Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saturday Musings, 13 November 2010

Good morning,

Beside me, on the top shelf of the bookcase made by my great-grandfather,the white cat sleeps. She leaves her perch only to eat, or beg for water from the bathroom sink, or, briefly, to use her litter box. She has occupied the same eight by four rectangle of inches for the last week. She grows old as I watch; her fur mats, and her eyes begin to glaze as she turns them toward me with a slightly accusatory air. Occasionally, she stretches her paws across the short distance to my chair, and lowers her thin body to my side.

When my son left for college in the fall of 2009, he extracted from me a promise that I would keep the pets alive. I only guaranteed their safety for that first year, but he insisted that I renew my pledge this past August, and I have been trying to honor his request. Now I am begging this cat, who came to Patrick as his third birthday present, to live until Thanksgiving. So far she seems willing to oblige.

Layers of sound rise in my world: The lumber of the trash truck; the dim, melodic cadence of NPR from the bedroom; the constant, low whine of the tinnitus from which I have suffered for forty years. These sounds comfort me. My hearing has backslid; I have no capacity in the critical voice range in one ear; a significant loss in that same range in the other; and my low-range hearing leaves much to be desired. Ambient noise muddles any speech. The insistent jabber of small motors drives me to hysteria. Yet as the morning unfolds, I perceive the plethora of sounds as a symphony -- my background soundtrack -- the absence of which I would lament.

I do not have to close my eyes to focus on sound. But when I do, some of the noises that rise within me are not pleasant. I remember them all. The sharp, unmistakable roar of a shot gun blast, reverberating while I stand frozen in a hospital emergency room hallways, staring at my own reflection, wondering who else could see me. The scratch of a doctor's pen across the surface of a patient's chart, as he huddled beneath a metal gurney, while a baby cried and its young mother begged it to be still, at least until the gun-wielding murderer could be located. The soul-searing sound of a small sob escaping from the doctor's lips, as he remembered his last sight of a bloody colleague, being wheeled through the back hallways to an elevator, destined for the stark, sad confines of an operating room.

Before I made my way to that room, the room with the doctor, and the teenage mother, and the crying baby, I had been alone. I started out in the hallway, just paces behind the fallen physician, the second person killed by the lunatic who terrorized us for the next six hours. I watched the doctor fall, not in slow motion but quickly, in a noiseless crumple. I darted around a corner, trembling. What is happening, I asked myself, my panicked self, the self standing stock still in the window fifty feet away. Somebody is shooting at you.

I ran into an examining room and, with a strength I did not anticipate being able to summon, I dragged a heavy table across the floor to form a barricade, wincing at the screech of its protest, the dull, heavy thud as I slammed it against the door. Good God, he will hear you, I told myself. I threw myself under a desk, and sat for a few moments, trying to control my shaking body, straining to hear anything that might tell me the fate of the friend who had brought me to this emergency room, of the doctor who I had to think must be dead, of whoever took the blast of the first shot, the one that made both me and the fated resident stop, stunned, speechless.

I think time passes more slowly from beneath an old metal desk. Crammed in its knee hole, enfolded to a size my body loathed to assume, I began to imagine I could hear activity in the hallway beyond the room in which I hid. The rustle of bodies; the scurry of feet; the murmur of fear, palpable and painful. Then a voice: Come out. Come out. Wherever you are.

I did not move. A few minutes later, the door to my room opened a half-inch, and a gruff voice summoned. Whoever is in here, move this barricade. I did not speak. It's the police. Open this door.

Perhaps I have a suspicious nature, but it occurred to me, just then, that if I wanted to corral a bunch of ragtag patients together and shoot them, I'd lure them out by pretending to be the police. I glanced at the table against the door and judged that it would hold most onslaughts. Show me your badges, I called out. I heard a mumbled exchange. Open the door, came the response, in a strong, authoritative voice. You show me your badges and then I'll open the door!

The voices went away. I learned later that they went to the room with the crying doctor and took stock. They found my friend, whom they co-opted to return to the hallway outside my door with them. Corinne, she quavered. They think you're a hostage in there. It's really the police out here, girl. Open the door and show you're alone. I heard her fear; I admired her bravery. She would not serve as bait for a bad guy. I knew her better. And so I dragged the barricade from in front of the door and was immediately sorry. A SWAT team surrounded me, pulling me down to the cold, dirty floor and ramming a gun against my temple. I heard the crash of the door as they fell into the empty room, ready to capture; and I heard the disappointment in their voices.

They herded my friend and me back to the place where everyone had been collected, and we waited there, without food, without water, without so much as the soothing inanity of piped-in music. Only the baby's low, steady whimpering, the perpetual scritch of the doctor's ballpoint pen, and the occasional, reverent whisper from one person to another, broke the silence. I watched the tears fall from the doctor's eyes, down his cheek, and onto the gibberish he wrote. I took my turn holding the baby so its mother could sleep. I rubbed an old woman's numb fingers. I leaned my head on my friend's shoulder, and, later, sat very still as she slept on mine. I closed my eyes and surrendered to the throbbing silence around me.

They released us about five hours later. In straggled bunches, the police escorted us to the parking garage which stood in the eternal darkness of the grave, all of its lights shattered by law enforcement armament as part of their attempt to isolate the gunman. No one spoke. My friend drove me home but did not leave her car. She watched me until the door of my apartment building locked behind me, flicked her lights in the early-morning gloom, then drove away. I went upstairs, poured a few fingers of Glenlivet, and sank into a rocking chair. I fell asleep with the radio blaring, and every light in the apartment illuminated, and the last sound I heard was the thunder of the trash truck, and the sharp snap of the newspaper tossed on my balcony by a passing van.

The furnace clicks into action, whirring as it spills hot air into my dining room. The cat, curled on the shelf beside me, lets one small mew escape. A light, steady mist falls from the steely sky, and as it hits my window, it does not make a sound.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

No comments:

Post a Comment

The Missouri Mugwump™

My photo
I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.