Haunted Passages: “Raynaud’s Berries,” a new short story by Tony Burgess

for Carrie

On our way to the emergency room, we realize it is the twelfth day in a row of peppering rain. Solid grey foam fills the ditches lining the field beside our route. Beyond and up the escarpment, who knows? Now on this road though, tires engage with surface in a ceaseless shushing and windscreen pulls weakly at the way ahead. We understand more than most, that being alive this morning is just a fleet occurrence combining the cold of the cloud, the black water of the universe, and the nausea of gravity. The sadness of sadness is beast-like this morning.

We are going to the emergency room because of a infection that has greyed the shell of our ear. The pain reaches under the jaw and occasionally causes fireworks deep in the chest. We had not foreseen this when we stopped washing our hair last March but we’re fairly sure now that this was our intent all along. To turn a common bacterium into a new species. The pain is exceptional and when it sprays across the brain blood barrier, we laugh out loud.

We are listening to Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat Major Op. 9. No. 2 take bathetic runs around the reach of the wiper blades. The way ahead is all chandeliers and muck cremations. The pink and blue lines of the GPS window are really, to be quite honest, the only real thing left, the only possibility. At 9.9 kilometers to go it will soon be lost.

One never dies on days like this. The white sign: Collingwood Marine Hospital is a speckled egg, the roadway is a soggy cast of pasty screens. We take the ticket to park and then we park. Tom toms of rain on empty cars as we climb to the entrance. A woman smokes hard under the overhang, well inside the 30 meters prohibiting her. The doors slide open for us, it sounds like a month of drizzle and the stack of chairs just inside might as well be corpses.

“Health card.”

She is old in the way that anyone over 20 is today. Her hands are objects. One takes our card.

“Okay. What brings you here today?”

We push up our stiff hair.

“Ear infection.”

She looks, doesn’t look. Our diabetic blood barely moves above our heart so that our mind has no air.

“Pain on a scale of one to ten with ten being unbearable.”

“Ten.”

Are we playing cribbage? Is this a sleeping game?

Our temperature is soaring. Can she hear these kettles sizzling the rain? We think that pain must signal dying. Is that true? We can feel the stents in our heart today. Little cinches in the expanding sausage.

In time we are sent elsewhere, taking us past the doors we came through. The rain has intensified. Now it’s even washing bad memory out of the sky. Wheelchairs and glassine bladders and gobs of pale blue linen. Maybe from the day our mother died. We will hop up onto the bed and read about Raynaud’s Syndrome on the wall.

He comes and we hate him. He’s going to try something unusual and he’ll say so. He’s sure our ear has been compartmentalized and he says so.

“What does that mean?”

“It’s extremely rare and terribly serious. It’s also very interesting.”

He calls for a immediate and invasive flush of dangerous clot dissolving agents. Our liver is a mix of brittle fibers and fatted scars. Kidneys can only squelch. Neuropathy has benumbed our extremities. We will submit to the improvised clot pushing. It will let the rain in.

“This can give you a pretty bad headache.”

We touch the ear. It is several sizes large and the inner whorl is tightly closed. We turn out the elbow exposing a fish belly to the needle.

We make the conscious choice to consider this procedure from outside the body. The sky and ground joined by sponge. The leafless trees making spidery cracks in the low light. No ice just yet. Only locations that blackly drain into other more miserable places. The sun is a just a morbid traffic cone. We are living in a post-clot world. Declotted lawn. Declotted glow.

“Lie still and let that work. Like I said. You will get a pretty…pretty nasty headache shortly.”

We don’t think you should depend on things and so, we read more closely. Raynaud’s syndrome, which we do not have, is caused by spasms in blood flow. Causes numbness in extremities. Possibly caused by Lupus or scleroderma. We touch our big toes together but who knows if we actually do. We wonder if those who suffer with this pernicious phenomenon live in a post-clot world or like us, with this brilliant pain in our temples, live in a heavy rain warning, post-clot paradise. Photos of livid flesh, cadaver fingers off living palms. Toes cupped up and ashen. Almost compartmentalized. We spend the next two hours in lock-jawed hyena agony.

“We’re gonna try a different approach.”

New doctor. She speaks like she knows us.

“It’s an infection. We’re going to hook you up to an antibiotic drip and an antihistamine. We’d like to be aggressive. You should know we consider this a life-threatening infection.”

The clot buster has taken heart attack off our calendar for the next three months. When the weather is like this, then medical procedures should be rich and infinite. We want to be cured of it all today. Let the god damnable rain frown forever.

Soon we are lashed into a portable IV pump that feeds a cocktail through a splashy butterfly into the pain on the back of our hand. It has a large battery pack that fuels the intervals. We are happy for it. There is hydrocodone pushing feeling through compartments again.

We are driven home by a next of kin who is unrecognizable in the rain. The pump convulses when it comes to life. We look out at the fields and we notice without even trying that animation is a kind of discouragement. Being alive is sluggishly slow. Not many thoughts are good. Nothing that will happen will ever redeem this. That sounds needlessly sad, but really, it’s not. We concentrate on understanding groundwater.

More next of kin walk past us in the coat room. Going out into the slate and grease. Remarks about the pump. General agreement, mostly by eye, that we are in decline and will soon benefit from others’ neglect of us.

We run the tip of our tongue across the slick moguls along our toothless gums. It’s a feeling, a almost erogenous tingle, we wish we could share. The pump kicks on, louder than we thought it was and several people in the house can hear it.

It’s mid-afternoon and we will have to wear this pump for twenty-one more days and when it is finally detached it will leave a heavy cable of thrombosis. We can’t remember for sure, but think it rained all the way through. Rain on children is mostly what we remember remembering. And it made us think of children in Ukraine being kept home from school because they were being snatched from streets and eaten. This happened during the Holodomor, the terrible genocide by famine imposed by the Soviets on Ukrainian people in 1932. It sounds like it can’t be true but it is. Still, we can’t feel properly that it is okay to think. We can’t really think at all in this stump forest of palliative correlatives. It might be enough to remind us of things that have been done. Who knows?

The arm feels like it wants to be above our heart so we lie down. We were talking about the window, how it looks like a paper plate, but we said widow instead. Regardless, someone will have to make us a meal soon. We can’t really picture food.

We are brought a small wood box of strawberries. The box is extraordinary. Bamboo? Balsam? Is that teal? It seems extravagant. The berries are inedible. How can we? Pith and seed eyes and rigid vascular bundles.

These are Raynaud’s berries.

Tony Burgess lives in Stayner, Ontario, and writes fiction and writes for film.

Image: thejns.org

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