Excerpt of Bay of Souls by Robert Stone
(Page 12 of 13)
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Michael managed to speak. "His body temperature . . . ?"
"Thats a cause of concern," the doctor said. "That will have to show improvement."
Michael did not look at him.
"We can treat this," the doctor said. "We see it here. Theres hope."
"Thank you," Michael said. Above all, he did not want to see the boy. That fair vision and he kept repelling it. He was afraid to watch Paul die, though surely even in death he would be beautiful.
"Wed like you to talk to . . . to your wife," the doctor said. "Were sure she has a fracture and she wont go to x-ray." He hesitated for a moment and went off down the corridor.
At MacIvor the passageways had the form of an X. As the doctor walked off down one bar of the pattern, Michael saw what appeared to be his wife at the end of the other. She was in a wheelchair. The nurse followed him as he walked toward her.
"She wont go to x-ray," the nurse complained. "Her legs been splinted and shes had pain medication and we have a bed ready for her but she wont rest. She wont let the medication do its thing."
Kristin, huge-eyed and white as chalk, wheeled herself in their direction. But when Michael came up, the nurse in tow, she looked through him. There was an open Bible on her lap.
The nurse went to take the handles of Kristins wheelchair. Michael stepped in and took them himself. Do its thing? He had trouble turning the wheelchair around. The rear wheels refused to straighten out. Do their thing. He pushed his wife toward the wall. Her splinted right leg extended straight out and when its foot touched the wall, she uttered a soft cry. Tears ran down her face.
"Theres a little trick to it," said the nurse. She made a sound that was not quite a laugh. "Let me."
Michael ignored her. The wheelchair resisted his trembling pressure. Oh goddam shit.
"Take me in to him," Kristin said.
"Better not," the nurse said, to Michaels relief.
If he could see himself, futilely trying to ambulate his wife on wheels, Michael thought, it would be funny. But hospitals never had mirrors. There was a discovery. In the place of undoings, where things came apart, your children changed to cadavers, you spun your wife in wheelies, no mirrors. The joke was on you but you did not have to watch yourself.
When they were in the room she said, "I fell carrying him. He was by the garden fence I fell in the snow." He could picture her carrying Paul up from the garden, tripping, slipping, stumbling. He took her icy hand but she withdrew it. "He was so cold."
"Lie down," he said. "Can you?"
"No, it hurts."
He stood and rang for the nurse.
Kristin took up the Bible as though she were entranced and began to read aloud.
"Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge."
Closing his eyes, he tried to hold on to the words. Listening to her read in her mothers strange featureless tone, he could imagine Luthers Bible the way her mother out on the plains must have heard it from her own parents. A psalm for fools in the snow. Really expecting nothing but cold and death in the shadow of those wings. Odins raven.
"Until these calamities be overpast, I will cry unto God most high."
Michael sat listening, despising the leaden resignation of his wifes prayer, its acceptance, surrender.
"My soul is among lions," she read, "and I lie even among them that are set on fire."
His impulse was flight. He sat there burning until the nurse came in. For some reason, she looked merry, confidential.
Copyright © 2003 by Robert Stone. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.