Greg looked out the window from his hospital bed at the birds in flight. Their black silhouettes swayed across the cotton candy sunrise. The subtle beeping of the monitor came in and out of his awareness; however, the persistent whispering from his mother failed to fade. He peered at her through slitted eyelids.
Her eyes were closed tight with her brand-new, rosewood rosary close to her lips as she recited her prayer. “Hail Mary, full of grace…” Greg thought she looked like a cartoon with her exaggerated wrinkles forming on her forehead and cheeks. “…full of grace…” She never knew the full prayer, but she was convinced it was a cure-all to anything that ailed her. The snake oil had been sold, sealed and delivered.
“Mother, just stop.”
She lowered her hands before opening her eyes. She looked like he had scolded her. “Just because you don’t believe in the power of the Lord, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.”
Greg turned his gaze back out the window. Her tense whispering came back as he closed his eyes.
“Good morning, Mr. Abbot. How are you feeling this morning?” Greg turned to meet Dr. Bartlett’s masked face. His voice overruled the senseless babbling of his mother as he walked proudly though the door. It was as if he didn’t remember Greg was dying a slow and mysterious death. Who was he to stride in here without a care in the world?
“Oh, I feel great, sweetie. When are you finally going to let me go?” Greg could hear the lack of energy in his voice. He wasn’t going anywhere.
The doctor held out his clipboard and reviewed his notes before putting it down and looking straight at Greg. His face mask only exposed his eyes and they were troubled. Doctors never look you in the eye unless they have something unsettling to say.
“Doc, please. After six months, you can call me Greg, seriously—last time I’m telling you.”
The doctor nodded and sat in the chair next to him. The plastic quarantine bubble the hospital encased him in kept a safe and clinical distance between doctor and patient. It felt so impersonal and shallow. “Greg, you have to prepare for the worst. We still have no idea how to treat this…virus.” The pause in Dr. Bartlett’s speech was like a punch in the gut.
The incessant babbling from his mother grew louder as if she could heal her son with words.
“No offense, hon, but I’ve been prepared for the worst since I first saw my death in your eyes.”
“Well, I am glad you are prepared, but by the look of your latest labs, it could be any day now. Are your affairs in order?”
“My mother has all the paperwork and necessary things to do after I die.”
“That’s great to hear.”
“We may need to define your version of ‘great.’”
The doctor nodded his head. AIDs was just as baffling to these people as what enjoyment a man can have with another man. Shame, too. They don’t know what they are missing.
“We can give you something for the pain, Greg, but that’s about all we can do.”
“Say, has doctor-assisted suicide taken off yet? Or are we still in ancient times?”
“Gregory! Don’t you dare say such a thing. The Lord does not take kindly to those who take their own life.”
“Mother. Stay out of it.” Greg turned back to the doctor. “What do you say? You know you want to break the rules. You’ll be doing both of us a favor.”
“Greg, I can’t do that. You know it, and I know it. The best thing we can do is ease the suffering you’re going through.”
“Well, if that’s your best, then drug me up, honey. I’m ready to see Jesus and his Technicolor dream coat. Right, Mom?”
His mother immediately lowered her head to her prayer beads and continued her false prayers.
As Dr. Bartlett walked toward the door, Greg called out, “Doc, do you believe in a higher power?”
The doctor paused before turning around. He looked at Greg’s mother who waited with bated breath and then at Greg who’s skepticism could be felt in the air and chose his words carefully. “I believe in medicine. Whether a higher power guides my hand or not, it doesn’t matter.”
Greg’s mother nodded her head as a tear fell down her cheek. Greg’s face softened as he said, “Thanks, Doc.”
* * * * *
The next morning, Greg woke seeing red. He literally saw the color before him, and it terrified him. “Mom? Mommy, are you there?”
“Yes, sweetie.” Her voice was quiet and reserved. He saw her rosary firmly clenched in her hands and her white knuckles highlighting her pale skin through the smudged and thick plastic bubble.
“Why is the room red? What’s happening?” Greg could hear the terror in his own voice but it was nothing compared to what he felt inside.
“I’ll get the doctor. He can tell you better than I can.” He heard tears in her voice but it was her eerie calmness that set him on edge. He closed his eyes tight hoping the red light would go away and he could see clearly again. The sound of racing footsteps thundered toward his room as doctors and nurses slapped their latex gloves on and donned masks. One nurse quickly unzipped the quarantine bubble and the rest of the team filed in.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his mother come back in, crying openly now in the arms of another nurse holding a cup of water.
“What is happening?”
“Mr. Abbott, would you like a priest to come in and give you the last rites?”
“What the hell are you talking about? Last rites? Am I dying?”
The hustle and bustle of the swarming nurses and doctors made him dizzy. The faces came in and out of his vision as he tried to stay focused on what was happening.
“Mr. Abbott, you’ve bursted a blood vessel in your eye. That’s why you’re seeing red.”
“All right, but why are there five people in my bubble for a busted blood vessel?”
He felt his body being moved around, lifted and shifted.
“Be careful. Don’t get his blood on your skin. He’s very contagious,” Dr. Bartlett barked at his assistant.
“Blood? What are you…” Greg turned gently to look down his side. Blood now soaked through the blanket and sheets. A small puddle formed on the ground that now had a footprint plainly painted. In a trance, he watched the puddle slowly get bigger and the print fill in erasing evidence of existence, which will be what happens to him. In a matter of minutes, I will no longer exist.
The full realization now hit him. He was finally dying. Dying from a disease these quacks didn’t know how to treat.
“Last rites? Mr. Abbott, now would be the time if you’d like them.”
“Nah, doc. I never believed in God and now seems like an odd time to start.”
Greg heard his mother wailing in the doorway, but he didn’t have the energy to look up at her. He didn’t want the last image he saw to be a blotchy-faced woman who tried so hard to make herself accept him. He’d rather look at his own contaminated blood pour down from the hospital bed into a tidy mess on the floor. Something a janitor would have to mop up later and label with biohazard.
Are these really the last thoughts you want in your head as you pass on? Words like “biohazard” and “contaminated”?
“We’re losing him. He’s letting go. Doctor, what should we do?”
“Honestly, there is nothing left to do.”
“Thanks, doc. It’s about time.” Greg didn’t know if he got to say the words out loud, but the sense of relief was overwhelming as he shut his eyes against the red and breathed his last breath.
To be continued…
To read more of Dreadful Dantes, click here.
(c) Copyright 2015, Alison C. Wroblewski. All rights reserved.