Then the door was open and the wind appeared. The candles blew then disappeared; The curtains flew then he appeared, saying, 'Don't be afraid Come on baby,' And she had no fear. And she ran to him, Then they started to fly. They looked backward and said goodbye, She had become like they are. She had taken his hand. She had become like they are. Come on baby, don't fear the reaper... -Don't Fear the Reaper, Blue Oyster Cult lyrics by Donald Roeser
“I’m quite all right,” a voice at once smooth, baritone, and – most strangely – calm and decidedly pain-free said from just beneath the eyes. “Thank you.” The eyes moved back and forth between Simon and Ellen; the lips were ashy-brown and brownish gold grit fell from them when they moved. The man grimaced at this and wiped clumsily at them with an even more ashy forearm. “I’m really feeling much better now.”
Ellen started like a deer, then went almost spasmodically to the counter, relying on her training, where she opened numerous drawers and began pulling out bottles, sterile packages, and other medical paraphernalia Simon couldn’t identify and stacking it all up on a cart, her hands very busy, her back to Simon the entire time. In spite of the unbelievable person, there was something in Ellen’s movements that held Simon’s continued gaze. All at once, Simon realized that the man was now smiling up at him expectantly. He’d clearly said something Simon missed.
“You have questions,” the man enunciated carefully through the smile, assuming Simon hadn’t understood him. “Come back later,” the man ‘s gaze moved to Ellen’s back. “We can talk more then.”
As if on cue, Ellen turned, ripping open sterile bandages as she did so, and then suddenly stopped, staring icily at Simon. “Take the hint,” she said curtly, but Simon was rooted to the spot, pinned by her eyes.
“F.O.” Her eyes flicked to the exit.
After Simon was gone, Ellen began to wipe at the man’s face with a sterile gauze swab, saying softly “Let me know if this hurts…” as she brushed the ashy skin. But he did not jump, or tense, or do an of things a burn victim might do. “Are you in pain?”
Looking closely at him, her gaze carrying a cautious intensity.
“Not any more,” the man said, as Ellen went back to wiping. “Not now. Or not yet, I can’t remember. Not in a while. Not recently. ” Ellen saw that the man’s eyes were bright blue with perfect, almost startlingly white corneas. “Thank you for asking, Ellen.”
Ellen shivered involuntarily and her left hand spasmodically clamped on an empty wrapper, although her right hand never shook and never stopped its gentle wiping. “How did you know my name?” An attempt at a carefree tone, meant to mask the fear the question rose from.
The man grinned widely. “It’s on your name tag: Ellen D.” He pointed at her, rusty hand depositing fresh ash on the floor.
Ellen looked at her ID tag on her left breast reflexively and then laughed at herself. To her considerable surprise, the man joined her, his laugh baritone and rich and completely unforced. Then the laugh ended and they were alone again.
“What does the D. stand for, Ellen?”
Her fading smile disappeared completely. “Well, I’ll tell you what: Let’s get you patched up here, then we’ll have good ole Dr. Twohands back there have a look at you. If he clears you, I’ll tell you my last name on your way out the door. Kay?”
“It’s a date,” the man said, still smiling.
“That,” Ellen said, wagging a finger and tossing a used-up sterile pad into the trash. “Is one reason why we don’t tell patients our last names. I mean, how many date offers can a girl turn down in one shift?”
“Oh, come on,” Dr. Duemani said, looking up from the results on his monitor. “You don’t expect me to buy any of this?…Ellen…?” He waved his hands in a vaguely interrogatory manner native to all Italians, his right hand holding an open and fluttering copy of Fortune magazine. His mouth was half-full of his sandwich. A mug of coffee steamed on his desk.
Ellen was unfazed. “Well, he projectile-vomited about a liter of silvery blue crap all over the waiting area. Which, by the way, made three other people either pass out, puke themselves or run fucking screaming from the ED.” Ellen’s nose wrinkled. “My God, it smelled like nothing I’ve ever-”
“Hello? I’m sorry to interrupt,” that voice said from directly behind her, startlingly close.
Ellen flinched and went rigid. Dr. Gentle peered slowly around Ellen’s left shoulder, chewing meditatively all the while, at the tall, thin man standing in his office doorway, vaguely dusty and quite bare-assed.
Duemani swallowed and tossed the magazine down on this desk, atop his new copy of People magazine to which he was secretly addicted. The tall man’s eyed followed the magazine with a strange blue intensity that nearly crackled. Duemani stool up.
“Ellen,” Duemani said in a somewhat louder voice, “let’s get some scrubs for this gentleman to wear, okay?” Ellen nodded, backing out of the office as she did so, favoring the door frame opposite her patient.
“I’m Dr. Paul Duemani. And you are…?”
The tall man smiled a little more broadly and extended his right hand, which Duemani judiciously grasped only briefly but still felt like chicken bones wrapped in gauze to him. “My name is Michael.”
“Michael, it’s nice to meet you. You must be cold. What’s your last name?”
“My surname?” He appeared to be genuinely amused by this, and grinning widely said. “Profit. Michael Profit.”
Ellen returned with the scrubs, all pale and put-out. Then she led Michael wordlessly back to the examination room. Duemani watched them go, then shut his office door and had himself a good laugh. When it had passed, he sat back down and finished his sandwich.