Infrastructure by Rick Bailey

Kacey tells me to lie down. The sheets and pillow case are blindingly white. They’re not covered with paper. This is a bed, not a cot, with a thin mattress.

My wife has trained me never to sit on a bed.  Every time I did, early in our marriage, she shouted street clothes! and scared the crap out of me.  After three or four times (probably ten or twenty), to make her stop, I stopped. When I tell Kacey this, she smiles and says go ahead.

I sit on the edge of the bed, kick off my flipflops, and lie down, looking for water spots in the acoustic tile ceiling, bathed in milky white institutional light pouring from above. She swishes around in her hospital blues, attaches electrodes to each of my feet, to my arms just above the elbow.

“Lift your shirt, please.”

“How long have you been doing this?”

“Four years.” She attaches a couple electrodes to my chest.  “I used to be an accountant, then I switched careers.”

“Big switch.”

“I have a child with a heart condition,” she says.

On the way to the hospital I heard a story on NPR about a bridge in Delaware, on the I-495 bypass. It carries 90,000 cars a day. Its support structures are tilting.  Tilting. The bridge can support itself, but too much weight, engineers say, like a long traffic jam, “might cause the bridge to fail.” Traffic is being rerouted through downtown Wilmington, which one driver describes as “a nightmare from hell.” Way worse than a nightmare from heaven. Word of the tilting bridge is traveling from Maine to Florida.  Seek alternate route.

Kacey and I chat about hours and benefits, which she says are pretty good.  Plus it’s something new every day. New people every day. She’s a people person. Once I’m hooked up, I’m expecting to be recorded for a while, I sort of want to be recorded for a while. An adult heart beats around 100,000 times a day. Sometimes on the treadmill it occurs to me I could just fall over dead. I don’t know anything about my heart. I imagine I’m improving myself through exercise, but I also picture myself crumpling in mid-run, the treadmill flinging my corpse out on the floor, where people are walking and running.  Seek alternate route.

Male, sixty-one, dies thinking he’s prolonging life.

There would be no such headline, I know. Mine would be an anonymous, perfunctory death. I also know there would be no quotation from my wife, because she would never talk to the media. But if there were a quotation, she would probably say I seemed healthy enough. “We thought his heart was fine.” After all, I had survived her scaring the living crap out of me ten or twenty times.

Kacey touches a button and it’s done. Just like that.

“That’s all?”

She starts peeling off electrodes.  “That’s it.”

“How’s it look?”

She glances at the display. So do I.

“I’m a tech,” she says. “I’m supposed to wait for a cardiologist.” She points at waves, lines, and blips. There are numbers.  She should be good with numbers. “Looks excellent,” she says.

Later that day I drive to a local market looking for fava beans. They’re in season, though these days, it could be argued, given modern infrastructure, everything is in season all the time. You live in Michigan and want a Bartlett pear in January? No problem. Mango, kiwi, kumkwat, rambutan, whatever you want, they got it, or at least a durable, tasteless facsimile of it.  This modern achievement falls into the nightmare from heaven category. For some reason, fava only come in early summer and last only a few weeks. I’ve made a commitment to them.

Half mile before I reach the store, I see a runner on the sidewalk. She’s wearing a white top and navy blue shorts.  It is within her powers, I’m sure, to slow traffic approaching her from behind.  A minute later, getting out of my car, I see her again, running through the store parking lot, which seems odd. Maybe there’s sidewalk repair going on; she’s taken an alternate route. I pause as she runs by, then pause a few seconds more.

The fava beans are in. They’re packaged on brown Styrofoam trays, sealed in plastic wrap, which means I can’t touch them, can’t gauge their freshness. A sign says organic. Subtext: better for you.  Sub subtext: double the price. There’s another market near my next stop that might have them for less money, piles of them in a basket, so you can palpate the pods, counting the beans within, testing their firmness the way I imagine a physician feels for tumors.

On the way to the next store I see the runner in the blue shorts ahead. Third time is a charm. She slows, stops, and bends over stretching, touching her toes.  My dear, I think, in the interest of protecting your all-too-perfect behind, in the interest of preventing car accident and heart attack, turn and face the road, then take your bow.

Her perfection is a reminder: things may be gradually falling apart, but new is also a permanent condition. It’s a sunny day. For the time being my heart is doing its job.  And I’m shopping for fava beans.

Rick Bailey's nonfiction has appeared lately in Gravel, Cleaver Magazine, and Terrain. 

© 2014 Rick Bailey