The little family hovered in the corridor of the Children’s Hospital. The young man leaned over the woman who held their child as if he could shield them, perhaps from the smell of sterility and corruption, perhaps from the leafless limbs shaking against the wind that they could see through the window at the end of the corridor. The last time they had been in a hospital, they were leaving with the baby, and the leaves were opening in the trees, and there were tulips and orange impatiens along the walkway, and Thomas was pushing a wheelchair with Jean holding the baby Irene. Jean had thought the wheelchair excessive; but the nurses had insisted.
Now they leaned against each other obviously waiting. They had come to the hospital to see Blaine, a boy from their home town who had been injured in a sporting accident. The sporting accident had happened during a high school championship football game. Blaine had been the quarterback of the Bennings Scout football team, and the year before had lead the basketball team to a state championship.
“It’s such a violent sport.” Jean said. She jigged the baby and patted her back. Irene had been fussing, but was now fighting to keep her eyes open.
Tom shook his head. She had said it before, and it irritated him.
“You think the equipment was defective?” she said.
“I don’t know. It just happened. I don’t know.”
Maybe it was defective, Tom thought. Maybe, if that coach had been more careful. Maybe if Blaine’s dad kept him away from football, as Tom’s father had kept him away from it. Maybe if they had lost the semi-finals and so had not gone to Wibaux to play for State. Maybe a thousand times maybe. And maybe it was just something built into the eternities, something that had been set in motion long before Adam, a destiny that Blaine had, not because there was any act or lack of acting that would change things, but because his doom was built into his genes. Tom did not believe of this, but it made as much sense as any of the other maybes. A person, a boy, a man, a woman, made choices and moved into something new. And thinking about where those choices lead you took you again to chaos of maybes.
Presently a nurse in blue came out of a room near the window and said, “He is awake.” She motioned them to the open door.
The room was a double. The two beds were screened from each other by a hanging curtain, and they got only a glimpse of a child, eyes closed, her face masked, lying on the other bed, her arms lying beside her. The wheeze and rhythmic pop of the oxygen feed filled the emptiness of the room.
Blaine lay on his back. There was monitoring screen behind him and it made small chirping noises. His hands were under the sheets, so that they could see only his face, his head held by a brace held by a brace that kept him from turning.
His eyes turned toward them. He smiled.
“Hi, Tom, Jeanie.”
“Who the hell did you piss off,” Tom said.
Blaine’s smile widened.
“I’m going to beat this,” he said. “I’m going to beat it.”
The sheets that covered him lifted with his breathing.
“Of course. Naturally, Blay, you’re going to do it.” Jean said. The baby lay limp against her shoulder. “We are praying for you.”
“I can feel some in my foot that I couldn’t before. I am going to beat it.”
“You have our prayers,” Jean said again. She was blinking her eyes and looking out the window. She started to jig the baby.
“If there is anything you need. We live just 30 minutes from here,” Tom said.
“Thanks. Dad and Rita are here. You just missed them.”
“Here’s our number. Have them call if . . . .” Tom had a piece of paper with the telephone number on it in his shirt pocket behind the pens and mechanical pencil. He took it out and put it on the nightstand beside the vase of carnations and roses.
“What’s it like outside,” Blaine said.
“Oh, it’s beautiful,” Jean said. “It is such a grand day.”
Blaine’s eyes were on Tom. They looked hard and angry.
“There’s a low cloud cover over the mountains,” Tom said. The mountains aren’t like home, but . . . . I can’t explain how. Just not like them. Sage brush and scrub oak almost to the tree line, not like the dark pine and fir. The clouds are low and heavy like it’s going to snow or rain.”
“There’s the lake,” Blaine said.
“You can’t see it from here, from this room. Maybe the city is in the way. I didn’t notice. It’s west. They say there’s a brine shrimp that lives in the water, how, I don’t know, but they live there so I’m told. . . .” Tom stopped because he was babbling.
“They eat algae.”
“There’s a sparrow in the tree outside,” Jean said. “The wind is ruffling his feathers.”
“I’ve driven past it on 80.” Tom said. It’s a big lake. And then there are the salt flats clear to Wendover.” He remembered is father saying that a crow would have to pack his lunch across country like that. He didn’t say that to Blaine. It seemed bleak.
“As good a place as any.” Blaine’s eyes had turned to the ceiling again.
“You’ll be back home before you know it,” Jean said. Her eyes were shining but she could not look at the boy lying in the bed. She was jiggling the baby on her shoulder, and pressing her tightly to her shoulder. The bird was blown from the branch and the wind shook it violently.
“I’m going to beat this. Already, I feel my foot.”
I hesitated to post this sketch today. But the word of the day, gridiron, is a term used to refer American Football. And today Sunday, February 3, 2019, two teams confront each other in the Super Bowl, the championship football game, in Atlanta, Georgia. And I enjoy watching football. I and follow it all season. Today I will watch the Super Bowl on TV with my mother and brothers.
I hesitated posting this sketch because it is somewhat a damper on the celebration around the Super Bowl. But though it is fiction, it has at its core an actual and terrible event.