I said.
“We’re off to a good start.”
“Your friends are in the waiting area,” she said.
“I’ll join them,” began up.
Mimi pushed down. Powerful little hand.
“What do you do, Ray?”
“Chief gardener to Pharaoh,” I said, not serious. Fever subsiding?
“What? Are you trying to say you’re a gardener? Is that what you are, Ray?”
“Horticultural technician. Make the desert bloom.”
“We’re going to send you down for tests,” Mimi said.
“Number 2 pencil,” I said.
Deep underground. X-ray. Tubular machines. Pharaoh in his bright beige sarcophagus. Let people go. Don’t want them. Soon peace. Eternity cherished. Big empty. Burial chamber cherished nothing. Pyramid erect. Honor me with generations.
Slaves. Moments stolen, lost; experience besieged . Revenge, mother of ghosts. History the feckless father. Man’s pyramid his castle. I being of sound mind and body hereby exchange all slaves for cold beer and a reliable watch.
Time trouble. Back to Emergency Room cot in an eye-blink. Blood results incited commotion among the scrubs.
“He has The Condition,” whispered one.
“Unbelievable. He’s an anaerobe,” said another.
“Lowest hematocrit I’ve ever seen. Eleven.”
“Impossible. How is he still breathing?”
“I’ve seen plants with higher counts.”
Voices everywhere, everywhere voices manacled to opinions. Silence. Soothing Mimi.
“You’re very sick, Ray,” she said. “You have The Condition. And pneumonia. But that’s a secondary issue.”
“Yes. The Condition. I’d better go home to bed,” I said. “Not wise to fool with these things.”
“Just relax,” she said, pushed down again down. “A Specialist will see you soon. Dr. Creed. He’s very good.”
“I tend Pharaoh’s garden. Yet I am Pharaoh. Can Pharaoh and his gardener be one? What is the sound of Empire collapsing?”
“Look,” Mimi said. “I know your head isn’t all there because of the fever, but try not to talk about that stuff when Dr. Creed comes. He may not understand. He’s strange like that. If he thinks you’re strange, he’ll send you away.”
“I already am away. Where else could he send me?”
“You don’t want to know. Just be quiet and behave yourself. Don’t speak about mummies when he comes.”
“Mummies? Who said anything about mummies?”
Sudden sleep, sudden dream: TKI Pyramids. Data morph. Woman. Passion sex. Information beauty girl culled PYRAMID database. Long hair sensual numbers. Oh PYRAMID sex machine, thou sly frothing dog!
Awakened by a tall, goofy man in an ill-fitting white coat.
“Ray, this is Dr. Creed. He’s going to talk to you about your blood.”
Dr. Twitch Creed. Twitching Dr. Creed. Eyebrows bobbed up and down of their own accord. I laughed. Burst of hilarity, relief at last. Laugh!
“He has a very high fever, Doctor,” Mimi nervously explained.
“Dr. Eyebrows” all serious business.
“When was your last transfusion?” he asked.
“I never had a transfusion,” I said.
“With your Condition, you never had a transfusion?”
“I don’t have a Condition,” I said. “Just drank too much.”
“Wanna bet?” under his breath.
Interrogation, re: The Condition. What medications? When was my last hospitalization? Was my last “drop” so precipitous? Where was my medical history Database of Origin? On, on, on. Exhausted. I craved sleep.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. “None of this applies.”
“You’re a thirty-year-old man with The Condition and you have no idea of your own history? The Condition is not something you catch like a cold, for God-man’s sake. It’s something you contract. Usually in childhood. Usually through exposure to toxins. You may have been in remission for quite some time, but somewhere in your past are transfusions, treatments. You can’t remember anything at all?”
Hearty laugh. Cough. Composed myself. Laughed, coughed again. Creed’s questions were all so serious and his eyebrows bobbed like buoys. It was all too much. Then I broke for real. An omnipotent, unstoppable laughter of a craggy depth I’d never known. Laughter unstoppable.
“He’s acting strange. I think he’s high on something,” somber Dr. Creed. “I might want to put him in the psych ward and treat him from there.”
This blunt new development smashed the drooling post-guffaw grin directly down my throat. “Reality laugher” in its stead.
Anxious nervous hiccup. You could sign into the psyche ward, but you couldn’t sign out. And if an authority, a DOCTOR, no less, signed you in, there was no leaving until he was damned ready, or remembered, to sign you out. Months, maybe more. They drove you crazy in there.
“He said he’s a gardener, Dr. Creed,” said Mimi. “All gardeners are strange. It’s not unusual for them to even talk to plants. It’s what they call ‘eccentric.’”
Dr. Eyebrows thought, or pretended to think, deeply. His pen hovered over the paper that could consign me to a long convalescence in a rubber room.
“Eccentric. Oh. Yes, you’re right. Yes, yes, you’re right, ‘eccentric.’ I’ve actually witnessed this phenomenon. Saw the man who tended my father’s garden talk to shrubs as if they were alive.”
Papers aside pen pocketed.
Assigned a “regular” room, prescribed this drug that drug and this and that other drug, all intravenous. Antibiotics for the pneumonia. He’d see me in “a day or so,” after more results came in.
“Do you have any relatives I could talk to about this? Someone who’s familiar with your Condition?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe. My father.”
Gave Father’s number. Creed left: rush of eye-brows, flap of coat, forehead thrum.
“That was a seriously close call,,” said Mimi, “He was ready to sign you away to psych. The burden of proof of sanity would have been entirely your responsibility.”
“I’m not feeling well. I would have explained that I’m not feeling well; hence, not at my best.”
“See what I mean? That’s the kind of talk that would have kept you there for life. Only a crazy person would try to argue that he’s sane. Your keepers would have become quite offended indeed were you to challenge the integrity and authority of their professional diagnoses by claiming they were incorrect.”
“So once they say I’m crazy, I’m crazy? Or I really piss them off and make them crazy, in which case I’d be really crazy.”
“Pretty much. Unless you can prove otherwise without offending them. But you’re in the clear, and I can tell already we’ve brought the fever down. Why dwell on the ‘what if?’”
BEING and The Bakery Girl checked in briefly.
“We’re gonna get going,” BEING said. “They said they’re getting you a room.”
“We’ll be back tomorrow,” The Bakery Girl kissed me. “Get some rest.”
“What time is it?” I asked.
“It’s almost three in the morning,” BEING said.
Sad alone (boo-hoo). Good to have friends. Real good friends. Mimi left and returned with two burly hospital workers.
“We have a room for you,” said Mimi. “These gentlemen are going to take you there now. Take care of yourself, Ray.”
Wheeled down labyrinth of corridors hallways, another elevator more hallways. Stop. Room. Three moaning, miserable men. And Me.
“Hi, I’m Stephanie, your nurse,” said my pert young nurse as the burly aides set me up.
Catheter tunneled through a vein in my right arm hooked to the squat machine hung bags of blood and other fluid; Digital meters; flashing lights. Stephanie closed the curtains, obstructing my moribund neighbors from sight — or was it the other way around? — without my having to ask. I was unfamiliar with protocol. Was I supposed to leave a tip?
Awake. Shivering. Fever down. Clear-minded Exodus. Should have stayed in Egypt, enjoyed chewy goodness and frosty robust less-filling virtuous dee-lites sold on gold TV (Egypt television enjoyed remarkably clear colorful reception maybe by-product of solar power?).