Pop lay out on a tall, metal-framed bed. His head, chest, waist, and ankles had heavy straps over them. Except for a sheet, folded to reach from his belly button to his knees, he was naked. When the nurse closed the door, leaving me alone, I remember thinking that this was the quietest room I had ever been in.
I could hear my heart in my head. The bed had an engine that tilted it very slowly. So slowly, really, that even though it moved Pop from side to side, it didn't seem as if he was moving at all, even though he was. I looked under the bed for the engine, but I couldn't see it.
Pop had some bruises around his eyes and the bridge of his nose, and a Band-Aid over a small hole in his forehead that the nurse told me had been bored to relieve some kind of pressure. Pop used to brag about not knowing what a headache felt like, since he'd never had one, so I thought it was odd he needed that little hole.
I put my hand on top of my pop's. It was a little silly, because Pop was not a hand-holder. Pop was a slapper of backs and a shaker of hands. But putting my hand on top of his seemed all right, and felt strange and good. Later on, after I had some time to think about it, I guessed that when these awful kinds of things happen to you, it helps to find a lot of things to feel good about. They don't have to be big-deal things, but more like the hand business or combing Mom's hair, those kinds of things. They add up.
I'd been alone with my pop for twenty minutes when a doctor came in. He was about my age, only trim and sober. He had thick red-gray hair, and for some reason I used my fingers to comb my own thin and shaggy head.
"Yes, sir. Thank you."
"I'm Dr. Hoffman."
We shook hands. Then he moved close to Pop's head.
"I put this hole here to relieve the pressure."
"Thank you so much," I said sincerely.
I would have given my car to anyone, right there, if I could have been sober.
"He kept himself pretty good, didn't he?" he said. His little flashlight moved from eye to eye.
"My pop walked and stuff."
Pop swayed imperceptibly on his bed, to the left. The doctor was right. Pop had a great body, and he had a routine to keep it that way. Mom sometimes went up in weight and then got on some diet to lose it, but Pop was really proud of how he kept the old weight at 180, his playing weight.
"Do you know what blood thinners he took for the valve?" Dr. Hoffman asked.
"No. Sorry. It pissed him He was mad about the heart operation. He worked out, and one day the other doctor said, You have to get a new valve in your heart.' But it was because of something that, you know, happened when he was a kid."
"That's it. Is it bad? Did it break?"
Was I a huge alcoholic trying to be helpful?
"His heart is fine, and I think under normal circumstances your father probably wouldn't be in bad shape right now, except the blood thinners he took to ensure clot-free flow through the heart chambers, and, of course, through the artificial valve, allowed the blood to hemorrhage violently inside his head when he hit the windshield."
"I see." I nodded again, stupidly.
"Blood is one of the most toxic entities known. When it gets out of the old veins, well ..."
"I didn't realize that."
"Do you have anyone else in the immediate family I need to talk to?"
"Bethany, but you can't talk to ... well, no ... me, I guess."
"He really looks good. Just those bruises. He does push-ups, too. Walks and stuff."
From The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty; chapter 1 (pages 1-9). Copyright 2004 by Zaluma, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Viking Penguin.
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