I woke up in a very dull pink room with the sensation that there were far too many curtains about. I coughed quietly, aware of people and machines buzzing and whirring around me, maybe just outside all these curtains, and I didn't want to alert anyone until I could figure out what was going on. A wizened man with piercing falcon eyes and deep folds for cheeks slid back the curtain closest to me and leaned inward, wearing a smile that suggested we'd shared time on a sinking ship together. I nodded hello, and his smile didn't falter or respond, just hummed a tune that I'd been hearing long before I'd opened my eyes. It was How Great Thou Art, a hymn I'd grown up with in church. The dream it had soundtracked had indeed been about my childhood - something about a summer in the woods of Maine and a fort full of caught turtles.
He began shuffling about the room, sliding drawers open, checking cupboards, making notes on the back of his hand, taking stock of things, always humming.
"Excuse me - could you tell me what hospital this is?"
"Well brother, you're in Kent County Hospital right here. Yer in good hands," he winked and patted my arm. He left his hand on my arm a bit too long and I began to feel uncomfortable. His touch was grandfatherly and tender but my skin had been alone long enough that foreign skin alarmed me, I guess. He didn't seem to notice, just held it there and looked around the room as if it were made of rainbows.
"I'm gonna... I'm going to call the nurse to see about my... situation," I said in a way that I hoped didn't sound like I was telling on him or anything, just needed to get things rolling.
"You do that," he nodded dreamily but didn't move from my side. I reached down and pressed the red button by my thigh. He didn't seem to feel responsible for the heavy air between us, so I rushed to fill it, "I'm 40 today." I said this like it was some sort of explanation for the chemical they'd pulled out of me with pumps.
He took my hands and held them up between us. I looked at them, he looked at me. He squeezed my hands twice and let them fall back to the blanket.
"Your bed in God's home ain't quite made yet, brother," he said in a way that should've creeped me out much more than it did. He had my Grandfather's eyes, and I was relieved to see them on this earth again.
"I just don't... there's nothing left for me to do," I said, still trying to explain something that he seemed to already understand.
He shrugged off my total surrender, "Say that when you're my age, brother. I'm 76 years old... took me this long to realize how much I'm needed on this great earth. If y'all find yourself to be 76 years old and you still wanna say them things... well, then by all means, call it a day, brother."
I had the strangest sensation when he said that: I thought he was my dad. Somehow. My dad had died at 76 himself, but I don't think that coincidence is what made me feel that way. And it wasn't his eyes - they were the eyes of my mother's father. What was it? Before I could place it, a thick woman with thick-rimmed glasses entered the room and quickly moved to start everything in motion again.
"Ok, Mr. D, let's let our patient rest now," she said in her brick and mortar voice, severing the space between us to adjust my pillow. He closed his eyes and mouthed some calming words that I could not discern, then shuffled out with his cart in tow.
Two days later, when everything had cleared out of my guts, they let me venture outside (supervised) to get some Vitamin D. I saw the old man who'd touched my arm sitting out under an apple tree at the far end of the back parking lot. He was eating something, and appeared to be talking to himself. I asked the short nurse pushing my wheelchair, "who is that guy?"
"That's Abe, he works in the stock room."
I walked to within fifty yards of him, I could hear he was singing breezily, conversationally even, with his head tilted skyward and his fierce eyes examining the crawling clouds. This is what I heard him sing:
Hymn 6: Lunch Break in D Flat Major