Skywriting at Night

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Chapter 34

      That night after dinner, Jackson Robert gathered up nearly every box, can, and bottle of cleaner that was stored under the kitchen sink and started in on the bathroom, scrubbing the tub, polishing the mirror, wiping off the toilet, and cleaning the sink. As he looked up he noticed that the once white grout between the light blue tiles with the cornflower pattern was now a dingy speckled gray. Taking his toothbrush from the porcelain holder over the basin, he began scrubbing the lines of grout, beginning at the doorway and working his way around the bathroom. Carefully working from left to right, he meticulously cleaned the top line of grout, then dropped down to the next line and worked his way from right to left, dropping down line by line until he finally reached the floor. He then began scrubbing the rightmost vertical line of grout, working his way from top to bottom, then shifting to the next line on the right. When he completed one wall he began the next, scrubbing it according to the same pattern until, three hours later, all four walls were finished, shinier than when they were new. Then he took his toothbrush and cleaned the kitchen. Then the fireplace, every bit of brass and silver he could find in the house, and each picture frame. At six-thirty the next morning, far from finished but too tired to continue, Jackson Robert went to bed.

     Erta spent the evening at the 1st Church of St. Charles of the Ritz, diving head first into the new religion as she was wont to do. Under the guidance of Dr. Hans Leifsen, who was so flattered by Erta's immediate and total immersion into his burgeoning sect that he devoted the entire time to ministering to her needs, she had her hair cut, permed, and set at Delilah's Beauty Salon; had her first ever manicure, pedicure, and make-over while the perm was setting; had her first workout in the David and Goliath Exercise Club using her new customized exercise plan; and had photographs taken of her face from every conceivable angle so Dr. Hans' brother—who unfortunately was in Las Vegas at a meeting of the Academy of Restorative Surgeons—could give Erta his recommendations.

     When she finally arrived home at 1:45 am, Jackson Robert didn't even recognize her, looking up from scrubbing the brick hearth with his toothbrush just long enough to say, "Erta isn't home yet, but if you'd like to wait in the kitchen I'm sure she'll be back soon."

     * * * * * *

     When it finally became obvious to them that they were on their own for dinner, Jet and Job decided to do the only reasonable thing: have a pizza delivered.

     "You gotta be kidding," the man on the other end of the phone spit out when Job told him the address. "How many times do you think we're gonna fall for this shit, sending drivers there when they didn't order a pie? Look, buddy, you're on our shit list now, and in case you don't understand, that means you ain't gonna get shit." He slammed down the phone.

     They tried all three pizza shops that deliver and couldn't find one that would come to their address. It’s true that what goes around, comes around. Except delivery boys. Actually, there was a fourth pizza place, but both Jet and Job agreed—for one of the few times in their lives—that Super Saucers pizza was by far the worst in town, so bad in fact that they'd rather go hungry than eat the junk.

     "So much for pizza," Jet said matter-of-factly.

     "Oh, like it's my fault or something," Job said, acting defensive so he could immediately grab the offensive.

     "No, it's my fault you called every pizza joint in town and had them deliver pizzas here when no one was home," Jet said.

     "I didn't call every one."

     "Every edible one."

     "But it was a joke," Job said in his defensive. "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."

     "Yeah, and fuck us if we starve to death while we wait for a new pizza place to open."

     "I can't believe you act like it's all my fault!"

     "The truth hurts, doesn’t it?" Jet said.

     "So does this," Job snapped back as he thrust his hands into his brother's chest, shoving him hard. Jet fell over backwards, his left knee collapsing inward as his weight crushed his leg underneath him. A loud crack reverberated through the room as he hit the floor, his left leg cocked at an obtuse angle beneath him.

     Job jumped back, his eyes opening wide.

     "You okay?" he asked.

     Jet looked at his brother, his face not showing any sign of pain. "Come here," he said quietly.


     "Just come here."

     Job apprehensively crept the three steps to his brother, who gently patted the floor, motioning for him to kneel beside him.

     "Come closer," Jet said, his voice barely above a whisper.

     Job slid over, looking worried as he saw his brother's leg jutting from beneath him at a very unnatural angle. Jet leaned towards his brother and looked in his eyes.

     "You know, you really are going to have to learn to face life's frustrations," he said with a sigh. "Now call a fuckin' ambulance."

     * * * * * *

     Jackson Robert was in the bathroom scrubbing the shower head with the toothbrush, a look of such intense concentration and absorption that Job knew better than to even talk to him. Erta was at the 1st Church of St. Charles of the Ritz having her hair spooled around perm rollers which she hoped would lead her down the path to salvation. Yes, the boys were on their own.

     "None of the cab companies will come here," Job told his brother as he rushed into the room.

     "I thought I told you to call an ambulance."

     "They’re too noisy. Everyone would know what I did."

     "Like they’ll never figure it out when they ask me why my leg is in a cast tomorrow. And why can’t you get a cab?" Jet asked, knowing the answer but wanting to hear it come from his brother’s mouth.

     "They said every time they come here it’s a prank and...quit looking at me like that, it’s not like I did this on purpose or anything."

     Jet took a deep breath and thought for a moment.

     "Get the guys," he finally said. "Tell them God wrote me a letter and said they have to help get me to the emergency room. Then get a wide board, something big enough to carry me on."


     "Just go," Jet said. "Now."

     * * * * * *

     It was quite an unusual parade walking down Broad Street. Job, Timmy, Ralph and Bobby were holding a wooden door on their shoulders, each person at a corner. Sitting on top of this litter with his legs straight out in front of him holding onto the doorknob was Jet, a proud adolescent Cleopatra sailing down an asphalt Nile. Cars rode by, drivers and passengers craning their necks to see the display as it made its way to the hospital, Jet waving a parade wave that would make any beauty queen proud, his hand raised at a perfect 45 degree angle, his open palm pivoting just slightly. They solemnly made their way toward the hospital, no one saying a word except for the occasional "Shut the fuck up" whenever Job started to protest.

     As the processional approached the emergency room doors of Retreat for the Sick Jet lay down flat; he already had a broken leg, there was no sense compounding it with a concussion from smashing his head on the door frame. The automatic doors swung open, nurses and doctors and patients stopping what they were doing to look at what appeared to be four young boys carrying a door into the hospital.

     The boys stopped. Jet sat up, looking straight ahead.

     "Let the games begin," he announced with a wave of his arm.

     The emergency room staff swung into action as the boys lowered the litter to the floor, nurses and orderlies and doctors circling Jet like hungry dogs to hamburger. Within minutes he was on a gurney in Room No. 3 with white drapes pulled around him and a nine month-old copy of Family Circle in his hands. And there he sat. And sat. His father didn’t answer the phone. His mother was having her first manicure, which was a religious experience in more ways than one. And the only other close relatives who could authorize treatment were Aunt Doris and Uncle Jello, who were at that moment sedated and resting in Rooms 203 and 427 of the hospital due to the car accident they had on the way home from the tent meeting, but of course Jet had no way of knowing that.

     "We also need to know your hospitalization group policy number," a woman told Jet as she peered at him over the top of her glasses.

     "Try fourteen," he replied.

     "You can play all the little games you want, young man, but I either need your hospitalization group policy number or a credit card before we can do anything to help you," she said. Jet had a feeling the last game she’d played was Candyland and she’d probably lost badly and still hadn’t gotten over it. "That’s how we get paid, you know."

     After she left, it was as if everyone forgot Jet was there. He looked through the copy of Family Circle—not the most interesting reading for a twelve year-old, counted the holes in the acoustical tile ceiling, built a tabletop fort with the tongue depressors, and blew up three rubber gloves and milked them as if they were cow udders. Jet was truly, completely, and unsurprisingly 100% bored. He rang the buzzer to get the nurse.

     "I have to go to the bathroom," he told her.

     "I’ll get you a bedpan," she said as she turned to leave.

     "I can go to the bathroom," Jet quickly replied, not being quite sure what you did with a bedpan but feeling very certain he didn’t want to learn right now.

     "I don’t want you moving that leg. The doctor hasn’t looked at it yet and you don’t want to make it any worse."

     "I’ll take my chances," Jet said.

     The nurse returned with a splint and a wheelchair. After strapping the splint to Jet’s leg with elastic bandages, she helped him get down from the gurney and sit in the chair, his broken leg sticking straight out, held up by a leg support on the chair.

     "This seat’s uncomfortable," Jet told the nurse. "Do you have one with a solid seat?"

     "It’s cut out so you can go to the bathroom without having to get out of the chair," she said. "You roll back over the toilet and your stuff. Then buzz us when you’re done and someone will help you get back into bed. I don’t want you doing it by yourself, okay?"

     Jet rolled the wheelchair down the hall. Hey, this was okay! He rolled from one end of the hall all the way to the other. Then he went down one of the wings towards the radiology rooms and pushed the large wheels harder and harder, getting up as much speed as possible before yanking on the handbrake and swerving sideways, coming within inches of slamming his splinted leg into the water fountain.

     He went back to the center lobby and checked out the layout; he couldn’t very well leave one wing unexplored, now could he? He rolled down the last hallway, taking it at a nice clip. He stopped in front of an unmarked door and tried to open it. It was locked. He rolled to the next unmarked door and tried it. It was locked too. He wheeled himself to the third door and looked at the engraved plastic sign: Supply Room 14. He pulled on the handle. It opened. Looking up and down the hall he saw there was no one in sight so he did the only thing he knew to do—he entered the room.

     It was dark, but not pitch black, for there was a combination of moonlight and street light coming through the two windows. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he could make out his surroundings. There were steel shelves filled with office supplies—pens, legal pads, rubber bands and paper clips. On two metal rolling carts in the corner were fifteen cardboard boxes about nine inches by twelve inches and eighteen inches high. Each box was marked on the side:

Universal Medical Claim Form
SKU # 146-408418
Carbonless 4-Part

     "I either need your hospitalization group policy number or a credit card before we can do anything to help you," Jet remembered the woman telling him as she peered down her nose at him, making him wait to get his leg fixed. "That’s how we get paid, you know."

     Jet looked at the boxes of medical claim forms piled on carts he knew he could push down the hall while in the wheelchair and smiled. This was perfect. After all, he’d already been starting to get that sinking feeling that life was about to get a little too quiet for his taste. And besides, it was something to do.


     —The End—

Chapter:  1   2    3   4   5   6   7   8    9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18
                 19   20    21   22   23   24   25   26   27   28   29   30   31   32   33   34  

  Skywriting at Night - a novel by Mad Dog

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