I started 2019 in the hospital with pneumonia and the flu. It was just barely bearable.
After half a day in the emergency room, I was sent to a room.
When my wife the Beautiful AP and I entered the room we heard my new roommate call out, “Gracie? Gracie?” I slowly walked over to his side of the room to let him know neither of us were “Gracie.” I parted the closed curtain just slightly; I could see the guy clearly. He was an ancient man, shriveled up in bed, and when he wasn’t calling for Gracie, I heard his labored, wet breathing and deep cough.
I got into my bed. “You think he’s calling his wife, Gracie?”
“I don’t know,” said AP.
“He doesn’t sound as if he has long to go,” I said.
“No,” she said.
The nurse came in and questioned me about my life story; then the blood-letter came in and drew some of my blood (in three days I gave enough blood to feed an entire village of vampires).
“Gracie? Gracie?” After each “Gracie,” he’d cough, cough, and cough some more in an awfully deep phlegmy way and you could hear the rattling in his lungs. I checked him one more time and I could see the mucus leave his nose in a bubble and burst during many of the coughs. Everything he did was accompanied by a horrible sound effect. It was – to be frank – quite rattling to hear.
The nurses came into the room to ventilate my roommate a couple of times (“Gracie, Gracie”) – which meant they were sticking some kind of vacuum down his throat or nose into his lungs to remove the mucus and whatever other slime had lodged inside this ancient fellow.
Late that night, the orderlies came in to change his diaper. The smell was pungent, despite the fact that the orderlies tried to hide it. He was vacuumed and cleaned up several times that night. Despite my being sick and really tired, it was hard to fall into a restful sleep. The phlegm sounds, the smell, and the recognition of mortality all prevented relaxation.
The next morning a woman came to visit him. I discovered his name was McDougal – that didn’t take much detective work since his name was on the door, McDougal “W” which stood for bed by the window and I was Scoblete “D” which stood for bed by the door. We were in a containment room and if anyone came in they wore a mask and a yellow rain-jacket.
The morning saw Mr. McDougal visited by his niece Becky. Now Becky is an all-American name which I associate with the Midwest and Norman Rockwell, probably a blond cheerleader type. This Becky was anything but. She had long black hair – dyed black hair – and she was, as the Beautiful AP said, “Dressed to the nines, but inappropriately.” She dressed as if she were 15 years younger and going to a cocktail party or out clubbing.
I’d guess she was mid-forties and about a decade away from having the severely gravelly voice of the heavy smoker. She was low-class New Yawk all the way with an accident that makes mine sound as if I were a British lord.
“Unckie-wunkie,” she said to Mr. McDougal whose eyes were tightly closed as he raspingly breathed. Spittle dripped slowly down his jawline since his head was turned into the pillow. Becky’s voice sounded nothing like someone who would say unckie-wunkie.
“It’s your favorite niece,” she shouted directly into his face. “I’ve come to visit you again. Remember that I am the one visiting you in the hospital; your favorite niece, Becky…Becky.”
Uncle McDougal was out cold and did not acknowledge her. Becky continued, “See what I brought you? A living flower! I’m going to put it on the window so it gets some light.” She did so. I couldn’t see her go to the window but the Beautiful AP could. AP gave me a look and mouthed, “OMG.”
I could see Mr. McDougal from the chest up, because my privacy curtain gave virtually no privacy. He stirred a little and let out a gurgle.
“I’m glad you’re awake,” said Becky. “I am sure you like the flower your favorite niece, me, Becky, Becky brought you while you were in the hospital.”
“Aaaarrrrgghhh,” coughed Uncle McDougal. “Eh, eck, aaaarrrrgghhh.” A snot bubble formed and exploded onto his lips.
“I knew you’d like the flower I got you. I am happy to be your favorite niece.”
A little while later, after mentioning several times that she was his favorite niece, she turned his television on really loud as if Unckie-wunkie could actually watch it or hear it. She stomped out of the room as though she had just wasted precious time. AP paused and said to me in a whisper, “I hope she doesn’t get any inheritance.”
“The damn set is blasting. What the hell was that all about?”
“New York one-up-man-ship,” said the Beautiful AP. “She was showing us that she’s in charge.”
“What’s the flower look like?” I asked.
“A cheap little thing.” AP then got a nurse’s aide to lower the volume of his TV set.
The next morning—after Mr. McDougal had been vacuumed and cleaned up a dozen times during the night—two women came to the room and one was Becky. Unckie-wunkie’s favorite niece. The other one, maybe ten years older than Becky, was dressed to the nines as she was poured into a pants suit that was far too small for her ballooning blubber.
She had bleached-blonde hair where you could see clearly the greyish-brownish original hair that was growing out under the blonde. She had already achieved the gravelly voice of the addicted smoker. She was in her late fifties I would guess.
“It’s me, Madeline,” said the woman. “I am a close friend of your favorite niece, Becky. You remember me. You always loved me. You do see how Becky is visiting you all the time right? She loves you so much. That’s why she’s your favorite niece.”
Madeline was dressed in black with a low-cut front with her breasts squeezed together so you could see a lot of cleavage. That cleavage was somewhat wrinkled. She was overly made-up and she reeked of cigarette smoke. The Beautiful AP was sitting in a chair at the bottom of my bed (there was no other room for it) and she shook her head slowly.
“Uncle Do-Do, are you awake?” demanded Madeline.
“Can’t you open your eyes when we talk to you?” scolded Becky.
“Aaaaarrrrrggggghhhh,” coughed Uncle Do-Do. Dribble coming from his lips. He hacked a few times. This poor soul wasn’t feeling too wunkie this morning.
“Your favorite niece is here,” graveled Madeline.
“Open your eyes so you can see your favorite niece,” said Becky.
“Aaaaarrrrrggggghhhh,” coughed Uncle Do-Do or Unckie-wunkie. Dribble streamed down his cheek. He hacked a few times. Pop! went a snot bubble. He did not open his eyes.
“Your favorite niece is here,” graveled Madeline. “Why don’t you open your eyes when I speak to you? It’s her Becky, your favorite niece. You know Becky. See that beautiful flower on the window? She bought that for you.” That flower looked as if it was partly dead today.
“We love to come visit you Unckee Do-Do, uh, wunkie, because we love you and that’s why I am your favorite,” cooed Becky.
Mr. McDougal never opened his eyes and his “responses” were just coughs and snot bubbles and spittle rolling down his cheek.
After a while the two of them started to leave. Becky asked Unckie-wunkie if he wanted his set turned up louder. She turned it up to blasting level. The two of them left.
The Beautiful AP and I waited a few pauses.
“I feel like telling Unckie-wunkie Do-Do not to give any of these witches a dime,” said AP. “All we need is a cauldron, one other witch and we can do Macbeth.”
“When I write this, no one will believe it. It’s so over the top,” I said.
“Over the top,” AP nodded.
Later that day, three well-dressed doctors entered the room and looked at him for a while. Then they looked at each other. Mr. McDougal was moved from the room. The orderlies wheeled his bed out and down the hall.
Another orderly came in to scrub the floor and a woman hurriedly entered the room. She was another overly dressed type, maybe in her twenties.
“Excuse me,” she said to the orderly. “Where is my uncle? You know, McDougal?”
“I am his niece, his only favorite niece. I have to talk to him.”
She left the room.
“Where can we buy a cauldron?” asked AP.
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