The day Matt decided to dispense with the new frames was an unmitigated disaster and not something he could blame entirely on the worm. It lurked in the cradle of the soft spot at the back of his head, playing possum and biding its time. He felt it creeping around the left side of his head just before the alarm went off.
Matt’s migraines had officially taken up residence in his head. They left forwarding addresses and invited all their friends and sold tickets to MigrainePalooza ‘22. Matt thought the house should get at least half, but his cut was the pain. A dude calling himself, ‘The Party Worm’ was running the show.
He called Christie and asked if maybe he'd been spending too many hours behind the new glasses, and should he just take them off now? She consulted the calendar and suggested he not do that just yet. He was less than a week away from his thirty-day review and thought they'd capture a more complete data set if he didn't make any dramatic changes to the process.
"Do you think you can make it another couple of days?"
"Yeah, I guess. If I only take them off to sleep. I mean, right now I'm taking them off after I turn out the light, and I'm putting them back on before I open my eyes."
"What happens if you open your eyes before you put them on?"
"If I'm lucky, I see blue bunnies, if I'm not so lucky, The Party Worm eats my brain."
"Whoa, what? The Party Worm?"
"No. The blue bunnies. That's a new one. You don't happen to have any actual rabbits in your home, do you?"
"I'd have to ask my wife to be sure, but I'm going to go with 99%, no chance in hell."
"So, you think you can make it another couple of days?"
"Yeah. OK. Sure."
"Alright, but call me if it gets worse, OK? Matt? Matt?"
"Yeah, sorry, my vision got a little wonky for a minute. It'll be fine. See you next week."
Matt dropped the phone on the floor and reached for his glasses. He put them on his face but kept his eyes closed. He thought he'd just lie there a second, or a minute, or the rest of his life. The worm, that insidious bastard, was retreating. Matt kept his eyes closed and waited for the dude to go possum.
He heard Laura calling from the bottom of the stairs. She didn't sound too mad yet. As a matter of fact, he hadn't heard from Mad Laura at all lately. He stayed on his back until the worm returned to possum state. Without opening his eyes, Matt removed the frames. The worm moved so fast its teeth were in his left temple before he could blink. The damn thing was going to burrow through the back of his eyeball. He slammed the glasses back on his face. Worm gone. Took them back off. Worm teleported directly to his right eyeball.
Matt was enraged; held hostage by his glasses AND the worm. He slammed the frames onto the night table, sat up and opened his eyes. The bunny scrum started at the edge of the bed and covered the floor all the way to the bathroom door. One of them hopped up on his left foot; scratchy little toenails digging into his flesh. He scooped it up and tossed it back into the pile. Today, Matt decided, a scrum of blue bunnies took precedence over Mr. Party Worm and his toothy minions.
He shuffled through a furry blue ocean and hit the shower. Matt decided he felt fine; a little cranky, but who wouldn't be a little cranky when confronted by an ocean of impossibilities? The shower didn't help with the rabbits, but the MigrainePalooza band was still on break.
Laura screamed up the stairs. He thought about this. There's screaming up the stairs and then there's screaming obscenities up the stairs; he decided to move his ass. Maybe she was yelling louder in case he hadn't heard the first time. That made more sense. He wife was a very reasonable woman these days.
He finished dressing and rifled through the mess in his night table. His old glasses were shoved all the way to the back behind last month’s edition of ‘The Women of San Quentin’. When he stuck them on his face; MigrainePalooza started up, but the bunny scrum vanished. Without his glasses, both were gone. Good enough. Old glasses in hand, he headed toward the door, turned the corner, and slammed into his homicidal wife.
"Oh, good. You're up. The kids need a ride to school today. You should leave in about five minutes if you want them there on time."
"What about the bus?"
"The bus? The bus rolled by twenty minutes ago."
"Why weren't they on it? Sam's very good at getting herself and Jeffry out of the house on time."
Laura showed her teeth. Impressive.
He turned back and looked at the frames on his night table. Are you sure you want to do this, buddy? Maybe keep them in your pocket, just in case? Yup and nope. I feel perfectly fine, other than the bunnies, and I'm gonna wear my old-fashioned normal glasses today. Give my eyes a little break. He trotted down the stairs and into the kitchen.
Laura had vanished; the kids were finishing breakfast and Jeffry was still in his underwear. He raised an eyebrow and looked at Sam.
"Dad. Sometimes it's all I can do just to get myself dressed on time. You can't expect me to be responsible for everything Jeffry does or doesn't do." Matt dropped the eyebrow and looked at Jeffry. Jeffry seemed to find the bottom of his cereal bowl fascinating.
"Jeffry, where are your clothes?"
"Bathroom floor." -- still no eye contact
"OK. Why are they on the bathroom floor and not on you?"
"'cause they're wet!"
"Sam, go upstairs and find some dry clothes for your brother. I don't care what they look like as long as they fit and are dry."
"Then I’ll be fishing through his seriously disgusting laundry basket."
"I'm not following."
"Dad. Jeffry's clothes are wet because he pulled them out of the washer. They're also kind of smelly because they've been in there a few days. He doesn't have any clean clothes."
"OK. We go with 'Previously Worn'! Hop to it, Girl."
The kids were twenty minutes late. Matt knew he was supposed to check them in at the main office, but that damn worm was coiled at nose level, ready to strike. Five more minutes would turn his eight-mile, twenty-minute commute into a seventy-minute debacle. He was pretty sure he was going to start his own kickoff meeting from the car. At least the six-mile line of minivans was gone.
Sam gave him a look he'd expect from a thirteen-year-old. If she was doing this at eight, what the hell were the next five years going to look like? They snarled at each other; Sam grabbed Jeffry by the arm and yanked him out of the car. Matt waited until they disappeared behind the main doors and pulled away from the curb. He was still going to have to start his meeting from the car.
He made a couple panicked calls before he located a team member. She agreed to call him from the conference room as soon as everyone arrived. He disconnected and continued down the traffic river toward the City Center. His kickoff meetings began promptly at 8:15. The definition of 'promptly' being anywhere between 8:20 and 8:30. At 8:20, he was irritated. By 8:25, he was ready to bite the head off the first voice he heard, and by 8:31 he was screaming into the rear-view mirror. When his phone rang, he noticed flecks of foam on the dash. He took a breath and connected. It was Christie.
"Mr. Franklin? It's Christie from American..."
"Yes, hello Christie. What can I do for you? I'm a bit short on time, expecting a call from the office momentarily."
"OK, this'll just take a minute, or you can call me back sometime this morning, preferably before 10:00"
"Yeah, go ahead, Christie."
"Well, Dr. Evans and I were reviewing the data we've received to date as well as your most recent side effects and we'd like to see you today, now, if possible."
"Christie, my appointment is next Tuesday, can't it wait?"
"...um, yeah, but it would probably be better if it didn't."
"I'm sorry, there's another call coming in. I'll call you back when I can."
"OK, you won't forget, right?"
"Hello? Hey! Guys, it's Matt. Can we settle down and get started?"
The decibel level was equal to or greater than Giant’s Stadium in the last three seconds of the fourth quarter. Matt yelled again; more flecks of foam hit the dash. Jones had the ball, Golladay was waiting, and the room dropped to a dull roar. He had their attention, or at least they could hear him.
"Brad! Yo! Bradley!"
"Brad. where the fuck are we with the survey data? The analysts expected a complete data set end of last week. Please tell me they have it."
AND GOLLADAY DROPS THE BALL! The crowd was silent. He waited for Brad. From the nosebleed seats he thought he heard, “Shit. He's out of his head again. Can somebody throw Brad a bone and make a quick call to marketing? Just get an update with a reasonable ETA.”
Matt, to the disembodied room: “OK, guys, we’ll pick this up when I get in. That should give you an extra twenty minutes to get your shit together.”
He doubted very much that any part of his team could have its shit together in under an hour. It took daily beatings to get anything out of them on time. He called Christie back and agreed to a 2 PM appointment. If he locked himself in his office, he might make it back to the car without self-combusting.
At 2:15 Matt was strapped to an examining table. Something called a halo immobilized his head from the sternum up. He couldn't see it, but Dr. Evans called it The Hand of God. In other words, good luck moving anything. Christie said the additional restraints were to protect him from startle reflexes. "It won't hurt though, don't worry. Dr. Evans is going to use a local on your eyes. You'll just feel some tugging."
Given the first eight hours of his day, Matt didn't care if they ripped his eyes right out of the sockets. At this point, the extra holes in his head might entice The Party Worm and its entourage to slither off in search of a better venue. He was pretty sure they’d already trashed the place.
Dr. Evans sat down on the thing with wheels and scooted over to Matt's head. "Pretty bad day, I hear. Looks like you're not getting enough oxygen. Do you hold your breath when you're tense? Your lips look like you’ve been intimate with a box of blueberry popsicles.
"No popsicles. Stress."
"Stress, or rage?"
"Is there a difference?"
"Yes, Matt, there is a difference. Stress is caused by external stimuli and triggered by internalized trauma. We all respond differently, but we do respond. Rage is a result, so, yeah, big difference. On a scale of one to ten, one being, I'm feeling a little cranky, but it'll pass, and ten being, I'm going to blow somebody's brains out as soon as I can find a suitable weapon?"
"Jesus, Dr. Evans. Do I look that bad?"
"As a matter of fact, you look like a psychopath on a bad day. So, scale of one to ten, which is it?"
Matt tried to shrug but the Hand of God wouldn’t let him.
"Mr. Franklin, there's no shame here. No one is going to give you a hard time for the way you're feeling; we just need to understand where you're at before we start poking around."
"OK. Dr. Evans, truthfully, I'm probably at eleven but I'm strapped down so that kind of takes the wind out of it, don't you think?"
"No. Matt, it doesn't. It means you can't do anything about it just this second. Today we're going to see if we can get you a little relief. I just need your assurance that you'll remain engaged and compliant."
"Sure, doc. Why not. Can't get much worse, right?"
"...yes, it can. But let's try to avoid that."
Dr. Evans asked Christie to put the drops in Matt's eyes while he pulled a canister out from under the counter. He asked if Matt was OK with a little nitrous, just to take the edge off. Matt bit down on the rubber thing and tried to shake it like a dog. The halo didn't permit head shaking so he growled instead for effect. Christie removed the rubber thing from his mouth and shoved it into his nose. “It’s not a chew toy, Mr. Franklin.” He was working up a good sulk when he tumbled into the cloud, which was a very pleasant place when external discourse wasn’t required.
Matt managed to float away between questions. He lost track of time and conversation. Dr. Evans seemed to be asking the same question repeatedly, but he couldn't wrap his head around the relevance. He heard Dr. Evans tell Christie to call his wife and giggled. Wouldn't that be funny if Laura had to come out and get him? Not so much. Matt tried to override Dr. Evan's directive and asked Christie to call his neighbor instead.
"Cwissy. Dun call mah wif. Vury scurry lady an jus no. Call Weed Hunna. He mah bess fwen an naybah buh look fah Weed Beavah Hunna nah jus Weed Hunna."
"Mr. Franklin, unfortunately Mr. Beavah Hunna is not a suitable emergency contact at this time. We really do need to call your wife."
"Mr. Franklin, it's not a ride you need right now. We need to get you to surgery. If it looked like you were going to stop breathing in the next five minutes we could proceed without consent, but for now we need to follow protocol. Someone has to consent, and it can't be you."
Matt stared up at the overhead light and cried. "dun call wif. Plis dun call wif. Plis call Weed."
"Mr. Franklin, regardless of consent, we need to call your wife. We should have called her six hours ago, but we kept thinking we were about to pull you through. So, no matter what she says, she still has a right to know where you are. It's 2 AM, Mr. Franklin. You have been in this chair for almost twelve hours."
"Yup. Twelve hours and you’re not out of the woods. I want you to know, you’re going to be OK, but we need to open you up now.”
"Kay. Call mah wif buh dun leh her in!”
Dr. Evans and Christie stepped into the hallway and closed the door. They tapped one of the analysts and sent her out the door with an address, a pile of paperwork, and instructions to call Dr. Evan's direct line the minute she had a bottom-line signature, screw the initials. The analyst hit the ground running and Dr. Evans called the Franklin household. It went to voicemail after eight rings. He hung up and redialed. A female voice croaked: "what?"
"Mrs. Franklin? This is Dr. Evans with American Ophthalmologists. I should have called earlier but we lost track of time and you must be very worried."
"Your husband, Mrs. Franklin. Your husband is with us which is why he's not at home."
"I'm not Mrs. Franklin."
"No, this is Sam, and I didn't even know Dad wasn't home. What the hell?"
"Sam. Please tell me you're eighteen."
"Sure. Yeah. I'm eighteen."
"OK, listen. In about ten minutes one of our analysts is going to knock on your front door. She needs some signatures. Do you think you can give us some signatures?"
"We need a family member to consent to emergency surgery."
"What?! What's wrong with my dad?!"
"Sam, your dad's going to be fine, he's just having a reaction to the sample frames we gave him a couple weeks ago and we need to take care of it before he sustains permanent damage. You can get your mom up if that makes it easier, or you can give the analyst the signatures she needs, and we can get him on the table."
"Yeah. OK. I'll sign."
"And Sam? Do you happen to have a pet rabbit?"
"No, but Mr. Hunter next door has one and it's blue! Coolest bunny ever!"
Matt woke up without a headache. The Party Worm and entourage were either catatonic or gone. MigrainePalooza ’22 was officially over. He noticed the left side of his face was warm. Sunlight, probably. I've overslept by an hour or two, except. Except the left side of my face should be cool. Must have turned the bed around last night. He flopped his arm in the direction of his wife but hit the edge of the bed. Other way? Nope. Other side of the bed. I must have gotten bigger, beds don't shrink.
He turned his head in the direction of the light, except his head didn't move as instructed. Other way? Nope. Immobilized. Well, that's an interesting development. The sun is on the wrong side of the room, I got bigger, or the bed shrunk, and what was the other thing? Right. Can't move my head. He smiled under the gauze. Something a little scratchy and tight covered his head. "I'm a butterfly!" he whispered. "I'm a butterfly in a cocoon; this is awesome!"
"Daddy, if you were a butterfly, you'd be in a chrysalis. Moths are in cocoons."
"Sam? Does that mean I'm a moth? I'd really rather be a butterfly if that's OK."
"That's OK, Daddy. You can be a butterfly if you want."
"Oh. Hey. Sam, what's on my face?"
"A big bandage don't worry. Christie said you're going to be perfectly fine, but we can't expose your eyes to light yet. That's why the big bandage."
"You mean the cocoon on my head?"
"Yeah, OK, the cocoon on your head will come off when Dr. Evans says you're ready."
"Hey, buddy, how're you feeling?"
"Yup. Who else? Sam needed a ride. She pounded on my door a little after four and here we are! It's still early. Want some coffee? There's a coffee machine in your room! There's a bunch of other stuff too but I guess you can't see it yet. Pretty impressive for a hospital situated in the ghetto."
"Mr. Hunter, he doesn't have a mouth hole in his cocoon, and this isn't exactly the ghetto. It's not the City Center and there are a lot of brown faces, but that doesn't make it the ghetto. I'm hearing microaggression; might want to give that some thought."
There was a compulsory knock at the door and Christie let herself in. "Good morning, Mr. Franklin! You did very well last night. Dr. Webb will be in to have a look in a few minutes." Christie walked to the window and closed the drapes. Magnetic seals eliminated the external light. Matt muttered something about his cocoon.
"What was that?"
"My cocoon. I won't hatch without light. Can you turn that back on?"
"Mr. Franklin, both you and your cocoon will be just fine. However, I don't think you'd appreciate direct sunlight when Dr. Webb has a look inside your cocoon."
Christie looked at Sam and shook her head. Kid couldn't pass for eleven, much less eighteen and that was the signature on Matt's forms. Samantha Blue Franklin, signed with an impressively legible flourish. Thought they stopped teaching that stuff... Sam's printing was near perfect. Whatever. If he doesn't open his eyes and start screaming malpractice, I’ll take it.
"Sam? Where's your mom?"
"What time is it?"
"About 8:40, why?"
"If it's 8:40, she's back in bed, assuming Jeffry got on the bus. No. Doesn't matter. If it's 8:40, she's back in bed. God knows where Jeffry is. I didn't wake him when I left and probably should have. I guess he'll be OK."
"Sam. What grade are you in?"
"I'm eight. What grade do you think I'm in? Third, just like all the other eight-year-olds."
"Honey, you're not in third grade. Why do you keep telling people that? Christie, Sam is in sixth grade and next year she’ll be a freshman at the high school!"
"OK. Matt, we need to call your wife. Legally we cannot keep or treat you here without her knowledge. I'm not sure about the consent thing since the cat's already out of the bag, but we need to make contact. Sooner is better."
Matt hesitated. He wanted to say, 'yeah, by all means, can't wait to see her!' His gut instructed him to duck and roll.
Christie couldn't see his face but had no trouble recalling the pathetic weeping at 2 AM. “If Dr. Webb gets here in the next couple of minutes, we can put it off until after your post-op exam.” Dr. Webb performed the compulsory knock, opened the door, and glided across the room. He was wearing driving gloves.
Dr. Webb explained that Matt's head was still in the halo as a precaution. If everything looked good when he removed the bandages, the halo would come off. Matt had been pawing at the lower part of his face, but from the nose up he was still wrapped tight. Dr. Webb asked for bandage scissors which Christie pulled from a pocket. He gave her a look and mumbled, “sterile? anybody heard of sterile?”
She coughed into her elbow, “not a real doctor.”
Christie turned out the overhead lights, leaving only the low watt gooseneck. Dr. Webb started cutting; Sam and Reed leaned in until Christie inserted an arm and pushed them back. No one spoke except Matt, and it was hard to tell what he was saying. Sam thought she heard, 'Laurie? somebody get Laurie?' Bad idea, Dad.
Matt was instructed to keep his eyes closed as the gauze was clipped and pulled away. His entire face was exposed except for two small eyepatches. Dr. Webb moved the pin light closer to Matt's face and asked what he saw. Matt's world had gone from dark to dark with purple sparkles. "Good! That's excellent. Ready for the last step?" Nothing. Not even a Jeffry nod, yes, yes, no, no. "OK, let’s do this thing! Christie, can you hand me the eye wash? No. Not that. Eye wash is in the clear bottle. THAT is iodine. God, I wish you would stop fucking with me."
The surgical tape came up and the last of the gauze lifted easily. Matt's eyes were still closed, and he looked like he was sleeping. Dr. Webb assured them he was not sleeping. He pulled the light away from the bed and asked Matt to open his eyes. "You might experience some discomfort but try to keep both eyes open until I can flush them."
Matt opened his eyes, Sam screamed, Reed grabbed her shoulders and turned her away. Christie said, "Oh. Fuck." Dr. Webb squirted eyewash onto his own face.
Very quietly, Webb told Christie to find Dr. Evans and get his malpracticing ass in here. Very quietly, Christie told Dr. Webb to orally pleasure his sister and ran like hell. Reed got up and closed the door. He had no interest in what might be going on down the hall.
Christie found Dr. Evans on the seventh floor passed out under a lab table. Margaret suggested she may have dosed him with one or two of her yellow chewies.
Christie had a solid grip on both ankles. She paused for clarification. “One yellow chewy or six yellow chewies, Margaret? I’m about to drag him down to the fourth floor. Dr. Webb would like to see him. I don’t think the Franklin family necessarily wants to see him, but down we go.”
“Christie, Dr. Webb’s not so bad! Can’t it wait a few?”
“A few, what, Margaret?”
“OHMYEFFINGGOD! You let him have the whole bag, didn’t you?!” Twelve to fifteen toffee wrappers were stuck to the front of Frank’s shirt.
“Just half a bag. He’ll be OK in a few days. Christie, he was SO tired! And miserable. And sad. And have you no pity?”
“None. Zero. Zilch. However, in Frank’s defense, I did suggest that Dr. Webb behave somewhat inappropriately with his sister. So, there’s that.”
Margaret crawled under the table and pushed while Christie pulled. “Wait. There’s a gurney in the clean room, be right back.” They got Frank onto the gurney, zipped up his pants, popped an oxygen mask on his face, and raced him to the elevator. Somewhere between the seventh and fourth floors, Dr. Evans regained consciousness. As soon as his popped eyes opened, Margaret pulled the oxygen mask off his face. “Frank. You’re a fucking reprobate, but you’re my fucking reprobate so here I am saving your life. OK?”
“Yup. Yup. Consider my life saved. Christie! Why am I on a gurney and where the hell are we going?”
“You, Frank, are going to the hospital suite to visit your patient and his family. Dr. Webb is waiting on an explanation for the purple sparkles and I’m not doing it this time.”
Dr. Evans wobbled, unassisted, into the room. Sam had never seen a case of bed head worse than a couple of tangles, a badly behaved cowlick, and something her mother used to refer to as fuck knots. Dr. Evans appeared to have all three and then some. There were toffee wrappers stuck to the right side of his head and Samantha wanted Christie to open the crypt from which she’d dragged his sorry ass and shove him back in.
Sam was less than thrilled when Dr. Webb motioned him bedside. She had questions too, but it could wait.
Dr. Webb expected to see evidence of a corneal repair. The message he received at midnight indicated a small corneal tear in the left eye. Nothing that couldn't be repaired, but it had to happen immediately. Apparently, it did not happen immediately because he was pretty sure he was looking at two complete transplants, neither of which came from human donors, which left a single alternative. He told Christie to stay with Matt and dragged Evans into the hallway. The door closed with a snick, leaving the room hushed and still. Matt closed his eyes again and Christie held one of his hands.
Twenty minutes later, both doctors were back in the room. Dr. Webb pulled open the drapes, and Dr. Evans turned on all the lights, including the bathroom and kitchen. Dr. Webb asked Matt to open his eyes. "Just open them, Mr. Franklin, it's going to be a little weird but best to rip this sort of thing right off. Your eyes are fine, by the way. Don't panic."
Matt opened his eyes and blinked a couple times. "Dry. They're dry." Christie squirted him with eye wash. He blinked again. "Sam! Is that you, Sam? You came! And you brought my friend Reed! Shit, that's awesome!"
Sam looked at Christie. Christie looked at the floor. Reed looked at Matt and said, "Give him a mirror. Right now. Then we're going to talk about this. My attorney is on a big fat retainer, so let's start with the truth. ALL of the truth." Christie gave Matt a small hand mirror. He blinked a couple times and then asked somebody to get the thing off his head. She pulled a small screwdriver out of another pocket and went to work.
Matt sat up and held the mirror at arm's length, pulled it closer, blinked a couple of times, and dropped it on the bed. "My eyes are all weird. Why are my eyes all weird? Am I a butterfly?" Reed shook his head, but Sam confirmed the diagnosis. Butterfly it was. Matt looked relieved and put his head back on the pillow.
Reed stood up. "OK, Gentlemen and Christie, from the top, please."
"Excuse me, and you are? I don't think I caught your name or your relationship to the patient."
"Webb, right? Reed Beaver Hunter."
"Pleased to make your acquaintance, Reed Beaver Hunter, but can you tell me what the hell you're doing here?"
"I am Mr. Franklin's medical advocate."
"And can I assume you’ve got notarized documentation in your back pocket?"
"Not this morning, sorry. I’ll give my attorney a call and he'll have it sent right over. Although, come to think of it, with a phone call like this, he really should hand deliver."
"Fine. We can dispense with the legal formalities, but Christie's going to need notarized documents, end of business today."
Reed channeled his father and managed to look slightly menacing. Sam channeled her mother and scared the shit out of everybody. An explanation would be forthcoming, or body parts would accumulate at the door. Webb sighed and told Evans to start from the beginning. He wanted to hear it anyway.
“Oh my god! Christie! That’s Weed Beavah Hunna from last night!”
“Yes, Dr. Evans, it does appear to be Weed Beavah Hunna, in the flesh. Maybe you should just get on with it?”
Dr. Evans explained the general concept of the glasses. They were meant to clean up vision and peripheral perspective by providing the patient with an expanded point of view. The patient's limiting biases were filtered out of the equation. What they see and experience are driven by the part of the subconscious that wants a better world. Most of the time the result is a nicer, more receptive human being. This puts others at ease and allows best intentions to rise to the surface.
A constant stream of data is collected directly from the glasses and fed into a database accessed by a team of analysts. The patient is monitored 24/7 and minor adjustments are made remotely. During the thirty-day trial period, side effects are identified and corrected. By the time the patient receives the final product, all external 'noise' should be cleared up. The patient is asked to choose between their original prescription, or the custom glasses provided by American Ophthalmologists.
Mr. Franklin had a few unexpected side effects within the first four hours. They gave the glasses a couple of minor tweaks and things settled down. The problem was the migraine, or ‘The Party Worm, his entourage, and something called MigrainePalooza ‘22’. There was a feedback loop that caused an unexpected dependency on the glasses. They were certain it could be corrected, but not remotely.
It was Dr. Evan's intention to make the correction manually at Mr. Franklin's thirty-day evaluation. If Matt had not called Christie and mentioned the blue rabbits, they would have waited, and he might have been blind before his appointment. The blue rabbits were a bleed through symptom. They didn't know where the rabbits were coming from but there had to be at least one blue bunny within a forty-yard range. The bunny itself wasn't relevant other than its unexpected color. It could have been a dog, an iguana, or a murder of crows.
The bleed through happened because a nearby friend or family member had a relationship with the bunny. Sam raised her hand and pointed at Reed. "He's got the blue bunny and he lives right next door and I play with the bunny sometimes even though I'm not supposed to go next door and I've been thinking about the bunny a lot..."
Matt sat up. "Why aren't you supposed to go next door?"
"Don't get upset, Daddy. I don't want to lie, and I don't want you to get upset so I don't know what to do."
Reed said he knew what to do. He said they might as well start with the truth and maybe Matt could handle it. "Matt. I had a brief relationship with your wife last year. I felt terrible and ended it quickly. Problem is, Laura didn't take it well and things got a little out of hand. Buddy, I am really, deeply, and truly ashamed, and sorry just doesn't cut it."
"Oh. Is that all? Well, I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation in there somewhere but it's all water under the bridge, right? Also, we weren't friends yet so I don't think I can justify being upset with you. On the other hand, I could be very upset with Laura but there's usually a pretty good reason this sort of thing happens. I'll talk to her later; I expect she just needs a little more attention."
Reed’s face was purple. "What the hell did you do to him?!"
Dr. Evans borrowed some of Christie’s inner peace and scrubbed at his face. "Mr. Hunter, please. Matt's in a pretty good place right now. He's assuming the best of everyone and isn't that working for you? At least a little?" Reed nodded, still red in the face.
“Bleed through is very unusual. Without exception, it causes immediate damage to the cornea which exacerbates any pre-existing side effects. The migraine was the big one. Mr. Franklin said he had a party worm in his head. That would be a very good metaphor, except it's not. There was a worm, it was removed it intact, and he shouldn't experience that level of discomfort ever again. Mr. Hunter, shall I continue?”
Reed was looking at the floor, nodding his head in agreement with whatever internal dialog he had going in his head. He made a circling gesture with his hand, indicating that Dr. Evans should get on with it. Christie considered that an excellent sign and gave the room a very shiny smile. Dr. Evans snarled and continued.
“When we examined Mr. Franklin's eyes, we probably should have scheduled surgery that afternoon, but we didn't. What we were trying to do was twofold. We wanted to repair the existing damage without invasive surgery, but we needed to do a little digging around to see if we could find root cause. What we found was the worm. An actual worm. It's in a jar down the hall if you'd like to see it. Got a couple rows of teeth and everything. We got the worm out just before 2 AM this morning but the cornea sustained significant damage in the process.” Dr. Evans listed to the left and crashed onto a plastic fig tree.
Dr. Webb looked at Christie, who shrugged and suggested he take over until Dr. Evans recovered himself. Dr. Webb briefly considered smacking her on the way out of the room but opened his mouth instead.
“A corneal transplant requires live donor tissue. Live donor tissue isn't something we keep in the refrigerator just in case. Dr. Evans was afraid Mr. Franklin was going to lose sight in his left eye, and possibly lose the eye itself. Something else to keep in mind is if a corneal transplant had been performed before they got the worm out, the worm would have stayed in Mr. Franklin’s skull until it eventually ate its way through enough grey matter to kill him. All things considered, they did everything right except maybe the last thing, but we won't really know until he's up and walking around.”
American Ophthalmologists had been working on surgically implanted corrective lenses. These lenses were not meant to replace the cornea; they, like the glasses, were an enhancement of what God gave most of us. Matt's left cornea was gone. Obliterated. They replaced both corneas with AO’s corrective lenses which is why his eyes looked a little interesting. They were meant to enhance a healthy cornea, not replace it. Matt hadn’t had a complete exam yet, but he was expected to have perfect or near perfect vision in more ways than one.
Everyone got very quiet. Sam looked at her dad and cried. Reed looked up at the ceiling muttering, “fuckmylife, just fuckmylife”. Matt was looking in the mirror again.
"Hey! I am a butterfly! My eyes are sparkly and, uh, at a certain angle, they're blue bunny colored. Should we call my wife now?”
Her Sister said, "Poor Choice, Laurie. We talked about this eight years ago and we agreed, you agreed, Laurie, that stepping off the tech train for more than a year was career suicide. At the very least, you needed to have maintained your network. We agreed that any time spent away from the tech world was going to require staying current in your field and that included keeping your skill sets aligned with your peers. Do you even have a clue where to start? Isn't there anyone you can call? You had a pretty good run there; surely someone remembers you. Anyway, your resume's a disaster. That thing needs an overhaul right now. It doesn't matter if nothing's changed; the tech world has moved on and you're going to have to highlight more soft skills than you'd like. Accentuate skills that can be revived without major surgery. And Laurie? Have you looked in the mirror lately? You're starting to look like a walking corpse. Nobody hires a dead body, ambulatory or not. You gotta take care of yourself, girl. Taking care of yourself starts with taking care of your body."
Susi was right. Of course, she was right. Susi was always right, but she wasn't right about everything. She made a choice and how the hell could her sister possibly judge her? She had no idea what it meant to have a baby, the shock to the system, the overwhelm, and in the chaos how easily things slipped away.
Susi was married to another investment banker whose idea of nurturing involved hiring someone to take care of basic plant care. She had no responsibility for anyone, just herself. If they had any sort of partnership, it involved financial investments. She called it wealth building. Laura called it, trading their basic humanity, and never much cared for that man anyway.
On the other hand, Susi had a valid point. Before Sam, she'd judged exiting mothers harshly. They gave up everything; back stepped right into the dark ages, leaving their sisters to carry the ball. It wasn't fair. If they came back at all they jumped on the mommy track and worked the standard thirty-five-hour week; driven by hormonal surge and societal expectation. And wasn't that exactly what she'd done?
In truth, she hated motherhood. She loved her kids, which is why they were still breathing. Once, she remembered, she loved her husband but at some point, he stopped being a husband. Now he was a paycheck. Granted, a decent paycheck, more than she would have expected of him. But still, an irritating, pain in the ass, needy as shit paycheck, and she hated him for it.
Her Sister said, “Call a placement agency, not a recruiter. They won't look at you right now. You’re going to have to pay the placement agency to give your resume an overhaul, point out the holes that need filling, and then you're going to get yourself into some night courses.”
Laura balked at the night courses. She had a hard enough time keeping her eyes open past the kids' bedtimes. Jeffry went down at 7:30. He'd always been that way. Lie him down in his crib, a bed, or the kitchen floor, and that kid was out.
She was convinced Sam did not sleep. Ever. Up until last month, she could have said the kid stayed in her room from 8:30 to 6:00, but apparently that was not an accurate assumption. Sam got up to all kinds of shit, the worst of which was choosing to knock on that man's door at 4:00 AM. Laura felt gutted. She still couldn’t make eye contact with the little traitor.
The Paycheck had been in that ridiculous excuse for a hospital for a solid month. It was less than a block from the projects and situated on twelve acres of conjoined industrial lots. At least it looked like twelve acres. From his room on the fourth floor, she could see all the way to the compound fencing; and it was a compound. Anything that big with concertina wire on top of a twenty-foot, junkyard dog gauge chain link fence was a compound. She wondered if it was hot. Probably full of landmines too.
The state of his hospital room was unnerving. He might as well have been ensconced in an executive suite at the City Center Hyatt. It even had a spare bedroom which she was encouraged to use as often as possible. Sam used it. Reed used it. Laura did not. She and Jeffry stayed home with that stupid blue bunny. Somebody had to take care of the damn thing and she sure as hell wasn't setting foot in that man's house. She sent Jeffry in to get the rabbit and sent him back for the rabbit's stuff. Jeffry couldn't manage the cage, so they locked the rabbit in the powder room.
Matt shared his dinner with her once. He probably would have continued if she hadn't come unhinged. That irritating little voice informed her that she'd assassinated yet one more possibility of reconciliation. At the very least, a little romance. Instead, she burst into tears with the first mouthful un-swallowed, and he spent an hour trying to convince her that no matter how good the hospital food was, it couldn't possibly compare with a meal at her table.
She considered breaking one of the Tiffany lamps over his head, except they might be real, and the replacement cost would probably be bigger than the mortgage and car payments combined. That’s why you're not dead, Matt. You're not dead because we can't afford to replace a lamp with a price tag that might be one decimal to right of our total net worth.
Matt was on extended leave. He'd paid for short term disability, but not long term, and it was starting to hurt. She wasn't sure what could or should be turned into cash and he wasn't any help. The man thought he was a butterfly. She didn't care if he was Genghis Kahn in a pushup bra; he was currently out of commission.
She thought about calling her sister but decided if she could keep the kids fed and the lights on there was no way she was submitting herself to another round of sisterly love. The butterfly might be flitting about in his own world now, but his credit rating was about to take a nosedive.