A Possible Future

John Buchley's Story from You Cannot Run From Yourself
by Brian W. Porter Brick high-rise apartment buildings, the mortar cracked or missing, some with broken windows covered by plywood or cardboard squares, towered over the littered street. Next to an abandoned grocery, cardboard signs that advertised sales still hung in the broken front windows, a liquor store displayed its wares through steel grating. Abandoned cars, several without glass and tires, stood along the curb. About twelve kids played near the stream of water propelled from a hydrant, several boys played chicken with the eighty pound-per-square inch stream, the rest splashed in the oily runoff as the stream headed toward the storm sewer. My partner and I pulled the city-owned car to a stop in the no parking zone opposite the kids, lights flashing. " 'Nother one," I told my partner as I checked the mirror and opened the driver's side door. She opened her door as she asked, "Day like this when ya can barely breathe, what else do ya expect? Pop the trunk and I'll get a sprinkler and the wrench. Ya start the lecture, and don't be so holier-than-thou this time. Ya just turn the kids off." With a day like this, anything that sounded like an order just irritated me. "Like I need a lecture from ya? Go get the stuff and quit your bitchin'." I looked and crossed the street, my uniform limp. "Yo, kids!" I yelled as I approached. "Hey, yo, bro! It's the fuckin' fireman to turn the water off. Worse than a fuckin' pig! What we doin', huh pig? Wastin' your precious water?" "Set any fires lately, fireman?" "Woo! Look at the foxy fire chick. Ya ballin' her fireman? She a good fuck?" I kept my cool, barely, as the kids tried to get a rise out of me. With the high humidity on top of the heat, everybody's temper was on edge. The whole city waited for an explosion, especially down here in the projects where few people had much money. "Now come on, guys. I just don't want to see ya get hurt. Anyway, if enough water gets wasted ya won't have any to drink."

"Hey pretty fire lady, what ya got?" a boy who looked about ten asked as my partner joined us. I had to admit the kid was right. Shelly was what ya call a looker. Twenty-one, brunette, and a rookie, she had yet to get the hard edge most female firefighters acquire. "This," she said holding up the sprinkle pipe, "is a way to have fun and keep cool and not get hurt or waste so much water so the kids down on twelfth can cool off too." One kid complained, "Aw, they don't count. They're just Ricans." Another asked, "How does it work?" "Well, we have to turn off the water, first," she explained while I closed the valve with the wrench. The flow was down to a trickle when I heard someone down the street yell, "Yo! What chya doin' death mask? Ya better get that coolin' on again if ya don't want ta get shot. Ya hear me?" As several teens in gang colors walked toward us, Shelly continued, "Then John here will put on this small piece, then we'll turn the water back on, and you'll see ya can have more fun, and still stay cool. Any time ya want us to put this on, any day when it gets over ninety, ya just call the firehouse and someone will bring it by." "Will it be you?" the ten-year-old asked. "I'd like to see more of ya." "Yeah lots more," another boy said as his friends snickered. "I told ya to turn that water on, death-mask," the leader of the older group called as they strutted closer. "It might be me," Shelly continued as I tightened the sprinkler. She looked at me. "Watch this," I said as I cranked the valve a half turn. A heavy rain began to fall in a five-foot semi-circle. The kids all screamed with joy and began to run under the spray. "Close, death-mask. That was close. Ya almost got shot, and ya still might. Know this is Blood's turf, and ya ask permission before ya come on it. Especially if you're a white boy death-mask, uniform or no. There ain't no fire, and that's the truce." I explained, "There's too much water being wasted. Not only isn't there enough pressure to fight a fire, the reservoirs are getting low. We're just trying to save drinking water." The lead boy, no more than seventeen or so, stood in front of me, his hands on his belt buckle, his nose in my face. "So ya say. Just remember the truce." I continued, "We need to collect this about eight tonight. Tomorrow, if

it's hot like today, just call the firehouse and we'll put one on and let it run. Your kids can stay cool, and ya can drink. OK? We don't want anything other than to do our job in peace." The head kid backed off a bit. "So ya say. Just make sure ya check with us, death-mask." He turned and strutted back to his corner on the other end of the block while his cronies congratulated him for standing up to the man. I almost laughed, but walked back to the car with Shelly and threw the wrench in the trunk. "Jesus, what the hell was his problem?" Shelly asked me as we closed the doors. "Oh, he just wanted to show his power, that he could push a city official and not get pushed back. Don't worry about it." As I pulled away from the curb she asked, "What're ya doing tonight?" "Taking Dad to see Mom I reckon, then I don't know." She sighed. "Charlie's taking a client out to the concert, boring as hell, and he wants me along. If ya come with a lady I won't feel alone." With a lady. Just what I needed to get my lover jealous again. "I don't know. It depends when I get Dad home." "Well, try to let me know before dinner." *** The neighborhood Dad lived in was better than the projects where I worked, but not by much. Most buildings had some form of security, but those rents were out of sight for anyone on Government retirement pay. The government had decided that pension or church funds, neither available to my father, would supplement elder's old age benefits, so they didn't need to waste money on the elderly. Dad didn’t have much, but at least this buildin' looked as if it was in decent repair. Outside. "Dad, you ready?" I asked as I walked into the first floor tenement. "In a minute," he called from the bedroom. I heard bed-springs creak. While I waited, I used his bathroom. Paint, or possibly a thin layer of plaster, hung from the ceiling in pale odd shaped peels. His sink was still cracked and I made a note to send another letter to the landlord. At his age, he didn't need possibilities of lung damage or lead problems. He had enough health issues as it was. I met him in the hall as he clunked by. He leaned heavily on his cane. "Hips hurt more than usual?" I asked. He groused, "I'll be OK; just leave me alone.” We slowly progressed through the hall to the door. "Damn hot today, it is." "Ya can always come live with me in air-conditioning, Dad. Ya know

that." "Hate to think if we didn't have water in all this heat. Bunch of kids down at the corner playing in that hydrant wasting water. I thought ya were supposed to stop that?" He had ignored me again, his way of saying no. As we slowly worked our way to the front door I explained, "This isn't my district, Dad. I have no authority. Did they have a sprinkler on it?" "What the hell is a sprinkle? Is that like a tinkle?" he asked grinning. I ignored the comment and steadied Dad as I walked and he shuffled out onto the street. "It makes a spray of the water. Did the water go up in a spray?" The door slammed shut behind us. How are older folk supposed to open and hold a door with that much force behind it? "Yeah, yeah, like ya see there, but it's still illegal and ya ought to go over there and stop it." "Dad, ya have to let the kids stay cool. As long as there's one of those sprinklers, it's OK. That's all I did today last six hours. Went around installing sprinklers. 'C' shift should be pulling them off. Soon as the neighbors ask we'll replace them." We reached my car, a ten-year-old compact good for city streets and not much else. "It's OK, Dad, really. Watch your head. Get both legs in. Good. I'm closing the door." I drove Dad to the nursing home where Mom stayed. She had third degree Alzheimer's, couldn't remember more than two seconds back, and most of the time just stared off in her own little world. One of the nurses explained it was like meeting new people every day, even those ya saw all the time. The nurses said she could stay like that for years, but I hoped for her sake that her life would not continue much longer. Even the pain of her death would be better than her condition now, no longer the vibrant, outgoing, fun-loving woman she used to be. There were times I felt she remembered pieces of her past, how she felt, something she had and could no longer grasp. Sometimes I'd see a flash in her eyes when she heard Dad's voice, as if they tried to focus on the present, along with her brain. Mostly she just sat in the recliner I'd bought her and stared, her irises whiter than usual and her pupils small. Except today. We slowly moved through the hall to the sitting room, Dad's cane clunked when it hit the floor. He called Mom's name. She sat a bit straighter. "George. George," I heard her say in a creaking voice that she hadn’t used in months. Her arms came up and she gave him a hug, weak, but ya could see the love was still there. They sat and looked at each other, absorbed in each other, almost as if they shared seventy years of memories. If I believed in such things, I'd swear they

connected psychically. Finally after an hour Dad stood. "Time to go boy. Give your mother a hug." He sounded younger than I'd heard in years. I hugged Mom and heard her quietly tell me, "Do what I would do." *** "This is the last one," Shelly said as she joined me next to the corner hydrant. We were where the gang members had threatened us days before, but they'd called every morning, and someone from the station had installed the sprinkler. Today Shelly and I had the duty and had installed sprinklers for the past three hours. I cranked the last sprinkler we had tight and then gave the valve a half twist. As the water rose in a semi-circle of rain Shelly said, "There ya go, kids. We'll pick that up about eight o'clock tonight, just before dark, same as always." "Thanks a lot good looking fire lady," the ten year old said. "Hey, death-mask!" I turned to see that the gang leader approached followed by his friends. He strutted up the street, but with his hands at his sides, not by his weapon. "Death mask, ya been good on your word and I respect that, but it stayin’ hot at night too. Can't ya leave it?" I answered, "Love to. Ya need it when it's so hot, even after the sun goes down. But I can't without orders from city hall. None of us can. Look. Gather a few rivals under a truce and go talk to the Mayor. Explain how hot it is and how ya want to keep the sprinkler 'til later, after dark, ten or so. Guarantee the safety of those picking up the sprinklers not only from ya, but from other crime. Call a truce for a few weeks if ya can, sort of an incentive for him to go along with ya. He gives ya more time; ya give him peace, that sort of thing. If he says to leave them on until ten or eleven or even midnight, I have no problem with that, and no one else will either since we’re on duty all night. But it has to come from him. We can't just do it on our own. We'd be looking for other work." "OK, death-mask, we'll see about talkin', or we'll do it our way. Ya and the lady are out of it since ya been straight with us. Word." Shelly and I walked back to the car. She asked, "Did ya see that one girl? She doesn't have any clothes on." "She's not that old, she may only have one or two outfits, and her parents don't want her to get them wet for when she's not playing in the water." "She's old enough. Ya may not have noticed, but she's growing up,

and swim suits aren't that expensive." Shelly was definitely a rookie. "Drugs and alcohol are, and they come first for some." *** I thought about what the Blood had said, my way or theirs, the rest of the day. If the Mayor didn't agree with the later hours, the gangs would riot and no one would sleep, not cops or medics or fire-eaters. They’d call everyone in for overtime, no matter when their shift ended. The riots would destroy lots of property. We'd even get on the National news, something I knew the Mayor hated. Every time that happened, he took out his frustration on us. Six and a half hours later, after my twenty-four hour shift was over, I drove home half lost in thought. I could easily imagine what would happen and dreaded a night of problems instead of the fun I knew Peter had lined up. Peter met me at the door with a deep kiss, and then pushed me away and said, "Gross toasties. Ya smell like a firehouse. Ya need a shower. I'll cook ya some yummy morsels while ya get clean, then. Oh! I rented us that movie ya wanted to see. Hurry, hurry, and get all yummy-clean. "We might not get the chance," I told him as I walked down the hall and shed clothes. He picked them up as he followed me. I told him what had happened with the gang and what I expected, exchanged another promise of later loving, and closed the door of the bathroom to get clean while Peter started supper. While I was in the shower I heard the phone ring and yelled, "Let it ring." I figured it was the city or the union. I'd hit re-dial and see what they wanted. After the fourth ring there was quiet. I leaned out of the water and heard Peter say, "Ya better not take him from me tonight. I haven't seen him all week. I need some nookie." Jeez Chris he didn't listen! I screamed, "Peter! I told ya not to answer that phone!" I heard, "Oh, OK, if he must. Bye-bye, love." Peter cradled the phone. "Oh, he sounded so cute." I loved Peter to death, but there were times I got so damn exasperated with him. As I quickly dried off, I bitched, "Ya probably just cost me my job." He called back from the kitchen, "Oh no, that can't happen. They can't fire ya just because of little old me." I walked naked into the kitchen, not at all interested in sex. Peter gave me a hungry look, saw my lack of interest, and with a huff turned back to

the pans on the stove. Much quieter than my shout from the bedroom I said, "They can and they will. Remember, this is a very anti-gay administration, backed up all the way to the damned Fundamentalist Christian President." I looked at the ceiling and then back at him. Angry as I was, he was still the cutest, best, and most loving person I knew. "Oh, pooh. Ya just go get dressed a bit and you'll see. You'll be fine. And wear something sexy. I've missed ya all week!" Just then the phone rang, again. I knew it was the Commander calling to fire me, so I picked it up with trepidation. An unexpected voice asked, "John?" It was Bill, one of my paramedic friends. He'd heard of the slip already; that I was on the gay no-hire list. I braced myself and said, "Yeah, Bill?" "Look, I don't know how to tell ya this except straight out." His voice was, well, he sounded scared and sad and worried all together, not the anger I expected when he found out a friend was gay. I waited while he gathered strength to say what was on his mind. Finally, he sighed and said, "We just took your father into Emergency, and friend, it don't look good." Oh sweet Jesus. I leaned against the wall for stability. My legs didn't work. I slid down the wall to the floor. My spine sagged. He continued, "I got a friend coming to pick ya up, a uniform. You'll get in quicker, and I don't think ya should drive. He should be there in a couple minutes." I dropped the phone. From the receiver I heard, "John, ya OK, dude?" "John? What's wrong, John?" Peter asked as he cradled the phone, and then squatted next to me. I could hear the worry, the concern, but it didn't register. I looked at the shape next to me, blurred by the solution that filled my eyes. I knew it was Peter, but all I could think of was Dad. Argumentative, quarrelsome, contrary Dad. He wasn't that way until Mom went in the Home. Now he was--he was leaving me. I told Peter, "Dad's in the hospital and it's not good." "Oh. My. God." His arms enveloped me as the tears threatened to overflow. He said quietly, "Well ya just don't worry about a thing. I'll stay here and take care of things until ya get back. Ya just go right ahead and go on in to that hospital and take care of your father. Oh, how terrible." He stood, pulled me up next to him, turned me and started me toward the bedroom. "Ya better get dressed. How are ya getting in? You're not

driving are ya?" I mumbled, "No, Bill got me a ride." A knock sounded on the door as I struggled back to the bedroom. As I pulled on some jeans, I heard a strange voice say, "John Buchley?" "No, I'm Peter. What's he done?" He sounded so damn suspicious. It must be the uniform. "I've been asked by a mutual friend to bring him to the Emergency Ward." "Oh, yes, his father." I could hear the relief. "He'll be ready in a second. He's just getting dressed. It's that bad?" The strange voice said, "I wouldn't know. I just got a phone call from a mutual friend." "I'm John," I said as I hurried along the hall, a T-shirt half over my head. He was tall and well built and I didn't care. I wanted to get to Dad. "Bill said we should hurry." "Oh, God." We should hurry? People only said that about others dying. Was Dad dying? Was I about to lose him? I remembered the times we would walk by the lake and check out what the fisher people caught and chase the small waves of the lake that lapped the shore. I was lost in reminiscing when the cop asked, "Ya a fireman?" "Yeah." "On call?" "I don't know. Peter intercepted a call and I have no idea what it was about." "Ya may want to call into dispatch and tell 'em ya have a family emergency. Rumor is there's going to be trouble tonight. Mayor was visited by a bunch of gang leaders and the dumb fuck refused to leave the hydrants on for the kids. Our sources say a riot's planned for tonight." I started that, sowed the seed for that conference, and it was a good idea or the truce wouldn't have held, and the idiot bigot in the head office blew it. Dumb fuck was right. "Just what we need," I commented as we squealed into the Hospital parking lot and the siren echoed to silence. The uniform offered his hand. "Look, good luck with your old man. When you're ready to leave just tell whoever's on and they'll get ya a ride home." "OK. Thanks." I shook it as I slid out of the car, slammed the door, and sprinted. The glass doors to the Emergency Room quickly slid into the walls as I approached. A white counter stood across the open area, and several

nurses worked hard behind it. As I slammed into the counter one of the nurses looked at me. "Whatever it is, ya can slow down. How can I help ya?" "My Father was brought in just a few minutes ago." "Your name?" "Buchley. John Buchley." Someone placed a hand on my shoulder. "John." I turned to see Bill and almost collapsed in his arms. He held me at arm's length. I could see the compassion in his eyes. He said quietly, "Look, dude, they're workin' on him now, and ya shouldn't go in there. I called dispatch, told 'em about ya, explained I'm a friend, and you're off for an F. E. for however long ya need, and they're letting me off early as support. I'll stay and keep an eye on things, let ya know what's going on, OK?" "Yeah, I guess. He'll be alright, won't he?" "I don't know, Dude. I truly just don't know. Come on. We'll sit over here out of the way." He was the best. I hoped my forced outing wouldn't hurt our friendship. Just then my cell phone rang. The ID showed my sister's name, calling from California, so I answered as calmly as I could. "Yo." "John, what's up? Something told me I had to call." How did she know? I told her, "Dad's in the hospital. They just him brought in." "Shit! I knew it. He's dying, John, I can feel it. I'll be there next flight. What hospital?" Bill eased the phone from my hand. "Hello?--I'm a friend, a paramedic. I know a bit more about what's going on than John at the moment. You're his sister from out West?--Yeah, I heard of ya. Mary, right?--Good. Look, I don't know where we'll be when ya arrive. I know the Chief of Security at the airport. When ya get in, whenever it is, go to Security and use your maiden name. We'll get ya a ride to wherever.--What?--No. I didn't think.-No, don't worry; you'll be taken care of. We look out for our own.--Yeah.-Good bye." He handed me the phone. The look on his face was strange when he said, "She asked if I was your boyfriend. John? No, forget it; ya got enough to worry about. Look, I'm going to check on your Dad. I'll be back, OK?" I nodded. Peter had told the world. Dad was dying and I was going to lose my job, my career as a firefighter, and possibly a future career with computers. My life was over. I might as well be in there dying instead of

Dad. I sure wouldn't have a life in this country. Not after it was known I was gay. Maybe I could move to England or something. How did Mary know? She always said our family was connected psychically, but I put that to her flaky new age ways. But then when Dad and I visited Mom she gave me instructions, and Mom and Dad just gazed at each other almost as if she knew, as if they both knew. It was just too much to think about at the moment. My cell phone rang. Now who was calling me? Shelly's voice said, "John? Cap said ya have an F. E. What's up?" Thank God Cap knew who to tell. "Dad's in the hospital." "Oh, Jesus, no. I'll pray. I'll pray. I really will. Look, ya need anything just call, ya hear? Anything." "Thanks, Shelly. Bill's with me." "Hascomb? Then you're in good hands. I gotta go. Ya take care. And call." Thank God for good friends, male or female. Shelly wouldn't turn away just because I was gay. She might not see me as much, but that was because of her career more than anything else. I could always count on her if I needed help, no matter what. Bill appeared from the hidden rooms in the back and sat next to me. He softly told me, "He's stabilizing. If he's stable for half an hour, they'll move him upstairs to the ICU. That's why I wanted your sister to check in with Frank. He'll get her here. Don’t worry. Tell ya what. Let's go grab a coffee, watch the news, and see what we're missing." We wandered along hospital corridors. Bill guided my body, my nose filled with disinfectant, my head disconnected. While we walked, he asked about how my computer school was going. I told him, "Two more classes which are almost done, the final, and I'll have my Masters of Programming Certificate to go with my Computer Hardware Engineer Certificate. I ought to be able to move on now." "That's good, that's real good, especially added onto your real world experience in the Department, and that stint ya did building and repairing computers while ya waited. "Look, I'm not trying to pry, but are ya gay? Your sister insinuated that, and if ya are and it comes out, ya won't have a job with the city. Ya know how this administration is. Hell, how the whole damn country is any more. Damn administration is leading the idiots along like a donkey following a carrot, and in ways and directions I don't agree with, but I can't do a damn thing except write letters. Can't even protest or I'd be looking for work. What I'm saying is ya might want to consider signing up for that space city.

I hear from the aids people they're looking for disease free people with technical skills, and they don't care what your orientation is, and you'll be a master programmer, a certified engineer, and an experienced firefighter to boot. Those'll all go for ya." We turned the corner just before the staff eatery. Bill said, "It's just a suggestion, Dude." "Yeah? Well, I think I may have to do that. Thanks." Thank God for the Brotherhood. I had friends. But there was no way I could do more than store this information now; there was too much happening. "Here we are. How do ya take your--?” Bill stopped and stared at the TV. "Will ya look at that? What the hell? That's the east side burning up, and there's no water. Hey Mable, what gives?" The lady at the cashier's desk said, "News says dere's riots and some gangs open all dee hydrants and den set fires and dey has to shut down dee hydrants to get water but dey is getting shot at." Everybody hired foreigners instead of Americans, but that was because the citizens of this country expected to start at the top, or at least with top grade pay. Bill said, "Damn. Shit. I'm glad I'm here. Look, Dude, just stay and talk to Mable. I'm going back to Emergency since they'll need me for supply runs if nothing else. I'll come get ya when they move your Dad." He spoke softly to the cashier, and then hurried out the door. I stared at the table exhausted from my twenty-four hour shift and now this stress and worry. What would happen to Dad? To Mom? To me? *** "John? John?" I heard in the distance as my brain became aware. I felt fuzzy, dazed, as if drugged, and when I opened my eyes I didn't know where I was. A room, a large room, with tables, like the cafeteria when I was in school. Oh, yeah. The hospital cafeteria. Why? Because--. Then I remembered I waited for my father, who was back in the emergency room, to die. Oh God. Dad. Bill shook my shoulder, what must have started the reality check. "John? C'mon buddy, wake up. They moved your Dad to ICU ten minutes ago. We gotta go upstairs." Moved? Dad? What? ICU? Hopeful. A hopeful sign. And who? Bill. He's still here? "You're still here? What time is it?" " 'Bout three in the morning." Damn, I slept, and nobody bothered me. But I didn't sleep enough. And Bill's still here. "Jesus, your wife must be pissed."

"I called her before ya got here. She understands. I wasn't out in the riots so she's happy I'm safe. They're over, by the way, just a couple buildings still burning. C'mon. Let's go upstairs." I looked up at the TV, which still had reports of the rioting, although real time showed streets that were mainly quiet. That could have easily been prevented if it wasn't for the Mayor. Bill was right. He's a dumb fuck. We slowly walked along several corridors that smelled of disinfectant, and then entered a fast elevator. Two floors up the doors opened onto a large lobby that smelled like sickness and disinfectant, with several enclosed waiting areas painted different colors to the sides. We followed a dark green runner that led to a desk. Bill introduced me to the nurse on duty as if he knew her. He probably did. "Jane, this is John Buchley, and he has family and friends coming." Jane stepped around the counter. "Hello John. Your Father is resting, sedated. We‘re draining his bile; he's receiving oxygen and fluids. The Doctor will want to speak to ya as soon as possible. Could ya stay in room two? That's the green room. We’ll send anybody else there. Ya have a friend waiting already." A friend? Who would be here? Shelly? Maybe, but I doubted she'd come out so late. Maybe seven or eight, but not now. Bill took me to the green waiting area, a room painted light green inside and out, with chrome furniture upholstered green, and large windows that looked into the lobby. Peter sat in one of the chairs green chairs with shiny legs. He stood, hurried to me, made me one with him for a moment, and then looked into my eyes. "Oh, God, John, ya must feel just awful. Well don't worry; I'll stay right here with ya no matter what. Ya want me to call anyone? How about your sister." "She's on her way," Bill said. "And just who are you?" Oh, God. He was jealous again, and over nothing, as usual. "He's the paramedic who called, Pete. Just a friend, a very good friend. He's married." Peter relaxed. "Oh. Well. I guess that's OK. Who called Mary?" "She called me." "What? How'd she know? Ya have a strange family, John. That thing with your Mom and Dad the other day? Strange." Bill glanced at Peter with a questioning look on his face, as if he wasn't sure Peter was right in the head. "Look, John, I'm going home. I guess you're in good hands. Call if ya need anything. Remember what I said."

"OK, thanks Bill. Thanks a lot." I watched as Bill walked to the elevator, shoulders slumped, chin near his chest. He'd had a long day. Peter handed me my personal phone book. "I brought your phone numbers. Ya want me to call anyone?" "Thanks, dear. Try not to sound gay, will ya?" I pointed out several close friends of my father's. He looked at me from under his eyebrows, and then moved to a house phone. As I heard him drone on, over and over, call after call, I thought about what had happened, and where my life stood. There was no hope. Dispatch knew. Bill knew. He'd told me my one way out, but I'd have to leave Peter; he had no skills, just his art, and his music. Shit. Nobody else was here for him. I couldn't just leave him behind. A female voice called me from the door. "John?" "Mary!" I lunged at her, almost a tackle. We fell on the couch and cried on each other for five minutes. Finally she straightened up next to me. "Jesus, John, look at you. It's bad, isn't it? How'd I know? Last time we talked was a month ago. How's Mom?" I answered her questions the best I could, told her what had happened at the nursing home, and then introduced her to Peter. We talked, and Dad's friends slowly arrived to join the deathwatch. Several hours passed before a different nurse told us we could visit Dad two at a time, two minutes each visit. Mary and I followed the nurse down a carpeted corridor to a pair of large wooden doors. The nurse said, "We wait here. They'll open them from inside." A minute later, the two doors slowly swung toward us with no sign or sound of mechanisms visible. The nurse said, "This way." We followed the nurse past glass lined windowless rooms to one that had an oxygen placard hung on the wooden door. Inside was Dad, not the Dad I knew, some skinny person who looked like him. His legs moved as if he couldn't relax. A maze of tubes and wires ran from his arms and nose and stomach to machines that hissed and scraped and buzzed on the inside. One machine beeped as spikes appeared on a graph, another whistled, and then a third blew air. It scared me, all this strangeness attached to my Father, the contrary, intelligent, spirited person I'd known my whole life. What had happened to cause this? What had I done? What could I have done to prevent this? This thing on the bed, not truly my father, shouldn't be alive. Dad hadn't wanted to linger. Lay down and die, that's what he

said he wanted, but here he was. He waited for something, I knew not what. I couldn't stand to look at him in that condition and focused on his eyes, his closed eyes. Mary took his hand. She said, "Dad, I came. I'm here. I love ya, ya know that." I saw streaks of mascara along her cheeks. "Dad?" I said tentatively. He turned his head and looked directly at me, his eyes closed. I took his offered hand. "Dad, what can I say? Others are here. They'll be along in a minute. Dad, look. Just walk with the good spirits, OK? Just walk with the good spirits." I couldn't stand it any more, the knowledge that this thing on the bed was my father, the man who had taught me to play ball, to ride a bike, to fish. It wasn't my father. He was alive in my memories. He smiled. He laughed. He encouraged me in that backward way of his. I left the room although I could barely see. Mary led me back to the waiting room. A young man in a long green smock with a stethoscope that hung around his neck and a cup of coffee in his hand met us at the door. "Mr. Buchley? I'm Doctor Stevens, the ICU resident on-duty. Your father has suffered major trauma to the cerebrovascular system. If he survives, he has a twenty-five percent chance of becoming fairly lucid again, but he'll never be the same as he was this morning, no, yesterday morning. Do you want us to try to reach that goal?" Mary seemed to grow as her emotions came out in anger. "Who am I? Just a body?" My sister, always a fighter, had to rage at someone. I could almost see her surrounded in a red haze. I squeezed her arm. "Relax, Sis. He didn't know. Doctor, this is my sister, Mary. May we discuss this for a moment?" The Doctor's expression never changed, seriousness plastered on and frozen into a mask. "I'm sorry. Mary is it? I was only told about John. By all means talk it over." He withdrew to a corner and sipped his coffee. "God damn doctors." "Mary, he's doing what he can with little information. He just told us Dad's not going to recover, while sounding as positive as possible." "God, I wish he'd just leave Dad alone." I think that's what he's suggesting. I don't know all our options, but I think--I think we're both upset. Sit down here; I'm going to get him. Just listen. If ya agree with what I propose, nod. OK?" She nodded. I went to the Doctor and asked him to join us.

When we sat I asked, "What are our options?" "We can go for as full a cure as possible, though that will take a while. We can make him stable and send him to a nursing home, or we can just make his last minutes or hours comfortable. It's entirely up to you as his family. He's been married of course or you wouldn't be here. Is his wife alive? If she was able, she'd be here of course. I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking." "Doctor, he's lived a long and good life. Can we let him die in peace?" Mary's head nodded vigorously. Doctor Stevens leaned forward. "I can make him comfortable, or I help him along, your choice." "Just make him comfortable," I said. "That I can do. I will not see you again. I'm truly sorry for your loss." He moved out of the room at a fast pace. As Peter sat next to me on the couch, the Commissioner strode into the room. His three-piece suit surpassed the clothes everyone else had just thrown onto get here. He came directly to me and shook my hand as I stood. "John, I'm sorry, for more than ya can know. "I just had a meeting with the Mayor, and let me tell ya I gave him hell. I told him ya suggested the gang leaders talk to him, that ya knew there'd be trouble otherwise. I got him to agree that ya deserve your vacation, personal days, and grievance leave. It was hard, John, 'cause ya know how that homophobe feels, but I got 'em. Ya take your grievance and personals and hand me your two-week notice. That'll be your vacation. Finish that school. Get your papers. I can tell ya that Congress is pushing for those they call deviants to be shipped up to the asteroid. That's their way of handling part of what they think is a problem, and I think is part of life. Anyway, you'll have your schooling and experience. You'll get in, and I think it'll be a better life. They wouldn't take me as Mayor, that's the Captain's job, or I'd go. Nevertheless, they'll take you. Good luck, John, and condolences, and although I can't be seen with ya anymore since it wouldn't be good politics, ya have my sympathy." He shook my hand again, his concern plainly visible, and left. That was the second time someone told me to go to the new space city. Several more friends of Dad's came over to offer condolences to Mary and myself. As the last one shook my hand, my cell phone rang. I turned away from the others and answered quietly. It was one of the nurses from the home. "Mr. Buchley, I'm sorry to have to tell ya this but your Mother passed

away five minutes ago even though she was still only stage three. We did not expect it or we would have warned ya. As requested, we took no extraordinary measures to keep her alive. You may get in touch with us later to discuss the details. I'm sorry, truly sorry for your loss. She really was a pleasure, much better than some of our people are. We'll talk soon. Good bye." I closed the phone, turned and looked at Mary. "Mom died." Her mouth dropped. "What? When?" "Just now." A calmness, an understanding showed. She sighed. "She knows, John. Sixty-five years with Dad. She knows. Knew." "Mr. Buchley?" The nurse stood just outside our circle. I looked at her. "John, Mary, your father has passed away, just a few minutes ago." *** Other short stories, essays, and poetry from this author are available at http://www.scribd.com/Brian%20W%20Porter. *** Copyright 2010 Attribution Non-commercial No-derivs You may share this work with anyone in any way with the following provisions. You must share the complete work, including the title and this notice. You may not make any changes. You may not use this work commercially or accept payment without the written permission of the Author. Any and all rights and credit are held by Brian W. Porter.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful