The dream faded. My eyes opened on the green, segmented digits of my alarm clock. Abraham had been correct, I was indeed the chosen one, as evidenced by the envelope beside the clock. Unfortunately, if the hour on display was correct, the chosen one had very little left of the day to deliver it.
It wasn’t easy to get up and running, sick as I was. A few days prior an annoying tickle in the back of my throat went afoul before slithering down my windpipe to make trouble in my chest. In no time my lungs were producing a thick, yellow phlegm with the fetid taste of disease.
Nurse Girlfriend ordered a long soak in a tub filled with scalding water and eucalyptus scented bath salts. Instead, I poured myself three fingers of Lansdowne Rye. Liquor soothed a prickly itch that triggered violent coughing episodes and, unlike conventional medication, this remedy took immediate effect. My head had no sooner nested in the cool dimple of my pillow than I found myself dreaming of poor Abraham Lemon falling from his ladder, paint bucket and all. I stood over his prone body on the craquelure of Hartley’s & Grill parking lot. The agony, which glazed his normally piercing turquoise eyes, caused him to whimper when he spoke, “Wake up you idiot, you are the chosen one.”
A day after Abraham Lemon’s accident a get well card was passed between the trembling hands of Hartley’s regulars. Once the card had collected the requisite amount of signatures and best wishes it was passed to me for delivery to Darden University Hospital.
Outside Abraham’s room a powerful looking custodian was swabbing the floor. He paused to plunge his mop into a bucket of steaming water that wafted disinfectant. The piercing bouquet was just the irritant needed to induce an episode disturbing enough to bring a nurse out from hiding. L.N. White insisted I wear a surgical mask and so I entered Lemon’s room looking as if I was a member of the staff.
The bed closest to the window in room 3015 cradled the long, lean frame of Lemon, A. He looked to be as peacefully sedated as I had expected, however, I didn’t fully appreciate to what degree until he started talking. Over a period of time Lemon’s drunken patois had become intelligible to my ears but this was something new.
“I thought you said we’d have not to operate, doctor,” mumbled Abraham’s strungout voice box.
The plastic tubes of his IV rattled when he lifted a weak arm either to emphasize his objection or to protect himself from the scalpel.
“Abraham, it’s me. I ain’t the doctor.” I could feel the mask scratching my lips as I spoke.
To someone imbibing top shelf pharmaceuticals my mask proved an effective disguise. His drowsy eyelids were barely ajar and he regarded me through thin slits. I made another attempt at explaining who I was and why I was there without exposing him to my germs.
“Do you remember being on the ladder at Hartley’s?”
His pallid tinge brightened a bit with recognition.
“Hartley. Yeah, I know her. Hey, you know what? I work at a place called Hartley’s Bar & Grill. I cook…sometimes.”
“Sure, Abraham, I know, man. But they don’t call it that anymore. Remember? That is what caused the accident.”
His mouth stretched into a faint smile or a perhaps a scowl of pain. It was impossible to know for sure. I continued.
“They passed that law. The one that outlawed the word BAR in the name of any business that served alcohol.
I felt that Abraham was slowly regaining the use of his memory when a nurse, different than L.N. White, appeared from nowhere on a pair of silent white sneakers to take his pulse and check the flow of whatever cocktail he was being served. She gave me a perfunctory smile and disappeared carrying with her whatever sensibilities Lemon was beginning to reclaim.
“Anyway, Abraham,” I held up the envelope, “Hartley and them got you this card. Everybody signed it.”
“Hartley. You two getting by okay. How’s the kids?”
It was unnecessary to explain to him that neither Hartley nor children were involved in my life. I didn’t even respond. Abraham was in deep hibernation.
I placed his get well card on the rolling table beside a cup with a goose-neck straw and tray of untouched food and left 3015 for home.
Lemon’s near catatonic state and one more croupy spasm before leaving Darden’s parking lot had me contemplating my own course of medication. The two options I considered were cough syrup and such, available at Lipton’s Pharmacy, or a whiskey, available at Hartley’s. Both had their arguments.
The day was nearly done and lights were sparking into action everywhere against the encroaching night: street lights, headlights, house lights, store lights. People moving in windows looked like people on a television set.
The fat, red letters on Lipton’s sign were aglow, all but the P in pharmacy. They radiated into the darkness that the family owned apothecary was still proudly serving the community after sundown.
I slowed but did not stop.
I did not stop at Hartley’s either. The bar’s placard that swung by the roadside was glowing brightly. I could almost make out the strokes that Abraham’s brush had left in the white paint he had applied over the now illegal word. At least he’d finished the job, I thought, before the ladder, unstable on the clear glaze of ice, had slid from beneath him. In Abraham’s honor, Pete, the weeknight bartender, had placed on special a shooter he called Lemon Drops until Hartley put an end to what she considered insensitive.
At home Chef Girlfriend was stirring a pot of chicken soup she had promised her ailing honey.
“Where have you been, hon?” Chef Girlfriend left the bubbling cauldron and began chopping herbs.
“Hospital,” I wheezed, “had to deliver that card to Lemon.”
“You’ve got to be kidding. Why didn’t you just give it to me. I work there, remember.”
I hadn’t thought of that until that exact moment and said as much.
“You’re going to catch pneumonia if you’re not careful. Speaking of which,” she pointed with the tip of the knife to a bag on the table, “I stopped at Lipton’s and picked you up some goodies.”
I was glad I did not make the stop and asked if she had noticed the sign with the missing P.
“Lipton’s Harmacy? Yea, there’s some irony for you. “I almost didn’t want to go in.” She gave me a big smile, “Funny, right?”
“It’s funny alright. There are a lot of funny signs out there now.”
She tilted her head and raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
That a law intended to defend the public, or at least the public’s perpetually vulnerable morality, had sent a man to a hospital bed was not the type of cosmic paradox I felt worthy of acknowledging.
“Oh, nothing. What time’s dinner, babe?”