Once the messy business of negotiating EU healthcare for foreign nationals ha_een sorted out with the EMTs and the Casualty Intake triage, once they’d bot_een digested and shat out by a dozen diagnostic devices from X-rays to MRIs,
once the harried house officers had impersonally prodded them and presente_hem both with hardcopy FAQs for their various injuries (second-degree burns,
mild shock for Art; pelvic dislocation, minor kidney bruising, broken femur,
whiplash, concussion and mandible trauma for Linda), they found themselves i_djacent beds in the recovery room, which bustled as though it, too, wer_orking on GMT-5, busy as a 9PM restaurant on a Saturday night.
Art had an IV taped to the inside of his left arm, dripping saline and tranqs,
making him logy and challenging his circadians. Still, he was the more mobil_f the two, as Linda was swaddled in smartcasts that both immobilized her an_assaged her, all the while osmosing transdermal antiinflammatories an_ainkillers. He tottered the two steps to the chair at her bedside and shoo_er hand again.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you look like hell,” he said.
She smiled. Her jaw made an audible pop. “Get a picture, will you? It’ll b_ood in court.”
“No, seriously. Get a picture.”
So he took out his comm and snapped a couple pix, including one wit_ightvision filters on to compensate for the dimmed recovery room lighting.
“You’re a cool customer, you know that?” he said, as he tucked his camer_way.
“Not so cool. This is all a coping strategy. I’m pretty shook up, you want t_now the truth. I could have died.”
“What were you doing on the street at three AM anyway?”
“I was upset, so I took a walk, thought I’d get something to eat or a beer o_omething.”
“You haven’t been here long, huh?”
She laughed, and it turned into a groan. “What the hell is wrong with th_nglish, anyway? The sun sets and the city rolls up its streets. It’s not lik_hey’ve got this great tradition of staying home and surfing cable o_nything.”
“They’re all snug in their beds, farting away their lentil roasts.”
“That’s it! You can’t get a steak here to save your life. Mad cows, all of
’em. If I see one more gray soy sausage, I’m going to kill the waitress an_at her.”
“You just need to get hooked up,” he said. “Once we’re out of here, I’ll tak_ou out for a genuine blood pudding, roast beef and oily chips. I know _lace.”
“I’m drooling. Can I borrow your phone again? Uh, I think you’re going to hav_o dial for me.”
“That’s OK. Give me the number.”
She did, and he cradled his comm to her head. He was close enough to her tha_e could hear the tinny, distinctive ringing of a namerican circuit at th_ther end. He heard her shallow breathing, heard her jaw creak. He smelled he_hampoo, a free-polymer new-car smell, smelled a hint of her sweat. A cor_tood out on her neck, merging in an elegant vee with her collarbone, an arro_ointing at the swell of her breast under her paper gown.
“Toby, it’s Linda.”
A munchkin voice chittered down the line.
“Shut up, OK. Shut up. Shut. I’m in the hospital.” More chipmunk. “Got hit b_ car. I’ll be OK. No. Shut up. I’ll be fine. I’ll send you the FAQs. I jus_anted to say… ” She heaved a sigh, closed her eyes. “You know what I wante_o say. Sorry, all right? Sorry it came to this. You’ll be OK. I’ll be OK. _ust didn’t want to leave you hanging.” She sounded groggy, but there was _ob there, too. “I can’t talk long. I’m on a shitload of dope. Yes, it’s goo_ope. I’ll call you later. I don’t know when I’m coming back, but we’ll sor_t out there, all right? OK. Shut up. OK. You too.”
She looked up at Art. “My boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend. Not sure who’s leaving wh_t this point. Thanks.” She closed her eyes. Her eyelids were mauve, a tracer_f pink veins. She snored softly.
Art set an alarm that would wake him up in time to meet his lawyer, folded u_is comm and crawled back into bed. His circadians swelled and crashed agains_he sides of his skull, and before he knew it, he was out.