|Life's but a Walking Shadow...Another
© Wanderer -- all rights reserved
I sigh as I gather in another motley assortment of postal oddities. Ad, ad, ad ... MUFON again? I swear, you ask for one free sample newsletter ... the church ... Daddy's dead, but his church isn't. I wonder if they ever noticed when he became a Mennonite? Free catalog, catalog, catalog .. hey, I can dream, just not buy.
Finally, I come to the bottom of the box ... and an unaddressed envelope. Oh, my name's on the outside. But it wasn't mailed. Just dropped in the box. I sniff it carefully. No noticeable oddities. Smells a little familiar, but nothing I smell everyday. Finally, my curiosity overcomes my common sense. I open it.
Inside, I find a single folded sheet of notepaper. I open it and read.
I blink, and read faster.
I skip ahead to the last line, the name, where is the blasted, bloody ...
I barely think to lock the doorknob lock before I bolt down the street toward the apartment complex. Thank goodness I was able to refer him to that complex, or this could be tricky. Come to think of it, it still might. Please, Lord, don't let there be any traffic. I lean into my own momentum, letting myself lose all maneuvering capability as my center of gravity passes over my feet and out in front. Finally, I reach the complex's parking lot and let myself fall to a stop. Clambering to my feet, I jog up the stairs as fast as I can, my nails tick-tick-ticking on the metal steps. After a few close encounters between my feet and the stairway, I reach Tara's floor. I bolt for the door and twist the knob with a quick prayer.
It's a good thing so few suicides lock the door, or I'd be whimpering in the hall.
He's there, lying on the floor as the blood slowly seeps from two clean cuts, one for each wrist.
The light in her eyes flickers, dimming in a way I know too well.
With a quick apology to God for the language, I rush to the bathroom and grab a pair of hand towels. Knotting one around each wrist, I manage to slow the bleeding to a crawl. Fortunately, wrist-slitting is one of the slowest ways a person can choose to die. Anything faster and I'd be tending a corpse.
The immediate danger past, I look around. Well, at least the method she used is easy enough to explain away. With no really sharp knives in the apartment, he ... blast, I need to figure out that pronoun thing ... he broke the bathroom mirror and used a shard to cut the veins open. With a moment's thought, I knpw what to tell them. I pick up the phone and dial.
"911, how may I help you?"
"Yes", I gasp, not having to fake the lack of blood oxygen, "I just came in and found her on the floor ... "
"One moment, sir. Who did you find?"
I take a deep breath. Recite. "I have a female caucasian SCABS gynomorph, with a ragged incision at each wrist, severing the vein.
Subject is suffering from trauma and blood loss, and is currently unconscious. Please send an ambulance to this address."
"Sir, you say that this is the correct address you are calling from?"
"That is correct. I shall be standing on the balcony near the railing. I am a male SCABS caniform, subtype lupus."
I hear typing in the background. "Understood, sir. An ambulance is on the way. Could you give me the apartment number?"
"Not immediately", I say with a twinge of embarrasment. "Could you hold a moment?"
I run over and glance at the door, then trot back to the phone. "The apartment number is 2B". I smile. "And I already know the Shakespearean joke".
I can hear a small smile in her voice as she says, "Understood, sir. The paramedics should be with you shortly. Have you checked for a pulse?"
I switch back to my recital mode. "Upon the binding of the wounds, a slow pulse was noted, and may be characterized as 'thready'. Respiration is noticeable but weak. No auscultation of the chest has been performed." I suddenly hear sirens in the distance. "I think they're here", I tell the operator, breaking out of my recital again.
"Don't put the phone down, sir, but, if you would, just go and look to make sure it's them."
"All right, but the ultrasonics are pretty specific to an ambulance siren."
I gently put the phone down on the table and walk over to the lone window.
Peering between the curtains, I see an ambulance (or ecnalubma, without a mirror) pull into the parking lot. I dart back to the phone. "They're here, all right. Should I hang up now?"
"Yes, sir, that would be fine."
I slowly put the phone back on the hook and move to open the door. The two paras outside are apparently *not* expecting someone that looks like me ... at least judging by the fact that they stop short.
"Oh, get in here!"
They rush past me and immediately set up around Paul, speaking into their comunits in a rapid-fire melange of jargon. I watch as they unfold the stretcher they carried in, and follow them out to the rear doors of the ambulance, making sure to get the keys from the kitchen table and lock the door behind us. No sense risking her things. It isn't until I get to the rear doors that I hit a snag.
"I'm sorry, sir, only family members allowed in the ambulance with the patient."
I sigh. "I know. Unfortunately, I'm the closest thing she's got to a family."
With that, I struggle into the back and hold on.
Some hours later, the nurse comes to interview me.
"Now, Mister ... ?"
"Please", I say with a hint of my accent, "Just call me Wanderer."
"All right ... Wanderer. You said in Admitting that Miss Bard had apparently slipped on the bathroom floor and broken the mirror with her hands?"
"As I said, Madam, it is only a guess. After all, not having been there at the time, I can hardly give assurances one way or the other."
"Mm-hm. Well, Mister ... sorry. Wanderer. It looks to me like an attempted suicide."
I stiffen slightly. "Of course, you must recommend as you see fit ... "
"Let me finish. Without an actual report of suicidal tendencies, I can't do anything. And whatever reasons you have for not listing her on the deathwatch, they're yours and hers alone. But if anything happens, I won't be held responsible."
I nod curtly. "Of course."
"Now, as to the matter of billing ... "
"I'm afraid you'll have to wait until she regains consciousness, Madam. Any insurance information would be hers alone to give ... even", I add with a twist of my muzzle, "if I knew it ... which I do not."
"Mm-hm. Oh, well, at worst we charge it to the SCABS free clinic downtown."
"Will there be anything else?"
"No, I don't think so. Oh, you might want to go home until tomorrow. She isn't likely to regain consciousness for some time."
"No", I say, feeling a chill wind inside my heart. "I'll be staying."
"M ... Wanderer, it really isn't necessary ... "
"It is", I say with a sigh, "to me".
I wish I'd taken the nurse's advice. A full twenty-four hours without sleep ... at least I think it's been twenty-four.
It might've been more.
The setting sun bathes her in a rosy glow, a picture pretty enough to make me wish I could find my old camera ... and still fit it past my muzzle.
Finally, she stirs.
It takes me a moment to get my brain going, as sleep-fogged as it is. I finally decide to stand up and let my body know it's needed again. "Good", I say through a haze of fatigue. "You're awake."
"Yes". A short enough reply, but at least it means she can still talk.
There's always that danger of brain damage ...
I watch as she inspects each wrist in turn. I have to admit, the doctor did some excellent stitching on those cuts.
"I suppose you thought you were doing me a favor?"
The bitterness in the tone is enough to make that cold wind start blowing through my heart again.
"Tara", I say with a light touch upon her arm, "Tell me. Did you think about how your death would have affected ... ", I swallow a 'me', " ... any of us?"
"Why should I have?"
I sigh. I suppose concern for one's friends' emotional health is a bit too much to ask of a recent suicide. I sit back down to ease my legs (they're still half-asleep). "I've been at the Pig a while", I say wearily. "It's been the scene of a few suicides itself. Each one has affected everybody deeply." I stress the word as much as I can in my half-dead condition. I hesitate to think about the last one. "It's one more person giving up", I tell her softly. "One more concession to those who want to make us less than we are."
"Less than who I am?", he almost growls at me as he sits up in bed. "Who I am? What I am is a man trapped in this bombshell's body! What I am", he almost snarls, "is someone who's lost his entire identity!"
I deliver that little bombshell gently, almost silently ... after all, why should both of us get upset? "You haven't lost your whole identity", I tell him. "You're still who you are." I smile sadly. "That saying, 'That which does not kill me makes me stronger', may be a cheesy saying, Paul ... but it's got a kernel of truth in it. I like to think that suffering through SCABS doesn't make us stronger", I tell her ... him as I get up. "it just shows us strength we already had." I half-smile to myself. "I know that's the way it was with me."
With a last sigh, I turn back to him. "Tara ... Paul ... ". Blast. I must be even more tired than I thought. "Whomever you choose to be. You can get through this. You may not realize it, but you can. And ...", I add, "you've got friends to help you through this." Then I grin slightly ... he might not even see it through the fur. "But ... even if you didn't, you could still get through it. I think you're a lot stronger than you realize, Bard."
I rest my hand on her shoulder as I prepare to leave. "I'll let you get some rest. I have to leave for a couple hours. Ask the nurse to give me a call when you're ready to check out, and I'll take you home." With that, I turn and head for the door. I need to get out before I start slipping.
But, suddenly, I hear her voice from behind me.
"How do you know I won't do it again, given the chance?"
I freeze for a moment. Every protective instinct I have is screaming, 'Save him!'.
But I know better.
I turn back and give him the only answer I can. "I don't."
The wind is blowing hard in my heart tonight.
"You ... have to choose to live, Paul. No one can ... force you to choose life."
And then I say what my heart demands.
"But as a friend ... I sure hope you do."
With that, I walk out of the room. And just in time. With a shudder, my control slips, bringing me to within inches of crashing into the wall.
With a rush, the past twenty-four hours catch up with me. Half-carrying myself on the wheelchair rail at the side of the hall, I hurry to the nurses' station.
"Rrrr ... "
They look up, startled. I hold up a hand. Wait.
I press my claws into the palm of my hand.
"Phone. May. I. Use. The. Phone."
"Oh. Oh, yes, sir. Do you have the number?"
I almost keel over when I divert my attention to my memory, leaning hard on the countertop. "Nrrrr ... nrrrr ... " Another ounce of pain adds the needed energy. "Nnnnno. No. Just. Let. Me. Dial."
Without another word, they turn the phone around so I can see the keypad.
Quickly, I dial the Blind Pig's pay phone.
Two ... c'mon ...
"Hhello. You hhave reecht thee Blind Pigh. Hhow may I hellp you?"
I relax slightly as Donnie's voder pieces its words together along the line. Everyone else must be busy. In the background, though, I can hear the piano.
"Drrr ... Drrrnn ... " Even the claws don't help much this time. "Drrrnee .. "
"Wandurur? Is. That. You?"
Finally, I dig my claws into my thigh. With a hiss of pain, I hurry along.
"D ... Donnie. Yes. Is ... Jack. There?"
"It's a lng ... llong story. I nn ... nn ...
" 'm ahhr ... Mrrr ...
"Hrrr ... Here's. Nurse."
I fumble the receiver in my suddenly thick fingers, but she scoops it up readily enough.
"Here is how you get here from downtown ... "
Ignoring her, I lean hard on the counter, taking the weight off my feet. After a moment, she hands the phone back to me. I bring it gently to the vicinity of my ear.
"Rrrr ... rrr'm ... Ah'm hurr ...
"Jak. Iz. Comming. Holed. Onn."
"Hhhh ... hhI'll .. trrrrry. Thnnkk ... thnkyrrrr ... "
After I put down the phone, the nurse looks at me anxiously. I point to myself, not trusting my voice, and then point to the visitor's lounge.
"All right. When someone asks for you, I'll send them in there." She almost stops, then asks, "Are you all right?"
"Trrr ... rrr ...
She nods, and I wobble down to the visitor's lounge.
What seems like moments later, Jack finally arrives at the lounge.
"Wanderer? You okay?"
I compose myself carefully before speaking.
"I'm ... o-kay. Just ... tirrrrred." I barely manage to choke off the growl.
"C'mon, let's get you home. You can give everyone an explanation later."
I nod and start to stand.
My legs are gone.
Technically, no, they're not 'gone'. They're still there. They're just a lot ... shorter. After a few deep breaths, I manage to force them back into a walking shape.
"Y'know, I could always take your clothes and let you walk out the other way ... "
"No. No. Just ... give. Me. Time." With a few more deep breaths, I stand.
"Rrrrl ... "
I somehow manage to get everything working at once.
"Lead. Lead on. Jack."
I get only a few steps before I bend in two. Straightening my back out, I gesture to Jack to pr ... pro-ceed ... and cnn .. con-cen-trate on waw ... walk-ing. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Left. Right. Left. Right. Llll ... Lll ...
Mew ... mew-zik. Muh-hight. Huhelp.
It's a long way ... to Tippuhh ... puhh ... puhh ...
I bend in two again. This time, it takes longer to get up. Maybe b ... be-caws ... I h ... hi ... hiiit the w ... w ... wawl.
"Wanderer ... "
I sh ... shayyk ... my hhedd. And j ... jeh ... jehhsschur ... himm ... on.
Onward Chri-uhhh ... Chruhh ... Kuhh-riss-chun ... sssooooo ...
I wake up wh ... whn ... when muh ... muh ... myyyee ... hed ... head. Head hi ... hi ... hiiiitsss. Thwaw. Thw ... thuwall.
No. No. Wake. Up. I'm ... on. I'm on. I. Am. O ... o ... ON! I. AM. ON!
I shayyk ... my hhe ... hhed. M ... I falter, then for ... for ... for ... ss ... forss ... mm ... mmyeessuhehlf ... baah ... baahk ... on k ... k ... kors.
Must. Get. Out. Now.
Must get out now. Must-get-out-now-must-get-out-now-must-get-out-now-
Iyee ... w ... waawk ... with muhyee ... w ... wrr ... wrrz ... wrrrrrdz.
D ... dh ... dh-ore. Puhll.
Nnnn ... Nn-nn.
Ah ... ahowt. Owwt.
Jaaaahkat ... krr. Kahr.
Stehhhp. Ohff. Krr-KHAH!
Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow.
Frrr ... frrrrn ... ff ...
"Hay, you okay?"
Shift. Shift. Iyee shift Stand lohhhh ... lawts buh-eh-ter.
Jhahh ... him. Him get p ... p ... p-leg thing. P-thing wuh-ith luhh ... luh-eggz
Nno stah ... stahuff in p ... paww ... awaww ... kkk ... ts ... p-lehthing little bags?
Oh. Nn-nn. Nahwaw ... waw ... whawwwluh. Wuh-haw-let. Nuh-howaw-led
Openthing. Him open thing. Kuh-lymme ... ihn.
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