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A Slice of Life

by Judith A. Boss

Stanley tapped his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel. Newport was teeming with tourists who had come to visit the International Boat Show. God, how he hated tourists!

To make matters worse, the car’s air conditioning was on the blink. Even though it was mid-September, the temperature outside was in the mid-eighties. Unbuckling his seatbelt, Stanley wiped the sweat from his face and neck with his t-shirt.

“Daddy, I’m hot,” a small freckled-faced boy in a Little League uniform and cap whined from the back seat.

Stanley leaned forward and, cursing under his breath, began punching the buttons for the car’s air conditioner. Nothing.

“Are we almost there? I have to pee.”

“Just stop it,” Stanley barked.

The light ahead turned yellow.

“Damn,” he muttered. He pressed his foot on the accelerator. A split second later: a loud crash.

But Stanley heard only sweet silence. A gentle breeze enveloped him, lifting him, caressing him. He breathed a sigh of relief. At last the heat spell was breaking.

He felt his body rising, floating. Below he saw a young boy being lifted from a car by a stranger, a woman. He could not see the boy’s face. The boy was holding his arm and crying.

Stanley looked around. What was going on? Had there been an accident? In the driver’s seat he noticed a bloody twisted body, head crushed beyond recognition. An ambulance pulled along the edge of the road and two men jumped out. Poor guy, Stanley thought. I wonder what happened.

* * *

The ambulance shrieked along America’s Cup Boulevard, past St. Mary’s Church and down Spring Street past the tidy rows of restored colonial homes, past Thomson Junior High School and past the Newport Creamery. Inside, two attendants huddled over a bloody and motionless body.

From above, Stanley looked down on the scene. It was almost like watching a movie... almost. In the distance, a white light beckoned him.

“Pass the oxygen,” a voice called.

“Comin’ up.” A thin, bespeckled man moved out of the huddle and grabbed an oxygen mask.

The larger man paused to wipe the perspiration trickling down his brow.

The ambulance came to an abrupt stop. A small platoon of men and women in white uniforms stood poised just outside as the back doors swung open. With military efficiency, they slid the body onto a waiting stretcher and rushed it down sterile halls.

“He’s fading. No time to lose,” someone called out. “Get the crash wagon.”

A breeze rushed past Stanley, swirling, embracing him, lifting him upward through timelessness. He heard a strange buzzing as a tunnel of white light swirled around him. A long silver cord trailed behind him. The body below faded into the distance.

Someone pressed two paddles to the body’s chest. Stanley felt a stab of pain.

“We got his heart going again, but no EEG reading on him,” a pale, green-clad figure droned.

An older man in a white jacket ran a cotton swab across the man’s eye. “No corneal reflex,” he said. “No brain waves, only faint heart sounds. We’ve lost him.”

“Lost him, lost him...” The words reverberated in the mist, churning it up.

“Is he by any chance an organ donor?” the doctor asked staring at the flat line snaking across the EEG machine.

“Any ID on him?” a slender gray-haired woman wearing a starched while nurse’s uniform called to an orderly as she began hooking the body up to life support machines.

The orderly pulled out the contents of Stanley’s pockets and arranged them haphazardly on a Formica counter. After sifting through them, the orderly dumped everything into a wire basket except for an imitation leather wallet. Flipping it open, he began thumbing through the cracking yellow plastic pages of the man’s life.

“His name is Stanley Sherman Tripp, 343 Coggeshall Avenue, Newport.” The orderly handed the nurse the driver’s license.

“Let’s see what else we got here ...some receipts, credit card, a business card for a — umm — looks like a hardware supplier. Here’s his library card, expired, and a membership for the ...oh, what have we got here?” The orderly grabbed the driver’s license jammed firmly into one of the plastic pockets. It tried to hold onto its well-ordered place in the man’s life, but.... The orderly gave one last tug and pulled it free. He turned it over. “It’s an organ donor card and he’s checked the box for ‘any needed organs and tissues.’”

“Alert the organ transplant team,” the doctor shouted. “We need to get the recipient prepared.”

Suddenly Stanley found himself in a hall. His wife Lisa sat on a bench beneath a wide window. He had not noticed in a long time how lovely she was. But, why was she crying?

“Lisa?” he called. She glanced up but just looked through him. Then she went back to crying. He reached out to touch her, to tell her he loved her and that he was okay. She began fading.

Stanley felt himself floating through the ceiling toward the white light. He felt calm, completely relaxed for the first time in his life. How could that be? The light grew brighter, gently enveloping him. His life flashed before him as the mist swirled and waltzed with the light.

In the distance Stanley saw the ethereal figure of a woman in a white gown emerge from the mist, her hand outstretched, smiling, floating toward him across a shimmering meadow. A low hedge stood between them. Suddenly Stanley recognized her. It was his beloved grandmother who had died when Stanley was only thirteen. He reached forward to take her outstretched hand.

Cold metal on flesh. Stanley winced. The silver cord suddenly jerked him backward.

His grandmother faded. “No wait, don’t go!” he cried out. He shook himself, trying to wake up.

The light pulsed and began to fade.

Stanley felt himself being sucked back down the tunnel at incredible speed.

He heard a voice coming from what looked like a hospital operating room. The voice was becoming louder, louder with every cut. A doctor was leaning over an open body. The doctor lifted out a beating heart and passed it to a nurse who placed it in what looked like a picnic cooler. “Okay, that’s it for the major organs,” the doctor said. “Let’s harvest whatever else can be salvaged.”

A jolt of nausea struck Stanley as he recognized the eagle tattoo with the American flag on the chest. It was his body. “Stop! Stop!” he shrieked. The nurse looked up uneasily.

But no one heard him.

Stanley felt a sharp jerk, like a long cord yanking him. He struggled to free himself from it. The cord pulled him down — toward life — toward death. Pulling, yanking, winning. One last tug. Plop. Stanley felt warm and damp and slimy. He shuddered and sank down into colorless limbo.

* * *

Stanley wandered aimlessly through the drab meaninglessness of his existence searching for the white light, for his family. Who knows how long? Perhaps minutes, perhaps eons. Time was meaningless.

Back to the playroom on the porch of his grandmother’s house, now no longer cluttered with his tattered baseball cards and toy trucks and laughter. Back to his wife’s — their — lavender-sweet bedroom pleading, begging to be seen, to be heard.

Back to the family building-supply store where, in vain, he tried to catch the attention of customers as they sorted through the red tin boxes of silver screws and examined pine boards for knotholes. Like a cold draft, he fluttered restlessly around and through the living, quickening their hearts with clammy uneasiness as he pleaded, “Help me! Help me!”

* * *

“He’s waking up!” Footsteps running... getting closer. A hand reached out and touched him. Oh, thank God, it actually touched him, prodded him, shone bright tubular lights in his eyes. The eyes opened. The room flooded with people: doctors, nurses, eager men and women with little paper pads and digital cameras.

“Congratulations, Doctor Simmons,” a voice chirped. “The heart transplant was a success.”

Stanley tried to respond, to thank them for saving his life... but no words came.

His body, the body stirred. He felt a sharp pain in his, his... something’s wrong. He caught sight of a mirror across the hospital room. He craned his neck to get a better look. A thick, heavy-set man stared back at him.

Stanley tried to close “his” eyes; but nothing happened. The eyes glanced over toward a trio of men in dark suits hovering ominously at the back of the room. “He” gave them a knowing smile and Ben felt evil, sinister plans flood “his” being.

Stanley tried to call out for help. But the mouth, the voice, wasn’t his.

* * *

It was an unseasonably hot day. He/they were running down an alley, like a rat, pouring sweat. A bullet struck, then another, to the head. The impact whipped “him” around and ground “him” into the hot, sticky pavement. A police car whined somewhere off in the distance.

A moment of silence.

Then people slowly gathered out of nowhere, curious, eying from a safe distance the thick, heavy-set man lying in the pool of blood behind a pile of red-splatted green garbage bags. Someone stepped cautiously forward and put his head to the man’s chest. “Call an ambulance,” he shouted to the others. “His heart’s still beating.”

The ambulance shrieked down Atwell’s Avenue past Gasbarro’s Liquors and Sicilia’s Pizzeria toward Rhode Island Hospital. It came to a sudden stop and the back doors swung open. Two attendants rushed the bullet-ridden body into the emergency operating room.

Out in the front office an orderly sorted through the man’s belongings while a woman dressed in scrubs festooned with shamrocks and dancing leprechauns typed information onto a computer screen.

“Hey, what this?” the orderly said as he pulled a thin plastic card from the man’s wallet. “It looks like an organ donor card.”

Copyright © 2014 by Judith A. Boss

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