(Mind Absent projects intrepid reporter Jed Berman into the future, where he is currently in a mess of trouble. Two orderlies have just arrived to roll Berman to the O.R.)
Chapter Two: It’s Time, Mr. Berman
Instead of a pale, sickly, coma patient, lying face up on the bed, his emaciated form barely visible under the bleached, white hospital sheet, the orderlies found themselves staring at a slender, white-haired man, about six feet tall, wearing a blue polo shirt, neatly pressed khakis, and docksiders on his bare feet. He reclined against the cranked-up head end of the bed, facing the doorway. With his eyes closed and one hand atop the other on his chest, he looked like a man taking a nap.
The first orderly, his mouth gaping wide in amazement, stopped short just inside the doorway. His partner, peering intently over the shorter man’s shoulder, failed to notice his colleague’s abrupt halt and plowed into him, launching the smaller man three feet farther into the room.
The veteran steadied himself against the door and turned an angry face to his partner.
“Hey, watch where you’re going, you schmuck.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t see your brake lights.”
“Well, maybe if you had a brain in your head, you would’ve.”
“Hey, I said I was sorry.”
The shorter man was about to hurl another irritated response when he heard someone chuckling. It obviously wasn’t the man on the bed. He turned to his right and peered behind the door. There, in a padded chair near the window, sat a very attractive, brown-haired woman in jeans and a colorful blouse, holding a laptap computer on her knees. She continued laughing as she closed the computer and stood up.
“We were looking for some comic relief around here. You guys make quite an entrance.” She wiped moisture from the corner of her eye. “Hi, I’m Jane Philips, Jed’s wife.” She motioned across the room to where a beautiful, auburn-haired, younger woman sat facing the bed. “And this is our daughter, Erin. She’s a senior at UMaine this year.”
The orderlies, recovered from their shock, nodded to mother and daughter in turn. The veteran orderly spoke first.
“Pleased to meet you, Mrs. and,” he paused and raised his eyebrows as he turned a questioning eye to Erin, “Miss, is it?”
Erin flashed a smile much like her mother’s.
“Yes, college is enough to deal with right now. I don’t need some guy to drive me crazy, too.”
She laughed, hoping it would help the obviously anxious and embarrassed orderlies relax. The taller orderly, grateful for the women’s gentle reception, offered an apology for their Three Stooges-like entrance.
“We’re sorry to come stumbling in like that. It’s just that we wasn’t expecting Mr. Berman to look so normal, if you know what I mean.” Fearing he’d spoken too bluntly, he added, “I mean, for somebody that’s been through what he has, I’d say he looks wicked good.”
“We think so, too, but,” her smile slipped away as she looked toward her husband, “looks can be deceiving, you know.”
The shorter orderly glanced at his watch, and reasserted his seniority.
“I know what you mean, ma’am, and I guess that’s why we’re here right now. Mr. Berman is scheduled for surgery at 7:30, and it’s already 6:45. We need to get him down to the O.R. so’s they can get him ready.”
Erin sank into her chair as Jane responded, her gaze focused on Jed’s still form.
“Yes, I know. We’ve known this day was coming for five years.” She sighed and looked toward the orderlies with tears in her eyes. “I guess we thought somehow we’d be ready—no, actually, we thought we could prevent it from coming at all—but apparently we couldn’t. I know you have a job to do, but could we just have ten minutes?”
The orderly consulted his watch again; it read 6:48. He looked into Jane’s grief-stricken eyes.
“Well, ma’am, I guess we could give you till 7:00, if that would be enough.”
Jane voice quavered.
“There isn’t enough time in the world, but we’ll take those ten minutes since you’re kind enough to offer them. Thank you.”
“Yes’m. We’ll be right outside. You just let us know when you’re ready.”