Matt sighed, the latest in a series of long sighs, and continued to stare at the ceiling. Matt was White Mountain General’s newest patient. The silence outside his room made him wonder if he was the only patient. Pain killers and a whopping dose of antibiotics eased the throbbing in his leg. They did nothing for his severe case of Blue Christmas. Although, he reasoned, why should this year be any different? So much for better living through pharmaceuticals.
Watching sappy movies on television was a bust too. His was not a wonderful life and this Christmas wasn’t likely to be miraculous on any street. Matt was a loser; there was no other explanation. He didn't need his ex-wife to tell him that. The scratch on his leg that went septic on Christmas Eve was testimony enough.
“Bah humbug,” he told the ceiling.
The sentiment brought the smallest of smiles to his lips. At least tomorrow there would be football. Football, yes; beer, no. The sudden remembrance of where he was turned comfort to misery. Sober football; why bother? Matt wondered, again, why he ever decided to go the Emergency Room. If only he had waited one more day.
“Now all my Christmas plans are ruined.”
There was enough of the old Matt left to laugh at his own bad joke. Matt hadn’t had Christmas plans since…since…
"Say it," the voice in his head told him.
"Since we buried Mark. There, I said it."
What the hell did doctors know anyhow? Confronting the truth didn't help; the truth was killing him. Matt confronted the truth every time he saw the photograph of the boy in the Marine uniform smiling at him. The truth haunted his dreams every night in a flag draped coffin.
No parent should have to bury a child. That was the truth.
Lisa never understood that. “Snap out of it,” she told him. “Talk to me.”
What did she expect him to say? Now that we got rid of the kid, we can start enjoying ourselves? What words would make the pain go away? He sure as hell never heard Lisa say them. In the end, they both just gave up. He signed the papers and took a one room studio. Lisa kept the house and married Chuck Roeder, and everybody lived happily ever after.
A playful laugh answered from the hall. An airplane glided in through the open door followed by another burst of laughter and a small boy. Matt punched a button, and the bed lifted him up for a better look. The boy was about eight with a thick mop of black hair, huge dark eyes, soft features, and a smile that lit Matt’s heart.
“Sorry, mister,” the boy said. “I didn’t mean to wake you up.”
“No chance of that. That’s a mighty fine plane you have there.”
“It sure is.” The boy held the plane out to Matt.
At first, Matt thought his eyes were playing tricks. He turned the toy over in his hands. The blonde balsa wood was trimmed bright red. There was a lead weight clipped to the nose. It was a Testor’s Dart.
“This is so cool,” Matt said. “I haven’t seen one of these in years.”
“My dad gave it to me.” The boy climbed up onto the foot of the bed. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Isaiah. My brother is Jacob. My mom likes Bible names.”
“Are you sick?” Isaiah brushed a thick lock of hair out of his eyes.
“Some doctor, who doesn’t look much older than you, says I am.” Matt said and actually smiled.
“Are you gonna die?”
“Not today, at least, I hope not.”
“Oh. Okay.” The boy inched closer.
“Shouldn’t you be home waiting for Santa?” Matt asked.
“I don’t think Santa’s coming.” Isaiah hung his head.
“My dad’s not doing too good and…well…Dad and Santa…you know.” He gave Matt a sidelong glance.
“I have a train in my room. Wanna come see?”
“I’d better not; I got a bum leg.” Matt handed back the plane.
Isaiah’s eyes fell. The corners of his mouth sagged.
“Alright, maybe a quick look," Matt conceded. "But we can't let the nurses catch us?”
Isaiah’s smile was back. The boy jumped from the bed and hit the floor running. “Down the hall, Room 438,” he called over his shoulder.
Matt threw his feet over the side of the bed. As he took a step, he heard the Marine Corps Hymn begin playing in the distance.
“Code Blue Room 428…Code Blue Room 428...Code Blue Room 428.” the overhead page echoed through the hall.
The thought hit Matt about the same time something slammed into his chest. He gasped and sucked down a huge mouthful of air.
Through a haze he saw a crowd standing over him.
Matt was flying.
“I told you to stay in bed," the doctor said. "What were you doing in the hall?”
“I," Matt struggled for breath. "Following the boy.”
The nurses gave the doctor's quizzical look an innocent shrug.
Matt lifted a hand to shield his eyes from the harsh lights. Someone pushed it back down. Two nurses were connecting him to a roomful of flashing, beeping gadgets.
“What happened?” he asked.
“You had a heart attack." The nurse pushed the oxygen mask back over Matt's face. "We shocked you half a dozen times.”
“Will he be safe in here?” the second nurse said.
"We can see him from the desk," the first replied. "But a word of advice Mr. Wolfe, if you see Isaiah again, do not go with him to see the train."
"Why not?" Matt asked.
The nurse bent close and dropped her voice to just above a whisper.
"The Stanton's family car was hit by the Union Pacific a few years back. Isaiah was the only one to make it to the hospital. He died in Room 438, but people still see him now and then.”
The nurses flipped switches and turned knobs. Numbers flashed and lines snaked their way across screens until, finally satisfied, the nurses left him and dimmed the lights.
Perhaps there was an answer to this depression after all.
Matt felt a twinge of hope.
"Isaiah," he whispered.