Stay Above the Water

April 8, 2011
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He stared up at the clock; it felt like time was taking forever to tick by.

“Cooper? Cooper Sowland?” a plump woman in floral scrubs called out.

“Oh, right here,” Cooper stood carefully, holding his left side.

“Well, I’d ask you how you were feeling but I think I can figure it out,” the
woman chuckled, shifting her clipboard so she could offer a stubby hand.

“Yeah I guess so,” he tried to force a smile as he shook it, but it made his face sting.

The plump woman led Cooper back through the hallway of the clinic, it stunk of
clean and the iridescent lights made it seem unnatural. Eventually the nurse directed him
into an examination room with a poster of the cardiac system on the far wall.

“Take a seat on the exam table,” she nodded as she logged into the computer
on the counter. She took his blood pressure, temperature and looked in his ears, eyes and
nostrils. Cooper always hated this part of doctors’ visits, but this time it was worse;
every poke and prod felt like a prick from a knife. The woman then entered all of her
results into the computer as Cooper sat staring at the cardiac poster. She was trying to
strike a conversation with him, probably thinking it would make everything easier, but he
just ignored her and continued to stare.

“Alrighty,” the nurse chimed, “Dr. Chun will be in to see you in just a quick
second. While you wait for him go ahead and change into that gown on the counter, it
should be the right size for ya.” Cooper finally acknowledged her with a nod. When the
door clicked shut he began to slowly and carefully remove his jacket and shirt. He looked
at the clothes to find them caked with mud and bits of blood; his blood. He peered into
the mirror bolted to the door, feeling dizzy he flopped onto the exam table. The man that
drove him to the clinic said he looked like a mess, but this was the first time Cooper saw
himself since the attack.

The right side of his face was swollen and covered by a red flecked bruise. His
nose was crooked and dried blood circled his nostrils and graced his top lip. His left eye
was black and his lips were puffy and split. A big bruise also followed his left jawline,
stopping under his chin.

“Ch*st,” Cooper used his index fingers to spread his lips; 3 teeth were chipped
and one was totally gone. He looked at his stomach, then his left side where he found a
bruise that was almost in the shape of a foot. He carefully pulled down his muddy jeans
to see that his shins were covered by bruises and cuts. Shaking, Cooper pulled on the
gown and sat back on the examination table just in time for Dr. Chun to walk in.

“Man, the nurse wasn’t kidding,” Dr. Chun pushed his glasses up; there was a
touch of sourness in his voice. He sat in front of the computer and began clicking

“You’re going need some stitches on your knuckles, I can see that for sure,” Dr.
Chun didn’t remove his eyes from the screen, “I also wanna get you in for some X-rays in
a little bit, see what the internal damage is.” Cooper sat staring, nodding, still in

“You probably won’t be able to do it today, but you definitely want to get into
your dentist, you’re gonna need some oral surgery too.”

“But,” Cooper’s voice was shaky, “I can’t afford all this.”

“Don’t worry about that right now,” Dr. Chun snapped, “right now you need to
worry about getting fixed up, the bills will come later.” He continued to click through the
computer. Dr. Chun had a soft expression on his wrinkled face but he was surrounded by
an air of abrasiveness. Cooper’s head was spinning, and he felt like vomiting.

What happened? He stared back into the mirror on the door, he could only see
half of himself but it was more than he wanted to see so he went back to staring at the

“Alright,” Cooper could now detect a hint of anger in Chun’s tone, “I’m going to
go up front and get an x-ray time set up, just wait here for now.” The doctor left in a
hurry, his white coat swishing. There wasn’t a clock in the room, but Cooper knew it was
late…probably eight by now.

I just want to go home! I can’t afford this right now. He put his head in his palms,
he was tired and already late on his rent.

My insurance just won’t cover enough of the cost. He felt like crying, but he
knew it would just make things worse.

Just then the door swung open and Dr. Chun walked in, followed by a short police
officer and a man in black pea coat.

“What’s going…”

“We got a witness report from the man that drove you here,” The man in the pea
coat interrupted Cooper, “he says that he saw you grab a man walking by, threw him on
the ground. Says it looked like you were mugging him.”

“I don’t…”

“He also says that you got the cr*p beat out of you; guess you made a bad choice
within a bad choice,” He continued, his face contorting into a scowling smirk, “ we got
your would be victim at the station, we’re taking his statement right now too. We’ll get
yours later, after Dr. Chun takes care of you.” Dr. Chun went over to Cooper.

“We’re going to take you into get your x-ray, from there we’ll determine if any
surgery is necessary.” He pointed to Cooper’s knuckles “If you do we’ll get you called in
and hope there’s an opening tonight or tomorrow morning, then we’ll stitch up those
knuckles.” The plump nurse in the floral scrubs came in just then, only this time she
wasn’t so chipper.

“I’ll hold on to your arm so that you stay steady,” she firmly grabbed his arm and
helped him up. He felt dizzy again and was glad the nurse was there to hold him. She led
him out the door down the hall with Dr. Chun, the man in the pea coat, and the short
police officer trailing.


Cooper was back in his exam room, only this time the short police officer was
sitting in the room with him.

“Chr*st, its been thirty minutes…how long does it take to develop x-rays?” his
voice surprised Cooper slightly, it was deep and unbefitting of his short stature. Cooper
didn’t respond to him though, he just sat staring at the cardiac poster. He was trying to
remember what happened, he was starting to remember details of the fight but he didn’t
remember starting it. Just then the door opened and Dr. Chun and the pea coat man
walked in. The doctor switched on the light box hanging on the wall by the exam tools
and hung the x-rays.

“Good news,” his tone was sarcastic, “you don’t need any surgery, its just a few
cracked ribs.” The doctor was also carrying a little tray that he sat on the counter, “All
we need to do is stitch up your knuckles.” He stuck the needle of the suture into his first
knuckle, it stung but was bearable.

“After Dr. Chun finishes up we’re going to take you down to the station to get
your statement, you’ll be held until your trial date which should be in a couple of days”
the man in the pea coat rubbed his protruding stomach as he explained this casually.
Cooper winced as Dr. Chun pulled to tighten the stitch on the first knuckle.

“I just needed the money, I didn’t think he would put up a fight. I just needed to stay above the water,” Cooper’s eyes widened as that statement came out of his lips. He didn’t know where it came from, but he suddenly remembered what had happened, and he knew that was the absolute truth.

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