Vital Signs

(1983) – A fist appeared beneath  the burnished golden room number. A lilting voiced followed  determined knocks.  “Doctor Wilson, there’s an indigent they just brought into emergency; says he’s your uncle.”

“My uncle?”

“He seems to know a lot about you. Says you would know him by the name Buddy. Uncle Buddy.”

Eldridge rushed to the emergency department where  as soon as he entered, he heard the voice of  a paramedic  talking in the bouncy rhythm of a already repeated story. Weary ears caught the summary: Concerned neighbor called about a burning smell. Saw smoke coming from the window of the house next door, the one shrouded in kudzu and mold. Paramedics show up. An old crazy man inside screams at them, insisting they take him to the county hospital, and county only, because his nephew works there.

The paramedic laughed. “Where else would we be taking a hermit besides County?” he asked, welcoming Eldridge into  the circle of conversation.

“Tell these jokers who I am Eldridge,” the old man chimed in. Sedate but cantankerous, the old man tried  to be demonstrative with his hands, but restraining straps confined their will. “Tell them I am your Uncle Buddy!”

With his eyes, Eldridge traced the contours of the man’s bulbous forehead, examined wrinkles and cracks in rusty dark skin draped from rickety bones, watched trembling long fingers extend and retract in robotic motions.

“That’s my Uncle Buddy,” Eldridge said. “I’ll take care of him.” A satisfaction settled upon the man, Uncle Buddy.  He fell asleep.