combineChapter Nineteen
Asheville, North Carolina

Something is definitely wrong with this combine, Max thought. The noise had been growing steadily louder and less intermittent than when Max had first noticed it. The sun glittered on the golden grain ahead of him. He was having some trouble remembering how many acres remained to be harvested, but the noise in the combine signaled a problem that was going to require stopping. There’s too much to do. I can’t stop now, but the noise only grew louder.

When he looked down at the controls to turn off the combine, he was suddenly baffled. Why on earth was he holding his army rifle and wearing fatigues? Without warning, he found himself flat on his back and realized some sort of animal with rubbery skin had him bound. He heard suction and felt it in his throat. The creature was sucking the life out of him. He fought back yanking at the tentacles that held him. He could hear voices. Andrew’s? Did the creature have him, too? Got to help him! Wrestling against the beast, his eyes flew open and he stared into the face of his attacker.

“Mr. Carnes, relax. The doctor’s going to take some of these tubes out.” The small sandy haired girl in green scrubs motioned to a figure near the end of the bed that moved in closer.
“Dad, it’s Andrew. Relax. Everything’s okay.”

Max stared at his son. He looked up and around the room taking in the scenery. No combine, no rifle and no monsters that he could see, but the noise continued. He tried to say something but a large garden hose in his throat stopped him. He raised his hands and noticed the sandy haired girl ready to snatch them back if he bothered anything. He stuck his fingers in his ears and mouthed, “Too Loud.” Andrew and the young nurse chuckled.

“That’s one of the first things that the doctor will turn off. It won’t be long now.” She scooted out of the tiny cubicle. Max’s eyes fell on the clock and calendar on the wall across from the end of the bed. The furrow between his eyes deepened and he pointed to them, mouthing, “How long?”

‘Four days–we’ll talk about it later—after they get you detached. There are a lot of people here to see you, lots praying for you, too, back home, Greenville, here in the hospital.”

“Lily?” His lips formed the words as the impact of his time apart from the world descended.

“Mom’s doing fine, Dad. Millie and Sophia took her on to Greenville to Sharon and Barry’s house.”

Max nodded. His eyelids began to feel heavy. The mattress curled up around him pulling him farther and farther into its billowy depths. The noise grew more distant, fading as he sank into the cushioned banks. Succumbing to the warmth and softness, he felt Andrew pat his hand.
When Max awoke again, the room was silent and dimly lit, the date on the calendar had not changed but the clock indicated 6 hours had passed. Vaguely he could recall waking slightly two or three times, before sinking again into sleep. The machine responsible for the noise was gone as was the garden hose in his throat. The quietness was seductive. Before he realized what was happening, he slept again.

*****

The intensive care family waiting room represented the current trend in hospital décor—providing an atmosphere unlike a hospital. The muted indirect lighting around the edges of the ceiling matched the barely audible classical music that drifted through the filtered air. A kiosk laden with coffee, tea and condiments, and a basket of candies and snacks from a local church group sat in a corner.

Periodically, a pink-coated lady appeared and tended to it, coming and going so quietly that the families and friends of the ICU residents rarely noticed her. Partitions in the room provided areas of privacy, but while family members did chose one area or another, everyone soon knew who they had in one of the cubicles beyond the double doors and could have easily updated anyone who called on any patient.

Sofas and chairs along with end tables on which sat attractive lamps and art work reminiscent of the work of the Impressionists completed the environment, which resembled a lounge in a five-star hotel. The trick failed, no one thought this was a hotel, but at least the furniture was comfortable and the coffee drinkable.

Ryan folded the newspaper he had been trying to read and placed it on the cherry wood table in front of him. He removed his reading glasses and out of habit rubbed the bridge of his nose. Leaning back into the cushions of the sofa he focused on the room that had been home to the Carnes siblings for days. Pamela would appreciate the use of therapeutic ambiance to help families during a difficult time. He considered calling her but discarded the thought. She had moved on and he needed to acknowledge the severance. He would too if only the phantom pain that had him seeing and hearing her in his head and even like now as his ears tuned to the subdued music hearing her in poignancy of Mozart.

Movement at the double doors caused him to sit up as Andrew returned from his Dad’s cubicle. Pamela or at least the absence of Pamela vaporized leaving behind only the stump. Ryan had no intention of studying the wound now that the blood had dried. The stitches held and he was almost learning to walk alone without leaning on her.

The music receded to inaudibility as a flutter of Carnes’s plus Davis arose to greet a smiling Andrew. The reports since Max had emerged from surgery had all been good, better in fact than any of them had hope given their father’s age but the smile on his youngest brother’s face bordered on more than relief and good news—Andrew’s face fairly burst with amusement.

“He thinks he’s riding a combine that’s been taken over by aliens.” Andrew laughed. Peggy, always the most serious, Ryan thought—not realizing that was the position assigned to him by the younger three—looked aghast.

“You think that’s funny? Daddy’s talking out of his head and you think that’s funny?” Peggy sputtered giving all of them who joined Andrew in laughter a decidedly dirty look. Only Davis attempted to rein in his laughter, which Ryan noted caused him to look like a blow fish.

“Peggy!” Andrew interjected between chuckles, “He was just dreaming. We had a sensible conversation too. He wanted to know about Momma. They are taking the tubes out and will probably move him to a less critical room in a few hours.”

“Oh, when can we see him again?”

“Couple of hours, but he may move by then.”

“That’s great.” A chorus of Carnes’s chimed.

Others in the room waiting for encouragement about their patients came over to bask in the sunshine of Max’s progress. Ryan took hold of Andrew’s arm and drew him aside.

“Andrew, I’d like to have a few minutes alone with Dad next time he can have visitors.”

If that request baffled Andrew, he didn’t let it show. “Sure, Ryan. I know Dad will like that.” Andrew continued to exhibit grace, Ryan thought, not unbraiding him for the neglect of his parents he’d practiced since their mother’s diagnosis and the amputation of Pamela from his life. In a surge of uncharacteristic affection Ryan hugged Andrew patting him the perfunctory three times on the back before releasing him. Andrew did look baffled at that, as did the others. So what, Ryan said to himself and for the first time since he grudgingly decided to join this mini reunion turned into hospital vigil Ryan was glad to be with them all. Other than with Pamela there was no other place he’d rather be.

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