By ELIZABETH GLASS
He watched me with a fierce, toxic look full of the wickedness that only members of the Westboro Baptist Church should be capable of. All I was doing was sitting with my date—a woman I hoped would become my girlfriend—in an empty movie theater. We were holding hands, and there he sat, on his knees turned full around like a kid who had been told “No” when he asked for popcorn because he was allergic to butter (a lie), and we had a jumbo tub of the stuff with extra butter that dribbled down our faces. He glared with the fury only deep revulsion can bring—and that’s when he said it: dykes, not a nice word when spoken from someone with spittle at the sides of his mouth, spit that sprayed on us, peppering our faces with mucus-filled hatred. He stood up then, yelling that we were going to hell with the whole fire and brimstones stuff, so I asked him if his hell included haters; oh and how he stared at me then—with small constricted eyes, his pupils just a dot, a small one like when you leave a rolling ball pen on paper a moment too long. He stood up and started yelling, “Dykes, dykes, dykes!” and when we just sat and looked at him apathetically, he stood up on his seat, a movie theater seat, and then it happened: he fell. His front foot slipped, almost imperceptibly at first, and then it was twisted into the back opening that allows the seat to fold down. He nearly righted himself, but then he fell, and we all heard it: crunch, then pop, and it was broken.
His foot was still in the hole—the absence at the back of the chair—and he lay on his shoulders on the ground screaming. My natural reaction was to jump up and help. I made a move to when he yelled, “Don’t touch me, you’re filthy—tarnished with evil and sin. If you touch me, I’ll see to it that you go to hell.”
“And how will you do that?” I asked. I sat back in my chair and put my arms on the armrests. My arm touched Cheri’s, but she moved it away quickly like I had shocked her.
He gritted his teeth and grimaced when he moved. Spitting when he talked, he said, “You’re a fucking whore, no better than that one from the Bible.”
“One in the Bible? Mary Magdalene?” I asked.
He nodded, tried to straighten again and get his foot out the back of the chair, but twisted worse and screamed. He nodded his head. I stared at him. Cheri sat in silence, her eyes big, looking between me and the man.
“And you say fucking?”
His face twisted with pain. “I didn’t say that,” he said.
“And Mary Magdalene? The woman who was Jesus’ friend, perhaps even his lover?”
He reared up like a pitbull, biting his teeth together as he launched for me, then fell back. He was sweating now; it dripped from his hair, and his shirt was soaked. “Aren’t you going to help me?”
I put my hand to my chin and stroked it like I was deep in thought. Cheri got up, pulled her purse to her and walked out. When I looked back at the man, he had passed out. His leg was so twisted into his chair I was afraid to try to move it to release it. He looked like a bear with its leg stuck in a thick metal trap. I wanted to leave, to follow Cheri, but I called 911 on my cell phone and waited for the ambulance.
The EMTs walked into the theater. I don’t think they expected what they saw. The man was still out, his leg bent like a branch being woven into a wicker basket. I stood to leave. Five employees came in and watched them work before a woman, obviously a manager, ran in.
“What—?” She looked at me.
I shrugged and pointed to the man’s leg.
“Is he okay? People in the next theater said they heard yelling.”
I nodded my head toward the man. “It was him.”
I started to leave, but the manager blocked me. “You need to fill out an incident report about what happened to your husband. But you can come back later if you want to go to the hospital with him.”
“I’ll do that,” I said. I have no idea exactly how it happened, but after a whirl of movement I was being shoved onto the back of the ambulance after the stretcher with the hateful man. I’d only been trying to get out of writing a damn report.
“What’s your husband’s name, ma’am?”
“He’s not. I’m not. I need to get off.”
The ambulance’s door slammed. “His name,” the EMT said.
“George. I need to take my own car, though” I said, then we were moving. The siren screamed, and I could see the red lights flashing through the darkened windows. The ambulance guys kept calling the man George. He didn’t respond, but I didn’t know whether it was because his name wasn’t George or because of the pain. I took out my cell phone to call Cheri, but the EMT told me to put my phone away and strap in. I wondered if it was the law to buckle up in an ambulance like it was in a car. I turned to ask the guy, but he was attaching an oxygen tube to “George.”
“What happened?” the guy asked.
“Not sure exactly.”
“How did this happen?”
I looked at George. He looked peaceful, like my nephew Ian when he sleeps, but paler and slightly gray-tinged. “Is he dead?” I asked.
“Ma’am, I need you to focus. How did your husband get his leg stuck in the chair?” He waited. “What’s your name?”
It was getting dark out and it sounded like the tires were going over wet roads. “Is it raining?” I asked.
“Listen, Rainy, I need you to concentrate. I know your husband is hurt, but one of you needs to be able to tell me what happened, and he can’t do it.”
I looked at George. He looked like shit. I wondered again if he was dead. “He was talking to a lady who was in the theater. He got mad at her and jumped onto his seat.”
“What did the woman do to make him do that?”
He exhaled and rolled his eyes like a teenager. “You’re going to have to tell the police anyway.”
“She was gay. He doesn’t believe in that sort of thing,” I said.
The EMT shook his head. “Damn.”
“You don’t either?” I asked.
He unhooked George from his oxygen and got on his feet, bending into an L-shape while he stood in the ambulance. He glared at me.
“You don’t believe in gays, either?”
“I believe in tolerance, ma’am, like I’m tolerating you and your husband right now.” He turned away and slipped his name badge off and set it on a shelf while he prepared to take George out since we had pulled up to the ER ambulance bay.
In the hospital, someone in scrubs handed me George’s lightweight jacket. “Stay here. You have paperwork to fill out. They’ll bring you back after he’s registered.” I started toward the door, then remembered I didn’t have my car. We were miles from the theater. Maybe I’d call Cheri, have her pick me up and drive me to the car, but that wasn’t really the best idea. Even though she might think the situation was funny, I was sure I was going to have to woo her again before she’d see me after the George incident. I walked out the ambulance entrance and was on my phone giving the taxi service the name of the hospital when the woman in scrubs came outside.
“Ma’am, we need his paperwork filled out.”
“I have to go. I don’t belong here. Not with him,” I said. His words had sounded so much like what my brother Donn yelled at me when I came out that it turned my stomach.
“I’m sorry if this is hard for you, but we do need his papers filled out. You can sit out here for it,” she said, handing me a beat-up particle board clipboard, “but you do have to complete them.”
I stayed outside for about 10 minutes, then went back inside. I held the clipboard against my breasts. “I don’t, I mean—here.” I handed the clipboard to the registration clerk.
“Thank you. Now if you have a seat,” she said, glancing down. “This is blank.”
“Please fill it out. It’s difficult while you worry. Do you want to be with your husband? Would it help if you got to sit with him while you complete them?”
I shook my head and walked across the lobby. I looked at the vending machines and, in spite of knowing better, got a black coffee. I took a long gulp. It burned my mouth and throat and tasted the way a public restroom at a city park smells. I put the worthless foam coffee cup on the floor, got a Dr. Pepper and drank half of it at once to get rid of the coffee memory. It didn’t work, so I drank the rest down and got another.
I was dialing Cheri’s number when the doctor came out. “Rainy?” he asked.
“We’re taking George to be X-rayed, and he’ll probably need an MRI after that. We’ll know more after those.”
“We’ll know more after the tests.”
“The woman, the one who made him so upset he stood on his seat, can she be sued?”
The doctor shook his head. “Let’s find out what’s wrong before you even consider that.” He walked away briskly, leaning forward, his head in front of him so much I thought that he’d hit it on the door, but the doors swooshed open before he got there.
My knee was bouncing the clipboard and his jacket on my lap when his wallet tumbled onto the floor. It was a tri-fold nylon one with Velcro closures and was covered by planes, trucks and trains. Figured. Only someone socially immature would have a kid’s wallet. Or someone with kids. Kids. A wife. I should try to reach them. I opened it to see if I could find anything about them and shuddered at the sound of the Velcro ripping. That sound has always gotten to me, even when I was small. There were a few pictures of two little boys tucked into the place where money goes. I saw his driver’s license and pulled it out, then found his insurance card. There was no other info—only two tens and a couple credit cards. I filled out the paperwork using the information from his cards.
His name turned out to be Randy Georgia DeGoss. Georgia? Family name, I guessed. Having a girl’s name might have explained some of his hostility toward me—I bet he got picked on as a kid, but it still didn’t give him a right to call me all those names. I took his paperwork and IDs to the counter. “Can you please give his wallet to him?” I asked.
“I’m sorry Mrs.—” she looked down, “—DeGoss. We can’t assume responsibility.”
He was asleep when I got ushered back to his room. He even looked like my brother Donn from that angle. I hadn’t seen Donn in over a year. Strange since we’d been so close before I told him I was gay.
George heard me and his slit eyes came open a bit. “Lori, you came back. Praise heaven, I knew it would happen.”
I sat in the chair at the foot of his bed, having decided to just be quiet.
“Lori, come up, darling. Hold my hand. I forgive you everything.” I stayed still. He tried to get up and cried out, so I finally walked to his side. “Lori,” he said, taking my hand. “I’ve been so—what the—? Who are you?”
“I see you’re awake, George. I bet you’re glad to have your wife,” the doctor said as he pushed through the curtain that covered the sliding glass door of George’s room in the ER.
“Not Georgia. Randy. First name.”
“Mr. DeGoss, we’ll be admitting you, but first surgery.”
“Why? What’s going on?” George asked.
“You broke your leg in three places—one a complete break across the tibia. How did this happen?”
Randy closed his eyes.
“He … ” I started.
“I don’t know,” Randy said. He shook his head and frowned. “It really hurts.”
He looked about to pass out, and I was glad the doctor said Randy could have more pain medicine.
“Mrs. DeGoss, are you going to be with him? We need to put restraints on him if he’s alone because he’s been trying to get out of bed by himself, and he can’t do that.”
I let out a breath, then nodded. “Rainy. Call me Rainy.”
“Randy and Rainy. That’s nice,” the doctor said before he left.
“Are you that woman?” I heard. I was asleep in the chair by Randy’s feet.
“Yeah. I can go. I’m sorry I’m here. It’s been a weird, long day.”
“No, don’t go. Tell me how she is,” Randy said.
I waited. “Who? Cheri? I don’t really know. She left and I haven’t talked to her.”
“No, Lori.” Randy looked down. “I really messed things up with her. I’m glad you came even if she didn’t.” He seemed to be in less pain, so they must have been pumping him full of painkillers. A couple hours earlier he had awakened screaming and tried to get up. I held him down and yelled for the nurse, who came in and gave Randy a shot, and after that he fell straight to sleep. “How are the boys?”
I nearly answered how my nephew Ian was. Randy looked even more like Donn while he was on painkillers, the creases gone from his face that he held pinched before. “The boys, they’re cute,” I said. “I saw the pictures.”
“Are you good to them?”
“I’m sorry, I think—” I said.
“Does Taylor still dress that way?”
“Really, I don’t think I’m—”
“Can you bring Taylor to see me? And Henry. Lori doesn’t have to come.”
I shrugged and nodded. “Okay, sure.”
Randy was in surgery for hours. They gave me his phone, wallet and keys, and no one would take them no matter what I said about releasing them of any responsibility if Randy didn’t get them, so I stayed. I thought of my family—how I was missing Ian grow up, was living away from my mom, dad and friends—and decided I was moving home. I wanted to see Donn, Ian and the rest of the family and be nearby. I wrote my brother a letter on the back of the hospital’s Privacy Practices papers. My coming out, which Donn said was embarrassing, wasn’t reason for me to be living 600 miles from home in a city where I barely knew anyone.
When Randy was in recovery, they came to get me out of the waiting room.
“Thanks for staying. I forgot your name. I always call you ‘Her.’”
“Rainy,” I said. He wouldn’t remember this anyway since he was just coming out of anesthesia. “Well, Bea, after my grandma. Beatrice, but I go by Bea.”
“Is Lori here? Is she coming, bringing the boys?”
“She’s coming,” I said. She was, too. I had called and cryptically told her what was going on. I said I was with the hospital and let her think I was a nurse. I’d said I’d text her from George’s phone when he was out of surgery, which I had done a few minutes earlier.
“Tell her I’m sorry,” he said.
“I shouldn’t have done that.”
I stared above him at the clock, wondering how long I’d have to be here, why I was still there, and who would be with me in the hospital if I had to go or if I’d have to be alone. I hoped Lori would hurry. I’d called Cheri, but she didn’t answer. She did when I called from Randy’s phone, but when I said her name, she hung up. Randy was out again when I looked back at him.
He mumbled something, pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’ll be better if they can come around again.” It was hard to make out, but I understood.
I didn’t say anything at first. I waited and thought he had fallen asleep again, then I awakened him and asked, “How?”
He hadn’t been sleeping. “He can do what he wants. How he wants.”
“Say it,” I said. I was getting frustrated. I’d lost my Saturday on him, any chance I had with Cheri, and now I couldn’t get my brother cursing at me out of my head, which I was afraid I’d hear if I sent the letter.
“Taylor. He can be a girl.”
I squinted. “How so?”
“Dress up. Dresses. Makeup.” He fell back to sleep.
It was about 10 minutes before a nurse came to check his vitals and woke him up. We went through preliminaries again, though he remembered my name correctly. “You said dresses and Taylor?” I asked.
“It’s okay. I’ll be good.”
“Good,” I repeated. It tasted like bitter chocolate. “Good isn’t enough.”
He struggled to sit up but noticed his leg in a brace and lay back. “Great. I’ll be great. I won’t say a word. It’ll be fine.”
“Fine.” I waited. “’Great?’ you said.”
“He can dress how he wants. I don’t care.”
“Don’t care.” Sour words. I looked at the concrete walls, more prison cell than hospital room. Some of the newer hospitals looked better than this, but this recovery room hadn’t been remodeled yet. The walls were the color of unripe bananas, too fresh, too new, not tested or ripened.
“Please. He can be himself, whatever self that is.”
“Better.” I thought for a minute, “What about your church? How will they feel?”
“I don’t go to church,” he said. “The stuff I said, that’s from the Internet. It isn’t your fault,” he said. He had finally remembered who I was. I gathered my backpack and sweater, stood up and stretched.
“Where are you going?”
“It’s time I go,” I said. “Lori will be here soon anyway.”
“Stay. And listen, I know it isn’t your fault, Taylor isn’t.” He coughed.
“How would it be my fault?”
“I know you were around then.” He coughed again. Irritation from the trach tube. I stared at him. “I always thought Taylor was because of you.” He coughed again so I lifted the bendable straw in a Styrofoam cup to his mouth. “Thanks,” he whispered. He looked at me again, saw me rigid. “Lori was right to leave me.”
“Because of Taylor,” I said.
“I wasn’t nice. You know that.” He had better color than he did earlier, when he was still in the ER, and looked less like Donn now.
“No, you weren’t.” I couldn’t imagine Randy putting up with his son dressing in anything girly, especially not girl’s clothes. I wondered which of the little boys in the pictures dressed up, hoped he’d grow out of it. It would be easier for him that way. If he didn’t, I hoped Randy would really come around. It seemed unlikely.
“Lori was right. I’ll let him be.”
“He may stop as he gets older, or he could be a ‘pink-boy.’”
“Likes dressing like girls. Prefers it.” I wasn’t sure if I was egging him on, taking up for Taylor—or Lori—or just speaking the truth. I understood why Lori would leave him over this.
“I want them back.”
“Them? Lori, too?” I asked.
“No. Well, yes, but no. The boys. Lori’s gone from me.” He looked me right in the eyes, “I’ll live with that. It’ll be okay.”
I almost repeated “Okay,” but that word about losing his wife would probably be fine. When Janie let me see my nephew after I came out, Donn blew up and then blamed me for losing his wife. If I moved home, when I did, I knew Janie would still let me see Ian even if my brother wouldn’t. I looked at the clock. I could leave soon and was grateful. I hoped he meant what he was saying.
“Talk to Lori. If you mean it, she’ll probably allow it,” I said, then stood. “I’m going to go look for her.” As I was leaving Randy’s room, a small blonde woman walked toward me in the hall. Another woman, about my size with short dark hair similar to mine, had her arm around the blonde one. They kept coming toward me. I was frozen, watching them look at room numbers. It was Lori. Lori and her partner. “Her” as Randy called her.
“I’ll be here. Be strong,” “Her” said as Lori started to walk into the room.
“Go on in. He’s waiting for you both,” I said.
I took an envelope and stamp out of my backpack, then headed out to where the sun was beginning to peek over the parking garage. I’d have to walk, but it was nice out, and I’d been sitting a long time.
Elizabeth Glass, of Louisville, Kentucky, has master’s degrees in creative writing and counseling psychology and is the recipient of grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Kentucky Arts Council. Her writing has appeared in a variety of journals, including Still.