The morning was cold and the sky was just turning pink. Joe drove us to the hospital. He was nervous because of his toe surgery and didn’t want the added stress of being my passenger. We didn’t say much. Just the usual, there’s a dog-on-the-side-of-the- road, or that-guy-should’ve-signaled type of conversation. Joe was food and caffeine-free because of the anesthesia so he was grumpy and sleepy. Sneezy too. The man expelled the loudest sneezes. One time he detonated a car alarm, another time our cat ended up on the ceiling. But his sneezes were unremarkable that morning.
He’d had some surgeries in the past. Most innocuous. But still, I didn’t like the situation. Hospitals made me uncomfortable. The corridors confused me. The tiny rooms and semi-naked people and televisions addled my brain. Plus my vision and hearing were overwhelmed by my nose. My sense of smell is very delicate, even more so after the accident, and if I didn’t recognize the odor, I couldn’t keep my mind from trying to identify it. Of course I always imagined the worst. Nothing smelled good in a hospital. Nothing.
The entire procedure would take a couple of hours but it was always longer than they told you. So for solidarity’s sake I didn’t eat breakfast that morning. That meant while Joe was under the knife I’d be starving and nauseated. A combination whose only cure was blueberry pancakes. When I told my friend Glen about the situation he agreed to meet me for breakfast at a coffee shop near the hospital.
The car sputtered and chugged its way into the hospital parking lot and Joe popped the emergency brake like he always did, even though there wasn’t a hill in sight. “Let’s go,” was all he said. We got out and headed toward the big brick building with signs and sliding glass doors all around.
The moment we walked in, Joe calmed down. He liked the order and anonymity of hospitals and had complete faith in doctors.
“Kathy,” Joe said to the blond at the entrance desk, real friendly, like they’d gone to high school together. “This is my wife Gina.” They both laughed. I missed the joke so I stood there with my hands in my pockets and a closed-lipped smile. Joe leaned close to her and whispered something and they laughed again. “An old story,” Joe’s eyes didn’t meet mine when he said this. He took the clipboard from Kathy and we sat down on the orange plastic chairs that were bolted to the wall.
After awhile they called Joe’s name and what looked like a chubby twelve-year-old in purple scrubs led him into the back. We both knew that I could accompany him and we both knew that I wouldn’t. I wondered how long I should wait before calling Glen. The Price is Right was on the television on the wall in front of me. I’d leave after Mindy from Mobile, Alabama won or lost her bid on a home theater system with surround sound and an unholy number of bells and whistles. I was rooting for Mindy. She was chunky and had bad teeth. I figured she was either too poor or too afraid to go to the dentist. Maybe both. A fine home theater system would be just the thing to keep her feeling good. She’d never have to leave the house again.
Joe and I don’t own a TV anymore. I don’t want one and he gets his fill of the tube at his job as nighttime security guard at the Tri-Pole Motel in Barrington. It’s located next to the three sign poles that mark the interstate. A disgusting place, he told me, hourly rates and all that. A real classy joint. Me, I have to watch when a television is on. They’re Hippocratic or something, and I lose track of time.
I gave our TV to my sister after Joe came home from a three-day hunting trip and found me wearing the same clothes and sitting in the same place on the couch as the day he left. I didn’t remember what I’d been watching when he dug the remote out from between the couch cushions and hit the off button. Nooo, I wanted to cry and beg. Suddenly I had the worst headache of my life–worse than the time I was doing tequila shots in Baltimore and woke up in Atlanta–worse than after the car accident. Did you eat? Did you drink? Did you feed the fucking cat? You must have. This place smells like a shithole. Joe was right. The house did smell bad. I hadn’t scooped the litter box in three days. I smelled bad too. It wasn’t a good thing when you could smell yourself. But, I couldn’t remember anything, so I couldn’t disagree. Still, my feelings were hurt. I must have eaten or drunk something. I wasn’t hungry. I must have used the toilet because I hadn’t soiled myself. I didn’t say a word to Joe. Just got up and threw myself down on our bed–didn’t get undressed or under the covers. Right before I fell asleep I heard the front door slam.
I woke up the next day, Joe snoring next to me, and showered then drank some coffee and cleaned the litter box. After that I threw the TV onto a wheelie cart and pushed it over the ruts and bumps we called the front yard, then jammed it into the backseat of my Corolla. Corrie was her name. I could swear the cat was giving me the thumbs up as I backed out of the driveway. He was one of those with the extra toes, a pterodactyl or something. I knew Joe wouldn’t care that I gave the TV away. He liked to work on model train sets in his spare time. I drove to my sister’s trailer over on Somerset and banged on the dented screen door that had no screen. I’m not sure why she keeps it, probably too lazy to take it off the