Saturday, September 21, 2013

Free short story - A bout of bad luck

A Bout of Bad Luck

Isaac’s elbow was the size of a melon by the time they reached the emergency room. Someone sneezed on him as the guys lead the way. An hour ago, they had all been beating the ground howling with laughter as he squirmed in pain from the stings. Isaac didn’t look forward to an eternity of hearing this particular anecdote repeated over and over.
The nurse asked one single question: if he was allergic. He didn’t realise he should have answered ‘yes’ until two hours later when he was still in the corner, cradling his arm, surrounded by his friends making up new bee jokes. Another half an hour passed before someone took pity on him.
He entered the examination room with relief. The blank surfaces and crisp sheet of paper on the examining table weren’t inviting, but at least the room didn’t contain any of his four friends.
“You can sit down.”
Isaac faced the doctor who had just entered and felt his jaw drop. The young, handsome man raised an eyebrow and touched the name tag on the coat pocket.
“I promise, I am a doctor,” the doctor said. “Want to see my license? I had my photo put on it, because people kept thinking I had Xeroxed it.”
As the doctor reached for a back pocket, Isaac waved him off.
“I believe you.”
The doctor’s face lit up and two dimples appeared on either side of an inviting smile.
“Good. I’m Harry. How about starting with your name then tell me what happened to your arm.”
“Isaac, and bees happened,” Isaac replied.
Harry gestured to the table and Isaac sat down.
“Bees or wasps?”
“I didn’t ask them.”
The doctor chuckled. Isaac’s grin turned into a gasp as Harry touched skin stretched so taut it seemed about to burst.
“No itching somewhere else, difficulty breathing or wooziness?” the doctor asked, and his tone sounded like that of a worrying aunt.
Isaac watched the man’s profile. There was a trace of white around his eyes and a red mark on his nose. A distinct shape in the pocket beside the name tag revealed a pair of glasses. Isaac hoped he saw as good without them, though it would take complete blindness to miss the abnormal size of his arm.
“Alright, I’ll give you something to smear on for the swelling, and that’s really all I can do. Wrap ice in a towel and hold it against the skin: that should help as well.”
He crossed the room and opened a drawer. The chatter from the waiting room wafted through the crack in the door, like elevator music. Harry came back to Isaac with a tube in his hands. His fingers were unbelievably gentle as they stroke the paste over the skin.


Isaac stared at the ceiling, seeing cracks swirl and sway as a headache pounded in his temples. A cold compress was melting against his neck, and a saline drip dangled in the periphery of his vision. The click of a door pulled his gaze to the left, and he recognised the young doctor. Harry had an inquisitive look in his face as he approached the bed.
“At least your elbow looks fine,” the doctor said with suppressed laughter in his voice.
Isaac licked his lips and tried to convince his inner voice that his mouth was only dry because of the dehydration.
“Isaac, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” he replied in a croak, and coughed.
His doctor put his chart down on the table and poured a glass of water.  Isaac pushed himself up, almost pulling out the drip as he did so.
“Easy,” Harry said, and the bed creaked as he sat down, close enough to press against Isaac’s legs.
He offered the straw and Isaac accepted it. The glasses were off again, and the eyes were speckled with green like the eggs of a brown thrasher. The iced water did little to sooth the sandpaper feeling in his throat.
“First you get into close combat with bees, and now you’ve challenged the sun,” Harry mused. “Are you waging a war against nature?”
“Rather a matter of repetitively making an ass out of myself,” he muttered and looked at the colourful straw between the doctor’s slender fingers.
“Trying to impress someone, are we?”
The doctor’s jaws tensed as he busied himself with returning the glass to the imitation wood top.
“Not really. Well…” Isaac shrugged and made a face. “I was trying to help the girls next door with that hive, but I wasn’t hitting on them, you know?”
He looked pleadingly at the doctor, but Harry only arched an eyebrow and didn’t seem to believe his earnest explanation.
“And today,” he continued, frustration and a tint of shame lacing his words, “we were playing beach volley and I didn’t think it was that hot.”
“You and the girls?”
“No! Not at all. Me and my friends. All five of use are here, just for vacation after college and all. While we’re all single and free, you know?”
A nerve quivered in the edge of Harry’s mouth. Isaac released a tense breath while glaring at the man for winding him up.
“Sounds fun,” Harry said then rose at a glance on his wrist watch. “Lie back and rest. I’ll take a look at you later.”


“You’re not stalking me, are you?” Harry asked as he entered the examination room.
Not even the air conditioning could keep Isaac’s cheeks from flaming with embarrassment. The doctor’s dimples only deepened at the sight. Isaac sat on the bench clad only in a half dried t-shirt and bathing shorts. Dark red welts covered his right calf.
“Yes,” Isaac said.
He tried to ignore the itching and burning sensation that still threatened to fill his eyes with tears. This time only Sanjay had accompanied him to the hospital, but the others had supportively snorted with laughter as he limped up from the ocean.
Harry knelt down and examined the wounds, while Isaac felt more naked than he had when waiting in the emergency room. He knew one of the nurses’ name already. She hadn’t remembered him, luckily.
“Who were you trying to impress this time?” the doctor asked and his brown-green eyes darted Isaac’s way. “First it was the girls, then your friends…”
If it had been any of his friends who said it, the comment would have been meant to ridicule him. Harry made Isaac feel less uncomfortable, yet more awkward. Once more he found his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth as he watched Harry. This time the door was fully closed and there was no sound except their breathing and the rustling of their clothes.
“I must say, you’re making my first summer practicing medicine more interesting than I expected it to be,” Harry said and broke the silence of the room.
“I’m sorry,” Isaac murmured.
“Oh, don’t be. Really.”
The doctor’s hands paused and there was a distinct pressure on the last words. Isaac had to look away from the freckled face and stare at his own skinny and hairy legs for a while.
“Nature really does have something against me,” he said finally.
Harry laughed and Isaac felt better.
“Indeed,” the doctor said.
“I’ll be more careful.”
“As long as you don’t show up with a broken neck, I’m happy.”


Isaac couldn’t decide if he was embarrassed or pleased that Harry stepped through the door. He grimaced.
“It’s not the neck,” he promised. “Just the foot.”
Harry shook his head as he touched the ankle.
“Four times in three weeks,” he pointed out.
“I guess you won’t believe me if I say I don’t usually get into this much trouble?”
“No, I won’t, but I’ll give you the benefit of a doubt.”
Isaac couldn’t blame him for doubting his word. 
The smell of smoke and a mix of perfumes floated around Isaac, imbued in his silk shirt and jeans. The bar had been packed, probably more so than was legal, but it had had a great atmosphere.
“Alright, nothing is broken. I’ll wrap it up and give you some painkillers to take the edge off. I’ll see if I can find some crutches as well, but it’s late so don’t get your hopes up. Otherwise, you need to come back tomorrow and pick them up.”
“Okay. It doesn’t hurt that bad.”
An arched eyebrow and a set of dimples, and Isaac felt his insides plunge and his cheeks heat. It wasn’t because he felt silly either.
“How much have you had to drink?” Harry asked.
“Not that much. I didn’t have the time really,” he said and gestured at the foot.
“Tried to.”
He got another laugh from the doctor as the man stretched his back.
“You’ll need to ask your friends to help you hop out of here, I suspect,” he said as he moved to get bandages.
“I lost them actually. Took a cab here.”
Harry stopped midstride, and Isaac saw him chewing his lip.
“So how will you get back to the bungalow?”
“A cab,” Isaac said with a shrug.
“I’ll be off in half an hour. Want a ride?”
Isaac expected himself to react with the usual sense of dread, loss of speech and blushing.
He didn’t even stutter. Their eyes were locked, and despite nothing having been said about anything, there was reckless abandon in the air.
“You know,” Harry said thoughtfully. “If you want to stay the night, it’ll be even easier to fix the crutches tomorrow.”
His eyes glinted with a certain measure of deviousness. Isaac put a lid on the shivers travelling through his chest.
“That sounds…,” he licked his lips as words failed him.
The darkness outside pressed its neon fingers against the windows but no one watched or heard his fumbling. Thankfully.
“Fabulous?” Harry suggested. “Awesome? No way José? I know what you’re thinking. Good God, my doctor is hitting on me. Time to flee. I should report his ass.”
The word burst out more violent than he intended, but the intensity matched his own feelings. Harry’s shoulders sank visibly, and Isaac realised the doctor might just have been as nervous as he was.
“I want to come,” Isaac said.
The humorous note made Isaac realise what he had just said.
“I didn’t…,” he began but then figured it was silly to protest. “Yes, really. I do.”
“That's settled then,” Harry said softly and returned with the bandages.
He smelled of hospitals and warm skin, and Isaac had all the essence of summer nights. They were very close, almost touching. Isaac smiled.
“I never thought a bout of bad luck could be so lucky,” he said.
Harry chuckled, and despite the pain stabbing through his leg, Isaac couldn’t resist leaning forwards to kiss the dimples with lips as soft as the man’s hands.