because all she’s got is a bubble wand, and—not that I’m an expert, but—I don’t care how much glycerin you put in that bucket, that thing looks pissed and you just ate laundry detergent. And then she ended up falling and busting out all her teeth and we had to rush to get her to the hospital and well… you know the rest. I told her she needs to learn to calm the hell down before she gets herself killed. And besides, she caused a whole heap of trouble this time. All things considering, I mean. Are you doing okay? You look unwell. You need to see a doctor. Another doctor. Not this one. A better one maybe. This one here’s not doing much for you. Too concerned with his hairline to make any progress with that chart. And you know, isn’t that just about the way it always goes? The first time you break a bone, they slap it together and send you on your merry way, twiddly-do; but get hit by a car doing eighty-seven miles an hour and they go fucking pillow-helmet, no lifting this no hot sauce that… Don’t sit in one position too long though or your back’ll feel like hot mercy that’s the damned truth. My name’s not really Stephanie, by the way. It’s… well… people call me Same. As in Samos. As in Pythagoras of Samos. I like to think of it like, ‘Same OS,’ where OS is an acronym for ‘ole shit.’ You know, like, ‘Ole Samos, up to the same ole shit as always.’ That’d be funny, because of the irony. I’m almost never doing the same thing two days in a row. Last week I was in Georgia. The country, not the state. Anyway, I wouldn’t go there if you can help it. Did you know their alphabet has thirty-three letters? It used to have thirty-eight letters, but I guess somewhere along the way they decided thirty-eight was just too damn bulky. ‘Let’s cut it down to thirty-three,’ so they shaved off a few—well, exactly five—and now there’s thirty-three. Thirty-three, Mrs. Hervinger. That’s the atomic number for Arsenic. Of, not For. Of Arsenic. For is the wrong preposition, syntactically speaking. I know, it’s hard to keep them straight. If you get confused, just remember, whenever you use of, you’re talking about one entity; if you say something is for something, you’re almost always referring to separate entities. Do you ever think about this stuff?”
She rolls her eyes.
No, widens them. The visible sclera definitely widened by at least four millimeters. That’s almost the width of a No. 2 pencil. My third-favorite writing utensil, behind dry erase markers and then fountain pens, which are, without a doubt, my first favorite.
I realize I’m not saying any of this out loud. I decide to tell her at once, then I do. Tell her, that is.
Mrs. Hervinger doesn’t actually say anything though; she just sits there in her cast, inclined thirty degrees from the hips up, looking from the doctor to the door to me to the ceiling tiles to the door to the doctor to me to
“You’re a good listener. Has anyone ever told you that?”
“Uhhhahh,” she says. Finally, some conversation!
“Did you know Pythagoras made his disciples swear an oath of silence? I keep hearing that. My uncle Eddy is the one who called me Same all my life and I’m always explaining it to people, and then they’re always telling me Pythagoras made his disciples swear an oath of silence and that doesn’t really make sense to me, like, how do you make someone take an oath of silence
it’s like, I know people have authority, like, authority is real it’s not just a construct—well, subjectively I guess one could argue either for or against any singular facet of our shared experience of reality but at some point it’s like come on just step out of the fucking circle and live a little, you know?”
Mrs. Hervinger is looking at the floor. Her eyes are full of tears.
“Do… you know what I mean?”
“Okay,” the doctor says. “That ought to do it.” He puts a metal instrument on the rolling tray beside Mrs. Hervinger’s bed and wheels it off to one side, then snaps his gloves off one at a time while simultaneously stepping on a lever mounted to the side of the squat chrome trash receptacle in the corner. He throws the wad of latex in without looking and gives Mrs. Hervinger a big, ivy league smile.
“How are you feeling by now? Any progress since the surgery? I know it’s hard living with a fractured jaw, but I promise once we take that stint off in four to six weeks you’re going to feel so much better. Other than a little minor facial asymmetry, you should be able to resume your normal diet within a couple of months!”
Mrs. Hervinger closes her eyes. She’s still moving them around; I can see them wiggling under the lids, so I know she’s awake. She keeps them closed.
“Well, you’re probably tired,” the doctor says. He nods at me. I return the gesture. It’s good to be polite. “I’ll have one of the nurses stop by in a bit to change out that drainage bag. If you need anything else, just press the call button and someone will be right with you.”
He glides out of the room as I’m picturing an anus stuffed full of noodles. That’s the French expression for “to be lucky.”
avoir le cul bordé de nouilles
“Mrs. Hervinger, uh… ma’am,” I start, “I don’t know… I’m sorry about… all this,” I continue, gesturing at her entirety. “Maybe it’s like, how they say, ‘everything happens for a reason?’ Only it’s hard to figure a reason for stuff like this. The world is really fucked sometimes, you know?”
I pull a gummy out of my pocket and put it under my tongue.
“It’s just that, one minute you’re walking your dog and the next thing you know, you’re awake two weeks later staring up at an aquarium scene, you can’t move a single muscle in your body and it hurts all over like you just got knuckle-fucked by Yahweh. They didn’t even do a good job printing the tiles. They used that one over there twice. That bubble pattern isn’t exactly subtle.”
The room starts to melt around me. I don’t have much longer. The walls have seceded from their union with the floor, which now drifts like a raft several stories below me. Between my feet and the floor is a gelatinous substance that vaguely resembles the gummy I ate a moment ago.
I swing my backpack up
from the floor. It f
and o p e n i n g
for me, as if by magic.
The inside of the bag is pure black void.
“I’m real sorry about this, Mrs. Hervinger. You got a bad bargain. Uncle Eddy said if you knew what was good for you, you’d cash out or stay sleeping, but if you woke up,” I say, reaching inside the black hole before me, “you’d have to be quiet for good this time. It’s really nothing personal. You understand, right? It’s just that jaw stints come off and people start talking and we don’t know if you saw the license plate or not, but…”
Mrs. Hervinger is a tiny thing.
The room around her breaks apart. The furniture is gummy, like the wheels on the hospital bed and the straps holding Mrs. Hervinger’s legs at an incline. The tips of her toes are translucent, sugary worms.
“I don’t like doing this, you know. Uncle Eddy says everyone has a purpose.” The thing I pulled out of the bag feels solid, like the only solid thing left in existence. It’s heavy. My arm is a pillar. “Anyways, I’m sure I’ll see you around.”
Her face is calm to the end. My sister could learn a thing or two.
The hospital halls shift and turn. The building pulls away like mercury.
Outside in the parking lot, my uncle Eddy sits with his butt stuck on the front hood of a redfish that stretches to infinity. A large moth sits atop the fish, spreading its massive wings. The sun is a very polite shade of green against the gummy sky.
“All taken care of?”
“Yes, Uncle Eddy.”
“Alright, good. Sit in the back so you can feed your sister. You know how she gets when she has to wait for dinner.”
He hands me a spoon and a bowl full of Mrs. Hervinger’s brains.
“Don’t forget to blow it,” he says with a grin. “Might still be hot.”