ERIC BURBRIDGE - UNFORGIVENESS
Edwin Ames clutched his chest and gasped for air when he hit the floor, emergency buzzers blared as the elevator doors slammed against his legs repeatedly. He stared up at the directional arrows. Why did he come south of the river? A senior citizen booty call, that’s why. He heard people running down the hallway then he was snatched free of the door. For a minute, he thought he heard Cindy’s voice. “Is he okay?” He was losing consciousness.
“Don’t know, I think this guy works at the hospital.” A male cop said.
“Dispatch said the ambulance is stuck at a railroad crossing, help me, we’re taking him.” His partner instructed. They crammed him in the back of their vehicle. He tried not to pass out. It didn’t work.
Edwin’s colleagues asked with a smile and sat various flower arrangements on the table. “How does it feel to be a patient at the job?”
“Weird, but thank God.”
“You had an aneurysm, Edwin, thank God, the cops brought you.” Even with tubes everywhere and words of caution from his doctor he couldn’t help but think who wanted to be Director of Nursing? Time to retire, Edwin, the easy way, not the hard.
Thank God, they brought him to Masonic General where the best ER doctors and nurses in the world worked. He adjusted the bed to view the north end of the floor and the nurse’s station. They’d want to transfer him off ICU as soon as possible. He couldn’t blame them. Who wants one of the bosses watching them? Two young cops stopped at the desk and made an inquiry. They laughed and joked with the staff momentarily and headed toward his room. Why? He didn’t know either, but the female reminded him of his ex-wife. She pushed back the glass partition, smiled and stepped into the room. “Hello, Mr. Ames or should I say doctor?”
That voice, he heard it before in the hall where he collapsed. “Ames, is fine, officer and I’m a Ph.D. not an MD.” Jesus, she looks like Carmen, medium height, smooth skin and a heavy chest with curves despite the uniform and protective vest.
“You got the VIP suite, that’s good. I’m Officer Ames-Smith and this is my partner, Officer Jennings.” He nodded at her partner who looked like a bodybuilder and she stood closer then he liked. “We were down the hall when you collapsed in the elevator. We scooped you up and got you here; I wanted to check on you. It’s not every day we act as an ambulance.”
“Thanks, you probably saved my life.”
“Your welcome. We’re on lunch, so we wish you a speedy recovery.”
“Thanks again.” He watched them rush toward the elevators. Time to get more sleep; and hopefully a better recovery. Did Cindy know what happened to him? She should after all it was in her building right down the hall from her apartment. She convinced him to take the day off. “You need a break, so I’m inviting you over between the holidays. This leg is Christmas, the other New Year’s.” What normal guy could refuse that? She was a fifty-year-old top fashion designer who looked thirty-five with a perfect body and personality. People fell in love just talking to her. She nor anyone else knew why he vowed to never cross the river.
Don’t think about the past, that was decades ago.
Every time he said that, he did it anyway.
He needed to get back to work, it was the only family he had now. He hadn’t thought about the other in a long while. Out of sight, out of mind.
Edwin Ames, Ph.D. scaled the side of the jagged wine bottle in an effort to dodge the alcohol molecule pursuing him. He woke up drenched in sweat. His heart raced. The monitors beeping overhead were deafening. You’re safe, Edwin, safe.
Alcohol…his friend, enemy, comforter and advisor that’s why he lost damn near everything. It had been decades since he drank. Why dream about it? It had to be that late-night slice of pizza. He could not shake the thought, that damn cop reminded him of Carmen. Carmen, a demon waiting to happen and he and alcohol brought her forward. They should’ve never gotten married. Both were unhappy, but he didn’t listen to the best advice a man could get: don’t ever hit her and after he did he drank himself into a blackout, he remembered nothing. When he went back home she sat at the dining room table next to her mother. She had a huge black eye. His heart sank; the grief overwhelmed him, he left out. He sped down the street ignored stop signs and lights. What was he doing, death wasn’t the answer he’d already hurt someone?
Snap out of it, that was a life time ago.
Edwin could feel the sighs of relief when his subordinates watched him being wheeled out of ICU. His assistant Director of Nursing smiled. “Good to see you looking better boss plan on retiring?” His colleague asked in a low voice as they entered the elevator.
“Don’t know yet, Mary.” The little genius they nicknamed her and at 5’1” she was in great shape being a former gymnastics coach. “Hint, hint or what?”
“No, not at all, but…”
They stopped at the nurse’s lounge; Mary pushed open the door.
“Surprise!” Edwin forgot it was his birthday. He was getting old perhaps he should leave. But, this was all the family he had after he became a pariah from his other. An hour later the party ended like all office parties. He hoped sampling all the ethnic dishes won’t give him more nightmares.
Two emergency room surgeons left early on a cop involved rollover accident. Cops, that brought Officer Ames-Smith to mind. His interactions with cops were few and far between. A cousin was a cop, probably dead or retired. After he hit Carmen he threatened to kill him and the other cousins wouldn’t speak to him. Everybody hated him on both sides of the family. His parents said they didn’t like him for what he did. That hurt too. The snobs in the family didn’t fully accept him anyway because he was adopted. He begged Carmen for forgiveness with the promise never to raise his hand to her again. She forgave him alright, but it included serious payback. Was God mad at him too? Everywhere he went he was reminded of domestic abuse. He tried drinking the torment away. That all but cost him his good government job. And, with no money came, no honey, even after his reinstatement. That hurt. Who and how many were screwing his wife?
Stop feeling sorry for yourself, Edwin and enjoy the spices of life.
The best wife to have is someone else’s.
Months passed and he’d grown accustomed to not being with Carmen. The night he got mugged and left in the gutter changed everything. Whoever or how many jumped him damn near killed him. It was a miracle he didn’t have brain damage. Was Carmen’s family or friends behind it or his? Nobody visited, that was the proverbial wake-up call. Those blows to the head focused his intelligence. The foolishness stops now. Edwin “Drunk” Ames called his father. “Thanks for the visit and the flowers…I’m gone, good bye.” His situation needed serious analysis. The day of his discharge he stood in front of the mirror; he was well built, good height and muscle tone, handsome and highly intelligent, a lady’s man who fell in deeply in love with the wrong woman. He swore he’d never go on the south side again. Decades later he still felt it wasn’t meant for him to cross the river.
The transporter pushed him into his new room. It was well lit with all the furniture on locking wheels, pastel curtains and blinds, the psychological affects worked well. TV got to be boring with limited channels; crossword puzzles solved that problem until Officer Ames-Smith stuck her head in the door.
Hey, there Edwin, how are you?”
Just his luck, he gets settled and here she comes. “Hello, Officer Ames-Smith, I’m fine. What’s your first name, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Ellen Ames?” It couldn’t be! That would be too much to bare.
“Yes, Ellen Ames and don’t forget the Smith.” She gave him the arched eyebrow a trait of his ex-Carmen.
“I won’t.” Again, past memories hit him like a tidal wave. Advice from divorcee’s, “Don’t look back or stick around too long.” He stuck around because his money was funny and he was accustomed to a certain standard of living. Finding a good apartment wasn’t easy. They worked different shifts…a good thing and with no kids it was barely, hello or good-bye in passing. His marriage was over, period. He started a slow recovery from the heart break.
Carmen fell in love again. Now she was trying to drive him out of the apartment they agreed to share until he found a place. She no longer hid she was seeing someone else. Fine, so was he, but she and her lover should have more respect. Phone calls and innuendos were pissing him off. The voice on the other end sounded familiar, Smith, who transferred years ago. Edwin used wisdom and took the clip out of his pistol and checked-in to a transient hotel; thank God, two days later the reality company called with the ideal apartment.
A couple of months later his place was perfect; a couple months later Carmen said, she was pregnant. “So. Why tell me, tell the father?”
“I am,” she laughed, and shook her finger in his face.
He exploded. “You lying, bitch!!” But, the judge, who found Carmen and her lawyer attractive and stated as much, decided the child was more important than the truth and ruled against him.
He objected to the judge’s behavior…then she got alimony too.
Carmen’s revenge or God’s punishment. In spite of that he stayed sober, a lesser man might have given up, but he put the child support and alimony in the budget and never looked back. He heard she had a daughter and his efforts to reconcile with the family got rejected because he wasn’t a father to someone else’s child.
In today’s world DNA testing would’ve been in his favor.
“Dr. Ames, Dr. Ames, you with me?” Officer Ames-Smith asked.
He snapped out of it. “Yeah, yeah, I’m here.” He sighed. He might as well ask the stupid
question. “You’re Carmen and Smitty’s daughter, right?” He felt like a fool after he asked and the look on her face said the same.
“Did Carmen put you up to this, whatever it is?”
“No.” She stepped over to his side and poured cup of water. “Want some?”
He shook his head. “You clean up well like your mom…your day off?”
“Yeah, thanks.” She pulled up a chair. “I’ll cut to the chase.”
“Oh no, that sounds intriguing.”
Ellen downed her water. “Now that you know who I am I don’t mean to open old wounds…”
“You know about those?” Edwin interrupted.
“A few, not all, let’s say I know enough.” Ellen took a candy bar out of her purse. “Want a piece?”
“Anyway, after an officer takes someone to the emergency room they have to make a report. I remembered the name and you looked familiar from old family photos.”
“They still got pictures, that’s a surprise.” He shook his head. “Was it on a dartboard?” He laughed, but she didn’t.
“No, let me finish.” She bit off a piece of candy. “I know you were abusive and a drunk, but I don’t hold grudges for something that has nothing to do with me. And, this is most important, I know you aren’t my father and I don’t agree with what she did.”
“Whoa…wait a minute. How long have you known this?”
“Since I was a teen. I told them both they were wrong. Why should you pay for someone else’s kid? I got popped in the mouth, but I’m right.” Edwin nodded. “Don’t get me wrong, I love my parent, but…”
What was this about was she apologizing for something or what? Why would they tell her anything? Decades had gone by and by now his name shouldn’t come up. Man, she looked like her mom and dad. She had the same sincere expressions like Carmen. That was a positive. “What do you want to say, Ellen?”
“I don’t hate you or anything; I want to thank you for the years of support. I cannot imagine what it feels like being forced to take care of somebody’s kid.”
“Well, you know…”
“Let me finish.” She cut him off.
“There were times when that check put food on the table. Don’t ever mention that, please.”
Edwin raised his hand. “Scout’s honor.” He chuckled. What a revelation looks like Martin Smith wasn’t entirely God’s gift to humanity. But, after and during decades of his estrangement from the family hard times may have hit everybody.
“I’ve wanted to tell you that for a while, but since this happened it’s a prayer answered. I admire your strength and determination to succeed considering what they put you through.”
“Well, thank you, Ellen.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. That warmed his heart. That was right. He could’ve been a MD, but working limited him to nursing. Nurse practitioner was as far as he went. “Tell everybody I said hello, I’m not bitter not that they’d care.” Every year he called his parents on their birthday. He got a dry, “Hello, how are you?” and that was okay. Since he was adopted it wasn’t as hard from them to forget him. At least that’s what he told himself.
“Will do and I’m keeping you in my prayers.” She smiled and left.
He was thankful she didn’t bore him with the happenings of Carmen and the rest of the Ames family. He didn’t care. Now time for a nap.
“Wake up, sleeping beauty.” Edwin’s nosed twitched from something tickling his nose. His eyes popped open; he rubbed his nose and smiled.
“Hello, Cindy.” She waved a bouquet of roses in his face. “Thanks, I wondered had you forgotten the old man.”
“No, I haven’t. They scared the mess out of me when they carried you out the building.” She kissed him, a long tongue probing one at that. “I’ve been trying to get info on you, that was a waste of time. I felt bad about you crossing the river, bad karma you said, but you did it anyway.”
“That’s alright. A booty call might have got him here, but she also virtually begged him to let her fix dinner, that was impossible to turn down. “You look good in grey and black pants hugging the right places. You design those?”
“Yes. I added a few details before the seamstress made the prototype.” Cindy said.
“But, before we go further you can cook at my place call it superstition, but I’m not crossing the river. Can you live with that?”
“Yes, I can.”