Time With Feeling
Dr. James Wilson was not having
a good night. In fact his whole day had been pretty shitty. At that moment he probably would have confessed that his entire life resembled a slowly sinking ship, but,
at that moment, he was not of a mind to offer any sort of accurate metaphorical self-reflection nautical or otherwise because
his hand was beginning to hurt like hell.
The adrenaline that just
moments ago had fired screaming embers throughout his entire body was receding and pain began to surface in its place. His red-rimmed tunnel vision slowly recoiled to a clearer aperture and he was able
to see the reason for his pain. The knuckles on his right hand were swollen,
split, bleeding, and possibly broken. “What happened?” Instead of vocalizing his query, the words stuck to the back of his throat and edged heavily into his mind. He attempted to flex his hand - to straighten out his fingers - but the sharp
pain that shot from his knuckles to the underside of his forearm and then to the base of his brain over-rided his call for
motion and his hand flexed only slightly.
He flicked his hand from
the wrist hoping to shake the pain off like a layer of unwanted dirt but all he managed to do was fling more droplets of blood
onto his beige slacks. He cupped his left hand over his injured right. The muscles
in his left hand felt stretched and thin; the fingers throbbed and held their own pain, a different type of pain than what
pulsed in the hand they covered. Somehow the variance of the two pains lessened
their combined impact and he momentarily felt better. He arched his back and
squeezed his shoulder blades together to try to clear his head but instead his vision blurred and his head began to spin;
he was still very drunk.
Now that the adrenaline had
subsided, the grogginess had returned. He shook his head, slowly at first, but
then faster to try to clear his mind. The dizziness returned two-fold and caused
him to stumble backwards. A red vinyl stool halted his regression and supported
him in a tenuous balance. He grabbed at the sides of the stool for support but
the pain in his hands refused him the ability to grasp tightly and he teetered precariously against the stool. He lifted his hands and knotted them as tightly as he could against his chest in an attempt to center himself
and check his balance.
He rocked himself for a moment
enjoying the feel of the weight of his hands against his chest. He then slowly
leaned his elbows back against the bar and closed his eyes intent on remembering the sequence of events that had led to all
this pain. On the darkened movie-screen of his eyelids, quick, red-laden scenes
from the past few minutes presented themselves for review. The alcohol in his
system clipped each scene short and randomly edited the scenes so that sometimes they’d play twice in a row and other
times in slow motion. Like insistent actors auditioning over and over again the
scenes played and re-played each time at a different clarity, a different emotional intensity, leaving him still-confused
over what exactly had happened and why. Disconnected moments from his past -- his childhood; his adolescence; his parents; his past wives; Julie… Julie…
–- mixed randomly, uncomfortably into his recent memories like unwanted sirens vying for his attention. The images blurred and accelerated into a spinning visual and emotional crescendo and he felt himself
beginning to fall.
It was then that he sensed
something – pressure - and realized that a hand had gripped vice-like around his right arm. The hand held him in place. He felt thankful that the
chaotic visual tide that had threatened to overwhelm and unbalance him had been stemmed.
He opened his eyes.
The neon sign above the ambulance
announced “Liar’s Lounge” in three colors. A small red arrow
flickered from left to right across the top of the sign ultimately transforming into a large red arrow that pointed in the
direction of the doorway to the lounge. The small red arrow then re-appeared
and the cycle repeated - not inviting, but insisting, Here. Go here. Now. Ambulance lights sliced strobe-like into the night and
made the commotion in front of the bar seem jerky and quick-slow like images in a silent movie. But this movie was in color. Bright living color.
House noticed that two police cars
had arrived from another direction. They flanked the ambulance - their dizzy
lights adding to the near-silent cacophony of the moment. House shifted his gaze,
intent on his destination, and for a moment was mesmerized and oddly calmed by the combination of colors bleeding, blurring,
pulsating into the wet pavement just ahead of him. He found it easy to retreat
to a deep, warm place in the face of all this confusion. But his keen mind quickly
wrestled itself to the fore and began to deduce and comfortably arrange the elements before him into an understandable, manageable
solution. A bar, an ambulance, two police cars = a drunken brawl. Easy enough. But without any other factual incoming information
to build on, his standard fallback reaction kicked in and he just as easily removed his mind from processing and re-processing
the equation by whispering an easy “fucking drunks” to himself.
Liar’s Lounge. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been here, but he knew that whenever it was he’d
swore to himself he’d never go back. A thick, smoky despair hung in the
air here, a despair he knew all too well and had no desire to share with anyone else, not in this way, not in this place. Although “Lounge” implied a nice, relaxing atmosphere, House knew that
Liar’s clientele consisted mainly, exclusively really, of hard drinking men - men that had a lot on their minds; men
who wanted some liquid haze to somehow miraculously both squelch and release their inner demons. Why the hell did Wilson pick
here of all places?
Short and tall, thin and fat, smoking
and non-smoking, but all drunk – about thirteen once-men leaned against the outside wall of Liar’s Lounge like
some general casting call for a Law and Order police line-up. Each man told his
“no shit guess what just happened story” to no one in particular and each man methodically punctuated his story
with some version of a slowly twisting “Wait, I’m getting to the good stuff”
hand gesture that looked as if he were trying to measure the circumference of a small globe that floated elusively in front
House watched these human gargoyles
and his put-upon sneer grew into a grin so big his jaw hurt. He couldn’t
remember the last time he’d smiled so big. There was something about them. Something that felt so…distant, yet so familiar.
Their animated loneliness touched a place deep inside of him. He scanned
the group for Wilson. When he didn’t see him he felt his heart thump against
his chest. For a second he thought that perhaps Wilson had already gone home. But James had only called a short while ago….
He quickened his pace to the door. “Hey!” one of the drunks yelled to him as he neared, “Hey Gimpboy. Gotta light?” House could clearly
see the man already had a cigarette in one hand and a lighter in the other. “Ask
Mr. Hand” he offered as he approached a police officer stationed at the doorway.
House tried to edge past the officer.
“Excuse me, gotta pee.”
“No it’s not. Let’s see, I can see people. I can see lights. And, ah, look here, the door’s open. I
Beyond the head and shoulders of the police officer, House could see into the dimly lit bar.
He took in the situation as quickly as he could: paramedics working on
a bloody someone who was sitting on the floor; a police officer interviewing what looked to be the bartender; a police officer
steadying…the policeman interrupted his assessment.
“Why don’t you go on home before
you get into trouble. Nothing to see here.
Bar’s closed. You can fill up tomorrow.”
It’s not for show. How do you think it’ll look if you deny
bathroom privileges to a man with a cane?”
“Those are my orders pal, ‘Keep the
“Listen, pal, I’m not a drunk, I’m
a big important doctor and I need to get in there.”
“You’re a drunk.”
“Not tonight pal.”
reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He set his cane against
the wall and began to pull out bits of paper from his wallet – receipts, prescriptions, dollar bills – he shifted
them from his hand to his shirt pocket until he found what he wanted. He wiped
the identification card against his shirt then showed it to the officer.
The officer took the identification card from House.
“Is that you?”
“Sometimes I wonder.”
The officer turned his head and yelled into the bar.
“Got a doctor here. Says he needs to get in. His name’s…er ... Greg…Gregory House.”
From inside the bar House heard two distinct voices say simultaneously,
“What the fuck is he doing here?”
“What the fuck took you so long?”
She stood before the mirror
in the tiny bathroom, her hands supporting her against the soft round edges of the sink.
I look old, she thought to herself as she traced the fine lines of her face with her ring finger. How can a person age so much in one day? She let her eyes
drift from her face and studied her surroundings in reflection. Each item her
eyes landed on said Men, as in, I belong to a man - as in, this is a man’s bathroom.
She looked down and kicked at a belt that was lying against her foot. So
many clothes on the floor - what a pigsty - there was barely room to stand. His
whole apartment was a mess. So different from James.
was part of what had attracted her to him in the first place. Or, she thought,
was it that she knew deep down he was as messed up as everyone else and she longed to be the one to reconcile the by-the-rules
man to the hurt and angry adolescent deep inside of him? Oh sure, his professional
demeanor oozed coolness and calmness but boy could he explode over the smallest things – the car parked too close to
the tool rack in the garage; the laundry “piling up” after only a day or two; a missed phone call from the hospital,
and lately, her questions about his absences had made him more angry than she’d ever seen him. He’d never exploded with her - not until they were married anyway. But once they married it was like he was looking through her and seeing someone else, someone she wasn’t.
Why did he have to get so angry with her?
Perhaps he wasn’t angry
with her; perhaps he was seeing in her someone who had gone before or someone who was yet to be. So why had he been so angry with them? He denies it now, but she’d been there; she’d heard the abrupt phone calls and seen the red-faced
anger of his resolve. In the blindness of her love for him she’d felt immune
from that James – that James would never be the husband to her that he was
to them. Now she wasn’t so sure.
James. Thinking of James. She didn’t want to think about James. Not here, not in this place. What would
James do if he knew she was here? The thought thrilled and frightened her all
at once. “Why should I care?” she said aloud. But still… She thought back to the morning and recalled
how it felt to be needed, wanted. The warmth of their lust welled inside of her. She recalled and recreated the morning to feed her warmth and to calm her fears:
The phone rang. He reached his arm across her body, picked up the receiver, then, without drawing it to his ear,
he dropped it back onto the cradle. She rustled beneath his arm. The warmth of her body drew him to her. He curved his body
against her sleeping form and nuzzled his nose to her neck. The contentment within
him surged from his abdomen and grew in strength as it rose towards his heart. He
loved her so much he wanted to cry. He wanted to envelop her - draw her inside
of him to a place she could never leave.
He said “I’m on my way” – just
like James – kissed her forehead with a brisk “you’ll keep this quiet, right?” he changed clothes,
headed out the door, and left her to decide her day. She’d called in sick
to work and had spent the day exploring his apartment. She’d looked through his drawers, under his bed, in his cabinets. Such a mess. Medical books everywhere.
A few beers in the fridge and not much else. No pictures anywhere, not displayed
anyway. And there were toys, a collection of license plates, and even a plastic
hula girl. James had told her he was childish, but she was sure she saw
another side to him - a side that needed her; a side that needed her care; a side that would treasure her love and appreciate
her intellect and relish her concern. At one point she began to clean up the apartment but caught herself and scolded herself
for being overly protective. This was her day off.
She turned off the bathroom light and stepped lightly around the clothes on the floor.
She laid down on the bed. He would be home soon. She wondered once more if she had already heard him come home and then leave. But perhaps she had been dreaming. James would be… James…. She slept.