“You have a visitor,” the candy stripe girl said. Her nametag told Dale that her name was Candy, which seemed somehow fitting. He nodded to her, a gesture to open the door, which she did, before sliding out after the person who was outside entered.
Dale immediately wished he had gotten Candy to vet the visitor first.
“Seems you just can’t seem to die, you old so and so!” Arthur Flowers loudly proclaimed from just inside the doorway. He did everything loudly.
“Last I checked, you’re my senior by five years,” Dale told his erstwhile friend.
“Five years, shmive shmears,” Arthur shot back, guffawing before slamming the door to the hallway. Dale could imagine it almost rattling out of its frame, but it stayed put.
“You’re just lucky,” said Dale.
Arthur nodded, dropping his considerable bulk in the chair under the window. As the sun was beginning to drop to the horizon line, it shone brightly at his back, giving him a brilliant backdrop. Dale felt it was wasted on the man.
“Lucky as a heart attack,” joked Arthur. It was in poor taste, just like the plaid trousers and suspenders he wore.
“Way too soon,” Dale said.
The heart monitor skipped a beat as it tapped out what sounded a lot like morse code, but Dale knew only he could hear it, as it was so tied to his own existence that, for all intents and purposes, it was a second heartbeat. There was a moment, in the midst of his distress, when he felt like he wouldn’t hear his own again.
“Eh, my heart wasn’t in it anyway,” Arthur joked, clearly not able or wanting to stop.
“So…” Dale began, hoping to derail the jokes, “how’s Inez?”
Suddenly the temperature in the hospital room dropped a couple of degrees, while each of the wizened men took the measure of the other, as they’d done dozens of times before, before they became two-dimensional again.
“What about her?” Arthur finally asked.
“Well, I know you were seeing her for a little bit there…” Dale started.
“You don’t know nothin’,” said Arthur, cheeks reddening by the second.
Candy eased the door open and poked her head in just then.
“Visiting hours are over,” she said, grinning broadly. “Mr. Grower needs his beauty rest.”
“Beauty rest, my ass,” Arthur said, as both men laughed.
“Hey, looks like these don’t just grow on trees,” Dale said, once he’d come up for air.
“Looks like those are buried underneath the damn tree,” Arthur refuted.
“You can come back at ten tomorrow,” Candy said, door held wide open, hand in a sweeping gesture she’d probably done many times before.
“My heart can’t take looking at that girl too long,” Dale said, as Arthur slipped out the door. Candy shook her finger at him like he was being naughty.
“You behave,” she told him, smiling.
“I’ll try my best not to,” he replied, but she was already gone in a cloud of cotton candy and nostalgia.