Fred laid on his back. Sweat gathered thick body hair into small clusters on his bare chest. The ceiling fan clicked above. Two plastic pieces deep within struck one another on every rotation. An unknown metal noise, that Fred thought only as jangily, entered every fifteenth rotation. Fred counted. The fan had wooden blades with faux gold hardware. Expensive taste attempted at low cost. Overly ornate cutouts gave a Victorian feel. An extravagance compared to Fred’s empty room.
For three nights, Fred ignored the fan. The night’s humidity effected his breathing. Fred forced into long gasping breathes for air. He listened to the fan’s unknown language opposed to drowning in his sleep, which resulted in two hours of rest every night. Two hours chopped into nine minute intervals. The fan occasionally quieted. Not silenced. Just hushed. Tired from talking. Fred sank into the mattress. His muscles heavied from the day. His eyes ached. A deer appeared in the corner of his vision. If Fred looked at the animal directly, it flitted off. It’s white tail disappeared into bushes. The animal reduced to a indistinguishable shape with a white whisp. Fred laid there with the deer. Dark spaces given more surface area to spread out. The bed took him in.
Steel ball bearings rolled around a metal container. The ceiling fan’s motion flung them around, like bingo balls. The fan wanted Fred awake. So he listened. His eye closed. His mind opened. The noises dug into his skull. Thin tunnels burrowed into his brain. They sat on synapses. Sent twitches down Fred’s leg. His arm became itchy. The noise rattled around now. Above, the ceiling fan watched apathetically.
Fred retrieved a precision screwdriver, a bucket filled with soapy water, and a can of vegetable oil spray. He disassembled the fan. Each piece laid out in order of extraction from left to right. Then placed them on a pink terry cloth towel. The towel stolen from a hotel room in Pittsburgh, usually used to wipe sweat off Fred’s lower back on warm nights. Each small oddly designed piece held in the water, washed, sprayed with the vegetable oil, and placed out to dry.
As he waited for the pieces to dry, Fred sat on the beige carpet. A color only found in apartment flooring. The deer reappeared. It ate grass. The body disguised in overgrowth. The small apartment groaned from the contracting heat. Semis rumbled across the large interstate located a few blocks from the building which housed Fred’s life. The long night spread painfully from his back to shoulders. Fred grew uneasy from the silent room. The ceiling fan encompassed more of his thoughts with it’s absence. This felt different. More permanent. How could it no longer exist? Fred didn’t believe it. He knew the ceiling fan’s noises hid somewhere. It possessed ulterior motives. Through small cracks in the walls, they peaked out. Fred reassembled the ceiling fan to trap them.
With steady hands, Fred reassembled the ceiling fan. The newly lubricated parts slid into their designated locations. Fred found ease in the repetitive motions of fan construction. His mind allowed to drift into blackness. After completion, Fred turned it on . He fixed nothing. He knew it. The fan responded with the affirmative. A new slick coating gave the pieces extra mobility to collide with one another. They did so happily. An annoyed sigh escaped Fred. He bit into his hand between the thumb and index finger. His skin resisted. He bit harder. Through his teeth he felt a soft pop, like biting into a hot dog with a plastic casing. An iron taste filled his mouth. He lapped up blood. In the bathroom, Fred let sink water run over the wound. The blood thinned by the water disappeared. The phone rang. Not his cellphone but the landline. Fred never heard this before. He never memorized the number. Every time asked, he took out the installation specialist’s bent business card. On the reverse side he wrote the phone number in small crooked handwriting. Through an unknown logic, a landline bundled with an internet and television package became cheaper with than without. So it sat there. Only moved to be cleaned under. The phone rang in archaic digital chirps. Fred answered.
“Stephanie was in an accident. Is this a bad time to call? Did I wake you up?”
“Good. Stephanie was in an accident. I know. I said that already. It feels bizarre to say. Maybe the repetition will help. Make it not true. Turn it into a story. Stephanie was in an accident. Stephanie was in an accident. Stephanie was in an accident. I don’t know what I’m doing. Stephanie would know what to do. But of course, Stephanie was in an accident. We don’t know exactly what happen. We are assuming she fell asleep at the wheel. Maybe she was drunk. It’s a possibility. She drank and drove the same amount everyone does”
The voice sounded metallic. It grated at Fred. A twitch developed in his left eye as the voice landed on the the last syllable of “Stephanie”. A slight static pop forced Fred to hold the phone from his ear. Every few words a slight warmth slipped through. Fred assumed it was a woman. He had no evidence.
“I’m trying to hold it together for everyone. She’s not going to make it. We all know it. We’re just doing this so we can say we did everything we could. She’s essentially dead”
“You got the wrong number. I don’t know a Stephanie. I’m sorry for your loss in the future”
Fred anticipated a click.
“You should see Stephanie. She’d like it. I would like it. Come”
“Ma’am, I’m incredibly sorry for the tough time you and your family are having. You’ve called the wrong number. I don’t know a Stephanie. I hope everything works out”
“We are at St. Laecedo Memorial. That’s the one across from the chicken farm. I know it’s smells horrible”
The voice ended. A dial tone followed. It sounded angry for being used late. Fred put on grey sweatpants and a tee shirt for the Dade City Police Department 5k. A cartoon police officer ran through a finish line on the back. When Fred wore the shirt, many believed he worked for the police. His thick beard along with low slung eyebrows gave an authoritative presence. The shirt was added costume. It would help forego security issues if they occurred. Fred didn’t know the why. Why was he going? Because the voice told him to? Does he do everything he’s told?
He sat in his car, a later model full of right angles. He placed his hand in his mouth. It didn’t take much pressure before pain boiled to the surface. The prior teeth marks were still present. It hadn’t scabbed yet.
St. Laecedo Memorial Hospital looked like all hospitals. Large rectangular buildings painted in a calming tan color randomly placed across acres. Fred wondered if this was a conscious decision. Did the architect have average in mind during the design process? Did he want to distract passing traffic by boredom? Did he want to hide that fact Stephanie was dying inside?
Fred stood alone in the parking lot. The halogen light above basked him in a artificial yellow light. Lemon flavored gelatin covered St. Laecedo. The lamp produced a slight hum. The noise reminded Fred of the clicking ceiling fan. His temples ached. To his far left, he saw the deer once again. Fred tried to look at it. He saw a hoof dart behind the other vehicle in the parking lot. A mini van.
The inside carried the exterior’s motif. Bright white replaced tan. The sterile perception contrasted with Stephanie’s near death. A janitor mopped a long hallway in a slow methodical fashion. The man, in a tight fitting uniform, squinted at Fred. With no physical recognition, he resumed his work. Fred’s sneakers squeaked as he walked through the empty corridors. Patients slept to the television’s blue light. Canned laughter leaked from each room. A rerun of popular sitcom about a college professor prone to accidents played. The professor locked himself into a pair of roller skates. He smashed the furniture in his New York penthouse. Fred saw that episode before. He laughed.
Neither a doctor or nurse approached him as he explored the building. The bright lights bothered his tired eyes. He had no plan. The hospital evolved as Fred searched for Stephanie. He found himself on the third floor with no recollection of taking stairs. Every window displayed the same view. His car parked under the halogen light. Fred felt as if the hospital moved underneath him as he walked in place. His tired mind challenged Fred. He rounded corners short. His shoulder struck walls. He tripped. He looked for an uplifted tile. Fred found nothing.
A woman exited a room. She looked tiny in her large winter parka which hung below her knees. Her hair was a nest of black curls stacked high in a bun. She turned towards Fred and waved. Fred reciprocated.
“Do you know Stephanie?”
The woman cupped a hand to her ear. She didn’t move forward. Fred spoke louder.
“Do you know Stephanie? Stephanie was in an accident”
The woman nodded and indicated a door to her left. Fred focused on his feet as he lessened the distance between them. He felt direct eye contact was inappropriate in a hospital, too potentially sexual for such a somber place. Fred studied the tiles. They weren’t quite white, but just off. Almost cream. He wondered if they were always this color or a lapse in concentration for the janitor in the tight fitting uniform.
Fred avoided eye contact as the woman stood in front of him. Close up she appeared older in an unnatural way. The woman aged many years in a short amount of time, like a rockslide defining the contours of a shore instead of a slow erosion. The miniature woman tilted her head back to look Fred in the face. He mimicked her and blinked at the florescent lights. Zippers and flaps lined the length of her coat. She efficiently searched each one. Open flap. Unzip pocket. Move hand in a clockwise motion. Zip pocket. Close flap. She reached the bottom, found nothing, stood up, straighten the bun that toppled over, and started again. The woman had a frantic insect-like movement.
“Why are you wearing a winter jacket?”
“Because I’m cold”
“But it’s summer”
“You can be cold in the summer”
“That’s true. I’m always very sweaty, especially in the winter. It may be the artificial heat buildings tend to use. It’s not natural”
“The part about being sweaty. You shouldn’t tell people that. It’s weird”
Canned laughter erupted from the televisions in unison. The dumb professor tumbled into a shelf filled with glass jars.
“That’s a funny show. He’s really smart but always doing these aloof things. Once he glued his hands under his armpits” The woman demonstrated. “And had to give a lecture like that. It doesn’t sound funny when I describe it. But it was”
“I want to see Stephanie?”
“Sorry. Can I see Stephanie? Are you the one I even have to ask? She was in a bad car accident and I would like to see her”
“Are you a friend of her’s?”
“And you want to see her?”
“Strangers usually don’t visit other strangers in the hospital. It’s not a very normal thing to do. You understand that, don’t you?”
The deer loomed behind the woman. It studied the surroundings. A small bleat sneaked out. With a high kneed stepping motion, the deer uncomfortably exposed itself. The woman’s hair ruffled as the it nuzzled a small black nose against her head. She unzipped two pockets by her chest and rested her hands in them. The deer looked scared. Hooves clacked on the now off cream tiles. Fred wanted the deer in full view on sleepless nights. He dreamed of killing it. Now the deer stood in front of him with black eyes. It trotted into Stephanie’s room. Fred followed. The woman trailed behind. Her winter coat’s nylon exterior swished with her movement.
“Excuse me. Please don’t go in there. This is a tough time for everyone involved. Please don’t make it harder”
The woman repeated this. Her voice never raised above a whisper. “Please” pronounced in an exhausted tone, one that neared tears. She said those words many times since Stephanie’s accident. They did nothing.
Stephanie laid on her back. The bed slightly elevated at a 45 degree angle. She was extraordinarily average looking. Her familiarness transposed itself onto thousands of women Fred had seen in his life. The UPS woman. The woman next door to his mother. Tubes hung from her nose. Wires bunched together with zip ties to make an electrical braid draped down from blinking machines, which flanked Stephanie. She laid in the center of a semicircle of monitoring devices. The wires accumulated under the blanket, which had small yellow ducks in sunglasses on it. With the blanket up to her neck, Fred could only see her heavily bandaged head. The left side concaved in. The indentation was the size of a softball. She had the same black curly hair as the woman in the hallway, who now muttered “please” in the corner. Stephanie’s facial expression was calm in the blinking lights of the machines. Mixed with the now muted television, she looked like she laid opposite a Las Vegas casino.
Fred settled himself onto one knee next to the hospital bed. He reached underneath the blanket to grab Stephanie’s hand. It felt cold. He traced his thumb about the IVs inserted below her wrist. The tape left sticky remains on his fingers. He squeezed the hand. No muscle inside reacted to his grip. What did he expect to happen? Did he think he will wake her from the coma? Her eye to flitter open. Some form of recognition of his presence like childhood friends seeing one another in adulthood. Was he suppose to feel great sadness? Or perhaps intense understanding of life? Was there a God? Was it Stephanie?
Fred felt nothing.
The small woman sat in the corner in an even smaller chair. The parka’s collar forced up to her ears. She massaged the side of her head.
“Did you get everything you wanted?” She said in an terse voice.
“Yes. Thank you for your time”
Fred retreated to his car. The engine idled while he rested in the driver’s seat. It coughed intermittently. The digital instrument counsel glowed green. The deer wandered around the parking lot aimlessly. The animal turned over loose asphalt with it’s front hoof. Fred switched on the air conditioning. Cooled air loudly pushed on his beard. A groove appeared on his chin gruff as the air moved the hair like a corn field. A chill came over him and he shook violently. Defeated, he turned it off to go home. The air conditioning only worked with the car parked.
He lowered himself into bed. Sweat from earlier in the night kept the sheets damp. The room was too hot with stagnant air. Humidity pressed down on his clothed body. It pinned him against the comforter. To reach up and switch on the fan acquired great effort against the water logged atmosphere of the bedroom. He pulled the cord, which had a sheen of vegetable oil spray on it. It left a greasy residue on his fingers. The small ceiling fan motor activated with a low whirr. The wooden blades with the ornate cutouts picked up speed. They lost individuality. All blades merged to one blur. The room stayed quiet. Fred locked into the ceiling fan. He anticipated the click. The oblong plastic pieces to rub together. The steel ball bearing to clink into one another. His body drenched. Fred waited. The ceiling fan approached top speed. The entire unit wobbled at the base.
The ceiling fan clicked.