A Real Nowhere Man

A Real Nowhere Man

‘Yesterday… All my troubles seemed so far away.’
The music has a way of saying the right thing, in these stark, glaring, sterile lights. Soft, calming beeping of the machines. Whirring of electronic drips feeding wasted medicines to wasting bodies.

This ward is white, white like all the others. Each person is here for different reasons, but they’ll all leave this place in the same way. The bed I’m sitting next to is different to all the others, rather, the person is. Everyone else is old, seventies and up. But the kid the bed next to me is just that: a kid. Josh.

He used to be a good looking kid, too. Worked hard in school, played basketball for the state. He had all the potential, all the power to do what he wanted with his life. And yet, he’s told me, his only regret is that he wasn’t alive to see The Beatles, live in concert. Someone made him a CD of his favourite songs. It’s always playing, Lennon and McCartney constantly giving their sweetly-sung comments on the situation.

The orderly comes in to dim the lights. Bedtime, he speaks softly; to no one in particular. Who are you trying to fool, I want to call out. But I can’t.

“Yes, he’s been entertaining himself. Yes, thank you. Goodbye.”
“Who was that?” asks one of the nurses.
“Josh’s grandmother.”
“Poor kid. He’s taken before his time.”
“Breaks your heart, I know.”

I come back the next day. The same lights, the same pattering of rain against the windowpanes.

‘Good morning, good morning’
CD player got it right again.
Josh stirs in the bed, and we begin our daily ritual.

“Where am I?” he asks, eyes still blurry and half closed.
I lean over the bed and speak softly.
“You’re in a hospital. Stay still.”
“Who are you?”
He always asks this, and answering the question is always the hardest part of the day.
“I’m the man who hit you with my car.”
He chuckles, as always.
“What’s so funny?”
“I just had the mental image of you with a car in your hand.”
The same answer, every time.
The accident made him a little slow. He looks worried for a few seconds, then breathes in.
“What do the doctors say?”
“It’s not good. You flew over fifteen feet, and hit the ground hard. Your skull was shattered. A shard of bone entered your brain. Now you have trouble concentrating, and your memory is not the best. We’ve had this same conversation every day for the past three weeks. The doctors and nurses tend to ignore me.”

I often feel like the story is only there to make him feel better, as an escape.
“Every day?” He looks puzzled.
“Every day. You wouldn’t remember it.”

I feel bad to have hurt him like this, but I do feel like I’ve been reborn. Helping Josh is all I have to do, all I’ll have to do for a long time. I’m sure he likes having a friend here.

‘Come together, right now, over me.’
“He’s getting worse.”
“It’s tragic, it really is. And to think that most of it was just bad luck.”
They both glance down at Josh’s chart.
“Look. Father has recessive rare cancer gene, mother gave him bad UV sensitivity, and stepdad was a chain smoker, so his immune system and growth were stunted.”
“And now he has a tumour on his brain. It’s messing with him, it really is.”
She doesn’t normally get choked up; she works with Death, greeting him daily. But this time, it gets to her.

I’m back again. Good news, I hear from the doctors. His memory is getting better, and he’s recalling our past conversations again. The doctors say that it’ll make him feel better if he ‘goes to a happy place’. He’s eager to tell me about it.

‘Picture yourself in a boat on a river’
“It’s in a field, where everything is normal, at first glance, but if you focus, you can see amazing things.”
‘Cellophane flowers of yellow and green towering over your head.’
“Tell me more.”
“There’s all this funny people there, and they all love me, worship me.”
“Like plasticine porters?” I’m only half joking.
“Yeah, just like that.”

It’s night. An old lady shuffles up to the front desk and asks for Josh’s room.
She gets into the elevator and turns back to the receptionist as the door close.
She looks sad.

I didn’t see Josh yesterday. He said that his grandmother came to visit and she didn’t want me there.
“Why did it matter if I was there?”
“I don’t know. The nurses told her that you were visiting and she wasn’t happy about it.”
“I don’t know. She says I’ve grown out of imaginary friends, whatever that means.”
The nurse glances over and looks at us angrily. I didn’t think we were talking too loud, but we both get the message and fall silent. She breathes out.

“Does he have any family besides the grandmother?”
“He has a step-brother, but it says he lives interstate.”
“I know we aren’t meant to get involved…”
“But shouldn’t we try to get into contact with the brother?”
“It’s your call.”

Everyday I’ve been here, it’s been raining. The storm has been getting worse, and the rain is close to torrential. You can see lightning in the distance, and the TVs above the beds softly murmur like the rain and wind in the trees.
“I’m scared.”
I look down at Josh. He’s paler than normal. You can see he’s scared.
“It’s ok. The weather man reckons it’s at least three days before the storm hits.”
“How bad will it be?”
“Standard hurricane. We’ve had stronger here before.”
Josh nods. You can see that it takes a lot out of him. It’s silent, except for the red, beeping lights on the machines, keeping everyone from tipping over the edge.

‘He’s a real Nowhere Man, Sitting in his Nowhere Land, Making all his Nowhere plans for nobody.’
“I tried to get a hold of the brother. I left a message with his girlfriend, but I haven’t heard back.”
“I hope he calls.”
“Yeah. Josh needs the company.”

Two days pass, and I don’t see Josh. When I get back, he tells me that he has spoken to his brother on the phone. Anyone could see the colour return to his cheeks, how happy he suddenly was.
“He says he’ll be here tomorrow.”
“That’s great. Will I get to meet him?”
“Sure. I’m sure you’ll like him.”
“Tell me about him.”
Josh looked puzzled.
“I’m trying to remember.”
I waited.
“I got something. When I was six, we went to the pine forest near our old house. My stepdad, his dad, wanted to take us hunting. I couldn’t even hold the gun.” He stops, and chuckles. “I’ve always loved little animals, but my stepdad wasn’t so keen. He… he shot a rabbit. I still can see the little grey ball exploding and turning red and rolling and rolling and stopping and…” He looks worried, and starts to run out of breath.
“Go on.” I can see where the story is going, but all the same, I want him to go on.
“And we run up to it, and I was crying, and he was laughing and laughing. But my brother was nicer. He walked up to him and looked serious, and said ‘stop laughing. You know Josh doesn’t like it.’ He looked down and snarled, like an attack dog, and hit him across the face. He was bleeding, but he still stood up for me.”
“Sound like a nice guy.”
“He is, he is.”
I turn around. The nurse walks straight past me and turns up Josh’s drip. The red beep gets a little faster.
“Bed time” she says softly, and glances in my direction. I stand and leave.

‘Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup, they slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe.’
When I get back the next day, Josh’s brother is there. He’s got tattoos down one arm, eyebrow and lip piercings and a ponytail. He walks straight past me and sits down on the other side of the bed.
“Hey, Josh! How you going?”
He’s a little over-enthusiastic. The nurse glares angrily, and he looks apologetic.
“I don’t know… Have you met my friend?”
He looks over to me, hopefully. His brother just stares through me, shakes his head and looks down.
“Almost Christmas, hey.”
“It is?”
I thought the same thing. I’ve lost track of time; but when I count the days… Christmas is tomorrow.
“It is, it is. I’ll get you something good.”
I know when I’m not needed. I stand up and walk to the door, giving Josh a wave. It’s good to see him happier.

“The brother finally came.”
“I hope he can do something. They say the storm will hit tomorrow.”
“It’ll take a miracle.”

When I came back the day after, the wind and rain were pelting the windows, and the grandmother and the brother are there. I slip between them and wish Josh a Merry Christmas.
“You too!” His face lights up.
The other two glance at each other and look worried.
The lights start flickering. Powerlines have been going down in the area all day. All of a sudden, the place explodes with action. Doctors and nurses came rushing in hastily, wheeling everyone out. The grandmother asked them what was going on.
“We’ve had a call from the weather bureau. We’re going to lose a lot of power, so we need to get all of the critical patients to the ICU with the back-up generator.”

Josh looks up, brow furrowed.
“I’m scared.”

It’s the day after the storm hit. The two nurses are talking at the damp, dank nurse’s station.
One picks up her phone and dials. It rings.
“Hello? Yes, this is Josh’s nurse. You’re both there? Good. This is urgent; can you please come in now? Thanks. See you soon.”
She hangs up.
“Are we doing it?”
“We’ll talk to the relatives, but I think so.”

‘When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me. Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.’
The grandmother and brother hurry into the water-stained ICU. The nurse asks them to sit down. They look afraid.
“This isn’t common practice in any sense, but we have to ask you this.”
“What? What?” The brother pipes up before she can get the next sentence out.
“I’m afraid there is nothing more we can do for Josh. His condition is deteriorating, he’s going to get worse, lose control and be in pain, and with the storm, we are seriously understaffed as is it.”
“So you are saying…”
The grandmother and brother look at each other and sit in silence for what seems like hours. The grandmother is silently crying, the brother trying to keep his lower lip from quivering, and Josh is sleeping quietly in the bed. I know that they’re going to pull the plug, and so do they. I wish I could say something.

It’s Josh’s funeral. The priest is reading the eulogy.
At the back, one nurse murmurs to the other.
“I’m glad, for Josh’s sake, he had that imaginary friend the whole time.”
“It made it a lot easier.”

A Real Nowhere Man


Joined October 2009

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