I offer an unusual piece of prose, of creative nonfiction, about four men in a hospital room. I am one of them. The first draft was written in a morphine haze, when I imagined the connections between us as having ancient roots.
In hospital room 2E, you’ve got four men in white-sheeted beds, the four corners of the world. Most nights you have the usual monks and mystics, poets and fools. But on rare nights like this, you have cosmology, the descendants of the Anemoi, Greek gods of the four winds. There’s confidentiality to consider, so I’ll call them Señor Pancreas, Crushed Hand, Dr. Abdomen and Col. Alzheimer. There’s only a thin cloth curtain separating us, and even that is drawn back most of the time, so we overhear each other’s medical consultations, every family intimacy, every apology and anxious laugh.
Things kicked up around midnight after doctors finished their rounds. Crushed Hand turned into a mountain man, thrashing through the forest in a haunted morphine dream. The winds can see each other’s dreams; it has always been so. We saw him use his one good hand to tear a giant branch from an oak tree and club everything in his path. It wasn’t just an IV stand. After that, he tossed huge boulders in the canyons, screaming all the while. We saw pillows fly, but his dream was the thing that mattered. No doubt about it, he was related to Boreas of the north wind. When Crushed Hand woke, he looked around the room, saw his place among the other injured winds, and turned his TV on as loud as it would go. What a jerk, not letting the other winds sleep. None of us wanted to be trapped in a room without fresh air. It bothered us that Crushed Hand didn’t give a crap about the sacred nod of recognition.
He’ll probably get out of here and go out in the world making a big scene about his wound. All he does is bluster. If you meet him, you can bet he’ll try to punish you for his suffering. If you live in his territory, you’re already intimate with his moods. You have to be strong and find your own meaning for staying.
I saw it all from the east bed, inverted vase that I am. I assumed that Señor Pancreas must have come down the line from Zephyrus, god of the west wind. He’s the complicated one among us, his namesake having lived in a cave in Thrace. He had a huge number of passions and relationships in his time. His memories visited his mind in pairs, to pay their solemn respects, one on each side of his bed. He kept turning his head to hear their tales and wishes.
Look how he responds to each one differently, with smiles and grimaces, nods and frowns, entertaining a constant parade of memories. If the descendant of a wind god passes from human form, heirs and confidants show up out of the vapors to carry the traditions. Nobody explains anything, they just know to come, especially the invisible ones. You don’t see any angry bedside drama with the west wind. Instead you feel the air rustling and you know a visitation has occurred. Sensitive mortals know the wind language too, how we eventually die from our passions. Zephyrus himself had a famous tangle with Apollo, but you won’t see the scars unless you come up close to Señor Pancreas. He’s contemplative; the only one among us who can muster a private smile in spite of horrendous pain. He spent the whole night with his arms folded over his narrow chest, staring at the ceiling, saying the word, unbelievable, over and over, like he was watching a pageant about his life, projected on the ceiling. Sometimes he’d whisper the word Luciana, and the other winds suspected a great love – one he’d kept secret all these centuries.
I’m Dr. Abdomen. From my east corner, I saw flickers of light on the edge of Señor Pancreas’ movie, but I didn’t have a good enough angle to watch it with him. Don’t try to tell me I was just looking at random patterns of light coming through blinds in the storm. He paused to greet me, saying he hoped I was on the mend. He was my kind of guy, offering care as an overarching value, so we opened up a spice trade route all over again. I had to use my eyes to return good wishes since I had a tube from my nose to my gut that hurt like hell and words were agony to deliver. He was less interested in words anyway. You could tell he’d made a certain kind of peace about moving on.
I tell you this world is spilling in a stream of water. If I ever get out of here, I’ll swim the spill to a stream until it finds a river, then I’ll travel to every sea that spawns the breeze, and name them all as kin. Ocean currents are intimate with wind. In a glimpse of death, I saw my ancestor, Eurus, wind god of the east. I suppose it’s why I’m drawn to thickened air. Down the hall, the Six Compassions dwell, although their name tags say they’re nurses. A blessing is due for them.
Col. Alzheimer was in the fourth bed, pushing ninety, black and wise. He had us all figured as gentlemen at a poker party, and was confused that nobody brought the cards and chips. He was astonished at how things keep getting lost or turning up. What is this tube? I didn’t put it here. Well, maybe I did. How about that? What is this shoe doing here? Somebody left it on the floor, not me. It’s not my shoe, is it? Well maybe it is. I’ll call my son. He’ll know. He kept trying to get out of bed, and it set off an alarm every time. The staff sent one of the Compassions to guide him back to bed, time after time, until he finally fell asleep. They were trying to avoid the indignity of tying him to the bed. In his confusion, he’d stir up a little storm, but forget it in a hot blast. He had to be related to Notos, Greek god of the south wind. You know how transient that wind can be: a soothing breeze one moment, a savage rip through the crops the next. All things considered, Col. Alzheimer had the most forgivable attitude toward life’s inevitable frustrations. I would have loved to play poker with him.
Too bad his diabetes was out of control. We didn’t know if he had a real son at all, or wished it so from need. The thought made the other winds sad. I could have announced myself as his son and it would have comforted him. But winds try not to lie while they move over the surface of the world. I swear, he would have wandered down the street, charmed one person and frightened another, until someone helped him change direction. That’s the kind of wind he was.
I had him figured in another cosmology after my last morphine shot for the night, as Jupiter, one of the great wanderers of the heavens. Now I’m talking like Col. Alzheimer. Who put the universe here? I didn’t do it, did I? What’s this tube for? Who put these men in the four corners? I’m supposed to be in my office seeing psychotherapy patients. In the morning, Col. Alzheimer didn’t mention his son or try to get out of bed. He seemed defeated, wouldn’t even touch his breakfast. After a while, one of the Compassions came to tell him his son was coming to take him home, and the news filled him like a new father in the maternity ward. I’ve never seen an old man turn young that quick. The other winds were at his back. Even Crushed Hand stopped his blustering when Col. Alzheimer sat up straight and made his announcement. I have a son? Oh yes, I do, and he’s coming right here to this room.