BY BLAZE ARCHER I wake up. I am lying on the floor. The carpet is a soft white yet it feels rough on my cheek. I try to sit up, but my limbs are weights and I fall back down again. I lie still and breathe in the recently shampooed carpet. The chemicals make me feel like my head is full of clouds. Even though I am on the floor, I feel like I am plummeting to Earth like a stone. Getting to my knees, I crawl toward my coat and pull out my cell phone before collapsing back on the floor. I scroll through my contacts. Lisa, likes hot wax. Brian, likes whippings. Stan, likes cock and ball torture. Feeling weak, I alight on a name. Dr. Prost.
Putting the phone on speaker, I dial the number and collapse again. The phone rings and rings into oblivion before Dr. Prost picks up. He sounds fuzzy with sleep, and breathes heavily into the receiver. “Hello,” he says. “Leif? What’s going on?”
I struggle to talk, but no words come out. I try to take a breath, but my lungs are weak. Panting into the phone, I flail for words like they are passing targets at a carnival shooting gallery, only I keep missing the shot. Dr. Prost is silent for a minute before muttering, “I’ll be right there.” He hangs up.
I continue to lie on the floor. The carpet is quickly becoming my enemy, but I can’t move. The fibers are making my lungs itch. Breathing in the carpet shampoo, I become light headed, and the carpet becomes a big cloud before my eyes. Twenty minutes passes before there is a knock at the door. I can’t get up, but continue to breathe into the carpet. The doorknob is tried, and the door is shoved open.
I can tell Dr. Prost is walking toward me because he has a very heavy stride. Every step he takes sounds like a banging of a judge’s gavel. He walks across the carpet and stops before me. All I can see are his shoes, which are beat up sneakers with run down laces with the tips missing.
“Christ, Leif, what happened?” he said. I struggle to talk, but my tongue feels like its inflated and is clogging all sound from reaching the air.
Dr. Prost kneels down, so that I can see his face. It is creased and tired, with a five o’clock shadow. He is wearing a sweatshirt and jeans with a hole in the knee. The sweatshirt appears to be from a department store like Target. Dr. Prost clutches my wrist and looks at his watch, calculating my pulse. From somewhere, Dr. Prost produces a stethoscope. Carefully rolling me over, he listens to my heartbeat. The stethoscope is cool on my bare chest. I am not wearing underwear.
“I’m calling an ambulance,” Dr. Prost says. “Is that your phone?”
I can’t nod, and so Dr. Prost picks it up anyway and dials 911. The call is brief, and soon he has hung up.
“I’m coming with you,” he says. “You didn’t take something did you?”
Dr. Prost is still kneeling on the floor beside me.
“What the Hell is that picture?” he says, glancing at an abstract photograph of a woman’s vulva on the wall. “Is that…? Huh. Kinda makes me want to be celibate, Leif.” I do not say anything, though at this point I think I can speak.
“This is a nice place you’ve got here,” Dr. Prost says. “A little too neat for my taste. It kind of reminds me of a museum in here.” There is silence as Dr. Prost looks around the living room.
“They should be here soon,” Dr. Prost says. “Do you have any family you want me to call?” Feebly I shake my head.
There is a knock at the door. Dr. Prost gets up and opens it, and two EMTs come in wheeling a gurney.
“I found him like this,” Dr. Prost says. “He’s having a tachycardia episode.”
The two EMTs lift me up and strap me into the gurney. Dr. Prost follows us as I am wheeled quickly down the hall. I gaze up at the ceiling, the pain in my chest making me soar into the whiteness of the walls.
We go down in the elevator. I feel like I am falling. The EMTs wheel me into the cold night air. All I am in is my robe, and I shiver.
I hear the EMTs open the doors of the ambulance, and I am wheeled in. Dr. Prost follows. There is a slap of a door, and the ambulance starts moving. The sirens begin to wail.
In the small back of the ambulance, Dr. Prost is close enough to me that I can tell his skin is warm, and this comforts me.
“We’re going to figure this out,” Dr. Prost assures me. “I’ll make sure of that.”
Suddenly I feel warm. A faint flush to my cheeks. I immediately begin to panic.
The EMT is administering an anti-arrhythmic medication. My heart is crushing me, but somehow Dr. Prost’s presence is making me calm and yet unsettled—as if I am a cobra being lulled to sleep by a snake charmer’s flute. His hands are large and covered in hair. They are close by me, and I wonder why he is wearing a ring but has never mentioned a wife.
The ambulance stops. A pause, and then the doors are opened, and I am wheeled into the ER where I work. The hospital is cold. I am wheeled into a white room and a doctor is walking in.
“Heart rate still elevated,” the EMT says. “Not responding to medication.”
They are going to get the defibrillator. I wait in agony.
“We’re going to figure this out, Leif.” Dr. Prost says again. “Don’t worry, I’m going to make sure of that.”
The doctor is rubbing the paddles together. The shock of electricity. My body shudders and jumps like a salmon running upstream. The beat of my heart on the monitor relaxes, and everyone exhales.
“Get an EKG,” the doctor says. His name is Dr. Robert, and I am reminded of The Beatles song whenever I see him. The doctor and the nurses disperse. Dr. Prost sits in a chair by my bed.
“Well…” he says. “Try not to be a doctor right now. You’re going to be okay.”
“I…” my throat clamps shut. “I think I’m going to die.”
“You’re not going to die,” Dr. Prost says. “Come on—did you take something?”
“No,” I say. “Dr. Prost…”
“Christ, call me Liam,” Dr. Prost says. “What is this ‘Dr. Prost’ all the time?”
“Dr. Prost…” I say. “If I die, don’t tell my family.”
“You’re going to be okay,” Dr. Prost says. “We’re going to figure this out. What were you doing when this happened?”
“Nothing,” I say, quickly. “I just…I just…”
“What?” Dr. Prost says.
“Just…please don’t leave me,” I say. I begin to cry.
The nurses hooked Leif up to a heart monitor, and drew many vials of blood for a complete blood panel. The nurses, who all seemed to know Dr. Prost, procured for him a People magazine and a cup of coffee. It was three o’clock in the morning, and Leif had not eaten a meal since yesterday. His stomach had become a small, coiled ball, and with each pain of hunger, the ball coiled tighter, till by now it was a solid mass. To Leif, this solid mass was comforting, and he continually fingered it with his mind to make sure it was still there.
Dr. Prost was reading his magazine and sipping his black coffee. The nurses all knew he liked it cheap, naked, and scalding. Leif was staring at his heart’s activity on the monitor. He had never been a patient in an ER before tonight.
“Should a doctor really be doing that?” Dr. Prost said. Leif did not turn his head. “I mean, shouldn’t you be trying to relax? You know for a fact you’re going to be here overnight.” Leif was silent, and continued to monitor his heart rate with grim insistence on his face.
“Look, I’m willing to sit here with you, but in all honesty I’m a little confused, considering you’ve always looked at me like I was some sort of appalling sculpture in an avant garde art gallery. I mean, come on I’m a Harvard graduate, I’m not dense.”
“You went to Harvard?” Leif muttered.
“Why are people always surprised when I say that?”
“I’m not, just…I’ve never heard you say a nice thing about that university. Or, come to think of it, any university.”
“To do what I want to do, I must sacrifice my principles.”
At that moment, Dr. Robert walked in. He was carrying a bemused expression he was unsuccessfully trying to hide, the wrinkles round his mouth winking between the folds of his skin. “I got your lab results, Dr. Cole,” he said. He paused, as if he were trying to stabilize himself on an unsteady balance beam. “I imagine you…I imagine you know what I found.”
Leif continued to watch the heart monitor.
“Dr. Prost, would you mind stepping out please?”
Setting aside his magazine, Dr. Prost got up. “I think you need to show a little courage, Steve” he muttered into Dr. Robert’s ear before stepping outside the curtain. Leif was silent.
“We…we found opiates in your system,” Dr. Robert said when Dr. Prost had gone. “I’m honestly in awe of how you’re managing to work, considering…considering your blood work results.”
Dr. Robert sat in the chair Dr. Prost had left. “Leif,” he said, “if you continue doing whatever it is you’re doing…this isn’t going to end well. You’re going to die.”
Leif shivered and turned away from the heart monitor. Suddenly, the image of the incoming subway train appeared before his eyes. The light was a bright, searing light, and it stung.
“I’m going to have the psychiatrist come in and talk to you,” Dr. Robert said. “I suggest you take whatever hand is offered to you.”
In the hallway, Dr. Prost was searching for his cigarettes, which he had forgotten to pick up when he left his apartment. Turning out each pocket he left behind a small junkyard of keys, chewing gum wrappers, dollar bills, and used up pens at the nurse’s station desk. Dr. Robert carefully avoided looking at this, and said, “Are you friends with Dr. Cole?”
“Not really,” Dr. Prost muttered, still fruitlessly searching for his cigarettes. “I honestly think I’m here because he has no friends. Either that, or I’m really missing something, considering how well we don’t get along.”
“Well…keep an eye on him anyway, will you?” Dr. Robert said. “You’ve always struck me as someone who’s willing to have the awkward conversation.”
“Is that a compliment?”
“It’s a…neutral statement,” Dr. Robert said carefully. “What is it that you’re looking for?” he added.
“I think I forgot my cigarettes,” Dr. Prost muttered.
“How can you be a doctor and smoke?”
“Obviously Harvard didn’t teach me much.”
“I…highly doubt that,” Dr. Robert said under his breath. “Just keep an eye on him. I’m worried he’s going to check himself out.”
“He’s an adult, what can I really do here?” Dr. Prost said. “It’s not like he particularly values my opinion.”
“Well…you’re here, aren’t you?” Dr. Robert said. “There must be a reason he called you.”
Dr. Prost began stuffing his pockets back up with the various odds and ends of his life. “Yeah, well, I wouldn’t say I’m the best person for this,” he said. “In case you haven’t noticed, I can’t keep my mouth shut.”
“I think you have some choice over that, Liam,” Dr. Robert sighed.
Within the white walls there was a dead space. In this dead space there was no blackness, just a duller whiteness, like a scar. Within this scar there was no sound, and no wind, just an inhalation of breath. I am inside this dead space, and the steel doors have been locked from the outside. In this dead space I am just skin, without a mind, without a heart. The skin is cold like a marble statue is cold. The dead space has hands, and they chip away at the statue to form something perfect. In this perfection there is no pulse, just geometric planes and angles. The curve of a knee. The angle of a jawline. The indent of an eye socket.
The magazine abandoned on the chair was open to an article on Laverne Cox, a transsexual actress. She was smiling, her grin seemed to swell from the tips of her fingers into her lips. A flush of makeup. A curve of the hip.
What was it like to inhabit a body?
The door opened, and Dr. Prost walked in carrying his cup of coffee. His face was crumpled like a wet load of laundry. He sat down in the chair, not picking up the magazine, but staring into these two gray eyes. His eyes were a deep brown color with flecks of gold round the ring, as if someone had spray painted a brick wall with gold paint. There was something about a brick wall to his face—a large, solid nose, and blunt lips. The hair atop his head was of an unruly curl that he clearly did nothing to manage. On his left earlobe there was a piercing, a small gold ring. This went well with the gold ring on his left ring finger.
“Um…” Dr. Prost swept his thick fingers through his hair, upsetting the web and breaking its delicate pattern. “Why did you call me?”
Hurry up please, it’s time.
The heart being tracked on the monitor began to flit wildly.
“All right, forget I asked,” Dr. Prost said. “Is there anything you want me to do? I can read you this magazine, if you want.”
“I…” the word was a faint unfurling of ribbon, a cat’s cradle webbed between the small hands of a boy. His hands were light and porcelain, with a faint flush of pink around the nails. His bare shoulders were beneath a yellow shirt free of stains and newly dried on a clothesline. His mother was by his side, playing the game with him. The little boy was not smiling, but concentrating very hard on playing the game the right way, while his mother was trying to get him to laugh by making dumb mistakes. Each time his mother made a mistake, the little boy would sigh and start the game up again. His small face was not pinched, but sad, drooping like a flower suddenly in the shade. His mother did not seem to notice this, but continued with her teasing. And the little boy would not stop restarting the game.
“I…I need to dictate to you my will.”
Dr. Prost did not speak. He set his magazine aside on the bed, and pulled out a small notebook and working pen from his pocket. “Okay, I’m ready,” he said.
“I, Leif William Cole, declare this to me my last will and testament. I bequeath my estate to Mary and Daniel Winter. I want them to direct my funeral as they see fit. I have bought a plot beside that of Richard Winter, and want my remains to be buried at St. Mary’s First Methodist Church. I bequeath my body to the University of Pennsylvania to be used as they see fit. I want my computer and phone to be destroyed…there, I’ll sign it.”
Dr. Prost passed over the notebook and pen. A hand grasped the pen. The hand was as thin and brittle as birds’ wings. The signature on the paper was shaky and crooked, but the name “Leif William Cole” could still be made out. In contrast, Dr. Prost’s handwriting was as regimented and clear as a military command.
Dr. Prost took the notebook and put it back in his pocket. “We have that in common, I guess,” Dr. Prost murmured, touching his ring.
I am silent. Dr. Prost has picked up his magazine again. The clock on the wall inches its way toward four.
The room is silent.
I begin to panic.
PREVIOUSLY: Part 1
PREVIOUSLY: Part 2