I really didn’t have time for this, I had so naively thought when I was first on my way to the hospital a little over an hour ago. Oh I had enough money to do anything I want. Wiping a non existent speck of dust off the front of my off white suit as I lounge in the back of the rented all black SUV, I am more absorbed in what’s going on back in the city than the desert landscape that flies by me outside. Tomorrow I’ll be twenty two and from now until then I would earn what my father would make in a year’s salary when I was a child. Uncrossing my red leather loafers, I lean forward and knock on the tinted window pane separating me from my driver. As the window rolls down I lean forward and speak quickly even while my gaze is on my phone checking my email.
“How long until we get there Antonio?”
To his professional credit, the Mexican national didn’t take his sunglasses off the road for a second as he replied, “Less than three minutes, Mr. Wills.”
“Thanks man.” I answer politely as I sink back into my seat. To the average person spending the day with their dying grandfather would be considered a gift. In my mind this day was stealing from me.
Money I can spend. My novel’s have done incredibly well-especially for a first time young author. Everything was going the way I had imagined it when I had first made my plan and confided in my family. Money, fame, freedom from a 9-5 to focus on my creative abilities that had flourished and shook up the world in the past year. It’s like a light switch had gone on in my mind and I was suddenly able to do everything I had originally set my mind on when I had started writing seriously.
When you have everything the only thing you have left to lose is well-everything. Stay with me here. I had earned enough in the past year that I would never have to worry about money. Up until the point when everything changed I was struggling to pay rent on minimum wage. Now I had villas payed in full in three different countries. But it really isn’t about the money anymore. Once a human being has something they want it substantially less. Money held very little importance in my heart now-you can say I’m entirely obsessed with the idea of time.
You cannot gain time. You can only lose time. You can’t save time for a rainy day. You can’t earn time. You can only spend it. That’s why when people ask me now, ‘How did you spend your day?’ I can answer with confidence. I know where every minute of mine goes because the one thing I cannot bear is the thought that my time is being wasted. ‘AKA NOW… Get #me back to civilization!’ I tweet to my 798k followers in frustration.
I didn’t want to be back here going to visit a relative who had become mentally unstable right around my meteoric rise to fame. My enemies often tried to link my granddad’s senility with my rise to fame. That it was somehow my fault that the man was seventy eight years old and his mind was finally going.
Looking out the window for the first time since I had gotten into the car, I grimaced at the sudden resurfacing of repressed youth. The parking lot of the hospital in my hometown greets my eyes with visions of my broken leg at fifteen and the allergic reaction I had at seventeen. Shaking my head to help break my mind out of this wretched reminiscence, I step out of the back of the black SUV to silence.
This is unusual as of late due to the growing success of my novel and the recent reports of a movie deal in the works have made the paparazzi a necessary evil I fit into my time. The absence of those bright flashing lights blinding me as they had done in the past weeks was more disconcerting than if they had been there. Then I remembered that the new publicist-Barbara something-had recommended that I visit alone and just snap a selfie or two with the old man for the tabloids. She had done a good job so far, putting out fires around the town and keeping the story of my granddad’s grand theft auto and subsequent accident out of the national spotlight.
The heat of the summer sun radiated off the black pavement threatening to melt my shoes should I stand there for too much longer. Heat makes my mind feel like it’s boiling-I can’t think when the temperature goes above 100 degree Fahrenheit. ‘Did I accidentally wind up in Death Valley? #3hot5me’ I tweet as Antonio rolled down his window and said in that annoyingly commanding voice bodyguards sometimes used when worried about stuff I didn’t have the time to, “Stay here I’m going to find a parking space and then I’ll come escort you up.”
I respond quickly, “No need Antonio-Really.” I cut him off pre-protest, “I’ll die if I stand out here you know I hate the heat. I’ll be up in his room just meet me there.” I turn and walk away into the bleached down disease factory that is a hospital.
My mom was a nurse so I had always had a good idea about what went down behind the scenes in hospitals. Mom worked in all kinds of departments when I was growing up but the two that she stuck with the longest was working in the operating room and in labor and delivery. She described to me the most terrible kinds of diseases and complications in surgery. The aftermath of drunk drivers and domestic violence were often told about the next morning over cereal as she sagged in her scrubs. I understand violence; Violence and trauma can happen in the span of a deep breath and to those of us who least expect it. As I boarded the elevator I was mentally prepared for broken bones, punctured lungs and shattered ribs. I was prepared in short for all the elements of physical injury. I wasn’t prepared for the injury of the soul.
As I look at the door to enter my granddad’s private ward I take a deep breath to steady myself. Knocking on the door even as I open it, the smell of decay fills my nose. It pervaded the sterilization that this place gets often. It was worse than anything I’ve ever smelled and I’ve done community service at a dump. It was the decay of flesh that still lived.
Tubes filled my granddad, pumping various fluids and gases into his body to keep his emaciated body from collapsing in on itself. Machines beeped and pumps whirred in a steady rhythm as I stand there with my mouth slightly open trying to take in the strange vision of the ghost of my grandfather. I had seen a lot of pictures from his youth. My granddad had been very handsome in his youth; Tales of womanizing and partying were attributed to my granddad as often as tales of salesmanship and hard work. He had worked his way over from England to America and built up a whole new family after his mother and father died before his sixteenth birthday. This man who had accomplished so much, built so much, now crumbled and decayed into nothing. He weighed no more than one hundred and ten pounds the last time I had seen him in the mental hospital in upstate New York. Now he probably wouldn’t even weigh in at 90 pounds. He is more bone than anything else: a living skeleton that shakes and jerks like a wet rat and smells like shit.
I want to take this selfie and get out of here, the old man was starting to creep me out. Just as I thought this and pulled open the camera app on my phone, granddad opened his eyes abruptly and muttered something inaudible.
I give a small sigh and say loudly, “HI GRANDDAD, IT’S ME ROD.”
The old man can’t stop shaking bodily as he beckons with a long shaking finger of bone to move closer so he can speak.
The overwhelming scent of decay causes me to wrinkle my nose but out of respect for him I do not pull away even as he grasps my arm with a shaking damp and paper thin hand. It feels as if he is looking deep within me as his sunken, discombobulated eyes struggle to focus on me while he whispers, “I’m dying, and I can’t keep him at bay any longer. I’m sorry.”
I shake my head at this nonsense. Granddad sure had lost it and I sure knew better than to try to have a conversation with a crazy person and waste any more of my time, I extend the arm that holds my phone and settle our faces in the screen. I hit the ‘capture’ button and then hit save without looking at the picture. I look back to my granddad to tell him some lie about returning to see him soon but am spared-he has already fallen asleep again. Shaking my head at this monumental waste of time as I walk out of the door I take one last backward look at him before I exit. He seemed to have found peace in my visit; his shaking had stopped for the time being at least.
I turn and walk through the hallway with my mind on death. Making to lock my phone I bring it up to my eyes to take in the picture first. At first I don’t even see it because my mind is so occupied on morbid topics. But at last my brain relaxes enough to properly process what it is seeing. The shadow of something not from this world forms the outline of darkness that seems to be moving out of my granddad’s face towards mine. It is black. Not a tangible shade like that of the SUV waiting for me out in the parking lot. It looked like a scream in the middle of night with no one to hear it sounds.
The screen shatters as my hands began shaking uncontrollably and the smell of the stink of decaying flesh seemed to have followed me into the hall. I would have stopped granddad if I had known what he was willing to do for my success. I learned an important lesson from my new roommate for all eternity: “You can sleep through life selling all the time you want and might still have some left when you wake up but the soul can be only sold once.”