Charlotte gets nervous when I reach the Admitting Desk before her. I wonder how many times I have embarrassed her in the last six months. Despite my disability, I insist on speaking for myself.
“My name is Wyskocil, Dr. Michael Wyskocil.” As the clerk enters this information, I note her nametag, Juanita Ortega. I write it down in my notebook, so I won’t forget.
“You’re not in my database,” the young Hispanic woman says. “Could you spell that for me?”
People substitute a V for the W, or an i for the y, sometimes an s for the c. They suggest that I don’t pronounce my name clearly. They hint it’s my fault, rather than their own incompetence.
Before Charlotte can step in, I reach over the counter and grab the computer keyboard from the clerk. She reaches for the phone to call security. Charlotte touches my arm. “Let go, Michael,” she says in her soft velvet voice, the one that used to be so seductive, back when passions ruled my universe instead of anger. I set the keyboard down. The young Hispanic girl hangs up the phone. I look at her nametag, Juanita Ortega. I start to write it down, but it’s already in my notebook.
Charlotte spells my name slowly, with an accountant’s precision. “Just in for tests,” the young clerk notes when my file comes up. But I know what she is thinking, “No need for tests. Put this loco person away.” Or maybe those are my thoughts.
Charlotte can’t accompany me to the ward. She goes to confer with the doctor. She writes his name in my notebook, Donald Messner, MD. She tells me I’ve seen him before. I can’t keep track of all the doctors I’ve seen.
She writes her cell phone number in my notebook along with a note. “I love you. Call if you get confused. Your wife, Charlotte.” She hands me a photo that she got taken at the mall. She says it’s the first night we’ve slept apart in a decade. I put the photo in my billfold.
The orderly takes me to the men’s ward. The door to the ward is metal. It is locked. I tell him I’m only in for tests. The orderly tells me that this is the only bed they have available tonight. I write the orderly’s name, William Johnson, in my notebook even though he tells me his shift is almost over. He makes me hand over my belt and shoelaces. He suggests I write that down, too. I think he’s being sarcastic.
I don’t know how I got here. Probably Charlotte drove. This was Finals Week. When I grade a lot of essays, I lose track of things. What if because of that I fail the tests? Will they lock me away in a gray room at the VA Hospital? Will I have to settle for three squares in the Cafeteria and Thursday night Bingo like my brothers? I know I’m being paranoid. I’m only here for tests.
I want a record, so I write down my room number (317S). I note the room color (powder blue). How long before I no longer remember the words for colors? I write down my arrival time—3:45.
The bed is good. Solid. Bolted to the floor. The mattress is hard, the way I like it. Across the room lies my roommate. He looks faintly oriental, maybe Korean-American. Maybe Filipino.
My roommate is curled in a fetal position. When the air conditioner shuts off, I hear his troubled breathing. Sometimes his right leg twitches, like my terrier’s leg when he dreams of chasing rabbits. On his bedside is a peanut butter sandwich wrapped in plastic wrap, a bag of chips, and a warm can of cream soda. He is drooling on his pillow.
I pick up my notebook and read—3:45. But the clock with the large red numerals says 10:13. I have misplaced seven hours of my life.
I sit on the bed, back against the wall. I want a chair, but chairs are kept in the hall. The door is locked so that I won’t wander. I pace the twelve-by-fourteen room until I’m too tired to walk.
My doctor says my family has a genetic disposition toward Alzheimer’s. His name is Dr. Mesner. “Your family one of 125 in the world with a genetic disposition.” I read these things in my notebook.
Also in my notebook I find a list of relatives written in my own hand: my grandfather, my mother, my aunts, and cousins; my brothers, uncles, and nephews. It’s a crude family tree. Beside the list, written in a different hand is a note. “Give to your doctor. He will want to know.”
I still know their names. And I remember how they faded, long before their bodies died. I hope to evade their diagnosis. That’s why I’m here for tests.
I find pictures in my billfold, class pictures of my children: Jason, Jeffrey, and Jillian. Their names are written on the back of the photo. I don’t remember which of the boys is Jason.
One picture in the billfold looks like Charlotte, but the woman in the photo looks too old to be my wife. Maybe the picture came with the wallet.
My notebook has my schedule for the day. “Tests,” it says. “Tests.” I close my eyes in hope of finding sleep.
Paul Lewellan’s story, “The Queen of Bass Fishing in American,” received Special Mention in the 2010 Pushcart Prize anthology. His other publications include stories in South Dakota Review, Big Muddy, Word Riot, Iconoclast, Underground Voices, Timber Creek Review, and Porcupine Magazine. Paul is an Adjunct Professor of Speech Communication and Business Administration at Augustana College.
© 2010, Paul Lewellan