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by Michael C. Keith
“Daren, wake up. Come back to us,” the voice pleaded, and he slowly opened his eyes.
“He’s coming out of it!” exclaimed an elderly women standing before him. “Nurse!” she yelled, and Daren was confused and frightened.
Who was this stranger shouting for a nurse, and what the hell was this place, he wondered, surveying the unfamiliar surroundings. It was not a place he knew yet there was something recognizable about it. A hospital . . . yes, it was a hospital, it suddenly dawned on him. But, why was he here? What had happened to him? Was he injured? There was a funny metallic taste in his mouth, and he had a slight headache, but otherwise he felt okay. Did he have all of his body parts? Yes, everything seemed to be present and functioning, Daren concluded after testing his limbs.
“Rest, dear. Don’t strain yourself. You’ve had a little spell, but the doctors say you’ll make a full recovery.”
“Mother?” he said, and then everything came flooding back to him.
First there was dizziness and double vision, and then everything went dark. The attack hit him without warning while he was repairing his mother’s garage door.
“What happened?” he uttered, slightly straining to get the words out.
“You had what’s called a transient ischemic attack,” said a nurse, newly arrived at his bedside. “The doctor will be here momentarily to answer all of your questions, Mr. Baker.”
“He’s always been a very healthy boy,” offered his mother, looking at him anxiously and stroking his forehead. “You’ll be okay, honey.”
Daren always found it amusing, if not somewhat embarrassing, the way mothers treated their offspring like children no matter how old they actually were. In his case, he was about to officially enter what he considered the grim reality of middle age.
“Hello, Mr. Baker. You’re back with us, I see,” declared a tall, gray-haired man cloaked with a stethoscope. “I’m Doctor McKenzie from neurology,” he continued, checking the monitors Daren was attached to. “Your vitals look good. Do you feel any numbness anywhere? Can you feel this? And this?”
“Yes,” replied Daren, as the doctor made contact with several locations on his body.
“Good. I don’t think there’s any lasting damage. But just to be sure, we’ll put you through a few more tests. If they go well, you can be released tomorrow. If that’s okay with you, Mr. Baker.”
“Absolutely,” answered Daren, already anxious to leave the hospital.
“We’ll have you back for a follow-up in a week, if the remaining tests are fine,” said the physician, obviously eager to move on to his next patient. “I’ll see you before you leave in the morning.
Whatever the nurse had given him to help him sleep worked like a charm, and he was still fast asleep when he was awakened and told that he was being discharged.
“You’re good to go, Mr. Baker,” said a chirpy Dr. MacKenzie, prompting Daren to wonder how many Espresso Macchiatos he had already downed.
The neurologist was definitely the Starbucks type, thought Daren, as he exchanged farewells with him. The first stop he intended to make was at a Dunkin’ Donuts––his preferred “caffeineator,” as he called it.
As Daren was finishing buttoning his shirt, he experienced something bizarre. When he blinked, instead of the momentary darkness of his lids folding over his eyes, he saw another place––a quick flash of a different scene. Fear suddenly gripped him as he thought he might be having another attack.
“You okay, Mr. Baker?” inquired the orderly assisting him, and when Daren turned away and shut his eyes, he “saw” the man standing behind him.
How was that even possible, the thought? His panic began to rise. He opened his eyes to find that he was, indeed, facing in the opposite direction.
“Just feeling a little light-headed. Thanks for asking,” answered Daren, his heart rate accelerating.
“You’ll feel better when you’re out of this place,” joked the orderly, but Daren’s mind was already a thousand miles away.
He sat on the edge of the bed facing the orderly and reluctantly closed his lids. What was now to his back was before him.
“I think I better see Dr. MacKenzie,” he told the orderly, with a perceptible quake in his voice.
Minutes later, the doctor reappeared.
“So you’ve decided you like it here and want to stay?” he quipped, as he entered the room.
“Doctor, something weird is happening,” said Daren, trying to keep from blinking.
“What’s that, Mr. Baker?”
“Well, I’m not really sure I can explain it.”
“Do your best,” suggested the doctor, with a note of impatience in his voice.
“Okay . . .. Whenever I blink or close my eyes, I can . . . I can see what’s behind me.”
After a short silence, the doctor examined Daren’s eyes.
“They look fine. Go ahead and shut them.”
Daren did as he was asked and once again saw everything quite clearly behind him.
“Can you see behind you now, Mr. Baker?”
“Yes,” replied Daren. “I see the window and the building across the street.”
“Okay,” said the doctor, walking behind his patient. “Can you see me now?”
“Yes,” responded Daren, and the doctor chuckled.
“Well, you know I’m back here, right? So you’re really just seeing me in your mind’s eye. We all do that.”
Then Daren saw something that further disturbed him. Doctor MacKenzie was rolling his eyes and smiling slyly in the direction of the orderly––he felt it was a gesture clearly intended to mock him. Although he was incensed, Daren kept his cool. He did not want to undergo additional tests or extend his stay in the hospital.
“Yeah, that’s probably it. Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt . . . what do you call them? Your rounds?” said Daren, slipping on his jacket.
“It might not be a bad idea for you to remain here another day to be sure, Mr. Baker,” suggested MacKenzie, appearing appropriately, if not altogether sincerely, concerned.
Daren moved to the door without responding to the doctor. On his way out of the room, he closed his eyes and saw Mackenzie and the orderly looking at each with complicit grins. It pissed him off, so he flipped them out over his shoulder.
When he arrived home, his wife, Bethany, was surprised to see him, since she had been scheduled to pick him up later that morning.
“What are you doing here? What time is it? You weren’t supposed to be ready until 11 o’clock. I was about to come for you.”
“They let me out early, so I got a cab,” he answered. “I feel fine.”
“Well, you don’t look all that fine. You should have let me pick you up as planned, Daren. That was the arrangement. Honestly, you can be hard to deal with,” complained his wi
“Any coffee?” asked Daren. “That stuff at the hospital is dishwater in a cup.”
“Of course. Sit down, and I’ll get you a muffin to go with it,” replied Bethany, pointing to a kitchen chair.
“No muffin. Just coffee. I had something resembling oatmeal at the hospital, and my stomach’s been off ever since.”
The phone rang, and Bethany went to answer it as Daren sipped his coffee. He shut his eyes and watched her put the receiver to his ear and address the person at the other end. There was something furtive about her expression as she indicated that she couldn’t talk at the moment. When she hung up, Daren asked her who it was, and he was told it was a telemarketer. The look on her face suggested otherwise and aroused his suspicions. His mind quickly assessed options and he wondered whether she might be cheating on him.
“Usually don’t call at this hour,” he said, watching as she approached him from behind.
“These days they seem to call at all hours,” she replied, staring at the back of his head.
Daren left it at that but vowed to remain vigilant for any signs that his wife of fourteen years might be having an affair. His being able to see activities behind his back might actually help him determine the truth. At least, there might be an upside to this creepy ability, he thought.
That evening as he lay in bed with his back to his wife, he watched her with increased interest as he fired off a series of questions designed to expose any possible deception. If she was committing adultery, however, his interrogation did not reveal any evidence. She was stoic in her responses, eventually drifting off in the middle of his grilling.
For the remainder of the night, Daren found it all but impossible to sleep because he could not block out the conscious world. The only way he could stop from seeing what was before or behind him was to lie on his back with his eyes closed, using the pillow to block his rear view vision. Since under the best of circumstances he was a restless sleeper, every time he shifted his body, his surroundings would come flooding in and awaken him. It was close to daybreak when he finally got to sleep, after locating his wife’s old sleep mask buried in the medicine cabinet and placing it over the back of his head.
When Daren returned to work two days later it was his 40th birthday, yet Bethany had made no mention of it. He wore his Red Sox baseball cap to block his bidirectional sight, but when his boss gave him a look of disapproval, he removed it.
“I love the Sox, too, but it’s not exactly the image we want our loan officer to project, Daren,” said Robert Castle, the bank manager.
“Forgot I had it on,” responded Daren, remembering that the last thing his boss loved was sports of any kind.
Indeed, Castle’s chief interest outside of the Springfield Trust Company was his butterfly collection, part of which graced the walls of the bank.
* * *
Daren had seen his last customer and was gathering his briefcase and jacket to leave when a hooded man carrying a handgun entered the bank and demanded that everyone line up facing a wall.
“Anyone who turns around gets it,” warned the robber, as he moved down the row of terrified customers and staff.
Daren could see him ogling the backside of a young teller, and it occurred to him that the robber might have other intentions beyond emptying the coffers. The idea that the thief might assault someone incited Daren to quickly conceive of an offensive move.
As the armed man moved by him, Daren took calculated aim and sent the heel of his shoe into the culprit’s groin, causing him to fall to the ground and drop his gun. In a burst of poetic justice, the nubile teller he had been lusting after grabbed the gun and pointed it at the would-be robber, who lay doubled up on the floor.
After the police arrived, Daren called home but there was no answer. He decided he would confront his wife that evening about her recent mysterious behavior. It was not something he was looking forward to doing, but he knew he could not live with his suspicions any longer. News of the hold up was on the radio as he drove home. He was being portrayed as a hero for subduing the robber and preventing possible mayhem. He wondered if his newfound status would get his boss off his back about wearing his baseball cap at work.
When he pulled up at his house, his heart sank because the driveway was empty and there were no lights on indicating Bethany’s presence. For a moment, he contemplated driving around in the hope of spotting her car in the neighborhood, but then he decided that would be a futile exercise, since his wife would more carefully conceal any possible tryst. She was smart enough not to leave her car out in plain sight should he come looking for her.
Entering a dark house was something that always spooked Daren, and as he opened the door, a burst of noise caused him to freeze in his tracks.
“Happy birthday, Daren!” shouted a chorus of loud voices, as several friends and family members emerged from the shadows to greet him.
Daren was surprised and pleased by the outpouring of affection, especially from his wife, who wrapped her arms around his waist and kissed him.
“Happy birthday, honey. Bet you didn’t see this coming,” she whispered tenderly in his ear.
When he removed his baseball cap, all he saw were the loving smiles on the faces of the people surrounding him.
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