Note: This is an excerpt from a novel in progress.
He was climbing up the makeshift ladder to the stand when he fell. Until that moment everything was fine. He was still pissed at Robert but it didn’t matter because he was geared up, ready, his good mood restored by more beer and weed. The ladder was made of six-inch wide pieces of salvaged wood siding nailed to the trunk of a pine tree. The tree stand was also made of salvaged lumber and plywood. It was on land that his friend Mike’s family leased for hunting. Phil and Mike had helped Mike’s uncle build it, which had been harder and more work than he’d expected.
Hand over hand, one foot, next foot. But he missed a beat in the pattern and went backward into the snow, falling on the rifle slung across his back.
He lay there for awhile, catching his breath and looking straight up at the stupid tree. It was mostly dead, the dark broken branches sticking out like spears. The sky was a uniform white. He was still warm from walking in, but if he didn’t get up he would get cold pretty quick from the shock of the fall and from lying in the snow. He experimented, raised his arms. Muscles convulsed between his shoulder blades. Then he tried rolling onto his side, intending to free the rifle that was digging into his back. The pain flared. It hurt. A lot. Fuck. He could not even start to sit up, much less stand. He carefully removed a glove and fished his phone out of a pocket and thank god there was a signal. He called Mike.
“You’re alive. What happened,” Mike said.
“You wouldn’t believe it. I fell. I was climbing and I think one of the slats broke. I fell like twenty feet.”
“What, did you break your leg?”
“My back hurts like a motherfucker. I can’t walk out. Can you come get me?” Mike sighed, agreed, and ended the call.
An hour later the doe appeared. He turned his head slowly when she stamped and snorted and watched her, his cheek freezing against the icy snow. The doe’s head was low and her breath smoked in the cold air. He could smell her. Then he heard the buzz of Mike’s ATV and she disappeared. He was really cold and it was getting dark. The only good thing about this — two good things — he would get time off from work and he would get Percocet. Already he looked forward to the warm nothingness he would be feeling in a few hours. It was such a relief that, unbelievably, he started to cry.
. . . .
Phil was dreaming — speedometer, clock, RPM. His arms and legs would not move. Teeth scratched at his hand and he was filled with a wild fear, pushed against something dense and heavy that was dragging him down. Don’t look at the light, baby. Close your eyes hard, roll them all the way up. Count and sing. We are the sultans, the sultans of swing.
He opened his eyes, his heart thumping, and he knew instantly that he lay on his back in a hospital bed. Unlike the other times Phil had roused to find himself in the hospital, this time he was full of despair. The room had that slippery quality of nighttime. Bright light came from a hallway beyond an open door and a far-away voice buzzed quietly. A monitor beeped behind his head, out of sight. The scratchy pinch was an IV needle in the back of his right hand. The rest was a maze of dread.
A female nurse came through the door trailing a breeze that wafted over his face. She reached over his head. A fluorescent light came on and the beeping stopped. She turned his right wrist to time his pulse. “Are you dreaming, honey? Are you awake now? How’s you pain? On a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst pain you’ve ever felt.” Phil tried to answer but coughed instead. It hurt.
Here were his old familiar companions— pain and the hospital. He watched the nurse as she lowered his right hand and closed it around a thumb button attached to a cord. “Press this if you have too much pain. Can you do it? It’s a medication pump. You have a catheter so don’t try to get up. Do you understand?”
She held a plastic cup and a straw for him. There was something about the straw, he thought, and discovered that his bottom lip was swollen and would not obey him. He had a question and looked at her over the cup.
“You’re OK, you were in an accident. You have to stay in bed now.”
He dropped the straw from his lips. “I know,” he croaked. “What time is it?” Then, “What’s wrong with me?”
“Your left arm is fractured, and your pelvis. Your right knee is sprained and you have a lot of cuts and bruises. But you’re going to be OK. It’s very early now, go back to sleep if you can. The doctor will see you in the morning.” The nurse straightened and pointed at a whiteboard on the wall next to the bed. “That’s me, I’m Becky. Oh, let me change the date because it’s tomorrow.” With her back to Phil, she pulled the top off a marker with a pop, and the felt tip squeaked on the board. “I’ll be back,” Becky said over her shoulder and left the room in a puff of wind.
Sunday, August 19, 2018. Because it’s tomorrow. Phil tried to work it out. It meant almost nothing, or not quite something. He looked at his left arm wrapped in an ace bandage over thick padding. A light blanket covered his hips and legs. When he shifted experimentally the pain took his breath away. He found the pump in his right hand and pushed the button with his thumb. Then he pushed it again in case it didn’t work the first time. Pain and the hospital — old friends, old enemies. Pain was an expanding balloon that carried off his mind like a trailing string. There was no room in his body for questions.