That night after dinner,
Jackson Robert gathered up nearly every box, can, and bottle of cleaner that was stored
under the kitchen sink and started in on the bathroom, scrubbing the tub, polishing the
mirror, wiping off the toilet, and cleaning the sink. As he looked up he noticed that the
once white grout between the light blue tiles with the cornflower pattern was now a dingy
speckled gray. Taking his toothbrush from the porcelain holder over the basin, he began
scrubbing the lines of grout, beginning at the doorway and working his way around the
bathroom. Carefully working from left to right, he meticulously cleaned the top line of
grout, then dropped down to the next line and worked his way from right to left, dropping
down line by line until he finally reached the floor. He then began scrubbing the
rightmost vertical line of grout, working his way from top to bottom, then shifting to the
next line on the right. When he completed one wall he began the next, scrubbing it
according to the same pattern until, three hours later, all four walls were finished,
shinier than when they were new. Then he took his toothbrush and cleaned the kitchen. Then
the fireplace, every bit of brass and silver he could find in the house, and each picture
frame. At six-thirty the next morning, far from finished but too tired to continue,
Jackson Robert went to bed.
Erta spent the evening at
the 1st Church of St. Charles of the Ritz, diving head first into the new religion as she
was wont to do. Under the guidance of Dr. Hans Leifsen, who was so flattered by Erta's
immediate and total immersion into his burgeoning sect that he devoted the entire time to
ministering to her needs, she had her hair cut, permed, and set at Delilah's Beauty Salon;
had her first ever manicure, pedicure, and make-over while the perm was setting; had her
first workout in the David and Goliath Exercise Club using her new customized exercise
plan; and had photographs taken of her face from every conceivable angle so Dr. Hans'
brotherwho unfortunately was in Las Vegas at a meeting of the Academy of Restorative
Surgeonscould give Erta his recommendations.
When she finally arrived home at
1:45 am, Jackson Robert didn't even recognize her, looking up from scrubbing the brick
hearth with his toothbrush just long enough to say, "Erta isn't home yet, but if
you'd like to wait in the kitchen I'm sure she'll be back soon."
* * * * * *
When it finally became obvious to
them that they were on their own for dinner, Jet and Job decided to do the only reasonable
thing: have a pizza delivered.
"You gotta be kidding,"
the man on the other end of the phone spit out when Job told him the address. "How
many times do you think we're gonna fall for this shit, sending drivers there when they
didn't order a pie? Look, buddy, you're on our shit list now, and in case you don't
understand, that means you ain't gonna get shit." He slammed down the phone.
They tried all three pizza shops
that deliver and couldn't find one that would come to their address. Its true that
what goes around, comes around. Except delivery boys. Actually, there was a fourth pizza
place, but both Jet and Job agreedfor one of the few times in their livesthat
Super Saucers pizza was by far the worst in town, so bad in fact that they'd rather go
hungry than eat the junk.
"So much for pizza,"
Jet said matter-of-factly.
"Oh, like it's my fault or
something," Job said, acting defensive so he could immediately grab the offensive.
"No, it's my fault
you called every pizza joint in town and had them deliver pizzas here when no one was
home," Jet said.
"I didn't call every
"Every edible one."
"But it was a joke,"
Job said in his defensive. "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."
"Yeah, and fuck us if
we starve to death while we wait for a new pizza place to open."
"I can't believe you act
like it's all my fault!"
"The truth hurts,
doesnt it?" Jet said.
"So does this," Job
snapped back as he thrust his hands into his brother's chest, shoving him hard. Jet fell
over backwards, his left knee collapsing inward as his weight crushed his leg underneath
him. A loud crack reverberated through the room as he hit the floor, his left leg cocked
at an obtuse angle beneath him.
Job jumped back, his eyes opening
"You okay?" he asked.
Jet looked at his brother, his
face not showing any sign of pain. "Come here," he said quietly.
"Just come here."
Job apprehensively crept the
three steps to his brother, who gently patted the floor, motioning for him to kneel beside
"Come closer," Jet
said, his voice barely above a whisper.
Job slid over, looking worried as
he saw his brother's leg jutting from beneath him at a very unnatural angle. Jet leaned
towards his brother and looked in his eyes.
"You know, you really are
going to have to learn to face life's frustrations," he said with a sigh. "Now
call a fuckin' ambulance."
* * * * * *
Jackson Robert was in the
bathroom scrubbing the shower head with the toothbrush, a look of such intense
concentration and absorption that Job knew better than to even talk to him. Erta was at
the 1st Church of St. Charles of the Ritz having her hair spooled around perm rollers
which she hoped would lead her down the path to salvation. Yes, the boys were on their
"None of the cab companies
will come here," Job told his brother as he rushed into the room.
"I thought I told you to
call an ambulance."
"Theyre too noisy.
Everyone would know what I did."
"Like theyll never
figure it out when they ask me why my leg is in a cast tomorrow. And why cant you
get a cab?" Jet asked, knowing the answer but wanting to hear it come from his
"They said every time they
come here its a prank and...quit looking at me like that, its not like I did
this on purpose or anything."
Jet took a deep breath and
thought for a moment.
"Get the guys," he
finally said. "Tell them God wrote me a letter and said they have to help get me to
the emergency room. Then get a wide board, something big enough to carry me on."
"Just go," Jet said.
* * * * * *
It was quite an unusual parade
walking down Broad Street. Job, Timmy, Ralph and Bobby were holding a wooden door on their
shoulders, each person at a corner. Sitting on top of this litter with his legs straight
out in front of him holding onto the doorknob was Jet, a proud adolescent Cleopatra
sailing down an asphalt Nile. Cars rode by, drivers and passengers craning their necks to
see the display as it made its way to the hospital, Jet waving a parade wave that would
make any beauty queen proud, his hand raised at a perfect 45 degree angle, his open palm
pivoting just slightly. They solemnly made their way toward the hospital, no one saying a
word except for the occasional "Shut the fuck up" whenever Job started to
As the processional approached
the emergency room doors of Retreat for the Sick Jet lay down flat; he already had a
broken leg, there was no sense compounding it with a concussion from smashing his head on
the door frame. The automatic doors swung open, nurses and doctors and patients stopping
what they were doing to look at what appeared to be four young boys carrying a door into
The boys stopped. Jet sat up,
looking straight ahead.
"Let the games begin,"
he announced with a wave of his arm.
The emergency room staff swung
into action as the boys lowered the litter to the floor, nurses and orderlies and doctors
circling Jet like hungry dogs to hamburger. Within minutes he was on a gurney in Room No.
3 with white drapes pulled around him and a nine month-old copy of Family Circle in his
hands. And there he sat. And sat. His father didnt answer the phone. His mother was
having her first manicure, which was a religious experience in more ways than one. And the
only other close relatives who could authorize treatment were Aunt Doris and Uncle Jello,
who were at that moment sedated and resting in Rooms 203 and 427 of the hospital due to
the car accident they had on the way home from the tent meeting, but of course Jet had no
way of knowing that.
"We also need to know your
hospitalization group policy number," a woman told Jet as she peered at him over the
top of her glasses.
"Try fourteen," he
"You can play all the little
games you want, young man, but I either need your hospitalization group policy number or a
credit card before we can do anything to help you," she said. Jet had a feeling the
last game shed played was Candyland and shed probably lost badly and still
hadnt gotten over it. "Thats how we get paid, you know."
After she left, it was as if
everyone forgot Jet was there. He looked through the copy of Family Circlenot the
most interesting reading for a twelve year-old, counted the holes in the acoustical tile
ceiling, built a tabletop fort with the tongue depressors, and blew up three rubber gloves
and milked them as if they were cow udders. Jet was truly, completely, and unsurprisingly
100% bored. He rang the buzzer to get the nurse.
"I have to go to the
bathroom," he told her.
"Ill get you a
bedpan," she said as she turned to leave.
"I can go to the
bathroom," Jet quickly replied, not being quite sure what you did with a bedpan but
feeling very certain he didnt want to learn right now.
"I dont want you
moving that leg. The doctor hasnt looked at it yet and you dont want to make
it any worse."
"Ill take my
chances," Jet said.
The nurse returned with a splint
and a wheelchair. After strapping the splint to Jets leg with elastic bandages, she
helped him get down from the gurney and sit in the chair, his broken leg sticking straight
out, held up by a leg support on the chair.
uncomfortable," Jet told the nurse. "Do you have one with a solid seat?"
"Its cut out so you
can go to the bathroom without having to get out of the chair," she said. "You
roll back over the toilet and just...do your stuff. Then buzz us when youre done and
someone will help you get back into bed. I dont want you doing it by yourself,
Jet rolled the wheelchair down
the hall. Hey, this was okay! He rolled from one end of the hall all the way to the other.
Then he went down one of the wings towards the radiology rooms and pushed the large wheels
harder and harder, getting up as much speed as possible before yanking on the handbrake
and swerving sideways, coming within inches of slamming his splinted leg into the water
He went back to the center lobby
and checked out the layout; he couldnt very well leave one wing unexplored, now
could he? He rolled down the last hallway, taking it at a nice clip. He stopped in front
of an unmarked door and tried to open it. It was locked. He rolled to the next unmarked
door and tried it. It was locked too. He wheeled himself to the third door and looked at
the engraved plastic sign: Supply Room 14. He pulled on the handle. It opened.
Looking up and down the hall he saw there was no one in sight so he did the only thing he
knew to dohe entered the room.
It was dark, but not pitch black,
for there was a combination of moonlight and street light coming through the two windows.
As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he could make out his surroundings. There were steel
shelves filled with office suppliespens, legal pads, rubber bands and paper clips.
On two metal rolling carts in the corner were fifteen cardboard boxes about nine inches by
twelve inches and eighteen inches high. Each box was marked on the side:
Universal Medical Claim Form
either need your hospitalization group policy number or a credit card before we can do
anything to help you," Jet remembered the woman telling him as she peered down her
nose at him, making him wait to get his leg fixed. "Thats how we get paid, you
SKU # 146-408418
Jet looked at the boxes of
medical claim forms piled on carts he knew he could push down the hall while in the
wheelchair and smiled. This was perfect. After all, hed already been starting to get
that sinking feeling that life was about to get a little too quiet for his taste. And
besides, it was something to do.