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Murmur
©2001 Geoffrey Stone

Greg kept bringing stuff home. Most of the time it was something he picked up off of a neighbor's curb on trash day. Greg and Jim's apartment was furnished with an array of stained chairs with stuffing coming out of the armrests and a couch with mismatched cushions.

This time it wasn't a piece of furniture. It sat on the formica dining room table. Jim tried to ignore it, but his curiosity got the best of him.

"What's that?"

"What? That?"

"Yeah, that there."

"This thing here?"

"A laptop computer, yeah?"

"A laptop? No."

"What then?" Jim reached across the table, attempting to grab it. Greg pulled it away. "Let me see, dude."

Greg held the black notebook sized rectangle upright on the surface of the table and displayed it, with a mock Vanna White flourish. "This is the ForeRunner automatic external defibrillator."

"Lemme try."

"You wanna try?"

"Yeah. Lemme try. C'mon."

"You sure?"

"Yeah."

"Cause, I mean--"

"Yeah."

"--it's, you know."

"Yeah."

"OK, Jim. I'll show you--"

Jim snatched the ForeRunner from Greg's hands and examined it. It weighed only about four pounds, but it felt durable. There were two wires coming from the side, each ending with a paddle about the size of a computer mouse.

Jim slid a paddle into each hand and said, "So, do I need to put that jelly stuff on them? You know, the KY jelly stuff? The lubricant?"

"No, just yell, 'Clear' and--"

"Yeah, and then--"

"ZAP. Clear then ZAP."

Jim paused and looked at each paddle. "So, where do I put the paddles?"

Greg approached Jim. "I'll show you."

"No. I wanna do it."

"Yeah. OK. Iíll just show you with my hands. I wonít touch the paddles."

"Yeah. With your hands. OK."

Greg placed one hand high on the right side of Jim's chest, just underneath the collarbone. He placed his other hand on the left side of Jim's chest, under his heart. "There. Right there. You know--more or less."

Jim placed the paddles in the appropriate positions and rolled his neck clockwise, then counter-clockwise.

Greg sat back down. "And then you push the buttons by your thumbs. And then--"

"Yeah."

"Yeah."

Jim lifted his shirt and held it in place with his chin. "Ready."

"OK. Now put the paddles--"

"Yeah. I know." Jim put the paddles in place, amidst a considerable amount of chest hair.

"Wait."

"What?"

"Why don't you sit on the couch. You're liable to fuck up our table when you go all herky-jerky and shit."

"Yeah. Good poin--herky jerky?" Jim put the paddles down. "Like I'm gonna have a seizure or go into convulsions or something?"

"Seizure? No."

"No?"

"You said a seizure, right? No. Not a seizure."

"What about convulsions?"

"Probably not. Convulsions? Probably. No."

"Probably?"

"I think it's more like when you sleep and your muscles twitch and you--"

"And you jump. Your leg jumps."

"Right."

"Kinda like that?"

"Yeah. Like that. Yeah."

Jim stood up. "I don't know, man. I mean, shit. You know?"

"No. What? I guess."

"Let me see the box this thing came in."

Greg lifted the box off the ground and frisbeed it to Jim.

Jim read the text on the back of the box out loud, "Innovative SMART biphasic waveform technology ForeRunner delivers its lifesaving energy in--"

"Lifesaving, dude. It's not gonna--"

"Shut up. Lifesaving energy in a low biphasic waveform. ForeRunner uses SMART computer technology to optimize the shape of the waveform for each individual."

Jim put the box on the floor by his feet. "Why did you buy this, dude?"

"I didn't."

"You stole it."

"No. My dad--"

"Your dad bought it?"

"No. My dad is an EMS--"

"Yeah. One of those guys."

"Yeah."

Jim picked the box up again and looked it over. "I don't think so."

"C'mon, dude. You've gotta."

"Nope." Jim dropped the box. "I'm going to bed."

Jim left Greg alone at the table, staring at the ForeRunner automatic external defibrillator.

* * *

Jim awoke with a start. Greg was sitting on the edge of Jim's bed, hovering over him.

"Oh. You're OK," said Greg.

"Jesus! What are you--" Jim jolted upright. "What the fuck are you doing?"

"I thought you needed--"

"What the fuck are you doing here?"

"I live here."

"In my bedroom, fuckhead?"

"Oh. I thought maybe you needed some help."

Jim rubbed his eyes. Greg was holding the defibrillator paddles in his hands with the black ForeRunner computer resting in his lap.

"Jesus Christ!" Jim smacked the paddles out of Greg's hands. "What the fuck are you doing with that?"

"I couldn't find a pulse--"

"Why? What the--what the fuck are you doing taking my pulse?"

"I thought maybe your heart stopped and you needed--"

"Get the fuck out!" Jim threw the duvet off his bed and stood up. "Get the fuck out. Now!"

Greg gathered the paddles. "I was just trying to--"

ěNo. No. Leave the defibrillator. Leave. The. Defibrillator. Yes."

"But it's mine." Greg clutched the paddles close to his chest.

Jim hiked up his boxer shorts and threw his shoulders back. "Leave the fucking defibrillator."

Greg dropped the paddles and the computer on the floor. "Fuck you then."

"Yeah. Goodnight. Jesus."

"Yeah." Greg slammed the door behind him.

Jim gathered the paddles and the ForeRunner computer and slid it in the middle of the stack of towels on the top shelf of his closet, safely away.

* * *

Jim stumbled from his bedroom and into the bathroom. The TV was on in the living room. Jim performed his morning routine, dressed and slipped into the kitchen, avoiding contact with Greg, whose feet he could see propped up on the ottoman in front of the TV. The layout of the apartment hid the rest of Greg's body behind the kitchen wall.

"Hey Jim," said Greg, from behind the wall.

Jim ignored him and poured his cereal.

"Hey Jim."

Jim poured milk on his cereal.

"Hey Jim."

Jim picked a clean spoon out of the drawer.

"Hey Jim."

"Jesus Christ, what?" Jim yelled, finally.

"Come here."

Jim put his cereal bowl on the counter, turned the corner into the living room and almost tripped over an IV drip.

Greg reached up, pulled the elastic strap from behind his head and removed the oxygen mask from his grinning face. "Good morning, Jim."

Jim took inventory of the new items in the living room. Plasma drip and glucose drip, each one attached to Greg's right arm with a clear plastic tube. A heart monitor with a tangle of wires, each ending with a clear suction cup attached to Greg's bare chest. An oxygen tank, slowly hissing its contents into the mask resting on Greg's chin.

Greg turned the TV off with the remote, making the rhythmic, beep...beep...beep from the heart monitor audible. "You wanna try?"

Jim maneuvered his way through the new lifesaving devices, opened the front door and stepped out into the sun. He looked at his watch. It was Saturday morning. His heart skipped a beat when he realized that he didnít have anything to do at all.
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