The Model Man
Nancy is in a fetal curl on the kitchen floor as she phones her husband at work. "I called an ambulance," she says. "My stomach kills."
"Is it on the way?" asks Wade.
"Is what on the way?"
Wade snares his laptop as he leaves the office because he has an afternoon deadline to finish a website design for a town home developer. All he needs are pictures of healthy-looking families enjoying their homes. He already has the picture boxes placed; he just needs to insert images.
In the emergency room, a blue-gowned anesthesiologist named Chad, with an acre of chest hair showing from the V of his green ER jacket, scribbles forms on the food tray and asks Nancy of medication allergies. Wade stays silent.
"Stadol," Nancy moans from the gurney. She's on her side, pulling her knees to chest. "It gave me hallucinations when I had Sean. I dreamed I had an alien baby."
"We don't use Stadol," says Chad. Then he barks at the nurse. "Where's the goddamn HD2 form, Candy?"
"The blue one in front of your face," Candy says. Then she yawns.
Nancy's doctor, who looks like Pippi Longstockings, sits on a stool and delivers the pre-op consult. "I make a hole next to the belly button with a laser, drop in a small sack like a marble pouch, cut out the section of the fallopian tube with the hemorrhage, drop it into the bag and haul it up. No big deal." Wade sees black-faced miners with lunch-pails and hard hats squinting into daylight. Pippi says the surgery will take an hour. She'll slap on a couple industrial-duty Band-Aids and Wade and Nancy will be out in time to extract their son Sean from daycare without a late fee.
"This is nothing," Pippi says. "I do this procedure in my sleep."
Wade's jaw clenches. He squeezes Nancy's hand, sending her the message, on Pippi's cue, that the procedure is routine, like clipping toenails or restocking water softener pellets, and when Nancy closes her eyes in pain, Wade looks at Pippi and says, "Smile for the camera."
"Nothing," says Wade. "No worries. This is nothing."
"No need to be smart," says Pippi. "You can go to the waiting room now, Wayne."
On the way, Wade peeks into the room adjoining Nancy's. A kid with a wrapped head sits on a gurney and stares up into the fluorescent light. A smaller boy stands by the bed and stares up at his big brother. The family had a car wreck. The mother broke an arm, the little brother earned a fat lip, and the father was merely coined-eyed. He was also an employee for one of Wade's clients, a lumber company. Wade remembers the man's face from when he designed the company website; he chose his photo and a few others from among dozens submitted because the company's marketing department wanted him to show a working-class guy who seemed happily employed and productive. In the photo, the family man who'd just crashed-up his wife and kids runs a band saw and wears yellow-tinted shop-goggles.
Couches are always so low in hospital waiting rooms, knees always above thighs. Wade sits with his computer on his lap and scours files, mostly stock digital photos of happy people of various ages, ethnicities and genders in home, office and industrial settings. He's staying busy, searching for photos, anything to keep from reading the pamphlets in the magazine rack: "Praying with Someone Sick," "Letting Tears Bring Healing," "Turning to a Counselor for Hope." A stack of Guidepost magazines is splayed across an end table, looking dead rather than inspirational.
A yellow phone hangs on the wall and a sign above it commands, "If the phone is ringing, pick it up." There's no sign saying who might be calling. Maybe Pippi, possibly Jesus, maybe a Domino's driver lost at another hospital.
The phone rings as Wade scans stock-art pictures of a smiling family enjoying their executive-style home, barbecuing on a deck. One photo shows a blonde mother in a red blouse setting a plate of corn-on-the-cob in front of a blonde boy. The father, back to the camera, tends a grill, blue smoke pluming over his shoulders.
Wade uses these kinds of stock-family pictures for corporate web sites, especially realty agencies, to show family-friendliness and economic security, but he's never noticed this series of barbecue pictures of the same fake family. The mother smiles and serves food in every photo, and in every photo the boy looks at the food, which is close to reaching him, but not quite. Wade can't see the man's face in any of the pictures. He's always grilling. Wade moves the pictures to trash, freeing up memory. Without the man's face, he's got nothing.
The phone stops ringing, replaced by shuffling feet in the corridor. People walk lightly in hospitals because a hard step might make a surgeon's wrist twitch.
Wade stares over his computer into a globe-mirror that reflects three converging corridors and watches two doctors stand and chat. One is Doctor Pena, the ER doctor who'd read Nancy's x-rays before turning her over to Pippi for surgery. He's spooning a milkshake in a Styrofoam cup while another doctor with a clipboard says, "How's emergency today?"
"Five crashes," says Pena. He squints and slams his palm into his forehead. "Jesus. I got a brain freeze."
"Ouch," says Pena.
Wade closes his computer, pinches his thumb and says, "Fuck." Pena squeezes the skin between his eyes with thumb and forefinger. Wade sucks his thumb, then stands and grabs a Guideposts magazine.
He reads an article by an East-Coast semi-trucker who was nervous when freeway snipers were on the loose, but then God told him to put out a CB call for all truckers to meet at a rest stop for prayer. A hundred truckers appeared and held hands for an hour, and a week later at another rest stop, the prayer-organizing trucker spotted the suspects' car. Two guys snoozed inside. The trucker radioed the police and while waiting, blocked the exit ramp with his rig.
The trucker's implied argument was that prayer led to capture, but the trucker missed the real supernal scheme, that God made him drink an extra cup of coffee at dinner so he had to urinate at the Mile 142 rest area rather than his usual stop further up the turnpike. If he hadn't had one more coffee, more shoppers would have been shot. God created the bladder-pain to save consumers, and then had the trucker write the account so that a middle-aged web designer would be guided by God to read to it while his wife's body was being invaded in order for him to realize that full bladders, fallopian hemorrhages, ice cream headaches and pinched thumbs are messages from On-High.
Wade pokes his head into the corridor and says to the chatting doctors, "I'm going to hell."
"How do you know?" says Doctor Pena, massaging the bridge of his nose. "Everything okay, Wayne?"
"No worries," says Wade. "This is nothing."
He pulls his head back into the waiting room and when the phone rings again, he picks it up and drops it to let it dangle on the yellow cord. It taps against the wall. He returns to his laptop to retrieve the photo's from the trash of the man who grills corn, his back turned, and the wife and little boy who smile over food.
About the author:
Scott Wrobel teaches English full-time at Anoka Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. He has published essays and short stories in publications such as Minnesota Monthly, Great River Review, Burnt Aluminum, and Gaming Products and Services.