She was cooking dinner when I walked in the door. She had worked all night at the hospital, slept the whole day while I was at work, and was about to leave for another shift after dinner. I usually was relieved when she left, but tonight she looked unusually chipper. When she greeted me, she was dicing up a full rotisserie chicken. She kissed me.
“How was your day, honey?” She asked.
“Good,” I said. “How was your night?”
“Oh, it was something,” she said, stripping the meat. “We had a code blue in ICU. A real stiff.”
“Oh wow,” I said, reaching for the stack of mail.
“I heard he was brought in from some nursing home about a week ago. Some old timer on hospice care or something,” she said. “Well, he coded last night. Alone.”
“Oh,” I said, looking toward the living room. “What made of him?”
“Well, we got the Code Blue call and all hands were on deck. It was an extremely slow night. I mean, nothing much happened besides routine bed checks and some suicidal guy we had to watch, but when the Code Blue hit the intercom, everyone rushed into that old man’s room. Someone said there was no DNR paperwork, so the doctor said to go at him and all. Alright, bring him back. Those were his exact words. The doctors. And he left the room,” she said. “Will you want a breast?”
“A what?” I asked.
“A breast,” she said. “One of the chicken breasts?”
“Sure,” I said.
I looked over at her. She had cleared the chest of the chicken, setting the pieces into a large red bowl. She licked her fingers. “So, anyway. The doctor left us, even the damn interns, to have this old guy. This blue old guy. The male nurse hopped right up on him and started compressions. Didn’t even give us a shot at him he just hopped right up. All I could do was watch. Watch,” she said, detaching a chicken leg. “How are we to learn if we just watch?”
I walked over to the window and looked down from our sixth floor. A couple was walking their dog on the sidewalk. The dog was pulling hard on the man holding the leash. He just smiled at it while the girl looked on across the street. The three of them disappeared behind the pillar holding up our apartment.
“Are you listening,” she asked. “This is a good story, are you paying attention?”
“Yes,” I said, looking up at the sky.
“So anyway. This blue old guy was gone. Just stone dead. The male nurse was at him. Pressing in as deep as he could to bring him back. All the blue old man’s ribs were cracking like a crunched-up bag of chips. One of the nurses called for Epi and I went for it. I went fast but an intern made it and loaded it up. An intern, can you believe it? She plunged it into his line and the male nurse called for a clear and shocked him hard. I didn’t even see him jump off the blue old man, he was so fast. Shocked him and all and still nothing. The old man looked like a train hit him, all sprawled out and limp. It was something,” she said, scraping the meat onto the dinner plates.
A small child appeared on the grass about a block up. He was running around in circles, like he was tracing an infinity sign below his feet. A woman entered the scene and picked him up, hoisting him off the earth and into the air.
“The second shock did it. We had a heartbeat. A wonderful heartbeat. We had him back,” she said, plopping a leg into her plate. “Want any gravy or potatoes or anything? I think there are some leftovers in the fridge.”
“Where was he?” I asked, still looking out the window.
“What?” she asked.
“You said you had him back,” I said. “But he was laying right there in front of you, on the operating table?”
“You don’t have to be so smart,” she said.
“I’m not,” I said. “I just want to know where he was.”
“What are you talking about where he was?” She said.
“To come back means you went somewhere, else,” I said.
“Don’t ask such silly questions like that,” she said. “What matters is we had a pulse, that’s what matters.”
A blue bird flew in and perched itself on the deck. It blinked and flew off. “It is just like if I said I’ll be back soon if I go to the store or something like that,” I said, turning to her. “I just wonder where his old heartbeat was in those minutes it was gone, that’s all.”
“It was just stopped,” she said. “Like if a river dries up during a drought, but then suddenly a big downpour hits and it flows up again. That’s all.” She bit into her chicken leg and waved it at the dinner plates she had placed on the table. “This is going to get cold,” she said, smiling.
I turned away from her and looked back out the window, wishing to go outside. I ran my hand throughout my hair then placed it over my mouth. The blue bird was back on its perch. It looked at me. I took my hand off my mouth and checked my pulse like some physician does during a physical examination. I felt it pump and pump and pump and pump, like some ancient mantra. I felt like it must be the same in the blue bird, too. It bowed its head and flew off.
“What are you looking at honey, dinner is over here,” she said.
I walked over and took her hand. It was warm with life. I tried to feel her pulse on her wrist, too, but I couldn’t quite feel it. I looked down at the carcass she prepared us for dinner. “I’m not hungry,” I said. “I may go run a bath.”
“I’ll be leaving soon, honey,” she said. “I have to be clocked in at seven.”
“I know,” I said. “I’ll heat it up when I’m ready.”
“I’ll box it up for you,” she said, with a slight eye roll.
“Don’t bother,” I said, walking to the bathroom.
I locked the door and started the bath. I undressed and stared at the mirror. I looked fit and healthy with hardly any gut. I imagined myself as someone old, flabby, and blue. I got close to the mirror and looked into my eyes. I hadn’t thought of leaving until today. I’ll pack what I can and leave, I said in my head to my eyes. I opened my mouth and looked and looked. I glanced down at my torso in the mirror and imagined it being thrusted back to life like some dried river with a thunderstorm of strangers pouring down on me. I stepped into the tub with the water still running. I grabbed onto my legs and held them, placing my head on my chin. I’ll leave and not come back, I assured myself, and sank down into the stream.