The taillights flashed off and both car doors opened. Pam stepped out and turned around to reach into the backseat. She still had on her pink and white diner uniform, her tight miniskirt rolling up just enough for me to catch a flash of her panties as she bent inside. The same old excitement filled me. How long had it been? Six months after I caught her doing the naked rodeo with Larsen in the crawlspace under the porch?
Pam held two crutches as she made her way around to the driver’s side door. She helped Larsen up, his left leg in one of those full braces that stretched from the thigh down to his ankle. I did nothing to stop the chuckles in my throat. He should have known better than to throw a right hook at me. Never expected I would deliberately go down to the ground and kick both feet out like that to blow out his kneecap.
Larsen swung back and forth with Pam’s hand clutching the crook of his elbow. She held him steady on the uneven ground and sought comfort as they neared the four steps of the porch. I kept my place, stretched along on the lounge seat with ankles now crossed and my fingers tapping the hard plastic armrests. Waited to see if they would hop up the steps, but they kept their distance. Then I noticed Pam’s cell phone tucked in the large pocket of her skirt. She probably had the sheriff’s home number on her speed dial.
Larsen’s angry face turned toward Pam. “Go ahead and tell him so we can get the hell out of here.”
At a long sigh, Pam grabbed the rail posts and peeked through like a prisoner searching for a bit of mercy from the warden. Or was I the one who sat behind the cage bars, trapped in ways I never wanted to experience. For one moment, I had the urge to scream for my freedom. Not a place I wished to return to, either in my memories or in real life. I barely survived during my first conviction for assault and battery on her lover.
Pam cleared her throat. “I tried calling you, Graham. Maybe you didn’t hear the phone.”
“I heard the phone fine. What are you bugging me about, Pam?” My hand sought another beer from underneath the chair and popped it open.
“It’s about Marty,” Pam began. I sat up for that. Whatever bad feelings I had for them vanished whenever someone mentioned his name. I had seen my boy yesterday afternoon. Yet I skipped going today, especially after the incident in the hospital parking lot.
“You got them really mad, Graham. The doctors called me at work about the fight. They said they weren’t going to bring charges against you this time.” Pam rubbed her fingers against the rough wood, catching a splinter in her finger. It brought back more memories for me. Good memories. She would come to me straight away whenever she had pricked her fingers, and I knew this trick of sucking the splinter out with my lips. Pam always showed her gratitude in her own special way while Marty stretched out on the rug watching all those trading card cartoons on television.
My nose snorted as I lifted the beer to my lips, the only thing I prefer to suck on now. “They shouldn’t have bothered me about turning off those damn machines. What did they expect me to do? Jump for joy over it? Ask for a front row ticket at the ninth grade science fair? Didn’t know they switched from using dead frogs to live patients at the high school?”
“They are filing restraining orders. The doctors said it’s not good for Marty if you’re there. You’re acting so strange and it is only making things worse for our son’s health.” Pam pulled out the sliver of wood and licked at the finger. “They don’t want you at the hospital anymore. The doctors said if you go there, they will call the sheriff out and stop both of us from seeing him. They will go to a judge and have Marty become the property of the state.”
“They can’t do that. They’re just trying to scare you into agreeing with everything they say. You’ve seen how the doctors act around our boy. They’re not even trying anymore.”
Pam shook her head. “Their lawyers called. They can do it if they believe the parents are threatening the continued well-being of their hospital patients.”
Yeah. Right. The doctors confronted the father to not be so selfish in wanting to keep Marty on the life support. Yet they also blamed me for putting a strain on my own son’s health so Marty could not get better. I might have understood the situation if I had laid the uppercuts on those two doctors’ pretty chins in Marty’s room. Yet it had happened outside the hospital in the parking lot? I’m surprised they did not say I gave one of their other organ donors a heart attack by sneezing at the fast food restaurant down the street.
My face scrunched at the coming headache. I should have smoked the second bowl of weed before Pam showed up. It always made me feel better when talking to her about all this hospital stuff.
“So if I don’t go there, they will let you still see him. Can’t believe you fell for it, Pam. You always fall for whatever someone spouts out. Just like Larsen’s, ‘I’ll give you a better life if you run away with me to my basement in Aunt Suzie’s house.’ Those doctors and their lawyers can kiss my ass and then walk off Clearwater Pier. THAT would probably improve Marty’s health.”
“Dammit, man. You have to be the most selfish bastard on this side of Lardo County.” Larsen swayed a little on the crutches. Pam’s arm rose and pressed against his shoulder to keep him upright. “We already talked with Sheriff Penghal. He’ll have a deputy stationed outside Marty’s room and arrest you if he catches a sniff of your doped ass.”
My fingers crushed the sides of the can. Beer erupted outward in a miniature fountain. I laid back down.“Then why did either of you bother coming up here since you already decided for me, unless you wanted to gloat?”
Pam rushed through her next words. “The medical insurance. It’s going to end at the beginning of next month, Graham. Neither of us has kept up with the co-payments. The debt is too much and there’s nobody around who can help with this. My parents are even selling their house and moving into an apartment over on Briston Estates.”
“If you weren’t blowing all the money on weed and beer as Pam works day and night, then you could have given something toward the bills,” Larsen grumped at me. I tossed the can at him as he lifted his arm to deflect the shot from his head.
*“If she wasn’t blowing all the money on condoms to screw another man, then maybe I wouldn’t have to buy the beer and weed to make me too stoned to get up out of this chair and beat you down for a fourth time,” I countered. Old Miter lifted his head and uttered a low curious growl, hearing the anger in my voice. Two years younger, that dog would be dashing across the porch and sinking fangs into Larsen’s belly. He probably would try to do it now at my command, but I did not want Miter to hurt himself at the effort.
Larsen stumbled forward, his crutches held together and at his side as he prepared to hop up the steps. Pam tugged at his clothes to keep him grounded. She screamed, “I AM TIRED OF IT.”
I stared at my exwife’s face, her tears wetting the collar of her shirt as her body lightly bounced at her gasps. She wrapped her arms around her thin waist, and now I noticed how thin she really was, wasted away from a different illness, burdened by the stress in her life. Her voice sounded low to hold back a bit of guilt and regret. “I am tired of all this, Graham. I’m tired of seeing Marty on that bed. I’m tired of not being able to hold him in my arms or tell him to take a bath or scold him for eating Oreo’s before dinner. This has to end. We have to end it for him.”
She turned to stare at me. Her blue eyes appeared clear in the bright porch light, clear and deep and resolved in her decision. “When the insurance runs out, I am having the doctors turn off the life support.”
I sat there, arms resting on legs, hands dangling over my pipe and my purchased dime bag with only a few marijuana buds left. What could a person say to that? I just heard my exwife tell me she would let the butchers pull the plug on our boy.
I heard them moving around on the other side of the deck. Yet my eyes saw only the vision of Marty’s hospital room with his bed pushed toward the center of the room. The doctors would stand around it with someone holding a huge boa constrictor cord plugged into gigantic socket lining the entire wall. I imagined someone would do a countdown while everyone bounced on their heels in excitement as the last few numbers petered away. Then the person gave a superhuman tug. All the lights in the county would shut down. Horns honked at the absent colors on the traffic signals. Behind the counter, the woman pouring the coffee would stare upward at the dim fluorescent bulb as the lonely buzzing fly would shout, “What the f--?” Then a flicker and everything would turn back on. The fly happily resumed banging itself in the bulb, the woman apologized for poring the coffee in the customer’s lap, and the drivers exchanged information for the traffic accidents. The hospital room came back into focus, everyone listening to the hospital monitors and the absent beeps from the heart monitor machine. Then the resounding cheers and champagne corks popping would sound throughout the room.
The engine revved. My eyelids blinked to bring in the sight of two diminishing taillights bouncing away toward the main road. On the porch floor, an envelope sat where Pam had leaned against the rail posts. My foot scouted out, snagged the end, and pulled back. I ripped open the tab and found a brief note inside written in her handwriting.
Sorry this happened. I know you probably won’t believe this or forgive me for everything that’s happened. But things have to be this way. Marty would be happy to know we made this decision for him. He can now have a rest without the pain. He’ll be happy that we have moved on with our lives.
I am moving on now. Larsen asked me to marry him. I went to the county building during my lunch break. I’ve officially filed for a divorce. In a few days you should be receiving the paperwork you need to sign and return.
I wish you the very best in your life, Graham. I believe this can be a new start for both of us. We never really had much faith that our marriage would last, and we can stop kidding ourselves that things will work out in the end.
A flash of gold lurked inside the envelope. I leaned it over and a ring fell into my hand. Two years I had spent in buying the ring for Pam and then building up my courage to ask for her hand in marriage. Four months we had planned the wedding in the backyard, our ceremony performed right here on this porch with Marty ready to pop out of Pam’s huge stomach. Five years the three of us had spent laughing and fighting and loving each other in a family life that fulfilled every dream I could have ever wanted. One year we had watched Marty’s health deteriorate as the clueless family doctor shrugged her shoulders, the hospital staff scratched their heads, and the specialists argued in the hallways. Two weeks it had taken for everything to fall apart. Thirty minutes I had found Pam naked and rolling around the ground with another man. Ten minutes I had listened to her decision concerning our son. Five seconds I had read the letter that drove home the fact everything I had ever done in my life was a waste of time and false hopes.
One second it would take me to light my pipe, but I don’t think even the weed could numb me any more than I felt now.
Smoked the last buds anyway, the pungent aroma hovering around my head as I pulled the baling twine tight to open the door. Then I tied the end to the chair so Miter could enter the trailer after I left. Made sure to fill his dishes too. I gave him a week’s worth of food and water although Gary would probably stop by in a day or so to ask how my boy was doing. I felt glad I would not be here to tell him the news.
One last beer in my hands, I strolled off the porch and started my journey toward the nearest railroad track.