They weren’t hostages in some foreign land in a tiny cell being tortured like Sen. McCain had been, but they were hostages nonetheless. Their cage was the city hospital and a capitalistic society, their torture was watching their son teeter-totter between life and death, and their torturer they never saw—like a gang just around the corner that will pounce, beat the heaven out of you, and leave you for dead.
The difference was there was a vast rift between the torturer and the tortured. The torturer was somewhere in a Midwestern city. He was dressed in a dark suit, wingtips, red power tie, and starched shirt, and he sat behind a cherry desk with the NASDAQ on one screen on the computer and actuarial tables on another screen. He made quick decisions that filtered downstairs to supervisors and clerks in cubicles taking calls from the toll-free line from hospital employees or insurance customers all day, making pleas and faxing paperwork. All he knew was that he was covered, and his goal was to spend twelve hours per day making profit for his investors, board members, and himself. At night, he put on the good husband and daddy mask, and on Sunday, he wore a Christian one.
Amy and Mike knew their appeal for experimental chemo would be denied given the expense of the treatment Gabe had already undergone, and only in America could a public be convinced that packaged poison called chemotherapy was a treatment, like electroshock therapy was actually therapy or bloodletting would cure the Bubonic Plague. Their Go Fund Me campaign on Twitter and Facebook had raised about five hundred dollars, not enough to pay one day’s stay in the hospital, and they couldn’t afford to fly Gabe to Switzerland to get the alternative nutrient infusion treatment that proved to prolong stars’ lives.
They knew time was near. Gabe’s breathing had slowed, there was a smell about the room, and nurses had become more solemn. Prayers weren’t bringing him back to life, and the pain they felt wouldn’t end when the funeral was over, the flowers laid on the grave, and the mourners were back at work or at home.
Amy and Mike filed for bankruptcy because they couldn’t pay the twenty percent insurance didn’t cover, and they visited the grave weekly and cried. Months later, the emptiness they felt had not dissipated and seemed to increase when Amy was at work and overheard one clerk in the breakroom saying to another, “It’s sad and all, but you’d think she’d be back to normal by now. It’s not like they can’t have another baby.”
Niles Reddick is author of the novel Drifting too far from the Shore, a collection Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novella Lead Me Home. His work has been featured in eleven anthologies/collections and in over two hundred literary magazines all over the world including PIF, Forth Magazine, Spelk, Cheap Pop, Slice of Life, Faircloth Review, With Painted Words, among many others. His new collection Reading the Coffee Grounds was just released. Reddick works at The University of Memphis, Lambuth, in Jackson.