“Oliver, where are you?” I haven’t seen him in a while. My bed was cold and empty without him. “Oliver, is that you holding my hand?” Why is it so dark?
“Jose Manuel. Can you hear me?” A soft feminine voice asked.
I nodded. “Where am I” The light blinded me. I couldn’t move my arms to block the brightness. You’re in ICU. I’m taking you out of your coma” In maroon scrubs, a blonde woman stood over me, playing with a plastic bag half full of clear liquid overhead. Water dripped from the bag into a smaller tube. I followed the fluids down another tube, going into my arm.
I felt lightheaded. “ICU? What happened,”
“Shush. Just lay back and relax. Don’t worry about it for now.”
ICU? A nurse? “I’m thirsty,” I could barely speak.
“Sorry. No water”
I was confused. I knew where I was. I was at the hospital. I don’t remember where I was before here. How long have I been under? I didn’t know what to think.
A discomfort started at the base of my back. It branched out to my legs and then to my head. The pain increased—so much pain. I couldn’t pinpoint it. Not sure where it hurt. It hurt to breathe; it hurt to move. It hurt to sit. It hurt to lay down. It hurt—a beeping sound. “Hold on. You’ll be fine. Let’s give you a shot of morphine.”
“Morphine?” No. No more morphine. Tears rolled down my cheeks, and a horribly warm sensation entered my arm to my chest. My body relaxed; the pain melted onto the floor, leaving my side for now.
“See? That wasn’t so bad,”
“Water,” I could barely hear my voice. It was raspy. My throat was dry.
“I’m sorry, no water. I’ll get you some moist towelettes for your lips,” the nurse left the room.
My breathing increased, and a beeping became louder and louder. My face felt wet. Salt entered my eyes, my mouth, my nose. What was happening? Where was Oliver? I tried lifting my arms. I couldn’t move. Why was I tied to the bed?
“Help me. Someone out there,” my voice hurt my vocal cords. I felt dizzy. I wanted to throw up. “Plea…”
“Manny,” my mother’s voice woke me.
“¿Ama,” I barely whispered. “No te veo.” I couldn’t see her. “Oh. Ahi estas.” She was standing in front of the stove, making fresh tortillas.
“Ven. Aqui estoy. Regresa a mi.” I’m coming, mother. “Ama.” Where are you?”
“I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere.”
I lifted to get up, and she held me down. “Not yet. Don’t force yourself. Gracias, a Dios, Thank God you’re alive.”
The TV turned on. A green laser came out of it. Letters floated over me. I couldn’t figure out the words. What did it say? Could she see it too? I strained to look up and behind.
“What’s wrong, Mijo?” She looked at the wall I was staring at. “There’s nothing there. Look at me. Come on. Enfocate en mi. Focus on me.”
Nothing. Something. I knew what the words were. It was my and my husband’s names, our wedding date, and the time. “Ama. Why am I here?”
A tear ran down her flushed cheeks. She looked tired, stressed, and weak. “¿No te acuerdas, Mijo.”
“No, I don’t remember. ¿Ama?” I faced her and found that she was not as bright and cheerful as usual. “Why are you tired? I’m scared.”
“Someone found you passed out at an empty lot by Summerlin with blood on you. You were stabbed.”
“What?” the beeper goes off again. I couldn’t breathe. I was getting wet.
“Ma-am, He’s having another anxiety attack. Please wait outside.” The nurse helped her out of the room.
An incredibly young man injected something into the tube. “This is morphine. It will help with the pain and anxiety,” he smiled. Since when do high schoolers play doctors?
“Morphine? Please, no more morphine,” I hated how it made my chest flush. Heat ran up my arm, and everything went blurry. Even the pictures on the wall, where my husband and I played on the beach. Where he and I saw….
A slim young man sat in front of a battery of screens typing on the dashboard, with no keyboards or mouse, like in the Sci movies. His short dark hair overcast the white smock. He turned. His smile was hidden in a week-long stubble. My heart raced, and noises by me blared out. He got up quickly and headed toward me. His shirt exposed a furry chest. I felt dizzy with desire.
I smiled. It was my boyfriend, Oliver, the biochemist. I was in Laboratoratorios Salud y Bienestar, hidden in a bayou off the Mississippi River where it met the seawater. This building was placed underwater. I could see the hurricane live through the CCTV on the wall. Stingo, a big giant beautiful, majestic blue-gray spotted stingray, swam through the waves in the enclosed opening on the side.
“Jose Manuel? It’s me Oliver. Vas a estar bien. No te preocupes.”
“What? I’ll be okay and not worry? What’s happening?”
Time for another shot of morphine.” His accent is Colombian. His English is perfect. His brown eyes bored into me. A tear rolled down from them. Six feet tall, with an adorable Jewish nose. Strong arms that would always protect me from harm. He still smelled of Cedar. When we made love, it felt like we did it in the forest before dawn. Hot.
“Why are you doing this to me?” I asked. “No more. Please, no more morphine. The straps on the hospital bed prevented me from getting up. Why do you have me strapped? I thought I was only taking a nap.”
“I had to. Your blood is too important to them. The company has invested too much in you. You’re the answer to what’s happening to those kids. It’s the only humane way to put them to sleep.”
“I don’t understand. You are my best friend. You are my lover. You promised to marry me, not to sell me!” Tears rolled down my cheeks. “We promised each other to destroy this lab and the organization, and now you’re selling me? What did I do to you?”
“I’m sorry. We knew your blood would help us. I had to pretend to love you to do the experiments on you.” Oliver reached over to hold my hand. I squeezed it to make him hurt.
“But. I love you. I trusted you. You promised. Why? Please tell me that at least you loved me. That it wasn’t a lie.”
“Look.” He nodded to one of the TVs. La Marimba, the lead doctor, driving a speed boat in the middle of a hurricane. El Compa, her husband, leader of the human trafficking of Latin America, under the guise of Salud y Bienestar CA de CV, was in the back, throwing things off the boat as if making room for something big. “They’re coming to get you. I had to. I had no choice.” He took a deep breath. Looked down instead of me. “They will kill my parents.”
“You’re stupid. They already have what they need. They already killed mine. Deep down, you know. That’s how they cut the loose ends. They’re all dead. You know the truth. When have they ever left anyone alive?”
“That’s not true. My parents were sent back to Colombia to their new house, their new ranch.”
“Think about it. Wake up. They’ve tricked us. You know it!”
“So, did you, and here I am. Please don’t let them take me. Is it worth it to give them me to sacrifice those children held at the border? Think of them. They’re caged like animals waiting for their euthanasia. We can stop the abuse. They’re babies, and they’re dying by the hundreds. Let’s leave from here.” I pleaded. “Are the deaths of those immigrant children worth what you’re doing to me? Are you getting the money? Power? They’re going to kill you too!”
He cried with me. He held me tight. “I’ll protect you.” He took off the straps. “They’ve done enough damage to you and those kids.”
I tried to get up. “Thank you. What now?”
He held me down. “I need to get this stint out of you.”
“You put a stint in me?” I tried to move my legs and could barely move them. “How long…”
“Five days. I’m sorry. I need to take the cathedral and the other tubes out of you. I also need to give you some uppers.”
“Great. I’m going to be on more drugs. This is just getting better.”
“Come on, I have an idea.” At the dashboard, he played with the buttons. I could see the manta ray released and capsizing the speed boat from the screens. “We’re not out of danger yet.” He moved more dials. Smoke emerged from everywhere.
“What about my blood?”
“It’s all here. No one is going to die by your blood or my hands.”
I took off the rest of the tubes coming out of me. It hurt so much. I pulled a green dot, and a long string followed it; it was a meter long. What else did he do to me? I couldn’t move out of the hospital bed. I was too weak.
“We have to go,” he said. He gave me a kiss and took me into his arms. “Let’s get married.”
Our wedding videos were played on the hospital TV. Some pictures hung on the walls all around me. I remember clearly how we broke the glass wrapped in white linen with our feet.
The nurse came in and wrote on the whiteboard on the empty wall. Where did the pictures go? I looked up at the TV and saw a movie of a balding, white, red hair clown having a temper tantrum on live TV. The green lasers were gone. Images of children in cages dying of hunger in inhumane conditions. What have they done? What have we become?
“I’m hungry?” I said. I looked around to see if I’d see him. Did they kill him? “Nurse. Did something happen to…” I couldn’t ask her. I might be at Salud y Bienestar. Oh, shit. They got him too. He’s probably dead.
“Jose Manuel. What were you asking me?” she asked as she changed my diaper. My respect for her shitty job.
“Uhm. Can I eat solid food yet?”
“Sorry. Not yet.”
When she was done, she left the room. Irene walked in right after. A familiar face, a friendly face, a no-nonsense woman of the world.
“Manny. How are you?” She opened her arms to hug me and gave me a kiss. She’s the only person I allow to call me by that nickname, other than my immediate family.
I started crying. I couldn’t stop. I was lonely and probably a widower. “Children dying because of me, for being foreigners, ignorance, and stupidity,” I whispered.
“Oh, Honey, don’t cry. You’re alive, and that’s what matters.” She held me tight.
“I can’t find him. I don’t know what happened to my husband.” I held on tight to her. “Where’s Oliver?”
She pulled back and stared at me. “Who? I didn’t know you were married.”
“The microbiologist I married. You arranged for the wedding. You walked me down the side aisle, and his sister walked him, and we met in the middle. You had me wearing a white cap like the Cardinals wear.” I leaned to her and motioned her to get close. “Where is he? Did they kill him?”
“Oh, honey. No. You’ve been in a coma for six weeks.”
I pushed her away. “Are you working with Salud y Beinestar?”
“You’re hallucinating,” she laughed a little.
“But the pictures on the wall. They took them down. Why?” I sobbed and trembled uncontrollably, gasping for air. My life was going dark, and I didn’t know why.
She let go of me and rushed into the hallway. “Nurse. Another anxiety attack.”
“They’re taking my pictures away. Why? What did I do wrong? Where’s Oliver?”
“You were stabbed last month. They brought you in and had to put you in a medically induced coma to save you. Whoever attacked you cut your stomach, and you were dying of septic shock.”
“Here we go, something to calm you down,” the nurse said. “Take a deep breath, okay.”
A wave of calm blanketed me. I could breathe better. I wasn’t sweating. I could see Irene in focus.
“Please don’t get him too excited.”
“Of course. I’m sorry.” Irene said to the nurse. She came close to me. “Tell me. What happened? What really happened?”
“I was at the convenience store, and this guy dragged me into the back of the store and stabbed me.”
“What did you do to him?” Her voice was tagged with sexual innuendos.
“I said hi to the dumbass.” We both laughed. “Okay. Maybe I made a pass at him?” We laughed harder.
“How’s my patient doing?” A familiar voice said.
“Hi, Doctor Oliver.” Irene’s voice sensualized.
“Irene. Nice to see you again.” A young man in a white lab coat came in. His brown eyes bored into mine. Easily six feet tall, with a long Jewish nose.
He turned to me. “Hola, Jose Manuel. Como estais?” I loved how he asked how I was doing in his Colombian accent and wording. Why doesn’t he tell everyone he’s my husband? Why was he acting so weird? I guess I have to follow the façade.
“Bien gracias. Disculpe, pero quien es usted?” There. I asked him who he was. I almost asked him why he was doing this to me. Am I at Laboratorios Salud Y Bienestar? Did he sell me to the highest bidder?
“I don’t think you remember me. Do you?”
You’re my husband. You were going to sell me. Or sold me. My heart raced. “No. I’m sorry, I don’t.” I reached for Irene’s hand and pulled her back down to the bed. “That’s Oliver, my husband. He sold me to Salud y Bienestar.” I whispered in her ear.
Irene giggled and patted my hand. “Just wait, sweetheart.”
Oliver turned to face the hallway. “Nurse.” Then faced me, “Tranquilo, hombre. You’re going to be alright. Take a deep breath.”
I did as he told me. I couldn’t help but take a deep whiff of his aftershave. Cedar. The man reached down to take my hand. “I’m the doctor who put you back together a few weeks ago. It was touch and go for a while, but you made it through.”
No! What? He took my liver out? My kidney? What’s going on? “You did what?”
He took my wrist and held it while watching his watch. “I had a family emergency back in Medellin. I hope they took good care of you while I was gone.” He placed his hands on my neck and kneaded them. My heart calmed with each touch of his. Warm, calm, soothing. “Good. I apologize for the hallucinations and the pain. You’ll be back in good shape before you know it.”
“Doctor Oliver, he’s going pale,” Irene said, standing up scared.
The nurse injected something into the bag. “Here’s another shot of morphine.” I thought, she said with closed lips.
Images of our wedding played on the TV. Our marriage date and time were displayed with green lasers on the walls. Both of us broke the glasses in the white linen. Our night together as husbands.
“No. Please, no more morphine.” I was too tired from all the morphine. My heart raced faster. “Por favor no mas. Please. No mas. No More. Tengo miedo. I’m scared. Porque me vendiste? Why did you sell me?”
“Manny. It’s not morphine. It’s just something to calm you but not to put you to sleep.
“Oh. Honey. No one sold you. You’ll be fine. I promise.”
Oliver pulled a seat next to me and held my hand. “Tranquilo hombre. You had a bad hallucination. It’ll pass away.”
I held his hand. I didn’t want to let go. I stared into his eyes. He smiled and winked. “Bueno. What’s wrong with me?” The lasers stop showing our wedding. My memories of Oliver and I’s were dissipating. I was safe with him. Why doesn’t Oliver remember?
For the next three weeks, Oliver saw me even on his days off. When I was discharged, he attended to me at home after my mother returned to Mexico. We became very close. I guess he liked me.
“I can’t wait for you to meet my mother.” He smiled. “She and your mother are going to get along just fine.”
I had told him my dream about Salud y Bienestar. He laughed at the story. “We’ll make new memories. I promise.”
He kissed my lips for the first time.
Literary Visions of Las Vegas Anthology 2020
October 10, 2020
Word Count 2830