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Table of Contents

Chapter Twenty-Nine

On the forth floor I Band-aid my breathing with the shallow strip of an inhalation to keep the wounding smell all hospitals share from bleeding through, the odor of convalescence slumbering in chemicals. The rooms I pass are paintings in a gallery of glimpses, a skim of families and friends and their bedridden painted in a monochrome of woe, envious eyes darting through the doors to the hallway where the life I seem to be in the process of living passes them by.

Sage had told me that she’d only been in a hospital once to have her tonsils removed, and instead they’d removed her appendix. Not long in the United States, paid the honor of an unexpected visit from a small flock of terrified administrators who had flown into her hospital room after the operation and were prepared to wing their way through the threat of litigation, her mother and father had thanked the bunglers profusely, convinced they’d been given the unexpected gift of an unorthodox bargain. In America, her parents were slowly learning that bigger was better, that to walk away with more than you paid for was best, and to receive a pound of appendix for the price of an ounce of tonsils was construed to be nothing short of a windfall.

Much later, years later, the family laughed, her brothers and mother, aunts and uncles – but not her father. He cursed his luck and his naiveté, his wide-eyed straight-off-the-plane lack of shrewdness, the bureaucrats who – once they saw what they were dealing with – hadn’t bothered at the time to disabuse him, walking a thin line of mumbo jumbo. They could have been rich, he insisted, they could have sued for big money, that was the real American dream. Smoldering with threats and resentments more than a decade later, he’d looked into it (paying a nephew 20 dollars to write a letter in English) and was told there were no records to document his allegations. That was, and remained to his death, his great insurmountable bitterness.

While his own family, Sage included, had discouraged him from embarking on the quest that became his avocation, I had listened to his story and agreed, to the family’s horror, that there had indeed been a blatant breach of ethics. I even made an appointment with one of the hospital’s executive directors and had gone so far as driving him to an appointment I’d set up, prepared to translate as best as I could, and when I couldn’t, to speak for him and ask the sort of questions that might have persuaded the director take a small, frail, elderly Iranian man whose English vocabulary consisted of perhaps a dozen words more seriously. I thought his complaint was valid, and though I didn’t think much would come of it, I thought that at least he deserved the respect of being heard – that ideally every man or woman who had something to say about the things that had caused them pain deserved to be heard, and that someone must bear witness.

But when we walked into the lobby, Sage’s father had a change of heart. Maybe he was intimidated by the sterile expanses that confronted him, the color-coded cartographic stripes on the floor that mapped the way to outpatient surgery or cardiology, or maybe his family’s affectionate taunts returned to haunt him and undermined his confidence. Whatever it was, he shook his head and pointed to the doors we’d just walked through, indicating that he wanted to leave. In the car he didn’t speak, but the expression on his face told me that something had been accomplished. From that day forward, when he greeted me, the handshake we’d always previously welcomed one another with was no longer sufficient. He would reach up to embrace me and I would be made to bend so that he could lightly graze both my cheeks with pinheads of stubble that straffed two kisses. And though Sage and I weren’t yet married, he learned the English word for oftob – son – and never failed to call me that whenever we met. Sage reproached me for having encouraged him – stringing him along she’d maintained, and I steadfastly denied it – but she did it in the manner of a parent chiding a child who had joined the side of a younger sibling surrounded by tormentors in a fight, with a sort of suppressed guilty pride.

Pausing outside the door to room 411, thinking of Sage’s appendix scar and how she laughed when I kissed it and told me that it reminded her of how her father had kissed my cheeks, I’m lost in thought until a woman’s voice I don’t recognize inside the room calls out in a girlish whine, “Kyle, what are you doing out just hanging around out there?” and insists that I come in.

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