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something from the archives: another sunset - part 1

and hem michael came into the frame....




Part 1


The smell of disinfectant on linoleum is unique to hospitals. It is never comforting and becomes an association that will always recall feelings of anguish and terror.

Alex Parker never knew how much he hated hospitals until he spent what felt like years in one. Actually, it had only been seventy-two hours, but two days and a half in a hospital would feel like eternity to anyone. The smell was what hit him the worst. He could almost taste the industrial strength cleaners burning in his throat like the bile that rose when he had gone to the morgue to identify his parents’ cadavers.

Alex had always been close to Liz. He loved his sister unconditionally, but now she was all he had. He spent the days by her bedside, willing her to get batter. He wanted her to open her eyes and awaken from the coma. He understood her inclination for oblivion. He wouldn’t mind a bit of it himself. Dealing with funeral arrangements and wills and other grown-up stuff was more than he could take. Most of all, he wanted to stop feeling so alone.

Most of all, he wanted his sister to wake up.

*****

Maria, Max, Isabel and Kyle sat in silent vigil for their friends. This measure of tragedy was beyond their scope of knowledge and more than not knowing what to do; they didn’t know what to say. So they sat in a strained quietude, hoping that someone would come in and say: ‘hey this is all a nightmare, wake up and you’ll see that the world around you is just as it’s always been.’ But that wasn’t happening. Not anytime soon.

*****

Michael Guerin was an orderly. He’d been working as one for almost a year, and he hated it. Working with the patients wasn’t bad. Even the doctors were pretty decent. After a while you even got used to the smell of hospital. What Michael hated was the suffering. He hated being a witness to people’s lives falling to pieces. Death, chaos, destruction wasn’t nearly as interesting as it sounded.

He knew why he hadn’t quit though. He was helping people. And that affected him like nothing else did. He wanted to make everything okay for these strangers who’d lost everything normal in their lives. He was even thinking of applying to med school once this semester was over. Although God knew the guys would never leave him alone if they found out he was studying to be a doctor.

Michael went by the nurse’s station to pick up his latest instructions; they needed him to mop the ICU. No patients for him today. All the orderlies knew that ICU meant boring. At least in other sections they could actually help the patients. Michael loved the pediatric ward. While he hated the fact that the children were sick, watching them handle their illness was a testament of strength and courage. Besides it meant that he could play with them for a bit, the kids made his job seem a lot less like work.

He walked by a group of somber teenagers. Mopping the floor as he went along.

"Michael?" One of them called out as he passed.

Michael recognized that voice, "Kyle?"

"Yeah. What are you doing here? I haven't seen you in forever."

Michael shrugged, "Me? I work here. What’s going on? You look like you’re at a funeral."

"Yeah, I know. You remember Alex Parker right?"

"He’s with you at Westmore?"

"Right. He’s Maria’s boyfriend."

"Oh yeah, I know him."

"Well, his sister was in an accident that killed his parents. Some drunk rammed them right over the side of the road, into a deep gulch. Right now she’s in a coma."

"Whoa. That sucks." Michael looked around as if remembering this wasn't the time for a catch up session with an old friend. "Crap. I have to go. My boss’ll kill me if I don’t get this mopping done. Tell him I’m sorry. Or whatever it is you say in a situation like this. I’ve been working here for a year and I still don’t know."

"Yeah man, no problem. I’ll see you later. And I’ll tell him. Hell, I’m still not sure what I’m supposed to say."

Michael walked away. Hospitals sucked more when you knew something about the people who were stuck in them. Not that he knew Alex all that well. But he knew of him.

He’d known Kyle for years; they’d attended Millford Academy together. They’d played on the same football team. When they’d graduated Kyle had gone to Westmore College and he’d gone to Garwood so they played on opposing teams. But they remained friends, and he had gotten to know Alex as a pretty cool guy. It sucked that some fucked up drunk had killed his family.

Michael was suddenly reminded of Hank, his father, and thought to himself that thank God Hank had killed his drunk ass by driving off a cliff, he’d feel terrible knowing that his father had killed someone by stupidity.

*****

"Who was that, Kyle?" Alex asked.

"My friend Michael from high school. He’s at Garwood, so now he plays there. You remember him ‘Ria."

Rolling her eyes, Maria confirmed, "Yeah. I used to have the hugest crush on him. Thank God he never paid attention to me, I like Alex a lot better."

Kyle gave his stepsister a look. She was crazy. And why was she thinking about that now anyway?

Maria shrugged. It had been true. Before Kyle had brought home Alex, the love of her life had been Michael Guerin. Not that he knew that. But still.

The group quieted once more. Not one of them wanted to leave. Fearing that they would miss some important event by staying away. But the waiting room was dreary. Everyone else seemed so busy. As if they had some purpose. And they probably did. Saving someone else’s life. But they were only concerned for Liz. It was her life that mattered to them now, because it was her life that was in danger.

*****

Alex walked out of small room the staff had set up for Liz. He was tired of hearing the machines beep along with her heart rhythm. At least she was breathing on her own, hearing a ventilator whoosh the air in and out of her lungs would have been less than encouraging.

He walked straight into Maria’s arms. Holding onto her for all that he was worth. He could hear her heart beat just a little bit faster for him, and he was comforted. She was the one thing he was sure of.

"How’s she doing, sweetie?" she asked.

Alex shrugged, "The same I guess. She’s breathing. But she’s pale and fragile. I’m so afraid to touch her. I’m afraid she might break. She looks so small lying in the hospital bed, swathed in white bandages. But she’s breathing. The doctors say that’s a good thing, that she’s taking her time in waking because her body needs to take the time to repair itself."

"That’s good news right?" Max's voice piped up from the edge of the room.

Alex looked at him. Liz’s boyfriend. He’d been so torn up about what this was doing to him he hadn’t really thought about the others. About how they were feeling.

Nodding he said, "Yeah. It’s good. But all I want is for my little sister to sit up and yell at me to stop staring at her. ‘Cause you know she hates that."

Max smiled slightly. It didn’t really reach his eyes. Worry for Liz, the love of his life, showed in his every gesture.

*****

Max remembered receiving Maria’s call. He couldn’t believe the words she spoke. Not Liz. Not hurt. Not when they were in the middle of an argument. He hated that she was mad at him. He hated that if something worse happened he would never have the chance to say I’m sorry.

Max had knocked on Isabel’s door and told her what was going on. After that all he remembered was being at the hospital. In the waiting room. Waiting for the doctor’s to give them her prognosis. Waiting for Liz to awaken from the place her mind had escaped to while all this was happening. Max was sick of waiting. He wanted Liz to be safe. To be alive and in his arms.

*****

The waiting room is always an uncomfortable place. You can’t speak. You can only whisper, and even then it feels wrong. Laughter is prohibited. And sobs are frowned upon. You can ,of course, catch up on your reading. It’s always a good idea to bring more than one book too. Because in a waiting room you’re in it for the long haul.

The tiny hospital room wasn’t a better place. The blips and beeps of the monitors were distracting. In fact, only a person in a coma could manage to get some rest. The constant flow of nurses, stopping in every hour or so. The doctors that would check in every three. They did their jobs, without focusing too much on the patient, even less so on the patient’s family. They looked at the machines and at the charts. They’d jot down numbers and read and write instructions.

It was past midnight. The staff was at a minimum when Liz fluttered her eyelids and spoke.

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