The Bad Project

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Chapter 44. Ringing Phone/Crystal/Don

Crystal couldn’t sit still in her dorm room. She was tired of calling the hospital trying to find out about Marianne. She called Jason. “Bro, I really need your help. Marianne is in the Angel’s Rest Hospital and I want to be there when they have any news, to see her if I can. Can you take me? I have enough money to take a taxi home.”

“What’s wrong with her, Crystal?”

“She… well, she tried to kill herself with sleeping pills.”

“Oh, my God! Okay, I’ll be there as soon as I email the program patch I’m working on off to Ginsburg. I’ll call you when I’m outside. Better bring something to read. And I’m not leaving you there. I’ll stay with you.”

“Jason, are you sure you can? You’re so busy, and….”

“I can do it, no problem. See you soon.” He hung up fast, not giving her time to argue. Crystal thought he was very kind to go along. Jason could be pompous, but he was there when she needed help.

They swung through the hospital’s circular driveway. He let Crystal out near the front door and went to park. As she walked towards the once-imposing glass doors of the hospital; they opened silently before her. One of them had a big crack halfway down its length. Every shabby chair in the lobby was filled. The people looked bored and sleepy, fidgeting on the thin chair padding. On the floor nearby, a congested kid snored, wrapped in a blanket.

Crystal looked around for someone she could ask about Marianne. After a minute or two she noticed the chipped veneer information desk and got into the line. She stood behind a black man in Dockers and run-down Red Wing work boots smeared with ochre mud. He smelled like old sweat. When it was his turn, he asked for “Miz Williams,” and heard which room she was in, then walked away towards the elevators.

Crystal rested her hand on the desk and said, “I’m looking for Marianne Wu.”

The aide’s hair was disheveled and she had dark circles under her eyes. Crystal caught a faint whiff of lemon scent. The woman looked down and paged through a dog-eared typed list. Then she looked at her computer screen. “I don’t see her. When did she arrive?” Her voice was scratchy and hoarse.

“About an hour ago. She came to the Emergency Room.”

“Yeah, there she is. She has no room yet. Be seated. Ask again in a couple of hours.” The aide unwrapped a stick of sugar-free gum and fed it into the slot of her mouth. She pulled down her tight red cotton sweater over her large stomach and looked over Crystal’s shoulder at the woman behind her.

Crystal walked aside. Somehow Jason had snagged two chairs next to each other. She sat down. “I don’t feel like reading. This place bugs me,” she said. She shook her shoulders as if she was shaking off a bad dream.

“Okay,” said Jason. “You can do as you like. I’m going to read, though.” He got out a computer magazine from his briefcase and opened it. Then he looked up. “I have my PDA if you want to play a game.”

“Do you have Bejeweled?” she asked.

“Yep, and also Sudoku. Here.” Jason fished out his Palm PDA and handed it to Crystal. She pushed the jewels around. What was happening to Marianne? Would they pump her stomach? Had she gone too far? Would she live? She forced herself to concentrate on Bejeweled. The game was hypnotic, and she was grateful to have something else to think about. From time to time, a whiff of disinfectant reached her, as service men mopped the floor around the chairs. Her score went up: 10,000, 25,000, finally up to 120,000. “Jason, I’ve never gotten such high scores before. Did you soup up this game?”

“No,” he said, “You’re probably putting your whole concentration to work trying not to worry. Or maybe you need to be distracted to play that game well.”Meanwhile, back at their dorm room, the telephone was ringing. It rang six times, stopped, then after a minute, started up again. It rang over and over. Someone really wanted to get an answer. The girl trying to study next door finally called the Dean of Students’ office to complain. When they understood whose room this was, they sent Don over to answer the call, in case it was a family emergency. He hadn’t been able to get Marianne’s parents yet.

The phone was ringing when Don got there. Without closing the room door, he ran to get it but it stopped just as he picked it up. He replaced the receiver, and almost immediately it began to ring again. He picked it up and said, “Hello?”

The phone was hung up at the other end. He replaced the receiver. Just then, Sharon Chang arrived and came in. “What have you heard about Marianne?” she asked.

“Nothing yet, it’s too soon. But someone is trying to call here and I’m trying to talk with whoever it is, in case it’s her parents. I answered but they hung up. Maybe they want to be answered in Chinese. If it rings again, would you answer?”

“Sure. Besides the fact that you’re a guy, I think Marianne does answer ‘Wei 为’ on the phone, so if you said ‘Hello’ in your voice, they’d think they had the wrong number.” Almost immediately, the phone rang again, and Sharon picked it up. “Wei?”

She listened a long time, and she looked very upset. Finally, she spoke in Chinese, and the person on the other end jabbered very loudly, so Don could hear it. Evidently they had realized she wasn’t Marianne. They apparently asked where Marianne was, and Sharon put her hand over the receiver and asked Don if she should tell Mrs. Wu that Marianne was in the hospital.

“Does she speak English? Because if she does, I probably should be the one to tell her.”


Don took the phone and told her Marianne was in the hospital. He gave her the hospital telephone as well as his cell phone number.

She asked to speak to Sharon again. She talked a little and then hung up. “They’ll call the hospital, but Mrs. Wu said Lily Wu, Marianne’s sister, will come down to the hospital later today. She can’t come herself because Marianne’s other sister, Susie, is also in the hospital up there with advanced breast cancer and she has to stay with Susie’s kids. That’s what she was calling about. She wanted Marianne to come home to help out. She sounds totally frantic.”

Don groaned. “We can’t do anything about it except try to help Marianne. I’m going over to Angel’s Rest Hospital now to see if I can find anything out. But I can’t stay there long because I’m on call. Thanks a lot Sharon, without you we’d have no idea why we couldn’t get hold of her parents.”

“No problem,” she said. Back in the hospital, Crystal shifted in her seat, finishing a game of Bejeweled with a very low score. She heard “Crystal White, please come to the information desk.”

She walked up to the desk and said, “I’m Crystal White. Do you have news about Marianne Wu?”

The sign on the desk said “Cheri Best” and Ms. Best said, “Yes, she’s out of the operating room and assigned to room 505, but that’s in Intensive Care and while she’s on that floor, she can’t have any visitors.”

Crystal asked, “How is her condition?”

“She’s in Guarded condition.”

Crystal looked blank.

Ms. Best said, “You know our condition order?” Crystal shook her head “no” and Ms. Best handed her a dilapidated laminated card with the conditions listed. Grave was worst. Guarded was next. Stable was third. Fair and Good were better than Stable. Guarded was good and bad news then.

“I need that card back,” said Ms. Best. She said, “Thanks,” as Crystal handed it to her. She smiled at Crystal. “Guarded is pretty good for someone who came by ambulance. Often they’re on the road to recovery.”

Crystal wanted to believe her. But it was below “fair” or, in other words, it was a D-. Scary indeed. Jason asked her as soon as she sat down again, and hugged her when she told him.

“She’ll fight it, she’s young and strong,” he said.

“But does she want to fight? She’s been so down, so miserable.”

“Maybe her body knows to fight even if her mind has pushed her to this state. It’s hard to make the body want to die,” said Jason. Crystal remembered that his good friend Charles had gone from selling a little marijuana to dealing met two years earlier, and had been shot in a drug raid. He had almost died, and Jason had spent hours at the hospital. After Charles came out, he had gone to work for the YMCA, telling kids to stay away from drugs. Jason was probably thinking about how Charles had seemed at death’s door for a long time, but finally started coming back and as far as he could tell, was altogether fine now. But he hadn’t tried to kill himself per se, although Crystal thought dealing in drugs could be a sort of death wish.

She sat and thought for a while. Then she went back to the desk. “Ms. Best, how long will it be until Marianne could have visitors?”

Ms. Best looked at her kindly, and said, ’I just don’t know. She has to be ‘Fair’ before we let her family visit her, and ‘good’ for friends. There’s no way to tell how long it might take for that to happen, but probably not tonight. I’d go home and try again tomorrow.”

Crystal told Jason, and he repacked his magazines and his PDA and they walked out to the car. “Thanks, Jason, I really appreciate your help,” Crystal said.

He smiled at her. “I’ll pick you up at 9 AM tomorrow morning,” he said.

“No, you can’t skip work!”

“Yes, I have to take off a couple of vacation days, and I’d planned to do it right after I finished the programming job I completed today. I didn’t have plans, so it’s no problem at all.”

Crystal hugged him. She was grateful for the ride, and even more grateful for the support. If only Marianne would recover. But there was no certainty.

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