The next day passes without incident. No phone calls, no terrible stories on the news. I’m not sure that that means; neither was there nothing on the news about the man under the tarp who would not die.
I come home in the car, picking up the kids on the way. Evan and Cory seem to be fine; they have no inkling that there might be something happening. Kids seem to have wonderfully fine-tunes senses; it’s their remembered childhoods that are the barometers of an era, and Evan and Cory are no different today. Even little Cory, who at five is a sensitive bit of blue-eyed soul, is cheerful and affectionate. His older brother, at eight, is a bright and questioning, and he would regard the end of the world as an adventure in which he would be the winner.
“We’re going to pick up Mommy from work.”
“Why don’t you guys but another car already?” says Evan, picking his nose.
“We’re not buying another car because we don’t need one, and you don’t need an Ipod Touch either, mister.”
“Half the kids in my class have them.”
I bite my tongue. I want to tell him there’s no time in life for playing video games and staring at a screen, even thought I’m as early an adapter as you can get. I want to tell him and Cory all the things that would make them better than me, even though that is the wrong way to teach. Despite his insolence, I often catch Evan parroting my sayings and opinions verbatim. I have to be better, I tell myself. It won’t be long before he’s taller, and no measure of force will make him to listen to me. It’ll be his death, I fear, if I can’t make him listen to me when he’s older. It’s a rough world out there; far rougher than I was young. I’m one of those adults who think the young are in trouble through no fault of their own. It’s probably our fault.
We make our way through the sluggish traffic, heading towards City Hall, which is next to the big hospital. The emergency room is near the Skytrain Line, and sometimes I’ve taken the kids on it to visit mommy at work. They know they emergency room, and they know that we’re never to walk through front, and let all the patients in the waiting room know that the nice and pretty woman has an identifiable family.
The frightening crowds she spoke of are no longer here. It is as if a silent edict has cleared them away and what has replaced them is the usual: The old, immigrants who can’t speak English, a few Ed Hardy-clad young men who look unimaginably violent and stare suspiciously at anyone how comes in the front door. Also, some very sick people: not emergency cases, but older, wheezing, immensely fat men and women who have ten different things wrong with them and are clinging to life by duct-tape. This is the side of adult medicine we are not told about on the TV shows. In the corner, a gnomic old woman shuffles five different pill bottles between her hands and her purse.
I see all this when I look out from the ER’s central station.
Most of the nurses recognize us, and let the boys sit behind the counter where we cannot be seen. The place smells of shit with a faint after-tinge of blood. I don’t like the smell, but I cannot complain of a smell that is so necessary. They save people’s lives here and that has never been a fragrant business. I could say the same thing about the maternity ward when my two sons were born. There is nothing pleasant-smelling about either life or death.
My wife comes out. Part of her job is to teach other doctors the fundamentals of emergency medicine, and three young and dapper Fellows follow her into the open where she makes the introductions. The Fellows fawn over my two handsome sons but they are professionally bound to do so: she is their teacher and also the supervisor. Two are men and one is a woman.
“Did you have a good day?” I ask her after she has given me and the boys a quick kiss.
“Busy,” she said. She looks exhausted, and she has often said that she is a walking advertisement not to get into medicine. She knows one of doctor, a single mother, who stays awake during the day and works shifts at night. This woman falls asleep the moment she stops moving and yet somehow she is allowed to work. “It was so busy today. There must be a full moon.”
“Why don’t we go home? Remember that Harold and Lisa are coming over tonight.”
“Crap,” she said. “At least we did a lot of the cooking last night.”
At home it is a simple matter to get the food together. It’s a lasagna made with organic ricotta and sunflower seeds have been sprinkled on the crispy top. We’ve got good wine from the Okanagan, and brightly coloured salad greens sprinkled with shredded beets and chopped strawberries. It is a fine but simple meal that cannot fail to impress. We chide the boys to change into some clean clothes and somehow we persuade Evan to comb his hair. The clock strikes six and there is a knock at the door.
When we open the door, Harold and Lisa stand alone. The two daughters, whom my wife has said are beautiful in almost an eldritch way, are not with them.
Harold is dressed in the same clothes as when I saw him last night through the window. His pants are dark but I can still see something dark and tacky where someone might rub his wet and dirty hands.