by Lori Carson
At the hospital, the EMTs carried Owen into the emergency room from the ambulance and transferred him from the stretcher to a bed. He lost track of Teddy. An aid or a nurse helped him out of his bloody wet clothes and into a hospital gown, then closed a green curtain around him. It was cold and he lay shivering on his hospital cot under a thin blanket. A nurse came and took his temperature and his blood pressure, looked at his head. He was still bleeding a little but it didn’t look too bad, she said. Owen noticed her eyes. They were wide and blue with dark lashes. He asked her name. “Sharon,” she said, and for a moment he could see a life with her, his wife Sharon the nurse.
“How long do you think before the doctor comes, Sharon?” he asked.
“Soon,” she said. But it was at least an hour before a tired-looking doctor pulled the green curtain back. He wore rumpled blue scrubs and crooked wire glasses; behind the lenses were heavy-lidded brown eyes.
“What happened?” he asked, examining Owen’s wound. He had one of those deep, jovial voices that inspire confidence.
“I fell,” Owen said, thinking it would be the simplest explanation. The doctor raised his eyebrows skeptically.
“Well, it’s going to cost you about ten stitches,” he said.
Owen barely felt them through the topical anesthetic. After, he asked if he could go home. He was feeling a lot better by then and starting to get restless. The doctor said, “We’ll see,” but Sharon the nurse came back and told him they wanted to keep him overnight.
“No, that’s not possible,” Owen said, as politely as he could. He had decided he was leaving by then. “I have to get home. I have obligations.” He didn’t mean to be difficult or give her a hard time, but the dogs were waiting. Sharon the nurse tried to talk him out of it but when she couldn’t, brought him a release to sign that said he was leaving against doctor’s orders. Under the circumstances, Owen decided not to ask for the Percocet he’d been promised, just signed the papers. He felt a little dizzy as he stood up, but he put his wrecked clothes back on, threw his backpack over his shoulder, and headed down the long hallway toward the exit, glad to be going home.
On the way out, he spotted Dahlia sitting in the waiting room with the two kids, and did a double-take, but didn’t stop. He walked straight out, through the revolving doors, and hailed a taxi for home. The snow had finally stopped falling by then and the city looked like a winter wonderland, cars and buildings all softly covered in white.
When he got home, Rain and Coyote greeted him at the door, enthusiastically, as they always did. Owen dropped his backpack and fell to his knees to receive their affection. He noticed one or the other had had a little accident near the kitchen, but that was all right. “Let’s go, boys,” he said, grabbing their leashes. They wagged their tails. He held the door open for them and they walked down the hallway and onto the elevator.
Outside, it was quiet at two in the morning. There was no one around except for a drunk passed out in a doorway. “You all right, man?” Owen asked, waking him. “You need help?” The drunk roused himself and slowly got to his feet, muttering. Owen watched him stumble his way toward Fifth Avenue.
The dogs were investigating the scent of every post and tree. Their heavy coats made them look like wolves in the snow. Rain caught the scent of something foul and rolled over in it on his back. Coyote gave a sharp, excited bark. Owen lit a cigarette and stood there, watching them, breathing the smoke and frigid air into his lungs. The overcast sky stretched gray and starless above him. Even on a clear night, it was hard to see stars in New York City because of light pollution. In the Southwest, where he was from, stars were another thing entirely, bright beams and dusty cosmic trails against black velvet. It served to remind you of how small you were. He thought that might be why people in New York City were so fucked up. They lacked perspective. He missed his home state in the same way he missed his childhood, abstractly yet profoundly. He hadn’t been back to see his mother in four years. Four years. “Home,” he said out loud, thinking the word should have meant something having to do with family, with kids and a wife, a life different from the one he had.
Coyote rubbed up against his legs as if to remind him that they were his family, and he tossed his cigarette. “Ready, boys?” He was so tired by then he felt like he could have dropped right there in the snow. The dogs led him back to East 30th Street. It was almost three a.m. when he put his head down on the pillow. His wound was hurting a little – the topical anesthetic had worn off – but nothing could keep him awake. The last thing he remembered was reaching up to feel the stiff plastic threads of his stitches through the bandages.
When the door buzzer sounded, an hour or so later, waking him, it was like surfacing from the bottom of the deep sea. The dogs began to bark and he stumbled out of bed and across the floor, telling them to quiet down. “Who’s there?” he said into the intercom. He brought his hand to his head; it was throbbing.
“Owen?” said a woman’s voice he didn’t recognize at first. “It’s me, Dahlia. Can I come up?”
“Third floor,” he said, buzzing her in. What was she doing there? He went to find his pants.
To continue reading, follow link to Amazon: Cold Weather (Part Two)
Categories: First Issue