Midwife in the Tire Swing

Chapter 32—Lucy has a Close Call

“Gardening in the rain,” Lucy said. In the garden late season phlox refused to die although it was their time. “Those are the Lauras—the short phlox,” Lucy got out between coughing spasms. “Nice purple blooms. I ordered them by mail five years ago.” Brown flops of irises and daylilies lay flat. Tall stalky lettuce gone to seed waited for the first frost. Sarah returned with the escaped walker. “Thank you, daughter. I love it, much as Cat, but I don’t really need it.” Lucy tried to stand and found he couldn’t make it alone. He looked up at the house hoping for any movement of curtain to say that Cat was taking all this in. “If this goddamned rain ever stops I can finish chopping the garden.” Lucy had settled to the ground at the base of the post holding the mailbox. The box had no name on it, no address.

“Don’t tell me, I know,” Lucy rasped past the oxygen mask fitted over his nose. The pure oxygen dried his throat and made the coughing worse when he tried to speak.

The EMTs strapped Lucy to a wheeled stretcher, immobilizing him, his arms bound tightly against his sides, hands and elbows safe inside the rails. A hefty push and the gurney rolled into the far recesses of the ambulance where it collided with a mesh of safety webbing and was pulled up short. Velcro straps saved him from a concussion on the back of the driver’s seat.

“Careful.” Lucy tried to sound stronger than he felt, then thought What the hell, maybe I’ll get some good dope out of this. Lucy coughed and the pain started up anew. The open back hatch allowed billows of diesel exhaust to enter the passenger compartment. “You’re sure I’m gonna make it? They say concussions and gas make for an out-of-body experience. Can I count on that?” This led to more coughing.

Sarah hitched a ride with the EMTs and sat with her father in the back of the ambulance. Damn him. He refused to look frail and old, but this was a close call. The rent-a-nurse eyed his physician’s emergency kit and wondered if there was a ready-filled syringe with Demerol, Darvon, whatever. The old guy didn’t look violent, but you never could tell. He was strapped in. “This may pinch. You’ll feel a little mosquito bite is all.” Lucy felt nothing.

Lucy is hallucinating. He is revisiting the high school study halls where he developed a deadly aim with paperclips and a rubber band. The upside-down umbrellas of the Nouveau ceiling fixtures were a tempting target. Thwang, tiggle tiggle—the spiraling runnel of the croupier’s ball at Monte Carlo. The study hall monitor looks up. “Lucy!” Lucy’s number has been called. “Yes?”

Sarah speaks. “Relax. Let go, Lucy... father. You are having a near-birth experience. Hang on to it; cherish it. This is a practice for the next step in your devolution into a spirit-being. At birth we come into the light and a new life. At death, we go into a tunnel and come out to the light and a new plane of being. Both are a rebirth, a transformation. Some describe leaving the body as a Kundalini experience; our soul travels up through our chakras, thus the dark tunnel.”

“Bullshit, daughter mine. I am as comfortable as a termite in rare old wood. I have discovered an affinity for the interior of this ambulance. The tunnel of love...”

“The carnival ride?”

“The afterbirth experience. There was this show on Public Television... nonononono, my dear daughter. I am joking. And at your expense. Tell the driver...” Here Lucy’s voice grew weak and Sarah leaned close.

“Lucy? Stay with me. This is not the way it was supposed to be. So arbitrary. Tell the driver..?”

“Sorry to mess things up. You had made other plans for my deathbed scene; I understand.” The ambulance had arrived in twelve minutes. “Enhanced 911. It came with the telephone. Made us give the road a name. It never had a name, did you know? The driver, have him crank the siren. Give the lanyard a pull or whatever they do to in these gas-guzzlers to justify buying them. Sure got here fast, though. I’m impressed.”

“Global positioning,” Sarah said. “They had you on satellite. Not yet, Lucy. I’m not ready.”

“Shouldn’t I be saying that?” Wheeze. The wolf smile. “I know—and when you have such complex plans for a first-rate New Age sendoff. Sorry again. I am not indestructible.”

“This time?”

This time I seem to have survived. I am saving myself for you, daughter mine. For the crepe paper special.”

Sarah banged on the glass, “My father.” The EMT held up his doctor’s bag and looked eager. Sarah waved him off and did a pantomime for pulling the whistle of an express train. “No. Not more dope. Just a little noise—some siren, please? To show we care?” She mouthed the words against the steel mesh embedded double safety glass.

Lucy raised his head as far as the restraints allowed. “Yellow soap. Antibacterial soap. In its creases and dried muddy river-bottom crevasses lurk pathogens and microorganisms, the flying seed of crucified cockroaches, of a myriad threatening species.” His eyes held the small-pupiled glaze of prophesy. “Not for you, dear Sarah, not for Cat—but for the innocent dwellers within the septic system. Go ahead: flush your tampons, cigarettes and cocaine, stashes of pills and poultices when the cops come knocking at the door. But spare me my septic flora, please. Let them live. No poison soap!” Lucy’s volume rose to a psychotic howl. The ambulance swerved; the driver looked like a victim-to-be in a zombie movie.

*  *  *

The ambulance pulled under the overhang marked Emergency Vehicles Only. “Willipaq Community—our local cadaver factory,” Lucy croaked as they unbolted his stretcher. Sarah followed him into triage where they waited for an hour to be seen and interviewed. “The long wait either means I’m good enough to get well by myself or else they can’t do anything for me and will leave me parked till I get ripe.” Lucy slipped off the oxygen mask. “Hear my confession, sister.”

“Your... how long has it been since you have made a confession?” This was a thing Catholics did, Sarah was aware. They made confession.

“Oh, nothing like extirpating Archie Drye. A confession, you know. It would be a comfort is all. Someone to talk to, tell things—a whore, a priest, a bartender.”

“A captive audience.”

“Pick a priest. Ed would give you a ride. Me too, but I’d have to take a cab. Or Betty Next-door can take me. And for your confession I recommend the Dominicans; they are zealous rooters-out of fornication. You should have thought of this when you jumped in the ambulance, daughter.”

“Betty Next-door, Bee Willoughby. Bee Willoughby is dead. She was shot by some blind man out in the woods.”

“I heard that. That he has outlived another beautiful woman weighs heavily on your father.”

“I doubt it.”

“Ah, doubt—religion’s countervailing force and that which anchors us in realty. Hear my confession, Sarah. Extreme unction. Well, some unction, a willing ear is all. And you are stuck with me. The strictures of ritual—the Dominicans are adamant about that. They get you when you are young, a child, and warp you forever. I haven’t darkened the door of a church since Cat and I were married.”

“My not-mother.”

“My bride, then—me, your father. Begats begetting in reverse. You will get used to these things. This is New England and we hide our peccadilloes. The Dogs of God. That’s what the Dominicans called themselves. May still for all I know. Because of their collars.” Lucy drew up phlegm in deep rasping rattles. He spat on the floor and placed the oxygen mask back over his nose.

“You are my father. What about my mother?”

“Alicia? I loved her enough, but not too much and not all the time.” His voice through the mask was as thin and distant as a bad telephone connection.

*  *  *

In the house, Cat was pulling soggy Kraft paper apart to discover the contents of Sarah’s package; it was books she was sure. The latest Mavis Gilroy romance novel. Cat so loved the Mavis Gilroys; they were a series. Inside was a card, Edward Hobart, United States Dept. of Agriculture Cooperative Extension. Pamphlets scattered across the floral carpet and bumped against acanthus leaf linoleum which in its turn bumped against sun-faded arsenic-green wallpaper. Alternatives to Insecticides for Managing Vegetable Insects, Cranberry Production in Maine, Cabbage Maggots, Earwigs. The wallpaper had matched the linoleum when Cat ordered it from Sears.

Cat picked up the pamphlet. “Earwigs are noted for the damage they do to flowers, other ornamentals and vegetables,” she read. And wallpaper. Cat had noticed earwigs ate the wallpaper and died. Strange.

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