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The Man by the Window
Memorial Hospital, two men, both in bad shape, were
a room in the cheerless recovery wing on the
twelfth floor. It was a small
room, no bigger than 10 by 12 feet and it was
connected to another room of
identical size by a tiny bathroom. Mr. Vincent, the
man in the bed by the
window was doing poorly after the removal of his
lung. He was in severe pain
of the time, and every afternoon the nurse came in
and propped him up to a
sitting position to clear the accumulated fluid. He
sat there by the window
between labored breaths he told his roommate,
Parker, all the things he saw
It was good for Parker. Parker was in an accident
last month and his lumbar
vertebrae was dislocated, resulting in the loss of
cartilage between them.
was forced to lie perfectly still on his back until
it healed. All he could
was the ceiling curtain track and the face of the
nurse when she bent over
The two men talked through the long night and
during the early morning
They spoke of their families and friends, their
jobs and their experiences
the war. They were restless and resentful of their
confinement in Jefferson
Memorial and the waste of the precious time left to
them in their senior
They dreaded the bed pan and the cold wash cloth --
and although they wanted
to be left alone they were filled with sadness
during visiting hours if no
came to see them. Worst of all they lost track of
the world outside.
Whenever Mr. Vincent was propped up by the window,
Parker would ask him, "What do you see Vinny?"
Mr. Vincent would hesitate before answering, partly
because of the pain and
partly because he wanted his words to be worthy of
the scene, "Well, first
all it's a beautiful day. The kids must have the
afternoon off from school
... they're all over the park. I remember now, the
nurse said there's a
"How would she know?"
"Well she had to get a sitter. That's where her
little boy is -- over
in the park. I'll bet he's the one by the lake. He's got a sailboat
and it's headed for this little string of ducks ...
look at that!"
"The little boat. It sailed right through the
line of ducks ... now it's
headed for the other side of the lake. The little
kid is running like hell
the lake trying to get there before his sailboat
"Gee, I wish I could see."
"You will, you will, as soon as they let you sit
up. You're a sick man
Parker ... remember?"
Every day the park was different, and every day Mr.
Vincent had a different
story to tell.
"It's cloudy today -- it looks cooler. You can
see ripples on the lake."
"Any kids in the park?"
"Not so many as yesterday."
"You'll tell me when you see something, Vinny
... won't you?
Mr. Vincent turned his head back to the window. "I
see a couple walking
the trees at this end of the lake."
"What do you mean, 'couple'?"
"You know what I mean. They're walking
together. The man has his arm
her and her hand is on his shoulder. They just
stopped by the willow -- you
remember the willow, Parker?"
"Yeah, I remember. What are they doing now?"
"What do you suppose?"
"How the hell do I know! I'm layin' here flat
on my back ... you can
see. I can't."
"They're kissing." A moment or two passed and
Mr. Vincent turned to
... "They're still kissing. How long can can
you hold a kiss without breathing?"
"You breathe through your nose, remember -- you
can go on for hours. ...
still at it?"
Mr. Vincent took a quick look out the window. "No,
they're walking off
in arm. Those were the days, remember Parker?"
"You kiddin'? I proposed to my wife in that
"By the willow tree I'll bet."
Both men could hardly wait the afternoon of the
parade. When the nurse came
in at three o'clock, both Mr. Vincent and Parker
were on edge. They
route of the march in the morning paper, "They'll
be coming down Fifth
Street then turning north up into the park,"
Parker said. "You'll be
able to see
them all the way up to the exit." He looked up
anxiously at Mr. Vincent. "Well. Well, what do you
"Gimme a chance, will you. I only got two eyes."
He sat up extra
straight. "Beautiful day for a parade ... I can see the
High School band."
"Are you sure it's the High School Band? My
grandson's in the band."
"What color uniforms?"
"They wear green and white. My grandson plays the
"Gimme a break. They're a block away, I can't
pick out a clarinet a
block away. I can see the tubas and the drums
"He marches right in front of the tubas."
Parker looked puzzled. Shouldn't
we be able to hear them from here?"
"No. Not with these double glazed windows -- you
can't hear anything
these windows. Like the traffic down there --
there's traffic in the
below, you can't hear any of that either."
One hour a day may not seem a lot but for both men
it was an hour that
sustained them throughout the sleepless hours of
the night. Parker would
eyes and relive the scenes that Mr. Vincent had
painted for him. Mr.
in turn, felt as a great artist might feel --
painting a picture for someone
who could not see.
The nurse was particularly energetic that final
afternoon. Her rubber soles
squeaked on the tile floor as she put on the brakes
next to Mr. Vincent's
bed. "Three o'clock, Mr. Vincent. Time to sit up --
get some air into those lungs." She rapped on the side rail of his bed --
"Let's go, let's
go ... Mr.
Vincent ... " There was a pause, then she spoke
his name more gently. "Mr.
Vincent, Mr. Vincent ... oh dear God no. No. No!"
"What's the matter with Vinny. Nurse? What?
What?" She turned and with
hand covering her mouth, she ran from the room.
She was back in a moment with the floor doctor and
a specialist. Two nurses
followed them with an EKG machine. Parker lay there
and tried to make eye
contact with someone, but all eyes were on Mr.
The floor doctor straightened up and shook his
head. "He's gone," he
said, "Been gone at least a half hour or more." He
waved off the two nurses
EKG machine. The surgeon searched for a heartbeat
at Mr. Vincent's wrists,
neck and leg. He finally straightened up also and
closed Mr. Vincent's
nurse was shaken and the floor doctor put his arm
around her ... "It's
okay. It's okay. It happens. Nothing you could have
done." He pulled the sheet
up. "Let's get him downstairs."
The nurse, the last to leave, was still sobbing; she
looked at Parker as she
left. "I'm sorry Mr. Parker."
"It's not your fault."
"I hate it when these things happen. I'll never
get used to it. Are you
okay? Can I get you something?" She brightened up
a little and said, "There's
good news for you, by the way. Your X-rays show the
cartilage is building -- you'll be starting on re-hab." He listened to
her shoes squeak on the
as she hurried out of the room.
He lay there looking at the covered figure. The man
who had been his eyes
the past month. Now, with his own eyes closed, he
could see the park, the
children by the lake, the lovers, the parade -- as
clearly as the day Mr.
described them. "What would these last two weeks
have been like without
Vinny? Never got a chance to thank him, did you
Parker? Course you did --
all the chances in the world." He wished he'd
taken the time -- once in
while -- just to say, "Thanks Vinny. Thanks for
seeing for me." Now it
late, who was going to see for him now?
A sleepy eyed attendant came in with a gurney. He
pulled it up to Mr. Vincent's bed and looked at Parker.
bunky, huh?" Without
waiting for an
answer, he pulled a curtain around Mr. Vincent's
bed and went to work.
pulled the curtain back again, the bed was empty.
The bed stood empty against the wall by the window.
Parker could still see
Mr. Vincent there, looking out the window with the
back of the bed cranked
His face would often break into a smile when he saw
something to humor him,
he would turn the scene into words so Parker could
see it with him. He
wondered if the nurse would let him have that bed
by the window. He was
to the first week of therapy and his spine was
better now, there was less
and it was torture to lay there not knowing what
was happening outside.
"How are we doin' Mr. Parker?" The nurse
charged in pulling a cart
hand and shaking a thermometer down with the other.
Without waiting for an
answer she put the thermometer in his mouth. "Gonna
give you a sponge down
Parker. Gonna get up real close and personal."
"Can I ask you a question?" Parker said around
both sides of the
"What's on your mind, hon?"
"I was wondering if I could be moved to the bed
by the window -- where Mr.
Vincent used to be."
"Sure. Why not? You're gonna have a new bunky
the end of the week, he
take over on your side. I don't know what you
want with the window though, there's nothing to see out
"The world is out there."
The nurse shrugged, "It's up to you, hon. I'll
roll you over when I'm done, okay?"
He wanted to be alone when he looked outside. What
was out there was between
Vinny and him. Nobody else had a right to that
view, it was theirs. When the
nurse was finished with him she wheeled Mr.
Vincent's bed out of the way
rolled Parker over to the window. He waited,
watching her finish up around
room -- looked up at the ceiling and listened for
the squeak of her rubber
soles to fade away as she walked out of the room
and back down the hall.
He tried to sit up and a stabbing pain in his lower
back stopped him cold.
held tightly to the bed rail until he could stand
the pain no longer and
dropped back panting and drained of strength. His
eyes closed and he counted 'til
ten waiting for the pain to subside -- then he
tried again. He was able to
raise himself on one elbow. The pain in his lower
back was fierce and
but he stayed with it. His chin was almost on a
level with the window sill,
and if he could just ... just push a little more
... that's all dear God
just an inch more.
He got the inch and he brought his face to the
window. He opened his eyes
looked out. There was a brick wall! Nothing!
Nothing but a brick wall!
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