A good way to avoid passing out while the lab tech guy draws your blood is to lie when he asks polite questions.
So, headin’ to work today?
Where do you work, local or do you gotta drive?
Not too far… just over a few neighborhoods. I’m doing a magic show.
Yeah I’m a magician.
I’m not at all a magician. I’m a very sick, scared little kid. I’m 32. The lab tech guy removes the needle and gauzes my arm with swift love.
All right, we’re all set, he says. Go do your thing.
The last time I had blood drawn I told the truth, and I fainted minutes after, out of sight of any employees. I got halfway to the elevator and fell against a wall. I slouched to a seated position, and was out for a minute maybe. Uncomfortable public places become pillow-like when all is lost.
A woman shook me, asked Hey kid, are you alright? I opened my eyes and she saw the thirty-something bloodshot in them, said Oh. What she didn’t see was that I woke up in two places at once.
The lie, this time, is what I need to stay conscious. It works and I make it all the way into the elevator and down to the pay machine and my car without my stomach turning or my vision going fuzzy, glad the lab tech guy didn’t press me for details or ask to attend my magic show.
What I’m actually doing is I have more appointments at more medical facilities. I can’t be trusted to check my own pulse, let alone. So I drive.
My car’s glove compartment is full of parking slips. I add one more and ascend to my second waiting room of the day. I sit and will the symptoms to show so I can parade them in front of the doctor behind the door.
They call me in. My condition gets stage fright and hides. I’m sorry, I say. Lie down, says the doctor. Let’s see.
A good way to wake up in two places at once is to be outside of your body all the time, to designate the Me that’s in pain and panic there, and to designate the space I inhabit here. It’s not soothing but it’s disorienting, and disorientation’s my secret weapon.
I’m standing and watching myself lie down, urging the doctor on as he grasps.
Keep going, the Me beside the doctor says. Find the wrong.
A good way to pass the time on the long drives from appointment to appointment is to call for test results.
Today I’m calling for the results of a heart monitor. I wore it for forty-eight hours, my torso wired up like a call center. I clicked a button for every off feeling, dreaming of a bath.
We can’t see anything irregular, the person on the phone says.
I ask to speak to the doctor.
The doctor’s not in today, but we have the results right here.
There’s nothing alarming.
I hang up, alarmed.
I try the doctor’s home number. For some reason there’s a receptionist there too.
I turn onto the highway as soothing music fills the car.
The voice on the other end is familiar. It’s my voice. I don’t sound well.
My wellness is a room that I’m not allowed to enter. There’s a bouncer at the door and the bouncer keeps saying It’ll just be a minute. I stand to the right and watch other people approach, glittering, and the bouncer lets these other people in.
I get a peek through the crack by the hinges and I don’t see any people, all I see is a single chair.
That’s my seat.
This time someone calls me. I answer quick at a red light. It’s my last doctor of the day, the one I go to so I can talk out all the stress of the previous appointments. She’s the last doctor and today she cancels.
The light becomes green. Everything is awfully connected in my body. I know that if I go home there will only be more connection waiting for me.
I make a left turn into a strange neighborhood. Tree-lined streets, encroaching woods. There aren’t enough woods where I live.
I park. I step out. I head in.
A good way to not go home is to get lost.
The trees feel close, their bark like my heart, match-lit and in peril.
I’m on the property of a gaudy house. Its driveway in the distance is guarded like an embassy, but the woods are easy to slip through, and I make it across the yard unnoticed. I find a door marked Performer Entrance. Sure.
Inside the door is a long dark hallway. I walk past small rooms of well-dressed people flinging cards and making fire in their hands. At the end of the hallway is a stagehand with a clipboard, and beyond that a stage, a microphone, a magician in mid-bow.
My illness imbues me with unexpected confidence. I approach the stagehand, and the stagehand eyes my outfit.
I remember that I’m wearing a hospital gown. When did that happen?
It’s part of my act, I tell the stagehand.
I know, the stagehand replies, you’re on.
It is part of my act. And my act begins.
I say Hello everyone.
I say I’m not at all a magician.
I say I’m a very sick, scared little kid. I’m 32.
The audience in the darkness may not believe me, but they applaud. Squinting against the lights, I think I see the lab tech guy at a table towards the back. He’s holding a vial full of my blood and giving me the thumbs up.
I know what the trick is.
The trick is to let go, to pass out. Because then, the fear is over: you’re in other hands.
The ivory dove of my illness erupts from my mouth and wings over the audience.
A good way to come back to life is to feel a swarm of camera phones on your face, flashes like the sun.
I hear the honeyed voice of an EMT. He pronounces.
Then I feel his hands and I revive, miraculous. I sit up and the EMT checks my vitals. We pose for the camera phones. They must think the EMT is in on the trick.
I fainted, I say.
Uh-uh, the EMT says, you were gone.
No one can know they’ve lost consciousness until they’ve regained it.
The EMT and I lock eyes. I let him believe that his touch, and not magic, saved my life. Perhaps we kiss.
I cough out a feather, a flourish.
Born in 1954, Giuseppe de Piero studied art in England (Nuneaton School of Art & later, St Martin’s School of Art, London) during the 1970’s. He moved to the United States in 1983 & has maintained a studio in Long Beach, California since 1999.
Henry Hoke is southern expat gothic. He wrote The Book of Endless Sleepovers (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016) and Genevieves (winner of the Subito Press prose contest, forthcoming 2017). Some of his stories appear in The Collagist, PANK, Gigantic and Carve. He co-created and directs Enter>text, a living literary journal.