Fiction by Jan E. Stanek

At Hirschmann Hospital

At the twice-daily service in the chapel, he always sat next to Frederick Dewitt because neither of them would kneel: he because the chapel was in communion with the state church, Lutheran in confession, and Dewitt because Dewitt’s knees hurt when he kneeled: above them from one of the high vaulted chapel’s support beams a young man had hanged himself some years ago, a manic-depressive as Dewitt called him, at the time we called them lunatics: We still call them that,” said Majewski, correcting him, and he let Dewitt talk for a while: and in I come early in the morning just to set down and be at peace when I hear creaking. It was about six o’ clock when I come in so the sun was just raising up. Now I’ve been here a long time, some six years now, but never before or since did I see anything like this. This was a good hospital then and it’s good now if you let it be. Where he got the rope I can’t rightly say but he had clambered up the pillar over there and must have straddled it to tie the noose around crossbeam. And then he jumped. The light from the window,” : he pointed to a mannish stained glass rendition of St. Jeanne d’Arc, her plateclad body sectioned into cut shapes of bluish grey: looked pretty on him but you know what people do when they die. Things have been more secure since.” : he leaned against the bare linden at the bottom of the hill by the staircase up to the hospital and sniffed then said I believe he got the rope from the groundskeeper’s shed.” : days later, two months into his stay, he was trusted enough to be a janitor and given a ring of keys and went to work wetting white vinyl and watching it dry: he enjoyed the work enough: Hadley phoned him on Christmas and then three days later to tell him that the messiah had had a stroke and died in his compound at the mouth of the Graal: there was no delicate way to put it: they had taken his body out of the city and across the hills into the desert and left it there for the birds: the messiah was younger, now, younger than them: and one day all of the birds fell from the sky and the survivors, wings broken, writhed on the ground in a small soundless agony: it had happened without warning: Dewitt kept one in a shoebox lined with scraps of plaid fleece but it died three days later and it surprised him how effected he was by the whole eerie affair and when Dewitt (rattled) wanted to dig a grave for it he had said yes, yes I’ll help: four patients, himself, Dewitt, a boy who had blinded himself with his own thumbs after seeing his mother in bed with what was rumored cruelly to be a Rottweiler but was in actuality a neighbor (his psychologist loved cases like his), and an old man gone senile or just born simple, were gathered around the dark brick-sized hole in the earth: Dewitt held the shoebox and asked if anyone had any kinds word to say and then started himself before another could start: I only had this pet bird for a few days. He was real sick. I wrote a poem on it and it took some work memorizing it. Here I go. This bird here fell right in front of me. Almost landed on my shoes. I put him in a box and he didn’t leave. I don’t like it when animals get hurt.” : the wind buffeted the old man’s trousers around his thin legs: That’s it.” : and he squatted down and with great care laid the shoebox gently in the hole and then covered it with his hands and wiped them on the back of his jeans: That was good,” said Majewski, and he touched Dewitt on the shoulder and gave it a brotherly squeeze: It was pretty good, yeah,” said the boy. I used to write stuff like that but now I can’t.” : they all went back inside to their routines: Majewski cleaned the halls and Dewitt lingered nearby because he liked to be around people but was too clumsy to be trusted with a mop: They don’t let me do nothing around here,” he whined and after a while he went back to his room to take a nap: that was the last time he saw Dewitt: the moaning started on Tuesday and it came from locked rooms and down hallways, echoing: thereafter Dr. Lorenz had disappeared and there were less orderlies: he took his ring of keys and put on his pale blue overcoat, the name of the hospital chalked onto the back: he left through the front door and it surprised him how easy it was to escape, but behind him he suspected there was an outbreak of cholera that they were keeping secret and he went down the stairs quick: the horizon in the valley sank as he reached the bottom and overhead the clouds hung grey like a vast sheet that covered the sky: he turned up the collar of his coat to beat the cold and buried his hands in his pockets: the grass was brittle and dry and the ground hardened from the frost: he walked through a town whose name he did not know and kept his head down but no one was out: it was midday: there were no cars going down the road and all the shops were closed: he’d have to shed the coat before the train station and shrugged it off when he got closer and flung it into a bush, walking faster and faster: there was no one at the ticket booth and he stood paralyzed at the turnstile for a moment then vaulted it and marched onto the platform, the joy of early release gnawed at by his growing suspicion that the trains were going to be running late: he started whistling Dixie and walked to the edge of the platform: eastbound his sight went off past the trees and to the horizon, sans locomotive and to west was an empty railyard: the wind rattled a chain-link fence laced with brown dried ivy: he stopped whistling and left, retrieving his coat from the bush and wrapping himself in it: he shivered like a late-stage alcoholic: the motorway back to the city was silent and snow fell gently from an depopulated sky: he walked slow like a bad dream, the sun at first hanging before him ere it sank: he thought about Goodbye, Odessa and thought of Breyer and thought after all that of turning back but walked on: the oaks and hemlocks along the motorway shook, the motorway a flat bare vacuum and the unimpeded wind nearly bowled him over: the horizon was black that melted into pink and then only black: he walked in the night through the snow and left large bootprints and if a tracker were to retrace his steps back they would find that his prints had started in the middle of the road, near five kilometers from the hospital he had been committed to: it would be as if God had just placed him there and he started walking: the look on their faces when he returned: his face was cold numb and he thought of nothing.

Jan E. Stanek

Twitter: @stanizslaus

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