It was a mistake to lend Syd my beret. Now I’ve got to drive to St. Paul’s and get it before I dare show up at the meeting. Todd doesn’t like us to attend without our full costumes. Sometimes we have to attend the meetings in our armor because it adds to the event being planned. I’ve been in the Society of the Silver Knight for five years and have participated in four jousts and several other events involving swordplay and armor. I heard Todd, the Chief Knight, tell several of the other members that I was on my way up, and that he may let me coordinate the next event. This is good, but I’ve got to be on time to show the others that I’m a leader who is committed to the organization.
I pull into St. Paul’s parking lot, park, begin weaving my way through the trucks, cars, and SUVs. Finally, I arrive at the entrance to the hospital.
“Where’s the Clown today?” I ask the receptionist.
“I believe she’s on three.”
“Can you call her down to the lobby. I’ve got to pick up something from her.”
“No, she’s ranging around up there, visiting the various patients. Go on up there, shouldn’t be too hard to spot someone in a yellow wig with a maroon beret on their head, handing out balloons and candy.”
“So she’s actually wearing the beret?” I walk to the elevators and punch three. I hate it—I wish I had said, “No, you can’t borrow the beret. I’ll buy you one.” But no-o-o-o-o, I just handed it to her.
The elevator doors open. I get out and look around for Syd. I hear laughing to my right, so I head toward the sound. Sure enough, there is Syd wearing her multicolored clown suit, oversized feet, yellow crinkly wig, with my beret perched on top.
“Hey, why did the chicken cross the road?” I hear her ask the assembled group of children. Most were bald, all were in wheel chairs, one in particular looked at Syd without an expression. I could see the plastic bag nearly filled with urine below a prosthetic leg. Her eyes glazed like sugar on a donut. The little girl is there in body, but not in spirit.
Most of the little ones laugh at the answer Syd quacks. I just want my beret. The meeting at the Society will start soon and I’ve still got to drive to the location.
Syd turns and sees me standing in the hall.
“Hi!” she says.
“Hey, kids, this guy is a knight! He wears armor and a sword! Whoaa!”
“Really,” a little ones says.
I look at myself. Blue jeans, a T-shirt, and a ball cap.
“What’s a knight?” one of the kids asks.
“Well, he dresses in metalwork, rides a horse, and fights evil,” Syd says.
“And they’re brave and they guard you…” a voice says. I look. It is the little amputee, her brown eyes glowing.
“Yes,” Syd says.
“And they have a sword that’s magic and they fight for justice…” the little girl says, now alive with lore. She leans toward my direction, breathing hard.
“But he’s not dressed like a knight,” one of the boys says.
“No-o-o, not now…” Syd says.
“Can I just have my beret? I’ve got to go to a meeting.”
“He-e-r-re! So, what did the girl melon say to the boy melon when he asked her to marry him?”
“What?” several wee voices squeak.
I breathe a sigh, and head for the car. The event is next weekend and I’ve got to get my equipment in order. Heraldry. The beauty and pageantry of the distant past. Shields and swords, breastplates and helmets, flags and folderol, fighting for fair maids’ honor, upholding justice—who doesn’t like this stuff?
I blast out of the parking lot and head toward the meeting. “Are you going to Scarborough Faire?” swims through the radio speakers and into my mind. “Yeah, I’m going there amidst the Scarlet Battalions,” I tell them. Suddenly, I do a u-ball on the interstate right across the grassy knoll and head back to the hospital.
I park and open the trunk. There in the parking lot I put on the hard armor of a knight headed for combat. The chain mail is heavier than I remember, but I grab the helmet and head for the entrance to St. Paul’s. I find her in ICU, spurs and sword clanking so loud that she opens her eyes toward me.
“I am your knight.”
She closes her eyes during the silent drip from the hanging bags.
I move closer to her bed. “Feel the heft of the sword that guards you.” And I take her tiny hand, place it on the handle, and move her palm down the hilt to the cross guard. She opens her eyes for a minute and I hope she is experiencing the strength of the steel at my side. I see her lapse back against the pillow and kiss her six-year old hand, like in the days of old.
“Ah, m’lady, your knight is here to do your biding.”
She briefly opens her eyes and lapses back into her little girl dreams as the chemicals swirl inside her.
I stand there hearing the beeps and bings of the monitors. Angels float in and out to change bags and take readings.
“Let’s make her more comfortable,” they say.
I stand there with her hand in my hard-gloved hand all night. There are others in the room, but I don’t know them. I hear words offered to a higher being, and I cling to the little hand that no longer grips mine.
One of the angels with a stethoscope says this. The little hand is removed from my glove and is placed upon the bed sheets. As the gurney is wheeled out of the room, I walk out to the open area, take off my helmet and go the floor facing a cushioned bench. I force my face into the cushion to muffle my screams. An angel floats by and offers me a drink of cool water. “You were there all night. Sun’s coming up now.”
I gulp the water, splash some of it on my face, and breathe deeply. “Yeah, didn’t do any good.” I grab my helmet and head for the parking lot through Emergency. A person dressed in clanking metal walking amidst victims of gunshots, knifings, drugs overdoses, and other assorted wounds may cause a head or two to lift into fantasy for just a moment, but the ugly reality of pain quickly snuffs out the vision of heroism and hope. The automatic door drones open and I feel the hot humid air of Texas summer.
I hear the words, but ignore them.
“Oh, please Sir!”
I stop and turn around. A man and a woman stare at me.
“You were there with Natalie…all night,” the woman says.
I want to say, “was that her name?” but I don’t say anything.
“How could we have gotten through this with out you?”
“We knew she was terminal. She loves—loved—the King Arthur stories and…when you came in to the room you gave her—an event!”
“Ma’am, Sir, I’m…”
“And you gave us hope. We know she’s gone, but she went in that special strength that comes when others care.” The man grabbed my hand, the woman hugged me, which I couldn’t feel because of the armor.
Walking toward the car I am hit with the hot slap of summer sun. I raise the trunk lid and remove the sword from my belt. The sunlight illuminates the handle, crossguard, and blade in away I’ve never seen before. The silhouette is a... I lay my armor and the sword in the trunk, slam the lid closed and for a second imagine the darkness in which it lays. I can open the trunk and let the sunlight in, but only he can open a grave and let light into life. As I start the car and head for home, I wonder if Syd would like to have the beret for keeps.