There’s not all that much to say about today’s page, so I’ll share another excerpt of the novel. Jack’s book of choice has changed, but little else:
Jack slumps against the wall in the hallway outside Eleanor’s room. It is a quiet day in the hospital. The hall is empty. The nurses, except for the one who has shooed him out of Eleanor’s room, have vanished to wherever nurses go when they aren’t needed.
He stares at the linoleum floor. There is a rubbery black vapor trail dashed rudely across the tiles. He lines the toes of his sneakers up with the scuff mark. Ordinarily he would spend this time constructing a story around the existence of this mark, one that would probably involve him freewheeling down the hall on a skateboard. He would leave the mark as he stopped short dramatically, probably to impress a girl. Probably to impress Eleanor, if she could see him.
Today doesn’t feel ordinary. None of the days since the island have felt ordinary.
Today he has been interrupted while reading his second-favorite Martian story to Eleanor. It’s the story about poor Walter Gripp, left alone on Mars while everyone else has flown like moths back to the flame of Earth, and then it turns out he’s not alone, he’s privileged to enjoy the company of Miss Genevieve Selsior, the most unlikely of companions. The nurse who has interrupted him is rolling a cart covered with utensils and cardboard boxes of wipes and latex gloves and other things he doesn’t understand. She urged him into the hallway, then dropped the window shade over the closed door so that Jack couldn’t see in. Sponge baths. Bed sores. Blood pressure cuffs. Nerve response tests. All things Jack has never thought much about, all things that have disturbed the only time of day he looks forward to now. He has biked here straight from school to read to her.
He sees himself with a bullhorn, talking Ellie down from whatever ledge she occupies, wherever it might be.
A pretty nurse appears. He smiles weakly. She returns the smile brilliantly. He blushes and looks away, and then looks up again to notice her departing curves. He feels like a cheating husband, so he looks away for as long as he can, and then steals one last glance before she takes the corner by the nurse’s station.
Today he watched Eleanor’s eyes closely for any movement. He examined the tape and bandages that circle her battered extremities. He is careful not to touch her except for her hand. The clear intravenous cords make him nervous. The stretching and compressing of the breathing machine bellows a constant reminder that Eleanor is only a shell. More helpless now than an infant.
He knocks on the door, finally. Seventeen minutes have passed. How long can this take?
The window shade jumps back and he has a quick glimpse of Eleanor, turned on her side on the bed. The blanket that covers her legs has been pulled down. Her gown is parted and he sees with surprise that she is wearing something like a very large diaper. He can see her back, revealed by the wings of the gown. Her skin is a horrid, mottled Rorschach study of bruises. Purples, ghastly yellows. Then the nurse’s face appears in the window, disapproving and annoyed. She flaps her fingers at him, shakes her head.
How long, Jack says.
The nurse drops the shade and cracks the door open just enough to say, Shoo.
But how long?
Go away, she says. This will take a long time. Come back tomorrow.
I waited all day to see her.
She will be here tomorrow. Go now.
The nurse starts to close the door, then stops. Opens it just enough again to meet Jack’s eyes steadily. I’m sorry, she says, and Jack gives up. He nods. She closes the door.
Shit fuck, he mutters. It is the worst curse he can imagine.
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