Jacob walked into the hospital waiting room. It was a second home now. Jacob felt there should be a standing ovation every time he did arrived. Not because he was some sort of hero, but because his father was still alive. Just yesterday, he had improved from critical to stable. After seven surgeries over several days, Jacob’s father could possibly live through his aborted suicide attempt. If he believed in such things, Jacob would have called it a miracle.
A young woman with long, brown hair was talking with his mother as he entered the waiting room. Sarah. Sarah had taken a red-eye from California and arrived late last night. She wanted to hear from the doctors about what surgeries her father was undergoing. She was looking to see if there was anything amiss, but Jacob didn’t think that her level of expertise really equated to the doctors that had years more experience than she did. Jacob knew that it was more of the daughter, who just happened to be a doctor, trying to not feel helpless while her father clung to life in a hospital bed.
Jacob shook his head. A hospital bed, what a terrible place to die. What a terrible place to survive.
Jacob waited patiently, just within earshot, of his mother and Sarah. He could hear his sister rattle off procedures, bones, and muscle groups. He paid attention when he heard about bones that either shattered or in desperate need of constructive surgery. The terminology meant nothing to him, and his mother was glass-eyed and exhausted as if each medical term was another mile run in an anguished mental marathon. Jacob did hear a few things he could register: his father may lose his right eye, the bullet was deflected from critical areas of the brain, and that he would have to be monitored for personality changes.
Jacob had heard all of these things before. Sarah knew about as much as he did, she could just get more mired in the details.
Jacob’s mother finally noticed him standing at an awkward distance from them. “Jacob,” she said, “you didn’t have to come back today.” A weak smile broke apart her lips. “Sorry, I mean, one of us has to remain sane.”
Jacob shrugged. “I got off work early.”
Sarah walked over and silently gave her big brother a long hug. “You have barely said a word to me since I got in town.”
Jacob embraced his sister and felt tears force their way out of his shut eyelids. “There’s not much to say. Not much that matters anyway.” Jacob took a deep sigh. “Except that you’re here, which is a good thing.”
“I don’t know what good I’m doing.”
“Your mother appreciates it, and when we can finally talk to dad, he will too.”
Sarah gave a weak smile. Jacob didn’t need to hear a word, she was worried too that his condition may still collapse. They may never get the chance to speak with him again.
Jacob felt a darkening cloud in the back of his mind. It was guilt. Ridiculous guilt that he was somehow responsible for his father. Because of the cursed note he had found in the pocket of his grandfather’s jacket. It was stupid, but was it true?
Sarah narrowed her eyes and she titled her head to the left while staring at her brother. “Something wrong?”
Jacob looked down at the hospital floor and shook his head vigorously. “No.”
His mother chimed in, “I wish it wasn’t something like this that brought the family together. It’s been some time.”
Sarah turned and touched her mother’s face. She smiled. “Sorry, momma, I should have gotten some more time to visit. No one prepares for this.”
Jacob’s mother gently gripped her daughter’s hand. A weak, wary smile crossed her lips, but her eyes were full of generosity.
Jacob’s mother took a deep breath and straightened her back. “Okay, now, would anyone like some coffee? It’s awful, but it’s here.”
Sarah let go of her mother’s hand and nodded. “That would be fine.”
Jacob’s mother turned and headed down a short hall and turned left, out of sight.
Sarah spun around to Jacob. “Why would Dad try to kill himself?”
Jacob jumped back, raising his hands in surrender. “I have no idea. He seemed pretty relieved and even happy on the day it happened.”
Sarah tilted her head again. She was thinking, Jacob hated it when she was focused and looking at him. “At Granddad’s funeral?”
Jacob nodded. “Yes. He gave me Grandfather’s flight jacket.”
Sarah’s eyes widened. “He found it?”
“It was never lost.”
“I can see how that would make him happy. Apparently, Dad always wanted the jacket to be passed down from father to son.”
“Dad had it before me?”
“Yeah, Grandfather gave it to him, about a couple years ago, but then Dad said it went missing.”
Jacob scratched his head above his right ear. “Weird. He told me that he hid it from the family. He was worried they might want to sell it to a museum or something.”
“Well, our extended family has been known for their money-hungry nature.”
Jacob turned and started walking away from his sister. “I don’t think he hid it from them, maybe he hid it from himself.”
Shit, Jacob had said that aloud. “Nothing,” he said, tilting his head back, but never looking at her.
“Bullshit!” Sarah exclaimed. “Is there something you know?”
Jacob stopped at the window to the waiting room and stared out into the parking lot. He saw an ambulance speeding along the road toward the emergency room. Three days ago, Jacob’s car was following an ambulance toward that same entrance in the hopes that his father would be saved. Saved from a suicide attempt, because of a family curse. No, it was stupid. These things don’t happen this day in age. Curses didn’t exist, coincidences do. But why did his father have a note with only a crudely drawn smiley face? Jacob placed his hand in his jean pocket, the papers were still there, the note he had received and the one his father had scrawled.
“You know something, Jacob. What is it?”
Sarah was right behind him. He could hear her voice as if it would burst out of his chest.
Jacob placed the palm of his hands over his face and turned to face his sister. “Nothing, I know nothing.”
Sarah’s face burned red. Her eyebrows dipped toward the bridge of her nose. “Look, it’s small, but just before someone attempts suicide they tend to be calm and happy. Sometimes they even start giving things away. Were there any other clues? He didn’t just decide this at the funeral. He had a plan.”
Jacob shrugged again as he slid his hand gently over his mouth. He threw his hands into the air and let them fall to his side, limp. With a long exhale, he said, “I don’t know any reason.” Just a silly one.
“Any idea? Even a ridiculous one?”
Jacob stared at his sister. Was his doctor-sister now a mind-reader?
“Well?” Sarah crossed her arms.
Jacob grabbed Sarah’s shoulders and pulled her closer. He leaned with a whisper. “Look, don’t tell another soul, but dad may have believed in a family curse connected to that flight jacket.”
Sarah’s eyes widened. Her arm swung with furious speed, smacking Jacob across his face. Jacob, surprised, nearly fell into the window. His cheek stung with pain, the echo of the assault reverberated throughout the waiting room. Ryan’s cheeks flushed with embarrassment.
“This is not the time for your jokes, Jacob!” Sarah was livid. Jacob feared for his life.
He held his hands up and bowed his head. “Look, sis, give me a moment.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out the notes. He handed her the one he found in his jacket.
“I found this in Granddad’s flight jacket. It was addressed to me. I thought it was a joke, but then I heard the gunshot.”
Sarah unfolded the note. She released a raging groan and she swung at Jacob again. He was prepared this time and let his blocking arms shield his face from her blows. She was punching now.
“It wasn’t funny the first time and props don’t make it any funnier!”
Sarah stopped her attack. Jacob was saved by his mother’s anger.
“Keep this to yourself!” Sarah flung the note at him with all the fury she had left. The note caught the air and lost all momentum and floated to the ground.
Sarah stormed back to their mother. “Of all the nerve, saying stupid things like that, then giving me a piece of paper with a smiley face etched on it!”
Jacob straightened himself. Did he give her the wrong note? He looked at the one still in his hand; a crudely drawn smiley face stared back. It also had his father’s blood on it. Jacob bent down to look at the note he gave Sarah. He saw the writing on it, claiming that he was cursed.
He watched Sarah forcefully take a coffee from their mother. Their mother looked at Jacob perplexed.
Jacob looked at both notes. His father had been given a curse, same as Jacob, but he couldn’t read his father’s note. Did his father know this? Did he hope the note in his dead hand could be read by another? But it couldn’t be. His father was not available for visitors, no one else would believe Jacob.
Jacob was on his own to figure this out. Or die trying.
© 2016 C.J. Staryk. All Rights Reserved.