Yakov awakes in a hospital bed. He does not remember being brought here. He does not recall a fall or feeling ill in any way. He has simply found himself in a hospital bed, wearing a cotton gown tied loosely behind him and an ID band secured around his wrist. On it is his birth date and his name: Goldman, Yakov P. What on earth? he wonders. What has happened to me?
His bed is in a double room. His glasses are on the tray table. His own folded newspaper. His cell phone. A card to him from his co-workers at the firm. ‘Get well soon.’ A menu with his choices for lunch and dinner circled.
He lifts the cover off the plate in front of him. A few crumbs of a muffin and a cup of uneaten applesauce. He remembers eating nothing.
A man in the other bed, the one with a view by the window, is speaking on the phone. The man’s voice he finds is familiar but not one he can place with any certainty.
“Mr. Goldman?” a woman calls out from the door to the room. A nurse in a blue smock. She pulls on a pair of exam gloves and before Yakov can answer, the man with a congenial-sounding voice in the bed by the window calls back to her, “Yes, come in,” he says
He looks at the whiteboard on the wall in front of him. His own name is right there: Yakov Goldman, in black marker. Becky, it says is his nurse. This must be Becky, he thinks. The doctor’s name is Rutenberg, not a name he recognizes.
“Don’t you mean me?” Yakov says to her.
“Oh no, not you Mr. Goldman. I mean Mr. Goldman.”
Yakov sits on the edge of his bed, leans over and pulls the curtain away until he can see the other man. He is old. Older looking than his voice suggested. Maybe in his late eighties. Jowly. His right leg is amputated at the knee. His hair is close cropped. He is unshaven. The bones of his shoulders protrude like the hips of an old withered cow. Have I seen this face before? he thinks to himself.
The nurse props a pillow behind the other man’s head. Asks him if he needs anything, inquires about his family, and adjusts the shades on the window.
After the nurse leaves Yakov pulls the curtain over a little more so they can look at one another. “My name’s Goldman. Yakov,” he says.
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Goldman. I’m a Goldman too. Also a Yakov,” the man tells him. “We could be related. Wouldn’t that be something!”
“You must be kidding.”
“Well,” is all the man says.
.“You know, you look a lot like…,” says Yakov.
At that, the nurse returns with a cup of juice. “Mr. Goldman, I have the juice you asked for.”
She places it on the old man’s tray.
“Bring me one too,” says Yakov.
“You will have to ask your nurse,” she tells him.
“That was uncalled for. All I asked for was some juice. You don’t have to be so…”
“Hush, Yakov,” says the old man. “I’ve been watching you. You treat them right like I do and they’ll treat you right.”
Yakov does not know what to think. I have treated no one badly. Nobody complains. He cannot remember saying anything unkind to the nurse. All he did was to tell the nurse to bring him a glass of juice. After all, that’s what they pay them for.
“I will try,” he says.
“You should. You know people pick up vibes. Not me mind you, but people.”
Yakov pulls the curtain closed. This is insane, he thinks. He picks up the newspaper and rings for his nurse.
He waits. No response. He rings again.
“Is this your doing, Goldman,” says the young Yakov to the man on the other side of the curtain. “What have you said to them about me? What have you got against me? I thought we might become friends.”
“I am your friend,” says Mr. Goldman, “I care about you. And that’s some wheeze you’ve got there, Yakov. You should have it looked at.”
“What do you mean, I should get it looked at? Who are you to tell me what I should do? That’s your wheeze you hear anyway, not mine. I shouldn’t even be here. There is nothing wrong with me.”
“No? Maybe, Maybe not.”
Yakov has had just about all he can take from this guy. And the nurse, and everyone one out in the hall who he knows are talking about him.
“You know,” he says, talking to the curtain, “let me tell you something. Now I know you’re nuts and you, for some unknown reason, are just trying to piss me off. Make me think I’m crazy or something. You’re the one with the wheeze. You’re the one with the bum leg, and the bedsores as big as meatballs. That’s you. Not me. You’re on your last trip to the grocery store here, man, not me. I have a job. I’m a law clerk. I know my rights. I have a life. I have responsibilities you know. I’m getting out of here. I’m not you. ”
“No? Maybe, maybe not.”
The next morning, Yakov Goldman awakes in a hospital bed in a double room. From his bed by the window he has a clear view of the sailboats tacking and turning on the silver-blue river.