The assistant to a ship’s surgeon. Named after loblolly, the swamp-like stew often fed to ill sailors, which the loblolly boy would usually be in charge of distributing.
It can be assumed that loblolly boys were frequently bullied at while at sea, owing mostly to their job title. There’s no real historical evidence to suggest that cabin boys and powder monkeys would regularly point and laugh whenever they saw loblolly boys, calling out “lob-loser, lob-loser”, but there’s also nothing to disprove it.
Most historians accept that the expression “Davy Jones’ Locker” was idiomatic; had there been literal lockers on ships, records would exist of lob-losers being stuffed into them.
Despite well-founded assumptions to the contrary, The Doll and I had plenty in common.
For one, we valued our privacy. Given our situation in the waiting room — a swarm of nurses and doctors coming in one after another to offer us either comfort or exhaustive explanations of every tiny detail relating to Led’s current condition — we had the same instinctive response, asking to be alone. She was the one to say it, which was probably a good thing; hurling swear-laden insults at the middle-aged nurses who came to condescendingly pat my shoulder might not have been the best way of maintaining my reputation.
We each had our own reasoning. For me, it was a matter of annoyance. There were two people on the planet who I might have wanted to speak with at a time like that, and one of them was unconscious on an operating table. Already stressed from what was happening with Led, the last thing I wanted to do was strike up a conversation with someone trying to “help” me, needlessly expending valuable energy on maintaining my facade.
But The Doll could save us. She had the easy out, fear. She wanted solitude, same as me, but only out of terror. Maybe deep down she would’ve enjoyed having all those nurses around her, giving nice little side hugs, telling her about how not-terrible the surgery was, how he’d be fine, fine, fine. But the trauma, the agony of her tortured blind pointless existence couldn’t allow for that. Even when they had nothing but the best intentions, unfamiliar people scared her enough to drive her to tears. Combined with the stress of having her boyfriend suddenly collapse, it was no wonder to anyone why she’d want to be off by herself.
Again, easy. She asked them once, with a soft, soft voice, and they listened, eager to please. And then I was safe, alone, all thanks to her. Some respite.
Still, as shitty and nerve-wracking as waiting was, anxiety turned to boredom turned to annoyance. From somewhere in the room, a television set was blaring out the news, a constant loop of talking heads. The President, the Juneflies. Impeachment, the die-off, poll numbers, roads closed by mountains of bug corpses. It was the first time I had listened to a television news station in years, unsurprisingly not by choice.
I loathed the news. We didn’t have the best of relationships, the media and I. Loud ugly vultures who needed to be put down, I saw it as. An active cancer on our species.
Not really one that you could be rid of, obviously. The best thing for an individual to do was to shape it to their advantage, or in absence of the possibility, avoid it altogether.
I had Ellis with me, courtesy of a thoughtful nurse who saw him on my countertop and thought that I might want him, but he couldn’t help me escape. I might have been able to distract myself by listening to a loop of Resurrection of Sound or that audiobook on medieval torture that Led got me, but I didn’t have headphones. A nurse seeing The Doll smiling at a description of somebody getting the Judas Cradle wasn’t exactly the optimal scenario for preserving her image.
Not many other entertainment options presented themselves. Contemplative silence and trying not to give myself a brain aneurysm listening to TV, then. Perfect choice.
It would have been, anyway. Ellis rang. Holst.
Great timing, Clem.
Before answering, I quietly called out for the doctors and nurses. It would have only been loud enough for them to hear if they’d been in the same room or listening to me, and nobody came, so I felt safe enough to talk. Better to say nothing undeniably egregious, but I wouldn’t need to worry too much.
“Oh my god.”
“He’ll be fine. They said he’ll be fine.”
“How lo… ate on him?”
Reception trouble. The problem was on her end, not mine. Bangladesh was a long way off. She was rounding out her first year in the Peace Corps. An ordinary stint took two, if I was remembering correctly, but she’d already signed up for an extension.
“What? You’re cutting out.”
“I just asked how long they waited to operate on him.”
“…Why would they wait?”
“You said he collapsed from dehydration. They’d want to operate fast — time matters a lot, with something like testicular torsion — but I’m sure they’d want to get some fluid in him first. Even mild dehydration going into surgery can lead to nasty complications, you know. Not to mention the effects it could have on the anesthesia. Did they not explain this to you?”
Clem loved, I knew from experience, the sound of her own voice. Each and every conversation we had was an opportunity for her to demonstrate intellectual or moral superiority over me, always requiring her to dispense more ClemWisdom®. Four years of college and two years of med school had cranked up her overbearing nature to eleven, and she couldn’t help but fire constant bird turds of ethical posturing and medical factoids at me whenever she could pretend it was relevant.
I didn’t think that she was dumb or malicious; she wasn’t. But she wanted to be my metaphorical keeper, and that made me want to bash her over the head with a giant rock.
(Cain didn’t do shit, by the way. That pissant brown-nosing sheepherder brother of his got what was coming to him.)
For Clem, it was a defense mechanism. She had chosen to drop out of med school on what she called “moral grounds”, and she needed to find a way to justify the decision to herself. If she could keep telling herself that she knew better than me and everyone around her, that fed into the idea that she was as good of a person as she pretended to be. That she hadn’t thrown a lifetime of work away in order to virtue signal about insurance laws that were made when she was in middle school.
“I told them I didn’t want to talk about it.”
“Look, they said what he had, and that he’d be fine. That second part is all I wanted to know. When they tried to tell me about what they were going to do to him, I told them to leave me alone. I don’t want to know the details of whatever he got or however they’re going to fix it, because I don’t care about the details. They don’t fucking matter. It’s going to stress me out.”
“…I get that, but you should know that this isn’t a serio-”
“I. Don’t. Care. For once, shut the fuck up. Please. If you give half a shit about something that isn’t boosting your own ego, stop. Fuck.”
“…Okay, I get it, you’d prefer to be alone right now. That’s perfectly fine. Do you want me to call back later?”
“I didn’t say that I wanted to stop. I said I wanted to talk about anything that wasn’t Led’s fucking testicles. See! That’s the shit I was talking about, right there. You’re putting words in my mouth. Last time you said you wanted me to give you an example of you doing it, there fucking you go.”
She let out a ClemSigh®. Big and dramatic, like a disappointed mother.
“If yelling at me takes some of the edge off, I get that too. Go ahead. I know where you’re at right now. When scary stuff happens, sometimes it really helps, venting like that.”
And one of the cheapest tricks in her arsenal, self-martyrdom. Oh, Clem. You fucking hero, you fucking saint. How brave and patient you were, talking to your sister, taking her pain, her suffering. Devaluing any further criticism from my end as trauma-induced rage, all of which you were heroically swallowing in order to “help”. So fucking cheap.
I thought about something clever to say, eventually choosing to hang up. She always figured out how to set it up so that there was no path to victory, nothing I could say without confirming that she’d gotten to me. It was like trying to argue with someone who kept asking why you were so angry.
I stewed in silence, half-expecting her to try and call back. And of course it pissed me off that she didn’t, because I knew exactly what her mindset was, how it confirmed the self-created standard of moral purity she’d created for herself. I’ll take the hint and not call Hallie back right now. God, a hero of internalized perfection am I, ready to be there for her as soon as she’s ready to admit that she needs it.
I could smell the self-righteousness from the other side of the planet.
And the TV kept going, as I waited and waited, more and more redundant irrelevant horseshit about Grand Accordion Man filling the room.
Done, I decided. We were done. I’d finish the nine months, earn the money we got to soothe Led’s bullshit guilt trip, and go buy a house in the middle of fucking nowhere. And then we’d live there and we wouldn’t do fucking anything. I’d smash my violins over a rock and throw Ellis into a lake, and Clem could sit in whatever third-world country she wanted to waste her life in and call and call and call, and I’d never answer. And Led and I would sit and do nothing, forever. No news, no music videos, no masks, no Clem, no work. Nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing fucking nothing nothing nothing until we fucking died.
No, fuck the cabin. A bunker. One of those secret deep in the earth ones rich crazy assholes bought to prepare for nuclear war. We still had enough money for that, probably.
Beautiful. I loved it. Nothing. Nothing forever.
The TV switched off, going silent.
Instinctively, I relaxed the muscles in my face, understanding what another person in the room meant. I had not heard any door open or close in all the time since the last nurse had spoken to me.
“That better? Seemed like it was bothering you.”
I stopped breathing, unsure what to say. A girl’s voice, young, maybe around my age, early to mid-twenties. Had something of a pleasing timbre to it, sounding nice, cool. Like it belonged on the radio.
“…Don’t get angry at me. You specifically called out to see if a nurse or doctor was in the room. I’m just waiting on someone, no different than you. You ought to be more careful.”
She laughed, not giving me a chance to come up with an excuse. Not that I could.
“You’re the Goat Chick. Christ, that’s hilarious. My boyfriend is nuts about you. Of course you’re a lying sociopath with a sailor’s mouth. That’s great. Guess I don’t need to worry about you lying about the blindness thing too, right? You would’ve seen me.”
Another laugh to cut me off.
“Don’t worry, don’t worry. I’m quiet as a mouse, when I need to be. I wouldn’t rat you out. I’m Bell, by the way. But, hey, in exchange for my friendly silence, let me be something of a condescending bitch and offer you some unsolicited advice. That lady you were speaking to on the phone, that’s your sister, right?”
“And she said your guy has testicular torsion, right? And I’m guessing he’s the Goat Dude?”
“…Yeah. To both.”
“Well, listen. About the not wanting to know thing. That’s stupid. I’ve spent some time in hospital waiting rooms before, and let me tell you, it’s always better, knowing. When you’re here, when you’re waiting to know if someone is going to be okay, information is the only sliver of control you get. If you’re lucky enough to get that much. Especially in your situation, over nothing, you’ll want to know, to have it all make sense. I used to read medical textbooks, sometimes, so trust me on this. It’s fine. The little cords holding up your dude’s nads got mixed up, that’s it. They make a tiny incision, they untangle them, that’s that. Maybe, absolute worst case scenario, he loses a nut. And that’s no big deal; they have two for a reason. If that happens, the other one swells up permanently, makes enough testosterone and whatever other crap to deal with the loss. No change in function, too. They’re adaptable, guys.”
“…That doesn’t happen.”
“Compensatory hypertrophy. Look it up. He’ll get a supernut.”