I Look Good in a Hospital Gown
July 2, 2011
Eddie! First of all, thank you, no seriously, thank you for meeting me last week. You’re a tough one to track down, you know that? But I found you. Yes I did. The old Eddie wouldn’t have his address listed like that, but hey, people change. Change is good. Well, sometimes anyway.
It was good catching up though. I mean, you could’ve done a little more of the talking on your end, and you certainly didn’t have to leave so fast, but hey, it was good catching up. Were you feeling bad? I only say that because you looked bad. Like you were depressed or something. Or maybe after all these years it’s still that face of yours. I noticed you never did get that plastic surgery you were always talking about. Asking me to pay for. Now, sure, I can admit it was my fault, I’m sick after all, but how was I to know back then? I’d never heard of a hypochondriac before.
Or maybe I had, I just didn’t want to admit that I had it. It’s tricky that way, hypochondria.
Oh and by the way, no wedding ring anymore, huh? I mean, hell, unless you started taking it off in bars, but I’ve got to be honest, that doesn’t strike me as something you’d do. I meant to ask you about that. Anyway, good riddance. Alice always looked a little pale to me. Pretty, sure, but pale. I didn’t trust that about her.
Do you remember that time we had to flee to Mexico after that botched job (again, sorry) and she went swimming in that cenote even though she had an open wound? The nerve of some people, right? You’re better off without her. I mean, she practically ruined the whole trip, if you could call it that. You couldn’t have expected me to stay anywhere near her. Hadn’t she ever heard of necrotizing fasciitis? Flesh eating bacteria? She could have killed us all. And you were expected to have sex with her? Jesus, come on.
Pump your brakes, Ollie. I know, I know. I hope you’re still reading at this point, because I’ve gotten seriously off track.
The whole reason I’m writing this letter is to do three things:
- Formally apologize for all the bad luck I’ve brought your way
- Explain my hypochondria from the past, and how I’m really dying this time
- Tell you about the next job we have to do together
Actually, let’s start with the hypochondria part. You know all those times I thought I was sick before? And it turned out I wasn’t? Well, that’s pretty much it. There’s the whole issue in a nutshell, wrapped up with a nice little bow. Or a bow tie. Yeah. Fancy words like hypochondria deserve fancy descriptions.
The thing is, it’s a bitch to live with. You second-guess yourself all the time. Am I sick? Am I dying? Yes? I have to be. There’s always some reason. Always some symptom of something deadly exhibiting itself.
You’re constantly stressed out. Worse, even though I sometimes manage to convince myself that I don’t have whatever flavor-of-the-day disease I recently heard about, there’s no way I’m fine now, not in the long run. Because even if I started out fine, I’ve been living with the stress of thinking I’m on the brink of death for years, which takes a toll on your body. Have you read about it? Stress? It causes all sorts of problems. Heart palpitations, stomach ulcers, eating disorders, insomnia, anxiety, lack of focus….
But Eddie, this time it’s different. I’m really dying now. I couldn’t bring myself to tell you at the bar. And you didn’t want to hear it anyway. You probably knew. You probably took one look at me and knew and couldn’t bear to see me that way. That must have been why you left so suddenly. How mighty we once were, huh? It’s hard to see that crumble. Years will age a person, but cancer. Come on.
Which brings me to my next point. Being in a hospital all the time has its perks. You get a feel for the place. And if you’re like me, in our line of work, you get a good amount of time to scope the place out. You can’t just jump a place with some half-baked plan. You’ve got to fully bake the thing. Time the security guards. Figure out when the janitor takes his smoke break, when the nurse goes to the bathroom, when the doc calls his mistress. But you know all that. That’s why we worked so well together. We’ve got the experience and the right instincts.
Listen, I know it’s been a long time. But we’ve got a job to do. You’re the only one I trust.
Just hear me out.
We don’t have a great track record together. Or at least we haven’t for a long time. But think back to those early days. Do you remember how many places we hit? All the schemes that paid off?
We were good back then, before everything went to wrong with me.
Take the bank heist. Everything was going fine! We had bags of money already, and we hadn’t even hit the vault yet, when my face started feeling numb. I thought it was a panic attack, but then I was clearly having a stroke and I started screaming at you to recognize FAST—
Time to call 9-1-1
—but you wouldn’t hear me out. I was practically forced to set off the alarm to get the attention of the cops for help. I mean, hell, you might as well have been acting SLOW:
Wonder if he would ever see another day again.
Them coming in with guns blazing was never part of my plan, and I certainly didn’t mean for them to blow your nose off. But you know what? Water under the bridge. Because after that, you were a champ and a really good pal to trust me again. I forgive you, and now you forgive me. That’s what I call a square deal.
I mean, you couldn’t have known then that I was a hypochondriac. Hell, I didn’t even know. It’s a sickness on its own, so even if I didn’t have whatever thing I thought was killing me, it doesn’t mean I wasn’t sick all the same. Even if I wasn’t dying then, I had a condition that made me think I was dying, which can be just as bad, if not worse. Maybe I’m off my mark here, but people who really are dying only have to go through it once. I’ve been dying on and off for the past thirty years. It’s finally really my time though.
You would think going through all that for so long would somehow prepare me for death more than your average guy, right? Wrong. It didn’t. It still sucks. But that doesn’t mean I’ve given everything up entirely. This cancer is a blessing and a curse, if you know what I mean. Do you have any idea how much chemo drugs go for on the black market?
Lots, Eddie. Lots. More than I could ever spend during my amount of time left.
We’re talking about an easy job here. In and out with nothing left to chance. It won’t be like that gas station in Tucson where, after we robbed the place I thought I was going into diabetic shock and took off my mask to eat a banana and the security camera caught me on tape, and we were forced to drive straight through to Mexico until the heat died down. That was my fault. I take responsibility for that now. But I was young, and I didn’t know what was wrong with me back then. I’ve got more control over my life know. And besides, we won’t have Alice with us this time to slow us down. Good riddance, right?
I’ve gotta say, you really didn’t look so hot when I saw you. I mean, Jesus, what happened to you after we split up? You keep fighting the good fight? Pull together another team and do a big job? I bet you couldn’t keep it going much longer without me. Isn’t that right?
What I’m really getting at is you looked a little downtrodden. Do you need to borrow any money? Is that why Alice left you?
I shouldn’t have said that.
But is it?
Tell me you didn’t start selling drugs. Those criminals. Drugs will kill you, you know.
None of my business, you’re better off without her. Don’t even think about her. I’ll stop talking about it.
I’ve got to admit something to you. Full disclosure: she kissed me once. We were drunk. Sure, Alice was always drunk, but we were all a little drunk back in those days. It was Key West after all. I don’t blame her for that. I do blame her for coming to my room that night though. Remember we were supposed to rob the hotel that next morning, but didn’t because I couldn’t get out of bed since I was so sick? That’s because Alice kissed me and I was sure she had a canker sore, which is a form of herpes if you didn’t know. Anyway, who the hell robs a place in Key West? There’s only one road out and we sure as hell didn’t own a boat. What were we thinking? It’s good that job never panned out. Anyway, she knocked on my door and I opened it and she kissed me.
I told her it wasn’t a good idea. She said she didn’t care. I told her even thieves have to have some kind of moral compass, right? And she told me to shut up and kissed me on the mouth again. I couldn’t say if I kissed her back. I guess I did. But I’ll tell you, I felt awful about it. She gave me herpes after all.
Let me know if you need to borrow some money. I don’t have the money, not now, but if we do this last heist, you can borrow some of my profits. You can have some of my share. What will I need it for anyway? I’m dying. Consider it an apology for kissing your wife.
If you’ll agree to meet up with me again we can talk all about it. Or we can take your usual route and never bring it up again. I’m okay with that too. If you ever talk to Alice anymore maybe you should just bring it up to her, since it’s really her fault.
By the way you may want to get yourself checked for STIs. Have you ever done that? Well you should, I’ve always thought I was probably carrying a few around with me back then. Anyway, you should get yourself checked. I could have given one to Alice who would have given it to you. Who knows?
Listen, how about I cut the bull and let’s meet again in the same bar and we can talk about as much or as little as you want to. Does that sound okay? Let’s say 11:00am on Saturday, the 16th? I need to give you all the details for the job and anything else you want to hear about.
July 16, 2011
Eddie, what the hell? Do you have any idea how long I’ve been sitting at this bar? ANY IDEA, EDDIE?
Don’t you have a goddam telephone number?
I’m drunk. Shit I’m drunk.
They say don’t get cancer and drink, but who the hell cares.
They say don’t get cancer. And they say don’t drink. And they say don’t drink when you have cancer.
Does that make some sense to you?
Is that why you didn’t come? You don’t think I’m sick. You never believed me. Well sure I have cancer. Sure as shit. I’ve got all the signs of it stemming from my stomach:
- Weight loss
- Never feeling hungry (more weight loss)
- Sore throat
- Discomfort (you think?)
- That could be the drinking, but who knows anymore
Or what? What? You talked to Alice and she told you everything? About how we slept together in Florida? And Mexico? And every other goddam place we ever went to? Is that what you want to hear Eddie? Huh?
You knew. You knew. This is your fault too.
We used to be a good team, you and I. And Alice, but forget her, she slowed us down.
We need this money Eddie. I need it. And, hey now, have you looked in a mirror yourself lately? I’m in a real bad place and we can make like old times and we can go and take what’s ours and then I can die and you can…
Well you can feel good knowing I’M DEAD.
That’s all you ever wanted anyway. FAST. A quick death for old Ollie!
Is that why you never showed? Figured you’d wait until I’m dead and take my deal for yourself?
You bastard Eddie. You rotten bastard. I hope you and Alice and all the money in the world go rot in hell.
I should go to bed. That’s what they’re telling me at the bar. Like they’re a bunch of doctors or something. Like they have medical degrees. Like they’ve been dying their whole lives or something.
My stomach hurts anyway. It always hurts. Everything always hurts when you’ve done your research.
Brett Arnold was born and raised in Southern California, where he studied writing at Chapman University. He had a story aired by the Discovery network on the Stuff You Should Know podcast, and has worked with many local literary nonprofits, including 826LA and ISM: A Community Project. His first novella, Avalon, Avalon, was released in 2014. A lover of the ocean, Brett now lives in Huntington Beach with his wife. Brett’s website is brettarnold.com.