He was vaguely wondering about getting a Dodgers’ ticket, while sensing an inherent problem with this simple idea.
Deadline's Tuesday, don't forget the deadline's Tuesday.... hold on, did I miss it already?
Perhaps he had been asleep, or just somewhere else.
Perhaps there had been figures moving slowly round him like fish swimming in a deep blue tank, all shadows and reflections in a muffled underworld. Whatever, wherever that had been, now a sound like a sonar bleeped insistently by his right ear.
Terrific - from a fishtank to a submarine.
His eyes, the only part of him that could move, traveled half-heartedly down a little way. Everything he could see was white. His chest felt full of iron filings which swirled obstinately under his ribcage like someone was stirring them up with a spoon. A sharp-edged weight on his sternum was trying to press the life out of him. There was a memory skirting around but he would not let it in for now.
“Honey?” said a voice. He noticed his mother sitting by him.
Hey, don't start on me, Ma. I did go to school, honest. Made sure Nick was in too.
She smiled quaveringly at him. Her manner seemed odd, but he smiled back at her anyway. It took a while for any of his facial muscles to respond to the impulse. She spoke sadly, her words seeming to come from behind a filmy curtain, but somehow he could not find the strength to answer. He tried to reply with his eyes, to be kind to her because she seemed so worried, but he hardly felt present at the scene. The memory threatened to become clearer so he closed his eyes and immediately it was all gone again.
Next time the slow-moving figures were back. He felt as if he should know them. They were gathering around him, moving him with infinite gentleness, attempting to give him sips of water which he could not swallow. Still the roaring chest pain and the encroaching memory. It was not so easy to get away from it this time - when he tried closing his eyes to escape, everything came with him. Alarmed, he opened them again. The only explanation that made sense was that this was all part of a mighty hangover.
“We're bringing you off the sedatives, David,” said a lilting Irish voice which seemed to belong to one of the spectral figures, just now bending so close to him her face swam suddenly into view, giving him a shock.
She knows me? How does she know me? I must be in trouble. Where's Hutch?
“You’re going cold turkey, my sweetheart. It’ll get better soon.” She was stroking his hair. The touch was kind but alien. “Poor boy,” she said gently. “This is a hard road for you, but we hope we’ve got you back now. We're doing our best to keep you with us. You’ve been here nearly two weeks. Remember?”
Who are you, anyhow? Where's Hutch?
He hoped he was saying words, but they came out in a voice he did not recognize, making a noise that was not speech.
“Bless you, sweetheart. Don't try and talk just now. You were that badly injured, and you’ve been giving us all a fright. My name’s Eileen, I’m looking after you this evening. Now, I've given you something for the pain.... no, there he goes again ..... David? Come on now, my love. Can you hear me? I've just given you something to take away the pain for a bit.”
Who's it .... where's ...
Again nothing but a garbled sound.
“You’re still running a fever, poor boy. Better try and sleep now.”
Eileen faded out so he supposed he had managed to escape for a while. Now he was back, and alone. He lay there.
Something a bit like a thought made him wonder about why it was that he was such a poor boy, and why on earth he should be here at all. Perhaps if he stayed alert it would all begin to make sense. But there were forces beyond his control at work here. Even now he was fighting the all-encompassing fog that posed as the sleep they were always encouraging him to have -- in the intervals where they were not entreating him to stay awake.
He struggled briefly to keep on thinking. Had he been looking the other way when he realised that something was wrong? Someone had warned him -- hadn't they? But what exactly had they warned him about and who had that been? At some time he had felt cold concrete under his back. At another time he had coughed. That was pretty much it.
And now here they are calling me a poor boy.
His sticky eyelids sank down under the weight of the fog, just as he was approaching another memory.
A jagged pain roused him next time. Whether it was internal or external he had no idea. He got as far as recognizing the smell of the place, the sonar beeping, the intense griping of the iron filings in his chest -- but not as far as opening his eyes. When he tried to swallow there was something in his throat that made him want to gag. Whatever it was wouldn't move.
Voices were muttering around him. Somewhere in there was Eileen, or maybe just someone who sounded like her. And somewhere in there, so faint he was not sure about it at all, was a voice that he really, really wanted to hear, but it drifted away as soon as he concentrated.
They tossed phrases backwards and forwards across him as if he could not hear. He was not sure they knew he was awake.
"Another bad night, I'm afraid .... severe breathing difficulties ...... the infection's still got the upper hand .... we'll try him on another drug ...... you're right, we're not as far forward as we hoped ..... yes, his condition is still of great concern, but try and keep positive .... your boy's a fighter, Mrs Starsky."
I'm a fighter, Mom, the man said so.
His Mom was sobbing so much he felt anxious about her. Managing to drag his lashes apart he could make out that Nick was there too - frightened out of his wits, darting fearful looks at him as he lay there unable to talk.
Hey, what is wrong with you? Just put your arm around her, Nicky, willya? Call me your pig brother, I dare you. Make Ma screech one of those laughs so we all gotta cover our ears.
Completely against his will his lashes abruptly dropped together again.
"Oh, David, my sweet boy ... you're so sick," he heard his mother say quietly on the outside.
I'm not so sweet, Ma.
"Man, this is like a fricking death-bed scene, I can't do this. I'm sorry, Davey."
Nicky, Nick ... do me a favor, please .... just this one time .... don't run away.
And then, there it was ..... a cool palm on the side of his face. His flip-flopping heart began to quieten down.
'Bout time you got here. Something really weird is going on.
His knuckles hurt, crushed in a mesh of long fingers. A low voice by his ear, not floating about like the others. "Come on, buddy, you can pull though this, I know you can."
A honey-drip of hope as he glimpsed Hutch's face through his fluttering eyelids.
Stop wearing that look, Blintz. I hate that look. You're scared as hell about something. What are you scared about? Smile at me. None of you are making any sense. I'm here aren't I?
"Starsk? Try and stay with me, buddy." Voice still low, at that pitch he could tune in to, but hitting a panicky note now. "No, no, not again ... Starsk? Don't do this ... Come on, will you?" The pain in that voice was unbearable.
Tryin, Hutch, tryin ....
But when he got his eyes open again, Hutch had gone and the dreams were back.
These dreams, the ones that made him afraid to know what had actually happened, seemed to be on a loop. Sometimes the minute one finished it started right up again. Floating through the air and landing on his back, looking at his car towering over him. Cold sheets covering the broken, unfamiliar body that seemed to be his. On his knees by the side of a faceless soul wasted out there on the street. All he could hear was his own voice saying oh god oh god oh god Hutch, but he had no idea why.
Then suddenly, in the middle of his dream, they were all looking at him again. The dream people and the real people. He could feel the fear coming off them in waves.
They must know something terrible. They must have seen something that's scared the living crap out of them..... OK, so you guys are all scared for a reason. Just go on and tell me what it is.
"It's Mom, David. I'm here, honey. Come back would you please? Come back to us, David, oh please would you just come back."
Try not to work yourself up, Ma. Crying don't help.
"He can't hear you, Ma. Look at him. He ain't with us."
I'm here, Nick.
"He's here, Nick."
"Ya think so? Tellin you, Hutch, whenever he opens his eyes, he's just lookin through me."
"He's looking at you, Nick. And he can hear us. You just gotta keep talking."
"You're just wishing it, Hutch. Tellin you, he ain't here."
"I think you're wrong."
Yeah, Hutch was the only one with any idea, the only one trying to worm his way in and drag what was left out of the wreckage. He would crumble, for sure, if the battle was lost .... he'd crumble into pieces .... but he'd come though when he thought enough about it, when he remembered how good it had been. Maybe there was a long career ahead for him teamed up with ... some other guy.
Hey, partner, you'd forgive me, right? It could work, couldn't it? Would you give it a chance, Hutch? You could get married again, have kids, make lieutenant .... or go back to college ... yeah, I know you want to.
The thought of a contented Hutch nearly made him let go right there and then, but somehow he got dragged under again before he was ready to make a move. When he next met consciousness he picked right up where he had left off, but a new certainty had struck him.
Who'm I kidding, Hutch? It wouldn't work, would it? You'd never forgive me. That means I gotta carry on with this, right? Wish you all'd just tell me why. Seems kinda mean of you not to ....
Shadows in the room, the faint outlines of the machines. Wakeful and feverish, lying on a tiny bed in a room the size of an aircraft hangar, all alone. Voices came and went and he did not understand them. If only he knew what he was doing here, and why he was in such danger of going for good. If only his thoughts could extend beyond this curious, disjointed sludge. And then there was that Dodgers ticket. He knew enough to know Tuesday was well past. He was annoyed he had forgotten to sort it out again.
“Did you say something?” someone said hopefully.
He opened his eyes, almost expecting to be standing at the ticket booth.
A sad kind of a laugh. “Ah no, buddy, it’s Sunday. Is that what you asked me?”
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, whatever.
It seemed like the end of a day. He was not sure why. It took a while to keep his eyes open but when he managed it, he realised for sure he was not all alone anymore. Hutch it was -- by his side, sitting in a chair, leaning slightly towards him, wearing a weekend shirt, no jacket. The Trib and a cup of coffee were on a table next to him. Hutch's hair looked limp and dark, his face almost unfamiliar.
Ya look weary, pal. Bone weary. What is it? Don't like to see you like that.
The walls of the room slanted in a peculiar fashion towards him and there was a buzzing in his ears but he clung on to the certainty that Hutch's presence and the sound of his voice brought.
“Don’t try and talk, Starsk, that’s doctor’s orders .... You know where you are, right?”
Not a clue, Hutchinson. You gotta do all the work on this one.
“You’re in the hospital. Intensive care, buddy, high dependency unit. They won’t take you off the critical list.”
The critical list? No kidding?
“We nearly lost you, Starsk.” The break in Hutch's voice needed attending to, but he was helpless right now.
Don't beat yourself up, Hutchinson. Whatever it is ... is what it is.
He reached for a question, hoping to be able to get some real words out at last, needing to know the reason for all this fuss. Hutch could tell him the reality for sure, because he'd got as far as being certain Hutch had been in it. He curled his fingers towards him, inhaling his iron filings, closing his eyes against the sparks and knowing time was about to start playing tricks on him again.
"Hey ... stay awake, buddy, listen up a second ... can you do that?"
I'm listening. Can't you see me listening?
"This is important, Stars. They're going to make me leave again soon. So ... don't even think about bailing out on me while I'm gone, OK? Just .... don't."
Fishtanks. Submarines. What, we in a rowing boat now?
Just below the murk spattering gunshots echoed out of nowhere. A shocking force sent him reeling, and his back hit the concrete again. Dream or memory, he was on the ground, scrabbling to get up. Deep, immediate agony suffused his system and he heard himself forming real words for the first time.
"Oh god oh god oh god, Hutch ...." He tried to find him, his feeble hand scratching against the sheet.
Real, real, way too real.
He heard Hutch nearly overturn the chair to get there. Then he felt him stop the wayward hand, taking it in his own and easing open the clawed fingers one by one. They were held steady in a tender grip. None of his Mom's little pats, the nervous pokes from Nick, the nurses' absent hair-strokes -- none of them gave him half the hope of salvation that this touch did.
"Hold on to me, Starsk. There you go .... feel it now? I'm right here with you, right here ... we're going to get you through this, you hear me? You're going to make it. Keep holding on."
Hutch was making a bid to keep him here as he was sucked out into the chill and choppy waters. No getting away from it -- he was lost at sea. Even if he held on long enough, he already knew it was going to cost him dear.
It'll probably cost you too, Hutch. You thought of that?
So, he had it straight now. All he had to do was keep holding on.
It's a big ask, Hutch ... you have any idea how hard this is going to be? But .... what the hell ... this is us. I'll hold on if you will.