He toggles out of auto-drive so he can pull up in the fire lane. He throws the emergency brake.
You are unlawfully parked.
“Fix it your damn self,” he says. He is out of the car, slamming the door closed, running. He rounds the back bumper, flicks a switch on the key remote, and the car motors off in search of an open space in the hospital lot. He runs into the lobby, calls out to a woman at Registration:
“The ER — where is it?”
The woman behind the counter points the way. The gentleman she is currently serving humphs at him: You could have waited your turn.
But he couldn’t. He is in a dead sprint now, down the main corridor, through the automatic doors into Emergency. The lobby is empty. No one in sight. A county hospital like this, out in the sticks — they probably max out at three patients per day in the ER. There’s a television in the corner, hanging on a swivel mount high on the wall. That woman, the comedienne with the daytime talk show, is nattering on about her next guest’s new movie.
He stops at the reception desk. His heart is pounding. He drags a shirtsleeve across his forehead, to swab away the sweat. There’s a push-button on the desk, and a sign Scotch-taped beside it: RING FOR HELP.
He pushes the button and immediately jumps, as an old-time school bell, done in red metal, rings on the wall behind the desk. His phone buzzes while he waits: he assumes it’s the car telling him where it parked, and he doesn’t check it.
And now an EMPLOYEES ONLY door opens, and a man walks through it.
“You’re the emergency contact for Jean Woolsey?” the man says to him, looking down at his tablet for a name. “You’re Isaac Elberg?”
“Dr. Sanchez-Padilla. If you would come with me to the sitting room —”
“You can’t tell me here?” Isaac says.
The doctor looks around the room, and finding it empty, he says, “Ms. Woolsey passed away about a half hour ago. I’m sorry.”
There is a pause. A long pause. Then the doctor says, finally, so Isaac doesn’t have to ask, “She was successfully digitized.”
“Can I speak to her?”
“That’s not my department. You’ll have to talk to the Technicians.” The doctor hands him a business card. Issac looks at it, blankly. There is a phone number on it. “I’m not personally familiar with this carrier,” the doctor adds, “but ordinarily contact with the deceased is forbidden for an adjustment period of up to two weeks. They may allow you to leave a message.”
“Can I see her?”
“Come with me.”
He follows the doctor back through the door.
“She’d lost too much blood,” the doctor says, projecting his voice down the hall. “She was too far gone. If we could have got to her sooner —”
“The wreck was out on The Bumps on Route 12. That’s fifteen miles from here and three from St. Jude’s. Why didn’t they take her there?”
The doctor answers without turning to face him: “St. Jude’s won’t admit Copy Techs into their facilities. Policy of the diocese. Goes all the way up to Rome. If the ambulance had gone there, and she didn’t make it, she’d be lost forever.” The doctor quickens his pace. It’s like he’s running away from the conversation.
Isaac shouts after the doctor: “But they could have saved her.”
“They might have saved her. It was a judgment call. The paramedics had seconds to make it, and they chose the safer option. Ellie!” The doctor flags down a passing nurse. “Can you take Mr. Elberg to see his —?”
The doctor waits for Isaac to finish the sentence. Isaac tries and fails. He staggers toward the side of the corridor, grabs hold of the rail there, and starts to cry.
“Ms. Woolsey,” the doctor says to the waiting nurse, by way of explanation. He pats Isaac gently on the shoulder and continues down the hall.
“You can come with me, sir,” the nurse says. “When you’re ready.”
Minutes later they are standing in a room. Two beds. She is lying in the one by the window. The sun knifes through the slats in the window blinds, striping the walls, the floor, and Jean.
“I’ll leave you alone with her,” the nurse says, before leaving the room.
He approaches her. Her hands are folded across her chest. Her eyes are closed. The top of her head is wrapped in a white cotton sheet. They do this after the Transfer is completed, to make the body presentable. His hairs stand on end.
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out the jeweler’s box. He opens it, takes out the diamond ring, and slips it over the cold fourth finger of her left hand.