“She’s still the same,” Stanley says, answering the question Frank never asks.
The ICU is always bright, even at this time of night. Frank wonders how anyone here could ever relax, how anyone could ever heal. Stanley murders the quiet as they pass the flask nonchalantly between them and Frank regards the nurses hurrying to and fro, contemplates their existence outside of this sterile setting, wonders which ones acknowledge their futility. Out the front door or the back, the empty beds don’t stay that way long. London has already told him that Stanley’s cousin is destined to leave through the back door. Naloxone only works if it is given in time. Frank’s words are slurred when he eventually stands to depart, so Stanley doesn’t understand him when he says he hopes to make it to La Paz tonight.
Frank hasn’t seen Stanley since the funeral. The new parts manager is a portly boar of a man, the skin on his hands as abrasive as his personality. The store is so quiet now when Frank collects his deliveries he can hear the buzz of the fluorescent lights, and the buzz makes it feel as if his soul is being sanded into chaff.
He did receive a postcard from Stanley a few months ago. He was at the Grand Canyon in his RV. He said he was looking for something, but he hadn’t found it yet. He had written that Frank was a lucky son-of-a-bitch, with a beautiful wife with an innocent kid on the way. Stanley said if he ever found the answers he would make some flash cards for Frank, but don’t count on it, he had gotten it all wrong.
London had packed a suitcase a long time ago. It sat ready by the front door with enough necessities for two adults and a child to spend a few nights away from home, so there really was no need for another suitcase to be packed. The second suitcase was obvious in its purpose.
“Why?” she asked, acknowledging only now for the first time the great expanse between them.
“I’m all the way to Ushuaia,” he replied, meaning she always ignored his unhappiness.
They might have continued their argument but at that moment something slit inside of London and the wet warmth spread noticeably into her lap. Anyone watching Frank usher London through the front door and down the walk might have noticed he carried a suitcase in each hand.
Brian Phipps is a physicist currently living in the Midwest.