There’s no way to mask the fact that people die in hospitals. It happens with regularity that disinfectant can’t wash away. Souls enter and leave the world in hospitals with such consistency that it’s nothing more than another day for the people working there, or passing by on their daily business.
It’s different when it’s someone you know. It’s not just another death. This time, it’s Uncle Carson.
Kalea blew out a sigh as she fanned herself in the stifling room. “Why is it so hot in here?”
No reply. Just the hiss of the air conditioner and Uncle Carson’s rattled breathing. The same as the last two hours: a machine that wouldn’t cool below eighty degrees, and that awful death rattle. The nurse called Aunt Tabitha and her cousin, Avery, out of the room for a “conversation” five minutes ago, leaving her alone to watch Uncle Carson just in case – of what? Maybe he could still hear, but if his demise was inevitable to everybody else, then surely it was inevitable to him. He was the one stuck in the bed. He was the one hooked to machines. He was the one rattling.
She heard a muffled sob escape her aunt in the hallway.
“Geeze!” she leaned over to unlatch the thin, stabilizing rubber mesh wrapped around her left foot and ankle. “It’s a hundred degrees outside, and this broken foot is so swollen that it’s almost the size of the pumpkins you used to grow. Remember the pumpkins?”
No response. So much for reminiscing over the good times.
Kalea leaned back in the chair, propping her foot on the edge of the bed. “I’m sorry, Uncle Carson. I’m sorry the cure came too late.” She raised her water bottle in a mock salute. “Here’s to the world’s best technological advance in the world’s worst timing.”
Rattling – from the air conditioner and from Uncle Carson.
Kalea sat the bottle on the table and leaned back in the chair. “This is crap,” she pressed her hand over her head where she felt a migraine coming on. Great, one more problem. Her uncle was dying because the nanotech that could have reconnected his neural pathways was put on the medical market too late to help him. She was hobbling around on a broken foot because she couldn’t afford the same tech that could have healed it in a matter of hours. And now her head hurt, and her medication was in her office, forgotten in the “your only uncle is dying” haste of picking up Avery at the airport and rushing here, just to sit and wait. She pressed harder, trying to press out pain, the rattle, her aunt’s sobs in the hallway; the deep murmur of Avery’s voice; all of it.
Kalea groaned as she squinted at the late afternoon summer sun streaming through the window. She reminded herself that whatever chaos reigned in here, the world was going on as normal out there, and she’d be part of it again as soon as they got through this. Tomorrow would come and they would make it through that day, and the next, and every day after that, until they faced this moment themselves.
That was the chaplin’s logic an hour ago.
“Uncle Carson,” she studied his thin face, “Mom and Dad are on the way. Remember that I told you Mom is teaching the advanced physics class at the University of Tennessee for the fall semester? They’re living in the mountain cabin until the semester is over. She’ll sing in the church choir at Christmas. You always enjoy hearing her sing.”
More rattling. Kalea fanned her shirt, pulling it away from the sweat. “You like The Canticle of the Turning. She’ll do it again this year. She’s probably singing it already for Dad. He laughs about how she sings a Christmas song year round.”
Kalea thought she heard him stir, but couldn’t perceive movement. She looked toward the evening sun shifting through the window. “I can’t sing as like she can, but I remember your favorite verse. It’s the third one, isn’t it?” She closed her eyes and sang.
“From the halls of power to the fortress tower,
Not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware, for your justice tears
Every tyrant from his throne.
The hungry, poor shall weep no more,
For the food they can never earn;
There are tables spread, every mouth be fed,
For the world is about to turn.”
Kalea relaxed, sinking in the chair. Peace seeped into her; a quietness that told her that everything would be alright. Tomorrow wouldn’t come for Uncle Carson, but it would for everybody else.
A hand grabbed Kalea’s foot. She jumped, her brown eyes widening to see Uncle Carson sitting up in the bed, grasping her broken foot
Kalea tried to pull back her foot, but his grip tightened. She whined.
“Kalea, it’s going to be alright.”
Carson smiled, his own brown eyes glinting. “We’ve been chosen.”
Kalea stopped fighting his iron grip on her foot. “For what?”
Carson stared at her with a strange glimmer in his eyes. “You’re right. The world is about to turn.”
Kalea resumed her struggle, pulling harder on her foot. A shock went through her as she jerked free from his grip, leaped out of the chair, and dashed out of the door. She ran down the hall to the nurses station where Aunt Tabitha and Avery retreated with the nurses, her left foot leaving bloody prints on the linoleum. They stopped as they saw her approach, her long, brown hair flying behind her. Avery hurried to meet her, catching her in his arms. “Kalea, what is it?”
Kalea gasped, staring at Avery. “He’s awake.”
Aunt Tabitha turned from the nurse she was talking to. “What did you say?”
“Uncle Carson is awake!”
“That’s impossible,” the nurse pushed past them. They followed her to Uncle Carson’s room, where they found him sitting up and calmly removing the morphine IV from his arm. He smiled at them.
“Hello everybody. Isn’t it a beautiful evening?”
Aunt Tabitha and Avery rushed to Uncle Carson, engulfing him in a hug.
The nurse pushed her hair out of her face, her shaky arm exposing a phoenix tattoo. “I don’t understand.”
Aunt Tabitha looked up from her embrace, tears dripping down her cheek. “It’s a miracle!”
Kalea sagged against the wall, smearing the blood trickling from foot over the floor. “The world is about to turn.”