by Marcus Campbell
[Author’s note: This is a rough draft. Please excuse any failings in grammar or format. Some small details may change.]
Sterling sat on the edge of the bed and put on his shoes. He hadn’t really surveyed the hotel room when he walked in. He preferred to get straight down to business when he met with Lucy. On the wall opposite him was the door with a sign above it that read “exit” in bright orange letters. To the left of the sign, above a small wooden table in the kitchen, was a wall clock. The numbers on the clock were blood red and the bezel of the clock was in the shape of a snake eating its own tail. The time on the clock read 10:30. He pulled on his shoes and coat quickly and went to leave. He turned to Lucy who was redressing in the corner.
“I got to go or I’ll miss visiting hours”, said Sterling while heading for the door.
“Not so fast, all that off the menu stuff was extra”, Lucy said while pulling on her top.
“Not sure I can swing it this week.”, said Sterling scrounging through his pockets.
“Don’t do this to me man. If you couldn’t afford extra you shouldn’t have done extra,” said Lucy the tone of her voice slowly rising.
“Look I don’t have it I’m sorry.” said Sterling while he turned out his pockets.
“Well find it, seriously. We’ve never had problems before don’t make any now.”
“Damn Lucy, here” said Sterling as he handed over a slim stack of bills.
“Nice try. The hotels going to make me replace those sheets. They’re cool but not that cool.” said Lucy with her hand outstretched.
“You’re kidding me.”
“I’m really not. There’s also a fee for not paying me for all that weird German nonsense beforehand.”
Sterling dug deep into his pockets and pulled out almost all his remaining money.
“I’ve got to keep enough money for the flowers. Please.”
Lucy snatched the cash and turned the stack over counting it backwards. She folded the stack in half and placed it in her bra.
“This is fine. Please don’t put me in this position again. It almost got awkward.”
“All right, I’ll see you next time”
“Yes, you will,” said Lucy as Sterling walked out the hotel door.
Sterling walked down the street and fingered at a chip in his pocket. Almost every door on that block lead into a bar. White Christmas lights were wrapped around the trees that lined the street. The benches posted by the bases of lampposts were occupied by sleeping people, some spooning with an empty 40 ounce and others with a trash bag of clothes as a pillow. A group of men leaned on the wall outside of a smoke shop rubbernecking at women as they walked past. Sterling bought two cigarettes from the men leaning on the wall. He lit the first cigarette for himself and gave the second to the next homeless person he walked past. Two women shouted at each other in front of a pawn shop, each off them pulling on the arm of a little girl. A man, with a white stained nose, stumbled drunk out of a bar followed by a pack of bouncers with a flailing girl in their arms. Sterling stopped at a small flower stand and bought one bundle of pink carnations. At the next corner, Sterling turned right onto a poorly lit street.
A small staircase hugged the wall on the left and wrapped around a corner. The stairs lead down one level to the basement of the donut shop above. A small light flickered above a door and a sign said “Paint Shop”. Sterling approached the door and stopped a couple of feet shy. Eden loved this shop. It was her favorite place to grab paint. The door opened automatically and Sterling stepped inside.
The immediate rush of warmth from the shop caused Sterling to throw his jacket off quickly and a small Swiss Army knife, a key chain with a single key, and a knockoff Zippo lighter fell from his coat pocket. He scooped up the items, strolled past the wall of paint cans and up to the counter at the far end of the shop. He bought one pack of Newports from the cashier with the fluorescent dreads and left the shop as quickly as he could.
Sterling emerged from the basement, caught the local bus two blocks down, and headed south. A woman in tights jogged with her sleeping baby in a stroller. Two men jumped into a taxi with overstuffed backpacks that they tossed around like they were way to light. The bus stopped to let on two passengers at the next stop by the pizza shop. In the parking lot two men jumped out of a black sedan to place an order. A woman, who appeared homeless, got off the ground, traded bags from the trunk of the sedan and walked calmly down the street. Sterling stared out the window admiring his hometown until the bus let him off by the hospital.
Sterling lit a cigarette and blew ether like a dragon into the cold night air. He lingered for a moment, calmly waiting to enter the hospital until he realized he no longer had his flowers. Arms flailing in the air, Sterling chased after the bus in a wild attempt to get it to stop but slipped on the curb in the process. His face met the pavement and gravel pressed its way into his pores. Rain battered against his fresh wounds as he picked himself up and walked inside.
Sterling walked through the halls of the hospital. He stopped off quickly at the shop in the hospital to replace the flowers. The door chimed once as he walked through the sliding glass door and into the small market. Discount books lined an entire wall and shared it with the crosswords, puzzles, magazines, religious and comic books. Sterling walked past the rack of faded get well cards and crushed, expired candies. He grabbed a magazine as he past the stand and walked to the register. He grabbed new carnations from the back of a display to the left of the register and went to pay.
“That’ll be $18.60,” said the cashier.
“Got you,” said Sterling as he reached into his wallet. He fingered at the few remaining bills. “Sorry. I forgot I bought some stuff earlier. I’ll have to put all this back.”
“Are you sure? I can put it away,” said the cashier.
“I got it. It’s the least I can do.”
“Don’t worry about it man. It happens more than you’d think.”
“I certainly hope not.”
Sterling turned his back to the register and went to replace the magazine on the shelf. He peeked over his shoulder and noticed the cashier had gone back to using his phone. He took the opportunity to quickly stuff the flowers in his jacket and magazine in his pants. As he left the shop he slid his hand into his coin pocket, removed his wedding band, and slid it back onto his finger.
“All right man, Have a good one.”
Sterling followed the red line as he usually did. 2 lefts and a Right. Up two flights of stairs and past the elevator. Still on the red line, another right and one last left. Eden’s room was at the end of the hall.
Sterling walked into the hospital room with his eyes pinned to the floor and sat down by the bed on the far side of the room. A woman was sleeping in the bed with the television sitting on children’s cartoons. On the night stand beside her was a globe with the inscription “We have all the time in the world”. She wore a mother of pearl wedding band on a chain around her neck. Sterling gently placed his hand on top of her and kissed her forehead. He pulled out the flowers from inside his coat pocket and tossed the plastic lining in the trash. He grabbed the flowers from the vase beside his wife and tossed the old petals and stems into the garbage. They fell into the can and broke the crunchy leaves of the old, wilted flowers. Sterling pulled out the magazine on music from his pants and set it down on the night stand.
“Ah, I was hoping I’d catch you in here,” said Dr. Marlow as she entered the room tapping on a small metal clipboard.
“What’s up?” said Sterling keeping his eyes trained on Eden willing her to wake up.
“She’s still asleep most of the time,” said Dr. Marlow, “but she has started to eat independently and she’s started responding to her name again.”
“That’s good news,” said Sterling, “but when will she be back to normal?”
“You never know with brain damage like this. I’m sorry I don’t have more for you.”
“It’s okay. Can we be alone please. It’s our anniversary.”
“Of course,” said Dr. Marlow as she closed the door behind herself on the way out.
Sterling moved his chair closer to the edge of the bed and laid his head down in Eden’s open palm and spoke to the ground.
“I can’t sleep without you.” said Sterling, “I miss the little noises you made in your sleep, the little groans and giggles. You must have had the best dreams.”
Sterling grabbed Eden’s hand and pressed it hard against his face.
“I even miss those little farts you make as your falling asleep. I never told you about that. I thought you’d be mortified. But I love it all. Happy Anniversary.”
There were three hard knocks on the door and several men in security uniforms busted in. They blocked the door way and immediately went to surround Sterling. The cashier from the gift shop followed them in and pointed at Sterling.
“That’s the guy. That’s the guy who stole the flowers from my shop,” said the cashier.
“All right pal. You’ve got to go,” said the security officer closest Sterling.
“That’s not happening,” said Sterling never lifting his head from Eden’s hands.
“Okay then. Come on guys let’s get him out of here,” said the security guard.
All three security guards surrounded Sterling and began to pull him out of his chair. He resisted by hanging onto Eden’s bed. The security guards began to hack at his arms to get him to let go. Eventually one of the guards broke Sterling’s left forefinger to get him to release the bed railing. As Sterling was being dragged from the room his eyes were still fixed on Eden in her bed. He wasn’t struggling anymore, he didn’t scream or fight, he just let it happen.
The last thing Sterling heard as he was escorted out of the hospital room was one small fart from Eden while she slept.