IT’S SO DARK THAT FOR A WHILE – JUST HOW LONG I DON’T know – I think I’m still unconscious. Then, slowly, it comes to me that unconscious people don’t have a sensation of movement through the dark, accompanied by a faint, rhythmic sound that can only be a squeaky wheel. And I can feel contact, from the top of my head to the balls of my heels. I can smell something that might be rubber or vinyl. This is not unconsciousness, and there is something too… too what? Too rational about these sensations for it to be a dream.
Then what is it?
Who am I?
And what’s happening to me?
The squeaky wheel quits its stupid rhythm and I stop moving. There is a crackle around me from the rubbersmelling stuff.
A voice: “Which one did they say?”
Second voice: “Four, I think. Yeah, four.”
We start to move again, but more slowly. I can hear the faint scuff of feet now, probably in soft-soled shoes, maybe sneakers. The owners of the voices are the owners of the shoes. They stop me again. There’s a thump followed by a faint whoosh. It is, I think, the sound of a door with a pneumatic hinge being opened.
What’s going on here? I yell, but the yell is only in my head. My lips don’t move. I can feel them-and my tongue, lying on the floor of my mouth like a stunned mole-but I can’t move them.
The thing I’m on starts rolling again. A moving bed? Yes. A gurney, in other words. I’ve had some experience with them, a long time ago, in Lyndon Johnson’s shitty little Asian adventure. It comes to me that I’m in a hospital, that something bad has happened to me, something like the explosion that almost neutered me twenty-three years ago, and that I’m going to be operated on. There are a lot of answers in that idea, sensible ones, for the most part, but I don’t hurt anywhere. Except for the minor
matter of being scared out of my wits, I feel fine. And if these are orderlies wheeling me into an operating room, why can’t I see? Why can’t I talk?
A third voice: “Over here, boys.”
My rolling bed is pushed in a new direction, and the question drumming in my head is What kind of a mess have I gotten myself into?
Doesn’t that depend on who you are? I ask myself, but that’s one thing, at least, I find I do know. I’m Howard Cottrell. I’m a stock broker known to some of my colleagues as Howard the Conqueror.
Second voice (from just above my head): “You’re looking very pretty today, Doc.”
Fourth voice (female, and cool): ‘It’s always nice to be validated by you, Rusty. Could you hurry up a little? The baby-sitter expects me back by seven. She’s committed to dinner with her parents.”
Back by seven, back by seven. It’s still the afternoon, maybe, or early evening, but black in here, black as your hat, black as a woodchucks asshole, black as midnight in Persia, and what’s going on? Where have I been? What have I been doing? Why haven’t I been manning the phones?
Because it’s Saturday, a voice from far down murmurs. You were… were…
A sound: WHOCK! A sound I love. A sound I more or less live for. The sound of… what? The head of a golf club, of course. Hitting a ball off the tee. I stand, watching it fly off into the blue…
I’m grabbed, shoulders and calves, and lifted. It startles me terribly, and I try to scream. No sound comes out… or perhaps one does, a tiny squeak, much tinier than the one produced by the wheel below me. Probably not even that. Probably it’s just my imagination.
I’m swung through the air in an envelope of blacknessHey, don’t drop me, I’ve got a bad back!