When he awakened, the first thing they asked him was what he could remember. Well, he wanted to say, nothing. I was working around the house and then I woke up here in the hospital.
As the doctor was leaving the room, he heard him remark, “Not a good first sign.”
You were Eric, he can feel her whispering into his ear, and yet he doesn’t open his eyes to check and make sure she’s actually there. Eric. Can you hear me, Eric? We were married, Eric.
He can hear her crying softly, wants to reach and comfort her, but she is a stranger to him, and he is uncertain what to tell her. Does he pretend to be Eric just so she will feel better?
Closing his eyes tighter now, the voice fades and he is once more in pitch black space.
Is this a dream? The question buzzes into the depths of his mind as he stares at the television in the hospital room. What is real and what is just dream? Isn’t that the question man has been asking almost since the beginning of time?
Could be a dream, he realizes. This could all be a horrible nightmare or a way of his brain to teach him some much deeper lesson.
They bring him lunch and he eats some of it, noticing how bland it all tastes, then suddenly frightened when he comes to the realization that he cannot name any of the food on the plate. Surely they all have names, but all he can identify them by is color and shape: a brown square, a short mountain of white fluff, tiny green figures that seem to have been cut to the same size.
When the headache starts, he cries out and they bring him meds for the pain. But the meds only make him sleep, and how is he to ever awaken if he keeps being put back to sleep?
More tests where he has to lie perfectly still and try not to breathe too much. The machine makes whirring noises and he closes his eyes so he will not see the movements of what they call “the scanner.” He has no idea what that means, and he merely wishes the tests would end, which they finally do, but not for hours.
When they wheel him back to the room, he notices there are flowers scattered around, along with cards and notes from people he assumes he is supposed to know. Who sends flowers and cards to a stranger? He thinks it might be nice to read the cards, but he doesn’t because he is already certain he will not recognize any of the names, perhaps the words will also make little or no sense.
He clicks the TV on and then just as quickly turns it off again. He’s convinced the damn thing has been giving him the terrible headaches which seem to arrive without any warning.
So he stares at the ceiling and counts the dots on the tiles that he can see. But he is not counting them because numbers do not have meaning. So he names the tiles instead, and each one he calls Eric.
The doctor appears one morning and asks him if he is willing to try something that has never been done before, something experimental. He uses the words “radical surgical intervention.” What exactly does that mean? To which the doctor replies, “It means you get well much faster and back to where you were.”
He signs the forms with an X.
As he awakens in the room once more, he feels much lighter, as if his body might suddenly float away and not return. He grabs the sides of the bed and holds on for dear life.
A woman dressed in white arrives and shines a light into his eyes. As he stares back at the light, he can feel the rage building deep inside of him.
He reaches up and begins to thrash around, hitting the woman in white and laughing as he notes the absolute fear in her face. She begins to cry out and he covers her mouth with his hand. He watches as the light fades from her eyes and her body becomes heavy.
Wandering around the room, he stops to admire his face in the mirror, only to be shocked by the scar across his forehead. It reaches all the way around his head and seems to go on forever, as if an infinite cord tying him to some new self he does not recognize or fully comprehend.
When morning dawns, he feels warm liquid covering his face and hands. It is red and somewhat viscous. He tastes it and is repelled by the saltiness of it.
Near where he lays, he can see the what appears to be flesh, skin, muscle, bone.
He reaches for his head to try and forestall a headache, but when he does, he feels nothing but an empty hole where what makes him who he is should be.
Reaching for a knife he sees on the floor next to him, he stumbles to his feet and begins to run, not stopping until he is driven to the ground by the pain in his face.
The doctor shakes his head and answers a question he does not even recall asking him: “The pain will never abate. We can keep you somewhat comfortable, but we cannot alleviate all of what you will feel.”
He stutters and mumbles as he stares at the doctor and inquires, “Am I dead?”
The doctor laughs and steps towards the door, replying, “You’ll soon wish you were.”
Copyright 2016 by Andrew Bradford. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.