She had always liked the color blue. Both lofty and cool, the color calmed her.
When she was young and still shy, she would buy Italian ice from the pull cart on the corner of 14th and Avenue A. She would stretch to peer over the lip of the insulated cart and point to her desire. The ice was always blue, its flavor indescribable. She would sit, secretively, on a bench in the middle of the block with her ice wrapped in a white paper bag. On those hot summer days, she would suck on that ice until her lips, blanched and stained, looked like those of a corpse.
She was much older now, and summer was long gone. She was on the eleventh floor of the Bleekman Metropolitan Hospital, one of the oldest hospitals in New York City. The surgical rehab floor, to be exact. She had broken her hip five weeks ago when she slipped and fell. Ice can give, but it can also take away. To her great surprise, she had somehow become one of the frail elderly roaming the Upper East Side of Manhattan, plodding from sidewalk to bus and then back again. She remembered falling. How quickly it happened, and the strange perspective looking up from the dark asphalt. Surgery, hip pinned, post-op pneumonia, antibiotics, deep breaths, blood clot, blood thinners, small steps. So much pain and fear. She hated the helplessness of being a patient.
It was strange to her, then, that she now felt wonderful. She knew it must be late; the bustle of the halls seemed to have quieted. She was dizzy, and this kindly doctor had looked after her and she was calmed. He put something in her IV and talked to her so sweetly. She liked him a lot. He took his time and seemed to care. So many doctors were rushing, but he was slow and deliberate and beautiful. Not dizzy, she thought. I am euphoric. I am a schoolgirl cutting class to meet my friend Mary for a matinee off Broadway. I am a newlywed. I am forever. She tried to lift her head, but could not.
She wasn’t scared when he leaned over her to attach that funny contraption to her bed frame. She thought it was a metal spider, but he called it a “Halo.” Was he an angel? He seemed so real, and when he brushed her cheek she actually felt a little thrill down below and she chastised herself for having such thoughts at her age. Especially with someone so assured and . . . lovely. The word came to her from across a field. He was lovely and she wasn’t afraid because he was with her. He held her gaze as he talked to her. His eyes were the lightest shade of ice blue and she was, again, calmed.
She thought it was strange when the small drill was positioned just inside her right nostril. When it pierced her mastoid sinus, she found she couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. Her heart quickened and a single tear escaped, tracing the lines of her cheek. He told her to look at him. So calm. She saw lights around him. Were they stars? No fear. No pain. She thought that she might be dying.
She was right.