The ivory Grand Marquis pulled in front of the ominous glass doors and came to halt with a lurch. Grandpa slid out of the driver’s seat and jaunted to the rear passenger side. Tyler ran for the wheelchair that sat waiting under the Emergency Parking only sign. Opening the car door, Grandpa lifted Tyler’s brother Kyle out and placed him in the chair. Grandma took hold of the handles of the wheelchair and wheeled Kyle inside as the door whipped open.
Tyler scanned the lobby while Grandpa explained to the nurse what happened. Men and women in crisp white uniforms scurried about with clipboards in their hands, looking like white rats caught in a maze, going in and out of doors, down hallways. Tyler followed the entourage to Room 11 where other nurses lifted his brother onto an odd-looking bed. It had wheels and rails; someone said it was a gurney.
The three of them stood in the tiny white room, scrubbed clean of all personality. Tyler felt a bulge under his T-shirt and remembered earlier stuffing the connect-the-dots puzzle book there while he helped his brother. Tyler gripped it, remembering the fight.
* * * * * *
“Hey, Kyle! Watcha up to?”
“Trying to work a puzzle, jerk!”
“Dude, I bet I can beat ya on the Playstation.”
“You still playin’ that kid’s game?” “Give me that controller.”
The two brothers started wrestling, each vying for his turn. Tyler held his book in one hand and snatched the game controller with the other. A deafening crack, like a bomb exploding, rang out. Kyle let out a shrill shriek that brought up the hair on the back of Tyler’s neck.
“Kyle what’s the matter?”
“Look at my foot, I stepped on the glass I was drinking soda out of.”
Tyler saw a small crimson geyser erupt from Kyle’s foot. The blood started to pool on the carpet. Tyler panicked, then anger flared, “Why do I have to be the one to take care of my stupid brother? Mom ought to be here instead of at the hospital with my stepfather and his daughter. We need her here.” Tyler started to rave. “If Mom hadn’t married that man, she wouldn’t be there with him and his daughter right now. Yuck, this thing looks bad.”
Tyler moved Kyle’s thumb over the gaping wound, tucked his book in his belt, and looked around for something to wrap the foot. “Hold still Kyle, let me get a washcloth.” He grabbed a dishrag from the kitchen sink. As he placed it on Kyle’s foot, he noticed a chunk of the sole hanging vicariously by a thin piece of skin. He gingerly put the hide back into its place as best as he could then covered it with the dishrag.
“Here Kyle, hold this on here. I’m going to call Grandpa and have him take us to the hospital.” He quickly dialed the phone. Waiting for it to ring on the other end, Tyler thought to himself, “I don’t know why I have to call him Grandpa, he’s not really my grandpa. He’s just my stepfather’s dad. Oh, well, at least he can get us to the hospital.” Grandpa picked up the phone on the first ring, “Hello.”
* * * * * *
Tyler pulled out the book, smudged the drops of blood on the page, felt over his ear. Miraculously the pencil was still there. Tyler began tracing a dot. It’s good I was there, that I at least could do something. I must’ve had help from somewhere.
A shadow fell across the book. The doctor appeared out of nowhere. He was as tall as the light that hung from the ceiling. He had to move it in order to lean over Kyle to examine the gaping wound on his foot.
“Hey”, the doctor’s greeting echoed off the starch white walls. “Who fixed up this foot?”
Tyler spoke in a tiny voice. “I did.”
“Good job son.” “You’ve got quite a knack.”
“What are you pouring over Kyle’s foot?”
“This is iodine. It will keep the wound from getting infected.” The doctor generously poured the orange colored liquid. It instantly stained the skin. A pungent odor emitted from the bottle and filled the room.
“Now what are you doing? That looks like what Mom uses to fix our socks when we get holes in them.”
“You’re right, son. I am using a special needle and thread to sew your brother’s skin back on his foot. When it heals, he will have a line on his foot that will look like a tattoo.”
While the doctor finished his meticulous sewing, Tyler walked to the head of the gurney and spoke quietly to Kyle. “Hey, Dude, how are you feeling?”
“It really doesn’t hurt much. I just feel weird because I got some kind of shot. It’s hard to hold my foot still.”
Tyler’s mom and stepfather gloomily entered the room. “Hey, how’s Candace doing?’
“She’s doing alright” Mom ran her hand through Tyler’s blonde hair. “She has what’s called a tumor on her brain. But it’s very small and looks like a shadow.”
“Is she going to die?”
“No, but she’ll probably be sick for awhile and have to take medication like Kyle does.”
“Oh? How did they know there’s a tumor on her brain? You can’t see the brain.”
“Well, they have a machine that takes pictures of the inside.”
* * * * * *
“Hey Joe, ya ready to sneak out tonight?” Tyler whispered as softly as he could into the telephone receiver. “I know where Mom’s keys are and my dad’s been teaching me how to drive since I was ten when I go to visit him.”
“Sure, I’m ready to leave. I can’t stand the way my mom and dad fight.”
“I know whatcha mean these last couple of years, my mom and stepfather only take care of Candace and Kyle. Mom even fights my dad over my going to visit him. This place is the pits.”
“I’ll be there in half an hour. Grab some stuff.”
Traveling down the interstate at eighty miles an hour, the two thirteen-year-olds felt like grown-ups as the wind blew in from the windows tussling their hair. The pitch black night encased their psychedelic world in the van giving them a sense of being Superman as the telephone poles flew past.
“Hey, Tyler, hand me another fire cracker.”
“Only on one condition, you get it out the window this time. You keep forgetting we got five gallons of gas in the back of the van. Don’t lean too hard on the door either. I’m not sure if I tied the seatbelt tight enough around the frame to keep the door from flying open.”
“Sure no problem.”
Bang! Pop! Bang!
The firecrackers rang out in the night without anyone around but the two teenagers to hear them. The road loomed in the darkness. Soon the sun began to rise. Joe was fast asleep. Tyler was nodding off. He started looking for a place to pull over, but awakened with a start as the stop sign came crashing through the windshield, spewing glass everywhere. He shook himself off and squirmed out of his seat to check on Joe.
“Hold still Joe, you got a nasty cut on your forehead.” Tyler rolled his eyes and recanted in his mind, “Why do I have to keep fixing people up?” He reached for a paper napkin from a McDonald’s sack on the floor and held it tightly to Joe’s head.
“I guess we shouldn’t have drank or taken that stuff.”
“I guess not, Joe. Hold still I hear the sirens. It won’t be so bad at the hospital. They have machines that take pictures of your insides and everything.”
* * * * * *
The judge’s gavel pounded on the massive wooden desk. Tyler jumped in his seat. “Tyler, I’m not going to let you go home with your dad. I don’t think that mowing yards is enough punishment. You need to think about what you’ve done. You’re lucky you’re not an adult, or I’d have to put you away for a lot longer.”
The metal door slammed shut. Tyler sat on the bare mattress resting on a wooden platform in the cold, gray box that was called a cell. He already had to don the orange jumpsuit that was three sizes too big for him. He lay down on the hard mattress and sullenly looked around the cell. A single ray of light trickled through the glass and bars of the small window, his only link to the freedom he lost. The room was barren except for the names scratched in the wall of those who had come and gone before him. As the hours passed he reflected on the discipline his mother dished out. “Go to your room and think about what you have done.” Wishing that he could go to his own room, the heavy metal door clanged and scraped on the floor as it opened.
A large burly man in a blue polo shirt and khaki pants grumbled, “You got one hour kid, line up out here with the rest of ‘em and keep your mouth shut and your hands in your pockets.”
The long line of boys wearing their huge jumpsuits shuffled on the worn linoleum floor as they entered the rec room. The wall to the left was lined with two small shelves holding various books that looked like thrift store hand-me-downs. The wall to the right had a glass encasement resting on cement blocks that contained the small booths where he would get thirty minutes on Sunday night to talk to his mom through the phone receiver attached to the wall. He managed to find a seat at one of the round tables in the middle of the room. There was a puzzle book lying on the table, he picked it up and flipped it open to a connect-the-dots puzzle that someone had already started. As he traced the dots, he disgustedly muttered to himself, “Why do I have to be here?”
* * * * * *
Tyler picked up his puzzle. The flooding memories were an unforgettable reminder of what he once was. Reminiscing about the times he was locked up for wrecking his mom’s van, for the drug possession, and running away. “At least my record is clear,” he whispered under his breath. He looked up from his puzzle to be sure he had everything done. Yes, all was in place. The instruments were cleaned, the medical boxes were filled with gauze and iodine, and the square box he drove was gassed and ready to go. Each completed task reminded him of the rigorous routines he hated as a child, being “dragged” to church every Sunday when out on furlough and gathering with the guys in lock-up when the church people came to visit on Tuesday evenings. “I guess everyone knows now that I really was listening” he mused to himself. He returned to his puzzle. As he connected each dot, he saw a picture start to form. Finally, he was beginning to see the answer to the haunting question that he had asked himself for years. Why, Lord, why indeed.
The monotonous voice shrilled from within the walls. “Unit 57, please respond to 2511 Metropolitan; multiple victims with gun shot and stabbing wounds. Drug usage involved.”
Tyler dropped the puzzle book onto the round table in the rec room and darted to the driver’s seat. His partner joined him on the passenger’s side. He flipped on the lights and sirens. As the noise reverberated into the pitch-black night, Tyler whispered to himself. “What, Lord, do you want me to do?”
Back in the station house, the book lay open to the connect-the-dots puzzle that Tyler was working, but was still not finished.
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