Wake Me When It's Over
It was 1:27 am.
“It’s about time you dragged your lazy butt over here. You live like two minutes from the hospital. Where have you been?”
“What do you mean, ‘where’ve I been?’ It’s 1:30 in the morning! Like most sane people, I’ve been sleeping.” The young man with round, freckled features motioned to the fuzzy pajama pants and tie-dyed t-shirt he was wearing, modeling them as though they were evidence he was telling the truth.
“Real cute outfit, Monte.”
“Thanks. I don’t get a chance to wear it outside the house much.” A crooked grin spoiled the intended insult. Monte combed his fingers through a mess of sepia hair that lacked the red highlights in his brother’s dark mop. His long bangs lifted before falling in his brown eyes again. He yawned with his questions.
“How’s she doing? You seen her yet?”
“Not yet.” Lenny dropped into a small sofa and stretched his long, skinny legs out in front of him. He wore a red sports t-shirt with a pair of khaki shorts and loafers. His skin was tan and clear, his features pretty for a guy. Squat pieces of furniture - chairs, loveseats, and end tables - were arranged in clusters about the waiting room, some facing a muted television, others facing a huge, humming fish tank. He picked up a paper cup filled with water and rested it on his chest with both hands.
“They have her on intravenous painkillers, Demerol, so she’s not in pain anymore at least. They wheeled her out for x-rays right before I got here. A nurse is suppose to let me know when they bring her back to emergency.”
“Can’t we wait in Mom’s room, where there’s a bed?”
Lenny scowled up at his brother and shook his head. “You’re not here to sleep, moron.”
“Fine,” Monte sighed. He sank into the sofa beside his big brother and tried snuggling up to him. His head plopped on Lenny’s shoulder for half a second before he was elbowed and shoved away, harshly rejected.
“Get off of me! I already got a wife, and she smells a whole lot better than you do!” He sat up straight, griping over spilt water. “Dang it, Monte, now look what you’ve done! I’m all wet!”
The freckled brother slid over to the opposite end of the furniture and kinked his head against a stiff sofa arm. It wasn’t anymore uncomfortable than Lenny’s bony shoulder.
“I can already tell this night’s gonna be excruciating,” he groaned, “Why don’t you just wake me when it’s over.”
Lenny ignored the complaint and set down his half-empty cup of water. “So where the heck is Russ, anyway?”
“No clue,” came a sleepy reply.
“I called him twice. Left a nice message for the gimp.”
“Yeah, I’m sure your message was real sweet, just like the one you left for me. ‘Mom’s last dying words were gasps of serious disappointment in you’. Had I not gotten her message first, you might have actually worried me. I so often thank God in my prayers that we were blessed with such a kind and thoughtful older brother. A real Mohandas Mahatma Gandhi.”
“Gandhi. A who,” Monte said, raising his eyelids and his head to look over at his older brother. “You know, the icon of world peace. The compassionate, tolerant, non-violent guy credited with winning independence for India without raising a fighting fist.”
He was met with a clueless expression.
“Oh for Pete’s sake, Lenny, you gotta know who Gandhi is!”
Lenny rolled his disgruntled eyes without an answer.
Monte sat up straight. He looked flabbergasted. “How on earth can anyone ace their way through high school and college and not know about a world-famous figure like Mohandas Mahatma Gandhi?”
“I know who Muhammad Ali is.” Lenny made two tight fist and held them up to his face like a defensive boxer; a skinny, lightweight wannabe. He faked a couple jabs at his brother.
Monte was the one to roll his eyes that time. “Figures,” was all he muttered before sinking back against the sofa arm. He closed his eyes and breathed in and out deeply and audibly; a waking snore.
“I bet Russ is sound asleep.”
“Yeah. In a nice, comfy bed, peacefully dreaming, oblivious to the whole world, as usual.”
Lenny grimaced, repeating the same words, “Yeah, as usual.”
“He had a date last night, you know.”
“And Friday night too.”
Monte opened his eyes to look directly at his brother. “In all the time you’ve known our little brother, has Russ ever convinced a girl to date him more than once?”
They both chuckled low and long in answer to the question.
Lenny shook his head with a look of pity. “If the poor kid would just learn to shut up once in awhile and let the women talk….”
“I know, I know, for serious! Once they find out he gabs at least twice as much as they do….”
They shared another good laugh at their brother’s expense.
“Speak of the devil,” Monte breathed. He pointed off toward the main counter where a young man had approached a lone woman seated behind a computer monitor. He was husky from the backside, average height with broad shoulders. His fallow hair was extra short; a military cut. He was dressed casually in jeans and a green ‘T’ with tennies.
“He’s here,” Lenny said, recognizing their little brother from the back. He grabbed his paper cup and dipped his fingers into the water, then rubbed the moisture on his eyes and cheeks. Then he nudged Monte’s arm with the cup.
“Here. Wet your eyes.”
“Just play along.” It only took a split-second to understand. “You’re seriously gonna torture him like this?”
There was one firm nod. “We are.”
Monte shrugged and dabbed a few cold tears on his lashes, dripping some across his freckled cheeks. Then he swallowed the remaining water and tossed the cup aside. Lenny screwed up his face disgustedly.
“My fingers were in that.”
Monte’s palms turned toward the ceiling. “So? Were they in your nose first?”
Lenny’s face twisted even tighter. “Gross! Of course not!”
Monte shrugged. They both turned their attention to the counter when their brother’s chattering voice took over the mostly empty waiting room.
“Ma’am? Excuse me, ma’am? I got this call about my mother. Well, actually from my mother, she left a message, but then so did my brothers, after her. Both of them. I, uh… I’m not sure if she’s still in emergency or if she’s been admitted to a hospital room now or if you know exactly what happened to her, but I, uh….I need to find out so I can…..”
“Russ! Hey, over here!”
The strapping figure leaning over the counter turned around. A relieved look of recognition swept over his face and he hustled to where his brothers sat waiting. His blue eyes changed by degree as he approached them; from relieved to bothered to seriously concerned. He glanced between moist, somber faces.
“What’s going on? How’s mom? Is she….is she alright?”
A wave of panic ran through him when Monte’s face lowered into one hand, making a quivering sniffling noise.
“Lenny? Mom’s okay, right?”
“Well, it depends on how you look at it, I guess. You might say she’s in a better place. No more pain, at least.”
Russ was well aware that his brothers were having a difficult time keeping eye contact with him. Lenny wiped at the moisture in his eyes. There was another sniffle from Monte, followed by a brief, high-pitched sob.
“Oh man. No, no, no, this can’t be happening.” Russ put a hand to his mouth and blinked back an attack of warm tears. He scrunched his blue eyes and stared harshly at his oldest brother.
“Lenny. Are you serious? Don’t be toying with me about Mom. She left a voicemail on my phone saying she’d be here. It didn’t sound serious, just that stupid chest pain she’s suffered from periodically over the years. They’ve never proven it to be her heart. It’s never been…..you know….never……….life threatening.”
Both Lenny and Monte looked up with dour faces, four brown eyes shimmering with moisture.
“We got the same message,” Monte said.
“Yeah, too bad you didn’t get here sooner, Russ. She would’ve liked to have seen you before…..” Lenny trailed off with a frown, shaking his head regrettably.
Blue eyes narrowed, stinging with tears, darting back and forth skeptically between a set of soil-brown eyes and a gaze nearly auburn in color.
“Are you lying to me?” Russ demanded, “Because I swear I will never, ever forgive you if you’re lying to me about my mother.”
As sober as a rearing cobra, Lenny answered. “I’ve told you no lies.”
Monte shook his head when Russ shifted over his gaze. “For serious, Russ, he hasn’t told you one lie.” A short pause had Monte blurting out a confession. “Though he’s misleading you like a wolf wrapped up in sheepskin.”
“You confounded goody-goody, Monte! Can’t you play along for more than one lousy minute?” Lenny shoved his brother extra hard into the side of the sofa. He nearly rubbed his nose in the cushions while his victim just laughed and snorted out loud.
“Lenny! You rotten, scum-sucking jerk! How could you? Why would you wanna make me think Mom was actually….” Russ stopped short, unable to say the final word. Instead he pulled his big brother off of Monte and twisted him up in a choke hold, wrenching tight on one arm while causing his chin to jet out. Lenny cried out in pain; a loud objection.
“Aaahhgg! Cut it out! Cut it out! Let go of me, you gimp!”
Russ responded through gritted teeth. “Not until you apologize.”
“Okay, okay! I’m sorry you’re so gullible.”
Russ wrenched on his brother’s arm, tightening his hold.
Monte was laughing beside them, nearly choking on his own frequent snorts.
“Gentlemen!” All eyes turned at the call of a woman’s voice. She was standing up behind the counter, both hands on her hips, staring at them with wide eyes full of shock and reproach. Lenny continued to whimper in Russ’ wrestling hold.
“This is a hospital, not a playground! If you can’t behave yourselves, I’ll call security and have all three of you escorted out of the building.”
Monte raised two surrendering hands. “Sorry, ma’am, sorry. Just a little slaphappy with exhaustion, I guess. We’ll, settle down.”
Russ released his hostage and all three boys slunk into the sofa, blue-eyes in the middle.
“That was crap,” Russ growled lowly, “Mom’s gonna hear about this when I get in there to see her.”
“Baby tattletale,” Lenny grumbled, “You’re so much a momma’s boy I bet you still suck your thumb at night.”
“We were just joking around with you, Russ,” Monte said from the other side, “Lighten up a little.”
“Lighten up, huh?” Russ turned to Lenny. “If you walked into the hospital and I told you Ellaina and little Joey had died in a car crash, then announced, ‘oh psych, just kidding!’, would you be laughing about it?”
It was dead quiet.
“Not so funny, is it?”
“You’re talking about my entire family.”
“Mom’s part of your family too, Lenny. You are to her what Joey is to Ellaina.”
The quiet seemed to intensify as if it were a physical burden to shoulder.
“Sorry,” Lenny eventually murmured. There was a genuine note of remorse in his tone.
Russ sighed heavily. “Yeah, fine.” He flickered a glance at the clock.
The time read, 1:42 am.
“Sooo,” Russ sighed out loud. He and his brothers were all staring straight ahead at an enormous fish tank that bubbled and glowed iridescent colors. It was taller and wider than the muted flat screen t.v. mounted on the wall behind their heads.
“How is Mom really? You seen her yet?”
Russ received the same answer from both sides. “No, not yet.”
Lenny explained, “They wheeled her off to x-ray.”
“Some nurse is suppose to let us know when she gets back,” Monte added.
“But she’s okay? She’s alive?”
“Yes, she’s fine. They got her on Demerol. No pain. They’re just taking another stab at solving the mystery of her ghost attacks.”
“They’re not ghost attacks,” Russ disagreed defensively, “There is some physical reason for them.”
“Yeah? Well, tell us then, genius, what is it?”
Russ twisted his neck to glare at Lenny. “If I knew that, don’t you think I’d have shared my wisdom with Mom’s doctors?”
“What I hate is the fact that they’re so unpredictable.”
Russ and Lenny both turned their heads to look at Monte. He was staring at a blue discus fish in the tank, talking at the bright bugger as though mesmerized by it.
“She goes seven years with no problems, and then ‘BAM!’, out of the blue, five attacks in a week. And it’s always the same excruciating pain to the point of feeling like she’s gonna die. Then, ‘WOOSH!’, just as suddenly, the pain’s gone. Her body goes back to normal with no hint, no clue, no trace as to what occurred. It’s as if nothing ever happened. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“I think she should see a specialist.”
“She did that. Remember the trip to Minnesota? The Mayo Clinic?”
“They found nothing. By the time she came home, the attacks had stopped, so she did what any of us would’ve done. Forgot about it and went on with her life.”
The three shrugged and nodded simultaneously. “Yep.”
“She hasn’t had a problem for years. Not any she’s let on about.” Russ looked at both of his brothers who shook their heads in agreement.
They quieted for awhile, each man considering his own thoughts. Monte’s head fell sideways and slowly sank to the sofa arm where it rested. His eyelids closed and he began breathing more heavily. Russ crossed his arms and tilted his head, keeping focused on the fish tank. Lenny shimmied further down into the cushions and stretched his long, hairy legs out in front of him. A couple people walked through the waiting room, murmuring about the deficiencies in hospital food before disappearing around the corner. One Asian woman sat alone, her eyes closed as she rested in a chair beneath the television. A man in a blue uniform showed up and carried on a hushed, five-minute conversation with the woman behind the counter. Russ tried to ignore it when the woman pointed at them. The security guard flickered a glance their way, but left without a word. Monte’s breathing progressed into a light snore that hitched and paused, making him stir as though he might wake up. He didn’t.
“That big black-striped fish just ate one of those baby yellow ones.” Even though he was merely uttering the words, Russ’ voice sounded extra loud as it broke the extended silence.
Lenny nodded his head beside his youngest brother’s shoulder. “Yeah, I saw that.”
“Well that sucks,” Russ complained, “Why do they put babies in there with those big monster fish?”
“Who says they’re babies? Maybe that’s their adult size. Maybe they don’t grow any bigger.”
Russ extended his arm toward the tiny school of fish, gesturing with an upturned palm. “Then shouldn’t they be in a separate tank? They don’t stand a fighting chance in there with those huge predators pickin’ ‘em off one by one.”
“That’s probably the whole point. They’re dinner.”
Russ folded his arms across his chest, curling his lip distastefully. “That’s just plain mean.”
Lenny’s frame shook as he started chuckling. “What’s so mean about it? They’re fish. Little fish get eaten by big fish who get eaten by even bigger fish. Then we, the big bad humans, eat the tastiest fish. That’s life!”
Russ was shaking his head in tiny movements while his eyes rolled up at the ceiling. He pointed to the school of tiny, yellow fish all huddled together within a hollow of greenery.
“Those poor little critters are probably living in fear every second of their existence, knowing that eventually they’ll be eaten alive by the monsters taunting them with every lap across the tank. It’s gotta be hell living that way.”
Lenny lifted his neck from off the sofa to stare incredulously at his little brother. “Are you for real? They’re freakin’ fish, Russell!”
His brother narrowed two blue eyes on him. “Hey! Watch your mouth. You know Mom hates that word.”
“Well, you said ‘hell’ first.”
“Yeah, but I wasn’t cussing, I was using it in context.”
“So? Mom would still let you have it for saying the word out loud. Especially in public.” Lenny perked his brows as though he’d backed his brother into a tight corner.
Russ twisted his neck to take a good look all around the room. The Asian woman was sound asleep in her chair and the lady behind the counter was engrossed in whatever she was reading on her computer screen. Russ wrinkled his nose at his brother, his palms face up, his mouth gaped.
“It’s still a public place,” Lenny argued.
“Fine,” Russ grumbled. He turned back to face the fish tank and edited his prior statement. “It’s gotta be woeful living that way.”
“Woeful,” Lenny snickered.
“It’s a word.”
“Yeah, a doleful one.”
“Shut up.” Russ tried to elbow his big brother but missed when Lenny twisted out of the way with swift reflexes. “Don’t you have any sympathy at all for other creatures? Heck, for anybody other than yourself?”
“Yes,” Lenny replied, “I have plenty of sympathy when it’s reasonably called for.”
“Oh yeah, like when? Oh, wait, I know! When you picked up Mom and brought her to the hospital. But no, no, no, that wasn’t you. That was the ambulance she had to call to come get her.”
“Hey, Mr. High-and-Mighty, you weren’t the hero who came running to her rescue either.”
“I was asleep. My phone was dead because I’d turned it off to go to the movie theatre last night and forgot to turn it back on. The only reason I got the message before daylight was because I drank so much soda at that nauseating movie that my bladder woke me up. I remembered my phone was off when I stumbled into the bathroom, so I checked it. As soon as I heard mom’s message, I got dressed and raced here to come see her.”
“Well, I didn’t hear my phone either. It was hooked up to the charger in my office. But I was up in the middle of the night too, playing Mr. Perfectly-Sympathetic-Husband and attending to my son who was screaming his head off for some warm milk. Instead of waking my soundly-sleeping wife, I sympathetically stole into Joey’s room and made him a bottle.”
“I thought Ellaina was nursing.”
“She is, most of the time. She does both, breast and bottle.”
“How can you do both without confusing the kid?”
Lenny skrewed up his forehead in a look of incredulity. “Seriously? It’s not rocket science.” He stuck one thumb in his mouth, sucked twice, then popped it out and replaced it with the other thumb. When the second thumb left his puckered lips, Lenny held them both up as though daring Russ to tell the difference between the two.
“I think I can tell the differnce between a tit and a plastic nipple.”
“Can you? Have you ever seen a real one?”
Russ’ hands went for the throat, but his big brother was up in a flash, headed for another chair. He ended out in the seat beside the fish tank across the way. Lenny grinned impishly at his little brother’s killer glower.
“So you had a date at the movies last night, huh?” Lenny slid down in his new seat, feeling relatively safe. He crossed his legs, waiting for Russ to answer. The bait was too tempting.
“Yes, actually, I did. She picked the movie. I swear, though, it was the worst chick flick of all time! I could barely suffer through it! I wanted to strangle myself at least a dozen times to escape the torture. I left my seat three times; to go to the bathroom, to get some popcorn, and to get some fresh air after faking a nasty cough.”
“You actually faked a cough to leave the theatre?”
“Seriously, yes. And I would’ve faked my own death if I thought it coulda saved me from having to watch that dreadful movie.”
“Come on, Russ. How bad could it have been?”
“You really want to know how bad?” Leaning forward, elbows on knees, Russ’ blue eyes locked on his brother’s curious gaze. “Okay, this girl in the movie, gorgeous as all get-out, falls for some regular, decent, down-to-earth guy and is on her way to find him and confess her love for him. He’s in love with her too, so it’s all good.”
Lenny shrugged one shoulder. “Sounds like any old chick flick.”
With a halting hand, Russ went on. “So, on her way to this guy’s place, don’t ask me why it took forever to meet up with him, she stumbles into this other guy who she knows as a sort-of friend. He’s a real bad dude, but, ‘surprise, surprise’, it turns out he has the hots for her. Apparently he’s been after her forever, but she’s always turned him down. When he finds out she’s on her way to declare her love for Mr. Down-to-Earth, Mr. Bad-Dude decides that right then is the only chance he’ll ever have to lay his heart on the line. So, in the middle of this crowded city bus, he declares his love by reenacting some badly-revised, Shakespearish performance. It was horrible!”
Lenny lifted a questioning brow.
“Let me put it this way. I’d kiss William Shakespeare’s feet for allowing me to sit through his charming plays if it meant not having to endure one second of that actor’s miserable performance again.”
“Wow. That is bad.”
Russ nodded, an adamant gesture. “I would’ve slept through the nightmare if I could’ve, and had her wake me when it was over. But I didn’t want to be rude.”
“But leaving your seat three times during the movie wasn’t rude?”
“I had good excuses.”
Lenny chided him with a look. Russ ignored it and went on.
“So anyway, in the middle of this pathetic love scene, the bus is taken over by some crazed lunatic who goes wild shooting out windows and acting like he sniffed way too much glue in childhood. He makes everyone leave the bus except for…….you’ll never guess.”
“The two lovebirds.”
“Right! Only they’re not lovebirds. Not yet.”
“But the girl ends out falling for Mr. Bad-Dude after he saves her from the crazed bus snatcher,” Lenny presumes.
“Yeah, sort of. The police actually end out shooting the crazy guy. Mr. Bad-and-Tough-Dude saves the girl from certain death, yanking her out of the teetering bus only seconds before it plummets over a hundred-foot cliff. So she’s all, ‘You’re my hero! I love you! I’ve always loved you but never knew it until now!’.”
Lenny laughed at Russ’ falsetto, then dared to finish the story himself. “And they kiss passionately before disappearing in the sunset on a Harley Davidson motorcycle, destined to have two bad-dude brats and live miserably ever after. The End.”
“You would think, but sadly, no. Up to this point, I tolerated the movie okay. Barely. But before long, it comes out that the crazy bus-snatcher was good friends with Mr. Bad-Dude. So the girl puts two and two together and accuses her new love of setting this whole thing up in order to win her over. He denies it, telling her that his buddy was acting all on his own, knowing how much he was in love with the woman. She almost believes him until it slips that Mr. Bad-Dude had his own plan for winning her over that involved having Mr. Down-to-Earth framed and killed in a staged bank robbery.”
“Yeah. Well, she decides she can never ever be with a guy who would seriously consider killing another human being in cold blood, and she hightails it out of his arms.”
“And into Mr. Boring’s arms.”
“You’d think so, but no! The ending’s a real kicker.”
“Don’t you dare reveal the ending.” Lenny and Russ both turned their heads to look at Monte. He’d yawned the command with his eyes shut. His lids were barely breached enough to peer at them through long lashes.
“Why don’t you want to hear the ending, Monte?”
“Because Cheryl’s been begging me to take her to that movie, and if I have to suffer through it, I wanna have something to look forward to. Something to keep me awake.”
“As if that’s possible,” Lenny grumbled wryly.
“Plug your ears then, ‘cause I’m telling Lenny the ending.”
“No, no, no, don’t,” Monte insisted, sitting upright, “Let him go see it with Ellaina.”
“Nuh-uh. We don’t go out to the movies anymore. We have a family now. A mouth to feed, babysitting to arrange, all that garbage. It’s too much of a hassle.” He motioned with his hand for Russ to go on. “Tell me how it ends.”
“Okay, well, Mr. Bad-and-Tough-Guy figures he’s blown it for good with the girl.”
“Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah….”
Russ twisted his neck to look at Monte the same time Lenny’s eyes shifted to him. He had a finger in each ear and his eyes directed up at the ceiling, to avoid lip-reading.
“What in the world are you doing?”
“I can’t hear you,” Monte answered, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah….”
“I swear he’s adopted.”
“I’m sure of it.”
“Okay, so anyway, Mr. Bad-Guy goes home and ransacks his own place in a drunken rage. He ends out crying his eyes out all huddled up on the floor because he can’t bear the thought of living without his one true love. Then he makes some longwinded announcement to absolutely nobody about how he and she are from two different worlds that will never be able to exist in harmony together. He declares his eternal love for her and………..he hangs himself.” Russ fell back in his seat, his arms crossed over his chest. Lenny’s mouth dropped open.
“What? He killed himself?”
Lenny stared at his brother, waiting for a ‘psych!’ or ‘gotcha!’, but it didn’t come. Russ kept perfect eye contact, his mouth set in a smug line.
“You’re kidding me, right?”
Lenny ventured a different ending with a little less confidence. His eyes scrunched uncertainly, gauging his youngest brother’s nonverbal feedback.
“So then the girl finds out about his suicide and feels all guilty and seeks out Mr. Goody-two-shoes so she can cry on his shoulder. In the process of him comforting her, they kiss in some mushy, close-up shot on screen and fall madly in love again. All is as it was meant to be. The End.”
“Nope. Well, yes and no, actually. She finds out about the drunken suicide and feels extremely guilty. And she does track down Mr. Good-Guy to cry on his shoulder. He declares his unconditional love, but, she realizes it does nothing for her. Then she further realizes that she really did love Mr. Bad-Dude after all, regardless of his criminal faults. Tragically, it’s too late for them, so……….she goes home and hangs herself too.”
“Told you so.”
“Oh that is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard! There’s no way I want to go see that movie now!” Monte still had his fingers in his ears as he spoke. Lenny and Russ turned to laugh at his screwed up face.
“I am sooooo glad it’s you and not me,” Lenny said, slapping a hand against his heart, “You and Cheryl can have a ball with that one.”
“Cheryl’s gonna love it,” Russ declared with wide eyes, “I’m serious. All the girls in that theater were bawling their heads off, saying it was the best modern day ‘Romeo and Juliet’ story yet. To tell you the truth, I never understood the appeal for the original Shakespeare version.”
“Yeah, me threeither.”
“Women. Go figure.”
The brothers were shaking their heads in bewilderment when a recurring, low-key hum caught their attention. Monte went for his pajama pocket and pulled out a cell phone set on vibrate. The name, ‘Cheryl Brittney', flashed on the screen. He glanced at the upper right hand corner where the time was displayed in small numbers.
It was 2:13 am.
Copyright 2011 Richelle E. Goodrich