by Kim Hanneman

You get a phone call and, simple as that, your life changes.

“Hello?”

“Chris is in the ICU at Beth Israel Hospital. He fell, hit his head and they had to operate. They removed part of his skull to relieve the brain swelling.”

You walk into the ICU, and you don’t have a clue what to expect. There are four beds in the room, each concealed by a hospital curtain. Four life-and-death stories are being played out behind them. Yours is behind curtain #3.

You push the curtain aside, and there he is. But what is he? Asleep? In a coma? Brain dead? The machines that beep, burp and buzz next to him don’t tell you a thing. They speak a language that only doctors and nurses understand. You’re not privy. Another machine hisses at you, telling you, “Go away. You’re too late.  I’m breathing for him. I’m all he needs.”

His long body, over six feet of it, lies motionless on a crumpled white sheet. He’s naked, except for the diaper wadded up between his thighs. You want to look away, out of respect, to give him a modicum of privacy. There’s no such thing in a hospital, though.

A breathing tube is taped to his mouth, rammed down his throat. You remember him when he was barely two, baby fat still coiled around his thighs like scrumptious donuts, begging you to take a bite. And the pacifier, like a big, fat cigar, clamped between his perfect cupid’s bow lips.

His face is swollen and discolored. It’s smeared with yellows, greens, blues and purples, a painting done by a deranged mind. One eye is swollen shut and buried beneath folds of blue-black flesh. A few metal staples are scattered across his forehead.

His head is shaved. Looped across one side of it, from the top of his left ear, up to the top of his crown, and crawling back down his scalp behind the ear, is a giant centipede. You look again, to verify. Jesus Christ, you think, what country, what jungle are we in? What the hell is that? Your mind reels as you look at the hundreds of legs slithering across his scalp like someone, some sadistic madman, has gone off the rails with a staple gun.    

You’ve seen enough. You pull the curtain closed around him, like a cocoon. You hope that, safe inside, nature will work its miracles and maybe, someday soon, a butterfly will emerge. Maybe not. You leave.

The phone rings. It’s no longer an inanimate object. It screams at you like an angry, insistent infant. You resist picking it up, but you know it won’t shut up until you do.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Kiddo, it’s your bro. I heard you’ve been up to the hospital to see me a few times.”

Who knew, you think. Who knew that butterflies could speak?

Kim Hanneman is a NYC transplant, struggling to thrive in PA soil. She’s been a career graphic designer who wrote for personal satisfaction. After moving to PA, she switched to writing, her first passion.She has completed book one of a two-book memoir, and is in the process of trying to find an agent and publisher. She writes flash fiction and personal essays, in addition to the poetry she’s always written. PA (Mt Pocono) is a hard place to find classes, workshops, etc. She’s struggling to put down her writing roots. Vestal Review is her first publisher. (She’s thrilled!)