“How about you fluffin’ muah pillah, sugah?” Those were the first words out of Drudd Hennessey’s mouth when he saw the nurse. She was the most beautiful sight he had ever seen, next to his last ex, may she rot in Hell and die a horrible death forever afterwards. Long legs, face like eye candy, very skinny. Most nurses were very fat, or bigboned, his Grandaddy liked to call it.
The other thing-the second thing-Drudd Hennessey saw when he woke up from a coma were the bars of his hospital bed. He blinked again. The soft murmuring of nurses in the background, the soothing sound of someone who would care for him. He didn’t know her name, only he liked to call her sugah. He didn’t even know she was a nurse. He thought he was dead, or married, whatever came first. Time slowly ticked by. Maybe she was his wife. He continued to grin at her. She was very beautiful. The nurses thought he was stupid or high. The doctor gave him a drug test while he was asleep, and hadn’t alerted the nurses. Before the car accident he was relatively normal. The sound of cars rushed by on the street. The mood was calm. Everything was in place on this cold, cool morning.
The nurse left for a few hours; and returned, carrying a bed pan. “Go to the bathroom,” she ordered, her voice crisp like October wind. She didn’t make a sound. Why not pick up someone while he was in a hospital bed. “Well,” he said. “How you doin?” He smiled surreptitiously. Was it his imagination, or did she roll her eyes in his general direction? She liked him, he knew it.
“You’re a very lucky man, sir,” she told him. “You were going to die. Do you remember anything? We put a tube in your throat.” She chuckled. He didn’t think it was funny. Not funny at all.
He grinned at her, admiring her long legs. He was having trouble focusing. She just gave him meds. Maybe that was it. “How about you fluffin’ me pillah, sugah?” he asked again, in a smooth, New Orleans drawl.
She chuckled. “How about I hit you over the head with a bat?” she suggested.
He ducked his head. “It’ll be worth it, ma’m,” he whispered. A tear trickled down his cheek. He didn’t brush it away. The conversation was getting interesting.
She tsked. “You got pain in your back again, I see,” she said, cocking her head to look at him. “You taked out your back in the car accident. We will put a tube down your throat again, you keep talkin’ like that to me.” She chuckled, trying to make up for the empty threat. She didn’t mean it. Actually, she liked the man, he was very sweet and brave, didn’t wake up at all through the brain surgery. It was a funny thing. The heart monitor went off for one second, went back on again. She had to get him to remember some things about the accident. Some thing they could use. There was the other couple, the ones who caused the wreck-they were in the local jail, the husband was threatening to kill Drudd, but they didn’t know his name. She wondered if they understood what was going on, that criminal charges were being pressed against him.
“When do I get out?” he asked.
“First, tell me what your name is.”
He scrunched his face, trying to remember. He couldn’t concentrate on anything,
especially not the words that poured from her lips like wine over water. “John,” he said at last. “John, Berry.” He smiled triumphantly.
“We found your driver’s license,” she said in a clipped, disapproving tone. “That’s not what it says on your driver’s license. We are sorry, but we have to take precautions. Those are hospital rules, son.”
Son. The words popped in his mind. They hurt, the pain was bright and it was hard to see. He grasped his sides. He was in love. With her, or with pain, he didn’t know. The pain in his back was enormous. He didn’t say anything. She was in it for the money, that was it, the little bitch. “I don’t know,” he gasped. His eyes watered. “Are you happy, you…you stupid old witch?” He was off-base. She wasn’t really old, just skinny, and tall, and had an attitude problem. Where was his damn wallet? Jesus H. Christ, he had rights, didn’t he? He needed to call his parents. Or his lawyer. He wanted his damn wallet. He wanted to get out of here. This damnable place.
“Tell me your name, and you may leave,” she replied.
He thought quickly. He couldn’t remember anything. His mind was a blank wall, full of old flowers. “Mick,” he replied at last. “Mick Smith.” He smiled triumphantly. He hoped it suited her. Not much suited her, from what he saw.
“Tell me, other things,” she urged.
“My parents real names are Sarah and Jean. My mother’s maiden name is Watson.” He smiled. “She likes daisies.”
She frowned, and scribbled something on her damn clipboard. She left the room. The surgeon came back, sometime later, murmured something to the nurse, but he was asleep.
The surgeon’s name was Roger Johnson and he didn’t understand what the man’s problem was. They did a CT scan on his brain; it didn’t show any current problems. He didn’t need surgery of any sort. He was perfectly fine, after the surgery.
The nurse’s name was Hannah. She was a good nurse. She even won an award, once, a long time ago, back in the good old college days. He was much older than she was. He thought he was someone named Mick. Not Mick Jagger, Mick Smith. He imagined Mick Smith had once been overly tall; overly handsome; and a football star. There was a Mick Smith who went to Iraq and died there, but that was another story. The doctors couldn’t understand why he dredged up the name Mick Smith. He was a college football player, one of the best on his team.
“What do you make of him, Doctor?” she inquired. “He thinks he’s someone named Mick Smith. Maybe he really is Mick Smith. Maybe he’s a criminal and stole someone’s wallet. Maybe he’s a sniper!” She gasped, and her eyes widened. “We should call the police.” She didn’t even have her cell phone on her. Her hands quivered.
The good doctor shook his head and frowned. Hannah was a good nurse, but a definite idiot, slow and stupid. “No way, woman,” he snapped. “I checked with the police station and the prison. There is no one by the name of Mick Smith. His real name is Noah Watson. What I can’t figure out, is why he keeps saying his name is Mick.”
She shrugged. “He was in a coma.”
“He woke up from it! Most patients wake up. Most remember things within a few seconds.” He snorted. “He ain’t got no family, or he’s a criminal, can’t say which. Dumbass.” He didn’t normally swear. He swore when he was angry or afraid. Not in front of nurses, it wasn’t called for.
“Remember what you said: most. Maybe he has trauma problems. Some patients do.”
He sighed. “The optimum word. I guess I better go tell the fool to leave.”
She frowned. “We can’t send him back home and he doesn’t know who he is,” she protested. There was worry in her tone. “It’s not safe, for him, or us. What if his family wants to go back and sue us?” she asked.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea to bring that up,” he replied, waving his hand in dismissal. “If they want to sue us, they will sue us-there is no use around it.” He shook his head and sniffed. Hannah was a funny lady. She didn’t have any friends, but she helped people all the time. He frowned at her. “Go home, sweetie, and take a break-you’re becoming overworked.”
She stomped her foot. “I am not! I have to work night shift!”
“Not right now, you don’t!”
Dr. Johnson paced back and forth in his office, wondering what to do about Hannah. She was a good enough nurse, but she was getting to be rather tiresome. She was always trying to out of her way and help others far beyond what is necessary. Doctors and patients shouldn’t converse outside of the hospital. He could get sued. Well, he did date Wendy the nurse outside of doctor’s rules-and Dr. Sarah Cunningham-and Bridgett the janitor-he grinned. She was good in the sack, he had to admit. Red-headed and gorgeous, long legs, model figure.
* * *
Hannah went home for an hour. She ate a light dinner-a tuna fish sandwich, she gobbled those up fast-and she did the dishes and folded last night’s laundry. She looked around her small little apartment. She’d had it for ten years. It was something to be less desired for. It was what she could afford. All in all, she got a good deal out of it. She did God’s will, and she got to live. Being a nurse was very hectic. She had seen three deaths in her time. The surgeon had seen many more in his time. She thought about it long and hard and decided she didn’t want to take a break. She didn’t have any family, no friends. Certainly no love life. The surgeon was very good-looking, as far as surgeons went, but she had no desire for him and none for her. He was seeing someone, three years ago, but that fell apart. The good surgeon didn’t hold his anger very well. There was never any violence, but he had a mouth on him and it got him in trouble. She shrugged her shoulders, grabbed her coat, and headed into the cold night air.
It was very windy.
She walked down the street, holding her purse like a shield. Shadows crept across the sidewalk; the cement was cold as winter in December. She looked left and right. She looked down the street. A cat was walking by, creeping on its four paws. The hospital rose ahead, tall as a sentinel in the dark. Stars sprinkled above. She opened the door and went inside. The security guard wasn’t there. She grew alarmed. She walked down the hall. The lights flickered. They couldn’t afford better lights. Sounds flew all around her; the sounds of doctors talking to patients; nurses chatting; machines grinding in their little crypt. She went down the hall and glanced at Dr. Johnson’s door. It had his name on it. She tapped on the door and opened it. He was gone. Probably to lunch. He ate a late lunch. His mind was constantly occupied by things around him. She sighed and closed the door. She rubbed her face warily and trooped up a flight of stairs. She figured she better go visit Mr. Mick Smith. He might wonder where she was.
His back was propped up with a pillow. He smiled at her. A tray was placed in front of him. “Hello,” he chirped happily. “What are you doing here? I thought you were laid off.” He chuckled at his own joke.
She smacked him on the shoulder. “Quiet, you,” she said. “I came to see how you are doing.” She cocked her head to study him. He was very handsome. She didn’t notice it before. She wondered why she didn’t notice it. She looked at his hands. She wondered why she did so. They were smooth hands, like an artist. “What do you do?” She wasn’t supposed to ask him anymore questions. He was supposed to remember on his own. He was trying. She’d heard from the surgeon last night he could remember the alphabet and was very good at math. She’d checked his records. He didn’t have an arrest warrant. He was clean, but very mysterious. She liked helping him.
“I’m a painter,” he answered. “I paint houses.” He smiled.
She smiled back encouragingly, but she was worried. What part of what he was saying was a lie, or the truth? She shook her head, trying to rid the memories that threatened to surface over the water. The night was upon them. She was supposed to be at home. She couldn’t stay away. His head drooped on the pillow. She glanced at the door on her way out. His file wasn’t on the door. She returned to Dr. Johnson’s office. Knocked softly on the door. “Sir,” she said. “Sir, are you in here?” She had a habit of calling him “Sir.” It was an epitaph she would have to forge over. It didn’t suit her. She should call him “Doctor” but he was far too friendly for any doctor she had ever met. She opened the door. It was very dark. She went inside, and shut the door behind her. It made a little sound. She looked around. His desk was untidy. It surprised her. She would have expected it to be much neater. She opened the filing cabinet and poked in, and didn’t find what she was looking for. She closed it again. She saw several files on the desk. She sifted through them. Picked up one and dusted it off. The name on it was Noah Watson. She was surprised. She opened it. It was his birth certificate, and-an adoption certificate. Sarah and Jean Watson were not his real parents, they were his adoptive parents. His real parents went by a different name. That could get confusing. They hadn’t changed his first name. It was still Noah, but his real parents and his adopted parents were not the same. He didn’t know he was adopted. She stole a piece of paper, made a copy on the copying machine, and slipped out the door and into the night.
She decided she would consult a lawyer. She called him on the telephone. “Hello, Bruce,” she said. “May I talk to you?”
“Yes,” he replied. “How may I help you?”
She went on to explain her current problem, and he listened intently. “That’s an interesting story,” he said. “Does the boy know?”
She bit her lip. She didn’t want to correct him. “No,” she informed him. “He doesn’t. I asked the surgeon to tell him-he did brain surgery on him, and he woke up calling himself Mick and it says Noah on his card-but, he said he doesn’t like getting involved.”
The lawyer was getting curious. His full name was Bruce Ducking and he was forty-three years old, once widowed, and never remarried. He had three children and a home in Sweden and a garden he never watered. His poor, dead wife would be turning in her grave if she knew. His lip quivered. He should get out. It was a beautiful day. The sun was like a large coin in the sky.
“Okay,” he said at last. “What are their real names? I can look up their address.”
“Joseph and Josephine Berkley,” she informed him. “His birth certificate was in his files. He had an eye surgery at age three, for temporary blindness. I don’t know how on earth they discovered he had an eye problem. I guess they gave him up after that.”
“Of course it wouldn’t say.”
“Of course it wouldn’t.”
Joseph and Josephine Berkley were very curious people. They did not live far away, over in New Jersey. It was convenient. She thought it was, anyway. They lived in New York. Bruce pulled up in a cab and she got in and smiled at him. He was very handsome in his suit-he always wore suits, it was a part of his interesting personality-and his black hair was slicked back. His blue eyes shone with excitement. He liked helping people. Most lawyers didn’t. They just handed out money. Most of it wasn’t warranted. She told the taxi driver the address. It was a long ride. They spoke very little. She smiled, fidgeting in her blue skirt and blue blazer. She was going for another job interview on Sunday. She was going to try to get another job in real estate.
Joseph and Josephine Berkley were very fat people. Josephine was very round; Joseph had more bulge in the neck. Josephine’s hair was dark brown, Joseph’s was completely gray. She had to smile. She didn’t want to giggle at their austerity, but she couldn’t help it. They lived in a white house and had a white picket fence. Their mailbox was a drab gray.
“You look nice,” Bruce said. He blushed.
They had gotten out of the cab and hadn’t gone up to the house yet. Hannah was suddenly shy. Not because of Bruce, but because she was meeting more strangers. She didn’t like strangers. She stayed inside most of the time. “Thank you,” she replied. “You look very handsome. Kate must be proud.”
“We got married the year before,” he answered. “I was going to invite you, but you were at your sister’s-”
“Yes, Jan, that’s her name. I’ve completely forgotten.”
“It’s okay, you’re not friends with her. We are.”
“That’s good to know.” He straightened his tie. “Okay, now we got to do this right.” Sometimes when he was nervous, he got very shy, and slipped back into what Hannah called his “gangster” talk. He was from Detroit. Moved to New York City. They met at NYU and became friends. He went off to law school. Hannah didn’t want to stay in school that long, but becoming a nurse seemed like her only option. She went up and rang the bell.
“Hello,” she said. “How are you?”
Josephine smiled. She had a pretty smile. It lit her entire face. “I know what you’re here for,” she told her. “I talked to your lawyer friend last night. A police officer also stopped by, to make it official. They found my baby.”
Hannah was startled. “He was not considered missing, ma’m,” she apologized. “You put him up for adoption. I want to know why.” She blushed. She didn’t mean to sound conceited. It came out like that. “Did you know who you gave him to, after he went to a new family?”
“No. The adoption agency knew, but they never told us. They shut down. We contacted the police. They went bankrupt, and the papers were sent to Social Services. They were in a different county and we couldn’t get them. We tried, many times, to find him. We got good jobs now, making carpet. Is he here?” She peered over her shoulder, and Hannah had to inform her he wasn’t. She said she was going to talk to him tomorrow, afterwards. She told him about the car accident, and how she found the information.
“Oh, my!” Josephine looked like she was going to faint. Joseph ushered her into a chair.
“Do you need anything?” she inquired.
“No,” Hannah responded. “I’m fine, thank you.”
“So, you’ve seen my boy?”
“Yes, but he left the hospital and I have to get the address, too.”
“It’s no worry, ma’m, well find it. We’ll be all right.” Joseph was the talker of the two. Josephine fidgeted every time she spoke. Her eyes were large. Everything about her was enormously large. Hannah wondered guiltily how she managed to walk or sit up. It seemed most difficult for her to do. She had seen pictures of Noah’s adopted parents. They were much more attractive.
She rose to leave. “I better go find Noah’s address,” she quipped.
Joseph nodded. “We were just about to make dinner.”
Josephine looked harried. “You may stay if you like,” she told her. “We’re making pot roast. Joseph makes a mean salad, he does.” She looked like she wanted her to leave. Hannah couldn’t stay, really. She had decided to take morning and night shift. It would do her good to get out of the apartment. It made her feel stifled and claustrophobic, trapped like a ghost. Hannah didn’t have friends. She didn’t have much of anyone. Her parents were in Greece. She was stuck in New York. She liked it, except the people were mean and overly stuffy and rude and rich. Hannah was not rich. Most nurses were not. They were very poor. Some did a poor job. Hannah was not one of them.
* * *
The next morning, Noah was gone. He left the night before. Gladys, the Head Nurse, told her. Gladys was very bigboned. Nobody messed with Gladys.
She spotted Dr. Johnson outside, smoking a cigarette. She thought he was avoiding her. “What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded.
He was surprised to see her. “What are you referring to?”
“You know what I’m talking about! Noah is gone! I was trying to find some information for him! Useful, information!” She couldn’t help it. A tear squeezed from her eye and she tried not to let it drop. She didn’t want to let it drop. She didn’t cry in front of doctors. It was one of her rules. She didn’t show emotion at her job.
“He remembered his name,” he replied, shrugging in a half-distracted, half-bored way. “Doesn’t remember much else, like where his parents live, but that’s okay.” Amusement in his gaze.
“Did you know about this?” she asked. She clenched her fists. She was angry, beyond angry, and hurt. She didn’t know why. She wasn’t attracted to Noah Watson in any way. She didn’t love him. She wasn’t infatuated by his good looks. He was downright mean. Spoiled, like.
“Whatever do you mean?” The innocent look again. She could wipe it off his face. She wanted to. Her fists begged her to. She shook her head. She clenched her fists; unclenched them.
“That his adoptive parents are not his real parents.”
“Yes, I did. Surgeons know important things about their patients, especially genetics. Especially if they can’t find the next of kin.” He smoked another puff, and smiled. “Well, I better go back inside. I have to do gallbladder surgery in an hour.”
She grabbed his arm. “Stop. Aren’t you going to tell him who his real parents are? He has a right to know.”
“Yeah…uh, no.” He smiled, and put his hands over his head and stretched. He winked.
“That’s wrong!” she protested. “You can’t do that! What are you going to do to fix it?”
“Look, it’s not my job to barge into people’s lives and mess things up. I’m just the surgeon. I like to sew. I knit at home, even. Right now, I’m making an afghan. If you want to tell him, that’s fine, copy his birth certificate. Why his parents had a forged one, I’ll never guess. Maybe they were involved in something shady.”
“Or the mafia,” she murmured.
Some parents were weird. They protected their kids to the death. They protected their children the way they were supposed to, and got nothing out of it. It wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Things like war and mistakes were not supposed to happen. That was why they had erasers on the end of pencils, she supposed. She was going to have to think about it. Damn Dr. Johnson, it was his job-but, maybe, really, it was hers. Or someone else’s. She wished she were somewhere else. Maybe some place, far away. She didn’t want to think. She had to sit down. She put her head in her hands and cried. She didn’t know why, but she was crying for Noah.
Noah was not dead. He was gone.
* * *
It took Hannah two weeks before she decided she was going to tell Noah. She found out at the police station where he was living-at a small, rundown apartment in the Bronx. She could take a cab over there. It wasn’t that far from the hospital, or her apartment. She sized up the apartment complex. It was small and drab and the windows stared at her like closed eyes.
“What is your full name, Hannah?” Noah Watson sized up the woman who stood on the porch in the rain. She was drenched. Soaked with rain.
Her teeth chattered. “My…my name is Hannah Smith!” she replied, shivering.
“What did you come here for? You didn’t have to tell me anything. I didn’t know I was adopted.” He leaned on the side of the door, his thoughts blank.
“Because I thought it was wrong you didn’t know,” she sniffed. “I debated whether or not to tell you. I thought some relatives, like your adoptive mother, would get mad, and sue the hospital-I can’t afford to lose my job. I found out she’s like, fifty-seven now, going to go on Social Security soon. Dr. Johnson is the best surgeon I’ve ever met! Only three patients died in his career! Can you imagine! Only three! One went into cardiac arrest after the surgery, but that couldn’t very well be his fault, could it?” She shook her head. “I don’t know about those things. I don’t play God’s work. We tried to save that one, we really did. He was a chiropractor, not exactly a doctor, but still-” She trailed off. She was thinking about something else, something long ago in her memory, far away, like a flower folding. “Anyway, I thought I would tell you,” she finished. “I’m sorry I didn’t before. Dr. Johnson said it wasn’t his place to tell you. He’s a real rat sometimes, but good, nonetheless.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “Do you want to come in?”
“No,” she replied, shaking her head. “I will stand out on the porch, and talk while you listen.” She fished in her handbag for the papers, including the one she copied at the hospital a few weeks ago. She took it out and handed it to him. She studied his appearance. He hadn’t shaved in weeks. He’d had a razor at the hospital, one of the nurses bought one for him, said he was pretty cute and would make babies with him if she could. She was twenty-nine. He was in his thirties. She realized she didn’t know that much about the people she worked for. She sniffed.
“What’s the matter, are you catching a cold?”
“Thank you for telling me. I suppose I should talk to a lawyer about this.”
“You should,” she agreed. “What are you going to do now? Do you remember
“I do not, but that doesn’t matter. I’m talking to a counselor now. I didn’t want
to at first, I was ashamed. It’s the best course of action to take, I guess. Giving my current state.” He chuckled. It wasn’t really all that funny.
“Goodbye, Noah. Your parents real names are Joe and Josephine Berkley. I talked to them myself. They said you can still call yourself Watson.” She smiled in amusement. He was a lot like a woman with a maiden name.
“Goodbye,” he said. “Thank you for talking to them for me, making sure they are all right. I’m glad they are not drug dealers.”
“No,” she replied. “They sell carpet.”
She turned and stared at him for a single instant and he vanished back into the house and was gone. She glanced at the welcome mat. A shoe print of water formed where he stood, like the disappearing of a ghost.