Deciding the Game
The file full of bloody papers accused him. If he hadn’t been so selfish, had stayed with Emily and Hedgeny that day, none of this would have happened. Basil put the papers in a drawer, out of his sight. He heard something. What? A whisper, cloth on cloth, there. Yes! His hand picked up the letter opener from his desk and he tiptoed through the connecting door into Emily’s room. She lay there, just like before, except her hands were at her sides.
A few moments ago, when he looked in, they had been folded in her lap, hadn’t they? He took her hand in his and she blinked. Basil blinked himself, then stared hard into her face. “Emily?” Had she done it; had she actually blinked? Her hand squeezed his, ever so slightly. Basil fell to his knees and wept like a child.
Sometime later, he noticed blood on Emily’s hand and was reminded of his cut. Basil got a moist tissue and wiped her hand clean, talking softly to her all the time. “It is fine that you blinked, Emily. No finer gift have I ever received. I saw your eyelids move and I felt you squeeze my hand. I’m going to clean up now but I can hear you from my room. I’m in the room right next door to you. I’ll be back soon.”
When Basil walked into his bathroom, he very nearly stabbed himself in the mirror with his letter opener. Who was this armed madman creeping through his rooms? He leaned closer to the mirror, aghast at the phantom peering back at him. What if Emily’s parents had seen him like this? Eyes drilled to the mirror, he let loose of the letter opener. It clattered into the sink. He removed his shoes and clothing. Basil peeked through the door into his bedroom. The clock next to his bed informed him it was eleven-fifteen pm. Where had the time gone? He stepped into the shower, turned on the cold water, and gasped as it sprayed over his skin.
‘Was he experiencing a horrible nightmare,’ he wondered. The excursion into the sub-levels of the Psyche Building certainly felt surreal to him. He reached out to turn on the hot water and was startled by the sight of blood running down the drain. Warm water washed over him and he removed the bandage on his wrist. The wound there was real enough, the skin surrounding it white and wrinkled. Which meant the glass in the cabinet drawer had cut him. Which meant a folder with Emily’s name on it was in his desk drawer in the other room. Which meant Emily had blinked and squeezed his hand. Could it all be true?
Basil scrubbed his skin thoroughly, as if to wash away the terrible secret he had uncovered. He applied antiseptic to his cut and fixed it with a butterfly bandage to hold it together. Tomorrow he would have to raid the medical storage cabinet in the Psyche Lab and start himself on an antibiotic. He gathered his bloody clothes and put them in a plastic trash bag. Basil put on his pajamas and consulted the nurses’ schedule on his desk wall. Nine pm and gone for the night, back at seven o’ clock tomorrow morning. After all he had been through, he wondered at himself that he would be embarrassed to be found at Emily’s bedside in his pajamas.
His hand shook a bit as he opened the drawer but there it was, the file with Emily’s name and covered in his blood. Proof, cold proof, black and white and red, right there where he had left it. Basil listened attentively to the monitor for a moment, then entered Emily’s room. Her hands were at her sides and what looked every bit like a smile played at the corners of her lips. Basil longed to kiss them, had always longed to kiss them, but held himself back. They were Emily’s to offer. Quite enough had been taken from her against her will. He squeezed her hand. “You are so strong, Emily. God knows you’ve been through more than any one person should have to bear. I’m here for you. I just want you to know that. I will always be here for you.”
Emily’s fingers moved in his hand. A tear ran down Basil’s cheek. “You’re coming back, Emily. You’re finally coming back.” He sat with her until midnight, then returned to his room. Basil took a couple of sleeping tablets, determined to get a fitful night’s rest. He had a number of dreadful decisions to make tomorrow. ‘Saturday,’ he thought, ‘I hope I can reach the administrators and get some answers to…’ The pills took effect and Basil drifted off into a much-needed slumber.
Emily’s lips found their smile after he left. From her dream world, softly, almost inaudibly, she said, “Basil.”
Basil woke up to the sounds of the visiting nurse in Emily’s room. He was groggy from the effects of the sleeping pills but they had done their job. He hadn’t woken during the night and felt well rested. He lay still for a few moments and played the events of the previous day through his mind. Basil lifted his injured wrist, touched it with his free hand. It was swollen and tender to the touch. He decided the first order of business for the day would be to raid the medicine supply cabinet in the Psyche Lab for antibiotics.
Rita was Basil’s favorite among the visiting nurses that came to care for Emily. She definitely ascribed to the concept of TLC intrinsic to her practice. Young and chatty, she always had tales to share about her current boyfriend and whatever else was going on in her life. Basil supposed he favored her for her openness and generally gregarious nature, areas he needed to improve in his own personality if he ever managed to open a practice. She was singing now, her voice filling Emily’s room and broadcasting over Basil’s monitoring system. Basil had told her about Emily’s preoccupation with folk music, Peter, Paul, and Mary in particular. She was singing ‘Kisses Sweeter than Wine’, “When I was a young girl and had never been kissed…”
Basil rose from bed and got dressed. He had a pounding headache. That and the pain in his arm were compelling reasons to obtain medicine before visiting Emily. Rita would be leaving soon. Considering his headache, he wasn’t particularly eager to engage with her this morning. On the other hand, he wanted to see if she noticed any improvement in Emily’s condition. He valued her opinion highly, aside from what she wrote in her daily reports. As much as he wanted to believe his own eyes and feelings, Basil was hungry for confirmation. His recent close proximity to Emily complicated the clinical aspect of his responsibility to her.
A loud knock on the door startled him and took the decision as to what to do next out of his hands. Basil answered and there stood Rita, a hand on one hip, smiling and chewing gum like there was no tomorrow. ‘That’s it,’ Basil thought, ‘Everything about Rita is here and now’. At just under five feet tall, Rita was packed tight and ready for action, a perky coiled spring. Her skin was as ebon black as her nurse’s shift was pearl white. “Basil, you are a sight,” she began without preamble, “With your hair all stickin’ up and look at your eyeballs. They look like two goat turds in a bowl o’ milk!”
Basil grinned and ran the fingers of his good hand through his hair. “Good morning, Rita. What a nice thing to say.”
Rita switched hips and regarded Basil thoughtfully. “You don’t get no free sugar from me, honey. I tell it like I see it, you know that. Get your butt over here and have a look at your girl.”
Basil blanched. Yesterday’s fears came flooding back into his awareness. He shouldn’t have taken the sleeping pills. “Is she okay?” he asked fretfully. “Is anything wrong?” He was speaking to Rita’s backside. She was on her way back into Emily’s room.
The first thing that caught Basil’s attention when he entered from the hallway was the brightness of the room. Rita had thrown back the curtains, which reached floor to ceiling and wall to wall across from Emily’s bed. “We got sunshine, Basil,” she announced, “and Christmas right around the corner. Ya gotta love the south, boy. Ya just gotta love it. You get on over there and have a look at your girl.”
Basil stepped over and looked down at Emily. His fears were swept away in the moment of seeing her face. She was radiant, absolutely radiant. Her skin displayed incredible color and tone, the pinkish hue of her cheeks in beautiful contrast to the dark sweeping lashes of her closed eyes. For the first time since the onset of her condition, she didn’t appear comatose. She looked as if she was sleeping and would come awake at any moment. Basil consulted the monitors next to the bed. He picked up the nurses’ chart notes from a side table and read Rita’s shift notes. “Nothing exciting here,” he said dismally.
Rita took the notebook from his hand. “Give me that. You just look at that girl lying there,” she ordered. “I did not hear you say there’s nothing exciting here. I’ve been in here with her day in and day out from day one. The machines always say the same things, vitals normal, muscle atrophy arrested, responding to stimulus, blah, blah and blah.” She set the notebook on Emily’s side table and took her hand. “Basil, the machines don’t see what I see. They don’t feel what I feel. Today this girl is alive! She…” Rita caught her breath. “Well, I will be damned! Praise God, Basil, she just moved her hand! I gotta write that down.” Rita patted Emily’s hand tenderly and retrieved the notebook.
“I sensed something yesterday,” Basil said, “I think she squeezed my hand and her eyes moved. She blinked again.”
Rita paused in her writing. She stared at Basil, confusion evident on her face. “I don’t see that written in the day book. What kind of doctor are you not to write something like that down?”
“I’m afraid,” Basil gulped past the knot in his throat. “I hate to admit it but I was afraid I had imagined those things. You’re right, I should have written all of that down, especially my fears and doubts.”
“Come here, you,” Rita said. She went to Basil and laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “This has to be hard on you. We all need to remember that. Any fool can see how crazy in love you are with this girl.” She kissed Basil’s cheek. “I’ll leave my number with my notes. You’re not alone, Basil. It’s important that you know that. I got some stock o’ my own in Emily. You need to talk, you call Rita.” She turned to gaze at Emily. “I’ve seen some things in my days but just look at her. That girl is alive! The two of you will be walking and talking together in no time, I just know it. When that walk reaches the aisle, I expect to be there, front and center. I don’t want to miss a thing!”
Basil blushed. “Emily and I have never shared so much as a kiss.”
“Oh hush!” Rita admonished. “A girl knows what a girl knows. Now go and attend to your morning constitutions. Comb that hair. I’m about to give Emily her bath. If you turn any redder, you’re liable to explode.” She took a step back. “Whoa, wait a minute. What happened to your wrist? You better let me have a look at it.”
“It’s nothing,” Basil assured her. “Just a little glass cut. It’ll be fine. I’m taking care of it.”
“If you say so,” Rita replied. “You better do just that. What we don’t need is a sick doctor on our hands.”
“Thank-you, Rita,” Basil said, “You’re just what the doctor ordered. Hey, would you write that in the day book for me, about yesterday?”
“Got ya covered,” Rita said. “A blink and a squeeze; that’s some good stuff. We’ll leave that part out about the young doctor’s fears and doubts. And Basil, you don’t need to thank me.” She gave him a friendly push in the back. “You go on now. I’ve got work to do.”
Basil returned to his room where he washed his face and hands, wet and combed his unruly hair. He wolfed down a slice of days old pizza from the refrigerator, brushed his teeth, and proceeded to the Psyche Lab. Once there, he took out his ring of keys and opened the medicine cabinet. The vast array of medicine at hand reminded him of Emily’s file. Any list of suspects would have to include, to begin with in fact, medical and Psyche students and teachers with access to meds. All of the drugs mentioned in the reports were there at his fingertips, every one of them and many more.
Basil took a handful of antibiotic capsules and a dozen aspirin from the cabinet. He deposited them in a small plastic zip-lock bag and dropped it into the pocket of his shirt. Out of habit, he retrieved the logbook from a drawer in the cabinet and noted what he had taken. He scanned the entries on the page, which went back to the first of the month. Had anyone checked the log for entries prior to the attack on Emily, he wondered. ‘There you go again,” Basil chastised himself, “Applying logical thinking to the illogical. Those who do what was done to Emily certainly don’t leave a record of their acquisitions.’
He locked the cabinet and went to a sink where he swallowed three of the aspirin and a couple of antibiotic capsules. Basil unwrapped the bandage and examined his wrist. The flesh around the wound was purple and angry in appearance. It was quite swollen. Maybe he should have had Rita take a look at it. He cleaned and wrapped it in a fresh bandage, then prepared an ice pack. That should take the swelling down. He’d make his phone calls and do his thinking left-handed this morning.
Basil had come to the conclusion that attempting to formulate what he was going to say to the representatives of the University was both frustrating and a waste of his time. The calls might never get made if he tried to do it right. There was no right in this situation, no easy fix. Basil consulted the University’s Open-door Policy Statement. There was a prioritized call list at its conclusion. He started at the top of the list and began dialing.
Two hours of frustration later, he paused for a rest. Everyone he spoke to was taken aback, amazed at his ignorance. Didn’t he realize this was ‘the day of days’? The University’s Cinderella football team was about to take on the mighty Colorado Buffaloes. Where was his school spirit? How could he not be aware of the significance of this day of all days? Each person he spoke to was more than willing to regale him with statistics and odds.
Hedgeny was the man of the hour, the lone hope of the multitudes. The administrators were tied up in pre-game activities, headed for their box seats, thrones of honor. There would be no consultations or school business contracted today. The swelling in his wrist had gone down significantly, which meant to Basil that his left-handed interlude hadn’t been totally unproductive.
He tapped John Alexander’s business card on the lab table at which he was seated. Heartbroken over his daughter, bereft and in obvious deep pain, the man had spoken to his wife of the big game. He had given voice to his wish to meet Hedgeny, the young man who so reminded him of himself in the heyday of his youth. He could easily imagine his daughter with such a young man. ‘I’ve been guilty of the same kind of thinking, stereotyping,’ Basil thought, ‘Seeing Emily, so bright and beautiful, intelligent and sensitive, imagining myself lesser and Hedgeny her obvious match.’ He realized for the umpteenth time that all he would have had to do was tell her how he felt and ask her to make a choice. The question was: did he have that strength and confidence now? And the unfortunate answer, probably not.
Basil slapped the table with the palm of his hand. “Enough of this!” he said aloud. Everyone he encountered was responding to emotional stimulus, worried about reputations and the future. What was the point of exposing the school’s cover-up? Did he have the time or inclination to go through those awful files in the sixteenth file cabinet one by one? Knowing the identity of the culprit would arm him with a powerful tool to wield against the establishment.
It had also become an obsession with him to find out. “I accept this case,” Basil said softly and reverently, ‘The CLASSIFIED INCIDENT of Emily Alexander’. I will do everything within my power to see the man responsible for her suffering brought to certain justice. I will see this thing through to its end and, if I am allowed, continue my life as a scholar and mate to the only woman I will ever love.”
A deep sigh of relief escaped from the deepest part of him. The decision to take on the burden of discovering the identity of Emily's attacker and solving the riddle of her deep sleep released all doubt for him. Finally, it didn’t matter what anyone else thought. In a true clinical sense, it didn’t matter what he thought. From here on out it was a problem to be solved, a situation to be rectified. It had its beginning on the day he walked away from Emily and that is where he would begin his investigation.
He swore to himself that, before this day came to an end, he would find and confront Hedgeny. He would create a means to being alone with his old friend and get a true and detached account of what went on after he left them at the river. The next step in the process of the investigation would be decided then. By tomorrow he should be on the trail of the beast. Oddly enough, Basil’s fear had dissipated. His prey was comfortable by now, secure in the knowledge that all bets were covered. The University had lifted the carpet and erased his tracks by sweeping the mess he made beneath it. No one would suspect Basil picking up the scent. He hardly believed it himself.
Basil returned to his quarters and prepared a light lunch, cottage cheese and a tossed salad. He carried it into Emily’s room and lunched with her, chatting and reminiscing their times together. He recited a poem he had written for her:
The nature of the water in the river
is my blood
It flows smoothly and sings your name
Others hear what they hear but I hear only
My love for you grew on its banks
to the tune of your laughter
the river’s ripples winked in time
Others see what they see but I see only
Life begins and ends where it will
is written on the waves of time
The river is timeless and feels
Others feel what they feel but I feel only
A single tear squeezed from the corner of Emily’s eye. Basil caught it before it could escape and run down her face. He touched it to his lips and smiled down at her. “I’ll take this as a glad tear and keep it for myself.”
Basil adjusted Emily’s pillow, ran his fingers through her soft, silky hair in the process. He took a spare pillow from the foot of the bed and did what he had done many times before, lay down on the floor next to the bed and went to sleep. Hedgeny was involved in the game of his life, so Basil would bide his time and wait until it was over. When it was, he would devise a way to draw Hedgeny out and away from the crowd. The two of them would have the conversation that Basil had worried over for months.
A couple of hours later he got up and left Emily’s room. He went to the elevator and descended to sub-level three. Basil’s mind was clear now. He was the clinician, the professional. He found his way to the operating theater with no problem. He felt a certain precision in each step, a resolution to purpose. He gathered the chairs from the stainless-steel room and carried them to the office at the end of the hall. When he was through, the Cranial Loop apparatus was the only thing left in the operating room. It was an iron throne in Basil’s eyes, symbolic of Emily’s affliction and his will to reach her.
Basil unlocked the control panel and retrieved the Cranial Loop headpiece from its drawer. He hoped he wouldn’t need it but would have it ready just in case. He adjusted it to its largest size and wired it according to the schematic of Emily’s last treatment. That done, he returned it to the control panel drawer and locked the panel down. “This just might work,” he said to himself. He locked the door to the room and returned to the elevator.
Emily’s room was furnished with a television set. It was fastened to a wall bracket in the corner by the foot of her bed. Basil had rented movies they had seen with Hedgeny and watched them in the room, hoping to rekindle a memory, to provide a spark to ignite her consciousness. He pulled a chair up next to Emily’s bed and sat down, the remote control for the television in his hand. “Hedgeny’s playing today,” he said to Emily. “Let’s see how he’s doing.”
Hedgeny was in the battle of his life, a high scoring, seesaw game, according to the excited announcers. It had been the treat of a lifetime; they had never seen anything like it. The score was thirty-seven to thirty-four in favor of the University but Colorado was posed, at fourth down and twenty on the University’s twenty-three-yard line, to kick a tying field goal. Television cameras played back and forth between the action on the field and the drama occurring on the sidelines. Hedgeny was there, pleading with the coach, chasing him relentlessly as he paced back and forth in front of the University bench. Hedgeny wanted in; he was sure he could block the kick, but the coach had other ideas.
He had decided to let his field goal defense team do their job. The chances of blocking a twenty-three-yard field goal just weren’t that good and he didn’t want to risk an injury to his star player. He knew what Hedgeny did not, that the young man couldn’t do everything; no one could. He would save him for what he did best, which was carry the ball.
The announcers knew it all. Hedgeny could do it. No one could do it. The coach was making the mistake of a lifetime. The coach was doing what any sensible coach would do. If it came down to fifth quarter, sudden death overtime, and his team won the toss and received the ball, it would be impossible to keep Hedgeny out of the end zone. If he lost the toss, here was a team that had scored four touchdowns and three field goals against the University’s dream team. They all agreed on one thing after watching this unbelievable game; the fourth quarter wasn’t over and anything could happen.
With less than thirty seconds to play, the Buffaloes nailed the field goal, tying the score at thirty-seven all. This being a championship game, barring a miracle, it would be decided after a fifteen-minute break, in sudden death overtime. Hedgeny’s coach called his final time out and gathered his kick receiving team around him. He advised them to be alert to the squib kick, the on-side, and any manner of tricks they had watched in film reviews of the Buffaloes. The ball would be kicked away from Hedgeny, everyone knew that. Hedgeny was to play back just in case the ball was free kicked, then run to it wherever it landed. It was the team’s duty to keep the ball in play, commit no fouls, and get the damned pigskin to Hedgeny. Nothing fancy, just good, old-fashioned, American football, knowing what your assets were and using them to the best of your ability.
Basil, who had never had much interest in football, paid strict attention to the game. The announcers informed and re-informed him of the obvious. Twenty-two of the fastest and surest athletes alive were about to take the field. Most of them hadn’t played for the past five minutes or so. They were tired but rested as much as they could be under the circumstances. It was the job, primary focus, of eleven of those athletes to keep the ball from Hedgeny. Ten of their opponents were bent on denying them that privilege. A whistle blew and the marauding bull, Hedgeny, roared onto the field and into the face of his destiny. “You were right, Emily,” Basil said, “Hedgeny is a fantastic athlete. He transcends the field.”
Eighty thousand screeching fans were on their feet as the gladiators faced off. A young male voice growled, “Hut, hut, hut one, and!” The ball was in the kicker’s hands and he opted for the squib kick. A perfect boot, the ball bounced and dribbled a dozen yards. A field of young men, running full out, collided on its point in a loud crashing of helmets and roar of young voices. Hedgeny was a bullet fired from the rifle of life as he flew across the field. He plowed into the pile and, amazingly, emerged from the other side, the football tucked under his arm in classic runner style. His warrior’s dance to the goal line, spinning, straight-arming, feinting and running through, would be played forever in bits and pieces any time a football game was televised. He lunged across the line carrying half the field with him. The young lion would not be denied. There was no time for an extra point, no sudden death overtime. The game ended, forty-three to thirty-seven, in favor of the University.
Basil smiled. “Look at that, Emily. The team is carrying Hedgeny on their shoulders.” He switched off the television and looked at her. She seemed sad somehow. Basil wondered about something Professor Grimes had said about projecting emotions. But he hadn’t felt sad until he connected with Emily. ‘I’m such a fool,’ he thought, ‘Emily has every reason to be sad.’ He dimmed the lights and left the room.
© 2017 artwork, music and words
conceived by and property of
Tom (WordWulf) Sterner 2017 ©