This is a continuation of The Last Smoke — Part 1
Marek just wanted to be honest. She deserved that much, but maybe he was wrong to be so blunt with his granddaughter. Marek needed some help to figure out what to do next. It was hard to think clearly in this antiseptic environment. There was so much damn noise. A constant hum of illness filled his ears. Sometimes it was a cough that filled the ward, a dry hack that would last for hours. And other times it was like a symphony of sobs. Terrible cries that went uncared for.
Marek missed his habit more than anything. If he could just have that one drink, that one smoke, it would relax him and turn the volume in his head down so that he could think, and do the right thing with his granddaughter. Marek felt unfinished, and it didn’t feel good to him. He had worked with his hands all of his life and he could fix anything that had parts. But this was different. This part, his part, was his problem, and he was better at fixing other peoples’ broken bits, not his.
He had to find a way to tell her the truth without hurting her. She was his granddaughter – but it went past that. She was a kind of best friend, to him and Maria. The three had become their own special family. He did not want to upset her. He still had a chance with her.
His inherited old world pride had got in the way of his relationship with his son. Marek didn’t understand him. Marek Jr. didn’t like the same things as him, he wasn’t good with his hands, couldn’t fix anything, and he even liked to cook. Marek didn’t like to admit it, but he didn’t know his own son.
“Time for your pills Mr. Putka.” The nurse’s sharp voice whipped Marek back to his depressing reality.
“Sure, sure, some food for the picket line.” Marek mumbled.
“What was that?” The nurse then stared hard, reminding Marek of his father watching him do his homework as a child at the kitchen table.
“Nothing, sorry. It was just a stupid joke.” Marek said. “Can I have some water please?”
It was better to take the medicine and grin a thank-you than to cause more trouble and risk getting those itchy straps back on. The nurses here, or white guards as he liked to think of them, had no sense of humor.
Marek had done things on his own since he was a young boy. Being dependent on anyone was a foreign and depressing thought to him.
As he lay there brooding, Marek focused on one idea. I need my ritual. It will help me fix things. He was worried that his clock would be punched out any day now. He was starting to see odd things. Images that weren’t right.
These weird visions started to happen a few days ago. Right after he started to have some terrible new pains. It felt as if his chest was being ripped open from the inside for a good two minutes. The problem was, by the time he was strong enough to buzz for a nurse or a doctor it had passed, and they could never find any sign or reason for the trauma.
At first the images were just shadows, glimpses of what he thought were people who didn’t like to visit hospitals, but did anyway, and hid in the background.
The shadows had started to fill in. Yesterday, Marek even thought he saw someone who looked like Winston Churchill walk past his door. The big man was striding in the hallway as if on his way to give a speech. The British Bulldog even flashed him the “V for Victory” sign, or at least he did until Marek closed his eyes and counted to three in Polish. Was it his illness or did he miss his cigars that much?
Marek wasn’t one for worshiping heroes’, but he did have a soft spot for men who smoked cigars and made history at the same time. But, he was scared what could come next. He needed a plan to get out, before it got too bad. He had thought about asking for Mary’s help, but that wasn’t fair, even though she would probably help him. He had to figure it out on his own.
If I can escape the bloody Nazi’s then breaking out of a hospital shouldn’t be that hard, thought Marek.
Marek had gone for some labored strolls every other day, which wasn’t easy because of the tubes that he was tethered to. Even a simple walk was now a three-stage process and entirely dependent on the kindness of a nurse taking the time to suit him up for a shuffle.
His hope was to find somewhere to hide until late at night and then sneak out. But all the rooms he found were crowded with the people in white. And they all had the same odor, Lysol mixed in with old peoples’ urine.
I’d rather die on the floor of my garage than spend another night here, thought Marek. But, could an 87-year-old man really make his way home?
“Lights out Mr. Putka. Do you need something to help you sleep tonight?” asked the angry nurse. “Those nightmares of yours have been getting louder, I wouldn’t want you to keep yourself and everyone else in the ward up.”
The grin that followed on the nurse was the most dishonest thing Marek had seen since he left Poland in 1939. Most of them had mastered the craft of smiling while their eyes radiated disgust.
He didn’t blame the white guards; after all they were just following orders like so many others before them.
“No I’m fine.” Marek said. “And if I’m not I’ll buzz and ask for something to help me. Thank-you.”
“Okay I’ll remember that Mr. Putka,” the nurse said, as if issuing an order and then she spun on her sticky heels to find another unwillingly client for her pills.
It’s settled, he thought, I have to get out of here before I can’t even think for myself. Tonight is the night. As a young man, he had seen people die in front of him because they couldn’t make the right decision. No more thoughts of hiding or sneaking. No more being an old man. Marek would use his blood, his stubborn pride to help him break out.
Marek knew his body would listen to him one last time. He would will it to act the way he wanted it to. His new plan, such as it were, was simple and consisted of one word – confidence.
Marek had watched enough to know that he had a good chance. He would use the system. Doctors were always forgetting to sign release papers. Nurses were always overworked. Marek would dress in his best clothes and just walk to the elevator. If anyone asked where he was going he would tell them that he was meeting his daughter for a coffee in the cafeteria. The trick was to look sure of himself and to walk like a man, not a patient.
Marek lay in bed, staring up at the bright ceiling for one last time and ignored the intense sharp pain that started to cross his chest. Marek tightened up in bed, clinched his teeth, and instructed his body that the circus hammer had picked the wrong time for a visit. Not tonight my painful friend, not tonight. The circus is closed for the season, he thought.
“Psst, psst, hey signor, signor -” whispered an exotic voice. “Signor date prisa y…guardia.”
“What?” Marek bolted up. “Who, who’s there? Who said that?” He looked around the otherwise silent ward. The voice that he had heard sounded Mexican – or something like that. And it seemed to come from below his bed.
The nurses, the tubes, the stupid bright white light on the ceiling, and now his own imagination was trying to stop him. Marek shook his head, cleared his mind and settled his emotions.
“Signor Marek, I am Fidel Castro Ruz,” said a firm voice. “And I have come to liberate you.”
© Copyright 2010, Francis Litzinger. All Rights Reserved. For more work from Francis, check out Francis Litzinger’s Goulash Fiction.