Rob opened his eyes at six in the morning.  It was Sunday and he knew there was no need to get up.  He felt the stiff erection at the same time that he conjured up the image of the woman he had seen the other day waiting in line at the opera’s box office for Saturday’s performance of La Traviata.  He began caressing himself, his brain totally immersed in the image of the nameless woman:  Dark brown hair, light olive colored skin, brown eyes with a hint of green, long neck covered in part by her shoulder length hair, beautiful proportionate body with breasts kept in place by a light, gentle brassier, begging to be held on his hands, tight buttocks and lovely, shapely legs.  Her oval face had just the right mouth and lips that she kept barely open while reading a pamphlet about the coming season’s operas.  God, those legs!  He began trusting his pelvis into that incredible woman and exploded in orgasmic spasms with only her on his mind and his lips pressed into her half opened mouth.

Rob had studied fine arts in college and later on did graduate work in Architecture.  Those Princeton years had paid off.  From the very beginning he attracted the well to do.  Most of his work involved the design of houses for the very rich, with an occasional public building thrown in here and there throughout New York State.  Currently he was working with the Goldmann family, making their dream house come true.  Preliminary sketches had been approved.  Michael Goldmann had made his money in retail furniture and had married Joanne when he was already a very wealthy man two high-rise apartments ago, and now they had bought 10 acres of land on Long Island and had given Robert Winklestein & Associates the commission to build their dream home.  But on this particular Sunday morning, Robert Winklestein’s mind was not on the Goldmann project, it was not even on his ejaculated wet penis, it was on that stunning woman he had seen days before awaiting to buy tickets for the opera.

Rob washed his hands and wiped his penis dry with tissue paper, brushed his teeth, took a shower and dressed casually.  Today, like any other day, he was alone.  He was surrounded by all that he had acquired, beautiful furniture, magnificent artwork, and growing library.  He was also surrounded by loneliness.  Like on all Sundays, he turned on his stereo and placed a CD to fill the space with orchestral sound, and amidst all that incredible magnificent noise, he longed for a companion, a beautiful, intelligent, refined companion, only this time she had shape, she was almost real, if he only could see her again once more.

Karen Opshoen’s hands were bathed in blood.  It was not her blood, she was not a woman of violence, on the contrary, she was an intelligent and compassionate person.  But the world was not compassionate and, God knows, not intelligent, and at the moment, it certainly had let it all erupt.  Javier Gutierrez now lay down with a large stab wound in the middle of his chest, more properly, between the eighth and ninth ribs on the right side of midline.  His advanced state of drunkenness did not contribute at all in arousing any compassion from any member of the Emergency Room team.  Javier’s breath was nauseatingly putrid, not so much from the cheap alcohol he had imbibed but from the rotten teeth that gave his face that extra kick of abominable human being that he for sure was.   Blood pressure was dropping fast, now it was barely audible: “60 over palp” shouted one of the nurses.  “Open that line fully and let it run.  I want two units of blood”, ordered in a controlled manner the doctor in command.  “40 over palp”.  There was no time to loose.  Karen knew that Gutierrez was bleeding profusely, either from a lacerated liver –if the knife took a downward course— or from a lacerated pulmonary artery.  Either way he was dead unless the hemorrhage was stopped.  “We have to open him up right now,” she said to no one in particular. “Thoracotomy tray”, she ordered.   Two of the nurses rushed to get the requested tray.

As she waited, she rubbed her bloodied gloved hands against each other, she felt them gliding, with the smoothness that only fresh blood can confer to a pair of latex gloves, and her mind drifted to the waiting line by the ticket office at the opera.  She had seen him looking at her, and she had noticed his intelligent face, and his elegantly dressed slim body, and those brown eyes, scanning her up and down.  She had seen his desire, and she had felt her own attraction for him arouse in her, and had felt the slight pressure at the tips of her brassier, a sure sign that she was excited.  That same night, at home in her two-bedroom apartment on East 67th street, as she cooked her solitary dinner, surrounded by the gentle sounds of La Traviata, she knew that she had finally found the man of her dreams.  And later on, when she woke up in the middle of the night, she searched for her motorized sexual partner, and as she applied moisturizing jelly to it and gently placed it inside of her, the only image she had was that of the nameless man that had stared at her standing in line at the opera line.  “Doctor Opshoen, the tray is ready”.  Karen took off her soiled gloves and after putting on a surgical gown, she gloved again and without fanfare, she made an 8-inch incision on the chest of the foul smelling, dying man.

Rob knew solitude.  The coming to an empty apartment welcomed by furniture, by assortments of letters and bills, by the need to cook for one on a stove with six burners, by the bottle of wine opened two days before and now turned into vinegar, by the shades on the window keeping the same height than the day before.  Rob knew to speak to himself aloud, and to respond often in similar kind; he knew to tap his fingers over counter spaces without ever being told to stop it.  With whom could he share his thoughts and feelings? To whom could he point out a shining star on a lovely autumn night?  But perhaps things would change now.  On Saturday he was going to the opera and he knew that even if Violetta were going to die, he would find a companion for the rest of his life.

Karen sensed deep down that she would see him again on that Saturday.  Perhaps she would go to him and introduce herself, but only if he had not done so by the end of the first intermission.  She danced naked around her living room to a Strauss waltz, like a child left loose on a field of flowers on a spring day, and she could not hide the happiness that was breaking the heavy chains of solitude.  To be alone among a hundred people every day was too painful to dwell on at this time.  Violetta might have let her Alfredo go away, but she would not let her man of the brown, intelligent eyes do the same.

Neither Rob nor Karen were social recluses.  They were no different than millions of other people out there.  They were victims of a life style.  They had abandoned their high school friends to go to college.  They had made good friends in college that needed to be forgotten on their way to graduate school, and they had to leave those new friends when life called them away into their respective professions.  It was a mobile society all right, but it was also a heartless one, where loneliness ruled and broken friendships lingered awaiting old age.

Tuesday passed silently amidst the noise of life busting all around them: Taxi drivers competing for a faster lane, cars stopping traffic while harassed and disconnected drivers tried in vain to park in spaces to small for their cars; construction workers walking with their dusty clothes carrying their tools without regard to those crossing in their path; fruit stores with stands invading sidewalks already too narrow for their job; heat reflecting from the blackened tar of the streets, giving them an oasis like quality where water was replaced with motor vehicle grease. New York life was not better or worst than in any other day, and yet, it was almost muffled by the anticipation of a night at the opera with a loved one.

Wednesday began like any other day.  Karen’s alarm clock awakened itself with its hideous sound and in the process awoke Karen too.  It was six in the morning when she stepped out of the shower and made up her face.  She walked down the street dotted with few trees and raincoat clad men walking their dogs on her way to the hospital.  She was glad that she was an emergency room physician and not a regular doc.  She had always hated to have to visit patients in daily rounds, to see the same faces day after day, to respond to the same questions every morning: “doctor when am I going to get well?  Doctor what is this new lump on the side of my neck?”.  She detested seeing people vegetating in their tiny rooms waiting hour after hour for the promised specialist that would make it all better.  Emergency room work was more of her liking.  Whoever was carried through the double doors needed immediate attention.  Statistically she knew that those clutching their chest had heart attacks, and those bleeding from their chests were victims of stabbing or gun shot wounds.  In a way, life in the emergency room was simpler and at the same time more dramatic.  Often, life or death was resolved in a matter of minutes.  Often she could help, but on many occasions she could only watch the irrevocable course of destiny, and she did not mind it at all.  Doctor Opshoen also liked her schedule.  She worked 12 hours straight and then was free for 12 hours.  On this particular week she had chosen the day shift: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and not a minute more.  This week’s schedule allowed her to go to the opera and not be disturbed.

Wednesday began just fine for Rob.  He woke up at 7:30 a.m., prepared himself a breakfast of cooked oatmeal complimented with brown sugar and cream.  He took the elevator and descended twelve floors into a luxurious lobby decorated mostly in light brown marble from the Carolinas.  The York Avenue bus stopped less than half a block from his doorway, and in a matter of minutes he was by his luxurious office building.  All was fine, except for having the odd feeling of being short of breath.  He did not feel ill and had no pain.  At 10:30 a.m. he had Doris bring him an espresso to his drafting room.  He was working on the master bathroom of the Goldmann’s house.  He already had done some free hand sketches and he knew he wanted a shower area that would not necessitate of any walls to guard against water splashing, he had calculated a 10 foot diameter circle to accomplish this.  In order to break the monotony of such a large area he was placing some moss rock boulders jutting out of the granite floor.  He knew it would be spectacular.  A delicatessen from just one block away delivered his lunch.  He ate most of it, but could not finish it this time.

By five o’clock he began to feel weak and ill.  He had no nausea, but he felt his head floating in the ether.  He asked Doris to call a taxi for him.  Doris was concerned about Rob.  She had never seen him like this and accompanied him all the way until she knew he was seated comfortably in the cab.  She had offered to take him to the doctor, but he had insisted that this was not really much of a problem.

He almost crawled into his magnificent condominium.  He had not bothered to pick up his mail, or to turn the lights on when he opened the door.  Exhausted, he let himself fall on the couch.  Breathing was becoming more and more laborious.  He still had the presence of mind to dial 911.  The ambulance arrived by the emergency room door at 7:15 p.m.  He was rushed to cubicle # 4 where expert nurses placed an oxygen mask over his face.  He barely felt the pinch of the needle, first taking blood samples and later connecting him to intravenous fluids.  Doctor Randall knew the next few days would be critical.  He had seen two other cases like this just two weeks before:  One had made it, the other not.  He immediately ordered antibiotics on a continuous drip around the clock!  Robert Winklestein was admitted to bed # 12 of the medical intensive care ward.

The patient in bed # 12 in the medical intensive care unit had been a difficult one.   After his arrival to the unit he had gone into severe respiratory distress.  Rob had suddenly felt as if his chest was too small for him, the holes in his nose too narrow, he needed to breathe forty times in a minute when before twelve times had sufficed.  As he was experiencing this, he was invaded with anxiety; his nostrils were flaring like those of a horse after a race.  He saw the nurses become active around him, he felt the needle stick on his wrist, and he saw a nurse running in the direction of a telephone.  He felt nothing.

“Code in the ICU! Code in the ICU”.  Within a matter of minutes–or seconds– doctor Randall had placed a tube into Rob’s trachea and had restituted an open airway.  Rob now was connected to a respirator.  He had been loaded with a sedative so that he would not fight the life-giving machine.  On occasion, Rob seemed to imagine he was listening to Violetta’s pleading with the old Germond for the love of his son, Alfredo.   On occasion he became aware that he was missing an important event in his life and that he needed to meet some one.  Beep . . .beep . . .beep . . .beep, howled the infernal cardiac monitor as time passed by.

At around 6:30 a.m. on Friday the nurses began preparing bed # 12 for its trip to the Radiology department.  All the intravenous bags were re-hung from poles installed on the stretcher-bed, and a respiratory technician came with portable oxygen to connect Rob’s endotracheal tube so he could be disconnected from the large respirator by his bedside.  The nurse and the respiratory technician proceeded to roll the bed to the elevator and then to the first floor and down the corridor, in the direction of the Emergency room department.  Half way down the corridor they prepared to make a right turn into Radiology when they collided with a doctor that was trying to put her white coat on as she walked to the emergency room.  The oxygen bottle fell to the floor causing a deafening metallic noise.  The doctor picked up the bottle and apologized to the technician as she gave it to him, and she continued on her way to the emergency room.  She never fixed on the man strapped to the stretcher.  He could not speak, and only angels with brown eyes were fluttering around him.

Friday was no different than any other day for Karen.  Now that she knew that soon her solitude was to end, she found herself even more intolerant of it.  Every corner of her apartment was shouting at her, grimacing, reminding her that she was nothing but a half person.  The beauty of a large ship gliding silently along the East River became almost a painful experience, now that she knew she was soon going to share it with her loved one.  It truly had been love at first sight.  That morning when she walked to the hospital she was almost welcoming her work.  Friday meant that Saturday was just around the corner.

She passed by the guarded door and walked down the corridor to the doctors’ dressing room.  She had to watch for the heavy stretcher traffic along this main passageway to the Radiology department.  Most of the patients were brought here for their special tests.  Every morning it was like a race through obstacles, especially when she had to negotiate the intensive care beds, wider than a regular stretcher, and full of gadgets hanging from the sides. Dr. Opshoen changed her dress for the typical pajamas of the operating room and headed back to the emergency room area.  This morning all went as usual safe for the fact that she bumped into one of the stretchers, hitting her hip against the oxygen tank on the side of the bed.  The nurse apologized, but did not stop as she was taking her patient to have an emergency lung scan.  Karen had barely time to hand down the fallen bottle to the respiratory tech.  As she walked down the corridor to the Emergency room, she had the uncomfortable feeling that something was wrong but she could not tell what or why.

“Good morning Paul”, said Karen to the stressed doctor that had spent the night call seeing emergency patients.  “Oh…Hi.  You cannot imagine the night I had”, replied Randall.  “Two gun shots to the head, and when I was just about to fall asleep at 4 this morning, I had to run to the ICU”.

“To the ICU?” Karen replied.  “Why to the ICU?”

“They called a code.  There was this poor guy in a horrible respiratory distress.  I have never seen so much anxiety and desperation in a person.   It was as if he was trying to get somewhere and he could not.  Any way, you should see the guy, an interesting case.  It is the third one I have seen this month”.

Paul’s words went by Karen, but her thoughts were somewhere else all right, she was already at the opera looking for her man.

“Doctor Opshoen please call the nurses station, doctor Opshoen please call the nurses station”, spurted out the ceiling speakers around the emergency room with their usual malignant cacophony.

“Bye Paul, got to go”, Karen said as she headed to the nurses’ station around the corner.   The day passed by in a haze, and she left, retracing her early morning steps, expecting the Saturday night that would change her life forever.

The End