s

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"In the hallway, I envision Marx and Christ sitting at a mahogany bar, discussing their respective versions of utopia over a fifth of premium bourbon. I wonder if they have just one whit of sorrow for the broken man in room 458...."

room 458
fiction by ed markowski


Opening the door to room 458, I notice the russian is in the exact same position he was in when I left the hospital last night.

He is sitting stiffly upright on the edge of the bed. He is smiling. He is looking through me over the top of his wire rim glasses, and he is rubbing an area on his right bicep with his left hand.

When I say hello, the russian nods his head, and invites me to sit down. I sit before him in a blue steel chair that is bolted to the floor. He looks at me for a moment, then shifts his eyes to a worn wooden crucifix that hangs on the white wall opposite the bed.

His blue eyes return to my face. Shaking his head, he says, "Come now Rakowitz, tell me, who really you are?"

A fly lands on his shoulder and begins a deliberate crawl toward his neck. Ignoring the pest, the russian continues, "When they coming to take me? No one come last night. I know they come soon. When your investigation is going to be over?"

"I told you yesterday you aren't going anywhere. You're at St. John's Psychiatric Hospital. This is where you're staying until you get well. I'm not investigating you. I'm your social worker."

Leaning toward me, the russian whispers, "Social worker? Do not tell me social worker. I am not a stupid man. And, this is not hospital. There would not be fly in american hospital. There would only be fly in american jail. The luggage Rakowitz, did you bring for me the luggage I ask of you last night?"

 "No."

"Why you not do this for me?"

"You don't need any luggage.

"I tell you last night, it is not respectable for russian man to travel on train with clothing wrapped in newspaper. Mr. Rakowitz, the only favor I ask of you is to bring for me some luggage. I am disappointed."

"I didn't bring luggage because you aren't going anywhere. This is a hospital. The medication will help you, and you'll go home. You have to trust me."

The russian stops rubbing his arm, though his thick hand still covers the spot on his bicep. He pulls awkwardly on the waistband of his black sweatpants, then looks suddenly to the crucifix.

"Christ hates me. I not good man. Wife hates me. Daughter hates me. Even two dead children in Moscow cemetery hate me. I am big, big criminal Mr. Rakowitz. I make big crime. They come soon, yes," he says, offering me an apricot cookie from a silver tin, as the rubbing begins anew.

"Why does Christ hate you? What is this big crime? Your wife told us you're a wonderful man, and a truck driver."

The russian bites into a cookie. Crumbs bounce from the belly of his t-shirt to the grey tile floor. Rubbing his bicep, and nodding to the crucifix, he eats with the skill of a contortionist.

"Tell me Mr. Rakowitz, this Christ, is he god? Do you believe it?"

"I don't know."

"Who then is god?"

"I don't know."

"Come now Mr. Rakowitz, all of your c.i.a. questions I answer for you. you know all about it. You have information before I arrive at prison compound. You don't bring me luggage, now you will not answer one question. My friend disappoints me."

"I don't know if Christ is god. I suppose for some people he is."

"Mr. Rakowitz my friend, I know this Christ is god. I tell you he is god. Sometime he talk to me. He say that I am big, big criminal who must be punished for all that he has done. He say that I must die for the crime I commit. Christ tell me no other price good enough. My friend, this is one truth I cannot tell to wife and daughter. If I tell, they will say I am crazy man. Rakowitz will not tell?"

"No. Will you answer one more question?"

"I will, for you Rakowitz, yes."

"What crime did you commit?"

The rubbing stops. The russian removes his hand from his bicep. Thrusting his arm toward my face he shouts, "This, this is crime I commit!"

Startled by his sudden movement, I can barely see a poorly etched tattoo submerged in a pool of black hair. As he withdraws his arm, my eyes focus. A dime sized hammer and sickle marks his right bicep.

Holding his face in his hands, the russian sobs, "This is crime i commit. I commit crime to put bread and meat on family table. But still, it is big, big crime against man and god. I join party because family was poor. I know this is wrong, but eventually I believe in party. I will not tell you what I do for loaf of bread and hundred grams of fish, but Christ he know. And he punish me by taking first two children." Lifting his head he asks, "What do hammer and sickle mean to Mr. Rakowitz?"

"You did what you had to do to feed your family. You're not a criminal. Forgive yourself. You're a good man, that's all, a good man."

There is a sharp clicking of heels in the hallway, and an ambulance siren rises up from the street.

The russian leans toward me, and the rubbing resumes. He places his lips to my ear. "Mr. Rakowitz my friend who believes in nothing, you too are good man. They come soon to take me for execution. For this criminal, please find some luggage."

I am paged to the nurses station.

In the hallway, I envision Marx and Christ sitting at a mahogany bar, discussing their respective versions of utopia over a fifth of premium bourbon. I wonder if they have just one whit of sorrow for the broken man in room 458.

When I arrive at the front desk, the russian's psychiatrist looks up from a blank computer screen. "Rakowitz, how's Slava doing tonight?"

"He's still waiting,"

"And you? How are you tonight Rakowitz?"

"I believe doctor...that I'm still waiting too." 

(illustration: john richen)


Ed Markowski lives and writes in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

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