Rip in Space …

By
Updated: November 3, 2015

 

“How long have I been here?”

“Forever” came the answer.

It hadn’t seemed that long to the old man. “Forever?”

“Longer than me, man,” the voice added, “so, quid pro quo, it must feel like forever.” 

Someone handed the old man a clean pair of slippers. If he squinted he could make out a face. And a uniform. An orderly, he realized.

“And you,” the old man asked, “how long have you been here?”

“Nigh unto three years.”

“That’s forever?”

“In this place,” the orderly said, “an hour is forever. Ipso facto.”

The old man thought that over while the orderly deposited the stained slippers into the trash container in the hallway. When he returned to the room, the old man asked, “How’d I get here?”

“Judging from the stains on those slippers, I’d say you walked from the kitchen through the quad back to the ward.” The orderly smiled. “So, how did I do, Sherlock?”

The name Sherlock jostled something in the old man’s memory, but he couldn’t remember what.

“Elementary, my dear Watson,” the orderly answered himself in a strange voice. And then in yet another voice, “Will my deductions stand up to scrutiny, Mr Holmes?”

The old man looked quizzically at the orderly. He wasn’t sure he recognized him.

“You read Sherlock Holmes, I know you do,” the orderly said in his normal voice. “We discussed him before.”

“We have?”

“You don’t remember? The Hounds of Baskerville, Sign of Four, Study in Red. That one’s all about blood, remember?”

“Scarlet,” the old man corrected. “Study in Scarlet.” But he couldn’t help wondering where that title had come from. Some secret freezer compartment in his brain?

“Right! Scarlet. Much more haunting, don’t you think? Respondeat superior, eh? Still, all about blood, am I right?”

“Only one hound in Baskersvilles, I think,” the old man said, still uncertain how he knew. “A giant hound.”

“One hound but plural Baskervilles? Are you sure? That’s crazy, man. Reductio ad absurdum. Who needs more than one town with a name like that?”

“It’s a family name,” the old man said, “not a town.”

“Oh, so the hound belonged to the family. Got it. Du jour! See you next rounds.” The orderly took one step toward the door and stopped. “That can’t be right. The hound wasn’t real, was it?”

“A phantom,” the old man said, still trying to puzzle out where all this new information was coming from.

“So it couldn’t have belonged to the family, whatever their name, because it didn’t exist. Sine qua non, right? Ciao!” the orderly called back as he headed down the hallway.

The old man had no idea what the orderly had said. He still couldn’t figure out how he barely recognized the name Sherlock Holmes one minute and was spouting titles and plots the next. Who was playing mind games with his mind?

“Say,” the orderly popped his head back in the room, “was I spot on with my deductions?”

The old man stared at the orderly.

“About your route from the kitchen to here.

“Oh,” the old man said, “yes.”

“Cool, Sherlock. Gratis, gratis, milly gratis.” He started to leave again.

“Wait,” the old man said. The orderly popped his head back in yet again. “There are freezers in the kitchen.”

“Very observant, Mr Holmes. What brought them to your attention?”

“Seven of them,” the old man continued.

“Really? Never counted them myself, but I’ll take your word for it. Top notch sleuthing, old boy.”

“Why so many?”

“Hmm,” the orderly said, rubbing his chin with his hand. “Just a wild guess, but perhaps to store a whole lot of food?”

The orderly found this very funny. He laughed loud and long. The old man waited.

“One has the staff’s food in alphabetized containers.”

“Peters’ work, no doubt,” the orderly said. “That woman—”

“The other six are padlocked shut,” the old man continued.

“Really? You’ve put a lot of time into this case, haven’t you, Sherlock? What do you think? Dead bodies in the freezers? The evidence frozen until some future date, then served up to the unsuspecting inmates, uh, patients. Sorry. Didn’t mean to—”

“Why locked?” the old man asked.

“Another shot in the dark, Holmes, but maybe … to prevent theft, you think?”

The old man shook his head. “You guys lock up the kitchen every night, don’t you?”

“True, true. Tight as a drum. Caveat emptor. Let the patients beware!”

“So who are the padlocks stopping? The cooks have keys.”

“A veritable conundrum, sine qua non. A delectable dilemma. A puzzling paradox. Why, one could even say—”

“Want to solve it?” the old man asked.

“Oh, still my beating heart, of course, selbstverständlich! Once more unto the breach! Vino, vidi, veritas!”

With that the orderly bolted out of the room and up the long hallway, leaving the old man to make a slower and more deliberate journey in his wake. A few yards up the sloped hallway, the old man could hear yelps from the far end of the building. A moment later a gurney spun out of a side hallway and hurtled down the slope toward him. The yelps were coming from the gurney. The old man reached for the handrail on the side wall and pulled himself as tightly against the cement wall as he could. At the last moment the gurney came to an abrupt stop and the orderly’s head popped up from the back end.

“Think I’d forgotten about you? Nunca, mon ami. Sherlock Holmes deserves a carriage-in-four, don’t you think? Hop in. No carriages on the ward this morning but this will do just fine, thank you very much.” The orderly patted the top of the gurney.

The old man considered the options, then pulled himself over to the gurney and, with the help of the orderly, slid up on top. He straddled the gurney bed like a child on a large rocking horse and hung onto the metal frame for dear life.

Hi, Ho, Silver, away!” The orderly shouted and began pushing the gurney back up the long slope of the central hallway.

The old man had a sudden overwhelming sense of déjà vu, but he didn’t trust it. His mind playing tricks on him. Still, the memory of riding a gurney in this very hall was vivid, only … only he remembered going the other way, down the sloped hallway, and very very fast. When was that? And who was with him? He thought he remembered an orderly—was it this orderly? Is that why this ride was so familiar?

“Heh,” he shouted to the orderly, trying to be heard above the squeaky wheels of the gurney and the whoops and hollers of the patients watching them fly by. “Were you the one who took me on a gurney ride before?”

“Before?” the orderly shouted back between gasps for breath as he pushed the gurney up the hallway as fast as he could. “Not before … no … but now … I’m doing it … now.” He slowed the gurney and took a deep breath. “You done this before?”

“I think so,” the old man said. “Only …”

“What?”

“The other way,” the old man said, pointing back down the long hallway.

The orderly whistled. “Oh man, that would be some ride, wouldn’t it? Wanna try it? Carpe your diem, I always say.”

“Kitchen,” the old man said.

“Kitchen,” the orderly repeated. “Right. Maybe on the way back, eh? Vice versi.”

With that, the orderly began pushing the gurney up the slope again, like Sisyphus bent beneath his rock compelling it to rise against gravity, up the hill, until, inevitably, the rock and the mortal reached the top where, while old Sisyphus caught his breath, the rock rolled thunderously back to the bottom, a mere regression toward the mean for the rock, but an unending cycle of pointless labor for old Sis’.

 

The old man had often wondered what compelled Sisyphus to do it, to keep pushing that damn rock up the same hill, and he wondered the same thing now about the orderly. What compelled him? He had things to do, responsibilities that came with his job—rooms to clean, drugs to deliver to patients, patients to deliver  to the doctors, gurneys to put in storage, wheel chairs to remove from storage—so why waste his time with an old fart who thought he needed to know what was in the kitchen freezers? It seemed pointless. And the orderly didn’t even have the excuse of being punished by the gods—for what? What had Sisyphus done that he was punished in such a cruel and endless way? Why?

“Because it’s fun,” the orderly said, as if reading the old man’s mind.

“What is?”

“Like a game. You play it, over and over, day in and day out, because it’s fun. Ipso there’s your facto. Besides, Peters hates it. It really bugs her. Patients given rides on gurneys, that ruffles her sense of an orderly universe. And anything that ruffles old Peters is dessert to me!”

“It’s fun?”

“Sure. You like baseball, right?”

The old man looked at the orderly. How did he know? How much did he know? Were the cards safe? Should he move them again? The questions flooded his brain, the doubts along with them, and they must have been revealed in his face because the orderly immediately whispered in his ear.Mathew & Luke

“Don’t worry. I know all about the baseball cards. We all do, the orderlies. Your secret is safe with us. We’ll never touch them. Everyone needs their comfort food, their security blanket or teddy bear, and yours is safe with us.”

The old man looked the orderly in the face. He studied the lines on the man’s brow. It wasn’t a young face—not as old as the old man, but not a youngster either. The lines revealed a face that had seen things, and felt things, a face that had experience of the world, a face (the old man thought) you could trust.

“What’s your name?” the old man asked. And the moment he uttered the words, he wondered if he would remember the answer.