Life at № 42
Red, white and blue, and sirens. Maybe yellow instead of white. I don’t really remember that part. I do remember it was dark and cold, and someone covered me with a blanket. They also left a note saying everything was going to be fine. What a ridiculous thing to say – to do. How could anyone possibly know if anything at all would be fine?
It was December, in Rockford, Illinois. What a terrible place to die. Middle America. Middle, mediocre. I hate mediocre. Why couldn’t I have made it Paris or London – or the South of Spain? I love the south of Spain, so glamorous. The nurse in the ambulance is terribly smiley. Like someone out of a cereal advertisement. She also says I’m going to be fine. Annoying. Her eyes are a crystalline blue. Very pretty. I wonder if she has this air of happiness all the time. I feel like pinching her very hard to see if I can make her cry. Obviously I don’t.
I look quite excellent. All in black with a tan jacket. And tan shoes and belt. I look like I’ve just stepped out of a magazine. I grew up thinking I was ugly. I believed that until last year, in fact. It turns out I was wrong. The preponderance of the evidence says otherwise. People often stare at me, and it seems that sometimes it’s because they like how I look. Not just because I’m strange. Sometimes people even tell me I’m beautiful. I’ll have to blame being generally disliked on something else now.
The hospital is Saint something or other. Very bright, very white. Except for the man approaching me, he’s very black. He’s coming at me like he’s going to touch me! I consider screaming, but that would be impolite. I’m in a hospital, everything is fine, he’s not going to rob me. I close my left hand anyway just to make sure my ring doesn’t get accidentally slipped off. In Salvador black people are mostly workers or servants, and of course all the criminals are black. He tells me he’s going to cut my clothes off. I protest. He insists. I negotiate. Not the jacket. Save the jacket! I love the jacket. Burberry’s, cashmere.
My grandmother said I could have anything I wanted for my last birthday. Once I’d chosen, she said the jacket was too fitted. That there was something feminine about it. I exploded in rage. I had an attack. That’s what people in my family called it when I spoke my mind. Albeit sometimes my mind spoke through flying objects and yelling in a way that most found frightening.
“Do you think I’m A) Blind, B) Retarded or C) A Mongoloid”. We could say things like that back then. The shop assistant laughed. My grandmother refused to buy the jacket. I refused to have lunch with her. I knew I was leaving soon. Maybe forever. Probably forever. I had to find something, somewhere. And I had to be away from those people, all of those people. And I was going to do it in Burberry’s cashmere. Burberry’s was very elegant then. Before footballers started wearing the real thing and poor people started wearing the knock-offs. I blame the internet and the tabloids. Poor people shouldn’t even know what Burberry’s is.
They ask me if I want to see a priest before surgery. A fucking priest? I think it but don’t say it. I don’t swear in voice, only in writing. I’m not vulgar. A priest is the last thing I want. I considered being a priest once, but mostly because I wanted to live at the Vatican – evidently that would involve being at least a cardinal and would probably take forever to achieve. I gave up on the idea fairly quickly. Much more quickly than on the fantasy that the Romanov’s would come and get me. Save me. I’d meet the Grand Duchess and she’d immediately know we were kindred spirits. Anastasio? She’d make a place for me in the world. There would be a reception, I’d come down a marble staircase. Everyone would applaud.
They ask me about my emergency contact. “Shouldn’t you tell a family member what’s going on?” I don’t want to; but I suppose I have to be responsible. I recite my grandmother’s number and seconds later they hand me a phone. It must be around lunch time in Brazil. “I’ve had an accident. It’s nothing, I’m fine.” I’m always fine. I once broke my foot on a Thursday and was able to dissimulate the fact until the Monday. It was very difficult to do because I couldn’t put it down on the floor. The pain was tremendous, but I didn’t want to be an inconvenience. That turned out to be a very bad idea. Broken bones don’t fix themselves.
“What did you do?” she says. Accusatory, as always. I’ve always done something. I’m permanently guilty. I feel like telling her she’s a stupid woman. I don’t tell her anything the doctor said. Dr. Bear. The man looks like he knows what he’s doing. Hip, rods, knee, lots of words, very quickly spoken. I couldn’t quite string together everything he was saying. Shock? Something about walking. I wonder if he means I won’t be able to walk again. For a second I feel a sense of relief. Wheelchair bound? Maybe that means I never have to do anything; ever again.
I can just sit and be unpleasant to people. I think I’d like that. Whatever Happened to Baby Me? And people will just have to put up with me, you know, because of the wheelchair. I’m 21, what a tragedy. People are going to say so young, so beautiful and so clever, poor thing! I was never really convinced by the idea of a career anyway. Or marriage, or life in general. Not unless the Romanov’s come to get me. Now there are lights in my face. Another black person! They’re everywhere! This time it’s a woman. I like her face. She reminds me of Dejanira. She tells me to count backwards from 10. Ten, nine, eight.