THE JUMP CLUB
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“If it’s not love
then it’s the bomb
that will bring us together.”
On the short list of things Heron hated, which included smooth jazz, religious hypocrisy and pickled beets, more than anything, he hated the smell of hospitals.
That stale, metallic, chlorinated death smell. It reminded him of jail, but that wasn’t why he hated it. His aversion to this smell started years before that first night he collapsed into the bunk of his cell, and the hopeless steel of the frame, the anonymous history of sweat & urine & blood of the mattress filled his nostrils and sent him reeling to the stainless steel toilet in the corner of the cell to vomit again and again. Perhaps then, it was the smell of jail that reminded him of hospitals, or perhaps the similarity was just a coincidence; if there were any such thing. He no longer believed in coincidence; then again, he no longer believed in much of anything. But he knew one thing for sure: he had hated the smell of hospitals ever since the train accident.
Nicholas Heron sat enveloped within this hated smell, enveloped within the steam rising lonely from his cup of cafeteria coffee, waiting. His eyes flashed back and forth across the half-empty room. They were the kind of eyes you though twice about. Dark brown that seemed to plummet toward black. Eyes that struck one as friendly and honest, but suddenly a shift would reveal some dangerous mystery. It was, in fact, their honestly: too deep and demanding for most people. It was a brutal honestly that cut out as deeply as it cut in. It was terrifying.
He sipped a little too loudly from his wax paper cup; too loudly for one needing to “keep a low profile.” This is what he had said to Dora when he told her that he was coming down to the hospital. She said, “You can’t Nicky, they’ll be looking for you.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll keep a low profile.”
Dora, his best friend’s wife, was the only person who called him Nicky. He would hate it from anyone but her. She was the only person that Heron allowed to play the role of older sister, or even sometimes mother, to him. Even when they had been lovers for that short, disastrous time a decade ago, she had been his elder, his protector, his worrying advisor. “Nicky.” How it sounded so reassuring, but only in her voice. To most in his close circle, he was simply “Heron.” To those who knew him less, he was “Nicholas.” Nobody ever called him “Nick.”
He had been waiting now for almost an hour, with his beard shaved and his long, light brown hair tucked under a baseball hat, waiting for word from Dora about Martin.
He wished he could be up there with them. He cared more about those two people than he did for anyone. But he couldn’t risk it; it was dangerous enough for him to have even come to the hospital. His escape from the courthouse was big local news, and with all the flag-waving fear mongering going on these days, many patriotic citizens were on the lookout for the “terrorist-at-large.” On top of that was the fact that the cops would suspect him of trying to contact Martin – it was learning of his best friend’s worsening condition that precipitated the escape in the first place. Actually Heron had been looking forward to the rest of his trial. In his mind it wasn’t him, but the government, that was on trial, and he was ready to lay out its guilt for all to see. In a way, it would be his greatest act of what they define as terrorism, but to him was merely following the advice of two of his heroes: Edward Abbey’s “Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul” and Thomas Jefferson’s “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny.”
Heron slurped his coffee again, then noticed that a group of nurses at a nearby table had paused in their conversation and were stealing furtive looks at him.
“Shit,” he thought, “low profile.”
A sudden eruption of laughter at the cafeteria entrance pulled the nurses’ attention away from Heron. A group of teenage girls bounced in, seeming to all talk at once, all in the same voice, all with the same boundless energy. They bought tall Styrofoam cups of fountain pop and sat around the table next to Heron’s, chewing on straws, giggling, and carrying on a conversation generally unintelligible to anyone over twenty.
Through the steam of his coffee, Heron watched the girls. One of them; lanky and freckled, fiery hair and eyes, reminded him of someone he knew long ago. Someone he had thought he’d forgotten entirely, but that was probably only wishful thinking – Anna would forever by lurking somewhere in his heart, waiting to gently stab it again when he least expected it. He wondered where she was now. Certainly married. Kids. A house on the outskirts of some city. Somewhere far, far from those days in Ann Arbor; even farther from those nights.
A voice from one of the girls pulled Heron from his reverie. It somehow cut above the birdlike chatter of the group. “What was that thing, that happened in Russia, you know, that was bad?”
“The Cold War?”
“Yeah. We had a test on it the other day, and…”
Heron stared into his coffee. He stared at his hands which, he noticed for the first time, looked like his father’s. Could it be true that he was this old? That they could be this young? That something as ever-present and looming, scarring and life-defining, as the Cold War could now be nothing more than a misunderstood topic on a high school history test. That nightmare of paranoia and hatred. That national death-wish. That vividly-imagined red button that made the entire world disposable. Heron was suddenly struck by just how long a road it was that separated who he was now and the boy he once had been.He thought of that boy, and it occurred to him that his earliest childhood memory, before the people and places, before the sights and sounds, his earliest memory, was the smell of rain.