I walked across the cobblestone courtyard, trotted down the winding drive and once through the stone gates of St. Dominique’s, ran toward the ocean. My customary route was out to Jacksonville Rd, across the highway at North Somerset Ave past the high school and from there, straight down to the town beach. This morning, three days after seeing my brother tied to his hospital bed by life-giving tubes and sickness-detecting sensors, I felt like Christopher Reeves in that scene towards the end of the first Superman movie. Lois Lane is trapped in a car in a crevice caused by an earthquake and he, Superman, is too far away to help, so in desperation he flies around the Earth, faster and faster. For reasons not understood, perhaps because he flew in the direction opposite the globe’s rotation, time not only stopped, but reversed itself. As a result, Lois didn’t die. Some part of me this morning must have thought, ‘Well, it can’t hurt to try’. Kinda did, though.
The roads were small-town-weekday empty. Plus it was both September and no longer summer. I hadn’t run since, since I couldn’t remember, which pretty much qualifies as a long time ago. I had on my normal jogging outfit and felt the coolness of near Autumn. A Tee-shirt with ‘Chicago Police Department’ stenciled black-on-grey across the back, very large and extra pink satin boxing trunks, ‘Everlast’ across the waistband and a pair of very orange Newton Motions.
I ran too fast to start and sped up from there. The reasonable part of my mind was alarmed but unable to make my body to listen. For all of the low-50s temperature, by the time I passed the high school, my shirt was sweat-glued across my back. Without slowing, I grabbed a handful of the extra-large tee and tied it in a knot at my left side and continued on towards the water, damp-salt-air seasoning the morning haze.
I ran out of asphalt pavement and crossed the crushed oyster-shell parking lot of the town beach. Cresting the low dune that hid the view of the bay, the entire length of the beach came into view. It was deserted. Except for a man with grey hair and a Labrador with yellow fur. One of them was fishing, the other watched me approach.
“I can’t seem to stop.” I said in a conversational tone as I ran past Morris Richmond. He didn’t appear to notice, his fishing line connected him to the sea, like some infinite telegraph cable.
I kept running up the beach. I was beginning to worry what would happen when I ran out of either breath or sand. I heard a lightly musical metallic sound, like tiny alarm bells being rung. I looked back and saw the yellow lab gaining on me. Drawing abreast, he kept pace for a second and then pulled ahead.
Despite his having an advantage, what with the extra pair of feet, I caught up with him. As soon as I did so, he managed a look that clearly was an acknowledgment of my effort and, with the natural ease with which dogs do most things, ran ahead. The first time was amusing, the rest of the times made me angry. I ran faster, my eyes open yet seeing almost nothing.
Finally, without warning, the dog stopped running. He was far enough ahead to turn, sit on his haunches and watch as I caught up. He was barely panting, I was barely conscious.
I swerved to avoid him but the sand under my shoes refused to help. I left my feet slightly behind my center of gravity.
As I lay in the sand, staring up at an empty sky, my mind replayed the memory of my trip to the hospital to see my brother.
“There’s an experimental protocol I want to try. It’s radical but offers great promise. It involves removing all the patients blood, heating it, cooling it and returning it to the body.”
“It has .004 percent chance of curing patient.” He glanced towards the intern at his side. She, in turn, held a tablet; a 21st Century scribe. A slight elevation in his eyebrows elicited a nod from the young woman. He then looked up and, somewhat incongruously, smiled broadly.
“Isn’t that a little extreme? Those are pretty low odds.” I spoke to him but I looked at the intern. No one looked at my brother, unconscious in the hospital bed.
“Not zero odds, you see? Zero odds are those of your brother recovering if we do not do anything.” He looked at the intern, satisfied to see her typing notes.
“Yes, doctor, please proceed.”
With a nod that altered his posture in a way as to make it seem like he bowed, he walked out of the room and down the corridor.
“Miss… ah, Sister Ryan, Could you help with some information on the patient.” The young woman looked at me, her eyes hopeful.
“You mean, my brother Matthew?” It seemed like, somehow, everyone on the 12th floor of the hospital stopped at that precise moment. I felt like I did when, as a child the dentist would, in the middle of a long Novocaine augmented procedure, tell me to spit in the little paper cup. No matter what, there’d be a long string of saliva trailing off my numb lips as I leaned back in the chair. For some reason I felt anger grow and although I tried to pray it away, it only grew more intense.
I walked out of the sun-filled hospital room. It was too bright, too …too healthy looking with the light from the autumn-shaded sun hitting the perfectly smooth sheets on Matthew’s bed. The intern with the tablet followed me out into the corridor and walked at my side, as if we were college students together between classes. I felt like lashing out, but caught myself and stopped in the middle of the corridor.
“Yes, what can I do for you Miss…. or is it Doctor or …” I was beginning to feel aghast at my escalating meanness, “Doctor-ette Elizor?”
“Jennie would be good. Sorry to be bothering you at a time like… when your brother is so ill. The information is not necessary for the treatment but the CDC requires we track all cases of rabies and establish their vector.” She held her tablet like a missionary might hold his bible when advising backwards, hapless natives on the path to redemption. “The emergency room report indicates he was bitten, by a bat?”
“Yeah, from what I gather the old lady who cleans and otherwise takes care of the church wanted him to do a catch and release and I guess it nipped his thumb.”
“Did they save the bat?”
I looked at her and started to say, ‘Do you mean did he capture it, nurse it back to health with the intent of raising it as a pet?’ and caught myself. “No, I don’t believe anyone knows what happened to the animal. I’m sorry, did you think he was the parish priest at St Francis of the Rabid or maybe you were thinking it was Saint Doolittle’s church.” I stared at the young woman. She looked back at me, nothing showing in her face other than patience. A small part of me cringed.
“Its just that the CDC requires a determination of the vector for the transmission of the virus.”
“Oh, yeah, I remember you need the animal to test for rabies to establish if it’s been vaccinated. Pretty sure it wasn’t vaccinated and from what your boss doctor was saying a short time ago, I guess that means that my brother does, in fact, have rabies.”
I rolled over and spit sand and seaweed out of my mouth. I looked to my side and the yellow lab was sitting in the sand next to me.
“Ragnarök! What have you done!”
Morris Richmond walked towards us. The yellow lab remained in place, laying on his stomach, forelegs parallel, the classic sphinx position. His tail alternated between packing the sand down and sweeping it from side-to-side. The man with the grey-ponytail reached us, let his legs fold at the ankles, knees and hips, like an old-fashioned wooden carpenter’s rule and sat in the sand. He oriented himself so he could look both at me and the ocean beyond.
“Forgive me for prying, but you seem to have fallen down in the sand.”
Satisfied that he managed to complete a satisfactory introduction, he leaned back and looked at the ocean, his thin arms angled-lean-to supports, fingers buried in the dry sand.
My breathing finally slowed, oxygen finding its way through my lungs and out through my blood to the starved muscles and organs. I felt oddly relaxed, which I suspected was the hypoxia talking.
Staring out towards the horizon, the man began to speak, “There’ a Czech word, lítost, It’s one of those words that remind us that perspective is everything. It’s commonly translated, ‘..a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.'”
He laughed briefly, very much to himself and continued,
“I am not presuming to suggest that you are not happy lying there in the sand, however, just an educated guess, you might not be totally pleased with your current situation. I believe I have been rude these past months, my name is Morris Richmond, our four-legged friend here is Ragnarök. May we join you?”