There was nothing more distressing for Lucas than walking the halls of the hospital. He shuffled his slippers in agonizing slowness while pulling an IV cart by his side as if it were an annoying friend that couldn’t take no for an answer.
He dreamt of being with Diane, walking along the Mesa of Santa Barbara that overlooked the beautiful ocean vista. They loved to lean against the wooden fence at the edge of the cliff and watch the speed boats cut across the Pacific, the hang gliders soaring so effortlessly in the sky, and the surfers balancing on their boards while riding the cresting waves.
Lucas labored alone down the hallway of the Pulmonary Care Unit with two defective lungs, a heart that was barely beating, and an IV cart joined at the hip.
In the quiet of the hallway, he could hear his feet slide on the hard surface of the tile floors. Floors waxed and buffed and that shined so brightly that it made Harold’s eyes hurt from the glare. Not a speck of dust anywhere. Unlike his home, where there were dirt and dust bunnies everywhere since Diane passed away three years ago.
Dr. Leonardi didn’t know how long Lucas would stay in the hospital. He said that Lucas was a walking time bomb with sugar levels too high, blood pressure too low, and his lungs sounding worse than a cat clawing a scratchpad.
“You’re not walking enough, Lucas,” the doctor reprimanded as if Lucas were a small child that didn’t know any better. “You overeat sweets, and you’re not using your nebulizer every day as I recommended.”
“That may be true, Doctor, but the one thing I won’t do is give up my sweets. That’s out of the question.”
Lucas always had a sweet tooth. He and Diane used to go to the candy store and feast on bear claws, butterscotch squares, and cashew brittle. Not to mention marshmallow Peeps whenever they went shopping at Ralph’s. He was adamant about not slowing down now, mainly because he didn’t have anyone to live for at home.
“I already gave up alcohol, for Christ sakes. I sure as hell miss my Chianti and Prosecco at dinner.”
Dr. Leonardi could only shake his head in exasperation.
Lucas noticed that every time he walked the hospital hallways, which was quite often in the past few years, it looked as though something had changed. A new paint job perhaps, a different picture or two on the walls. He gazed at the mosaic outside of Geriatrics and wondered if it was the Last Supper or just a fancy dinner party at a local Ventura nightspot. It triggered a memory of the last Thanksgiving he had with his whole family some time ago. They were so happy then, and now they’re all gone. Everyone. His two brothers in Chino passed. His sister, Elsie, who lived in the Redlands, died of liver cancer a year ago. He couldn’t recall how long ago his parents kicked the bucket. He could barely remember their faces or why he missed them so much.
“If you don’t start exercising, Lucas, you won’t see eighty.”
“It’s not like getting to eighty is going to change my life or that everyone’s going to throw me a big party, Doc.”
“Please exercise at home, Lucas. While you’re in the hospital, the nurses will see that you walk the hallway after every meal. Ideally, I’d like to see you do the same at home—and consistently.”
Lucas knew how vigilant Dr. Leonardi was. He would check in with the nurses every day, and if Lucas were slacking, Dr. Leonardi would chew him out and threaten to keep him in the hospital a few days longer.
Lucas followed the doctor’s orders and eased down the hallway with his IV cart beside him, shuffling past Maternity, the ICU, and beyond. He browsed the gift shop for a birthday card for his grandson in Indiana that he rarely saw and labored past Cardiology where he felt a little dizzy. As Lucas stopped to get his bearings, he noticed a few hospital visitors staring at him as if he had leprosy or worse. He saw one woman rubbing hand sanitizer in her palms and another putting a mask on just in case Lucas coughed on him or got any closer. He thought about how demeaning it was to be a patient in a hospital, treated as though he were a burden to society.
Lucas walked further, and he soon came to a strange hallway. He wondered why he had never seen it before. He thought it must have been a new wing in the hospital that had opened between his previous visit.
In all the years that he had been coming to this hospital, this hallway seemed out of character. The walls were painted in Diane’s favorite colors, yellow and white. As he walked further, he could smell his wife’s lavender-scented perfume, a fragrance that he hadn’t smelled since her death. He stopped for a minute to catch his breath and to calm his quickening heart. The moment felt scary but alluring. An odd feeling came over him like he was falling in love with Diane again.
Memories of their lives flashed before his eyes. They were on the porch swing under the moonlight while listening to Frank Sinatra sing Summer Wind. He could feel Diane’s soft touch as he put his arm around her to keep her warm on a chilly evening. It was a miracle, he thought, as he followed her youthful figure down the hallway. No more was he hooked up to an IV drip or limited by his disability. His feet now had shoes and not hospital slippers that would slide off. No longer did he feel old and stiff, but he had a lightness to his step, and his feet moved down the hallway with ease and without hurting.
Diane led him further down the long, sprawling hallway that seemed to go on for miles. And soon they went out through a door where he felt a bright, shining light warming his face and blinding his eyes for a few seconds. And then he felt nothing.
Mark Tulin is a former family therapist who lives in California. He has a poetry chapbook, Magical Yogis, and two upcoming books, The Asthmatic Kid and Other Stories, and Awkward Grace, a poetry collection. His work has appeared in Fiction on the Web, Vita Brevis, Leaves of Ink, Amethyst Review, among anthologies, magazines and podcasts. You can follow Mark at Crow On The Wire.