Too Many leaned his hands over the fire barrel. He was shivering. “Jeeze, it’s cold,” he said. A thin sheen of sweat glowed on his face. In this cold that couldn’t be a good thing.
“You Ok? Toom,” I said.
“Jeeze, it’s cold.”
I looked at the clock on the tower behind the church. The empty limbs of the trees, were black shadow-cracks moving across the light of its face. That far away it was small. It showed 9:21.
Mother Mary put a hand against his neck, touched his forehead. “He’s got a fever.”
“Jeeze, it’s cold.”
O.M. said, “He’s been hacking all day.”
We leaned against each other with our backs to the wind, leaning over the fire barrel. My jeans were hot on my shins, chill on my calves. The snow whipped around us and then into the dark across the fire. It was little pellets that pip, pip, pipped against my canvas coat.
“He needs to see somebody,” Mother said. She had an arm around him.
“So d-d-d’md cold,” Too Many said. He staggered a little bit, so I held him. Mother and I held him.
“He’s been like this all day,” O.M. said. “O’Maley told him to go home at noon. O’Maley told him to see a doctor and go home.”
Mother huffed a snort, “Son of a bitch,” she said.
“When I got off,” O.M. said, “I came up here and here he was.”
“Did he pay him?” Mother said.
“O’Maley? He only worked until noon.”
“Son of a bitch,” Mother said.
The wind shoved us, and we held him so he would not fall against the fire.
“I’m taking him to ER,” Mother said.
Nobody else said anything else. We did not want to leave the fire. Too Many shivered against us.
Pretty soon we were walking. Mother and I held Too Many between us. He staggered as he walked between us through the snow. O.M. came after us. “I’ve got thirty dollars from O’Maley today,” he said.
“I’ve got some,” I said.
“We don’t use it for ER,” Mother said. “They’ll see him at ER without it.”
When we passed the clock on the tower behind the church it showed 10:48.
The ER was warm and pleasant. Too Many was on a gurney and they had him hooked up to the monitors. He was still shivering and the nurse brought him a warm blanket. He opened his eyes and she smiled at him, “How ya doin’ Mr. Daugherty?” She said.
We called her Tendoll because sometimes she paid O.M. or Too Many or Mother or one of us to push a lawn mower around her half-postage stamp lawn. She would sit on a tattered plastic fabric chair on the concrete pad out front of the two-bedroom-one-bath low rent and sip coffee from a mug with her kid’s pictures on it. She would sit in the sun and watch her kids from being mower fodder. And when whoever was done pushing the lawn mower around the lawn, she would hand them ten dollars and say thank you. So we called her Tendoll.
But here at the hospital we called her “Nurse Sally” and she called Too Many “Mr. Daugherty.”
Too Many blinked his eyes but did not say anything. We sat on chairs in the room and waited. Mother Mary held a clipboard with the forms on it. O.M. was already snoring in his chair. Except for the anapestic smell it was very pleasant to sit out of the wind and cold. I was thinking maybe Doc would be busy and not see Too Many for a while. This was a very selfish thing to be thinking, but I could not stop thinking it. It was very comfortable sitting in the ER room, waiting.
The Doc was Randy. I knew him from the time I got cut at O’Maleys. He wasn’t a doc, just a PA, but he was a good doc. He came in with the stethoscope around his neck.
“Any pain,” He said. Too Many shook his head.
“He’s just real hot,” Mother said, she leaned from her chair.”
Doc Randy frowned and nodded.
“How long you had this fever.” Too Many lifted his shoulder.
“He’s been like this all day,” O.M. said.
“Two days,” I said, “He’s been sick two days I know of, maybe three.”
Doc Randy hooked the stethoscope in his ears and leaned down to listen to Too Many’s chest. We were very quiet.
Doc Randy stood back and hung the stethoscope around his neck. He didn’t say anything. He grimmed his lips and did not say anything for a minute. We waited. Finally he told the nurse, “Get me 10 Levoflox 750. I’ll write the script.”
The nurse waited. She stood awkwardly then she said, “I can only bring one dose,” she said.
“Goddamnit,” Doc Randy. He didn’t say it at anybody. He looked very tire. “Just get it. I’ll sign for it. Just get it.”
He waited until Nurse Sally was gone, then he said, “Normally I would admit. If I could, I would admit him, but I’m not even suppose to tell you that if he hasn’t got cash or insurance.” He brushed his hand across his face and grimmed his lips again. “Make sure he takes one pill tonight, then one in the morning, then one every morning until they are gone.”
“We got one hundred and fifteen dollars,” I said. We had that with O.M.’s thirty and what was left my monthly check. I thought it might help get Too Many admitted.
Nurse Sally had come back into the room. “That barely covers ER, let alone . . . .”
“Jesus Christ on a crutch, woman. . . .” Doc Randy hissed at her. She turned red. She handed him a bottle of pills, then she turned around and left the room.
Doc Randy opened the bottle. “Bring some water in one of those cups, will you please,” he said to me. I stood up and went to the sink and filled one of the paper cups and brought it to him. He put a pill on Too Many’s lips and lifted his head and took the cup from me and let Too Many sip from it. Too Many swallowed, then coughed again.
“The Tuck Me In is thirty a night,” Doc Randy said. “He’ll need somebody with him until he can handle himself.”
“Twenty-four/seven.” Mother said, meaning that is what she would do.
“They’ll probably charge thirty-five for two,” he said.
“Remember,” he said to Mother Mary, “First thing in the morning then every morning until they are gone.” He handed the pills to her.
She took them and nodded. She put them in her coat pocket.
“Wait here for Sally to discharge you,” Doc Randy said. He left.
We waited in the ER room. I was thinking about the warm motel room. It was the wrong thing to be thinking about, but I was. The monitors clicked, clicked, clicked and squiggled lines across the screen.
Nurse Sally came in with a wheel chair. She shoved a clipboard at Too Many to sign a paper. She unhooked him from the monitors. We helped him into the wheel chair. Nurse Sally shoved the wheelchair to the ER door. It opened. The wind came in and pushed against us, and we ducked out. There was a car under the canopy with its engine running.
Nurse Sally opened the passenger door and told Too Many to get in.
“What’s going on?” Mother said.
“What the hell does it look like is going on?” Nurse Sally said. “I am your fucking chauffeur to some fucking cheap hotel.”
“What’s going on? Mother said again.
“Oh, fuck,” Nurse Sally said. “Just get in the goddamned car.” So Mother helped Too Many get into the passenger seat. Nurse Sally slammed the passenger door, and Too Many leaned against the window. His eyes were closed.
Nurse Sally ranted all the way to the Tuck Me Inn. The gist of it was “I don’t get fucking paid fucking enough for this shit.” and “Doc is going to get me fucking fired, and he is going to get him-fucking-self fired and all for a fucking bum who can’t pay for. . . ” etc. She was the only one who said anything. And that was about all she said. Apparently it was not in her job description to leave her duty station to drive sick people around. “They are going to have our fucking asses, both of us are going to be looking for jobs sweeping fucking floors and fucking washing dishes.” Nurse Sally was not a pleased person. Which is understandable; she’s got four kids and a deadbeat husband. She did not need to be fired and on the street like me.
She waited until we unloaded Too Many.
“This is sooooo fucking awkward in so fucking many ways,” she said, then spun wheels back to the little hospital that made her angry because it did not pay her to be a decent human being.
The clerk behind the counter had a long-ash cigarette hanging from his lower lip. The sign behind him specifically specified “NO SMOKING, ever.”
“Doc said you was coming,” he said. Mother signed us in.
“I’m not seeing four people walk up to a room paid for for one person,” he said when he handed Mother the key. “I am kind of blind about some things,” he said.
Most postings, including this, one are drafted and posted on the same day. This means that it is very likely that they will be edited in the day or week after they are posted.