Wednesday, January 17, 2018

24. The Woman in the Gator

Himalayan blackberry, Rubus armeniacus;
Red Alder, Alnus ruber;
Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia;
Red Elderberry, Sambucus racemosa;
Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus;
Salmonberry, Rubus spectabilis;
Salal, Gautheria shallon;
Northwestern Crow, Corvus caurinus;
Jewel Weed, Impatiens noli-tangere;                                                                   
Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias;
Steller’s Jay, Cyanocitta stelleri
Black-headed Grosbeak, Pheucticus melanocephalus;
Hard Hack, Spirea douglasii;
Indian Plum, Oemleria cerasiformis;
Twinberry, Lonicera involucrata;
Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos;                                  
Canada Goose, Branta canadensis;                                        
Wood Duck, Aix sponsa;  
Sword Fern,  Munitum polystichum;
Willow Flycatcher, Empidonax traillii
Nootka Rose, Rosa nutkana;
Orange-crowned Warbler, Vermivora celata;
Canadian Beaver, Castor canadensis;

Hannah Imamura? Hannah Imamura!

William was in the ICU only briefly, just long enough for them to plug him into everything and make an electronic record of his sudden return to full functionality.  They didn’t know what to do about that, the sudden normalization, so hesitated in unplugging him, until a more critical case necessitated moving him to an unoccupied two-bed room in a general ward.  He had been fully conscious for several hours before Alan arrived.  How the accident happened had been explained to him, and for some reason the medical people seemed to think it important that he explain it back to them, and as a strangely punitive therapy demanded that he repeat his clearest recollection of the event once an hour.  Several years earlier William had fallen off a bike and broken his elbow.  He went to physiotherapy every few days where he was required to do a lot of repetitive lifting exercises using 16-oz cans of vegetables.  He was not repeatedly asked to recall how he broke his elbow.  Clearly therapy for electrocution followed a different protocol.

Alan arrived during visiting hours, just prior to the 8PM explanation.  He brought a set of clothes to replace William’s tattered, burned, soiled and sopping uniform shirt and pants.  They were in a bag from a local thrift store.  “I’ve never been in a helicopter.  Was it fun?” he asked.  “This is a nicer hospital than last time.”

The Neurology resident swept in, brandishing a clipboard.  She was tall and pale with frantic red hair and a white lab coat.  Despite her hair, she was icy.

“Do you want me to leave?” Alan asked.

“I don’t care,” she said.

William would have preferred he left, at least for a minute or two, because Alan’s presence complicated what he was supposed to do next.  He said to Alan, “I have been practising this story every hour, on the hour.  She thinks my brain has a leak.” 

“No, I don’t,” said the Neurology resident.  “But it’s not fully cognitively consistent.”

“Whatever that means, it’s normal for him,” said Alan.  “I’ve known him for almost twenty years.” 

She showed no reaction whatsoever.

Alan rolled his eyes and sat in the corner.

“Mr. Kendall, please explain, in your own words, what happened to you.”

“He’s a doctor, not a mister, you should know,” Alan said.

William launched into a slightly altered version.  “I had been tamping out a small but smoky bark mulch fire on the Freeway Trail at Burnaby Lake Regional Park, which runs beneath high tension electrical wires.  I was unaware that this was an extremely dangerous thing to do.  A strong electric current arced down through the ionized particles in the smoke and struck me in the head.  The current passed through my body and exited where I was leaning against the Gator...Do I have to explain what the Gator is again?”

She shook her head.      

“... where I was leaning against the Gator, causing the flesh above and below my belt to be burned in two almost symmetrical wounds approximately 4 by 5 centimetres each.  I was found unconscious and soaking wet by a GVRD Parks operations crew who had arrived to deal with the fire, after the power had been turned off.  My faithful assistants Bob and Scott had emptied their buckets of filthy Burnaby Lake water onto me, to what end I’m not sure.  The Gator did not survive.  Its rudimentary electronics had been fried.  A helicopter landed on the Trans-Canada Highway adjacent to Burnaby Lake Regional Park, backing up traffic for miles in both directions and I was air-lifted to Vancouver Hospital where I was stimulated back to consciousness.  This is the second time this summer I have awakened in a hospital after being zapped by a lot of electricity, and the third time in my life.  There was another zap in my formative years that did not require hospitalization.  Next showing is at 9 PM.  Please visit the gift shop on your way out.  I highly recommend the morphine.  How was that?”

She jotted. “Okay, mostly on track, but one question.  Was there anyone else with you?


“No female person?”


“In your first account you said you saw—she looked at her notes and read, ‘her, sitting in the Gator’.”

“Her?  I was by myself.”

“And then you said, ‘I can’t remember her name.’”

“Well there wasn’t a ‘her.’  In the first account, things were pretty fuzzy.  I was talking through a fog.  I was driving in a small car with a young woman earlier in the day.  Probably I was thinking of that, of that her.”

On cue, Stacey bounded in.  “Her!” William pointed.  “That her!”

“William, are you okay?  Oh, Hi Alan,” said Stacey.  “Hello,” she said pleasantly to the Neurology resident.  “How’s this guy doing?”       

The Neurology resident hemmed.  “We’ll have another chat in the morning.  You’re in overnight for observation.  I think it’s important that we make absolutely sure there’s not a compromising brain trauma, especially given your history of electrocution events.  This latest one has made you somewhat of a case study.  A number of neuros from all over North America have questions.  An MRI in the morning would be really helpful.  Are you claustrophobic?”

“Only in enclosed places,” William said.  He was feeling witty.

“I’ll take that as a yes.  I’ll prescribe some Ativan, so you don’t get panicky.”  She looked around the room at all of them, and then fixed her eyes on William.  She said, “William, you’ve broken the rules.  You came in blue, after at least four hits with a defibrillator.  The ER resident who admitted you didn’t think you would make it.  The guys on the air ambulance were sure you were already gone.  You were flatline.  Your brain was ischemic for a prolonged interval, 25, 30 minutes.  If I remain a physician for the rest of my life, I will not ever forget this case.”

Then she said the killer.  “You have basically come back from the dead, and we don’t know why or how.  You just—rebooted yourself.”  She waved her clipboard in the air, and left the room.

William, Alan, and Stacey sat or stood or lay silently, each to some degree stunned, watching the door whisper shut.

“Holy shit,” mumbled Alan.

Stacey said, “It seems silly now, but I bought you this thing.  No one at the store had a clue what it’s supposed to be, so I thought it was appropriate for you.  It’s cute though.”  From a plastic bag she produced a fuzzy toy with a triangular head, long whiskers and a long thick tail.  It was peculiar but cute, a bad version of either cat or bear.

“I think it’s supposed to be a binturong,” William said.  “They’re a weird relative of mongooses, from southeast Asia, genus Arctictis.  Their pee smells like popcorn.”

“Unbelievable,” said Alan.

“What?” said William.

“You know, pee that smells like popcorn.  What else?”

William smiled at Stacey.  “I don’t have one.  I love it.”

She squeezed his hand. 

“I’ll leave you guys,” Alan said, but he approached the bedside. 

Stacey stepped back, giving him space.  William’s increasingly dysfunctional eyesight was filled with two of him, two Alans.  He didn’t speak.  It was as if he were examining William, squinting to find the portal that would allow him access to his mind.

What?” William said.

He backed away.  He said, “See ya, buddy.  I have an appointment with a farmer, but I’ll be back tomorrow, okay?”  With those cryptic words he exited the room. 

William decided that the MRI was like being slid into the overhead luggage bin of a passenger jet.  It was white and plastic and the air was dead.  There was a series of clicks like the noise the chain makes on a roller coaster as the car is heading for the peak, and then the fun started, a random series of rattles and beeps like a pinball machine, and he was jiggling around like he had kidnapped and thrown in the trunk of a car that was fleeing the police along a rough country road.  Every so often a disembodied voice scolded him, saying, “Stop moving!”

William asked the icy neurologist to cc a copy of the results to him.

She seemed reluctant, and asked, “Are you really a doctor?”

“I am,” William said.  Then he couldn’t remember his email address.
He was released that afternoon after three times repeating a sufficiently consistent version of the story.  Nope, no woman in the Gator.  He was sure of that now.  Stacey came for the wheel-out and said, “What are you wearing?” 

What Alan had chosen at the thrift store — a purple and pink Hawaiian shirt and green corduroy pants with a waistline about six inches too big, which turned out to be a good thing because it left ample room for the burn dressing.   “Alan picked this out for me,” he said.

“He has a twisted sense of humour.”  She had come to drive him home.  He had been expecting Alan, prepared to endure his laughter over his outfit, but Alan had called Stacey to ask her to come instead.

As they drove, she said, “Yesterday started out so perfect.”

“It went rapidly downhill for me when I was electrocuted,” William said.

She stopped at the light, and then laughed hard enough that William felt very happy with himself.  “Do you want me to take you straight home?”  She had the day off, and no plans.  William told her it might be nice to drop by Fooj’s, to see how he was doing.  He had been discharged that morning.  William now knew where he lived, a few blocks from the house where Thelma the veterinarian cleaned a rich family’s home.

They passed a formal wear shop.  He said, “That’s where Alan and I are getting our tuxes for the wedding.”  Fooj and Monique had conscripted Alan to be an usher.

“I’d love to see you guys in tuxedos, as long as he wasn’t the one to choose them.”  She reached to tweak the fabric of his beautiful Hawaiian shirt.

“He’d have us in something from the 80s.  Powder blue, with mauve cummerbunds.”

She said, “You’re in a good mood for someone who almost died yesterday.”  It was an innocent, even playful comment, but it hit a nerve.  Although William had been forced to run through the event numerous times at the hospital, until now he had been able to remain emotionally removed from it, as though he had been describing a scene from a movie.  But this time he was alone in a confined space with Stacey, who seemed to be playing her part in the girlfriend-myth Alan had invented for him.  On that slippery emotional slope he was unavoidably more honest with his feelings and allowed himself to be transported all the way back to the fire, back to Hannah, whose name William had pretended not to know once he began to reassemble the details.  You can’t admit to seeing dead people when talking to lab-coat people if you want to get out of the hospital any time soon, and William had wanted out.  But now he was thinking of her, Hannah, helpless and sad, trapped in a place she didn’t comprehend.  His jocularity fell away.  Hannah was lost and confused, and William could see her clearly this time.  This was a step far beyond the Belcarra encounter.  This time he remembered what she was wearing, the way her hair was parted. He remembered the fatigue and sorrow in her eyes.  Hannah in the Gator wasn’t any more unreal than Stacey beside him in her Volkswagen.  Hell, without looking, William couldn’t tell you what Stacey beside him was wearing or how her hair was arranged.  Hannah yesterday was at least as real as Stacey today.  William came back, but she was still sitting in a crummy little landscaping cart somewhere, displaced and alone.  He was the inch-thick pane of glass between two sides of a heartbreak, able to see and hear both.  He reached forward to the dashboard and dropped his head between his arms.

Stacey turned into the parking lot of a carpet store and stomped on the brakes.  She undid her seatbelt and scrambled over the middle, pushing his arms down and his shoulders back into the seat.  She grabbed his face. “What’s happened?  Open your eyes!  Show me your eyes!  Has something happened?”  She thought he was having a seizure. 

William stared as if drugged.

“What is it?” She asked. 

He blinked, hard, and then took her wrists and moved her hands aside.  “It’s alright, I’m okay,” he said.  “I’m fine, really.”  He thought, Damn you, Alan Lennox, this lark, setting me up with this one.  Now I don’t want to let go of her wrists.  

She pulled away and sat back in her seat, but for at least a minute, an unblinking minute, studied his eyes.  She was seeking a sign of something.  Something bad, something good, William didn’t know.  What William knew was that hauntingly desolate friend Hannah Imamura notwithstanding, he wanted to kiss Stacey.

“You still want to see Fooj?” she asked.

He nodded. 

As they continued on, she kept glancing at him.  They were nearing Fooj’s neighbourhood.  There was a liquor store in the plaza up ahead.  William pointed. “We should stop and buy beer for Fooj.”

“We can do that, but you have to stay in the car.  I’ll not be seen in public with you in that get-up.”
“Sleeman’s Cream Ale,” William said.  He arched his back to pry his wallet from its green corduroy prison, but wriggling caused the bandages to rub against the burns and he said, “Ow.”

“William, sit still.  I got it,” she said.  She seemed to like taking control of things.  Although 11 years her senior, he was okay with that.

When they got to Casa Foojia, Monique’s car was in the drive.  She answered the door and William braced for the inevitable hug.  “Cher William,” she said.  “How are you honey?  Please come in, hello Stacey, come in.  God William, what clothes are those?”

“How’s Fooj?”

“Okay, a bit of some pain.  He’s mostly just angry.  But not as angry as me.  I’m going to sue Ed Daddle.”  William had never seen Monique angry at anything before.  Making Monique worried and angry was now added to Ed’s list of crimes.  “‘E’s in the family room, la salle arrière.”       

Stacey took the beer into the kitchen and she and Monique started talking.  William stole away to see Fooj alone.  He was in a reclining chair with his ankle in a blue fibreglass cast, flipping channels.  He had a very large television.  “Fuji-man,” William said.  Fooj struggled to sit up as William limped over.  They patted each other’s shoulders affectionately.

“What the hell are you wearing?” he asked.

“It’s the hot new look,” William said.  “I’m surprised you haven’t modelled it.”

“Hah.  I’ve got news, in regard to that,” he started, but then came a squeal from the kitchen. 

“Oh my God!” cried Stacey.  “That’s totally awesome!”

“I guess Monique told her,” he said.

“Huh?” William said.

Fooj extended his hand.  “Glad t’ meet ya.  Cap’n Bud Tanaka.”

Charmaine the agent had been worried about Fooj’s advanced age – twenty-seven – and had been fishing options beyond modelling with her handsome bait.  She’d landed a big one.  Although his formal acting experience had been limited to a high school production of Oliver!, in which he played the Artful Dodger, Fooj won the spot of Captain Robert “Bud” Tanaka of the U.S. Forestry Service Air Corps in the pilot for a network-pitched program called “Smoke Jumpers.”

“That’s amazing,” William said.

“It’s ridiculous,” he answered.  “Other people go to acting school for years, and look what happens.  They give it to me.”

“Is it a sure thing?” William asked.

He shrugged. “It’s an ensemble cast, but my partner is played by Kevin Curtis.” 

William couldn’t place the name.

Surf City, final two seasons,” he said.  “Pretty big-time actor.”

“Oh, right,” William said.

“I tell you, it’s ridiculous.  We start filming in September.  The best thing is that most of the shooting’s up here, in GVRD parks, no less.  Half the time I’ll be able to sleep in my own bed.”

“You think you’ll enjoy it?” William asked.

“Anything’s better than what I’ve been doing.”  He meant the modelling.  “At least I’ll be using my head a little bit.”  Then he said, “What I find ironic is that they picked me, or wrote my character, for reasons of political correctness.  My grandparents were punished for where they came from.  For the very same reason, I win.”

“They would be proud, I’m sure,” William said.  “What does your gramma think?”  William knew Fooj had one surviving grandmother.

“Yes, she’s very proud.  She calls me ‘Movi-staru’.”
There was other news.  The Central Area Office at Burnaby Lake was in an uproar.  Ed Daddle had a butterfly-shaped plaster bandage across his face and two black eyes.  He wanted assault charges pressed against Carl Stribling.  There was little chance of that, however, because all possible witnesses to his alleged assault had been looking the other way, tending to Fooj, whom Ed had just intentionally injured.  When it came to Carl versus Ed, no one had seen who threw the first punch.  In a rare example of unity, this was the story all the interpreters were sticking to and were willing to swear to.  Were William to be asked, it was the story he too would give.

It was now known that Carl’s ire was a result of Ed having prevented Carl’s daughter, Gwen, from obtaining a position as a Parks Planner.  There was a lengthy history of bad blood between Carl and Ed, and Ed had taken their tit-for-tat personal conflict too far.  Upon hearing Gwen was being considered for the position, Ed wormed his way into the job interview, and, after she had interviewed well and was judged to be one of two equally qualified candidates, Ed sent an email to those on the hiring committee saying he had discovered that Gwen had a history of mental illness and had been dismissed from a previous job for chronic absenteeism, possibly linked to drug abuse.  The position was offered to the other.  The truth was that Gwen had once been treated for clinical depression after her mother died and had taken a brief leave of absence that one time.  She had never taken non-prescribed drugs, and didn’t even drink.  It was a mystifying demonstration of how plainly dimwitted the scheming Ed could be.  He didn’t foresee that someone might forward the email to Carl.  Someone did, but too late to overturn the hiring decision.

Another odd event: someone had smashed all the side windows of Ed’s Subaru Outback and stuffed it floor to ceiling with ears of delicious Chilliwack corn. 

They talked about the wedding, which was only three weeks away.  Monique asked Stacey if she was bringing someone.  Stacey reminded her that she hadn’t been invited.  “No?  Well now you are.  Find someone to bring too.”  William didn’t look at her.

Fooj would have to be married on crutches, wearing a blue fibreglass cast.

“That’ll be part of my job as best man,” William said, “standing behind you and holding you up so you don’t need crutches for the photos.”

“I will sue him so much he will die,” said Monique.

But over the issue of the injury, Fooj seemed remarkably unperturbed.  “We can handle a little setback, Nikki-chan,” he said, using his grandmother’s endearment for her.  “Things are working out pretty good.”
Tom phoned while they were there, and learning of William’s presence, asked to speak to him.  He told William he had put him on paid leave until the Worker’s Compensation Board paperwork came through.

William was speaking on a cordless handset in an empty bedroom.  He asked, “How can you pay me when I normally only get paid when I work?  Which is sometimes only once a week?  Presently, I’m not even working as an interpreter.”

“Well, it just happens that yesterday, just before you got hurt, I went temporarily insane and scheduled you for 28 hours a week for the next month.”

“You’re kidding.  Can you do that?”

“I can do anything,” said Tom.  “I’m magical.”

William said, “Tom, I have to tell you something...” He was going to tell Tom about Hannah in the Gator, but at that instant Stacey walked into the room.

“Hello?” said Tom.

Stacey mouthed, “We should get going.”  Then she said aloud, “You need to get home to bed.”

William said to Tom, “Ah, it’s not that important.  My ride has to go.  I’ll call you later.”              

“Sure, darling,” Tom said.  “Call me later.”  William was certain he heard her.





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