The Paris Review

Campbell McGrath

FEVER OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN

1.

A storm of buzzards is circling outside the windowof my hospital room, looking south and east across the rivertoward the high-rise construction cranes downtown.They are a regular sight in December, buzzards migratingin particulate vortices, slow-moving gyres that resemble,from a distance, glassless, black-feathered snow globes.Satin-hemmed sheaths of cloud shuttle across the sky,diffuse silver light alternating with bursts of Florida sun,the occasional spatter of raindrops from a stringof unseasonable storms parading up from the Gulf,cars composing a stop-and-go stream of metalparallel to the river, small Caribbean freighters dockedalong quaysides of cabbage palms and crab traps,I can see it all with great clarity, the birds, the traffic,it’s effortless—the doctor in the eye clinicspoke enviously of my vision, better than 20/20,even at my rapidly advancing middle age.The bad news is that I am periodically blindin one of those otherwise excellent eyes, which flickersbetween darkness and light, like poorly connected cable TV.It’s terrifying, that darkness. Enveloping. Confounding.Immediately, all thought flows toward the remaining eye—may it never falter, dear lord, may it guide methrough the corridors of your mansion forever and ever,amen. In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is kingbut I have never envied royalty. I am a democratand I want to go home. It’s two days before Christmas hereat the ho-ho-hospital, and the nurses are antsyfor some quality family time, Becky has four girlsand a worthless ex-husband, she started nursing schoolafter the divorce at age thirty-nine, ifHow to describe the gloominess of the hospital at this season?Little worse than its familiar, jaundiced, institutional gloom,in some ways, but it is more poignantly melancholy,doors adorned with droopy silver wreaths, a poinsettiadropping its leaves on the brightly sanitized nurses’ deskas if it were coming down with something.Every effort at seasonal cheer serves only to clarifyits inherent joylessness, just as all the holiday schmoozingon the ever-running TV sets, the enforced jollityof Toyotathon commercials and celebrity chefsbaking caramel gingerbread men on the morning show,makes us feel more empty-hearted, fearful, and alone.

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