Short stories

Ignatius (a short story)

“RIGHT, RIGHT,” she calls out, but before long, a dead end on a vast stretch of locked doors.

a short story

I returned to Tennessee for a few days to check on a few things. My wife calls me to say that she is shopping, and someone must’ve dialed for her. I assume her daughter is visiting.

It’s a 13-hour drive from Des Moines to Knoxville. I slept in my truck somewhere outside Memphis, just long enough to avoid falling asleep at the wheel. I’ve left an ICU-room chair that’s been my bed for nearly two months. My wife’s body is attached to many tubes and wires; her blonde hair is equally tangled and messed up like the dry, un-mowed lawn I find at our home. The windows are dark. The life that was is musty and aged.

The rooms after the crowded hospital feel like a time relic. Nothing we own is fancy, but it’s comfortable. It’s a merged eclectic collection from past lives, furniture banged up from so many moves, but we don’t ask for company.

My wife talks like a child.

“Yeah, we’re shopping,” she tells me. I stand in the kitchen with my cell battery running dangerously low. The road outside the window: the miles of connected pavement to her about 850, and its artery flows through people, daylight, and darkness. It’s too much thinking there, alone. The line is silent.

“That’s good, hon,” I respond.

“But I think you are lying in the hospital.” It’s all I can think of to say. I’m happy to hear her voice, but my heart hurts.

“We’re     shopping,” she repeats, sounding sedated.

The doctor called me shortly after the accident, but my sister-in-law broke the bad news. Sometime after leaving her mother’s house, she front-ended a semi-trailer truck in the sporty car we bought together. I pictured them cutting her from that wreckage, near death. The life-flight hello landing in the road took her away. They found the Rosary 100 feet from the rearview mirror where we hung it when we visited Mother Angelica’s place last summer in Alabama. It made it back to me.

Years ago, I had a tough assignment out West, and this girl pulled me out of my funk to the marathons and trails. We ran the Dam-to-Dam 10K in Des Moines, and I got a new assignment here.

When I go onto the base, I pretend to have it together, and I give the same update to the half-dozen who ask about my situation. The smell of heavy jet exhaust in my office fills my head, which starts to ache. After closing my door, I put my head on my desk and sob quietly. The uniform tugs on me. It’s just a few days, but I feel bad because I’m so isolated.

It’s afternoon in the tall, back grass. I finish the baby rabbit with my pocket knife by separating its mower-scalped head from its twitching body. There’s mercy. Looking through the opened skull of tiny squiggles of brains, wiping it off my blade on the lawn. Then, two more rabbits charge for the woods. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.

The heat outside works into me for an hour as I sweat out the engine noise in mindless, back and forth rows. It clogs and stalls repeatedly, but I pull it back to life. There’s no energy in me.

I told a friend once how, when I play video games too long, I feel euphoric-like, as if I’m still playing as I go about other things. This dream was a woman standing near me wearing only a white fur wrap. She is young, with black pixie-cut hair. I sit up to talk to her, but no one is there. I lie facing away from the door; she appears again, mumbling. Her small patch below the waist is exposed and neatly trimmed. The soft fur brushes her small breasts, just open enough to reveal them, but I can only sense her presence, despite my desire to speak with her, as every time I sit up, the bedroom is empty. She holds a string of beads with both hands and drops lilies to her feet. The fur is sewn in loose strips roughly mixed with rabbit heads. There are a dozen spaced out with dead eyes. The heads bleed out while the wrap grows out into downy wings. The spirit’s face turns stern as she dims from my senses.

I suddenly feel alone. More separated than I’ve ever felt. Like a note pulled from a symphony.

“Hello.” “Yes, is Mark Ignatius there?”

“Sorry can you repeat that?”
“I’m looking for Mark Ignatius.”

I returned to Iowa to see the remains. Our insurance wanted to take our car to scrap. Would I want anything from it? I figured nothing.

All the universe’s energy dissipated in crumpled folds of metal and fragmented glass. The junkyard holds a crushed collection of old hopes.

Arriving late, I slept in my truck bed at the lot. I watched the stars turn to weak light and then rolled up a dew-damped electric blanket that I grabbed from the house by mistake. Since it was hers, I hoped for future troubles while using its power cord to tie it.

Spirits wait to haunt me from the caved-in interior, but my Sergeant Major calls me there on Eastern time.

“I missed your stopover. Is there anything I can do?”

I lean on the exposed, blood-stained driver’s seat with the fifth sorrowful mystery stopped in my fist. The decades of service cull my thoughts and expectations. Flowing with a familiar hollowness of inaction.

“That’s nice of you, Sergeant Major,” I say. “I’m managing.”

How do I tell him that my mower clogged up? They wanted to talk about long-term care options, and I don’t know where I am. A husband must update the family, but I asked the doctors to go in with me and explain. Am I a Soldier still now?

I pictured the firefighter who picked up the Rosary from the pavement while taking in boilerplate. I hurl the phone across the yard and vomit at my feet when it’s done. My demons got the better of me.

Soon after, I returned to the hospital and pulled it together. There are daily trips, pushing the wheelchair through the expansive connected buildings. The lower deserted hallways, with odd creatures wandering about and dark shadows louring in corners.

There was physical therapy, but the TBI remained in blank stares. I push and roll forward through the mindless passageways, reciting the faith and thumbing through my beads while neurons flash around the damage. I stop to look outside at the city snow piling up in the distant streets where we once ran our personal best. We get lost in the lower levels.

“RIGHT, RIGHT,” she calls out, but before long, a dead end on a vast stretch of locked doors, sheetrock, and linoleum with a colorful sign advertising, “Comming Soon: the St. Philomena Maternity Ward.” Until an elevator opens with a “DING.”

The only floor button lighting up is six levels down. I roll into a dimmer utility area with exposed dusty ductwork spanning the unfinished cement ceiling and steel, past massive laundry machines that whirl and groan. I remember all of the sadness. But there are routines to follow, and our patterns and repetition keep us.

I returned to the elevator doors to see the call button unresponsive. Looking back at the empty wheelchair. She will call me soon, I know. I assume she is shopping again. The seventh surgery was risky, but I will pray the glorious mysteries in the custodian’s locker room to ask for intervention. It’s an excellent place to wait, so many levels under it all. Time can be turned from hope. I’ve slept under vents in dark spaces before, too, too long to remember the time. There’s my reflection in the mirror on the locker door, so my angels still search for me. My comfort’s in the machine noises, and I will scrounge around. And I will find her.

(Written by Mike R. Smith, 2022)

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

By Eartheditor

Hello. I am a prior U.S. Navy sailor and photojournalist serving on active duty with the National Guard – combined, for more than 24 years. This blog features my more memorable stories and photos from that news pile as well as creative writing. All images and stories are by me unless otherwise credited. I hope to backlog more as well as write new stories. Thank you so much.
- Mike R. Smith

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