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Yesterday’s Man

by Sarah Hilary

Did you ever meet Rory Flock? He was kind of hard to forget. Chances are you’d never seen him before. But he’d shake your hand and, ‘Hello again,’ he’d say, like you were old pals. Only he’d say it in that weary, worn-out way of his. Nothing new ever happened to Rory.

I was on the late shift in the ER, the night they brought him in. Traffic accident. He looked bad, but seven days later he was up and about. Good to go. Well, almost.

The first clue was when the doctor broke the news about his condition. Amnesia, damage to the hippocampus, might be permanent. Rory just nodded, ‘You told me this yesterday. And the day before that.’ We hadn’t. We’d been waiting until he was strong enough to hear it.

Déjà vu, they call it. Rory had it, in spades. Everyone he saw, everything he heard, everywhere he went — same story. ‘Been there, done that.’ You had to feel sorry for the guy. I’ve been thirty years in the ER and I’ve seen some sights I wouldn’t mind forgetting, but Rory? He’d seen it all before, and I’m thinking that’s got to be worse.

After the first few days, it got spooky. He was yawning his way through breakfast when he turned to me and said, ‘You’d better get a mop, hadn’t you?’

‘Why’s that?’ I looked around for the mess and caught my elbow on the corner of his tray. Water jug in a thousand pieces, brown cereal spattered up the wall.

Rory sighed. ‘That’s why. Remember?’

I got the mop, just like he’d said.

The doctors could do nothing for him. Well, Rory knew that before they did. So off he went on his travels. I guess he was after someplace new. ‘Keep in touch,’ I said and he did, postcards from all over the world. Eiffel Tower. Great Coral Reef. Himalayas. ‘Just as I remembered,’ he wrote on each one. Same old, same old. I couldn’t have lived like that.

It bugged me for a long time; boy did it bug me, whether I’d have broken that jug if he hadn’t mentioned the mop. He didn’t just predict I’d break it, you see. He wanted me to break it. It was like he was jerking me on his chain, making me dance. And I went ahead and did the damn jig.

I guess roundabout now I ought to tell you about the Jaundiced Jesus.

Where I grew up, you went to church twice a week, twice a day if you’d been wicked or wanted to pray for stuff like a refrigerator that worked or the chance to go to college. I was expected to pray three times a week, if I knew what was good for me, and I did.

In the church where I prayed, they had this baby doll. The priest had taken a heated pen-knife to its side, made a hole big enough to put a bulb in. Yellow. This little light of mine, you see? Only the doll looked kinda toxic, glowing like that, so they switched to a lower wattage after a while. That’s how come the “Jaundiced Jesus.”

I prayed three times a week. Went to college, too. I wasn’t expected to ever make doctor; nurse was good enough for me. So here I am, just as everyone predicted, still a nurse after thirty years. No surprises, no disappointments, that’s me.

After Rory went, things were pretty quiet at the hospital. I did what I do. Took orders from the doctors, cleaned up after them. Washed the ones they couldn’t save, fed the ones they could.

Then one night, back he came. Rory Flock. Traffic accident; looked bad. I guessed how it’d happened. On the trail of that elusive new experience, he’d walked onto the freeway, or jumped maybe. Well, wouldn’t you?

‘Don’t look so worried,’ he told me tiredly. ‘I’ll flatline but you’ll bring me back with the defibrillator.’ When he sighed it was a wet rattle in ruined lungs.

He flatlined five minutes later, but we didn’t bring him back.

The official line is the plug got pulled by accident. Accidents happen in hospitals just the same as anywhere else. I guess I can tell you the truth.

I got sick of doing what was expected, sick of making like that yellow-bellied doll with the painted grin on its face, plastic body posed by the priest so it looked like it was holding out its pudgy arms when we prayed “Come to Jesus!”

I got sick of being that puppet.

Rory saw my hand on the plug; the only one who did. The look on his face was part-triumph, part-defeat. All surprise.

Sometimes you have to make a stand against Fate, strike out of the ballpark, flex that free will He gave us. Rory Flock taught me that. I didn’t do what he expected, you see. But it felt like I’d answered all his prayers.

Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Hilary

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