Frank stared at the monitor that flashed information he couldn’t decipher. He mostly wanted to avoid the gaunt, pale face of his lifelong friend. His work-worn hands were stuffed into the pockets of his crisp go-to-town Levis.
The nurse busied herself with routine tasks while Frank’s mouth worked on the corner of his shaggy mustache, a nervous habit he developed since he gave up his Copenhagen.
“Are you his brother?” the middle-aged woman maneuvered around her immobile patient.
“Naw, just a friend,” Frank cleared his throat before continuing the conversation. “I promised his wife I’d come sit a spell so she can get some rest.”
“That’s nice.” She squirted hand sanitizer into her palm.
“Ed’s a good guy,” Frank nodded towards the bed. “He’s gonna be alright, isn’t he?”
“I’m really not allowed to disclose information if you aren’t family.”
Frank could feel the sting of tears and looked away. “Well, I suppose I can wait until his wife gets back.”
The nurse hesitated to leave.
Frank swiped at the lone tear before it trickled into facial hair. “It’s just that I know him better than his woman does. We’ve been friends through three marriages each.” Frank chuckled at that fact. “Can’t neither of us stay married.”
“How long have you been friends?” a motherly smile warmed her weary countenance.
“Since first grade, Ma’am.” The mention of this fact caused Frank to stand a bit taller. “We go way back.”
“I can tell you this; he seems to be a fighter. His cardiologist said it’s a miracle he’s alive. He has a ways to go, but right now everything looks better than anticipated.”
Frank’s lip quivered, “Thank you, Ma’am.”
Finally alone, Frank scooted a chair close to have a chat with his buddy.
“Hey, Ed, you realize you done gone and messed up our huntin’ season again? It got me thinkin’ ‘bout the time you said you checked the RV out and we nearly froze to death. No water, no propane, battery barely charged to run the lights. What was it that night, 29 degrees? I thought we were gonna have to share body heat to survive,” Frank snorted. “We wasted our first day huntin’ ‘cause we had to break camp and head to town to fix everything.”
Frank continued to reminisce out loud. “Remember when I had my appendix out in first grade? That’s the only time I’ve been in the hospital, knock on wood. When I came home, you’d come over after school and sit on my bed and play checkers with me.
“Do you remember that time in high school I hurt you somethin’ awful during football practice? You were on the opposite team for scrimmage and were gunnin’ for me. You wanted to sack me bad. I barely got the ball off to the receiver when you nailed me. I pulled my knee up just as you connected with me and got you square in the privates.” Frank rubbed his beard. “Your Mama wasn’t too happy with me, somethin’ about wantin’ grandkids someday.
“We both got jobs after high school at the mill. Remember all the brawls we’d get in at the bar? You were a mean drunk, Ed. I’d have to pull you outta there before you got in serious trouble. Work and drinking seemed to be all we did those days. No wonder our wives left us.
“We had some good times, Ed, but we had some screw ups too. You got a good woman now. Patsy’s changed since she got religion. Remember all the terror we caused in Sunday School? Don’t know why we did that, I liked Sunday School.” Fred’s tone softened, “Do you remember the time ‘ol Sister Ethel prayed the sinner’s prayer with us? What were we…about nine or ten? Patsy’s no saint like Sister Ethel, but I see somethin’ different. You’ve changed some, too. Did you say that prayer again?”
After a long quiet spell, Frank picked up the one-sided conversation. Things weren’t any different when Ed was conscious. Frank had always been the talker…the leader, and Ed the quiet follower.
“Why’d we quit church? Did I lead you astray? I know you’ve been to church with Patsy. You like the new preacher? He was here last night, he seems alright. I told him stories about us. He called me a true blue friend.
“I suppose I’ll follow you this time,” Frank fought tears. “When you get outta here, I’ll go to church with you. Okay?”
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