A whole jungle was spread out before Jimmy; the air was fragrant with the smells of tropical fruits and flowers; he could hear birds singing and monkeys chattering in the trees; a soft breeze ruffled his hair. Every shade of green was represented in the leaves and shadows. A warm yellow light shone through the jungle’s canopy and onto a velvety carpet of grass leading down an emerald colored pond. The bright clearing was calm and comforting while the dark, teal shadows were mysterious and enticing.
If you kept looking long enough you almost forgot that it was only a painting.
Jimmy lay on the faded teal colored couch in his foster brother Laurie’s studio. The old industrial loft was cold and sparse with only a few pieces of worn furniture. Canvases of various sizes were propped up against the walls. Large windows without curtains let in cold, pale winter light. His foster mother, Luisa, often let him let him spend the weekend here; Laurie was her step-son.
Laurie stood gazing intently at some backdrops for a stage production of Tarzan; the cigarette in mouth bobbing up and down . He often grumbled that his talent was wasted on such work, but it brought in money.
Laurie was in his twenties, about five foot eight, burley, and good-looking in a square, boxy sort of way. His dark hair was worn very short, and a pencil was tucked behind his right ear. The jeans and t-shirt he wore were splattered with paint and smelt of turpentine, cigarette ash, and coffee. He turned to look at Jimmy and laughed. Jimmy was wearing a ratty old red bandanna tied around tied around his nose and mouth; he always had that bandanna with him, usually worn around his head or neck.
“What, are you going to go hold up a store?” he asked; his voice sounded nasally due to a cold.
“Maybe,” Jimmy replied.
Laurie pulled a tissue out of a cardboard Kleenex box, “Then you can pay for dinner tonight.”
Though Jimmy felt bone tired, his heart pounded against the cushions of the couch like a jackhammer. It had been like this since the previous weekend. He felt nervous and jittery all the time; was either completely exhausted or unable to stay in one place. Luisa told him to cut down on sugary things and take deep breaths whenever his heart fluttered; neither did much good.
Nights were even worse. He had such bad heartburn that he could not sleep; it felt like something was eating at his chest. The only thing that helped was to get up and pace about room till the heartburn subsided. If he was lucky, he would be able to get a few hours of rest.
As he lay on the couch in Laurie’s studio, Jimmy’s skinny chest rose and fell as he took deep breaths to calm himself down. He watched Laurie paint a red, blue, and yellow parrot into one of his jungle backdrops. Laurie rendered it so life-like that one could almost hear it squawking. Jimmy’s eyes grew damp and heavy and hard to keep open.
“I love you very much, Jimmy,” a pleasant, comforting and maternal voice whispered to him, accompanied by the soothing rustling of the jungle.
A pair of gentle, delicate hands twisted his blond curls around their fingers. He imagine that the owner of those hands had similar blond curls, and pale, rosy skin and large blue eyes like he did.
“Goodnight Mom,” he whispered.
Laurie gave Jimmy some money after he woke up from his nap and sent him across the street to get dinner at Abatti’s deli. The sun had gone down and the dark streets were lit up by fluorescent and neon. It was bitterly cold and a smoky cloud of breath hung around Jimmy as he crossed the street.
Jimmy walked through the door of Abatti’s deli and greeted the gangly teenaged boy behind the counter. Jake, his name was, and his older sister, Sarah, was Laurie’s girlfriend. His and Laurie’s usual order was placed: two meatball subs, one with cheese, one without; an order of mozzarella sticks; two cans of Coca-Cola, and a large bag of potato chips.
A woman came in after Jimmy, wrapping an expensive looking black fur coat, chosen more for style than practicality, around her waifish frame in a vain attempt to keep out the cold. Jimmy wondered what someone like her was doing there; she looked like she should have dinner reservations at some swanky uptown restaurant and thousand dollar theater tickets.
“Are you in line, sweety?” she inquired of Jimmy, her voice was high and girlish with a peppy twang.
“No, go ahead,” he responded.
“I like your bandanna.”
She ordered a vegetable calzone and a large black coffee. Her order was ready before Jimmy’s and she bid him goodnight before leaving the deli. He held the door open for her.
“What a doll you are,” she cooed before pinching his cheek.
Jimmy flinched in revulsion.
After he returned to Laurie’s studio with their dinner, they sat down on the couch to eat and watch a movie. Jimmy nodded off again towards the end. Laurie turned the television off when it was over and pulled a blanket up over Jimmy’s narrow, little boy’s shoulders.
Jimmy was woken up by what felt like something eating his chest. He walked over to the bathroom, took some pepto bismol, and then poured himself a glass a milk in the kitchen. Pacing back and forth was the only thing that really helped this burning sensation.
“Maybe it was something I ate,” he thought.
He felt dead tired but could not lay down for more than a minute before the pain became so unbearable that he had to get back up again. Countless times he crossed in front of Laurie’s jungle set pieces and tried to wish himself far away but his mind was too tired and cloudy for that.
Suddenly, his dinner made its way back up his throat and he rushed back to the bathroom and threw up until his stomach was empty. When it was empty, he continued to heave but in vain.
Laurie got out of bed and found Jimmy sitting on the bathroom floor, moaning and groaning in pain.
“God damn it, Jim, are you okay?” he shouted.
“No,” Jimmy answered in a weak voice, “I thought it was something I ate but now I think it’s worse than than. My chest hurts so much and I can’t sleep. I can’t even sit still.”
What happened next was a blur Jimmy. He remembered an ambulance arriving and bringing him to the hospital. During the drive, he was strapped to a gurney which was torture because he had an uncontrollable urge to kick his legs and flail his arms. He was then wheeled into the emergency room. The bright, sterile, environment of the hospital seemed unreal this late at night.
Jimmy was lead from the gurney to a hospital bed by a matronly middle aged nurse with dyed red hair. The tag on her scrubs said that her name was Julianne. Julianne helped him out of his pajamas and into a hospital gown; the curtains, with their colorful geometric pattern, gave him some privacy. Above him was a beeping, flashing monitor and a small television screen which could be pulled down in front of him.
Nurse Julianne tucked him into bed and gave him morphine to keep him calm and comfortable. A young doctor who looked little older than Laurie then came in, holding a pencil and clipboard.
“Are you Jimmy Beaumont?” he asked.
“Yes” Jimmy yawned.
“What brings you here tonight?”
“Chest pains, at first I thought they were heartburn. For about a week, I’ve felt like my heart has been racing and at night I’ve been having such bad chest pains that I could hardly sleep.”
After listening to Jimmy’s symptoms, the young doctor listened to his heart and the ordered an echocardiogram and a blood test. Jimmy did not remember most of this; the morphine slowly sent into into a deep sleep. He felt the pressure where the ultrasound technician rubbed a transducer across his chest, a painful tightness on his arm where the phlebotomist tied a piece of rubber and the slight prick where she applied the needle.
One of the curtains was pulled back and he could see who was in the bed next to him. It was a young woman whose white evening dress was stained red with blood from stab wounds in her stomach. She let out a haunting moan which echoed throughout the emergency moan.
Jimmy may have been doped up and half asleep but he would swear that he had seen her before.
When he woke up the next morning, he found that he been moved from the emergency room to a ward in the hospital proper. A large window gave him a view of a clear, frosty, winter morning over the city skyline.
Luisa and Sarah had taken over for Laurie, who had gone home to rest. Luisa hovered over him, asking how he was feeling. His heart still pounded and he still felt weak but there was a definite improvement.
Sarah got up from her chair and walked over to him; her spiky brunette ponytail swaying like a deer’s tail as she moved. She smiled her serene smile, as warm, sweet and comforting as a cup of peppermint tea with honey in it, and brushed the asymmetrical bangs off of her forehead.
“Hey kiddo,” she began, “I have a present for you.”
She took a Barnes and Noble bag out of a denim tote covered in pins with band names on them and handed it to Jimmy. Inside the bag was a book entitled The Adventures of Beau Colt, a novel set in a dystopian future, similar to the wild west.
“Thanks,” his voice came out nasally due to the fact that his nose was blocked up with an oxygen tube, “Will you read it to me?”
She pulled her chair closer to the bed and began to read but was interrupted by the entrance of a fresh faced nurse straight out of nursing school dressed in baby blue scrubs. The nurse bid them good morning in an indistinct accent and began to look over Jimmy’s vitals.
“Doctor Freed will see you later this morning,” she informed them when she was finished.
Doctor Freed arrived about an hour later, walking in during a particularly exciting part in The Adventures of Beau Colt. He was elderly and balding, frail and wrinkled, with grey hairs growing out of his ears and nostrils but spoke in a self composed and business-like manner which made the most serious diagnosis sound like a minor, easily dealt with, inconvenience. Jimmy was told that that he had something called endocarditis, an infection in the lining in his heart.
“We’ll put you on a six week round of antibiotics,” Doctor Freed finished up, “And keep you here for observation for the next few days. You’re lucky you came in when do you did; we might have needed to operate and repair the infected valve.”
This was a relief to Jimmy, who did not much care for the idea of having major surgery.
Not long after Doctor Freed’s visit, a team of technicians showed up to put something called a PICC line in Jimmy’s arm, through which the antibiotics would be infused. For the second time in less than twenty-four hours, Jimmy was doped up on morphine. He was too distracted by his amorphous neon colored hallucinations to notice the PICC line going into his arm.
The morphine caused him to nod off into a heavy sleep but brief sleep of a couple hours. Laurie had arrived with coffee from the hospital’s Starbucks for Sarah and Luisa by the time he woke up.
“Hey Jim,” Laurie asked, “How you feeling?”
“Much better,” he answered in a groggy voice.
Sarah’s timid, fawn-like brown eyes never failed to light up whenever Laurie came into the room. She accepted a coffee and a kiss for him. Laurie then went over to Luisa and gave her a hug. The contrast between him and his stepmother could not have been greater. He was as strong and sturdy as a tree trunk. She was wan, thin, and frail looking, and appeared as though she would blow away as easily as a feather.
“So what did the doctor say?” Laurie asked as he sat down in the seat next to Sarah.
“He has an infection,” Luisa explained, “But he should be fine.”
“Does he need surgery?”
“No, thank God.”
“Sarah got me a new book,” Jimmy joined in.
“And what book is that?”
“The Adventures of Beau Colt”
“I was just going to offer to continue to read it,” Sarah explained, “Would you like to take over, Laurie?”
He took the book from her and began to read at the beginning of the next chapter. Jimmy was fascinated by the book’s cover, which had a sepia tinted photograph of Monument Valley with a herd of full color mustangs running through it.
Laurie’s voice sent him back into his morphine fog, where this time he was transported atop a monumental rock formation. Below him, a vast sea of wild horses galloped past. Above, an endless cornflower colored sky dotted with a few wispy clouds. The air tasted dry and dusty; beads of sweat rolled down his forehead.
“Jimmy… Jimmy…” a high, girlish voice with a peppy twang called on the wind.
“Mom?” Jimmy answered.
“Where are you, my love?”
“I’m up here”
He was awoken by the tempting smell of fried chicken and potatoes. Sarah, Laurie, and Luisa were eating fast food dinners; one for him was placed on the bedside table. The television was tuned into the evening news . Jimmy never understood why people watched the news; It was always so depressing. He used the remote on the side of the hospital bed to adjust his position to upright and began to eat his dinner.
On tv they were talking about how a woman was robbed and stabbed the night before and died from her wounds as well as exposure (her coat, a black fur coat to be specific, had been stolen) in the earlier hours of the morning.
“I think there was a girl with stab wounds next to Jimmy in the emergency room last night,” Laurie told Sarah and Luisa.
The victim’s picture appeared on the screen: young, attractive, and glamorous; blond hair worn in a wavy bob with wispy bangs; lips painted a deep burgundy, eyes done up with smoky shadow and cat-like liner. Jimmy recognized her at once as the woman from Abatti’s deli. Listening in a little bit more, he was able to catch her name: Melanie Barrow.
“I swear I’ve seen her face before,” Sarah commented, “Maybe in a magazine or something; possibly the society pages.”
“The name Melanie Barrow sounds familiar” Luisa added, “I must have come across it at some point, along time ago.”
Laurie had brought Jimmy’s laptop and set it so they could finish the movie he had fallen asleep during. When it was finished, they bid goodnight to Jimmy and said they would come and see him again sometime the next day.
Rosina, the nurse, came and checked his vitals, gave him his medicine, and put him to bed. There was a lump in the mattress right where his neck should be and it was difficult for him to get comfortable. The lights and beeping of the monitors also bothered him. Both kept him tossing and turning for hours.
“Jimmy…” the girlish, peppy voice beckoned from another room.
He opened the door in front of him, which led into the main room of Laurie’s loft. It was almost completely dark; the only light came from the television.
“I’m over here,” she called again.
He walked over to the couch and found her laying there, the television illuminating her waif-like frame. Her wavy blond bob and dramatic makeup were just the way he remembered them. She was sleeping, one hand clutching her stomach. A red spot stained the white evening dress she was wearing as it expanded.
He noticed that he was holding a fur coat, which he used to cover her like a blanket.
“Goodnight Mom,” he whispered.