The Close Relative

by Jim Meirose

They tooled along toward Solly's bar in Vic's old Lincoln. Vic spoke up.

Here Nelson. We got to swing by the hospital on the way to Solly's.

Why Vic?

I got somebody I need to visit. It'll just take a minute.

Who's in the hospital?

Close relative.

How'd they end up there?

Oh—stupid reason. They came home from someplace and found they had locked themselves out of the house. They forced the door and in the process got hurt.

Hurt how?

Hurt bad enough to end up in the hospital. I just want to swing by the gift shop when we're there and get some flowers and a card. Then spend a little time in the room. Up for it?

Sure, fine.

Vic got in the left lane and the light was green so he tooled into the hospital lot. They got a spot near the main entrance. They'd just come from the plant so had on their blue coveralls and filthy steeltoes. No need to change. Solly's wasn't formal, just a hole in the wall beer joint that served sandwiches. They went in the hospital and headed for the gift shop. The brightly lit colors of all the flowers and goods made the place cheerful. They got red and white flowers and the card. The envelope was sky blue. Vic signed the card and they went to the reception desk and Vic said to the grey haired red faced old woman, We're here for room 221.

She shuffled the grey box of passes, and came up with one.

Room 221—Wilkens, she said with a cheerful smile. Here you are.

Vic took the card and said Thanks, with a grin. They went to the grey steel elevators, and headed up to the second floor. In the elevator Nelson said that woman said Wilkens—your name is Wilkens—is it your brother? Your sister? How bad is it?

It's closer, said Vic—and when the elevator doors opened on the second floor the sign on the wall pointed toward the room they needed. The room numbers went by one by one in the bright pastel hallway. They reached the room they wanted. Vic clutched the flowers and card to him, and they went in. It was a two bed room. The first bed was empty and the curtain was drawn hiding the bed by the window. Vic pulled it back.

A hand lay on the pillow, palm up. Three fingers were splinted. A sheet lay across neatly, folded crisply, hiding the wrist. An IV was connected to the wrist.

What? said Nelson—what the hell is that? What the hell is going on?

It's my right hand, said Vic tenderly, as he put the flowers and card on the side table.

It's your right hand? I—I—

It was then he noticed Vic's right arm pushed into his coverall pocket, and realized Vic had driven, bought the gift items, and carried them up to the room, all with just his left hand.

How can this be? said Nelson—what is this you're pulling some kind of joke on me—

No Joke, said Vic softly as he tenderly touched a finger to the palm of the hand and spoke to it softly, in a soothing voice.

How are you feeling? How is the pain?

At once, a low soft voice filled the room; it was in their heads; it had to be. If it was the hand, it had to be. The thing had no mouth.

I have the IV for pain, said the voice. I feel okay.

Suddenly feeling faint and queasy, Nelson sank into the bedside recliner—this can't be—where am I? Who am I? What—

His thoughts continued to race along these lines as Vic went on speaking to his right hand lying on the pillow, stroking it lightly as the words passed between them.

Have you seen the doctor today? Do you know when you will be coming back to me?

About a week, said the hand—the doctor was here this morning. He told me—

The words of the hand cut into the dazed Nelson—this couldn't be this couldn't be—

—he told me I was healing nicely and should be more careful from now on.

It's up to me to be sure you are careful—when I have you back.

That's right—hey I can see the flowers. They're beautiful. I love red and white.

I know—and look, said Vic, reaching for the card past the near-comatose Nelson—I got you a card too. Look, he said, opening it—look it says Get Well Soon—you Handsome devil you! Get it? Get it? Hand? Handsome? I like it.

I like it too, said the hand. Put it on the table where I can see it. Hey listen—the day you broke into the house—how did you break me? What did you do wrong?

I'm sorry. I feel sorry about it every day.


I used too much force. I—I am so sorry I could cry. You—you do so much for me. I love you. I love you so much.

The tears came to Vic's eyes—he placed his left hand on the palm of the right and lay his head on the bed, and he began to sob.

No, said the right hand—no, don't cry what's done is done. And I will be back. I will.

For some reason this seemed to revive Nelson—he had actually been partially unconscious in the chair but he felt better now. He rose and leaned and placed his hand on Vic's shoulder.

Vic, he said strongly, refusing to look at the hand—that's enough. Let's get out of here. I need to get out of here. I've had enough of—of this. Come on let's go, Solly's only makes sandwiches until eight anyway. I need to get out of here.

All right, said Vic—he said Good-bye softly to the hand, said feel better—

And then he leaned down and lightly kissed the palm of the hand.

I love you, he repeated. So much.

And I you—

Nelson roughly took Vic by the arm, pulling him up—Come on let's get out of here, he half shouted. I need to get out of here, as the hand said Good-bye also in that low soft voice, cutting into his brain, cutting cutting and he pulled Vic back and pulled the curtain around and got him past the other bed and out the door into the hall. The hall was bright lit the floor was polished gleaming and there wasn't a soul in sight. Somehow the place had become all unreal. Nelson walked Vic to the elevator, managing not to think any thoughts in the process, and five minutes later they stood outside the main entrance to the hospital. They got to Solly's with Nelson driving, and he choked as though driving through some heavy loathsome mist, and from there the night went on smoothly.

BIO: Jim Meirose's work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including Collier's Magazine, the Fiddlehead, Witness, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Xavier Review, and has been nominated for several awards. Two collections of his short work have been published and three novels are available from Amazon. A fourth novel will be released in 2015 by Montag Press.