P.S.I. Part II -- The Thaw

Chapter 11 -- As Newfangled as Pringles

Home | Chapter 1 -- The Dead Eyes of the Prophet | Chapter 2 -- Rooster & Mundelein | Chapter 3 -- Where's Mike? | Chapter 4 -- The First Visitation | Chapter 5 -- Two Bridegrooms and a Baby | Chapter 6 -- Adding Emeralds to Sapphires | Chapter 7 -- Body Memory | Chapter 8 -- "I Wish You'd Take Better Care of Him!" | Chapter 9 -- Farewell, Big Red | Chapter 10 -- The Real Brin | Chapter 11 -- As Newfangled as Pringles | Chapter 12 -- When the Fat Lady Sings | Chapter 13 -- The Video, The Article and The Interviews | Chapter 14 -- Letters | Chapter 15 -- The Thaw | Chapter 16 -- Where She Walked | Epilogue | Author's Notes | Soundtrack

Sharon and Darla returned after their shift.  They had heard only parts of the dream, so as Mike reiterated slowly, they gave their opinions.
"'Without You,' I know, played on the unit radio once.  I don't usually pay attention to it, but something made me take notice," said Sharon.
"We had several codes during those two weeks," explained Darla.  "We lost a few, too."
Sharon turned to Darla.  "Doesn't that radio station carry local racing?"
Darla nodded.  "I think they do."
"But my captain actually has a niece who works in horse racing," Mike declared.  "That's what's got me . . .concerned."
Both nurses shrugged.  "Maybe you've met your wife!" exclaimed Sharon.
"Or maybe you should stay away from her," said Marco.
"WHAT?" the three exclaimed as they turned to Mike's roommate.
"The more I hear, Mike, the more I'm thinking it's a warning not to get involved with her."
Shock.  Horror.  Hurt.  Mike thought he'd get sick.
"Mike?" asked Sharon as she went to his bedside.  "You don't look so good."
"I don't feel so good," he said.
As Darla took his pulse, Sharon left and came back with two washcloths, which she ran under cold water.  After folding them in elongated thirds, Sharon placed them on his forehead and throat.
"I was afraid someone would bring that up," Mike said hoarsely.
"I'm just trying to keep you from making a big emotional mistake," said Marco.
"And what if I do fall in love with her?" Mike exclaimed.  "I can't help that!"
Sharon leaned over to Mike's right ear.  "You have, already, haven't you?" she whispered, then raised back up.
Mike nodded and his eyes watered.

Both Mike and Marco felt they were going to lose their sanity if someone or something didn't change their daily routine.  Mike was taking each day in thirds, based on meal times.  For one pastime, he counted the holes in the ceiling tiles over his bed.
He also learned to count the days in hours--mainly how many hours it was before the inflated O-rings under him would be rearranged, or taken out from under him completely.  Prevention of pneumonia and bed sores were at the top of the nursing staff's care plan.
Mike was also learning to dread bed linen change in the mornings.  He usually required a team of nurses, aides, orderlies, student nurses, Candy Stripers, or whoever was available, to turn him.   Someone also offered him a pencil to bite on.  Marco said he needed a dowel.  Cap brought him one.  A Candy Striper with nursing school aspirations finally suggested that they medicate Mike a little while before turning him.  At least then he wasn't screaming bloody murder when he was turned. 
One morning, every student nurse on the orthopedic rotation was herded into his room to help make his bed.  "You've got all these pretty girls around you and you're not noticing it?" Marco asked.

"I would if I weren't in so much pain," he said.
"You think Betsy would appreciate you saying that?" Marco asked.
All six student nurses said, "HUH?" and turned to Marco.  He felt their eyes on him, and said, "Yes, ladies, he has a girlfriend."
Can we just get this over and done with? Mike thought.  His heart sank; he had no idea as to whether or not Betsy would consider herself his girlfriend.  The pain he felt from being turned and the linens pushed under him gave him an excuse to shed a few tears.  Marco's crying spells, on the other hand, were becoming fewer and further apart.
The guys didn't have the television on much because of Marco's "assignments."  His teacher was a blind lady named Christine Coe.  Mike nearly freaked when she first came in the door--she looked just like Dr. Tristin Poe from the dream.  Coe was a psychology teacher, also, but at the local school for the blind.
"Don't fear the dark," she told Marco during the first visit.  "The dark is your teacher."  His assignment was to start developing his other senses.  He was to make note of the footfalls of the doctors and nurses, and whether or not they wore any cologne.  He needed to pay attention to other sounds and smells around him and the hospital.
Meal times were a challenge for both men.  Mike had to be fed; Marco required someone telling him the position of everything on his tray.  The corresponding numbers of a clock face were used--meat at six o'clock, etc.  He caught on quickly.
Mike would often lift up his tiny carton of milk, and ponder how he wasn't getting enough food.  "Now, just how am I supposed to be healing bones if I don't get enough calcium?" he asked out loud.  "I don't need a half-pint, I need a gallon!"
"You don't need a gallon," said Marco, "You need a cow."
Betsy would sometimes get to the hospital in time to feed Mike his supper.  The first evening she visited him, she pulled up the chair and overbed table; let down the rail next to his head; and proceeded to feed him like it was old hat.  "I was a Candy Striper when I was a teenager," she explained.  "Plus, you're not the only fractured pelvis I've ever met.  Taking care of fellow jockeys and other downed backstretch workers is part of the job."
I hope I'm more than just another fractured pelvis to you, thought Mike.  His eyes watered as he looked at her with gratitude.  She pushed the tray aside for a moment, and leaned over to give him a hug.  He cried silently as he dug his face into her shoulder.  "Everything's going to be okay," she whispered.  "Everything's going to be okay."
"He wants to know if you consider yourself his girlfriend," said Marco.
Betsy raised up; looked at Marco; then backed a way a little to look at Mike.  "Is that it?" she asked sweetly.  He nodded sheepshly.  She hugged him again as she kissed his forehead.  "If you wish," she said.  He hugged her back with his good arm.  "Now, let's get you fed," she said. 

If Betsy couldn't make it to the hospital, she'd call.  Aside from mail delivery, her evening phone call or visit was the highlight of his day.  Hours would seem like years in the time between her visits or calls.
"They think we're as newfangled as Pringles out here," she once observed over the phone.  "Women have been in racing since 1969, but, like I said before, it'll be another ten or twenty years before any female jockey can make a decent living--unless they go to some half-mile dump of a track where the purses are a lot smaller."
One day, when Marco had been placed on his side by the nurses, with a pillow between his bed and both knees, respectively, he started saying, "Y'know, Mike, at least we're not stuck on some cliff."
"And we're not in danger of some gasoline tanker exploding."
"And we're not dangling from ropes off the side of a building."
"Yeah.  Instead we're stuck in the hospital with a royal pain in the. . ."
The telephone rang.  Betsy.

"I'm traveling in the hay with Himi and Hungry Screwdriver, and a couple of grooms.  We're being flown to the East Coast for a stakes race this Saturday," Betsy explained over the phone.
"'Traveling in the hay'--what's that mean?"
"I'm going to be in the plane with the horses.  I'm not worried about Himi, but Hunny, as we call him, may get a little uptight."
"So, what do you do about that?"
"Put the lead shank chain in his mouth.  It's like a pacifier for a baby."
"Why are two horses going?"
"Himi is the 'rabbit' for Hunny.  Although it'd be nice if both finished in the money.  I'd get a fatter paycheck."
"Wouldn't they let you ride one?"
"I wish.  But both are owned by Mr. David, and he insists on guy jocks."
Mike snorted even as he was experiencing what could only be described as 'deja vu.'  "He doesn't know what he's missing."
"Oh, that's sweet of you!"
"I know talent when I see it.  You keep getting the short end of the stick."
"Aww, you're gonna make me cry now."
"I didn't mean to do that," he said softly.
"I was just joking.  But that is awfully sweet of you to support me like that."
"Of course, I'm going to support you!  And defend your honor if necessary!"
Mike felt as if his head were spinning.  Where had he heard that phrase before?
"Mike?  You okay?" she asked.
"I just got a little dizzy, that's all."
"Well, I've got to run and start getting stuff ready to go.  Love you."
"Love you, too, babe.  Hurry home!"
Unbeknownst to both of them was he who was lurking in the shadows near the phone booth.

The "ABC Wide World of Sports" carried the race.   The camera showed a big chestnut horse being lead to the paddock by none other than Betsy.  She wore a sapphire blue leisure suit which was strikingly beautiful against her red hair.
"And there's Hungry Screwdriver being led by his assistant trainer, Betsy Stanley.  The young lady used to compete against the Walton Wonder Boy when she was riding in Kentucky," said one commentator.
Another commentator identified the next horse--a bay--as Himi.  He was being led by a woman Mike didn't recognize.  He assumed it was one of the grooms Betsy had mentioned.
Mike smacked his forehead.
"What's wrong?" asked Marco.
"I forgot to ask her what the silks look like."
"Bragen-David uses blue and white, don't they?"
"Yeah, but these two are owned by Mr. David.  He may be using his own colors."
"True.  I guess we'll find out in a few minutes."
When the post parade emerged from the grandstand tunnel, Himi and Hunny were saddle cloth numbers 1 and 1A.  Himi's jockey was wearing maroon with an Old English letter "D" with white sleeves and white cap.  Hunny's jockey wore the same, only with maroon and white cap.  Mike related what he saw to Marco.
"It'd be funny if the rabbit won," said Marco.
As the race was run, Mike could see what Betsy meant by Himi being the 'rabbit' for Hunny.  The latter horse seemed to not want to run unless Himi were with him.  As they came off the turn and into the homestretch, Himi and Hunny were both in the lead.  Hunny's jockey was working his crop like crazy, but the horse didn't go any faster.  Himi won by two lengths, with Hunny coming in second.  Marco threw his head back and laughed.
Mike was elated; Betsy would be getting a bigger paycheck.
"She's been working for Bragen-David for how long now?" asked Marco.
"Ever since she got here," said Mike.  "Which was. . ."
"Three weeks after our little uh-oh."
"Yeah, it was just a fender bender."
"I'm impressed by her performance."
"I think you'd be even more impressed if they'd just let her ride a few races."
"I don't think you're biased."
Mike was having a bit of a problem keeping the dream and reality separated.  Betsy hadn't said anything about her riding record in Kentucky.  What if she hadn't been doing well, or didn't have good form?  She was a faithful worker, and seemed to have a rapport with Thoroughbreds.  Maybe she just needed that chance.

After Betsy's visit one evening, Dr. Brackett caught up with her before she left, and asked her to come to his office.  He asked her to sit down as he sat behind his desk.
"Is it about Mike?" she asked, the concern evident in her voice and on her face.
"Yes, it is," he said.  "We've got a dilemma about how to break some news to him."
Betsy closed her eyes, and looked as if she were about to faint.
"As you know, he sustained a fractured pelvis."
"Yes. . ."
"He's not been told about the possibility that he may never be able to return to work because of it."
Now Betsy really looked as if she were about to faint.  "And you're wanting me to break the news to him," she said.
Dr. Brackett smiled his trademark perplexed smirk.  "If you could.  I think it'd be better coming from you."
Betsy bent over double and started crying.  When she raised back up with her hands to her face, she said, "It's gonna kill him.  I've seen so many guy jocks become disabled, and some become suicidal."
"I'm keenly aware of that possibility.  That's why I'm hoping you'll be able to find the right words to break the news to him.  And, more importantly, be there for him.  Men identify so closely with their jobs, it's like killing a part of them when they lose their livelihood."
Betsy nodded.  "Exactly."
"The possibility of him not being able to return to work isn't going to affect your opinion of him, is it?"
"Why would it do that?"
"Because some women actually do leave their men when they lose their jobs."
Betsy looked shocked.  "That's unconsciable!  I'd be scrambling to find something similar for him to do!"
"And you may have to do that!" said Dr. Brackett as he almost came out of his chair and over the desk at her.

"But why do we have to tell him at this stage of the game?" she asked.  "It may adversely impact his recovery."
Dr. Brackett came around his desk and sat on it.  "I'm also aware of that possibility.  But he needs to think about what he could do once he's through rehab.  The binders have come off of his ribs; we're hoping he can get the sling off his shoulder soon, and his head is healing nicely with apparently no mental side effects, so the next stage is going to be rehab for his pelvis."
"Security . . .Orthodpedics, stat!  Security . . .Orthopedics, stat!" the operator paged.
Betsy and Dr. Brackett looked at each other, then tore through his door.  "This way!" he said as he tagged her arm.  He went through the door next to the waiting room reception desk, took another door to the left, and bounded up the stairs.
When they arrived on Orthopedics, total chaos had erupted.  Dr. Brackett and Betsy looked at each other when they saw the commotion concentrated around Mike and Marco's door, then walked quickly down the hall.  Mike was extremely upset about something.
"What's going on here?" demanded Dr. Brackett.
The nurses who weren't trying to awaken Marco started talking at the same time.  Security guards were inside the room.  Betsy tried entering, but one forbade her entrance.
"That's my boyfriend," she said, pointing to Mike.  "What's going on?"
"BETSY!" Mike screamed, reaching for her.
The sentry waved her in.  She went and hugged her man.
"QUIET!!!" yelled Dr. Brackett out in the hallway.  "Who's in charge here?"
"I am," said a nurse named Cammie.
"What happened?" he asked.
"Stoker woke up to find some guy in a raincoat and hat with a pillow and gun to Marco's head.  When Mike said, "HEY!" the man turned around and looked at him.  Mike was not only scared by what the guy nearly did to Marco, but what really freaked him out was the insane look in the man's eyes, then he tried to suffocate him with the pillow."
"Oh, my God!" Betsy exclaimed knowingly as she staggered away from the bed and plopped into a chair with her hands to her head.  She looked dazed.
"Do you know who that could've been, Miss?" asked a guard.
"My ex-fiance!"
Mike was shaking.  "He said, 'Leave my woman alone,' when he was trying to kill me."
Dr. Brackett, meanwhile, was trying to awaken Marco.  Betsy noticed something under his bed.  "What's that?" she asked, pointing.  A guard pulled out his handkerchief to pick it up: a syringe with uncovered needle.

Never over 'til it's over. . .