«You know goddamn well who I mean…. Oh, God, in there with another transfusion… the oxygen… so helpless she can hardly breathe… all those tubes…»
«What? You know what, you son of a bitch,» she yelled. «You better hope to God she lives. Oh, God, let Amy live….»
«I don't know… it can't…» Kirk tried to say.
«It goddamn right can't happen. She was doing all right. The doctor said she was doing all right. Didn't you want her to get better? The bleeding… the pneumonia now. If she dies…»
«Dies? From mono? You're hysterical.»
«Mono, nothing. Mono! You fool! What the hell did you expect me to tell her?»
Brent shifted in his bed. Say something, he thought, but he couldn't.
«If only I'd known,» Kirk said.
«It wouldn't have made any difference to someone like you… dragging her out at night. Yes, the night nurse told me. So help me, if Amy does pull through, I don't want you ever, do you hear me, ever trying to see her again. If you so much as set foot inside her room, I'll see to it…»
Nurse Rush appeared in the doorway. «Go to your daughter,» she said. «She needs you now. I don't want my other patients disturbed.»
«Not until nothing. Please leave this room immediately,» Nurse Rush said.
Amy's mother turned and ran from the room.
Kirk shouted after her, «Don't you think I give a damn too?»
«I'm sorry, Kirk,» Nurse Rush said. «Amy's very sick. I know it's not your fault, although it was a stupid thing to pull last night. Don't try to visit her. Things are bad enough over there without having her mother fly off the handle again. Amy shouldn't see anyone now anyway. You'll be kept posted.»
«Thanks, Nurse Rush,» Kirk said.
She left the room.
Brent and Kirk were silent for a long time.
«Nurse Rush isn't so bad, is she?» Kirk finally said.
«No, she's all right, I guess,» Brent said. He knew he should say more.
«Yeah, well. What a shitty world,» Kirk said. «Why does it have to happen like this to the good guys? Poor Amy. I wish I'd known.»
«Listen, Kirk, it's not your fault she's so sick. She wanted to go out last night.»
«I know, but I shouldn't have let her.»
«You couldn't have stopped her.»
«It was a stupid idea.»
«Relax, there's nothing we can do but wait. She'll be fine,» Brent said.
«Don't give me that patronizing shit like all the others. I've had enough of that shoved at me all my life. You've had it made from the start. Just shut up, why don't you?»
«Okay, sorry,» Brent said.
They waited in silence for another long time.
«Maybe I should go over and see how she's doing,» Kirk said.
«Don't. You don't need her mother screaming all over the place again. The nurse will tell us if anything happens.»
«I'd like to see her. I feel so shitty about the whole thing.»
After a long while Jewel came into their room.
«Amy?» Kirk asked.
«Amy's dead,» she said.
A cold wave washed over Brent and left him empty.
«Oh, Christ,» said Kirk. «Why Amy?»
He grabbed his pillow and smashed it again and again against the wall. He struggled out of bed and grabbed his crutches. Jewel rushed to him and took his shoulder.
«Kirk,» she said, «there's nothing you can do now.»
Kirk pushed her away and stumbled to the door, his crutches swinging, striking the walls. He almost fell into the hallway.
«Oh, good Christ,» he said. «Not Amy.»
The blood lady was wheeling her cart of test tubes and blood samples down the hall. Kirk lunged at her and smashed at the cart with one crutch. He let the other drop, and it bounced and thudded against the hard floor.
He swung again and the blood lady shrank back against the wall. The crutch crashed through the top of the cart, knocking the tops off test tubes. He smashed it down onto the cart. Glass shattered and sprayed everywhere. The samples of blood spilled and spattered in all directions. Blood splashed against the walls and against the white floor and all over Kirk's pajamas.
Kirk wailed once and smashed the cart again. It rolled against the wall and he turned it over, kicking at the glass and dripping blood with his bare feet. The glass cut him. A trickle of his own blood streamed down his ankle. He smashed at the broken glass again and again. The blood lady screamed. Kirk had blood in his hair and on his face.
I can't lie here any longer, Brent thought. He reached for the brace that had been delivered the day before. He twisted his body sideways into the gray canvas monstrosity and thrust one arm through the right strap and tried to get the brace around behind him. God, hurry up, he thought. The brace fought his efforts but he got it halfway into position and sat up.
He pulled one buckle closed across his stomach and swung his legs over the side of the bed.
He stood up and the room spun in front of him. He was dizzy from standing for the first time in over three weeks. He pulled another strap closed in front of him and felt the brace tighten across the lower part of his back. It helped the weak feeling. You've got to make it, he thought.
He stepped toward the door, holding onto the edge of his bed for support. He lunged from his bed to Kirk's and got a few feet closer to the hallway. He thought he was going to fall.
Outside the door Kirk leaned against the wall crashing his head again and again against the plaster.
Brent struggled to the doorway and leaned against it. It took an effort of will to keep from tumbling sideways.
The floor was littered with glass and blood. The blood lady was still pressed against the far wall. Nurse Rush was running toward them from the nurses' station. Jewel was standing in the doorway behind Brent.
«Kirk? Hey, Kirk?» Brent said softly. «Help me, will you? I think I'm going to fall.»
Kirk looked up and saw Brent standing in the doorway. He turned his mouth up into his half-smile.
Kirk leaned on the one crutch he still had and put it under his left arm. He hobbled toward Brent and put his right arm around Brent's shoulder. Brent felt the weight and pressure of it.
«You got to be a real asshole to get out of bed by yourself in your condition,» Kirk said.
Together they turned back into the room, leaning on each other. Kirk helped Brent back to bed and Brent lay down. Kirk stumbled over to his own bed and climbed in.
Someone was sweeping up the broken glass in the hallway. Brent could hear the tinkling and clatter of the shattered pieces.
Nurse Rush appeared in the doorway. She crossed to the foot of Kirk's bed. «Kirk, are you all right now?» she asked.
«Yeah, thanks,» Kirk said. «Sorry.»
She and Jewel left.
«You know, it's a real pisser. Nothing good ever lasts,» Kirk said.
Brent could hear the coldness creep back into Kirk's voice.
The rest of the day passed very slowly.
The next day Brent got ready to go home. It felt strange to be up and
around. His suitcase was packed with his pajamas and toothbrush, his
books and paints. The room had become so permanent, Brent sometimes
had the thought that the world outside had ceased to exist, that the
view from the window was just painted on. He was in his back brace and
moving around pretty well.
When everything was packed, he turned to Kirk and said, «I'm almost sorry to be leaving. I hope you get out soon.»
«Someday, I guess. I don't give a damn,» Kirk said.
«Listen, you got my address and telephone number?» Brent asked.
«We'll keep in touch, huh? I mean, I'll be by to visit in a day or so.»
«It's sure nice to be thinking about getting a decent meal and all.»
«Yeah, I envy you.»
«Say good-bye to Jewel for me, will you?»
«Listen, don't lose any wheelchair races. Make sure I get the address of the school you're going to this fall.»
«Don't worry, I will.»
«Stay out of trouble while I'm gone,» Brent said.
«Don't worry about old Kirk here. He's just fine. Never better.»
«Maybe you'll get a new roommate soon.»
«I don't care much about that. I'll probably get another Toad who watches soap operas all day. I don't mind being alone. I guess I learned something from you after all.»
We're so far apart already, Brent thought, and it made him even sadder.
«It looks like it's really hot outside. Thank God for air conditioning, huh?» Brent said.
«Yeah, can you imagine what this place would be like without it?»
«It'd be hotter than the food, I'll say that for it.»
They both laughed.
«The brace uncomfortable?» Kirk asked.
«You guessed it. I've almost torn it off and burned it already. At least I don't have to sleep in it. I guess I can put up with it. Anything I can bring you when I come to visit?»
«Nah, I don't think so. I'll be fine. Really.»
«Yeah, well. I guess you're looking forward to getting away to school and out of this place.»
«Right. I tell you, Brent, old buddy, you look pretty good in that brace. You may just start a new fad.»
«That's funny,» Brent said, but he wasn't laughing. «If anyone wants it, he can have it for free.»
«And give that handsome piece of machinery away for nothing? Brent McAllister, you'd be a fool.»
Say it, Brent thought to himself. Open up and say it. You can't leave it like this.
«We had a good time, didn't we?» Brent said.
«Yeah, we did.»
«We were good friends, huh?»
«Yeah, we sure were. All of us.»
They smiled at each other.
«I've got something I'd like to leave with you,» Brent said. He crossed to the bedside cabinet and took out the almost-finished painting of the three of them. The background was finished in detail, but all three faces were not quite done. It was a good painting. Brent had caught Amy's sweep of hair and her wide, honest eyes, had caught Kirk's half-smile without it looking like a smirk.
Brent handed the painting over to Kirk, who took it and stared at it for a long time.
«I wanted to leave something with you,» Brent said.
«You have,» Kirk said. «Thanks.»
Brent looked at his feet in the silence that followed.
«Well, listen, Kirk. I got to be going. My mother's waiting for me.»
«I'll be back down to see how you're doing in another day or so. Okay?»
«Yeah, sure. Anytime. It looks like I'm not going anywhere. It's great to see you up and around.»
«Oh, thanks. Be seeing you.»
«Right. Take care now. Don't knock up any chick at the swimming club, now.»
«Don't sweat it. I couldn't get out of the back brace fast enough.»
Brent's mother appeared in the doorway. She lifted Brent's suitcase.
«I'll be waiting in the hall when you're ready,» she said.
«I mean it now, Kirk. I'll be seeing you in a few days.»
«You be careful of that old back now, you hear? I don't want to hear about you falling through any more trapdoors. Grace you ain't got,» Kirk said and lit a cigarette.
«Yeah. Right. See you, Kirk.»
«See you, Brent.»
Brent left. He felt like crying, but he waited until he got home.