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Scenario II

‘Twas not ice that rubbed off red,

Nor Machine Error, the thing we dread;

No, the hand that seized the deadly fruit

next steered TITAN’s daughter on her route.

Adam, Eve, First Parents, both sank,

And we, full heirs, the ocean drank.


Eight decades after the RMS TITANIC’S highly publicized sinking (which saw only a phenomenal increase of interest in the sunken ship, not the opposite), in well-heeled, upscale Eden Hills, Minnesota...

A red Saturn with a scratched, faded DSHS decal, hot from a spin on the expressway, left a rushing stream of Bentleys and Lexuses and turned off at “Holland House, Special Care for Fragile Children” and streaked down a 10 mph lane between oak trees and scarlet-blazing sumac. A coyote circling a befuddled rabbit saw the Saturn and leaped off the road. Missing the bunny by inches, the Saturn rounded the shrubbery of a rambling, "Tudor-style" mansion and pulled up in a handicapped spot.

Twenty minutes exactly--the time it took to get from the IDS Tower in mid-town Minneapolis to Holland House. Not bad, thought the driver, considering the traffic and a truck blocking and tying up two lanes for ten miles or so. It was a tractor-trailer of Arkansas chickens, over-turned. What a mess! She herself had driven over some, which stood right in her path, blinders on.

A medium-size, old dog with stiffening, arthritic legs and a tail as long as a broomstick rushed out barking.

“Ginger, you sweet, sweet darling!” cried Debra Dinwiddie as she struggled out of the small, feather-spattered car and slammed the door. “You know me! I’m your old friend! Hey, I’ll get you a treat--a nice big milk bone! Cmon, old girl!”

Followed by the barking dog as far as a badly-scratched door, Dinwiddie sped into the building and promptly forgot the milk bone, making a mental note to “suggest” again to Holland House management that they show some compassion and please put the old fleabag down.

After frowning at a rather too exuberant “Autumn Celebration” display of pumpkins, corn stalks, a ketchup-covered kitchen knife, and clothes made up to look like Ken Kesey’s head nurse, she treated herself to an espresso in the large, Delft-decorated kitchen, then hustled her lidded Styrofoam cup down a hall to the Blue Room.

Nurse Ron sat at a bar-style counter with a coke at hand and doing a report on his latest patient lying in the bed. No house music played on the intercom at the moment, so there was just the wheezes and hisses of oxygen equipment. He rose the moment he saw he had "Mrs. DSHS" on his hands, knocking over his can of pop, which, fortunately, didn't have enough left in it to reach the carpet.

Dinwiddie ignored the nurse who was now scrambling to clean up the counter and greeted her newly-consigned referral--Gabriel Tall Chief, a non-ambulatory teen-age CP case, who, report had it, was a bit too bright for his "britches."

Gabriel Tall Chief

Looking little like a full-blood Lakota Sioux, Gabriel’s paleness made his dark eyes enormous against his pillow. Seeing his DSHS rep, he signed with his own special eye language consisting of various sequences of eye blinks.

Dinwiddie shook her head and laughed, having taken the trouble to learn his language system, though the Department didn’t really countenance spending any time on the nuances of individual cases. “No, you’ve got enough reading material for now--read those first and then I’ll see about getting you more. I’m taking some flak from libraries about all the long over-due ones.” Without thinking she reached to tousle Tall Chief’s hair as managers of her stripe were accustomed to do, but it had been shaven off for some recent brain-wave experiment, giving him an ascetic Gandhi-like look--and pulling her hand back abruptly from a naked cranium she went to the nurse for a chat.

“Gabe’s looking more relaxed here than at General,” she remarked to the room in general, sipping whipped cream off her mocha espresso. “That’s a plus, I think.” Her eyes in their tour of the premises took in the equipment, patient, and furnishings, in that order. She barely saw Gabriel’s pictures, maps of "New Netherlands" and "Atlantis II", all such memorabilia carefully arranged and hung up by Gabriel’s mother (his cousin Horace Brave Scout drawing the maps at Gabriel's instruction). His mother, of course, was one of the pictures Gabriel kept always on his wall.

There was a picture, for some reason Dinwiddie could not fathom, of his cousin Horace.

There was even a pencil sketch, framed, of his old BIA school on the Rosebud reservation, with some old frumpy Indian squaw by the looks of her trudging through the snow in the picture's foreground. The only thing interesting about it to her mind was that quaint fire escape shaped like a trumpet. Wasn't there something in the Bible somewhere about Gabriel's trumpet? Maybe that's why he liked the crude picture, which wasn't much more than somebody's crude doodle, she thought.

Crooked Willow Leaving Rosebud School

Another thing she couldn’t help seeing, which she couldn't ignore, was a red star neon sign blinking on and off. Taken from a defunct reservation gas station, it pulsed its gleams across the room and Tall Chief’s bed.

Nurse Ron watched her look things over, then glanced at a huge pile of books by the bed and took the opportunity to complain to his superior. “I just don’t have time to read all that to him and do his therapy, feeding, drugs, and progress reports. He’s always asking me. Tetrahedral physics, chaos theory, nano technology, even something called “Waves of Infinitude: Human Body Radio Frequencies and Vital Auras ” by Dr. Lana Tao-Cantrell. I don’t understand a thing, but he seems to.”

Dinwiddie smiled her DSHS smile, which she used on young and lazy underlings who didn't know what real nursing and real work were. “He’s a bright one. You have to try to indulge him, that’s all.” She paused, and her expert, upbeat expression dropped a notch. “Maybe he’s just trying to wind things up a bit,” the voice of DSHS experience observed. “Doesn’t have all the time in the world, you know.”

Catching the drift from his superior, the nurse’s eyes showed he felt about Gabriel’s chances, then recovered. He went and picked up Gabriel’s message board, a reader with colored magnetic lettering all set out making his latest “Message to the World.” He handed it to Dinwiddie.

Dinwiddie examined Gabriel’s coded language, D-U-B-E-S-O-R, and wisely deferred to the nurse.

“What does it mean?” she asked brightly.

Ron had no compunction about exposing his utter ignorance before a superior. “I dunno. But I’d guess he means something to do with his alphabet champions.”

“Alphabet champions?”

“Yeah, he’s got this thing about the alphabet, ever since he mastered his sign language, and his heroes all carry a certain letter.”

Now the DSHS rep had heard about everything after so many years in her line of business, but this was stretching the limits of her experience. She found herself patient-challenged, and she didn’t like being in that position. Patients who couldn’t be “pigeon-holed,” to put it crudely, were liable to make power plays on the staff and DSHS and manipulate them both for all they were worth. No, she had to find just the right hole for this particular pigeon, and so she kept asking. “What? His heroes all come lettered--like A, B, C? Are you serious?”

Nurse Ron seemed hurt for a moment. Bluff and outspoken, he hid an unprofessional sensitivity that the rep already knew was there and tried hard to overlook, since that was a non-professional weakness in her book. She let the nurse break the strained quiet.

“Yeah, but these alphabet champions just finish the game. How it gets started is--is--I just don’t get it. Some ship called TITANIC is supposed to sink somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. Only he says it’s going to happen in 1912. If it happened so long ago, why should he be worrying about that now? He’s making a big deal over nothing, if you ask me. It’s all over , so why not forget it and move on?”

Dinwiddie took a last sip from her cup and dropped it in a wastebasket (or close to it anyway) along with her entire interest in a subject that was going utterly nowhere fast. Her busy eye roved across the Blue Room again. The neon star made her uncomfortable so she tried not to look at it.

As for various Tall Chief pictures, one was old and weathered-looking, the Rosebud Indian school with its huge trumpet-shaped escape tube reaching from the cement block building’s second level to the muddy, glass-littered ground.

In front on the steps stood a spectacled, bow-tied white BIA teacher and fifteen or twenty glum-faced Indian boys and girls--Gabriel’s brother (now deceased from a hunting accident or something) standing a head taller than the others. “The Tall Chiefs are well-named,” she observed. Too bad their life expectancy was so iffy. Too bad--but she knew very well she lived on those low life expectancies!

“I just don’t get it,” the nurse went on doggedly with a dead question. “I can only guess he’s been making up a lot of pretty intricate things in his mind--and these books are somehow grist for the mill. Maybe the kid thinks he has something important to say to us--the world, I mean. Can you beat that, Ms. Dinwiddie? What could it be?”

“Interesting thing, the human imagination,” Dinwiddie observed in a cultivated tone judges in flower shows use on rare species of orchids. “Just try to bear with him AND his little game-playing for the time being and the phase will pass sooner or later.” She slid off her padded stool and landed on rather flat feet. “Well, I must be going, Ronnie boy,” she said briskly in her normal, raspy, all-business, professional DSHS voice, failing to see how he had winced at “Ronnie boy.” “He seems all right to me--you’re doing just great with him, and keep up the good work.”

Dinwiddie hurried out to check at various other nursing stations. Even a couple days made major changes in this home and hospice for terminal, degenerative diseases. Despite meticulous hourly tabs, you could never tell how long any of them would last. All were cases like poor, little Gabriel, who showed some real spunk but hadn’t much else going for him.

Left alone with the patient, the troubled professional in the Blue Room tried to finish an over-due report, but he wasn’t making progress. Tall Chief’s head twisted uncannily owllike and round at him. He was eye-signing again.

“Christmas! Christmas! Read me?” the dark, expressive eyes urged.

The harried nurse reached for a book on chaos theory that lay within the pale of the pulsing red star.

“Negative!” signed this teen-age volcano. “Read me, exponential stupid! Christmas!” “Christmas? It’s a couple months away, and I don’t want to think about it right now! Are you going crazy on me, Gabriel? If you don’t want me to read you something, maybe Frank Sinatra and the Muppets’ Las Vegas show on video? Give it a chance so I can get something done while you watch. All the other kids are crazy about it.”

“No time! Christmas! Christmas!” Gabriel’s peepers practically shouted.

The nurse shook his head. It was beginning to feel like it might split.

“I can’t figure out what you mean, Gabriel. You have to explain what you mean. You’re not a book, you know. Just saying Christmas doesn’t make any sense to me at all!”

Gabriel’s eyes, in response, took on even more intense fire, riveting Ron’s attention. They looked rather "too Indian, too untamed" at that moment and made him feel uneasy.

The very next moment something happened that seemed to startle Tall Chief himself. From his eyes shot two violet-colored beams shaped like arrows. The arrows met and became one shining spear a few feet from his face, casting a glow over both his face and pillow.

“Hey!” the nurse blurted out, jumping up like his stool was electrified. Dropping the clipboard, he rushed to the bedside. The spear of light suddenly shot toward him. Before he could raise his hand to shield himself, it caught him smack in the face and eyes. The vast gulf between nurse and dying patient in the Blue Room vaporized in an instant. Time switched to fast rewind, and Ron saw what Gabriel was seeing--a great liner in dry-dock looming over gray, rain-beaten shipyards...


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