Chapter 3: Ow and Other Bad Words
I can at least take comfort in the fact that my scream was not a girly one. It's only a small thread of comfort; like that last scrap of blankee we get while being weaned off the original but it's a scrap nonetheless.
I land, thankfully, on the side of my torso that isn't bruised but remain on the floor anyway as ribs adjust to meeting floorboards.
"Not cool, Meryl." I groan, shifting my head to look at her. She not only made it back home but also right above my bed in all her leggy blonde hideous glory. "We had a deal. . . You don't try to kill me, I don't try to kill you." I ease myself up, an assortment of groans escaping in the process.
I now have more respect for paracetamol and the job it was doing. It may have only been a shadow of the painkiller beforehand but at least it was masking something. I crawl to the painkillers, take some and just sit in the middle of the floor to wait for them to work.
A sad sight. Sitting, in my pyjamas bottoms, multicoloured ribs, bloodshot eyes listening to people doing what I want to be doing; moving, eating, commuting, caffeinating. I reluctantly look at Meryl who has moved to the opposite wall. "See, I'd feel much better if you'd just stay there." Silence. "I can't believe I'm talking to a spider. I really need a life."
I think back to yesterday, the events popping to the top of my mind like pingpong balls in a bath. Jill leaving. Dad. Money. Lots and lots of money.
"Didn't he mention property?" I ask the empty flat. "Or was I imagining that?" I run my hand down my face and stand up about as straight as a tinned asparagus to make my way to the folder my father left me.
Sure enough, after the mumbo jumbo and the money, I find it. A property here in Australia, owned by my grandparents. What were they doing with it? Dad might know. But that would mean asking him which would mean talking to him;
This thought leads me to another ten minutes contemplating this as I sit on my floor, alone. I glance at Meryl who still hasn't moved.
As much as I'm excited about the prospect of forming a couple of harmless friendships and injecting some new people into this life of mine, I have to admit that in this state, I'm probably not going to make a great first impression. In an attempt to improve this, I stand in front of the mirror to make adjustments. . .
The pain has in effect deleted the Spanish heritage from my face. I've never been Antonio Banderas and never will be but I could at least claim the olive skin (less olive than Antonio's), dark eyes (they don't 'smoulder' or do any of the things woman claim Antonio's could do) and black hair (it's a misbehaving mop of mess I have to hide under my hat). The pain though has whitened my skin and sunk my eyes like two orbs in a game of battleship.
I put my fedora on my head and take another small scrap of comfort out of the fact that at least my hair can be sorted.
I make it halfway down the stairs to the café before I see him. The optimist in me is sceptical at the best of times meaning I know, I just know there is no way this is a coincidence. I contemplate reversing back up the stairs but I'm a grown man, dammit. I shouldn't have to hide!
I don't even get the chance to. Dr Amari glances up and spots me. His coffee remains at his lips and he gives me the once-over before waving a hand and pushing the chair opposite him out with his foot for me to sit in.
I cringe my way down the rest of the stairs and stand at his table.
"Mr Miggs." he says, feigning surprise. "Well, what are the odds. You live here?"
I narrow my eyes. It may be the pain but I decide to check something.
"This isn't a coincidence is it?"
"Can I at least have coffee before you drag me away?"
"I'm not on the clock and I'm not here to drag you anywhere. I was merely hoping to coax you to the hospital using things like 'common sense' and 'logic'."
I rub my eyes.
"You don't know me very well, do you?" I ask. He chuckles at this and gestures to the seat.
"You sit. I'll get you a coffee. . ."
"Ah, bribery. Now you're getting somewhere." I say and ease myself down.
It's an odd thing, bumping into Dr Amari because most of me isn't glad to see him (for obvious reasons) but the other part of me is glad I have because he's interesting and has a little something I like to call 'Personality'. Something that I'm drawn to after having to talk to my father and losing Jill in one day. I wonder how he would take to a game of GTO?
"Anthony!" I hear behind me. If at all possible, more colour drains from my face. Not because of who it is, no I rather like Hetty. Sure, half of her lipstick winds up on her teeth, her laugh sounds like a Gatling gun and her voice carries further than the international courier service, but she's a good sort and I pay very reasonable rates to live in her flat.
The reason I cringe is because Hetty has this habit of having to hold onto you while talking to you. The Australian genes in me aren't linked at all to the tall Hemsworths but even on me, Hetty only comes up to my chin. She, therefore, feels the need to pull a person from the arms down to her height. She gets to me and thankfully notices the sling. A shocked gasp and she grips her heart like it's stopped. Her other one grips what she thinks is my good arm but is really just not showing off its pain like the other one.
"Anthony!" she repeats, somehow louder. "What did you do?!"
"Oh, this? I'm fine. . .I just. . . sort of bumped into something."
The sound of a suppressed cough or laugh behind me from Amari (he had a first name. I'm sure of it.)
"Well, are you okay? Do you need anything? How about my caramel macadamia slice I just made this morning?"
"Well, alright. You've twisted my arm. . ." I tell her, muttering the word 'literally' between my teeth.
"Good!" she beams and gives me a slap in the arm. "I'll get that for you, honey. Coffee coming?"
"Yes, thank you, Hetty."
As soon as she's out of shot, I bend over the table. Ow. . . and other bad words.
"You bumped into something. . ."
The thick layer of mockery that coats those words makes me laugh into my half-good arm.
"I did. I bumped into a car going 40kh. I wonder how the driver is. . ." I sit up as straight as my body will allow me. "I didn't even think of that until now. Did the driver have to go to hospital?"
"I didn't meet the driver. She did wait at the hospital apparently but was sent home because you were still unconscious. My shift didn't start until after that. . . speaking of hospitals. . ."
"I can't go back." I cut in as a coffee is slid to me. "I have things to do."
My off-duty doctor rubs his eyes. He can't already be annoyed at me. I've barely even become annoying yet.
"Things like what? I've seen entire continents move faster than you are. . ."
"Really? Entire continents? Any particular continent? As long as I'm beating New Zealand, I'll be happy."
His hand now runs slowly down his face.
"I don't get paid enough for this."
"You're off the clock. Why are you even here? I'm not complaining. I'm glad it's you and not Ham-hands."
"Ham hands?" he asks. The fact he's laughing means he knows who I'm talking about. I put my coffee to my lips and take a long swig. Amari (really need to get his name) leans over the table and sighs.
"Look. . . I need you to come back because they all hate me and since you ran off, I'm not hearing the end of it."
"Why do they hate you?"
He scratches his head and picks his coffee back up.
"Let us just say I have the same problem you do. . ."
"Which one?" I ask. "Or would you like to see this seasons catalogue?"
He points a finger at me.
"That one. I call it a sense of humour but they don't agree and it got me in trouble. I'm actually a fully trained surgeon but I've been demoted to. . . you. I like my patients under anaesthetic."
"Mmm, the best customers are ones that don't talk back. I find that in my line of work too."
"What do you do for work?"
"I'm at Glenwood Funeral Services."
I think he's waiting for me to say I'm joking but when I don't, he roars with laughter. I too start laughing much to the protest of my ribs. Damn. . . this is a bad person to get on with.
It took another coffee and a macadamia caramel slice for us to reach a middle ground in our negotiations. My conditions were this: I wanted to see this house I apparently own first and I don't want Nurse Hatchet within reach of me.
Leigh (a first name at last) Amari doesn't trust me as far as I can walk so has offered to drive me to the house to look at it and then drive me straight to the hospital. Ham-hands clocks off this afternoon and by then I'll most definitely need some form of painkiller. The problem comes with me being in a car for half an hour or more with someone who knows.
It'll only be a matter of time before the subject is forced on me like a fork-full of broccoli to an unwilling child. I decide to fill the time by asking him as many questions as possible hoping he'll get too absorbed in his own life to ask about mine.
". . . so, then, we're about to close up the patient and he asks me if I agree that we're all good to finish up and I say. . ." Leigh sighs, trying to look sombre about his comment but failing miserably, "'yep, better close him up before we lose your toupee in there.' and he goes livid and kicks me out and I haven't been allowed in the surgical ward since."
"That's unfortunate." I nod, also trying not to laugh.
"It is. So now, I only get the chance to do surgery if someone comes in bleeding out and there's nobody else around." Leigh sighs and glances at me. "What about you? How does a person become a funeral director?"
"I applied for the job to annoy my father and I got the job because I was the first of five not to quit because my boss is a miserable old fart who hates people. People like me though, for reasons he is yet to understand, so he kept me. . . begrudgingly."
"Does your boss know about your RP?"
"Nope." I clip, looking away.
Silence, and I hope it's because he's thinking about a subject change.
"Does anybody?" he asks quietly. I throw him a look. "What? You know ignoring it won't make it go away, right?"
"That should be on your business card. . ."
"Making jokes about it doesn't make it go away either."
"Ah, but it does stop me wanting to scream about it."
More silence follows and I shift in my seat. I knew this was a bad idea. This conversation is more uncomfortable than the drive is and I want it to end.
"Come on. . . does nobody know what you're going through?"
I let out a long sigh so he knows that even though I'm about to pass on information, I'm not happy about it.
"My Father only just got back in contact with me recently, none of my half siblings like admitting I exist, let along care, my wife left me about two months before I found out and I . . . I have no friends." I grimace a smile at him as he drives. "So no. I mean. . . it's not a big deal. I'm not dying of cancer so why should I complain, right?"
There's a long silence and I just watch the trees and water flash past the windows. Please don't say more. Please don't say more. Please. . .
"But. . . you're going blind."
He says the words carefully. Not carefully enough. It still feels about as painful as when I was first told. It's not how I like to word it in my head either. I prefer to water it down but Leigh Amari doesn't. 'You're going blind'. Its scarier when there are no other words to hide the fact in. I would have preferred he actually re-told me I had Retinitis Pigmentosa because complicated words are easy to tune out. 'You're going blind' is the end result I really don't want to think about.
"It may not be cancer, pal but it's still a pretty massive thing to lose." he adds. I scratch my head and clear my throat.
"I'd like to change the subject," I say quietly. "Please."
"I'd like to change the lotto numbers," he adds. I don't reply, just keep my sight on the view passing me. If my peripheral vision worked, I'd probably see Leigh sneaking worried glances at me, but it doesn't. Probably a good thing really.
"I'll change the subject," he tells me. "But you should tell someone. . ."
Now I'm angry, but I think something resembling 'hurt' shows up in my voice first.
"Who?! The only person I have a solid conversation with every day is the eight-legged-freak behind a painting on my wall!"
Leigh sighs, slowing the car down.
"I really hope you're talking about a spider," he mutters and then takes a deep breath. "Look. . . I'll be your friend."
I squint at him.
"I don't remember it being that simple since preschool."
"Why can't it be that simple? I'm new here. I work weird hours and I have no friends. I tried to flirt with one woman and she shot me in the foot with a nail gun so I've stopped trying. But it would be nice to claim to have at least one friend. You so far haven't shot me or sued me for something I've said, so what do you say . . . pal?"
I stare at him, finding this exchange weird. He wants to be friends with me even though I've been sulking for half of the road trip!? Might as well be preschool.
"You must be really bad at flirting. . ." I tell him. He screws up his face and sighs.
"She didn't shoot me on purpose. . . I think. I never got to ask. She bolted and then got fired the next day. I feel terrible."
"So, you're either that good or that bad?"
"Basically." He nods. "Anyway. . . it would be nice to have someone to tell next time it happens and I'm not going to drag you into talking about the RP all the time but . . . drinking is just sad alone."
"You're coming across as desperate," I tell him.
"I am desperate. Why else would I try to befriend a stubborn, half-blind mortician?"
I gape at him a moment of shock before breaking into rib-killing laughter.
"So, I can joke about it but not lecture you about it?"
"Apparently," I mutter, wiping my eyes. "House is that way, driver."
I keep chuckling as he drives, petrified by this new friendship. I have a feeling we're going to be bad company for each other.
A/N: Would love to hear your thoughts so far.