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American Past Time
A novel by Len Joy

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Triage"

The following story was originally published by The Legendary ezine on October 25, 2011. 






            Frank Summers wandered into his garage in search of a project. After thirty years as an emergency room surgeon at Phoenix General, he’d been forced to retire when PG was gobbled up by one of those hospital corporations run by accountants.

            In his first month of retirement he’d swum a thousand laps in his pool, mastered thirty new iPhone apps, read five forgettable novels and played one round of golf with his wife, Lucy.

            Car keys in hand, Lucy entered the garage. “What are you doing out here, Frank?” Her blondish hair was ponytailed and she was wearing jeans and a tee-shirt. Her animal shelter uniform.

Lucy, who’d retired ten years ago, had been no more excited about Frank’s retirement than Frank. She played golf three days a week, volunteered at the shelter on weekends, and took writing classes at the college. She was busier than when the kids were at home. And happier. Frank didn’t want to interfere with her life.

“I thought I’d clean the garage.”

She wrinkled her nose. “In this heat? Do something fun.” She pointed to the mountain bikes hanging from the ceiling. “Take Frank Jr.’s bike. You can ride along the canal all the way to 75th Avenue.”

            “Good idea. I haven’t been on those mountain preserve trails in years.”

            “Not the trails, Frank. The bike path. Leave the saguaros for the kids.”

<> 

 

            Frank cruised through the mountain preserve on the novice trail that circumnavigated the mountains. Not as exciting as the ER, but it beat the hell out of golf. Two girls passed him and took the intermediate trail that branched off to the right. Frank followed them. He missed his nurses. The close quarters of the operating room. The camaraderie. The not-so-innocent touches.

            The trail got rougher – pebbled with chunks of white granite and guarded by bottle cacti and some distant saguaros. It was high noon, blistering hot and eerily quiet. Everyone had gone home – even the birds. He rounded a large outcropping and headed downhill, with mountainside to his left and steep valley to his right. He tugged on his helmet strap, then squeezed the brakes.

            It was a rush. His heart beat wildly as the bike careened down the rocky pathway. And then the image of Inez in her hot tub – her bronze breasts and brown nipples luminous in the foamy water – popped into his head, uninvited. She’d been his last ER nurse.

A bowling-ball chunk of granite loomed in the center of the trail. Frank steered hard to his left, but the bike fishtailed into the wall, shot back across the path, hit another rock and went airborne.

Frank lost his grip and hurtled into space.

His son’s twenty-year old helmet smashed into the mountainside and split like a walnut, but when Frank stopped bouncing fifty feet below the edge of the trail he was still conscious. The helmet had done its job. Frank wouldn’t die from a head injury. However, as he assessed his situation, he found little reason for optimism. His palms had been filleted, his right ankle severely sprained and he had at least four broken ribs, one of which had punctured his lung. With the stifling heat and the oozing wounds he figured he had three hours, tops.

 The bike with his iPhone and water were a hundred feet farther down the mountainside. The trail ledge was closer, but with his hands nearly useless, he couldn’t climb. He rolled over. The broken rib stabbed his lung. He took shallow breaths and when his heart stopped racing he rolled over again.

It took him two hours to reach his bike. His water bottle was missing. He unsnapped the seatbag with his teeth and coaxed the iPhone out of its pocket.

No bars.

Fucking retirement really sucked.

He closed his eyes, then remembered the pictures. He pressed his bloody fingertip on the photo app and opened the Nurses folder.

Crazy Kelly on her boat.

Bonita flashing her snake tats.

Wendy giving him the finger.

Karen.

Sami.

Rebecca.

Inez in all her hot-tub glory.

One last look, then he deleted the folder.

He opened the family album and thumbed to the photo of Lucy and him on the beach at Malibu.

So young. So happy. So in love.

He kissed the screen and propped the phone on a rock so he could see it as he lay on the mountainside.

<> 

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