A little help from St. Francis
- I'm in one of St. Francis's hospitals. Just a simple procedure, I'm okay. St. Francis is there.
- He says, how are you feeling? Would you like for me to bring you some broth? Jello? When I feel down, I talk to some animals.
- I tell him about Swoon, my longtime boyfriend. I've never even told my mother about him, and he isn't here for post-op or taking me home. Another woman was in this room but she disappeared last night.
- Francis pats my hand. I tell him, I met Swoon, my unreliable guy, on an airplane.
- Hold that thought, says Francis. Did you know I invented the live nativity scene? I'm doing one for the kids on the 4th floor. You can be in it if you want.
- In Philly, once, an ornery cow escaped from the stable with the Baby Jesus manger and got out onto the interstate highway. It's a happy ending story.
- I wake up. I smell cigarette smoke. There's a cross, like in a movie, one of those late stage capitalistic ones with sea-monsters and worms. These are behind a door disguised as a painting.
- The light behind the faux window mimics sunrise. Francis returns with a giant flower bouquet, must've cost at least a hundred bucks, and a Cat Fancy and The New Yorker.
- Swoon, my absent boyfriend, has told me his entire family was dead. Is that possible? I will believe anything.
- I hear Francis out at the nurse's station, making the nurses and doctors laugh about his youthful antics. Mainly in Paris, but sometimes in a wild, remote area where they have caves.
- Enough about me, says Francis, back in my bed area. Are you cold? Here, have another blanket.
- Assisi is a steep town. It's invigorating, all that stepping up and down to go anywhere. That's where I first met Francis, I went there for a trial. In a touristy place with a view of his basilica, I ate a delectable risotto with truffles. I was into people-watching and met some pilgrims. It was their first plane trip and time to visit a saintly tomb.
- Like this, we talk. Francis has a dossier on my boyfriend, Swoon. I keep talking so we never get to the part where I have to pay up (for his research).
- Swoon has this thing about numbers, even the long ones. When I need to know a number, I just ask. If I were to lose him, how would I get by, and where would I live?
- Francis, by now, is getting paler. Maybe he'd like my old Chevy. My stomach muscles ache. I won't be driving, anyway.
- Swoon was my first roofer—so dangerous, I thought. He had a bunch of antique toasters in his totally paid off house. He had famous clients, the mayor and the grocer.
- Francis interrupts me again. I haven't been sleeping. He says, you should try hypnosis, or take up ceramics.
- He never mentions my family and I start to wonder if mom is okay. She worships the old gods, the sun and the moon.
- Nurse J. has started taking care of me and Francis looks at her with his X-ray eyes; I start to question if he is well-meaning.
- Except for these complications, I was supposed to be in and out of here in one day.
- On the eighth day, Francis puts me in a cab and hands me a few dollars, a warm coat, and a key. He says, you can spend your life trying to figure out where this key fits. Or get a pony. Either way, I'd be with you if I could.
Wide-eyed, curtained by arms and legs
I take a Greyhound bus going west, and tell my neighbor, Sister Ann, about my symphony, it's nearly finished, and I reveal to Sister Ann also about my unreliable boyfriend, Swoon, and when I point out some solitary late-night owls in a fast-food joint, seen from up here, my neighbor explains that not everyone has a place to go for the holidays, which I already know, but she wants to teach me this thing, so I let her,
and I tell her how Swoon and I can talk for hours about books we are reading and rate the badness of people, for example in Great Expectations, I have it right here, or about how using plastic knives and forks makes people bad, or we can bring up how badness can also be present in the lowest level in the small hospital building where a robot is waxing the floor,
and by then Sister is fast asleep, almost beyond sleep, and I keep falling down and even with these good binoculars I can't find the ideal place to alight from the boat-like Greyhound, and my fly-by-night boyfriend doesn't figure in at all for the rest of this drift, this me trying to get out west to where my cousin lives, in a big state, and when I open my eyes there is a backwards turkey vulture right outside the emergency window, in a bathtub, screaming with blood.
Valerie Fox has published writing in Juked, Reflex, The Cafe Irreal, Across the Margin, Cleaver, New Flash Fiction Review, and other journals. Valerie's books include The Rorschach Factory, The Glass Book, and Insomniatic. A story she wrote is included in The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings. She has also had works included in the Best Small Fictions (2019) and Best Microfiction (2020) series. Her story, "For the kiddos," appeared in Issue #66 of The Cafe Irreal, Two Stories in Issue #69, and Two Stories in Issue #75.