“I'm sorry, Ms. Cochrane. The brain damage is irreversible. Your son has suffered permanent memory loss.” The surgeon didn't bother to comfort the distraught mother. Instead, he spun sharply about and briskly left the family waiting room.
“That's one cold fish, ma'am, but he's the best they got here at Mercy General. So, if he says your boy is done, for, then he's done for.”
Mary looked up from the sleeper sofa. Her tear-blurred vision swept from the interloper's raggedy sneakers, baggy blue pants and shocking purple satin muscle shirt to come to rest finally upon a spot of dirt on the end of a pale white nose. She blinked him into focus.
“I said, ‘That's one cold fish, ma'am …',” he didn't get to finish.
“I heard what you said! How dare you!” Mary sat up straighter, her palm on the armrest.
Sensing impending violence, the odd man took a step back. “Ma'am, please. I'm here to help.” He stuck out a business card.
Mary ignored the gesture, sprang up and glared down onto the spot of dirt. “Help? Just how do you intend to do that? Who are you?” She wrinkled her own nose in disgust.
Impatiently, the man whip-sawed his arm dramatically in toward his chest and flung it back in her face, so that she could see the business card:
“Is this some kind of sick joke?” Mary was almost beside herself with fury. She snatched the card and shook it in the man's face. “Filibuster? What is this!”
The man, plainly frightened, tried to swerve under her waving arm. “I fix brain damage! I can help your boy!”
“What?” Mary stopped as if flash-frozen. Her stricken look threatened to crumble into a piteous cry of maternal misery.
The man spoke quickly, hoping to stave off the keening wail that was building up. “I have a revolutionary technique that reaches into brains and repairs them like new. Thirty days of rehab, your boy will be playing piano better than ever.”
Mary could only sputter as the man continued.
“We just have to do a series of mental exercises to jump-start the damaged neurons. Most of the real damage came when the surgeon was splashing around in your son's head with his crude implements. But I can fix that, too. I only need ten thousand dollars and for you to sign a release.”
Finally, Mary found her voice. It was choked with the phlegm of anguish, but sprinkled with cinnamon-flavored hope. “You can do that?”
The man exhaled, “Yes, ma'am. I can fix your boy.”
Jessie had the giggles. There was nothing funny about the man with the ugly purple shirt and funky armpits, both of which were dripping sweat onto Jessie's forehead as the man struggled to adjust The Machine. The giggles were part of the exercises he'd been ordered to master. After four weeks of being strapped to his bed, having nothing but a water-stained ceiling to amuse him, Jessie was able to drive maniacal giggles around almost without thinking about them. The perspiration only served to focus his concentration, making him giggle harder.
“Okay, stop, Jess.” The man was pushing himself away from The Machine, apparently satisfied with its settings. He stared into Jessie's eyes and nodded. Oh, yeah. He was more than ready for the next phase. He sat down on the edge of the bed, careful to avoid squishing the boy's catheter. His mother would be in soon to change that.
“Listen, Jess. Let's warm up with ‘giggle grunt gag grunt'. On three. One. Two. Three!” He snapped his fingers.
Jessie began uttering an animalistic opera of goofy noises that sounded like a constipated man reading restroom graffiti. Sweat began pouring off his forehead and he started hyperventilating. He wanted to grab his chest but the straps wouldn't let him. After what seemed like minutes, he gasped and stopped.
“Good, good! 15 seconds. Impressive. We're going to play a new game, now.” The man took out some cards.
Jessie stared at the cards. They were purple. He couldn't make out the words, but they seemed to be typed in bright blue letters. He was hearing the man's voice and everything else, amplified through The Machine. He felt a headache coming on.
“Where is Waldo?” The man read from a card, speaking very loudly.
Startled, Jessie, blurted, “Under the bed! I swear!”
The man took another card. “Who is John Galt?”
“Why is the Fourth of July?”
Jessie was silent.
The man set that card aside.
“What's the name of this funk?”
Jessie giggled. “Spiderman!” His ears pricked up as footfalls intruded from the background. Mom was coming down the hall.
The man took the next card, leaned in very close to Jessie's ear and whispered, “April, hell, sesame, firecrackers. If you fail this quiz, I'm going to rip your mother's heart right out of her chest and shove it down your skinny little throat. Here she comes now. Look sharp!”
Mary eased into the room. She hated to interrupt these sessions, but it was time to clean up the bed and change the bag. She noticed that Jessie was drenched in sweat. She raised a questioning eyebrow.
“Ah, ma'am. You're just in time to witness the beginnings of a remarkable recovery. In fact, why don't you read these trivia cards?” He held out the purple deck.
Mary took the cards and pulled up the chair from her son's desk. Sitting down gingerly, she flipped over the top card and softly read the question. “What month is tax season in the United States?”
Jessie, wide-eyed, started to blurt out something but caught himself. “April?”
Mary's own eyes widened in disbelief. She grabbed the next card. “God is to heaven as devil is to?”
“Under the bed! I swear! No, I mean ‘hell'!” Sweat was pouring freely down Jessie's face.
Mary was shaking with excitement. She grabbed a towel to wipe his face. As she did, the cards spilled from her lap. She didn't even stop to pick them up. She gently hugged her boy, wiped his brow and then, with a growing look of pure gratitude, she turned to the man. She hugged him as hard as she could, not minding the aroma at all.
“Oh my god! He remembers things! How can I ever repay you?”
The man smiled. “Well, that check would be a start. Don't get too excited. It will be a few days before his recollection is completely restored. Once his wounds have healed, he'll be good as new!”
Mary jumped up from her embrace. “Oh, my! Yes! I have it in my room.” She dashed out.
The man smiled more broadly, winking at Jessie. “Well done, mate. Just give me a two-hour head start before you start acting bat-shit crazy, okay?”