100 Themes Challenge, Minot Edition: #7
THEME: 7. "Eternity"
STORYLINE: D Is For Damien storyline, Minot spinoff series, pre-Magic City (unwritten novel)
RATING: R (adult language)
WORD COUNT: 2700+ words
SUMMARY: I have an in-progress novella about Justin Reichert, a former NYPD detective who just barely survived the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. (Please see Scene 3, "Making History," for that, and the novella "Milk Cartons" for more.) The untitled novella begins with Reichert seemingly lost in some sort of vague darkness, with somebody repeatedly calling from a distance, "Good morning, Detective..." As he mentally wanders around, trying to remember where he is and what's happened, he slowly, slowly draws toward consciousness, and it eventually becomes clear that he's awakening from a comatose state, and is in a New York hospital, where he's been lying unconscious since being dug from the Twin Towers' rubble three days after the attack. In his hazy mental state, it's difficult for him at first to tell exactly how much time is passing, and he feels literally like he's been in this place for both a moment and forever. This scene would be perfect for the theme of "Eternity"--but seeing as it's already been written and belongs to the unfinished novella in question, it wouldn't be fair to duplicate it here. Yet I couldn't shake Reichert's experience from my mind. So a related period of time took its place. I have yet to determine whether this scene or some variant will be included in the novella, but in any case, here you go, yet another event that to Reichert feels like an "eternity." (Note that the depiction here could be terribly inaccurate; my apologies if so. Also, regarding the excessive foul language, I hate it too but keep in mind we're witnessing a casual conversation between an NYPD cop and an FDNY firefighter, so I figure there's bound to be some vulgarity.)
DISCLAIMER: I am not seeking grammar/style/publication critique for this item; I'm not trying to get published, and am content with my writing style, and just wish to entertain others. Feel free to point out errors that aren't just a matter of style preference (e. g., typos). Comments and questions on characters, plot, etc. are more than welcome. All characters, unless otherwise stated, are copyright © tehuti/tehuti_88. If you wish to share this item with others please send them a link.
Reichert's elbow gave out, and his hand slipped from the bar, and then his leg gave out and then he collapsed heavily to the ground with a pained noise.
The therapist halted on the other side of the parallel metal bars, turned, and came back around to stoop down beside him. Reichert was leaning back against the vertical section of bar, cradling his left arm to his chest, his right hand grasping his left knee. He rocked back and forth slightly, grimacing and letting out small sounds in between short huffing breaths.
Off to the side, another patient, likewise practicing walking between another set of parallel metal bars, halted in his progress to peer down at them.
"Need a break?" the therapist asked.
It took a moment for Reichert to shake his head, his eyes still squinched shut. "Mm...mm-mh. Just give me a minute." His voice was faint.
The therapist pursed her lips. "You know, there's nothing wrong with taking a break. Rome wasn't built in a day, and too much work can be just as bad as not enough."
The detective shook his head again. "Said give me a minute."
The therapist paused, then stood with a small shrug. "Five minutes is as good as one," she said; then, when he opened his eyes and then his mouth to protest, "I'm the expert here, you're not. The same as I tell you when to get off your ass and get moving, I tell you when to get on your ass and take a break. Five minutes. Then we get right back on the horse." She turned away--"I'll get you a drink. Gotta keep hydrated"--and briskly walked off in the direction of the cafeteria.
Reichert shut his eyes again and let out a grumbling, growling noise under his breath. He winced as he nudged himself back a bit to lean more comfortably against the bar; a rustling noise came, then the other patient awkwardly sat down beside him, also wincing, stretching both legs out before him. He rubbed at his knees.
"Gotta get back on that horse. Gotta keep hydrated," he said in a mock-motivational voice.
Reichert gave a halfhearted snort. "Take it easy on her, she's just doing her job."
"Yeah, of course. I got nothing against the chick. I do get kinda sick of all the pep and vigor and vim, though."
"'Vim'?" Reichert opened his eyes and frowned at him. "What the fuck kind of word is 'vim'?"
The other patient shrugged goodnaturedly. "How the hell would I know. Sounds like something she'd use, though. Gotta get back on that horse! Gotta keep up the vim!"
"Seriously, sounds like a soft drink or something. I wonder if she's fetching me some Vim at the vending machine."
"Hey now, there's the Reich I know and love so much. Ready to get back on that horse?"
"Careful, say you love me again and I'll deck you in the face. And regarding this horse, I think it's about time we shot the damn thing and put it out of its misery." Nevertheless, he grasped at the vertical bar, and waited until his companion had pulled himself back to his feet--wincing all the way--and had returned to his own set of bars before dragging himself up as well, leaning on his good arm and trying to catch his breath.
He paused for a few moments to watch the other man--a firefighter named James Falzone ("But you can call me Jim")--grasp the parallel horizontal bars and start walking forward, small tentative steps. His face pinched as he did so, and toward the end his knees wobbled a little so he had to stop to rest much as Reichert was. Reichert took his cue and started to hesitantly step forward. Though only one of his legs was affected, unlike Falzone, both of whose legs had been badly injured, Reichert's arm had been messed up as well, so that made his own attempts at walking doubly difficult, considering that he couldn't lean all his weight on both arms like Falzone could. He'd had to work at strengthening his arm first--water exercises, always the water exercises and the hydrotherapy in the pool, he was really starting to hate pools--before he could even think of using it to support his bad leg, but as today was proving, he was still far from finished.
"How..." he had to speak slowly, a word or two per motion, as it all pained him so much; he barely noticed Falzone cock his head in his direction, indicating that he was listening "...the fuck...long...is this...supposed...to take...?"
Falzone laughed--a mirthless sound. "This early on and you're already asking how long? Shit, if that's the attitude you're gonna take, we may as well be at this forever."
"That's what it's...starting to feel like, at least." He reached the end of the bars and stopped, grumbling and leaning back, rubbing his left elbow. "Christ. I don't know how much more of this I can take."
"Hurt that much?" Falzone asked, sounding genuinely concerned.
Reichert snorted. "No, unless you count how many brain cells I think I'm killing standing around yakking with you." He ignored the fireman's laughter. "Seriously though...I've never even been, you know, shot or anything. They don't tell me anything around here, but then again you already know that." Falzone stopped laughing and gave a grim nod; it was only because he'd bothered to stop by Reichert's room to introduce himself as the firefighter Reichert had pulled out of a mound of debris, something Reichert hadn't even remembered doing, that the detective had even learned what had happened to him, how he'd been buried himself for three days, under the remains of Towers that no longer even stood. Reichert had had no idea about this until Falzone had turned on his TV and shown him. Reichert still shivered a little at the surreal memory of the both familiar and yet unrecognizable skyline. "Naturally they haven't told me shit about how long this is supposed to take. Do they talk to you any? Maybe I just rub them the wrong way?"
Another laugh. "Ah, Christ, don't even. Everybody loves you, Hero Cop." Reichert made an awful face and gave a rude gesture. "But seriously...I guess it just varies too much to say. My legs, your leg, we're both fucked up, I imagine it could be a while."
Reichert sighed. "I hate things that take 'a while.' That bank job, the reason they gave me that day off in the first place?--that took 'a while.' But that was only like, what, three hours? I could swear it took all fucking day. I really, really hate to think what a while might mean this time."
"Ah, don't sweat it too much, bro. Stuff like this messes with your mind. You think three hours felt like a day, who knows, psych yourself into the right frame of mind and maybe we'll be out of here before you know it."
"We? You too?"
"Well, duh. Somebody's gotta keep you on your horse."
"If you even think we're gonna be bosom buddies after getting out of here you have another think coming."
"You're just sayin' that 'cause you love me so damn much." Reichert lifted his good arm to give the same rude gesture, earning a short laugh in return. "Now see...there's the Reich I know and love so much."
"Fuck off, you pansy, you're not even cute."
"Detective!" Reichert flinched and grimaced; Falzone blinked, then started laughing aloud. The detective peered over his shoulder like a whipped puppy as the therapist returned with a bottle of orange juice in each hand. "First off, we don't allow that kind of smack talk here. This is supposed to be a positive, nurturing environment." Falzone started making gagging sounds now while Reichert scowled. "Second off. I said to wait five minutes. You want to keep at it so badly, then how about we take an extra half hour today? That goes for you, too," she called to Falzone, who promptly stopped laughing and gawped at her; now Reichert was the one to start snickering. "Since it's obvious the two of you are in this together."
"Wha--? Fuck no!" Falzone exclaimed.
"Language, bro," Reichert said, accepting a bottle of juice; he took the other as well and passed it along to the fireman, who grumbled but received it. Reichert downed his drink in a few seconds and then crushed the bottle in his hand, and then grimaced and dropped it, rubbing both palms together. They were wrapped in Ace bandages; the skin had mostly healed by now, but they were still incredibly sore and prone to chafing, which they were already doing, and crushing the bottle hadn't helped him any.
"Hurts?" The therapist, looking concerned, took his right hand and unwrapped it while he stood and tolerated it. "Hm...bleeding a little bit. Blisters. Knew we should've stuck with the hydrotherapy a little bit longer first..."
"Look, I'm fu--I'm sick of hanging out in a pool all the time, okay?" Reichert withdrew his hand; he tried not to look at its condition, as the appearance of the scar tissue forming on his palm nauseated him. "Blisters never hurt anyone. Blisters build character. I just wanna get in the rest of my session for the day and then hit the sack, if that's not too much to ask."
The therapist pursed her lips--it was obvious she didn't believe him one bit when he said he just wanted to get to bed--but sighed, offered a small shrug, and turned from him again. "Fine...who am I?--just the expert. Let me put some salve on them first, though. Then it's back to work."
"Wanna rub something on me too, sweetheart?" Falzone called. The therapist gave him the finger at the same time that Reichert did, and he laughed. "Wow...talk about kicked to the curb. I thought this was a nurturing environment."
"There's only so much nurturing a fungus can take," Reichert said, though he did so under his breath, to avoid another confrontation. Falzone gave the rude gesture this time. The detective waited impatiently as the therapist unwrapped his throbbing hands, and bit the inside of his mouth rather hard as she applied the medicated salve to the blistering scar tissue.
"You know," she said, "studies have shown that shouting and swearing can actually help one handle pain. So, if you want to let loose with a really loud 'FUCK!' right now you can consider it part of your therapy."
"Let's just get on with the walking part, please," Reichert said between his teeth; Falzone peered at him and saw that his eyes were watering, but neither of them made any vocal note of this. "Been meaning to ask," he added, and she peered up at him as she rewrapped his hands. "About how long should this take?"
"You mean tonight? I said an extra half hour, but if you're not up to it--"
"No, not tonight. I mean period. Any point when I can, you know, actually walk around again?"
The therapist pursed her lips again. "There's nothing set in stone," she said, and he suppressed a sigh. "These things take time, Detective, I told you that from the start. You said you were dedicated to it--"
"It's not that I'm not dedicated," he snapped, then took a breath and let it out. "Sorry. I don't mean to bite your head off..."
"Should've taken her up on the offer to swear," Falzone said.
"Fuck you, twat. I didn't mean like I want to give up or anything, I'm just...Christ, how long can this possibly take?"
"It's an ongoing process, De--"
"I know it's a fucking ongoing process!" He turned and awkwardly kicked; Falzone's crutch, leaning against the end of the bars, toppled to the floor. Falzone took a step back, pressing his lips tightly together but saying nothing. "But I'd like some concrete times and dates, if it's at all humanly possible! There's only so much swimming and pacing and walking in circles one man can do!"
Silence resumed; the therapist stood with the jar of salve still in her hand, her own lips still pursed, but said nothing. From the corner of his eye Reichert could see several other patients elsewhere in the room peering his way, though when they seemed to notice him they pretended to be busy with their own activities.
"Bro," Falzone murmured under his breath. "It just feels like an eternity, but it's not, trust me."
Reichert let out his breath. He sank against the near bar, grimacing and jerking his hand away and nearly falling back; he brushed the therapist's hand away when she tried to reach for him, but just waved and shook his head, still wincing.
"No. Just...I'm fine. Give me a minute." Another breath, taken in and let out. "Sorry," he added, sounding utterly disgusted. "It just..."
"Starts to wear on you after a while?" He peered up and she met his eyes. "Look. I can't ever say I've been where you are right now, and probably never will be, but I've seen people like you, lots of them, and they all think the same thing. How long will it take?--why is it taking so damn long?--when's it ever over? And I won't sugarcoat it, sometimes it's never completely over. And sometimes people can't take it and they have to give up. That's life. You can't fix people who don't want to be fixed. But that's what I'm getting at. I won't sugarcoat this, either. You have to be the most fucking annoying patient I've ever had the displeasure of having." Reichert and Falzone both started blinking; the therapist crossed her arms. "Yeah, I said it, annoying. You might be all 'Hero Cop' and 'Miracle Survivor' and yadda yadda whatever but you're annoying and complainy and pissy beyond belief. Some days I have to stop myself from smacking you. But there's one thing you're not, and that's a quitter. In fact you're the least quitty patient I've ever had and frankly, it's starting to piss me off, that I can't even get you to sit down and take a break for five minutes!" She threw up her arms. "Your bosom buddy here is right, you know. It's going to feel like forever, like an eternity. But with how annoying you insist on being, you're likely to be out of here in no time, and the sooner the better, you're gonna drive me to drink." She set the salve down on a nearby table with a loud clack that made both men flinch, and clapped her hands. "So--back to work! Another half hour! Then you two can go swap dirty stories and piss and moan about that bitch who won't let you rest when you want to, and won't let you keep moving when you're supposed to be resting. C'mon, you too, Firezone, since I think he's rubbing off on you."
"'Firezone'...?" Falzone muttered in a semi-scowling voice. "Is she serious...?"
"C'mon," Reichert echoed. He stood up straight between the bars and placed his hands to both sides. "Gotta get it over with sometime."
"Oh, yeah, now you're all 'Take the high road' and shit. I'll remember this when we get out of here, believe me."
"If we get out of here, at the rate you're making me go. Now come on. I got better things to do than chew the fat with a fathead."
"Someone's seriously getting clobbered with a bar of soap wrapped in a towel later on, when he least expects it."
"Like to see you try, you fucking gimp."
"Gimp! You asinine little..."
The therapist took a step back and stood off to the side, wrists crossed behind her back. She didn't even have to offer any further abuse since the two patients seemed to be handling that just nicely on their own, judging by the curse words and slurs they continued to mutter at each other as they paced back and forth between their respective sets of bars. By the time a half hour was up, Falzone looked ready to collapse, but she had to actively halt Reichert from turning and starting over; he made no further protest as both he and Falzone were helped to wheelchairs and taken back to their rooms, though the entire way back he flexed his fingers against the armrests and curled and uncurled his toes in his slippers, as if he couldn't get up again soon enough.