My dad was a heart surgeon for over 40 years and when I was a kid, he’d bring me back hospital food for dinner and it never tasted like food at all. The nurse gave me the menu for the day and having majored in English, I spotted the typos right away and cringed at each one.
Corned beef, served with French flies.
Chicken breast, severed with green spleens.
Veggie burger, served with your choice of flies or fresh whack-a-moley.
Or maybe I wasn’t reading the menu well. Maybe it was only my imagination. It happened to me plenty of times before the accident. As a near sighted person, I suffered from horrible astigmatism. On the day of the accident, my husband Noel and I were Christmas shopping at a flea market and I picked up an old VHS of what I thought was a holiday porno.
“Look honey,” I said. “What a great name for a porno! Christmas is Cumming!”
“Dear,” he said. “That’s a kiddie film called Christmas is Coming.”
“Well, if we ever make a holiday porno, we should call it Christmas is Cumming,” I said and put the VHS back in its cardboard box. During our drive home, the drunkard hit us. Both of us were smashed into a tree. I called Noel’s name many times. He didn’t answer me.
“You should be happy you’re alive,” the doctor said. “One inch closer to the tree and you would either be dead or a vegetable.”
“I like vegetables,” I said. “I would’ve been perfectly fine being one as long as I wasn’t a piece of broccoli. Broccoli is from hell.”
In a way, the doctor was right. I should’ve been happy. From the collision, my car spun around five times and then landed on the side of a tall oak tree. I should’ve been overjoyed that the biggest scar on my face was only a few inches long and it would heal soon, so my good looks were not ruined for the rest of my life. I wasn’t paralyzed. I wasn’t brain damaged, at least not any more than I was before than the accident. I wasn’t dead. But I wasn’t happy. I was a 33 year old widow.
Even as a kid, I hated hospitals. Dad used to take me with him to work and they were always bland in decorations. The paintings on the wall were simple: a sailboat, a little cottage, or a collage of flowers. When I started noticing boys, the hospital became more exciting. There were doctors in excellent shape, ready to perform surgery at a minute’s notice. Sometimes I’d pretend to be sick so one of them would have to look at me. As an adult, hospitals became nightmares. They weren’t anything like the corny soap operas I used to watch. Dad died in one and Mom followed only a year later. My first child was miscarried in one. Now my husband died in one and I admit I wanted to do the same so I’d never have to see a hospital ever again.
“Mrs. Franklin,” the nurse said. “Are you ready to order?”
“Veggie burger and whack-a-moley,” I said and she left. I turned on the television that hung in the corner of my room.
On today’s episode of Urgent Care, Nurse Amanda finds out Doctor John is sleeping with Melissa and Joann. We’ll be right back after these messages. Urgent Care is sponsored by Herbert’s Hemorrhoid Cream. Don’t let your tush go to mush.
My hospital room was bland, as usual. It had a painting of a deer looking out at a large field. I pictured myself there with my bad eyes squinting for slightly better vision, searching for Noel. He would’ve probably gone to pick me a flower as revenge for calling him a dope-tastical man. For my whole life, I’ve been terribly allergic to grass and most flowers and whenever Noel wanted to put me in my place, he’d threaten to buy me a dozen roses. Dad did the same to me when he wanted me to listen to him, but he used blood instead of flowers. My stomach would flip flop whenever I saw blood, even if it was on television and I knew it was fake. When he taught me how to drive on my 16th birthday, he told me to keep my eyes on the road at all times.
“Daddy, I’m not stupid,” I said.
“You never know when someone’s gonna hit you,” he said. “So you have to be alert. Most accidents can be avoided with the right amount of alertness. Otherwise, something terrible might happen to you and your passengers. There will be a lot of blood too.”
“Daddy, stop it,” I said and made a very slow right turn. Dad told me to stop looking at him and keep my eyes on the road. I drowned out his voice and just minutes later, I bumped the car into a giant oak tree. I went out to examine the damage, which was only a small scrap on the bumper. Then I noticed some kind of red liquid drizzling on the dashboard.
“See what happens when you don’t listen to your driving instructor?” Dad yelled at me. I ran back inside the car, screaming “Daddy.” He had fake blood running all over his white shirt and light blue tie.
“Daddy, I’m gonna kill you for scaring me like that,” I said.
“Oh, cupcake, I was only being silly,” he said. “It’s almost Halloween, you know. But seriously, don’t ever take your eyes off the road. If I was really bleeding to death, you shouldn’t have looked at me. You can look at me when I’m in my coffin.”
After I finished my veggie burger with whack-a-moley, the nurse took my temperature. She said I was too cold, so she rushed out to get me four of the thickest blankets I ever saw. She placed them over my body and reminded me to be happy that I was alive.
“Most people in drunk driving wrecks come to the ER dead on arrival,” she said. “You were still breathing hard when they brought you in.”
I wanted to tell her the statistics were correct: most people in drunk driving wrecks don’t make it out alive. Noel was among them. Sometimes I thought if I hadn’t been talking about a Christmas porno that didn’t exist in the first place, we would’ve left the flea market earlier and he’d still be alive. But before we were hit, I made Noel laugh. I was singing, way off-key, my own version of Christmas carols to him while he drove.
Frosty the snowman
Was a man made out of snow
And then one day he got real cold
So he sat by the fireplace and died.
“I always thought you sang beautifully,” he said. I was awful. We both knew I was. Then the car hit us and there are moments I can’t remember. Maybe I saw him die. Maybe I heard him call my name. Sometimes Noel worked overnight shifts and when I couldn’t sleep, I’d think of things he would say if he was around.
“Good heavens,” he’d say. “Take off those slippers. If you don’t want to have sex tonight, you can just tell me, but don’t purposely wear something that unattractive.”
The doctor said I wasn’t brain damaged. I was going to be all right and I could go home soon. I should be happy. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t remember what Noel’s voice sounded like or what he’d say if he saw me in a paper hospital gown. Maybe he’d say, “I’m guessing you want to make Christmas is Cumming?”
About the author:
Darlene P. Campos is an MFA candidate at the University of Texas at El Paso’s Creative Writing Program. In 2013, she was the prose winner in the Glass Mountain magazine contest and was awarded the Sylvan N. Karchmer Fiction Prize. Her work appears in Glass Mountain, Prism Review, Cleaver, Bartleby Snopes, Elohi Gadugi, The Writing Disorder, Connotation Press, Word Riot, Plain China, and many others. Visit her website here.