This story is by Shane Fitzpatrick and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It changed from clear fluid to a shade of pale blue. Knocking it back, it turned into a syrupy mess, oozing down the sides of my mouth into dark recesses of my wiry, partly greying beard. I popped my last two Mollys, the acridity of the tablets powdery under my tongue, making me smack my lips.
The desire to numb pain was strong. I wanted it to end.
My throat burned and stomach recoiled, long without food. I fell off the graffiti-ridden bench straddling the River Liffey as my senses dulled. The rickety boardwalk bounced with footfall. I had an urge to munch the used chewing gum under the seat. I picked some pink bubblegum and looked skywards. Clouds formed, creating cartoon animals from childhood, as the public walked around my outstretched limbs, an aberration in their way.
I rose to my feet, feeling superhuman, tearing off my jumper and t-shirt. My skin started to become more sallow, moles larger, bulging like new muscles bursting out, rippling like never before. Brown corduroy pants slipped off, not catching feet at ripped knee holes.
Down to silk boxers, I leaped onto the sloped barrier of the boardwalk. With the tide out, green salty seaweed adorned the walls beneath me. I jumped into the evening air and could swear I saw the water rise to meet me, catching my frame with a welcoming embrace. I remember exhaling, gliding along, as my arms lifted forward where it felt I was breathing through my armpits. I didn’t need to rise to gather breath, Aquaman-like.
I woke up in the hospital, where everything hurt. My right arm in a sling, my lower left leg in plaster. Closing my eyes stung like hot needles were being thrust into my eyeballs. I called out for help, my voice a mouse’s whisper. My left hand was restrained to the bedframe by a plastic tie.
A machine beeped beside me, as ready-made beds with perfect corners lay idle. Yellow tape surrounded them stating ‘No Access” as if crimes had been committed and the CSI team were inbound. I was alone near the door to the ward that held six beds, three on each side.
“Help!” I purred to partially-closed cream curtains. It produced a gravelly wheeze loud enough which attracted the attention of a nurse in the hallway.
“With you in two seconds, love,” she said.
The nurse was in her fifties, short and stocky, red reading glasses on the end of her nose. The surgical mask, visor, gloves, and gown made me wonder.
Trailing behind her, was the unmistakable gait of a plain-clothes Detective, with gloves, visor and mask on. They must train them to stand like that. Standing with authority, she gazed at me. Early thirties, slim build. Her blue eyes penetrated her protective garb.
“Sorry about that – this Coronavirus has everyone on tenterhooks. We have to take every precaution. My name is Linda and you’re, Mike Farrell. Correct?”
“I’ll be looking after your immediate medical needs, whereas this young lady behind me will be asking you a few questions of a, well, different sort.”
“Mr. Farrell, my name is Detective Karen O’Neill. We’ll chat in a second.”
“Okay Mr. Farrell, we’ll start with your injuries – you broke your leg and nose, mere simple clean breaks. You had a five-inch gash on your upper right arm underneath the armpit, needing eleven stitches. We contacted your wife Annie, left a voicemail, no callback yet. You vomited on yourself in the ambulance, so we pumped your stomach and are now refilling it with a rehydration solution. Meet Skinny Rita, your steel stand saline friend, on your left. We have antibiotics in it too to help with the healing.”
“How long have I been out?” I asked.
“About four hours, according to the chart.”
“What was in my stomach?”
“We don’t know yet. COVID is slowing all lab work. If I was guessing, I’d say you emptied a hand sanitizer or two into the vodka bottle and mixed it with drugs. We’re seeing it almost every day here.”
“Are you serious? Oh, holy Jaysus you are! Well, the world has this virus, called Coronavirus, the reason for all this stuff we’re wearing. It’s highly contagious, kills people no matter what age, race, or colour. Hospitals can be mass-spreaders of it if protocols aren’t followed. That’s why you’re alone. Where have you been for the past few months?”
“None of your business.”
“Oh, fair enough! Maybe you should talk to this Detective anyway – I’ve plenty to do without listening to you,” Linda said, walking away.
“You’re not really a people person, are you Mr. Farrell?” asked Detective O’Neill.
“I’ve had a tough few months,” I sighed.
“Who hasn’t? But seriously, that’s why I’m here. Mind if I called you Mike? You can call me Karen.”
“Call me whatever you want, but could you please take this thing off me? It’s illegal to restrain someone without being arrested. I’m gasping.”
“How about, I cut the tie, open the bottle of water, and you tell me about your last few months?”
“How did you know I was here?”
“You assaulted the paramedic and your name popped up in our system. Your physical appearance has changed, but your fingerprints don’t. You’re a match to an ongoing investigation.”
“You’ve no right to take my fingerprints without consent – I have rights!”
“Your wife happily waived your rights away as your power of attorney. She doesn’t particularly like you and considering you’re an alleged suspect of a rape investigation, she willingly submitted them to us a few months ago.”
My nostrils flared.
“We found your ID in your discarded clothes. You jumped into the river and busted your nose. You swam in your jocks clutching a half-inflated plastic sheep. We found a discarded litre bottle of vodka, two small hand sanitizers, and your key from The Bridge Hostel who confirmed that you’d been there since February. You were rescued by a good Samaritan who saw you floundering. He got you up the steps near the Ha’penny Bridge, whereupon you dived back in, hitting a floating service pontoon. Emergency services were called and the river rescue fished you out. You thumped the paramedic on his nose, breaking it,” Karen continued.
I gulped more water.
“All this shit started when I shagged a co-worker, consensual from what I remember, at a Halloween party. A drunken fling!” I defended.
“She said it wasn’t. She’s alleging rape. You then tried to bribe and blackmail her, but finally got your father to fire her. Out of sight and out of mind.”
“You’ve no evidence of that.”
“I’ll admit hearsay on the firing part, but the timing of your wife throwing you out shortly afterward in January isn’t. She found out, didn’t she? I think the pregnancy hurt her most, not the adultery. Your wife also knows that you were taking steroids to prevent her from getting pregnant,” said Karen.
The shuffling of feet gave me a moment to collect my thoughts.
“I’m sorry to interrupt Detective, but I’m clocking off. My daughter Fallon is picking me up and can’t stand for long in her condition,” said Linda.
“You’ve got a daughter called Fallon? What age?”
“Twenty-six and heavily pregnant,” replied Linda.
“Farrell, Gilbert, and O’Connor is your father’s law practice, isn’t it Mike?” continued Karen, as she turned her head toward me.
I dropped the bottle of water as she said my family name, grabbed the Skinny Rita and swung.
Caught her plum on the head. She went down like a sack of spuds.
Linda hesitated and split seconds later got similar treatment. Two women lay prone.
Adrenaline coursing, I waited a few seconds, the hall eerily silent. Using the pole, I glimpsed out, alone.
The janitor’s door was open two doors down, with a uniform hanging in clear plastic. The elevator was at the end of the corridor, through one set of doors.
I grabbed my charts, belongings, and Linda’s ID. I pulled the cannula from my arm before donning the uniform. I grabbed a crutch from behind the nurses’ station.
As I exited the main entrance, I locked eyes with Fallon sitting on a wooden bench facing the door.
“Eh, hi!” I broke eye contact, turning away.
“You rape me, get me pregnant, get me fired, eight months later and it’s just ‘Hi’?”
“I gotta go.”
“Are you for real? After all the shit I’ve put up with you, your family, the mud they’ve slung, and never mind the lack of support from you – you, ‘just gotta go’? No asking about your unborn child? If it’s a boy or a girl? Are you actually serious?”
“Can’t deal with this right now Fallon.”
I turned away with the blare of a nearby siren ringing in my ears.
The crutch caught the edge of the curb.
I fell forward, into the front grill of the speeding ambulance.