One Blink for Yes

By on Apr 13, 2010 in Fiction

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Eye blinking with doctors

Two thousand, six hundred and forty-eight days.  That’s how long I’ve been here, lambskin under my ass, tubes in my trachea and stomach.  Numb everywhere except part of my face.  The only things I move are my eyes.  I must have the most muscular eyes on earth.

The door to my room opens onto one end of the nurses’ station.  I live in Canwell House, a division of Truman General that spans several city blocks.  Canwell is a nursing home for hopeless cases, of which I, Charlie Jack, am one.

Nurse Rosa Matuda walks in, checks my stomach tube, then hooks in my third feeding of the day.  “And what’re you up to, Charlie Jack?” she says.

Rosa calls me by my first and last names, unless she’s in a serious or despondent mood, and then it’s just Charlie.  She is Filipino and Spanish and one delicious looking woman, not that I can act on it.  Nothing can get a rise out of me now, both meanings of the word.  But I appreciate the roundness of her breasts and the golden velvet of her skin.  She smells delicious, a heady combination of some floral perfume and a faint touch of sweat.  Sometimes she comes in to talk before her shift ends at three.  Though Rosa often complains and gossips rather nastily, she gives off a certain tranquility that’s in direct contrast to her flashing dark eyes and the jerky way she flips her hair from her face.
Rosa’s head swivels to check the hallway for eavesdroppers.   She says, “I so want him, Charlie, I can’t stand it.  I don’t get why he won’t give me a chance.  Everybody knows the bitch is cheating.  He knows it, yet he won’t do anything.  She still comes home at night like nothing’s going on.  I’ve been on the phone with him and he had to hang up because she was pulling up outside.  And you know what he was doing?  Cooking dinner for her! That selfish, horrible slut who’s so stupid she doesn’t know what she has!  He deserves someone who’ll love him forever, and that person is me, Charlie; that’s me.”
I blink hard once to say yes, that I hear what she’s saying.
She checks the door again, then lowers herself into the chair by my bed.

“One time he was at my place.  I cooked him dinner while she was working late — Beef Asado, like mom used to make, and though I’d been working on the meal for hours, do you know he ran right out without even tasting it when she called on his cell?  He has no pride, that man.  A specialist like that, well known in his field, and yet he’s like that woman’s lackey.”

Abruptly she stands up, face flushed.  Speak of the devil, it’s him, my doctor, Myron Vespers.  Rosa turns to human mush.
“Myron,” she says softly.  She moves out of my vision range, but I hear in that one word her despair mixed with hope.
Myron ignores her and takes over the chair.  “How’s it going, Charlie?”  He always asks this, as if I could actually report anything.  I supposes I could tell him something, if he took the time to hold up an alphabet board and point to letters while I painstakingly blink in response, but generally Myron is insanely busy.  No time for paralyzed word games.
He stands to fiddle with the equipment, then sits back down.  I sense some kind of nonverbal communication out of my range, and soon Rosa says, “See you tomorrow, Charlie.  I gotta tie up loose ends and get home.”  I imagine her giving the doctor a long, hungry look, then I hear the squeak of her sneakers as she leaves.
Myron sighs. I know what this means — that the doctor is going to reveal something personal.  Generally, I enjoy this — indeed I’m grateful for the stimulation, though lately the level of painful disclosures has gotten higher all around.
Myron, like Rosa, checks for prying ears, then leans closer.  “The hardest part is knowing that other people know,” he says.  “If no one else knew, I could stand it better.  It’s humiliating for someone in my position, someone who’s expected to hold the respect of the interns.  As long as it doesn’t trickle down to them — but nurses talk; everyone talks.”

He pauses. “I’ve known Chloe since eighth grade, Charlie.  We were buddies, though there was a brief interlude our senior year when there was more, but we headed off to different colleges.  She transferred to mine junior year, not because of me, mind you, but for him.”

He leans back out of view, but I know he’s clenching his jaw.  “Greg Clayburn, control freak and pompous ass.  Handsome, though, in that way women like.  Chloe was hard under his spell.  I know her so well, her every expression and tone of voice, and I could tell she was extremely stressed.  He’s an expert in psychological abuse.  His major was psychology, but you know, Charlie, sometimes the sickest people go into that.  He had my beautiful Chloe so under his thumb, she was almost anorexic.  Finally, the bastard dumped her for some girl from Penn.  She recovered, like someone let out of a dungeon, then took a second look at me and next thing, we were married. For thirteen years we were happy, before that bastard moved back here from wherever he’d been spreading hell — I think it was Ames, Iowa — and took this position at Truman.  Then it started up again.  I love her, Charlie.  No matter what she does, that doesn’t change.”

Rosa pops back in the door, using the pretense of a question about another resident’s meds.  I muse about the word resident — as if any of the residents have a choice about where they live.  Prisoner would be a better word.

Does Rosa really believe that Dr. Vespers doesn’t perceive her blatant desperation?  But to my surprise, he stands up, forgets to say good-bye, and wanders off to help her.
That’s the thing, see.  A paralyzed man is like a dog.  Someone you talk to when no one else is around, but when you take off, you don’t say goodbye.

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Margaret Karmazin’s credits include 140 stories published in literary and national magazines, including Rosebud, Chrysalis Reader, North Atlantic Review, Mobius, Confrontation, Pennsylvania Review and Another Realm. Her stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine, Licking River Review and Words of Wisdom were nominated for Pushcart awards. Her story, "The Manly Thing," was nominated for the 2010 Million Writers Award. She has had stories included in Still Going Strong, Ten Twisted Tales, Pieces of Eight (Autism Acceptance), Zero Gravity, Cover of Darkness and M-Brane Sci-Fi Quarterlies #2 and #4, and a novel, Replacing Fiona, published by