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Año Viejo (standard:non fiction, 1100 words)
Author: ColombianitoAdded: Jan 05 2008Views/Reads: 3179/0Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
The old year goes out with a bang

Last year right about this time, I was bleeding. Not very seriously,
just a tiny trickle that lasted but a minute, but I felt I shouldn't be 
bleeding on New Year's Eve. 

The nurse said to put my arm up but she didn't put a little cotton ball
on the pinch, and no band-aid either, but this was Colombia after all 
and I should have been flying back to the US that morning if I hadn't 
gotten sick. 

"What a fun New Year's, eh?" she said, completely rhetorically and
without even looking at me, and I figured she had said the same thing 
to about a hundred people already that morning, making some feel sicker 
than they already were. She looked like my sister. Everyone looked like 
my sister or my brother whenever I returned for a visit after a couple 
of years of being away in the Caucasian heartland. 

My room didn't have a window but I could hear the blast of firecrackers
and "tacos" blasting right outside the hospital. Tacos are especially 
loud and very potent firecrackers; they send a deafening wave of 
explosive sound that travels many blocks. I was relived to think that 
whoever was lighting those tacos would get prompt attention should 
their hands or face get blown off. 

The celebrations had been just too crazy and full of excess. My mom woke
me up early and called me to the table where a plate full of reheated 
beans from the night before awaited me, next to scrambled eggs and 
toast, and a cup of hot chocolate to wash it all down. I devoured the 
meal, figuring I needed to get something in my stomach to start 
neutralizing the aguardiente I knew was going to flow in plentiful at 
every stop of the tour. And you couldn't say no because then they would 
say that America had turned me into a fancy pants wuss. Then there was 
blood sausage at aunt Daniela's, deep fried plantains and pork rinds at 
my friend Carlos', we bought buñuelos that Doloritas was selling by the 
stadium, and by the time I arrived at my cousin Enrique's, my chest 
felt like someone beat it with a tennis racket and I was drenched in 
cold sweat. "You're having a heart attack, gringo!" he said chuckling 
and he called his girlfriend Linda to pick us up. I waited for her 
disoriented, lying down on Enrique's leather couch. Before we left, I 
vomited a white, foamy soup that I offered to clean up, but Enrique 
just said "I'll send you the bill in dollars." 

It was just me and an old woman in the flesh-colored room. She was
hooked to one of those EKG machines that prints the heartbeat on paper 
rather than show it on the screen, though it made the same beeping 
sound. They had told me I was not get up from the bed until Monday, 
when they would bring the ultrasound machine to look for damage to the 
pericardium. In my mind, I traveled back in time trying to locate the 
"pericardium" somewhere in the thorax of the dissected man pictured in 
the poster my ninth grade teacher was holding up. All that mattered was 
that my heart might have been damaged, really. 

My mom had brought me the books I was reading on the airplane. I pulled
"The Book of Illusions" by Paul Auster, and reread whatever chapter I 
had been reading. Reading in English helped me imagine I was in my own 
bed in Colorado, getting ready to go to sleep. This was truly a book of 
illusions. I set the book down and rolled over to my left side, with my 
arm over my head so the nurses could mess with the I.V. if they needed 
to. Then I fell asleep. 

At ten o'clock, a young female voice in my dreams said "hey, hey, hey,"
and I woke up. A nurse had been calling me to give me my medication. 
"You understand English?" she asked me and I said yes. She had noticed 
the book I had left next to the can where they expected me to pee. "I 
had a brother in the United States," she added, using the past tense, 
which was curious. "Where is he now?" I asked, wondering if her 
brother's path might offer some insight about where I might end up in a 
few years. "He died," she said and I felt wretched, even though she had 
brought it up. "Oh, I'm so sorry," I said apologetic, and she waived 
her hand dismissively. "Don't worry," she said, "this was many years 
ago, and I was very young." 

There was silence in the room, except for the sick lady's beeping
machine and for the ruckus outside the hospital: people blowing on 
horns, drunkards singing. Someone turned on a radio in the hallway, the 
station was playing old songs and the announcer would come on every few 
minutes, updating listeners of how much - or how little - of the 
current year was left. The nurse tore off the EKG print out, made marks 
on it with a red pen, folded it and put it in a folder. "How did he 
die," I asked her. "He froze to death," she said plainly. "He was 
working at a warehouse in the city of Michigan - she meant the state of 
Michigan - and was trapped in there during a snowstorm for 32 hours 
with no heat or electricity. They found him all curled up like a fetus, 
up in some shelf." She explained. "I'm sorry to hear that," I said, 
though she had told the story with great detachment, like retelling a 
scene from a movie. "Yeah, thanks," she said. "I'm sorry you have to 
spend your New Year's Eve here" she said and rubbed my shoulder 
affectionately. "Listen, listen!" she then said, pointing towards the 
room's door. "Five, four, three, two, one, zero!" said the announcer on 
the radio. "I'll let you get up just to give you a hug," the nurse 
said, so I grabbed all the cables and I.V. line with my right hand and 
slid off the bed. "Happy New Year" we said to each other and then the 
nurse turned to the unconscious lady in the next bed and said to her 
"Happy New Year to you too, Señora Lucía!" 

After the nurse left, I stood there for a few minutes, looking at Señora
Lucía and listening to the banging tacos outside, and thinking about 
the burning taste of aguardiente flowing down my throat and making my 
stomach burn.


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