The attorney generals wife opened her eyes to the foggy vision of his worried face looming over her. "Whats the matter with you?" she asked.
At the sound of Kimberlys croaking, sleepy voice, Jack Fleetwood leaped back from her hospital bedside as though she had spoken to him from a casket.
"Dr. Gieldgood! Dr. Gieldgood!" he shouted, breaking for the door of the sterile private suite. "Shes awake!"
With all sense of time erased from her mind, Kimberly was startled and perplexed by her husbands reaction to her simple question. He was undoubtedly bothered about something and his call for a doctor as he charged for the door told her that it had to do with her. But what could it be? She felt fine. No aches, no pains, no nausea. In fact, no physical sensations of any kind.
Uh-oh. That couldnt be right.
Kimberlys eyes traced a rapid, irregular pattern of observation across the off-white ceiling to the chrome molding where it met the mint-green walls and as far down as she could see without moving her head. An intravenous tube on each side of her ran down from clear sacks of something green and something white mounted on stainless steel poles to somewhere in her body. Shed been in a room like this before, as a patient when Little Jack was born, and as a visitor when Jack Sr.s Uncle Herman was given extended life with a liver transplant and another time when his father was dying of one transplant too many. She was in one of the best rooms of the best hospital in the state, where the entire third floor belonged to the Fleetwoods. Actually, the entire hospital belonged to the Fleetwoods. The third floor was reserved for them.
Kimberly wanted to get a better look around. If she could have moved her head, she would have. She couldnt.
Thats odd, she thought, searching her mind for clues which might help her account for her immobile condition in the familys private hospital suite. She wasnt alarmed; just curious. That alone should have told her how serious things were.
She heard the buzz and clamor in the nurses station a few steps down the hallway outside of her room, wondering how she could have caused all of that commotion simply by opening her eyes and saying a few words. Unless...
Thats when she remembered. She and Jack were having a fight. He had grabbed her and shoved her violently away. Everything had gone black.
A green-eyed woman in her late twenties with a swirl of dull copper hair piled under her nurses cap, was now staring down at her with a big, happy grin spread across her thin, unpainted lips.
"It show is good ta see you awake, Mrs. Fleetwood."
Had Kimberly not been looking at her, she would have guessed the woman was African-American. Maybe she was. Maybe she had been, once, or maybe she had been brought up in a New Economic Zone, where nearly everyone talked that way. Be that as it may, she must have done a lot of things right to get her nursing license and to find employment on the third floor of Fleetwood Memorial.
The woman lifted Kimberlys left arm high enough for Kimberly to see her reading her pulse and temperature and whatever other vital sighs showed up on the white band around her wrist. "Oh, das fine," she said, "jus fine."
A hollow-cheeked, sandy-haired white man in his mid fifties replaced the nurses hand on her wrist with his own and shouldered the nurse out of the way. Though she couldnt think of his name, Kimberly knew the man in the white lab coat well enough to know it was out of character for him to treat a subordinate so rudely. There must have been a good reason.
"Well, Dr.," she croaked, trying to sound up-beat, "am I going to live?"
He advised her not to talk too muchwhich obviously made no sense to the nursethen he looked at her sadly and said, "Yes, dear. Youre going to live."
He may as well have added, but youre not going to like it. Thats what his eyes said and thats what her mind heard. In that instant, she knew that her life may have been altered in some dreadful way forever. Perhaps her ability to speak and move her eyes were the only autonomous powers she had left.
The thought did not come as the terrifying shock she would have imagined. It came as a heavy sadness framing her last image of Blue Monday and the wonderful feel of his smooth, warm chest against her palm the last time they made love. How long ago had that been; a week, a month, a year?
Suddenly her eyes went wide with panic at the thought of what might have happened to Blue in the time shed been unconscious.
"Now, now," said the doctor, his eyes shifting back and fourth between Kimberlys face and the vital signs band on her wrist, "Please try to calm down. You are not suffering total paralysis. Youre under the influence of a powerful drug to keep you from moving in your sleep...Nurse."
The doctor nodded toward to the IV with the milky-looking fluid, and the nurse got busy detaching it while he continued to speak.
"In an hour or so youll begin to get some feeling in your body and youll have some control over your movements. Were going to fit you with a brace for your neck and spine so you dont move too much."
Kimberly, preoccupied with the welfare of someone else, waited for the bad news her doctor was obviously reluctant to deliver. She did not think of her priorities at that time as a definitive test of love, but it was. If the unthinkable had been done to Blue to satisfy the social and political ambitions of Estelle Gidarb and Kimberlys husband, the condition of her body was of little importance to her.
The doctor drew in his breath. "You may have sustained some permanent damage to your spine." he said. "Were not sure of the extent of damage, and your vision may be temporarily impaired. Your cognitive functions seem to be in better shape than we thought, but well have to run some tests on that to really know where we stand. I dont want you to get your hopes up. To be frank, your chances of making a full recovery dont look good. But you will, eventually, be able to do many, if not most, of the things you did before the accident."
Accident? thought Kimberly, bitterly, seeing her pusillanimous worm of a husbands anxious face dimly in the background. He was scared out of his wits that she was going to tell what really happened. No, I wont spill the beans, you worthless snotas long as I know that Blue is all right.
"How long?" she said, struggling in vane to think of the other words she needed in order to finish asking how long shed been unconscious.
"Its difficult to say. First we have to determine"
The nurse, who had been reading her patients body language closely, while the doctor was paying more attention to his bedside manner, nudged him. "I think she wanna know how long she was out."
The doctor looked toward the nurse with annoyance at her unfounded conclusion, as Kimberly tried unsuccessfully to nod that she was right.
"Yes!" she cried, forcing herself not to come right out and ask about Blue Monday. "How long have I been away."
"For quite a while," said the doctor, to Kimberlys agonizing frustration, as he extracted a note-pad from the vest pocket of his lab coat and proceeded to make notes.
"Twenty-six days," said the nurse.
Kimberly didnt know whether that was good or bad. She wasnt thinking as clearly as she would have liked and she couldnt recall how long Jack and whats-her-name...What was her name? Kimberly could picture the face of Leah Flores but she couldnt attach a name to it. She used the picture instead to complete the thought. How long did she and Jack say they expected the trial to last? Was it two to three weeks? Three to four weeks? Who said what and when did they say it?
"Doctor," she said.
"I want to speak to my husband alone."
Dr. Gieldgood exchanged glances with Jack. "We do have to run some tests."
"Please," she said.
He pursed his lips and nodded. "All right. It might be good for you. The tests can wait."
He issued a string of orders to the nurse in doctorese and ushered her politely out of the door ahead of him where a black man pushing a mop and pail on rollers passed by and stole a peek into the room. Before the door closed behind them, the nurse turned her head for one last look at the patient and saw an exchange of secret looks between Jack Fleetwood and the doctor. She wasnt in on the secret. For Mrs. Fleetwoods sake, she wished she was.
Jack had hoped for and dreaded this moment with Kimberly since the terrible night when he feared he had killed her. All the while she lay in a coma, he prayed that she would recover and that she would die. At times, in the beginning, seeing her with the bandage around her shaven head, he prayed for the courage to put a pillow over her face and put her out of his misery.
Yes, his misery. And Little Jacks, of course. The boy is close to his mother, he thought. Maybe closer than a boy his age should be...Jack quickly brushed over that thought as the product of envy for his sons affection that it was, and the product of suspicion he saw in Little Jacks eyes that his mothers condition was no accident. Dr. Gieldgood certainly knew it wasnt and the combined weight of the mans knowledge and the boys suspicion was almost too much of a load to carry.
Sure, he was thinking mostly of himself. And why not? He was the one suffering the torments of hell every hour of every day she lay there like a potted plant being watered and fed with no sense of what was being done for her. The whole damn country was watching and rooting for her to get better, a development which brought him into the small circle of men who really ran the country and made him a shoe-in for the Presidential nomination. But, against his wishes, Jen had gotten the national media to link Kimberlys fight for a meaningful life, with Jacks fight for decency in telewindow programming through the conviction and Gidarbing of Blue Monday. With Kimberly awake and talking, how the hell was he going to resolve that little conflict of reality?
The trial of Blue Monday was what the argument was about that put Kimberly in a coma and him in a sweat about her condition going either way. If she died, hed be vulnerable for the rest of his life to a murder charge and a time scan that would prove manslaughter, at the very least. If she came to, she might tell what happened. So far shed kept quiet about it. It was too early to know how long that would last.
Dr. Gieldgood had told him her memory would be spotty. Maybe the push he gave her would be one of the black spots. If it wasnt, he would have to rely on the doctors "testing" skill to make sure that it was. Naturally, his salary would have to be substantially increased, and the job of surgeon general hed promised Estelle Gidarb when he became President, might have to be renegotiated. He hoped none of that would be necessary.
Dear Lord, he prayed to himself, please let her forget.
Jack turned to face his wife with the trepidation of a man about to cross a minefield. He reached inside of his suit coat and pulled out a handkerchief to dab the wetness from his nose, his upper lip, his chin, his forehead, his cheeks and the back of his neck. The bandage was gone from her head and the downy growth of hair was already beginning to look presentable.
He approached the bed slowly, sifting frantically through the volumes of scenarios hed written in his mind to deal with this eventuality, for the best one. They were all inadequate. Hed have to play it by ear.
Now he was standing over her, looking woefully into her blazing eyes. If ever there was a look of pure hatred in anyones eyes, it was in hers. If a look could have turned flesh into what it beheld, his would have become the mucus-covered skin of a night crawler.
Jacks knees went weak. "Welcome back, darling," he said shakily.
You slimy low-life bastard, she thought. I know what you did. You know I know. And you cant even say youre sorry. She said, "Is Blue Monday all right?"
Jack blinked in confusion. Was she trying to win the four-week-old argument that landed her in that hospital bed, or what? Jack had to remind himself that it had been less than five minutes for her. He had to allow for the brain damage Dr. Gieldgood had told him about, however slight its initial apparent effects. He had to keep cool.
"Darling, lets not start up with that again. Why dont we agree to disagree and go from there. Theres so much"
Kimberly clenched her teeth, "I know what you did to me," she hissed, seeing the bite of her words on his cowardly face as she continued with barely a pause. "What did you do to Blue Monday?"
Jacks eyes went to the vital signs ban on her wrist, where a floating bubble on a colored strip running from blue to red was edging toward the red zone. That was bad.
"Nothing," said Jack. "Final arguments were concluded yesterday. The jury is still in deliberations."
Kimberlys taught face relaxed and her lips flowed into a smile of joyous relief. She closed her eyes and thanked God. Tears of happiness welled up behind the lids and spilled from the corners like water from a leaky faucet. She could not have looked more pleased than if she had been given a clean bill of health.
Jack pulled back, nonplused by his wifes reaction to his report. It was as though her condition meant nothing compared to news that Monday was okay. No. It was a clear demonstration that her condition meant nothing to her compared to news that Monday was okay. How could that be? How the hell could that be?
The walls Jack had erected around his mind to keep out unwanted thoughts about his wifes sexuality and his held firm, allowing him to think only those thoughts that fit comfortably inside of them. The most comfortable thought was that she loved him and she was afraid for him; afraid that his alliance with STOPIT was made purely for political reasons and was corrupting him as a public servant and as a man. Hed never doubted that motivation for her defense of the devil, even when he so foolishly considered the possibility that she was cheating on him.
He had only doubted her sexual fidelity because sex was so much on his mind and because he was jealous of her friend Shelly, who was taking up so much of her time and having such a strong influence on her attitudes about sex. If Kimberly only knew how close hed come to putting a time trace on that slut and setting her up for an appearance on the X Channel, their marriage would have been over. For that reason, he was glad he didnt. With his new contacts at Condor Broadcasting International, and his new understanding of how their targeted use of the X Channel was going to lead to the abolition of all pornography he had to be careful.
As a person of conscience, he knew that God was on the side of STOPIT and so was CBI. Given that inside information he had gathered when Kimberly was in limbo, he was certain that a Monday conviction was in keeping with the wishes of mainstream America at the most influential levels. In any event, the Michigan Supreme Court had ruled the Gidarb surgical procedure constitutional and the jury decision on Blue Monday was out of his hands.
He thought it best to keep quiet for now about Prosecutor Mackys brilliant summation vs. the meaningless rhetoric of the defense. He saw it as a defining moment in American history and gave explicit orders to the one member of his household staff he could trust to make sure his son saw it without the prejudicial influence of the other servants. Things hadnt been easy between him and Little Jack, who was missing the big picture in the Monday case. Once he saw how strong the prosecution case was and how weak the defense was, he was sure the boy would understand him better and appreciate him for all that hed done to put a dangerous smut monger on trial....
Kimberly sobbed quietly, her thoughts now turning to herself.
Jack stood back and watched her intently, wondering what she was thinking, fearful that she would decide to tell all to one of the clinic staffers other than Dr. Gieldgood before he had a chance to complete his tests. He put his handkerchief to work again on the parts of his face that seemed to perspire most. His stomach was upset. His eyes were starting to blur. He wasnt breathing as easily as he shouldWhat was that change of expression on her face? Was it a look of remembering something that should have never been forgotten?
Yes, it was.
Kimberly was remembering her son. In her anguish over Blue, her anger at Jack and her rapid descent into self-pity, she had forgotten about Little Jack. The entire Monday affair, not to mention her affair with Monday, must have been as much a strain on him as it had been on her.
She had no idea.
Copyright © 1998 by Jasper Garrison
Contact the author: Jasper Garrison