The noise of birds woke Lincoln from his sleep, briefly fooling him into thinking he had been dozing in a pasture or near an open window in a clean, well-kept cottage. Instead, consciousness brought him only a rerun nature documentary voiced by a Brit. On the heels of this disappointment, pain soon followed.
“Mother. Fucker,” he moaned through the tall grass of drugged sleep.
His leg was hung in front of him like a trophy bass. Layers of white gauze were tucked in close to the skin, holding infection at bay, but trapping the heat of pain like penned cattle. He groaned, unable to make words a second time, and tasted the dust in his mouth.
“Easy. Easy, champ. Don’t go flailing around now.”
The voice way off in the distance sounded familiar, but his head raged in confusion.
“You pull a stunt like trying to stand up and their going to chop that whole goddamn thing clean off.”
Lincoln chomped and spat air, desperate for a drop of saliva.
‘You just stay still, kid,” said the voice, “I’ll go get the nurse.”
The man disappeared from the room, leaving only the birds and the dry-mouthed invalid. He prayed for moisture and blinked dumbly in search of clarity. He coughed twice, wringing his lungs and finally throwing a piece of much needed phlegm into his mouth. He pushed it around with his tongue. Finally, he ventured another curse.
“What the fuck?”
Only the birds answered. Pain lit up the room, burning from his knee. Lincoln clamped down on the sheets with both hands, attempting to be still. The throbbing dulled, and pieces of memory slid into focus. The play at second. The slide. The ride to the hospital. A name.
“Roy!” he rasped.
“Roy! Get in here, you sack of shit.”
He heard movement in the hall, but no answer. He scanned the room, slowly adjusting to the blinding white and therapeutic blue. Next to him on the night stand, laying atop a pile of loose papers and an empty pill cup, was the remote. He stabbed at it and silenced the television. One word stuck in his blunted brain – surgery.
Outside, he heard his agent shuffling down the hall, his suffering topsiders dragging as he went. Roy hurried into the room in a flurry with two black nurses in tow.
“See now?” he said, flushed with activity, “He’s up. Get him some goddamned meds, won’t you?”
The nurses split duties, one checking his chart while the other peered somewhat disapprovingly at his vitals. Without words, they eyed the other and silently agreed.
“He’s had plenty,” said the thicker one, “he’ll be due in another hour”
Lincoln groaned, Roy fumed. But the Nightingales would not be budged. They made notes diligently while they ignored the tempest. In pity, or perhaps in fake solidarity, the slim girl patted his good leg.
“Pain is a blessing, baby. It lets you know things are still alive down there.”
Lincoln snarled at her and gripped his bedding tighter. Both nurses wrapped up their duties and fled, leaving the two men to sulk in their wake. In spite of their fiery show for the nurses, both fell silent in the absence of the women. Lincoln regretted muting the nature documentary. Finally, the silence broke.
“I bet she would have doped you up good if you could have whipped up some waterworks, slick.”
Lincoln laughed in spite of himself. His knee burned in protest.
“Shit, maybe if you wouldn’t have ran in here like a fucking wet-nurse, I could have fooled them.”
They laughed, and briefly the room breathed. The stillness quickly returned.
“How bad is it, boss?” Lincoln asked.
Roy mouthed a few false starts.
“It’s not good, kid. Gutierrez really messed you up something proper.”
Lincoln nodded, taking the news with the type of understanding deep pain provided.
“How long was I under?” he asked.
“Five hours or so. You missed the night half of the header.”
“They walked off in the tenth. Marquez threw a meatball to their masher.”
“Shit. Marquez is useless.”
Again they settled. Of all the indignities of the day, the fact that his knee was shredded in Chicago weighed on him the heaviest.
“Am I done?”
“You’re done for the year.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
He paused, “Listen, they got in there and it was bad, Lincoln. Like a damn murder scene. Nothing attached to nothing. They did the best they could, but…”
He lost his voice, and mist formed in the corners closest to his nose.
“What?” his agent asked, unsure of the tone.
“I asked you a fucking question. Am I done?”
Roy stared through him. On the screen, a toucan took flight. Another nurse saved him.
“Mr. Lincoln” she said sweetly, “you have company!”
She wheeled a young man– no more than twelve – into the room, while her partner pushed an IV stand along behind. The boy, bald and grayish, was beaming and was leaned as far forward in the chair as possible.
“Mr. Lincoln, this is Ryan,” the first nurse said, “He’s a big sports fan.”
Lincoln did his best to pull himself together.
“How do you do, Ryan?” he asked, wiping his face with the sleeve of his gown.
The boy smiled shyly, tucking his face behind a needled hand.
“Say hello Ryan,” the nurse insisted, “This is Mr. Lincoln. He was baseball player.”
Lincoln said nothing, searching the room instead for his friend’s eyes. But Roy looked away. His sunken gaze doing everything possible to avoid the broken expression of his last client.