There was urine in the air. Jonathon abandoned the cracks in the ceiling, rolling his head to the left. The plastic covered pillow complained within its starched cotton case. He could see a swollen yellow sack dangling from the chrome maze enclosing the next bed. Muffled snoring blended with the smell of urine, iodine, and medicine into the dissipating light; and the hum from air conditioning vents seemed to orchestrate the other elements.
Jonathon Wilder sat up in bed – slowly – to minimize the throbbing. The pains had more or less settled in like a new tenant during the last few months. Now, just a part of him. He’d be leaving soon…for where? A Corpsman’s white shirt glowed from the single bulb in a desk lamp. But the light – the nurse’s station – seemed enclosed in shadows that coagulated into a thick mass, pressing against the windows in far corners of the ward. Jonathon threw back his sheet and dropped his legs into slippers beside the bed. Each foot scratched across the linoleum – the sound startling the Corpsman from his work. He raised his glowing bronze face toward it. The face smiled at Jonathon as he emerged from the shadowy backdrop of beds.
“You still up?”
“Like I said, I’m a night person…listen…Linton’s bag is full. If he drains anymore it’ll explode.”
“I’ll get it in a minute…I’ve gotta finish these charts.”
The ventilator hum filled the silence between each comment.
“Thompson, I can’t sleep…. Can I take a walk?”
“I don’t know – I’d catch hell if…. He examined the patient in front of him. “Where would you go?”
“Just down to the beach – and then back.”
The hum again. “All right. Put on some civvies. You can’t go like that.”
Jonathan merged with the darkness as he walked to his bed. He pulled civilian clothes from shelves in the bedside stand – levi’s, socks, a jersey, sneakers – and began to dress. Thoughts were constantly being pushed back, deep inside his head. Jonathan was tired of this place – not just the Naval Hospital in Pensacola – every place.
On the way out, Jonathan was stopped by the Corpsman. “Use the main entrance. Everybody’s down in Emergency this time of night.”
“Here, this might help.” Thompson opened his hand revealing a lighter shade of skin and a joint. Jonathan took it and nodded again. Five years earlier he would have smiled, thanked the Corpsman, and meant it. He wanted that again.
Outside, the gulf air was thick and humid from the day’s rain. Clumps and strands of moss hung from the low trees like entrails. The night was bright – the moon almost casting shadows on the asphalt road, still warm as it sloped down to the Inland Waterway. A three inch tree roach skittered into the moonlight. He stepped on it…crunch-squish, he thought. The dead roach, mosquitoes, and the chirping crickets were all that was left on Earth.
Salt and fish were in the air now, as he left the massy trees behind at the bottom of the road. He crossed the grass and then the gravel lot – breakers – there, he could see the sand, and the white foam surging toward him. Walking faster now, sand spilled into his shoes, deep sand, then smoother, harder, until he stopped. His feet gurgled inside wet shoes as he lit the joint and inhaled salt and fish and escape.
The moon – a full moon – glowed in the darkness over the gulf like Thompson’s shirt; and clouds gathered around her – angel hair on a Christmas bulb. Jonathan walked back to the firm dry sand and sat down with his arms on his knees. He could hear faint laughter – and music – from far down the empty beach. He smoked…hungrily, and watched a tiny flickering light which seemed to make the laughter – pulsing with it – where the sand curved off to the sea.
Jonathan stared at the pulsing flame with the joint held just beneath his nose. The distant ventilator hum blended with breakers as a rhythmic rushing flow. No thoughts, here – emptiness. He winced and tossed the hot ash into the sand. There, where it landed, was a glob of luminous gelatin…a jellyfish.
Looking up, he saw the moon reflected in the rolling water. The clouds around the moon were the only ones in the sky.
…and the stars – like flames on some other distant beach…but the clouds…they seem…they have shape – moon in the center – a splotch of white above – squarish shapes on the left and right - like benches…court benches…heads rising above…heads…that’s a head in the middle…over the moon…a ram?...horns – and the others…grotesque faces…faces…all the faces measuring us….
He vomited in the sand, tasting the bile in his nose – but - like it wasn’t from him…like it wasn’t from him.
Jonathan ran back to the ward. He washed and rinsed his mouth. He stowed his clothes and put his gown back on and stretched back on his bed.
And he went back to the cracks…cracks that needed to be filled and smoothed and coated with fresh paint.