The expensive car coasted down the hill and made the right hand turn. Andrew gazed at the lights on the numerous outdoor trees used to accent the large homes. One tree was the height of its accompanying three story house and was completely covered with blue, green and red lights. A star rested at the top, blinking steadily.
“Look at that tree, Mum … it must’ve been a pain to put all those lights on a tree that size.”
“They probably hired someone to do it,” Mother responded from the front seat.
Andrew thought that was most likely true and marvelled at the affluence. More houses brought more lights. As they drove south the neighbourhood changed. Andrew observed the Chinese lettering on the signs and then focused on the people in the street, hunched over, pulling their coats close to their bodies. Andrew shifted in the back seat, abruptly uncomfortable in his good clothes and winter coat.
Once near the Concert Hall, Andrew once again found a moneyed environment. The long shiny cars oozed into the parking lot, all striving for the places close to the door to the Hall. Father found a place reasonably close, but not in a place where either an inattentive or a tipsy driver could scrape his car’s finish. It seemed that the truly expensive cars parked in the most precarious places.
“That’s a pretty dumb place to park such a nice car, eh Dad?”
“A good way to get parking lot rash.”
The three walked to the doors. There was no snow, sadly. Nor was it chilly, considering it was the twentieth of December. Mother looked quite fine in her dark fur coat and Father held her arm as usual, proud of her.
“Do you think it’ll snow before Christmas?”
“Oh Andy, I hope so. But not too much.”
Andrew did not like being called Andy but mothers were the hardest to convert and besides it was Christmas and she’d just frown at him if he started nit-picking about his name. Just as long as none of his friends were around.
In the Concert Hall, they took their seats and looked at the stage. All the chairs and stands and music were neatly arranged for the orchestra. On both sides of the stage, someone had placed very silver Christmas trees with large red balls. They looked ghastly.
Even when the performance was underway, the trees irked Andrew but he forced himself to concentrate on the percussion section. The timpani and cymbals pounded and crashed in his head, making a joyous, reverberating sound as they complemented the strains of the other sections. The glitter of the stage and opulence of the audience would alternately excite and dishearten him. The stress made him hold his temples for a moment. Mother frowned at this behaviour, but lost interest when he stopped.
At intermission, Andrew’s parents went downstairs to get a drink. He had desired nothing, preferring to look directly down at the stage from his front row lower balcony seat. Their seats did not allow a full view of the stage; the bass section was hidden.
Andrew stayed up near their seats and walked down the aisle, looking at the coats that lay empty on other concert-goers’ seats. Some were furs, but many were heavy cloth coats. There was a lingering smell of various perfumes. Andrew again put his hand to his temple and went to the balcony and looked over the railing. Everything was clear to him. He looked down and determined where there was the least clutter on the stage and, as if he were vaulting a fence on a fresh spring day, he jumped deftly over the railing.
He awoke four days later.
Andrew shared a room with two other people, both in comas. At first his mind was slow in perceiving the surroundings. Once the sterile cleanliness and the hospital beds became clear in his vision, his mind started to work extremely fast. Where was the nurse? I guess people in comas take less effort as they don’t talk much. Come on! Do the bloody round.
In a few minutes, the nurse arrived. She was short and her features were small except for her mouth which bore a large smile. As soon as he entered, Andrew said, “I’m awake now … could you get the doctor — I’m sure he’d want to see me.”
“I wish all patients were as cheeky as you when they recovered from comas! Most just groan. She picked up the phone and dialled. “Dr. Swensen? Andrew Barton is awake … yes, quite fine … very good, doctor.”
“He’ll be here in about five minutes, then?”
She assumed that he had heard the doctor’s voice from the phone.
“I was wondering if it’s possible to get the chaplain to come see me?”
“That’s possible Andrew, but it’s very busy …”
He cut in: “Yes I know … it’s Christmas Eve.”
She did not respond, but smiled and updated his chart. The nurse decided to phone the chaplain from her station and said to Andrew, “Dr. Swensen will be here in a few minutes; I’ve got to make some rounds — I’ll call the chaplain in about ten minutes, OK?”
The interval between the departure of the nurse and the arrival of Dr. Swensen was the first time that Andrew assessed his damage. His right arm was in a cast that kept his elbow bent and his right leg was in a full straight cast. There was pain in his limbs and head, but it did not bother him. While straining his neck to attempt to look out the window, the doctor entered the room.
“Hello, what’ s with the neck twisting?”
“Hi doctor, just trying to see if it’s really snowing.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Not bad. How should I be feeling?”
“You’ve got two clean breaks in you arm and leg and a rather bad concussion.”
“It could be worse … I could still be in a coma!”
The doctor smiled, and Andrew asked: “Are you going to phone my parents this evening?”
“I had planned to … they wanted to know the moment you regained consciousness.”
“I don’t want them to drag themselves out here tonight because I’m starting to feel sleepy and I’ll be gone when they get here. And I bet you’re not sending me home tonight.”
“That’s correct,” laughed the doctor.
“In that case, could you give them a message for me?”
Andrew dictated: “Mom, Dad and Sue, I feel quite well and make sure that Sue puts the star on the tree at 11 o’clock. Love Andrew.”
“Is this in aid of a family tradition?”
“Yes. Each year my younger sister and I fight over who puts the star on the top of the tree. This year was my year, but since I’m not well I want Sue to put the star on.”
“Makes sense to me,” said the doctor.
At that moment Father Callaghan arrived. “Hello Father,” said Dr. Swensen.
“Hi, how’s our young gentleman this evening?”
“Much more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed that most ex-coma patients.”
“Well done — must be the superior medical staff.”
“You bet,” replied the doctor, “and you must be Father Superior.”
“Don’t keep him long, Father. I’d like him to get some real sleep.”
“You’ll give my message to my family?” Andrew asked.
“Without fail … see you later.”
Father Callaghan pulled a chair up to Andrew’s bed, saying, “Any non-physical things you want to talk about?”
“I met God when I was asleep.”
“I don’t mind you thinking it’s a silly idea, but I understood something important.”
“What was that?”
“There is an infinity of things to understand.”
“But do you — and other people — feel it? At a gut level? I had that idea on the balcony. My fall allowed me to perceive all the things that no one can possibly understand.” Father Callaghan worried that Andrew was going to need considerable therapy.
“Hey, Father, you get to be the first to sign my casts.” As the priest was signing, Andrew insisted he put a signature on both the arm and the leg casts and asked: “Do you believe all the stories of Christ’s healing?”
“The spiritual healing in particular.”
“Good,” replied the boy.
It was about nine-thirty that Christmas Eve when Andrew woke from his first coma-less nap. It was all quiet in his ward. The other two coma victims were still. Andrew spent a moment hoping for their recovery.
He freed his right arm and its bent-elbow cast from the bed sheets. Andrew put his left hand against the right and started to push. He strained to straighten the arm. After a few moments, there was a resounding crunch of plaster. It took some time for Andrew to claw the rest of the plaster off his arm. Once done, he spent time massaging the stiffness out of the limb and wiggling his fingers to get rid of the feeling of pins and needles.
The leg cast was a bigger problem. Andrew knew he had little time before the return of the nurse. Swinging himself fully out of bed, Andrew hobbled over to the closet to see if Mother had left clothes for him. Happily she had and in his usual pocket was his trusty Swiss-made knife. “I wonder if they thought one of their knives would be used to remove a cast?” Between the various cutting and clawing blades, he managed to remove the cast piece by piece. The pins-and-needles were worse this time, but by the time he put on his clothes the discomfort had subsided.
Andrew peeked out the door of his room and saw the nurse talking animatedly into the phone. For an instant she glanced fully down the hall in the other direction and Andrew skipped across the well-waxed floor to a nearby stairwell. He had difficulty with the stairs and the leg wasn’t quite right yet. But by the time he reached the outside, he was walking with only a slight limp.
It was clear and cold. The stars did not shine; they blazed. The snow, which had fallen in the earlier part of the day, was now powder. When Andrew kicked it, clouds of while fluff cascaded all over everywhere. He picked up great armfuls and flung the snow at trees, hedges and onto the road. Home was not far from the hospital, and so Andrew walked.
The Christmas lights in the streets were beautiful. The snow had fallen onto many of the bulbs and the light refracted in a sparkling manner. He inspected the decorations on each house. Andrew enjoyed his walk immensely.
As he walked up his own street and approached the house he heard a distant clock toll eleven. He scampered up to his home just in time to see through the window. Sue was on the footstool and had put the star on the top of the tree. Immediately it began to shine. The little girl smiled with pleasure and laughed at Daddy who was making sure she did not fall.
Andrew got out his house key and entered. It was warmer inside.