Jack righted himself, slowly and with a creaking and protesting of joints and muscle and gristle. The fluorescent lights overhead hurt his eyes, one of which, three weeks removed from his accident, was still swollen partly shut and rimmed with an ugly yellow bruise. The armrests of the wheelchair bit into his elbows as he heaved himself forward. He ignored the discomfort.
“Easy, Jack,” the rehabilitation specialist, a tall redhead named Karen, advised in a practiced, condescending sing-song. “We still have twenty minutes. One at a time!” If helping injured people regain their strength and health was the primary function of these whitecoats, Jack mused dully, dismissing the obvious burden of ambient suffering ran a close second. Jack was, at some abstract level, all for it. But his head still hurt and his left arm was a mangled and shattered mess. He’d worry about that some other day.
“I’m going to apply some pressure to your shins, m’kay?” said Karen. “I want you to push forward and bend your knees against the resistance. Just five seconds.” As she placed her practiced palms against his lower legs, her pager went off. She unclipped it from her pocket and studied it. “Be right back…Jack.” She smiled, partly out of habit and partly at her impromptu dose of yuk-yuk, then padded away toward a telephone.
Jack eased himself back in his chair, his thoughts a soothing mish-mash of nothing. He’d had time to think – oh, had he! – and sometimes he thought he might have really died in the pleasant afternoon sunshine outside the parking lot of a humble little grocery store three weeks before. He had a new life, but like a new pair of shoes it felt borrowed and sometimes rubbed him raw. Sometimes. But then there was hope.
He looked to one side and saw his roommate for the time being, a young woman who’d fallen down some stairs in the throes of an Ecstasy trip and banged herself up right proper, slumbering fitfully in her own wheeled contraption a few feet away. The poor girl. Seventeen and scarred for life, all at the whim of fate. The bag of Hershey’s miniature candy bars lay opened on the table next to her. There were three left, one of them a Krackel.
With a dutiful grunt, Jack leaned to his right, straining, and extended his arm until his fingers brushed over the bag. He freed the Krackel from its plastic prison and closed his fingers around it. For good measure, he extracted the remaining two pieces of candy as well. Righted himself and leaned back. Dropped the candy into his lap with the faintest of plops. The girl slept on.
Serenely, Jack worked the wrapper of the Krackel with his good hand and placed it in his mouth. He didn’t chew it, but let it sit there on his tongue.
He savored the chocolate as it melted against him. It was sweet; so sweet.
He had a minor stroke before he left the rehab hospital. It set him back a month and robbed him of a bit of clarity in his speech, but finally, finally, Jack made it home.