Aidan Davies stepped onto the platform of South Station. He looked left, then right, then left again. The trickle of passengers disembarking the commuter rail train turned left, and Davies joined them. As he headed for the terminal, a drop of rain hit his nose. He quickened his pace, but the drop only brought along a few dozen companions. Davies looked up and frowned at the sky. The sun shone through the clouds’ ragged edges, gilding them with light but failing to penetrate the bulk of the cloud, which was becoming increasingly darker. It’s a good thing the subway stops at the hospital, Davies thought.
Today would be his third day in a row traveling into the city to Mass General. The accident had happened late Saturday evening, and he had arrived at the hospital bleary-eyed but alert early Sunday morning, wearing his clergy clothes and the “I’m supposed to be here” expression that he saved specifically for the ICU. The family had been on a nighttime sail when nine-year-old Janice stood up at the wrong time. The boom hit her full in the back of the head, knocking her simultaneously unconscious and overboard. The rescue chopper brought her straight to the hospital in Boston, leaving her stricken parents on Nantucket to await the ferry the next day. Janice was brought up to the ICU from the OR an hour before Davies arrived. A patch of her dark ringlets was cut away at the base of her skull, revealing a dozen hasty sutures. He held her hand gingerly so as not to disturb the IV until midmorning when her mother pelted into the room. Davies then melted into the background, feeling suddenly inadequate in the face of the mother’s frenzy.
Two days later, Janice was still unconscious in the ICU, and her mother had not left her bedside. The doctors had not used the word “coma” but Janice’s mother feared the worse. With her husband at the office for a few hours, that fear was her only companion until Davies arrived. Fat lot of good I’ve done the past two days, he chided himself. An unconscious girl is one thing. A desperate mother is something else. I wonder when she’ll figure out I have no idea what to do.
He checked his mobile phone. Plenty of time to get there, he thought. Just a few stops up the Red Line. He swiped his card, jogged down the stairs, and flung himself aboard an idling subway car. Perfect timing, he thought, beaming around at the passengers as if he had just landed the dismount. A few of his fellow travelers smirked at him, shook their heads, and looked away. Just then the PA system crackled to life, and the man next to him pointed in the general direction of the indistinct voice coming over the speaker: “Due to a fire at Charles/MGH station, the Red Line is delayed. We are sorry for the inconvenience.”
Chagrined by his train-catching heroics, Davies shared a shrug with the man, leaned nonchalantly against a pole, and called up a mental map of downtown Boston. MGH isn’t too far a walk from South Station, he told himself. Just through the Common and over Beacon Hill. He looked around at the waiting passengers and wondered how long the train had been stuck at South Station. Just then two young men, frat boys by the looks of their untidy hair and polo shirts half tucked in to display massive belt buckles, launched themselves into the car as Davies had done. He smirked at them, shook his head, and exited the car.
He walked back up the stairs into South Station. There’s a buck seventy I’ll never see again. He ordered a panini and ate it quickly as he walked out of the station onto Summer Street. Davies oriented himself toward the Common and trudged up the sidewalk, hands in his pockets and his laptop bag bouncing against his back. He looked up at the sky again and the amateur meteorologist in him told him he would have been better off with the train delay. The sky had darkened considerably while the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority had been thwarting him below ground. Licking his fingers, he tossed the remains of his hurried lunch into a trashcan and strode toward a store a few blocks from the station.
Five minutes later Davies emerged with a new umbrella under one arm. It’ll never rain now, he thought triumphantly, assured that reverse psychology works quite well to influence colliding low-pressure systems. Davies licked his lips, suddenly thirsty from his sodium-laced sandwich. I wish I had bought a bottle of water at the store. “Too late now,” he said aloud to no one in particular. Just then, he walked past a van painted in violently neon shades of green and orange. Two college-aged women, wearing shorts and the kind of socks that basketball players wore in the 70s, stood at the rear of the van, each holding a case of violently neon sports drinks.
“Have you Thrust today?” one of them asked Davies as he walked by, and he could tell she enjoyed asking such a seemingly provocative question to a guy wearing a clerical collar.
“No, I can’t say I have,” Davies said.
“You should try it,” said the other, and she held out a bottle sporting the word Thrust in lightning bolt-shaped letters. The bottle was filled with a liquid that looked like it was distilled from traffic cones.
“Thanks.” Davies took the drink and continued up the street, trying to resist the urge to look over his shoulder at the nubile Thrust promoters. He chugged the neon fluid, hoping that it would quench his thirst before he noticed how awful it tasted. He crossed Tremont Street and entered Boston Common as he emptied the last drops of the traffic cone flavored beverage into his mouth. Then he heard the rain.
With the sound of a thousand car washes a solid sheet of water was approaching rapidly from across the Common. So much for tricking the weather, Davies thought. At least I have this handy thing. He opened the umbrella and hunched beneath it just as the deluge reached him. After a minute of slogging across the open green space, his trousers felt like they had just come out of the washing machine. Davies reached the far end of the Common and looked through the rain for the street his phone’s GPS had told him to take over Beacon Hill. He walked one block down the Hill hoping for a street sign. No such luck. This city, apparently attempting to stymie foreign military occupation, keeps signage to a minimum, he mused ruefully. Davies took the next right and walked fifty yards. This isn’t it, he thought, seeing the street terminate in a row of brownstones a couple blocks ahead. He turned to retrace his steps. Then the rain did the impossible and worsened.
With the same vigor he had used flinging himself into the subway car, Davies dove for the relative dryness of a sheltered doorway. He squeezed the excess water out of his pants, dried his glasses, and oriented himself. I am one street down too far. Davies waited out the worst of the rain hunkered down in the doorway. After ten torrential minutes, the sun blazed through the spent clouds, raising steam from the street. Davies left the shelter and continued his charge up Beacon Hill.
Taking a left on Cambridge Street, he walked the last few blocks to the hospital. The imposing complex of parking garages and mismatched hospital buildings rose up on his right. He stopped to cross the intersection at Cambridge and North Grove. The cars navigating Boston’s surface streets glistened after the downpour. There it is, he thought, storm clouds forming in his mind as they had done in the sky. Through the main doors, down the hall, up the elevator, around the ward, into the room. Davies shivered. I’m just cold from the rain, he told himself, though he knew it wasn’t true. What am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to say? I am so ill-equipped for this that it would be laughable if the situation weren’t so serious.
The traffic light changed and the walking person blinked across the road, telling him to cross. Davies stayed put. After half a minute, the light changed again, and a red hand replaced the person, warning pedestrians not to cross. Davies stared at the hand. He closed his eyes and the blurry afterimage of the warning signal danced across his eyelids. He took a deep breath and held it. The hand fixed itself in his mind, a symbol of something he told people everyday but often forgot to believe himself. The hand slowly dissolved into a voice in his head, his own voice but with deeper resonance and greater clarity. You were thirsty and I provided drink. You were drowning in the rain and I provided shelter. Do you honestly think that I will break this pattern when you enter that hospital room?
Davies exhaled slowly and opened his eyes. The red hand shone from the signal across the street. The voice echoed faintly in his mind. You are always in the palm of my hand. Yes, even you, Aidan. The hand changed back into the walking person, and Aidan Davies crossed the intersection. He pushed through the main doors of the hospital, strode down the hall, rode up the elevator, paced around the ward, and walked into the room.