Petty though it was, my first thought was that Dee had purposely done something to Mamma to get back at me for turning down the job.
The phone rang several times before the line was picked up, and a hushed voice on the other end said, “Nurse’s Station, this is Janelle speaking.”
“I recieved a call from Nurse Jenny…she said something happened to my Mamma. Her name is Eliana Muertas,” I said, so quickly that I’m not sure if I was clear at all.
Janelle paused, “Yes. Are you her son, Jorge? Jenny told me you might call back. She’s gone off duty now. Mr. Muertas, I can’t update you on Ms. Muertas’s condition over the phone, but I can tell you she is stable. She took a fall in her garden and fractured a few things. Is there any way you could come to the hospital?”
“I live in Georgia. It’s going to take me about a day to get there, but I can leave tonight,” I said.
“Oh good,”Janelle said. “She’s fine, but she’s going to need some care when she is realeased. She would have called you, I’m sure, what no calls from patients in the ICU, and she’s going to be there for probably a few more hours. The fall wasn’t terrible, but she lay on the ground for a few hours before the neighbors found her, and that gave her a bad chill.”
I was greedily absorbing all the information Janelle could give me, but also wishing she’d have left the last part out. My mind was spinning with scenarios of what everything she was saying could mean. I told Janelle to tell my mother that I was on my way, thanked her for the information, and ended the call. I was already scooping clothes into my suitcase, and preparing to make my way to Florida.
I had my clothes packed, my toiletries bag almost complete, had called work and said I wouldn’t be in for a couple of days, and had called my neighbor to ask her to feed Orpheus while I was away when I turned to search for my cell phone charger and found Dee sitting lightly in my recliner.
“Get out,” I said angrily, suddenly aware that I was furious he hadn’t warned me of what was going to befall my Momma, if he even had the power to do so. I assumed he did since he was here in my living room with a somber expression in tow.
“No,” he said.
“Fine. Stay or whatever, but I’ve got to get to her, andI don’t have time to sit and banter with you,” I said.
“If time is what you need, you know I have ways of working that out,” he said, templing his fingertips together. “Running away from your duties now, won’t stop their pursuit of you. Why don’t you sit down and tell me what’s so troubling about a career that involves living forever and studying humanity through simple gastronoical means?”
“That’s just it. It’s not living. I’m going to be stuck in this job of robbing people of their lives, and where’s the time for me to go on dates, or see my Mamma, or have children that aren’t some kind of freaky copy of myself 500 years down the line.”
Dee shook his head, and touched his temple as though I was giving him a headache, “You’re like a child who is being given a birthday party, and is upset that his cake has got icing on it. The real issue is that you’re scared to fail. You don’t want to commit to this, because you think someone’s going to shout at you if you drop the ball. Heads up, Jorge, even the immortals are allowed to fuck up every once and awhile.”
“Riddles and metaphors. You don’t even know what you’re talking about, but at least it sounds good, right?” I said.
“I know exactly what I’m saying, and you do too. You also know that’s why Ashley had to suffer, and why you went to college for five years, and why your Momma calls you and checks on your impulsives of flight. You’ve got commitment issues, brother,” Dee said, standing. “But I can see I’m irritating you when your emotions are sprawling. Go and see your mother. She’s got enough sense for both of you, and so maybe she can share some wisdom that you’re so slow in getting at.”
“Whatever,” I said, as he neared the door.
He paused and asked, “How’s the car working, Jorge?”
My gut clenched, and I was sure that if I went to driveway and tried to start the old monster, it wouldn’t turn over. It certainly wouldn’t get me to Florida and back.
“Hmmm…thought so. Don’t ever say I never gave you anything,” Dee said, and looked at a point just beyond my shoulder.
“What…?” I said, turning to look where he was gazing, the hallway behind me, and when I turned back to Dee, he was gone and so was my apartment. I was standing in front of Flagler Hospital, the slightly warmer air of the land around me was gently pushing me and running across my suitcase at my feet. My cellphone clock read about three hours since I’d glanced at it right before Dee had appeared in my apartment, and this was just enough time for me to have taken a plane in and gotten a taxi to the hospital. Dammit. Dee was a clever bastard. I had to give him that one.
I picked up my suitcase and walked into the hospital doors in front of me. Briefly stopping by a map of the vast hospital maze, I saw what route I’d need to take to get to the ICU. As I moved to take the path that would get me there, Dee’s words began to gnaw on me. Yeah, I was real crap when it came to making decisions, and even worse when it came to standing by them. But what was destiny anyway, and who was Dee to tell me that my true place was in making a killing in the death business? Well, he is the Angel of Death, and HAS been around for quite awhile as far as credentials on life counseling go my unhelpful brain reminded me. If Dee was right about my commitment issues being at the heart of it all, where did I develop this fear of failing from? What had I ever done that was so condemned externally or by my own self that made me shy away from sticktoitiveness?
And that’s when a small ripple of light flashed behind my eyes, illuminating a picture so clear and vivid that it could only be a memory of something I’d experienced before that was now returning to my viewscreen.
And I remembered, standing beside Azazal, although he looked slightly different, a different face, but then again I had a different kind of face in this vision as well I saw. I handed Azazal the clumsy knock-off pair of chord cutting shears I’d seen him try and use on the young basketball player, and Azazal, face like that of an angel, kissed me lightly on my cheek.
I heard myself saying, “You’re to be my assistant, Azazal. Death’s apprentice, and if you do well, the job will be all yours one day.”
And then the vision melted as the world turned, and my stomach was sick as though I’d spun around very fast or eaten something very slimy and raw. My sight cleared, and I was at the doors to the ICU. I shook myself of the vision. I would return to it when I had time to unravel memories, but now my Mamma needed me. I headed into the ward.
Mamma was asleep in a bed in a small cubbyhole of a room in the ICU. I entered and took a seat at her side. The nurse had said I could only stay 10 minutes, since the ICU had a strict visitors policy that would allow the patient as much rest as possible, but Mamma was going to be transferred to a normal room as soon as the doctor could approve it, she said. I gently rubbed my mother’s thin caramel colored arm, and watched as her eyelids fluttered and opened.
“Jorge? My word, you must have flew to get here so quickly!”
“Yes, Mamma. I took the first plane out. How are you feeling?”
She shrugged. “I was in the yard, and was leaning over to water my ficus. I forgot about the hose, and then I was looking at the sky. Good thing I fell in the front yard so that Gabby saw me rolling around when she went to get the mail.”
“You do too much,” I scolded.
“If I didn’t do it, no one would, you know. But yes, I forgot my age. They say I broke something to do with my hip, and my shoulder is a little cracked, but it’s good. They would not have found the cancer if I had not taken this fall. So thank God I’m clumsy,” she said.
“Can…cancer?” I asked.
“Oh. Did they not tell you? It’s stomach cancer. They say I can heal up my bones and then start chemo later this month. I thought they would have said this when I asked them to call you,” she said, much too nonchalantly for me.
Life was progressing at a pace I was not at all comfortable with. First, she was in the hospital and soon she would be doing chemo. Our ten minutes together was already eaten up and the nurse was casting me a warning look through the glass of Mamma’s room from her perch at the nurse’s station.
“You have the extra key?” she asked.
“Go sleep,” she said. “I’m fine. I’ll call you tomorrow when I’m in a real room, and we’ll make plans.”
Miraculously I’d remembered to pack the key to let me in her house, and pulled it out of my pocket when the taxi dropped me off in front of her tiny retiree’s cottage.