What about Bob?

Bob is standing next to Susannah Fontaine-Williams’s hospital bed. Macallan slouches in a chair on the other side of the bed, eyes shut, a crossword puzzle on his lap. Bob grasps her hands in his. A Dylan song plays dreamily, coming from someone’s phone or tablet.  (Bob backstory here.)

My love, she speaks like silence
Without ideals or violence

“What happened to you?” he whispers. Her hair is frizzed and tangled and the dividing line of a sunburn runs from her hairline to where it disappears at her neckline. Susannah stretches her legs and toes, yawning. She is too tired to open her eyes.

“Where are the kids?” she asks. “Are the kids here?”

“Mrs. Quackenbush is with them. They’re sound asleep.”

“More likely watching a movie and eating ice pops.”

“More likely,” Bob laughs.

“Bob honey,” she says. “You know that guy in Greece they found?”

“You mean the couple on the boat?”

“Uh-uh. The guy that killed that couple.”

“They’re still looking for him. They’re looking for the woman in the hat, too.”

“Oh, that’s good.” She drifts off and in a moment she snores herself awake again. She opens her eyes and sees Macallan. The dividing curtain is open and the handcuffed man is watching her.

She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful
Yet she’s true like ice, like fire

“Hello,” Susannah Fontaine-WIlliams says.

“Hey,” he says. His voice is scratchy and he coughs.

Macallan stirs. “Susannah, you’re awake.”

“Mac… What are you doing here? What am I doing here? Where is here? I’m in a hospital,” she concludes, satisfied.

“Apparently you were electrocuted.”

She squints and scrunches up her face as if she’d just bitten into a lemon. “I was electrocuted?”

She runs her fingers in her hair, or tries to. “My hair,” she says. “Is there a brush anywhere?”

“Who were you talking to just now?”

“The gentleman in the other bed. Would you mind handing me my bag?”

“No, there was a visitor. You called him ‘Bob.’”

“Bob was here? He’s just imaginary, silly. He’s my make believe husband. We have make believe triplets.” (More about Bob here.)

“Really?”

“Two boys and a girl. I think. Maybe it’s the other way around.”

“He’s tall…telegenic, like you.

She props herself up on her elbows and stares him down.  The effort tires her quickly and she shakes her head and drops back down onto the pillow. “You were dreaming. Hand me my bag, please.”

“I saw him too,” the stranger rasps. “Good lookin’ guy. Tall. And them kids weren’t with no babysitter neither. Swear to god, they were sittin’ right outside the door, cute as buttons, makin’ faces at me.”

Statues made of matchsticks
Crumble into one another
My love winks, she does not bother
She knows too much to argue or to judge

The man coughs again. “Allergies.”

Visiting hours

Macallan doesn’t mind hospitals the way other people do. He gets some peace, some quiet, finds some meditation in the beeps and blinks of monitors and equipment. Hospitals are interesting mixtures of folks either waiting to die or desperate not to, sometimes sharing the same hospital suite.

Susannah Fontaine-Williams, still unconscious, lay in the bed next to the window. Mac sat beside her, the unstarted Monday Times puzzle in his lap. He listens to the sounds coming from outside the room,  cart wheels on the hard, polished floors, the hushed voices, the buzz at the nurse’s station. He doesn’t care about the time; nevertheless, it is early evening.

He had answered his phone a short while ago, Susannah Fontaine-Williams’s name on the display, yet a strange man’s voice speaking with an accent he couldn’t quite place. “She is in the New York Downtown Hospital…there was a power surge.”

“What kind of a power surge?”

The man was impatient. “She was caught in a burst of electrostatic energy. Difficult to explain. She will be all right.”

“Who are you?”

“Not important. A friend. She will tell you. Maybe. Come. She should not wake up alone.”

Walt did want to explain. But how does one explain the paradox that would be created by bringing the exterior of an extra-dimensional object – the bag – into its own interior, which had nearly happened. This is all speculation, but that might very well turn the universe inside out on itself. He couldn’t know for certain; it was a theory he was too afraid to test. What did happen is that she stopped at the bag’s side entrance, a flash of energy knocked her backward and she crumbled unconscious on the spot.

Walt hoisted her over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry, took the stairs up to street level two at a time, and sprinted her to the nearest hospital, the Downtown Hospital, nearly a mile away. He raced her straight to the desk in the emergency room, screaming, “she’s been electrocuted!” This got a lot of attention and two attendants lifted her from his shoulders, dropped her onto a gurney and rolled her away through a pair of swinging doors. He shouted, “Susannah Fontaine-Williams…she famous…has a TV show,” as he ran back out of the emergency room, away as quickly as possible.

Racing back to his shop in a zig-zag pattern, he looked at SFW’s recent call list on her phone, and pressed Macallan’s name. He didn’t think anyone had followed.

Macallan sits patiently at her side, watching her breathing, zoning out to the rhythmic beeps. It makes him sleepy. He should call Alethia soon. He pulls out the Monday puzzle, the easiest of the week and just stares at it, seeing the clues, but not registering them. He falls asleep.

He awakens to the sound of voices next to him, a cop talking to a nurse. “Do you have to cuff him to the bed like that? Between the morphine and that leg wound, he’s not going anywhere.”

“Sorry,” the cop says, “it’s procedure. ”

“What did he do anyway?” she says.

“This clown goes into a drug store to get allergy medication. But he doesn’t have ID. He roughs up the girl at the counter, takes the stuff – he actually pays for it! Then he runs away, gets clipped by a car and goes off into the woods.”

“So he didn’t actually steal anything?”

“No, and he nearly bleeds out. Sumbitch could have died, and for what?”

Macallan chuckles to himself. The nurse looks his way and says, “Visiting hours are over soon. You have about 15 minutes.”

He nods, “Thanks.” He scans SFW. She has what looks like a bad sunburn on the right half of her face and on her right arm. He thinks that if he pulled back her covers, he would see that her right leg is burned as well. Her hair is a tangle. “Think she’ll be OK?”

The nurse glances at her monitor and takes her pulse. “Everything seems normal.”

“Then why hasn’t she woken up?”

A trip to the pharmacy

I walk into the drug store feeling a little congested. I need Claritin, the D kind, the one that decongests. There are laminated Claritin D Cards on the shelves with the other allergy stuff, the stuff that doesn’t work that’s in its boxes on the shelves that you can just pick up without any fuss and bring to a cashier, pay the kid, and be on your way.

But with this D stuff, you got to take the card and go to the pharmacy counter and say, “I need this,” and they say “how many?” And you say, “how many can I get?” I’m congested, you know, and it’s just the seasonal allergies so I want as many as I can have so I can prolong the amount of time until I have to repeat this process.

Well the most they have is a box of twenty and I say, that’s odd, you used to have them in the thirties, and they say, well, I can give you a ten and a twenty and that’s plenty fine with me. That’ll take me thru a month, and maybe I can skip a day or two and so maybe it’ll last a little longer. Like I say, I got seasonal allergies and when the pollen or mold or whatever it is that’s stuffing me up goes its natural course, I’ll be fine.

“ID please,” the lady says and I notice for the first time that she’s really just a high school kid doing a summer job and she’s following rules and I can appreciate that. Rules are what separates us from animals and happy people. Only I left the house in a hurry on account a the allergies and besides what’s the difference? I don’t carry ID because I know who I am and it’s nobody’s business what my name is and where I live. I just want to decongest.

So I tell her, “I ain’t got an ID.”

“Then I can’t give you the Claritin D,” which she slides away with her hand. “Sorry, it’s the law.”

So I grab her real gentle by the collar of her blue shirt and I say to her real low, “Make an exception, my hay fever’s killing me.” The pharmacy has lots of security cameras pointed at us but I know no one is watching, that they only have them for after the fact. She’s just a sprightly kid so I figure I can take her in fight, fair or otherwise and I guess she reaches the same conclusion and so she slides the Ds into a plastic bag.

“You gone to ring me up?” I say but she just kind a looks at me funny. I give her thirty bucks, which should cover the cost – these suckers have a lot of profit margin built in – take the bag, and exit.

I get maybe two blocks when a police car with lights flashing pulls up next to me and one of them starts getting out. He’s sporting quite the donut paunch so I figure I can outrun him so I cut between stores where there’s a stairs to a parking lot. He doesn’t chase but I see the car coming from the around the corner now. I run straight through the parking lot full tilt and if I can just cross the street, jump a small fence into that wooded park, I’ll be free of these guys. So I put it into that extra gear I got and tear across the street. The cop car accelerates and the son of a bitch hits me on the leg, just kind of wings me really, enough to roll me over the hood. But I land like I’m some kind of a stuntman and I keep running, only now I’m limping just a little. I get into the woods, and slide down a hill and over a wall and wait. I don’t hear a thing so I figure I’m in the clear.

My eyes are itching real bad and I’m stuffed up as hell, so I open the box of tens and pop a D out of the blister pack. I swallow it even though I ain’t got a thing with which to wash it down. Mission accomplished. Except it don’t look too good because I feel this warm spot on my hip and I feel it and it’s warm and wet, kind of sticky even. Taking a deep breath, I look and, yep, there’s this big gash running from my hip down the side of my leg – cut right through my 505s. I don’t know how I didn’t notice it before.

I’m lightheaded and I’m figuring I’ve lost a lot of blood, otherwise I’d a been able to stand up without passing out like this. My throat’s dry too, but sitting here in this muddy puddle of my own hard earned blood, I’m grateful that my sinuses have cleared up real nice. I’m reminded of them commercials as everything starts blurring; the pretty lady playing fetch with her golden retriever in a field of tall grass and dandelions. She takes a deep breath and smiles. Thanks Claritin.

Drain clearing nano-bots

“What’s this?”

“Oh, these are next big thing.” Sometimes Walt spoke that way, omitting the simple adjectives just for kicks. “Drain clearing nano-bots.”

“It just looks like metal filings to me,” she said and picked up the vial with the label that read in tiny, neat script, DCNB.

“Very observant. They are… until you dump them into a drain with standing water. I have programmed them to activate when wet. They will float down until they encounter a clog and then in a matter of seconds shred it apart. When that happens, my little robots float away with the cloggy stuff, die and dissolve. Very short life.”

“You’re going to put a lot of plumbers out of business.”

“Not for public – only plumbers.” He skipped subjects and verbs too. “I want to stop people dumping lye and other chemicals in their drains. Makes no sense what you people do. I’m working on a variant to replace gardening chemicals that will eat specific weeds and bugs then degrade into a useful soil nutrient.”

“I never had you pegged for an environmentalist,” Susannah Fontaine-WIlliams said.

“It tricky programming … a lot of much math for me. I’ll get it though.”

“It’s odd, Walt,” she said. “How linear the narrative has become. Here I am in your workshop looking at your gadgets and toys slowly coming closer to this secret you have for me.”

“Agree. I prefer it when it jump around more too. I don’t like speaking this way either. Very unnatural. You have very shapely legs.”

“That’s not your kind of dialog, is it,” she said and slapped him once. “Not for being fresh,” she said, “just to snap you out of it.”

Blood trickled from his nose. “Ooooh, sorry,” she said.

“Not your fault. I bleed easy.”

“What were you going to show me?”

“Ah, yes. Come over here.” He led her to a door with a round port window like you’d find on an old boat. “Look inside.”

She put her face right up to the glass and cupped her eyes with her hands to keep out the glare. “I can’t see a thing.”

He flipped a toggle switch and the room on the other side of the door lit up. There was a table on a glass floor and on the table were a half dozen or so bins. She couldn’t see inside them, but she did recognize the floppy hat that rested across the top of several bins. “My hat!”

She reached into her bag and grabbed the hat and it disappeared from atop the bins. “Why didn’t I see my hand when I pulled out my hat?” She put the hat on, twirled and smiled, “You like? Say… did you put the hat there when I needed it on that jerk’s yacht?”

He shook his head.

“The knife?”

He shook his head.

“Mind if I go in and look around the inside of my purse?” She opened the door and stuck a leg in before she heard him yell, “No! Wait!”

Customer service

Susannah Fontaine-Williams landed at JFK, ambled quickly through customs, and isn’t the new system great, and saw the man holding her sign, S WILLIAMS. Her driver, Rodrigo, led her to the black car waiting at the curb, held the door open and in she climbed, escaping the sweaty New York City morning.

Walt sat in the back seat behind the driver; though she saw him she didn’t acknowledge him. Let him speak first.

“Home?” Rodrigo said. She nodded to his sunglassed reflection in the rear view mirror. The glass partition began closing and she said, “Let’s drop off your other passenger on Canal first.” He nodded and the partition closed.

Skippable pleasantries:
“Hi Walt,” she exhaled.
“Hello Ms. Fontaine-Williams,” he said. “Good flight?”
“Slept through it.”

On with the story:
She thought for a minute how badly she’d wanted to see Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Declaration of Independence at the New York Public Library. She’d landed on July third, the last day it would be on display, but this post didn’t get written for nearly a week and by now it had returned to from whence it came. “Damn,” she whispered. “My fault,” I whispered back, that voice in her head we all have, only hers is mine.

Walt fidgeted beside her, uncertain where to start. He didn’t like being a passenger in cars. He never knew what to do with his ungainly long arms. The limo had handles above the doors and he grabbed the one on his left allowing his left arm to hang. But the right arm, what to do with the right arm? On the ride to the airport, it spread wing-like over the top of the back seat. Very comfortable. Now, with Susannah next to him an extended arm would drape over her shoulders – and that would require explaining – so he crossed it back in front of him and now held the handle in a two-fisted grip.

SFW reversed her position on who would go first and said, “Walt, it’s very kind of you to come meet me at the airport. Not many people would do that, especially for just a customer.”

“How is the bag working out?” Walt said.

“It has exceeded my every expectation,” Susannah said. “You have no idea how much I crammed in here for my trip.” Despite the ever-present construction,  they soon were entering Manhattan via the Queens-Midtown Tunnel.

“My memory isn’t so good – I wrote it down.” He pulled out a slip of paper.  “Six dresses, two pair of shorts, a few tank tops, a dozen panties and bras, six pair flats, four pair of heels, some gifts which I see you’ve brought back with you. Six skirts, six tops, two dozen…”

“How do you know all that?”

“Hard to explain. Maybe it’s better I show you.”

She turned to look out the window and watched the buildings of Midtown Manhattan roll by. This should be taking much longer. Where’s all the traffic? And she wasn’t sure if it was her voice or mine asking those questions. If he knows the contents of my bag, what else does he know?

“Am I in trouble, Walt?”

“May I see the bag?” he said. She tilted her head slightly and it reminded me of what a golden retriever does sometimes. It’s a quizzical thing. “I just want to check it out. I’ll give it back.” She handed it to him.

He held it up by the handle at eye level, slowly turned it, rubbing its surface and closely eyeing it. “Amazing!”

“What?!?”

“No damage, no signs of wear. It’s held up remarkably well. May I open it?” he said while opening it. He peered into its black interior, shook it, turned it upside down – nothing came out – and put a hand inside and rooted around.

“Anything you want to tell me…about the bag’s performance?” he said. “Anything odd?”

Oh, she thought, like a shoplifted Vera Wang disappearing? Like a hat and a knife conveniently appearing just when I needed them? 

“This bag saved my life.”

The car pulled up to Walt’s place in Chinatown. Walt handed back the bag to her. Rodrigo came around and opened Susannah Fontaine-Williams’ door, and helped her out. She signed the receipt – her show would be billed, or the station would – and handed him a fifty. “Shall I wait for you?” Rodrigo asked.

She looked to Walt for guidance. It must have been a combination of the sweaty air, a growing psychic disorientation, and standing too quickly that made her dizzy and she leaned against the car until the feeling passed.

“We’ll be awhile,” Walt said.