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Vol. 3, No. 2

The Worst Thing a Suburban Girl Could Imagine
by Melissa Bank

XIV

I took the first train to New York in the morning.
    At the hospital, I was told that Archie had been moved from the ICU to a regular room. He was asleep, so I went into the hall and asked the resident what had happened.
    She told me that he'd been admitted with severe front-to-back abdominal pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, intense thirst. Then she spoke in the medical language I'd become accustomed to not understanding.
    I interrupted and asked what had brought this on.
    She said that he had a flu and because he wasn't eating, he hadn't taken his insulin, which was a big mistake.
    "But nothing about drinking?" I asked.
    She said, "I haven't spoken to him myself."
    When I went back into the room, Archie was up. "I thought you needed a vacation," he said, trying to smile. "But it's kind of a busman's holiday."
    I said, "I hate buses."
    He said, "I have acute pancreatitis."
    "I thought it was just average looking." I looked up at his IV. "What're you drinking?" I asked.
    He said, "I'm sorry you had to come." Then he fell asleep again.

 

~

I went to the pay phone and called my father's hospital room in Philadelphia.
    "What's going on there?" he asked.
    I told him what the resident had said about the flu and insulin. My father said, "He went into DKA, diabetic keto acidosis," and explained what it was so that I understood.
    I was relieved to hear him sounding like himself.
    "Sweetheart," he said, "this was what I was talking about."
    "I know," I said.
    Then, he said, "Did the resident say anything else?"
    I said, "Something about acute pancreatitis."
    He was quiet a second. Then he said, "Is Archie an alcoholic, Jane?" He sounded as though he already knew.
    I didn't want to answer. But I said, "Yes."
    His voice was gentle. "We'll talk about that when you come back." Then he said, "He's on an IV, getting sodium and insulin?"
    "Something clear," I said.
    He told me that Archie would be fine.
    I said, "How are you, Papa?"
    "About the same," he said.
    I said, "I'll come as soon as I can." And he didn't argue.

 

~

I met Archie's real doctor in the hall.
    "You're Jane?" he said.
    I nodded.
    "Okay," he said, "now listen to me." I couldn't tell whether he was furious or just in a rush. Did I know how serious this was? He told me that Archie could've lapsed into a coma and died. The doctor seemed to hold me responsible: I needed to regulate his diet and exercise; I needed to be vigilant about monitoring his blood sugar.
    I said, "You better talk to him."
    He said, "I'm talking to you." Then he walked away.

 

~

I sat by Archie's bed and repeated what his doctor had told me. I said, "He wants me to boss you around."
    "We'll pick up a pair of stilettos on the way home," he said.
    I said, "I need to go back to Philadelphia."
    "Your mother's there," he said.
    I told him that Henry had finally arrived, too.
    "So, can't you stay?"
    "No," I said.
    "Jesus," he said. "Not even one goddamned day?"
    "My father's about to die," I said. "And you're about to get better." I asked him who I could get to help us out, and as I said it I realized how few friends Archie had.
    "Call Mickey," he said.
    "Isn't he kind of clownish for this situation?"
    "This situation calls for a clown." He hummed "Send in the Clowns."

 

~

Mickey arrived, wearing cutoffs and yellow high-tops. He was unshaven, and his hair looked greasy. He bent down and kissed Archie's cheek.
    Archie made a face.
    "I'm sorry I have to go," I said.
    Mickey said, "I'm going to steal some drugs," and went into the hall.
    I could see how hard it was for Archie to say, "Stay just a little longer?" and I took a later train back to Philadelphia.

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