Capp re-entered my life because I incorrectly timed the amber light
when the rider of a Harley Davidson, entering the intersection from my
right, correctly timed the green light, and because of Capp’s fetish to
collect the last photo of people alive--though he prefers to be the
A nurse. “The insurance companies will duke it out to determine at what point the Honda guy actually died--either when he head-onned your car, or when he hit the road, or when he went under the other car.”
Groggy, head tilting, I say, “It was a Harley . . . but it doesn’t matter . . . it doesn’t matter if I killed him either . . . I’m covered.”
The nurse squints, cocks her head so we’re aligned.
I say, “I have all kinds of insurance, I’m completely covered . . . everything’ll be okay. I’m a nurse too . . . I was working when I caused the crash.”
“The insurance companies will figure out who or what caused the accident sweetie.”
I wriggle in the bed. With that nurse kindness-slash-blandness I know too well, she says, “Just calm down. It’ll be all right.” She’s dishing me what I used to dish to dying patients on hospice wards before I learned that what is meant to perish is meant to perish. She says, “It really will be okay. Everything wi--”
“I know it will,” snapping, spitting, “I just said that . . . I . . . I’m a nurse, I was working” I repeat, reminding myself that people are waiting for me, that when the motorcycle hit me, I was driving a heart cross-town to the O’Neil Transplant Center for some guy--a receiver--stretched out on a surgery table. A guy who’s waited years for a heart. A guy upped to the top of the Patient Waiting List today by Match, the system run by the United Network for Organ Sharing that matches receivers with specific donor organs from givers. For over a year he’s had a mortality risk score of 6, requiring continuous hospitalization and an artificial heart to keep him alive. But today, according to the Match algorithm, he has the highest number of points. And he’s waiting for me, well, for the donor heart . . . that’s still on my car’s passenger seat!
It’s in the icebox--the portable organ preservation device--that’s on my passenger seat.
The heart was harvested an hour before my car crash--thanks to another crash--so that means we only have a couple more hours . . . .
The transplant surgeon is waiting . . . .
I need to tell the nurse that I didn’t see the motorcycle coming, that the light was amber when I floored the peddle, that the light turned red as I entered the intersection. I need to tell her this, and, and, and . . . . I’m crying and trying to force my fingernails through my palms, whimpering. I start telling her everything all at once, in one long breath, and she tells me that I probably received a big knock to the head. She actually uses the word probably. Then she shushes me. As if drowning a puppy, she presses her hands downwards on my shoulders, holding me in place.
Another nurse enters, stands tall and rigid, then tips over me, split-second peers into my eyes. “Rest up,” she commands. “The motorcyclist who died at the scene, just prior to the collision, he was being chased by three cop cars. So you probably have nothing to worry about. You probably won’t be held responsible.”
The first nurse releases my shoulders, starts playing with the IV in my arm.
“But--I--am,” I moan, trying to block them both out, not knowing who to believe, wondering if I should rip the IV out of my arm and make a--make a?--make a what?--make a run for it?
Flanked on each side, in unison they lift the blanket at my feet up to my waist. “And stay away from that photographer,” one of them says. “Everything’ll be fine, as long as you stay away from him.”
When I met Capp ten years ago, I knew I should stay well clear of him.
The nurses about-face and start walking off. I could share with them that the first time I saw Capp, he was on the cross--but they’ve already left my room.
Through the door, I see a bunch of glistening black warriors holding bowling balls.
Sleepy now, I’m calling out for the nurses. Nobody comes. The black warriors, a medieval ten-pin bowling team, peer at me. It feels like they’re hissing at me.
I have to tell someone what to do with my body if I die. Because my driver’s license is in my purse in my car’s glove-box.
I have to tell someone that I want to make an anatomical gift of my eyes, kidneys, pancreas, liver, lungs, heart, bone, and tissue. Every box on the back of my driver’s license is ticked.
Trying to stay awake, I rub my eyes, look again through the doorway. The corridor swarms with what I now see are motorcycle gang-types. The bowling balls are motorcycle helmets. Dangling like headhunter spoils.
More people waiting for me, just what I need.
My purse is on the table. Below it, a plastic container filled with other stuff from my car. CDs, parking receipts, even my pens.
The icebox is on the floor next to my bed. I hang off the edge, grab the handle, and drag the portable organ preservation thingymajig closer to me. It should weigh about forty pounds. It moves too easily. It doesn’t weigh anything near forty pounds.
The first time I saw Capp, he was playing the big guy in a production of Jesus Christ Superstar. I was a photographer back then, and I was shooting him dying in the last scene, nailed to the cross, droplets of fake blood nicely placed on all the Jesus places. Night after night, he’d tell me about the spotlights and watching the crowd crying for him.
If Capp were here, he’d be photographing me right now.
Capp, at my bedside, apologizing for the umpteenth time, “I promise I didn’t know it was you. Not until after a few rolls. Not until they were lifting you . . . onto the stretcher. I’m sorry.”
I haven’t said a word. We’ve made eye-contact a few times, he’s sat silently while a nurse changed my piss-bag, and I’ve watched the Discovery Channel, but I’ve not yet uttered one word to him.
“Leesha, why am I the only one who has visit--”
I break the silent treatment, “Did you keep photographing me after you saw it was me?”
“Well . . . .”
“You didn’t think I was going to live, right?”
“Leesha, it’s, it’s just a project. I’ve taken thousands of pictures over the years. This gig takes me to accident scenes, natural disasters . . . I can rarely tell if someone’s going to live.
Sometimes I can’t even tell if they’re alive.”
“Why are you doing this . . . project?”
Capp stands up, paces, then sits on a chair in a corner of my white room. He still looks like Jesus Christ to me.
“Are you saying that you wouldn’t have photographed me if you’d known it was me?”
“But Capp, I saw you photograph me getting put in the ambulance.”
Hunched forward, he moves a pinky ring from one hand to the other, tries it on a middle finger, where it gets stuck on a knuckle. “I wasn’t there for you,” he says into his palms, “I was following the car chase, I was listening to the police scanner, and I was chasing after the cops who were chasing--”
“You were always following something.”
An early draft of this short story was published on www.ChuckPalahniuk.net, January 2004.
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