“He's in the hospital! For how long, man?”
“Well Scott, 'bout six months now. We didn't know how to reach ya'll up there in Canada. I'm awful sorry Scott.”
“Wes, what in hell happened to Marcus?”
“Son, he had an accident. His neighbors was the ones called me up. See, he'd been livin' by his self in a little ole house in Bryan, goin' to college. I drove up from Houston right off when I heard somethin' was wrong. When I got there, I found him wanderin' in the woods. He had amnesia. Hell, he can't speak at all. Been here in Memorial Hospital ever since. Scott, I go up and see him every day.”
“But what happened to him. What'd they find out?”
“Well, they found traces of carbon monoxide in his brain. What I could see, looked like he had been workin' on that damn motorcycle in the garage with the door shut, 'cause it was cold outside. More'an 'at, I do not know.”
“Marcus ain't no way that dumb, Wes. You know it. Look, what room is he in at Memorial?”
“I'll be down there tomorrow. D'you remember what I look like?”
“Are you coming down here all the way from Canada?”
“Well, I got a pitchur Marcus took of you years ago, in high school.”
“Add a couple of feet of hair and a mustache and that'd be me. I'll be packin' a guitar.”
“OK, Scott. You be careful now, son.”
Scott Murphy hung up the phone, pulled his chestnut coloured hair behind his big ears and and set down his bottle of beer. He poked at the coals glowing in a hibachi at his feet. His room-mate looked on silently. They had set up an impromptu bar-b-que on the sidewalk behind their basement
suite in North Vancouver. An old wire-spool held the plates, beer bottles and an ashtray. With the long phone extension cord, it was almost as well furnished as the interior.
“Graham, you remember my friend Marcus Swaine I told you about? We were buddies when I lived in Houston.”
“Yeah,” Graham nodded as he lit a cigarette and waited for his friend to elaborate.
Scott and Graham were both lanky and had long hair of a similar colour. People often mistook them for brothers. They felt like brothers.
“Man, he's been hurt. I'm going to see him tonight if I can or tomorrow if I can't. You can hold the fort for a week or so, huh?”
“No problem. Shit, what happened to him?”
“ I ain't sure, his old man sounded vague. I have got to find out. Hey, you finish cookin' these puppies, I got to go phone the airport and my boss.”
Scott scooped up his beer and cigarettes and took the phone inside the dim basement. Going out of the bright light into this shadow, set his thoughts on a dark path. He phoned his boss and told him that he was going away for a week or so to deal with a family emergency in Texas. He spoke in such a way that it invited his boss to either understand or to fire him. He didn't actually ask. The boss, valued Scott as an employee and chose to understand.
Next, Scott booked a flight. It was expensive due to the short notice and would come close to liquidating his meager savings, Scott reckoned. The flight was scheduled for seven fifteen in the morning. Graham came inside with the finished burgers. The two ate and drank.
While Scott packed a few clothes, Graham played a meaningful song on the stereo. Scott replied with another song. They often communicated in this manner. Scott spoke of his days with Marcus. The more he talked the more he remembered. He grew increasingly impatient to be gone. They turned into their respective foam mattresses early that evening. A cardboard box covered in a Texas flag served as a night table for both. Graham read and Scott smoked and stared at the ceiling, listening to the people upstairs chatter in Spanish.
Scott spoke after awhile, “Maria's pissed off about the poems we wrote all over the fridge door.”
“She just does not appreciate art. Hell, she is lucky that we managed to scrape all the mold off that son-of-a-bitch,” Graham laughed and put down his book.
“Wanna smoke a joint?”
“Sure, man. Fire one up.”
Soon afterwards, they were fast asleep.
Graham's alarm clock shattered the morning stillness. He was the responsible one of the two and he knew that Scott would never make any plane on time without his intervention. He brought Scott a mug of coffee. Thirty minutes later they were standing at a bus stop.
“Remember which buses to take?” ventured Graham.
“Yeah, I wrote it down.”
“Want me to pin the address on your shirt,” laughed Graham.
“Look bro' I've only been up here for four years, give me a break.”
Scott made it to the airport a bit early and had time to loosen the strings on his guitar before putting it on the conveyor belt to be loaded. He prayed they wouldn't lose it like before. On board, Scott settled into the usual wing seat and studied the map in the seat pouch in front of him. As soon as he could he ordered a beer. He passed the time smoking and writing anxiety poems in a little journal he always traveled with. After lunch and four beers, he closed his eyes. He reminisced about his high school days with Marcus.
“Scotty-boy, I'm going to teach you my secret language.”
“How's that, Marcus?”
“OK, listen up. You break all the words into their syllables and put an “L” in front of each one. There is no punctuation between words or sentences. My brother taught me.”
“Would you like to go swimming?”
By the end of the afternoon, Scott had mastered the technique. The boys spoke about girls, teachers and parents in the language and infuriated many people. One day after school, Scott's parents cornered him and forbade him to ever see Marcus again. They said he was a definite bad influence. It was obvious because he drove a motorcycle and lived alone with his father. Much worse, he talked in code. Scott had rebelled and continued to go to visit Marcus' apartment. From time to time he would talk to his father in the L language, just to piss him off.
Marcus was bigger than Scott due to a weight lifting set and although he was half Italian he had the blonde hair and blue eyes of a young Paul Newman. The girls were crazy for him. The girl's mothers were also crazy for him. He was gifted by God with a natural charm and wit. He was always trying to pass this on to Scott.
“Go on chicken. Just do like I said. Put your arms around her like this and kiss her right there by her ear. She'll think it's me.”
“She'll be pissed.”
“Exactly. That's the idea, Sherlock. Come on. You definitely need the practice. Do this thing Scott. I'll let you wear my jean jacket all week-end.”
“OK, man. Not my fault if she gets pissed.”
Scott looked across Marcus' bedroom where his friend's girlfriend was seated with her back to them. She was at his desk looking at a jumble of electronic components that were being transformed into an FM radio. Marcus was a fifteen year old electrical technician. His father had given him manuals to read in lieu of kiddy books. Marcus had sponged it up and was doing differential calculus while the rest of his peers were struggling with dividing fractions.
Scott steeled his nerves and forced himself to walk over to the unwitting girl. Marcus watched from behind the door. Scott placed his arms gently around her as instructed. She cooed. He kissed right on the spot indicated earlier. She reached up to cradle his face. She became stiff and turned around screaming. Marcus rolled on the floor laughing. Scott ran out of the room. On his way out the door, he grabbed Marcus' jacket off its peg. On the long walk home, Scott tried to swell his chest to fill the oversize jacket.
One Saturday night, the two boys sat in the Pickwick Coffee Shop. Procol Harum's song, Conquistador was playing on the juke.
“Two cups of Earl Grey, sweetheart,” drawled Marcus.
Both were dressed completely in black and wore black toques. Marcus even had a pair of black leather gloves in his pocket.
“You ready to do this?” asked Marcus.
“Let's go over the plan one more time.”
“Right. It's really quite simple. You keep watch while I neutralize the alarm. Remember the signal. If I am successful, and I will be, I will split. Wait ten minutes and then you do the lock like I showed you. Then you split. Five minutes later, we clean it out.”
“Roger, old boy. What's the haul?”
“It's pot luck tonight old chap. I wasn't able to ascertain the contents of the vehicle,” said Marcus in a fairly good British accent.
They finished their tea and slunk out into the sticky Texas night. Their pulses raced. Folks here had guns. Marcus retrieved his tool kit from the bushes outside. It was a black cloth with pockets full of tools that had been coated with dark rubber. No noise and no reflection. They roared off on Marcus' motorcycle and were soon at work.
As predicted, Marcus dispatched the alarm within a few tense moments and melted into the darkness twenty yards away from the five ton truck they were working on. He passed the tool kit to Scott, who approached the vehicle, staying on the dark side away from the glare of a street light. Once at the back door, Scott began to work the lock open, just like he had practiced many times under his friend's tutelage. When he lifted the last pin and turned the tumbler over, he was as proud as he had been when he had landed his first fish.
Scott raced back to the rendezvous point and moments later when all was clear they went back and opened the door. Inside were hundreds of flats. In each flat were tiny vases containing one red rose each. They turned off the flashlight and stared at each other in disappointment. Marcus remembered that it was Valentine's Day the following day. These flowers were probably destined for the local Seven Eleven Stores. Scott figured they had come down from the rose farms up in Tyler.
“Shit!” said Marcus.
“Wait, man, you said its Valentine tomorrow, right? We'll hand them out to all the chicks in Oak Forest and Spring Branch, it'll be a gas,” offered Scott.
“You might have something there Scotty-boy.”
Marcus brought his motorcycle and they took as many as Scott could carry on the back. They proceeded to Marcus' apartment and checked to make sure his father was out on the prowl before bringing the fragrant cargo inside to be hidden until morning.
“It's one AM. Maybe your old man got lucky and won't be home.”
“Maybe, but if he does, he'll bust us for sure.”
Neither thief slept a wink and in the morning they were away right after consuming some generous Spam sandwiches, grilled up with thick slabs of cheese and drowned in mustard. Scott got situated on the Yamaha with the flats on his lap and Marcus drove them slowly to Scott's street. As they proceeded in this fashion, Scott handed a flower to every female they passed with a big ole grin. He felt like Robin Hood. Marcus and Scott carried on in this fashion until they had given all the flowers out and covered both their neighborhoods.
Later that same year, Marcus approached Scott in the cafeteria, “Hey, we're gonna pull some wool on that sorry sack of shit PE teacher.”
“Coach Rip? Rinkowski.?”
“The same. Here's the plan. He goes to the can everyday before class. Same exact time. Guess that's how he gets rid of the beer. You know that bastard made me run laps last week?”
“So? He gave me laps and the strap. Chapped my ass too.”
“What'd you do?”
“I'se late for class. At's all.”
“Damn! All I did was skip class and had coffee with his girlfriend in the lunchroom. Nice body on her. I'd like me some of that. I think she likes me too.”
“I'm sure she does, you crazy fucker. By the way, what the hell are we gonna do?”
“Well, you know how you can piss and piss, for like ten minutes without stopping?”
“Uh, yeah, so?”
“ You're gonna fill this jumbo Slushee cup and put it on the door closer mechanism, 'zactly two minutes before Rink's traditional piss. I'm gonna stay out here and keep anyone else from going in til Rip does. You hide in a stall and be sure to not let your legs show. Stand on the toilet, OK? When you hear him cussin', come on out and mix with the crowd. Got it? Look here's what the door closer looks like. See, it swings out right over the head of anyone entering the door. Look, watch that guy go in. See? See it swing out? Gravity will do the rest.”
Scott flashed a broad smile, “Roger that.”
“Alright, synchronize watches. Exactly at six minutes to one, place the charge.”
Scott took the cup under his jacket and entered the bathroom. He soon had a full jumbo cup. Two other guys who were already in finished up and left. Outside, Marcus steered all comers away with whatever means he deemed necessary upon sizing them up. At the arranged time, Scott carefully balanced the warm cup on top of the door closer. He took up his position in a stall and waited. As he tried to control his breathing, he watched the second hand of his watch. Thirty seconds to go. Fifteen.
“What in the Sam-God-Damned-Hill!”
Scott had to bury his face in the crook of his arm to stifle his laughter. He nearly fell off the toilet where he perched. Twenty seconds later, he came out. A huge crowd of kids had formed a circle around the poor coach. His face was red as a boiled lobster and his muscles twitched underneath his yellow tee-shirt. Scott skirted the crowd and proceeded to PE class with Marcus. It was going to be a good class. No volleyball.
These reveries were broken by the tinny voice of the stewardess, “Please extinguish all smoking materials, place your tray tables in their upright positions and buckle your seat belts. We are approaching Houston Intercontinental Airport. We will be cleared for landing shortly. Thank you for traveling with us today and we hope to see you again.”
Scott roused himself and began to fumble through his carry-on bag for the address of the hospital. Soon the passengers began their polite stampede to disembark. A wave of hot, stagnant air slammed into Scott's nostrils as soon as he left the plane. His body coated itself with sweat as he went in search of his guitar.
Hallelujah! They hadn't lost it. When he had made ten steps toward the information desk, the handle broke. He knelt and tied it up with a piece of shoe-lace. People stared at his long hair, his guitar and his undone shoe. Scott became defensive and tried to put on a mean face. He tried to no avail to get directions for a bus to the hospital. In the end he decided to spend the cab fare. Outside the main terminal he found a taxi and was driven by a Manson lookalike with stained fingers. The old goat gave him a lecture on women on the way. Scott pretended to listen as he tuned his guitar in the back seat.
Outside the hospital, Scott stuffed his shirt carefully into his trousers and combed the tangles out of his hair. His speech had already undergone the switch to a Texas accent. Talking Canadian style, would only get him stared at worse here.
A portly black woman with gray straightened hair and crimson nails greeted him at the reception desk. Her expression was very disapproving. She made a show of spinning through her Roll-o-Dex to find the name Scott gave her. When her fingers hit pay-dirt she grunted and looked back and forth from Scott to the card.
“Are you family, sir?”
“No ma'am, I'm his best friend. I came down all the way from Canada to see him.”
“Sir, only blood relatives are allowed to visit on the eighth floor. Even they can only go at certain times and for short periods only”
“ I came here to see my friend and I am going to see him. Let me talk to somebody else, I'll tell 'em. It's special circumstances.”
“Sir, I told you already. It's a psychiatric ward. You can't go in. Hell, even the elevators and stairs are locked up.”
“Ma'am, I ain't leavin' here until I do! God-dammit!”
“Now look here, hippy-boy. Where the hell you get off cussin' me. You better pull your shit together or I'll get your white ass throwed clear out of here! You take my meanin', child?”
“Yes ma'am I do. I 'pologize for cussin'. Look, he is my best friend. I come two thousand miles. Now, I won't cause any kind of trouble, but I ain't leavin' until I see him. Am I makin' mine clear to yours?”
“Suit your own self, son. Can't go in. Hmmm!” she smacked her gum loudly and went back to her paperwork.
Scott took a seat right across from her desk, next to a potted palm. From time to time she would look up, glare at him and snort softly. Whenever a member of the hospital staff crossed her path, she would pull them in and whisper while gesturing in a not too subtle manner at Scott.
About three hours later, a woman in her mid-forties walked in. She looked intently at Scott. She carried a big Mexican leather purse and wore a pretty lavender top. She was tall and amply built. She approached Scott slowly as if afraid of making a mistake.
“Scott? Is that you, hon?”
“Yes ma'am. You must be Wes' new wife.”
“Hi, I'm Peggy. So pleased to meet you. Your face looked like the picture Marcus has of you, but Lord, you have sure grown a lot of hair. 'Least you keep it clean and neat. More'n some do.”
They shook hands and got rapidly acquainted there in the reception room. She assured Scott that she could get him in to see Marcus. At the prospect of seeing his damaged friend, Scott felt like one weight had been lifted and a new one put in place. He gave a victory glare to the receptionist, who pretended not to notice.
“Now, Scott before we go up, I've got to prepare you for what you are going to see. Marcus is in bad shape, hon. In fact, he may not even know who you are. He can't speak at all and he has to be fed and helped to go to the toilet. He can hear you though, and he can move around, but he is all uncoordinated. It isn't pretty to see. Can you handle that, hon.?”
“Are you trying to say that he is a vegetable?” Scott choked out.
“No Scott. Marcus has severe brain damage. They don't even know yet exactly which parts are affected, how much so, or whether or not he can be somewhat rehabilitated.”
“Do they work with him to get better?”
“He has physio everyday and he is on a lot of special medication. They are doing the best they possibly can. It's very expensive, hon. Wes is working three jobs. The poor man is in his fifties.”
“I'm so sorry for ya'll, Peggy. Let's get on up there.”
“OK. Good. Look, hon, you'll have to leave your guitar down here.”
Scott left the instrument with the lady at the reception desk, who shot him a “I got you last” look. Scott thanked her for looking after it. Peggy and Scott entered the elevator and punched up the eighth floor. The button was separated from the rest of the other floor's, as if to heighten the mystery.
The elevator halted abruptly at its destination and the door remained closed. Peggy had to press another button to summon somebody outside to unlock them. A white-clad muscular young man answered the buzzer. His key was the only way in or out.
“Scott peered down the poorly lit hall. It was long, gray-tiled and had windows only at each extreme. In the centre was a little square dispensary. Next to the dispensary was a sort of lounge area. It had plastic chairs, a cheap sofa, plastic tables, ashtrays and a color TV. Standing sentry by the TV was a battered old Coke machine. Other than a few storage and supply rooms, the balance of the floor seemed to be individual cubicles. All with heavy steel doors, many of which were not open. These closed doors had steel-barred peep-holes and little name tags.
They walked slowly past the doors. Scott read the names silently. Anderson, McClintock, Lopez, Rogers, Belliveau, Cernoczek, and suddenly they were at Marcus' door. Scott swallowed hard.
Only the muscles in his throat moved, there was no moisture to go with the action. An orderly approached them on silent rubber shoes and began the process of unlocking the door.
First he slid open the peep-hole and peered inside. Satisfied with this, he pulled a large ring of keys from his belt and turned the lock. He slid back the bolt. As Scott backed up a step to let the door swing, he collided gently with a thin man in a purple bathrobe who was dancing ballet with an imaginary partner. Peggy asked Scott to wait just a minute outside the room. Another of the free ranging inmates approached. He was short and fat and wore a well stained striped shirt. He was pushing one of the plastic chairs from place to place as he went along. He offered to sell the chair to Scott for $35,000.00. In a quietly modulated salesman's voice, he persisted until Peggy pulled Scott by his arm into the room.
The room was in semi-darkness and Scott could see in the tiny window on a far wall beyond the bed that it was growing dark outside. A tiny lamp gave off what cheer it could on the bedside table. Scott approached the bed and made out the shape of his friend under a sea-green bed cover. He lay rigid on his back, arms at his side, with his toes pointing straight at the acoustic tiles. The covers were up to his chin.
His face was gray with shadow as Peggy leaned into the lamp's glow to kiss his forehead. He looked like a corpse. Scott wanted to scream or cry. It was Marcus, but minus his spirit, his personality, and his ego. In that instant, Scott knew that he could never accept this state of affairs. He would only speak to Marcus as he always had, whether or not Marcus understood.
Peggy brought two chairs and motioned for Scott to sit. There was an awkward silence.
“Hi sugar-pie,” Peggy offered. “How are we doin' today, hon? Do you need to pee-pee yet? I hope you ate all your lunch today. I still see some jello left on your plate.”
She stroked his forehead gently as she cooed to him. Marcus didn't move a muscle or open an eye.
“I've got a surprise for you baby,” she went on. “Scott's here. He came all the way from Vancouver, in Canada.”
Scott studied Marcus' face for any sign of movement. Underneath their lids, his eyes seemed to flutter. Peggy picked up Marcus' hand and began rubbing his wrist. Then she stood and reached under his armpits and hoisted him upright in the bed. Marcus slowly opened his eyes like a new-born kitten and stared vacantly across the space between himself and Scott.
“Hey man, what's up? Long time since we fropped,” said Scott, using a word Marcus had coined which meant hopping freight trains. It was a skill he had taught Scott when they first met at high school.
Marcus made a thin gurgling sound and continued to stare vacuously. Peggy broke in and suggested that she take Marcus to the washroom. This went forward in slow motion and Scott was sickened at the sight. Marcus looked like a fat, pasty maggot. His skin had a tallow appearance, unhealthy from lack of sun and wind. He had a paunch where tight abs used to be. He seemed to be pumped up with stale air and his eyes were bulging as if about to give birth.
Peggy placed his slippers on the floor before him and then pushed them onto his feet. It took far too long. The trip to the toilet took longer. An agonizingly slow shuffle. When they got back to the bed, Marcus sat down and reclined against the pillows like a lizard on a cold day.
Was this was the same blonde haired hero of yesterday? A guy who could talk a woman twice his age into bed, repair her car and teach her calculus. Scott utilized his remaining time of the visit to speak of their days gone by. Most of the stories were new to Peggy. Marcus sighed and rolled his eyes a few times. When he showed the ghost of a smile, Scott thought he detected a lingering bit of spirit amongst the ravaged brain cells and the fog of therapy.
The orderly appeared with a paper cup and an assortment of pills. He fed them to Marcus and wrote something down on the chart that hung on a peg by the door. He reminded Peggy that it was time for visitors to leave. On their way out, she fixed it so that Scott could visit daily, with or without family members present. She took Scott to spend the night at her and Wes' house.
The following day, Scott went to the hospital with Marcus' father. It was around lunch time and Wes suggested that they take Marcus down the hall to the eighth floor cafeteria. Another slow, shuffling parade down the gray tiles. Once inside the cafeteria, they sat amongst an odd assortment of mentally damaged diners and their families. Wes spoon fed his son with an incredible patience that surprised Scott. Marcus sat rigid with his arms straight down at his sides. Bits of food dribbled down his chin and stuck in the stubble of his unshaven face.
Suddenly, a girl of about twenty years ran up. She was pointing her outstretched finger at Scott. Her arm shook violently and she started to shout and cry simultaneously.
“You!...” she hissed. “You?...You look like HIM!!!” she wailed.
She then began to sob quietly and wandered away before anyone could react. She had flame colored hair and wore a green sheer teddy over a pair of cotton pajamas. A pair of the seemingly obligatory carpet slippers, completed her costume.
A white suit came quickly and escorted the poor thing to the TV room and settled her into a chair. Wes grinned and shook his head. Marcus sat as if he hadn't noticed and Scott finished his jello.
Next day, Scott got to accompany Marcus to a physiotherapy session. After a long, slow walk they arrived at the eighth floor gymnasium. The nurse consulted a chart and then set Marcus up on a leg raising machine. She held his leg and put it through the range of motion. Marcus sat stone still. The nurse, next tried him on a lat machine. Marcus gripped the bar and went through the motions if the nurse did the pulling. If she let go, Marcus would remain holding in that position. All the while, he neither spoke nor used any facial expression.
As the week wore on, Scott talked incessantly, trying to cover up the fact that his friend was unable to reciprocate. Scott found himself becoming increasingly comfortable with the other denizens of the floor and used to the routine. One day, however, he became angry and frustrated. They were shuffling down the hall to the weight room, Marcus with his arms lifeless at his side.
“God-dammit Marcus! You walk like a fuckin' zombie. Draggin' your steps like Frankenstein. If you can walk at all, you can walk right. Stop, man. Look. Look at me. Watch now.”
Scott walked slowly in front of Marcus and made a show of swinging his arms. Then he grabbed Marcus' arms and moved them as his charge lurched forward. Marcus became excited and started to breath hard. He grinned! Then he broke away from Scott and marched, a bit stiffly, but
with the verve of a soldier on parade. He went all the way to the window at the end of the hall. He stopped and clapped his hands. He strode in like manner back to Scott. The others in the hall stared at them suspiciously. To Scott, it seemed that Marcus' spirit had finally regained its former place inside his body.
The next day, after some more practice walking normally, Marcus wouldn't have stood out in a crowd. Scott was elated. They both were.
“Right on , man. I'm proud of you. You'll be chasin' skirts again 'fore long. You are one bad man. C'mon, let's do some struttin'.”
Scott bopped along to imaginary music and Marcus followed him perfectly. They were having fun with this new skill.
Throughout each day Scott had been visiting, a bell rang at four hour intervals. The inmates would cluster about the dispensary in Pavlovian queues and numbly receive their respective psychoactive prescriptions. Those who were immobile or late, would have theirs brought by an orderly and this routine was strictly observed.
Whenever Marcus heard the bell, Scott had seen him actually wilt. All the correct walking and the new grinning would vanish like ducks off a lake. Marcus would assume his sick man shuffle and take his pills like a somnambulists taking Communion. Once, Scott asked a nurse, just what the pills were that Marcus had been taking. She politely informed Scott that she was not at liberty to say. After swallowing their pills, all the inmates had to go to their beds and wait for the effects. Scott saw every new bud of Marcus' success nipped off by these chemical scissors.
Early in the second week, Marcus fed himself in the cafeteria for the first time. He had started to giggle at some of Scott's jokes and antics. Afterwards, they strutted like pimps to the exercise session. All the way there, Scott chided his friend for being a wimp in the weight room.
“Hey, remember when I couldn't do three pull-ups in a row? You could do twenty. Remember? You still got your muscles, use them dammit!”
Marcus began to breath hard and grit his teeth. They approached the lat machine. Marcus gripped the handles and began to drool and hyperventilate. He hoisted the weights up with a jerk and they clattered when they hit the top of the pulley. Marcus growled and gurgled.
A nurse on duty looked up from her magazine. She stared wordlessly as Marcus slammed the weights up again and again with a new vigor. This went on until the cotter-pin broke and the weights clattered to the floor, narrowly missing his slipper feet. Marcus marched like a roman soldier to the leg raiser and pumped this machine until he was exhausted. All unassisted by Scott or the nurse. He rose from the bench suddenly and started for the door.
Scott followed him into his room.
“Marcus, can you remember what happened to you? How you got hurt?”
Scott continued questioning, “They say you breathed carbon monoxide. C'mon, buddy, what really happened? I can see that you don't belong here. This is a psych ward. You are not nuts.”
Marcus sighed and grabbed a small blue satin pillow. It was embroidered with the name “Becky.” Marcus hugged it and began to sob. Scott quit his questions and held his friend's shoulder. The bell rang and Marcus did not respond. The orderly brought his doses and told Scott to leave.
The following day, Scott had a plan. He hadn't told Peggy or Wes. He was going to lay it out for Marcus anyway. He knew Marcus could hear and understand him. He told Marcus that every time the bell rang, he was to faithfully go up and get his little cup of pills. He was to put them in his cheek and not to swallow them. Upon returning to his room, he was to spit them into the toilet. Scott went over the plan several times and made it clear to Marcus that he was to do this even if his friend was not there.
The effects were evident within hours. Marcus began to gesture with his hands and to nod his head. Scott watched the changes taking place with a definite delight.
A few days into this routine, something extraordinary happened. Marcus and Scott were in the room when the bell rang. Marcus lay on his bed with his hands folded behind his head. He didn't stir.
“C'mon Marcus, go for vitamins, man.”
Marcus remained prostrate and a strange determined expression took over his visage. Scott heard the orderly striding toward the room. The man looked at Scott, then at Marcus and consulted Marcus' chart. He turned his gaze back to Marcus and spoke in the stern voice of a father ordering a naughty child.
“Marcus, get your fanny out there and get your medicine. I am not bringin' it to you on a silver platter no more. Move it, son.”
Marcus lay absolutely still. His breathing was slow and even.
“Excuse me, boy. I said move it on out. Shake your butt.”
Marcus' lack of reaction served to strip away the man's thin veneer of patronizing care.
“Enough out of you! Go! Now!” he said in a harsh tone.
Marcus rotated his head without moving any other part of his body until his eyes were locked on the orderly and said in a completely normal voice, “Fuck you, asshole.”
The man started back like he had been struck by a projectile and rushed out of the room with the chart clutched under his arm. His deck shoes squeaked loudly on the gray tiles, such was his haste. This patient had not uttered, was not capable of uttering a single intelligible word since being admitted here seven months prior. He wanted witnesses.
Scott grinned and began to laugh and cry simultaneously. Marcus let out a deep belly laugh. Some doctors came and marveled at Marcus new ability. Marcus was in the driver's seat and very choosy about what he was willing to talk about. They didn't press him. They asked Scott what the two had been doing prior to this miracle. Scott was vague in answering. When they left the room, the two friends howled anew with righteous gales of laughter.
The last day that Scott came to visit, before his return to Canada, the staff allowed them to hold a party in Marcus' room. Scott brought his guitar, sat on the bed and sang for a packed house. The girl with flame colored hair cried and pointed at Scott. The short, fat man in the striped shirt pushed his plastic chair into the room and motioned for Scott to sit on it. During the concert, he tried to sell it to each person in the room for $35,000.00. It was a rarefied nostalgic affair. Marcus was going home.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.