Tag Archives: chuck palahniuk

Headaches

What Nick was doing that day was even odder than his father’s fall. But it did have to do with someone falling, though Nick’s father fell a much shorter length.

Nick was walking down the street snacking on rice crackers. He forgot how much wasabi they used in rice crackers and desperately needed a drink. As he walked to convenience store two doors down from his office, a man fell in front of him. But it wasn’t as if the man simply tripped and fell while walking relatively close to Nick. It would be more apt to say the man dropped in front of Nick and when he hit the concrete, pieces of the man’s head shot out in all directions, yet somehow completely missed Nick.

As everyone else walking down the busy downtown street panicked at the sight of the man’s quick and unfortunate demise, all Nick could see was the custom hand stitched Italian suit complemented by the hand pressed Italian silk tie the man’s remains was wearing. Nick studied the man’s body for a second and looked down at himself, quickly surmising that the suit would be a perfect fit on him.

His cell phone rang in his pocket as he knelt down to start undoing the man’s tie.

“Nick, it’s your father,” his mother’s panicked voice said on the phone. “He fell and he hit his neck and head. I’m really worried about him. Can you come home and help me bring him to the hospital?”

“Absolutely mom,” he said. “I’ll be right there. I just found this great suit. Once I’m done getting it, I’ll be right home.”

It wasn’t as if Nick was a bad person who often stole things from fresh corpses. Quite the contrary. His boyfriend, Donovan, would tell you that Nick was the kindest and sweetest man he ever knew. The reason why Nick was taking the suit was simply because he wasn’t thinking of the man at that moment. Later on, after he thought a little more thoroughly about the suit in his possession, he would rationalize about how the man wouldn’t exactly be needing the suit anymore and that level of fine craftsmanship deserves to be passed down to someone who would appreciate its quality. A few people who were watching did give him a few odd looks as he stripped the man. But no one approached Nick to question what he was doing. Most actually assumed that he was simply a medical professional and he was doing something that would somehow help this poor man who fell.

Rational thought is hard to come by when people are in shock. This was true for the group of people who watched as Nick Exagrio stole a suit off of a dead body. This was also true for Nick’s father, Pavlo Exagrio.

While he was growing up, Nick and his two older brothers, Jason and Alex, were always told by their father to have someone watching you when you climb up a ladder, even if it’s just a step ladder. And this was true. And Pavlo had a stark reminder of this lesson when he tried screwing in a kitchen lightbulb, standing on a step ladder all by himself. His wife, Carmella, had cleaned the laminate floors earlier that day and the ladder slipped out from under his feet and when he toppled over, he hit his head on his new stove, leaving a deep dent in its door.

Carmella heard her husband fall and rushed downstairs to find him lying on the floor with Zeus, the couple’s golden retriever, licking his face. She noticed him not fighting back against the dog and immediately panicked inside thinking her husband was dead. She rushed to his sides and stood over him, seeing his eyes open and his breathing. The look on his face read somewhere between defeat and annoyance.

“What the hell happened?” Carmella belted out.

“I fell,” Pavlo replied.

“I can see that,” she said. “But how?”

“Off the step ladder,” he said in his typical monotone voice. “Obviously.”

Carmella’s immediate instinct was to call her three sons. She had called Nick last. For some reason, whenever she needed to call her boys, she called them in chronological order. First she called Jason and he took the rest of the day off work to attend to his father. Then she called Alex who was at home sick, but agreed to come home right away as well. Then she called Nick, who was in the process of stealing a suit off of a corpse before he came home.

Jason and Alex got home around the same time and Nick arrived at the house, the same house all three boys grew up in, about ten minutes after his brothers did. Nick wore his new suit jacket, which he wasn’t able to button up at the front. He had already ripped the pants when he tried to put them on outside of his car. Though he often changes his clothes right next to his car (no matter where is car might be parked), he never made a lot of effort to look to see if there would be anyone around to see him change. Luckily for him, no one who saw the corpse drop and saw Nick strip the man saw him try to put on the man’s suit. He left the Egyptian silk shirt behind, as it was stained beyond repair with the man’s remains. The tie was stained as well, but not as severely as the shirt. Nick knew a trip to the dry cleaners would get the tie’s stain right out.

By the time Nick got through the front door, Jason and Alex were already arguing.

“What do you mean you administered the concussion test?” Alex said.

“I asked him if he knew what day it was, what his name was, and if he remembered what happened,” Jason explained. “A standard exam from medical professionals.”

“But you’re not a medical professional!” Alex yelled.

Nick’s entering the room caught both of his brother’s attention. They looked over to their youngest brother, and Alex muttered, “Wow, nice jacket.”

To look at all three of the Exagrio boys, who were all in their thirties by this point, anyone could immediately tell they were brothers. All three had facial hair, though it was clear each of them made an effort to trim their beards as different from their brothers as they could, and thick dark hair on the tops of their heads. Only Jason’s hairline was receding, which is why he kept his head shaved. Nick had just started growing his hair longer and the back touched his shoulders. Alex kept his hair shorter on the sides and longer on the top and it was always neatly combed, even on his apparent day home sick.

“Well it didn’t take you two too long to start at it,” Nick said as he scratched the short stubble along his face.

Alex played with the soul patch on his goatee, a nervous habit he’s had since he could grow facial hair. “Dr. Fucking Doogie Howser here doesn’t think dad should see a doctor.”

“Because he’s fine!” a bit of spit dribbled onto Jason’s thick beard.

“Have you seen the dent in the stove?” Alex shot back. “It looks like it was hit by a car!”

“Stoves are made of cheap materials anyways,” Jason scoffed.

As his two brothers started arguing again, Nick went into the kitchen to look at the dent. It was in the door of the stove, which was closed. Nick figured his dad must had hit it sideways, which wouldn’t be as bad if he hit it head on, like the man did on the concrete earlier that day. It was a pretty deep dent. But Nick always did think his father had a thick skull.

“Nice to see you, Nick,” his mother’s voice said from behind him. Nick realized that he had walked right past his mother when he walked into the kitchen and didn’t even notice her. She was sitting at the kitchen table, playing with an unlit cigarette.

Carmella Exagrio was remarkably slim for both birthing and raising three boys. But she also spent half of her life only eating lettuce making sure she could keep her figure. She married Pavlo very young but would never say how young. Nick heard as young as 19. This was because Carmella wasn’t Greek, and grandma and grandpa Exagrio didn’t approve of non-Greeks in the family. They especially didn’t approve of Italians. Even after his parents eloped, Nick’s grandparents still visited them, though they never said much to his mother. Pavlo always said his heritage wasn’t that important to him, but Nick thought it was funny that all three of Pavlo’s boys had the most Greek names you could give to three modern North Americans.

“I thought you quit,” he said.

“After dealing with your father today I might just take it up again,” she said.

“He won’t see a doctor?” Nick asked.

“He has an ice pack on his head and he took some headache pills,” she said. “He thinks he’s going to be fine. I think he’s an idiot.”

“I know, mom,” Nick said. “Where is he?”

“Lying in the bedroom,” she said. “You remember still which room that is? It’s been weeks since you’ve been home.”

“We were all home last week for Zeus’ birthday,” Nick said.

“Well, Donovan didn’t come,” she replied before starting to chew on the cigarette’s filter. She wasn’t wrong about that. Donovan didn’t come to a lot of the family dinners. But it was Nick who always encouraged Donovan not to come along. Nick didn’t want his family getting close to Donovan. He didn’t see the relationship lasting.

“Right,” Nick said. “Well, I remember where the room is. So I’m going to go see him.”

“You do that,” his mother said. “I’m going to the back porch to tempt cancer.”

Zeus was lying next to Pavlo when Nick walked into the room. This was the moment when Nick realized that Zeus didn’t come running up to him when he walked in the door. Zeus always tried to steal people’s shoes when they came over. Apparently he hadn’t left his dad’s side since Pavlo went to bed.

“Which one are you?” Pavlo asked, the ice pack covering his eyes. He was much smaller than his sons. All three of his boys were close to six feet tall while Pavlo never made it past five and a half feet. Nick noticed the grey patches in his father’s beard were getting larger and lighter in colour. His dad was well over sixty by this time. The image in his mind was the forty-something year old version of his father. To see him this much older almost startled Nick. It’s not as if he hadn’t seen his father in a while. But he just never noticed how old he was looking.

“It’s Nick, dad,” he said. “How are you feeling?”

“Go downstairs and tell your idiot brothers that their arguing is giving me a headache,” he said, cracking a smile.

Nick turned and walked out of the room. He stepped down the stairs and stopped on the third to last stair, just looking over his two brothers who were still arguing. “Dad says he’s getting a headache,” Nick said.

Alex shot a terrified glance to Nick. “You see!” Alex yelled. “You see! A headache is a clear sign of a concussion or a hemorrhage or severe brain trauma! He’s going to die of an aneurysm unless we get him to the hospital now!”

“He has a headache because the two of you won’t shut up,” Nick shot back. “He doesn’t need to go to the hospital, but a doctor wouldn’t kill him. He probably just doesn’t want to leave the house. Alex, aren’t you still dating that doctor?”

“She’s a med student,” Alex said. “And, no. That ended.”

Alex’s quarter-life crisis hit him hard. For his thirtieth birthday, he called off his engagement, quit his job, and declared he was going to write a book. Everyone’s still waiting for that book. As far as anyone could tell, all Alex did was work his few shifts at the book store and go home to drink wine. He would often ramble about plot lines and character development and what Hemingway did to write (drink) and what Kerouac did for inspiration (drink) and yet no one ever read a word he wrote. His career before his sudden literary renaissance was as an engineer, just like his father.

“Well, he needs to see someone,” Nick said. “I’m going to try and talk some sense into him and see if he’ll see anyone. In the meantime, take your arguing outside.”

Zeus still hadn’t moved when Nick went back into his father’s room. At the sight of Nick, Zeus’ tail started wagging a bit, though he stayed in place nestled next to Pavlo. “This is the most quiet it’s been since I hit the ground,” Pavlo chuckled. “I don’t know how you shut them up, but thank you.”

“To show your gratitude, you can go see a doctor about your noggin,” Nick said sitting next to his father and scratching behind Zeus’ ear.

“You’re starting to sound like Jason,” Pavlo said.

Jason was the academic of the family. He had completed his PhD a couple of years back, graduated top of his class, married one of his classmates, had a paper published, and earned a tenure at the local college. His degree was in Music History and his area of expertise was in the impact of the mid-west on modern rock, specifically pertaining to the Replacements and Husker Du. He read voraciously. His apartment didn’t even have a TV. There were books lining all of the walls and stacked on shelves to the point where the wood curved in the middle. But Nick wasn’t always so sure that Jason’s mind was that reliable. He remembered a time when Jason insisted that the medical industry was corrupted because of the prevalence of white culture seen in doctors and nurses in North American hospitals. Nick knew something was wrong with this statement. Every doctor he had ever seen was originally from India. Alex finally asked what book Jason read that fact in. Jason pulled up the book on his phone and showed it to Alex, who promptly pointed out that the book was published in the 1970s by a psychedelic collective better known for illegal reproductions of Kurt Vonnegut and Abbie Hoffman books.

“You know, one time,” Pavlo sat up and took the ice pack off of his head. “One time Jason tried to give me a lesson on bridge tensile strength. He read something somewhere about triangle shapes and curved shapes in creating bridge support, so he wanted to tell me all about it. I designed bridges for forty years.” Pavlo laughed.

Nick took the ice pack and felt that it was already getting pretty warm. He offered to go back downstairs and get the other ice pack for his father. Once he was downstairs, he saw both of his brothers on the couch staring at their phones. They didn’t look up when Nick hit the bottoms step. He went into the kitchen and grabbed the other ice pack just as his mother came back inside the house.

“Good cigarette?” Nick asked.

“Thirty years in the making,” she said. “How is he?”

“Annoyed at his children,” Nick said. “Can’t blame him. A house full of people here apparently for him and they all act like he’s not even here. Otherwise, from what I can see he’s ok. I just worry about what’s going on that we can’t see.”

“I do too,” she said.

When Nick went upstairs to give his father the other ice pack, he could hear coughing and wretching. He entered the bedroom to find his father on the floor, vomiting and a good portion of the vomit had blood in it. Nick dropped the ice pad.

“Holy crap,” Nick said. “Dad, are you ok?”

“Obviously, I’m not,” Pavlo said between heaves.

Nick paced around the room and then walked into the on suite bathroom and started rummaging through the drawers. “What are you doing,” Pavlo was able to bark.

“Looking for paper towel,” Nick said.

“Don’t!” Pavlo said through the vomit coming out of his mouth. “Call a goddamn ambulance!”

It took a moment for Nick to compose himself. He was panicking inside. He had never seen anyone throw up blood before. It shouldn’t have bothered him. After all, he had stolen a suit off of a dead body earlier that day. But it was different to see his father like this. Once he composed himself, he ran to the top of the stairs.

“He’s throwing up blood!” he called down. “Call an ambulance!”

The ambulance ride felt like it took hours, but when they arrived at the hospital Nick realized it still wasn’t even dinner time yet. With his father in an examining room, all Nick could do was to wait for the rest of his family to arrive.

His brothers came through the hall and into the waiting room first. They told Nick that their mother is just outside having a cigarette before she comes in.

“Did you tell her it was ok for her to start smoking again?” Alex prodded.

“Why would I tell her that?” Nick asked.

“Well, it’s not like she just up and decided to start smoking again after thirty years,” Alex continued.

“That’s kind of exactly what happened,” Nick shrugged.

“I really don’t think she would have just decided to start smoking out of the blue like that,” Alex said. “Something would have had to trigger this.”

“Probably dad’s fall,” Jason interjected. “Stressors like a traumatic experience such as this can easily drive a person to act irrationally.”

“Stop psychoanalyzing me,” their mother’s voice carried over them. They looked over and saw their mother standing next to one of the white waiting room chairs. She was looking through a stack of crumpled magazines. “Even a real shrink couldn’t figure me out.”

“Mom, you really shouldn’t smoke, you know the health risks involved,” Jason began.

“Shut up,” their mother muttered. “Get off your high horse. Let’s see if your father comes out of here alive. Then you can give me the health lecture.”

“Like you should be giving a health lecture,” Alex pointed a finger at Jason. “You didn’t even want dad to see a doctor. Now look at where he is!”

Nick’s two brothers started arguing again and a nurse had to step in and tell them both to be quiet and sit down or they would be escorted out. The four members of the Exagrio family sat quietly, flipping through magazines and checking their phones, for the first time quiet since they all stepped into the same room together.

Finally, the doctor came out into the waiting room and sat down with the family. “He definitely has a concussion,” the doctor said. Alex tapped Nick on the shoulder and said something about knowing the doctor. Nick noticed what Alex was saying. He didn’t remember the doctor’s name, but he remembered him being in school at the same time he was. He thought that maybe he was in the same grade as Alex was. It would explain why is accent was so light. “But we noticed something else in our exams. He actually has a small blood clot in his right frontal lobe. It’s small enough right now that it’s actually not interfering with any blood flow. But if we waited any longer, he certainly would be suffering much worse. The procedure to remove it is actually relatively simple. Our neurosurgeon will be able to operate on him tomorrow.”

The family was allowed to see Pavlo once the doctor finished explaining the procedure. No one in the family understood most of what the doctor said. Jason kept nodding his head and saying things like, “OK,” and, “Oh, I see,” and, “Yes, I understand.” But no one there really understood. All they knew was that their father, her husband, was going to have his skull opened up and his brain tinkered with because a clump of something is blocking blood from flowing. The doctor saying it was a “relatively simple procedure” didn’t help. As far as this family could tell, there was nothing simple about this.

They all stood in the room around Pavlo, who was awake now, but they all could tell he was feeling pretty weak. He could barely keep his eyes open. Everyone was silent, processing what was going to happen in the next day. No one knew what to expect. What kind of help would he need once he was out of the hospital? Would this cause any other brain damage? How long before he would be back to normal again? The silence hung like a sixth person in the room, looming over the family.

“Feels like a soap opera,” Jason said. “I’m just waiting for one of our evil twins to show up now.”

“Goddamnit, Jason,” Alex said. “This is not the time for fucking jokes.”

“Well, is it better than sitting around dead silent?” Jason asked.

“Don’t fucking say dead in here,” Alex gritted his teeth. “And yes, if it means you shut the fuck up, silence is better.”

This line of conversation was typically for the Exagrio family. If they weren’t arguing, they were completely silent with each other. They weren’t always like this. But adult life changed the three boys. Jason and Alex went to different colleges and Nick completely bypassed post-secondary education and went right into the working world. There wasn’t an instant moment where the three boys felt separated and estranged from each other. It just crumbled over time to the point where they can’t stand being around each other anymore. Which was especially difficult seeing how much their mother loved family dinners. This may have been the real reason why Nick never brought Donovan over for family dinner. Maybe Nick didn’t actually think the relationship with Donovan wasn’t going to work out. Maybe he wanted the relationship to work out and was afraid what would happen if Donovan saw Nick’s whole family together. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

Jason stormed out of the room and Nick followed behind. He watched his older brother pull out his cell phone, tap something on his screen, and hold it against his face. They were out of the building before Nick could hear anything his brother was saying. “Yeah, total asshole,” Jason said. “I’m getting out of here as soon as I can. I don’t even know why I bother trying.”

He looked over and spotted his younger brother watching him. “I need to call you back,” he said as he hung up. “Why did you follow me?”

“Not sure,” Nick said. “Alex was being an asshole. He always has to be so negative about everything.”

“Yeah, well, that’s probably the most observational thing you ever said,” Jason said. “And you barely notice that water is wet, so thanks for pointing out the obvious.”

“Why are you being a dick?”

“I’m just fucking done,” Jason continued. “I’m fucking done with all of this. What kind of adult spends this much time with their family?”

“I don’t know,” Nick shrugged. “We’ve always been like this. Even when you and Alex were in school and I was still living at home, it still felt like you were always around. And then when you were around, you just became a different person each time. Like you just kept losing more and more patience.”

“Well, clearly there’s a good reason for that,” Jason said as he pulled out his keys. “I’m just fucking done. I’ll be back when dad’s in recovery. Otherwise, don’t fucking call me.”

And he walked off to his car and Nick was left standing alone outside of the hospital, watching his brother turn more and more into a stranger.

Nick decided against going back inside. Instead, he took a walk to find some food. He didn’t know this part of the city well. The hospital was connected to the local college and Nick wandered around the campus, not recognizing any building and having no clue where to find any decent food. He finally found a pub and he hoped the kitchen was still open.

Half a sandwich and a handful of fries later, Nick’s phone started ringing. Alex was calling and Nick had a serious internal debate inside, considering whether or not answering this call would be worth his time. He stared at the call screen for at least four rings before sliding his finger on the small call logo and answering his brother.

“Yeah,” Nick said.

“Where are you?” Alex barked.

“Some pub on campus, why?”

“Is Jason with you?”

“No, I’m alone.”

“Wait, did you say on campus?”

“Yeah, why?”

“How did you wander all the way over to the campus?”

“It’s not like it’s far.”

“It’s not exactly nearby either,” Alex huffed heavily. “I don’t know how you just wander like that. Aren’t you scared of walking and falling into a manhole or wandering into a bad part of town and getting mugged?”

“Not really,” Nick stuffed a few fries into his mouth. “This pub is pretty good. I had the turkey club.The bacon was really crispy. You should try it sometime.”

“Yeah, maybe I will once our dad isn’t in the hospital anymore,” Alex’s voice progressively raised louder and louder. “What the hell are you doing wandering off anyways? You should be here!”

“Dad will still be there when I get back,” Nick took a long sip of his soda.

“Yeah, well, what if he isn’t? Seriously, come back here. Mom’s been asking about you.”

“Has she been asking about Jason?”

“Oh course she has” Alex said. “She wants all of us here. It’s bad enough with dad lying in a bed plugged into machines. I don’t need mom having a stress stroke because we’re not getting along.”

Nick realized that Alex had a point. He pulled out his wallet and dropped a bit of cash on the table. “I’ll be right there,” Nick said to his brother.

An ambulance screamed by as Nick walked back to the hospital. It was pitch black out and Nick didn’t think to check his phone as he wondered what time it was. The lights from the ambulance left a red hue on everything that he looked at as he wandered past the student dorms and the all night convenience stores whose white lights almost stung his retinas.

Though he wasn’t sure how long he had been walking for. Nick figured it must have been for a while, at least a couple of hours. When he walked back into the emergency room, he saw Jason sitting in the waiting room with an intake form resting on his lap and a brace tied around his neck. There was a decent sized gash on his forehead as well, made all the more prominent by the fact he didn’t have any hair to cover the cut.

“What happened to you?” Nick asked as Jason looked up from his intake form.

“I got sandwiched between two cars,” Jason said. “I got rear-ended by one guy and my car slammed into guy ahead of me. The guy who rear-ended me took off. I’m looking to press full charges. Hit-and-run is a felony if there’s a bodily injury.”

“Where’s you wife?” Nick asked.

Jason sighed. “She had class in the morning, so she wants to keep sleeping,” he said. “It’s alright. I’m going to be fine. You’re all here, so I should be fine.”

This explanation was enough to sate both Jason and Nick. Jason understood that those early morning classes were hard, especially if you didn’t sleep a lot the night before. Nick was assured by Jason’s logic and his insistence that he was going to be fine. In theother room, Nick could hear Alex having a fit. He couldn’t completely make out the words, but he was catching phrases like, “It’s not right,” and, “This should be more important.”

Carmella came back into the waiting room through the door that Nick could hear Alex’s yelling come from. Under one arm, she had her purse tucked. Under the other arm was a bag of tortilla chips from one of the hospital vending machines. She plopped down onto the chair next to Nick and reached into her purse, pulling out a bottle of pills and a bottle of water. “I have such a headache,” she said as she popped two pills into her mouth and swallowed a gulp of water. “This day needs to end already.”

Nick waited for some condescending explanation from Jason about how the day has technically ended already ant is a new day, despite the fact none of us have slept yet. For once, Jason kept quiet.

Through the door that all of Alex’s yelling was coming from was another voice of someone trying to calm Alex down. Nick thought about how whoever was trying to calm Alex down was in for a big shock, He didn’t exactly calm down. He kind of just continues to get more and more agitated until he explodes like a hot water tank with no pressure valve. He usually falls asleep after he blows, too. Doesn’t matter where he is or what else is going on, after he explodes he always seems to find a way to fall asleep.

“What do you mean you can’t look him over for a few more hours?!” every in the hospital could hear Alex screaming this. Nick figured Alex was screaming about getting their father into some other test, maybe to avoid the surgery altogether. “He has a head injury and he’s in a neck brace. He’s obviously seriously hurt, I don’t understand why you can’t see him yet!”

The doors swung open violently, like a car had just sped through the hallway. Only it was Alex standing in the doorway, pushing his way through. Nick only saw Alex for a brief second as the door swung back into Alex’s face. He must have hit the door open significantly hard for it to swing back to hard. Once it hit Alex’s face, it knocked him off of his feet and he feel back first, feet in the air, on the hospital floor.

Jason and Nick didn’t move from where they were sitting, though both saw how hard the door his Alex’s face and, ultimately, how hard Alex hit the floor. Jason’s reason for not immediately jumping up and running to his brother’s aide was strictly medical; after all, he was just in a serious car accident. Nick’s reason for not going to his brother’s aide was less forgivable: he simply didnt know what to do.

“Get up and check on your brother!” Carmella yelled at her able-bodied son, prompting Nick to jump out of his chair and run through the door that just hit his brother’s face.

Alex hadn’t moved from the floor and the doctors and nurses were taking their time walking over to help. Nick figured they were moving about as fast as he would be moving if Alex had just been yelling at him as well. His brother had a gash on his head, very much like Jason’s gash, only Alex’s gash was a little less visible because of his longer hair. It was bleeding a lot more than Jason’s gash was bleeding. The dark trickle of blood down Alex’s face almost looked like a rogue strand of hair hanging in front of his face.

“This has been a bad day for head injuries,” Nick said.

“How very fucking insightful of you,” Alex grimaced. “Now help me up.”

“Maybe the doctor’s should check on you before you get up,” Nick said, looking up at the doctors who had actually stopped part  down the hallway and lined up at the water cooler, each with a little paper cup in their hands. “You know, when they get here.”

“I’m fucking fine,” Alex grit his teeth.

“Isn’t that what dad said too?” Nick shot back.

“Fuck off, I’ll get myself up,” Alex pushed himself off of the ground and got to his feet, stumbling a bit as tried to find his balance. One of the doctors finally made it to where Alex was standing and started asking if he was dizzy or if his vision was blurry. Nick noticed how clean shaven every part of the doctor’s face was, even the top of his head, and how the doctor’s thick accented voice was as deep and dark as his skin tone was. Nick figured the doctor was probably from Zimbabwe, mainly because that was the only country in Africa he could name. He also thought Saint Petersburg was a country in Africa, which isn’t even a country anywhere to begin with, but instead a city in Russia. The name he was mistakenly thinking of was Johannesburg, which also isn’t a country but at least if he guessed that name he would have been in the right continent.

Digging through his jacket’s pockets looking for a serviette for Alex to wipe the blood off of his face, Nick started noticing all of the strange things in he had been carrying with him since he put the jacket on: a bus ticket from Arizona, some women’s hair clips, a receipt for three dozen donuts from his favourite bakery (this very well could have been Nick’s receipt, but he wasn’t totally sure). But of all the things he found in the jacket’s pockets, not a single piece of absorbent paper.

“Why do you have all that weird stuff in your pocket?” Alex asked.

“I didn’t know anything was in the pockets,” Nick answered.

“You bought a jacket and didn’t think to check the pockets?” Alex asked. “Wait, you bought a jacket that had things in the pocket to begin with? Did you buy it second hand? I’m really confused.”

“Well, I didn’t exactly buy it,” Nick mumbled.

Alex was just about to ask what Nick meant by he ‘didn’t exactly buy it,’ when they both heard someone screaming from the end of the hallway. Both brothers looked up and saw who was screaming. It was a man, close to their ages, but looked like he either worked in a manual labour force or simply actually took the time to go to the gym every once in a while (none of the Exagrio boys had even stepped into a gym before). Upon a closer inspection, both boys realized the man was screaming at them. Alex could tell from the way the man looked at the two of them, but it took until the man quite literally pointed at Nick before he realized he was this man’s target.

“That’s my dad’s jacket!” The man screamed.

“You stole a jacket?” Alex asked Nick.

“He wasn’t exactly going to use it anymore,” Nick shrugged.

“How do you know?” Alex continued.

“Mainly because he’s dead,” Nick said very bluntly considering the subject matter.

“You stole a…” Alex tried completing his thought before the absurdity of it all actually caught his tongue and forced him to give up. “You know what,” Alex continued. “He’s all yours,” he called down the hall to the increasingly angry man. “Whatever he gets, he deserves.”

The infuriated man charge down the hallway directly at Nick. Most people would think to run or step away or try to put up some sort of fight. Nick had actually started reading the bus ticket, wondering if the man he stole the jacket from was actually from Arizona and if so we’re all Arizona residents this aggressive?

The man tackled Nick, knocking over Alex in the process, and the two men, now entangled, toppled into the waiting room, almost right to Jason’s feet. Through the tussle, the man was able to get on top of Nick and he laid in two hard punches to Nick’s face before he noticed that the man was actually off of him now, and lying on the ground next to him. He looked up to see his mother standing over both himself and the angry Arizonian. She was holding a wooden spoon. The man was holding his eye and rolling slightly on the ground.

“You crazy bitch!” he yelled. “You hit me in the fucking eye.”

Nick pushed himself off of the ground to see both Jason and Alex already surrounding the guy. Jason had pulled off his neck brace and he had the guy’s shirt bunched up in his fist. The guy was struggling and Alex was trying to hold his arms and legs so they wouldn’t hit Jason. Nick sprang over and helped his brothers hold the guys against the wall before hospital security finally broke up the fight.

The hospital coudn’t exactly kick out the Exagrio boys. After all, all three now had head injuries. They were all technically patients now. Before the boys sat back down, Nick gave back the jacket to the angry Arizonian and apologized for taking it. He decided it was best to leave the apology there and not go into stripping the guy’s dead father in the middle of the street in the middle of the day.

There was actually a shortage of ice packs in the hospital, so the three boys had to tend to their head injuries with bags of frozen peas. Nick wondered if the peas on his head would still be cooked and served to the patients.

Then Jason started laughing. “She still carries a wooden spoon in her purse,” he said.

Then Alex started laughing. “Can’t say I’m shocked about that. She still knows how to swing that thing too.”

Then Nick started laughing. “What else do you think she still carries in there. You think she still has those little candies she would give us when we behaved?”

“No, I gave up giving you those a long time ago,” their mother said.

“Any word on dad?” Jason asked.

“He’s been up and down,” she said. “Doctor won’t let him sleep more than a couple of hours, just in case. But he’s fine otherwise. Doctor keeps talking about how simple tomorrow’s surgery is going to be. I think he’ll be fine.”

She reached into her purse and pulled out her bottle of headache pills. “The three of you. You’re good boys, but sometimes you give me the worst fucking headaches.”

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Rabbits

There were rabbits running down the street. They were slipping on the ice as they dodged the oncoming headlights. I only saw one at first. But as it darted, a second shot out from in front of one of the houses, and then a third. The car slowed down and let the rabbits scurry and change their direction before the car picked up its pace again and pulling into a nearby driveway. I found myself rooting for the rabbits. I cheered them on as they fled from the oncoming danger. I obviously didn’t cheer out loud. But in my head, I was screaming my full support for their survival.

This isn’t an odd occurrence for my evening walks. The rabbit population in my neighbourhood has been booming the past few years. This unfortunately has also resulted in a few more coyotes wandering around my block, much braver than the cowardly canines should be. One particularly brazen coyote tried digging under one of my neighbour’s fences while their pug was in their yard. Normally, a coyote would dart at the sight of a human. This one didn’t. It stared at me as I yelled at it and waved my arms. I didn’t actually want to hurt the coyote, despite the threat it posed to the neighbourhood pets. But it didn’t get the hint either that it wasn’t particularly welcome on our block.

With no immediate signs of any predators, be it vehicular or wild canine, I continued my walk assuming a safe evening for the rabbits I was watching. The wind was cold but the day had seen a warm thaw, leaving sheets of ice along most of the walkways. The majority of the walk had been a quiet and successful trek through the area until shortly after my foray as a cheerleader for three rabbits. The animals must have still been on my mind as I stepped down onto some of the slickest and smoothest ice I had ever encountered. I imagined it must have been what hockey rink ice was like, though I had never played a sport in my life – hence my severely poor coordination with something as simple as walking.

The fall itself jolted my heart and gave mine a quick shot of adrenaline, which is why I heard the crack long before I felt the crack. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t exactly feel where it went wrong. I laid on the ice for a few moments, trying to recompose myself, when I heard a collection of steps coming my way.

“Are you okay?” I heard a voice say. I looked up to see three teenaged boys, all holding hockey sticks in one hand and tied up skates in another. There was a hockey rink nearby I remembered.

“I think so,” I said, trying to sit up.

“I wouldn’t move, man, I think you’re hurt,” the same boy said. He had on a yellow jersey. He looked back to his friend in a green jersey. “Call 9-1-1, I think this old guy’s really hurt.”

Old guy is a relative term. I was thirty when I took this spill. I wanted to say something about not being that old, but I didn’t think that was top of mind for any of the young guys looking to help me at that moment. I guess I was old relatively speaking. But thee guys couldn’t have been any younger than eighteen. That’s only a twelve year difference. I wouldn’t have called a forty-two year old an old guy.

The kid in the yellow jersey kept talking to me until the ambulance arrived. The third kid, also in a yellow jersey but had goalie pads on, didn’t do much. Perhaps as a goaltender he was used to standing back and letting the forwards take care of the bigger tasks at hand. I’m sure he would have successfully blocked anyone else trying to walk by. When the ambulance arrived, the adrenaline wore off and I could feel exactly what cracked when I fell. I could also see it as the bone was sticking out from my elbow a good three inches, The EMT had a puke bucket ready for me when I saw my humerus up close.

Being called old guy bothered me the whole ambulance ride to the hospital. Once the EMT had me hooked up to the pain mess for the ride, the pieces of my elbow sticking out from my arm stopped bothering me. Worse, when the doctors left me in my hospital room, I was stuck facing a giant mirror. At thirty years old, I was pretty grey. From the hair in my beard to what was left of the hair on my head, the salt severely outnumbered the pepper.

“Mr. Logan, your son is here,” the nurse said as my boyfriend walked into the room giggling. Jason was three years older than I was but his hairline was still practically at his eyebrows, his clean-shaven face flaunted his perfected chiselled jawline, and there wasn’t a speck of grey anywhere on him. Even his grey t-shirt magically turned a darker tone when he put it on, prompting people to call it chrome or charcoal over grey.

“Well, old man,” Jason smiled, flashing his perfect teeth that I hated I’m for having so much. He never smoked. I smoked like a French filmmaker all through college and into my twenties. Walking was supposed to help me quit and stay off the nicotine. I never wanted a cigarette more in my life.

“When did I become the old one?” I whined.

“You got your father’s genes,” Jason said, and he was right. My dad was 28 when he turned grey. I literally have no memories of him with any colour in any of his hair. “Whatever, you pull off the salt and pepper. It’s hot.”

“Sorry, since the comparison to my dad, all I hear in there is you think my dad’s hot,” I said, looking back into the mirror. “And I think I’m more of a frosted donut and salt and pepper.”

My elbow required surgery to repair the immense damage a quick fall on the ice caused. The doctor informed me healing would take anywhere from six weeks to six months and I would need some intensive physical therapy afterward. He asked if my work required both of my hands, if I worked some sort of manual labour or if my work involved complicated computer work. Thankfully, my work involved neither.

For as boring as my work was, it was the whole reason I met Jason. He was running a tech startup whose books were held together with elastic bands and written mostly in red crayon. I was brought in to go through the finances and be able to present some sort of financial record that wouldn’t get him in trouble with the tax collectors. Shortly after we finished that project, we had our first official date. We’ve been living together since.

After letting the doctor know I was mostly self-employed and could do most of my work with one arm, I thought about how I met Jason and our history together. It was the most old-man and boring way a relationship could start. Even the work I did for him when we first met stunk with boring old man. I wasn’t a fellow cool tech entrepreneur helping develop the newest mobile app. That was Jason through-and-through. I was the boring accountant who made the numbers presentable. The whole drive home with Jason after my surgery, I wondered what happened to me?

The car pulled into the garage and leaning against the wall on the passenger side was my old longboard. I thought about how much I used to ride it. I remembered going on beer runs while I was in college, half-pissed and somehow balancing myself on a wooden plank with wheels while holding a twelve pack of bottles. It seemed like such an insurance liability as I thought about it standing in the garage with my sore arm in a sling. But back then, it was simple: we needed beer, my longboard was my only mode of transport, so I went.

“You’re not thinking about riding that, are you?” Jason asked.

“Obviously not until my cast is off,” I said. “But it would be nice, even just to ride along some trails during the summer.”

“They had to rebuild your elbow after you slipped on some ice,” Jason smiled. “I hate to think what you would break after falling off that.

Jason was a gym rat but found my apprehension towards physical activity cute. He would rub my belly and tell me I was the perfect pillow to lie on. But I envied Jason’s physique. It’s why I started taking long walks at night to begin with. It helped me keep my brain and it was my baby-step towards a more active lifestyle. At least that’s what I frequently read on the websites for fat guys wanting to get in shape but too lazy to actually change anything about their lives.

It would be a few weeks before I restarted my nightly ritual of long walks. I didn’t miss the physical aspect of it. Just the solitary aspects of it. It felt like unplugging from life, getting away from emails and comment-feeds and the constant noise of life for a few minutes. No light from any screens, only from the streetlights I walked under. The only noises were from my footsteps and the wind rustling through the trees. The walks were peaceful and that’s what I craved.

Physical therapy had been going well and the ice had almost completely melted off every surface I could walk along. I rationalized that I could reconvene with my walks and Jason, with some apprehension, gave his blessing to allow me some time to disconnect. He understood my need for that solitary time, despite his extreme extroverted personality. He knew my walks were good for my mental health and I had been growing stir-crazy being in the house every night.

My arm was out of the cast but I still couldn’t extend it or bend it with my arm tensing up and sharp shooting pains running through my arm and into my neck. I kept my arm as stationary as I could while I went on this first walk in what felt like years before I left the house and felt like only yesterday once I was out of the house. I could smell the dew from the melted snow on the lawns across the neighbourhood and the sky was glowing a bright pink with the sunset.

About three blocks away from my house I encountered the rabbits again. All three of them. They were darting away from a yard and into the street. I looked around for any oncoming cars, worried that I had scared the rabbits and caused them to jump out into the road and to an early end. There were no cars and I quickly learned that it wasn’t me they were running from. Chasing closely behind was a coyote, his eyes fixed on his running meal. The predator was closing the gap between itself and its meal more with every stride it took down the empty street.

I watched and thought about the last time I saw the rabbits. I remembered not just cheering them on, but feeling for them. Feeling their anxiety and fear of the danger that lies all around them. As I’ve grown older, everything started making me nervous and scared. The brazen bravery that comes with youth fluttered away and I hadn’t even noticed. Just one day, before I had time to even process it, I was a terrified rabbit hiding under bushes and running from the headlights of cars and terrified of the predators that could be lurking in the shadows all around me. I didn’t want to be afraid anymore and I wanted my fellow rabbits to survive for another day.

The coyote’s stride was steady enough that I could catch up relatively quickly. I ran after it, like I was a predator in my own right. I was no long the terrified rabbit, I was the brazen coyote chasing after my prey, only I wasn’t looking to feed. I only wanted my own kind of survive.

We ran for another two block before the coyote turned around and lunged at me. Its teeth dug into my arm and tore through the flesh ad pierced the muscle inside. I cried out and flung my arm, feeling the weight of the coyote against my forearm and the tension against the bone causing it to bend, fracture, and then break. My other arm reached out and grabbed the coyote by the scruff of its neck and I wrestled it to the ground, but its jaws were locked, it tasted blood, and it wasn’t letting go.

“Hey!” I heard someone yell out followed by a loud clapping sound against the concrete road. The coyote let its grip loose and turned to run away. I watched a tennis ball fly past me and connect with the coyote’s backside and it ran even faster off into the darkness.

I looked back to see the three hockey playing kids again. I looked down to see the arm the coyote grabbed was the same that was still healing from my last walk. My head was feeling light and my other arm had to hold me up as I sat on the road. “Do one of you mind calling me an ambulance again?” I said.

As I lay in the very same hospital room as the last time, letting the pain killers and the rabies shot and the tetanus shot run their courses through my body, I thought about Jason. He would laugh at the forty stitches needed to close up the gaping wound in my arm. I remembered once when he fell off his bike and split open his knee and he needed three stitches and we thought it was a serious wound. Mine looked like a shark-bite in comparison. I knew he would be worried about me and would want to start accompanying me on my evening walks, despite my protests of just needing some quiet time.

And I thought about our conversation after my last surgery. I really was looking forward to picking up my old longboard during the summer and remembering the sensation of travelling down the road with no protection on a piece of wood with wheels. But I doubt I would be able to muster the courage to even step on it, let along make a trek for a case of beer on it. But most of all, I wondered if the nurse would assume that Jason was my son.

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