HOLLYWOOD—Jason and Candy waited in the soothing blue hospital hallway. An awareness of waiting was as pervasive as the constant drip, drip, drip of a leaky faucet: it might lapse for a few seconds, but never go entirely away. As he waited for news of Suzanne, Jason didn't know what to do with his arms and legs, they suddenly seemed too long and awkward, and he sat fidgeting in the plastic chair beside sleeping Candy. Nothing else to do, he IMDB'd Joey Leonard on his cellphone nothing: the search came back, nothing, zilch, no pictures, no acting credits whatsoever. Maybe Mr. Leonard was a fake. Maybe he wasn't even from Brooklyn. But that was beside the point, because Mr. Leonard, wastrel or genius that he was, had exalted Jason, given him the keys to the dramatic kingdom, and made life an impassioning laboratory that transfixed Jason in a way no class at Eureka College ever had. His test tubes were people, and a once feeble flicker of interest in Jason's skull blazed into an undying torch.
Candy roused in the seat beside Jason, breathed strongly through her nostrils. She opened her eyes, yawned, and said, “Juventino gave me something for you.”
It was wrapped in shiny purple paper, wound in a rubberband. He didn't have to open it to know it was a baggy of pungent oily Indica. Jason was so smug after Joey Leonard's fool drug and gambling binge today. Must have a screw loose to screw himself so bad on opening night, Jason thought. He must secretly fear success, or loathe it. There'd be no pot for Jason tonight. Raised to the oxygen-thin heights of a moral pedestal, he tip-toed to a trash container around the corner and dropped the parcel. Even his fingers displayed a puritanical disdain as they released the baggie upon a mound of sputum soaked kleenex and gumwrappers and the detritus of sanitary handwipes, wafting up a scouring scent of alcohol.
Candy was asleep when Jason returned to his seat. Seeking the brightside, he opened the torn tome of Mylanta one more time and indulged the bibliomancy of opening it wherever his finger landed. Just then his mother walked by. Her head was slung down between her fallen shoulders, an unlit cigarette dangled from her thin bloodless lips. Helene looked old and weak—it was a shock—he had never though of her as quite mortal.
“What is that book?” she asked, accusingly.
“Just philosophy,” he mumbled.
“Philosophy, philosophy,” she said in her belittling way of repeating everything twice. “Where did that get you? That's what you studied—philosophy and drama. How do you study philosophy and drama—your brother the dentist. . .”
“Don't knock philosophy,” Jason said, trying to be cool and collected. “It's sometimes the best non-prescription painkiller we got in this crazy-ass world.”
He stood up and extricated himself gingerly from Candy's sleeping head, so she didn't snap awake.
“Are you Suzanne Katselas' husband,” a male nurse asked him.
“EX-husband,” Jason felt obligated to correct.
Jason turned and followed him in plum-colored scrubs down the soothing blue hall. He came to an area, bounded by curtains, where everyone wore scrubs. They were scattering with the beaten attitude of coal miners leaving at the end of twelve hours under the earth. There was one man, with a paunch and slight beard, who wore no scrubs.
“This is the husband,” the nurse said to him.
“I am your social worker,” said the man no wearing scrubs.
Then Jason heard the nurse say something his ears didn't believe. Jason turned a corner and fell into an opening—walls and floor slid away—his arms and legs twisted and flapped in the weightlessness of space. That riddle of the man in no scrubs was no sooner solved (he wasn't a doctor, he was a social worker), and Jason was ushered into an unknown new world, a world without Suzanne. “Your wife didn't make it,” said the nurse, hastily adding, “Excuse me, your ex-wife.”
Suzanne had died.
(to be continued)
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