Wednesday, April 20, 2011

black eyes and end times.

Alan had gotten the black eye after he'd mouthed off, half-drunk, to some townie about his choice of beverage.

"Bud Light," he muttered under his breath, just before raising it with a "really original, there, guy."

"What was that?" the man said.

"Is your hearing as bad as your taste?" Alan said, flexing and unflexing his hand into a fist under the bar.

"What's your problem?" the man said, not even standing up from his barstool.

"You and everyone like you," he said, "you get accepted into some out-of-the-way rural school so that they could meet their Asshole quota and so you come here and make the rest of us who built this place on our backs serve you burgers and pour your beer."

So the man knocked Alan out, leaving a swelling ocular cavity and a gin-bitter headache. He went to the health clinic to make sure he didn't have a concussion.

"What'd you do?" the nurse said, staring at his eye without making actual contact, dabbing a cold compress around the dark edges.

"Said something stupid."

"You wouldn't be the first," she said. Alan peered down to see her white nametag, "Betty," slightly crooked against her green scrubs. "But you're fine. I don't think much is damaged but your pride and some blood vessels."

"Can I buy you a beer and talk to you for five minutes?" he said.

She smiled and handed him an ice pack. "No, but my shift is over in about half an hour and I'm meeting some friends for a drink at The Corral, and you could come and try to pick me up there instead of at my place of work."

"Think you guys could go somewhere else?" he asked, scratching behind his ear. "I'm not allowed back there for a week."

"We already made plans. But if you wait outside while we're in there, maybe I'll let you walk me home."

"Deal."

So he went and waited, keeping a close, bruised eye on his watch. An hour and a half from his clinic visit, she left, waving goodbye to the small cluster of women that each climbed into their own cars to go back to their full beds and fireplaces.

"You waited," Betty said.

"I said I would."

"Yeah, well, you probably didn't say that you'd get a black eye this morning, and you went ahead and did that."

"What's wrong with being proactive?" he asked. She laughed and they started walking.

Betty was staying the night at a motel only eight blocks away while her house was being fumigated, but in the twenty minutes or so that it took to take the scenic route there, they managed to talk about everything that mattered:

how Alan grew up wanting to be a concert pianist
how Betty got a full-ride journalism scholarship but chose nursing instead
how Alan's dad was an actor who drank too much
how Betty has two dogs, both named "George," but they don't seem to get confused with each other
how Alan has been six credits from a Bachelors degree for about nine years but is too afraid of failure to go back
how Betty just got accepted into a Masters of Biology program out of state and can't decide
how Alan dreams, every night, that he can fly
how Betty has a tattoo of a cross on her right shoulder so she never forgets her faith

and how Alan would really like to kiss her goodnight
and how Betty smiles and looks at her shoes when she's shy
and how Alan moves in slowly like a watch's minute hand
and how Betty can't stop herself from laughing whenever she's really happy
and how Alan's black eye throws off his depth perception
and how Betty can't stifle the inferno of chuckles that Alan's miss ignite
and how Alan gets it right the second time
and how Betty can stop laughing on a dime.

She'd written her number on a drink receipt, and Alan was careful not to smudge it. His brother had told him to call her that next day—"Do you wait three days to send a thank-you card? Sack up and call her."—so he spent every hour until 8:03 PM to give it a try, but got a wrong number.

"No, this is the number she wrote down," Alan protested to the voice on the other end.
"Well, I'm sorry, still the wrong number."
"But this is what she wrote down," he repeated.
"Sorry. Wrong number. Good luck." Click.
"But this," Alan said to the phone, "this is what she wrote down."

He went back to the motel, but housekeeping was already cleaning her room when he got to it. The front desk clerk wouldn't give him the name of the guest—"I could get fired, and unless you have ten bucks an hour for 39 hours a week, you don't have a better offer"—so he went back to the clinic.

"Sorry," the receptionist said, "you can't see a nurse unless you need medical assistance. Do you need medical assistance?"
"No," Alan said, "I just need to see Betty. She gave me her number last night."
"So why don't you call it?"
"She gave me the wrong number."
"Maybe there's a lesson there."
"Come on, can you just pass on a message?"
"You can come back if you have an issue that requires medical assistance."

Alan stormed out and walked straight back into the bar, but was stopped two steps in.

"I told you not to come back for a few days," the bouncer said. "Until you clear your head."
"Fine," Alan said. "I guess I'll see you back at your mom's house."
"Dude," the bouncer said, "that's the weakest thing I've ever heard."
"That's not what your mom said last night."
"Yeah, that's probably second place. Go home, Alan. Sleep off this angry and come back in a few days and I'll buy your first beer upon your return."
"Whatever."

Alan started walking away before turning back and screaming "AGGIES FOOTBALL SUCKS" before stepping out of the bouncer's jurisdiction.

"You idiot," the bouncer said. "Good luck. I'm staying in here." He held the door open for the five or six drunks that followed Alan outside.

Twenty minutes later, Alan showed up at the clinic again, a second, larger black eye adorning his face like a ring of Saturn. But his depth perception was restored, at least.

"I want to see Betty," he said.

"She's not in, and I can't give you her schedule," the receptionist said. "But someone can see you in about twenty minutes."

"Don't worry about it," Alan said, hunching his shoulders and dragging his feet across the linoleum, out the door, and all the way home.

He checked back every few days, then every few months, and finally just semi-annually, talking back to the steel workers and the bricklayers and the second-string football players and the adjunct faculty members and anyone else he could get a rise out of to the extent that they'd resort to physical violence to put him in his literal and metaphorical place but whenever he went back to the clinic, he'd get checked by the nice old lady or the sweaty Italian guy or the brand-new fresh-faced just-outta-college newbie or the belligerent mother of nine or the recently-divorced former-star athlete.

And no matter how many black eyes he got, he never saw Betty again. He really hoped she was getting that Masters degree.

She wasn't a very good nurse.

1 comment:

martha said...

ahhhh andy. every time. every dog gone time.