Two Saturdays to come
“Can I help you?” The orderly’s question was more a command, intended to stop the young man who had been running down the white-tiled third floor of building G in County General Hospital. Double-J hustled past her, then suddenly stopped himself. Turned to face the orderly — “Room 221.” Without taking her wary eyes off the teen, the orderly pointed wordlessly behind her, thumb pointing to Double-J’s left.
A moment later he had swept into 221. Sitting on a chair, Annie looked up, raising a finger vertically across her lips. Coach Dan was standing directly behind her, his attention focused on the occupant of the hospital bed beneath him.
“Jesus!” Double-J raced up to the open side of the bed, nearly knocking over a portable tray stand. “Rex — ”
Coach Dan’s hand, extended across the bed and onto his right shoulder, stopped him. “Leave him be. He’s lost a lot of blood, needs the rest.”
Double-J nodded, gazed down on his friend. Rex’s face, turned slightly towards Coach Dan, looked calm but pale. His right arm, closest to Double-J, was not visible under a heavy wrapping of bandage. An IV tube, dangling from a stand next to Coach Dan, extended down to his left arm. Double-J sniffed, reached down with his left hand, which hovered over Rex’s forehead a moment, then waved down and met his right hand to squeeze the sleeping teen’s hand.
Annie stood. “Francis feels terrible.” Her voice weak, distant.
“He should.” Double-J released his grip, glared up at Coach Dan. “Cutting a guy — ”
“It was an accident.” Coach Dan wasn’t sure how much Annie had told him when she called. “Just a cut to the arm, nothing vicious. Rex caught him with a strong parry, too strong, Francis’ blade broke on impact. No way to stop his momentum, and the broken blade . . . ” The volunteer fencing coach at Bark Bay High School sighed, nodding in the direction of Rex’s bandaged arm.
“He’ll be OK.” Stepping beside her coach, Annie seemed to regain her strength. “It was — there was blood all over the place, but they’ve sewn up the wound.”
Coach Dan almost smiled, raised a hand to Annie’s shoulder. “Your tourniquet — while everyone else was freaking out, you raced in there. They say what you did, saved his arm.”
The teen showed no sign of satisfaction. “They’ll keep him a couple days, make sure there’s no infection. Soonest he could go home’s Monday.”
Double-J nodded, looked down again at Rex, the only person at Bark Bay High School he could unreservedly call his friend. He could hear Rex breathing, shallow and labored — and realized how unusual that was. Rex was quiet, if he wasn’t in your field of vision you could easily forget he was around. Double-J shouldn’t hear him breathing, shouldn’t be seeing this person lying helpless in a hospital bed. Rex shouldn’t be here, neither should he; Rex should be back in his family’s trailer, he at Lefty’s shop. Their presence in this antispetic room was an abomination.
Double-J thrust his left hand down, striking the bed next to Rex’s pillow. Grabbing the bed’s rail with his right hand, closed his eyes as he leaned over — and with an effort that looked like he was squeezing tears from his eyes, wept.
Across the bed, Coach Dan and Annie were paralyzed at the sound of Double-J’s wail, EEEEH – EEEEH – EEEH – EEEH. Neither could remember seeing him this vulnerable. Annie took a step to her left, towards the other side of the bed — but stopped as she saw Double-J lift his face.
No trace of sorrow. Face red and wet with rage.
“My fault.” He exhaled, lungs rattling. “Shouldn’t have given him my equipment. He weren’t ready for saber — ”
“He would have been, if I’d been around.” Coach Dan shook his head. “Jimmy could have worked with him, instead of running the team.”
“No, it’s me.” Annie patting her chest. “Should have been his strip coach, instead of hanging out with my friends.”
“No.” Both Coach Dan and Annie could tell Double-J was restraining from his customary vulgarity. “It was me, who doomed him.” The burly teen stood upright, wiped the wetness off his face. Shook his head, the thin black wires of his hair waving in the dim hospital light. “Nothing more I can do here. I’m going to his trailer, stay with his family ’till he can come home.”
Annie raised her hand. “I can — ”
“No you can’t.” And without looking back, Double-J raced out of the room like man escaping prison.
[“Gray Metal Faces,” March 17]