THE OTHER ROOM 4132

Leo took a break from his grandpop’s delirium. Let Betty, the old man’s “lady friend,” play the nurse for the afternoon. Leo, he’d been up every other hour during the night during the past five nights. He’d spent a lot of that time listening to the old man recount and relive any number of hallucinatory and out-of-body experiences. 

Leo found himself repeatedly lifting a pile of “branches” that had landed on the old man’s chest. How they all at once crashed through several stories of hospital without anybody taking notice remains a mystery. But once that was done, grandpop would appoint, or re-appoint, Leo to some Board of Trustees involved with endless hostile takeover bids from invisible corporate raiders. 

One of the nurses calls it “sundowning.” But Leo’s grandpop doesn’t have dementia. His delirium doesn’t get worse when the sun sets. It gets worse the longer he stays cooped up in a hospital room. Leo thinks it’s more like an acute case of cabin fever. The cure has always been to get the old man back home. 

And again and again and again, Leo’s grandpop points up at the ceiling. “I’m way up there,” he says. Leo keeps telling him to close his eyes, not to fight it. He tells the old man to take solace in the fact that he’s always come back down. “You’re way down there,” grandpop says. “You don’t see me?” 

Leo tries to make light of it. If the old man was literally floating “way up there,” Leo would set up a ticket booth. They’d make a killing. He tells grandpop, “You’d have a legitimate reason to run away and join the circus. Ringling Bros. would pay top dollar for the act.” 

To Leo’s mind, this is what happens when a man goes his entire life without exploring his imagination. 

Following a shower and a shave, and a few hours of uninterrupted sleep, Leo calls the hospital. Just to check in. He tells the operator, “Room 4132, please.” But maybe he’s mumbled it. He’s something of a mumbler. 

After the operator, 
and after the Muzak, 
an old woman’s voice answers. 
She doesn’t quite sound like Betty, 
but Leo says anyway, “Betty?” 
And the voice says, “Yes?” 
And Leo says, “It’s Leo.” 
And the voice says, “Oh! How are you?” 

Leo says he’s fine… but this is quite a coincidence. He’s talking to a different Betty, in a different hospital room, who apparently knows a different Leo. Or maybe she’s just nuts. Either way, she’s clearly delighted to receive a phone call from anyone. 

Leo asks, “How are you doing?” 
And she says, “Much better, thank you!” 

Not wanting to wreck the illusion, Leo says he’s got to run, but he just wanted to check in to see how she was. This Betty, whom he has never met and will never likely meet, is very, very grateful. 

Instead of calling the hospital again, Leo decides to dress and go back early to “check in” in person. 

12 July 2005 

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