Patricia Q. Bidar
His new doctor is Doogie Howser, my father tells me over lunch. “Barely out of short pants.” My mom gives an appreciative chuckle.
“They’re all Doogie Howser now,” I say.
I am staying with my parents. My mom and dad have been married for 49 years. I’d believed my marriage was the long lasting kind, too. There was no Plan B. Our meal finished, I wave them away and start clearing the dishes. My dad touches my mom’s shoulder as they head to their separate locations.
Shelter-in-Place has barely caused a ripple in their routines. My mom is in the guest room, doing her medical transcription. Because I live here for the first time in decades, I now know that for years she cried every time She Blinded Me with Science came on the oldies station, because Thomas Dolby was my favorite in high school. On the mantle is a photo of me in a wide-shouldered, double-breasted jacket and those round flip-up sunglasses. My hair permed in front like a rockabilly heartthrob.
My dad’s where he always is, in the garage sitting behind the wheel of his parked 1974 Gran Torino, his dog Ben riding shotgun. My father and old Ben enjoy Pink Floyd. How many times have I heard him croon Shine on You Crazy Diamond into Ben’s velvet ears?
Doctors are getting younger. Funnily enough, my new ophthalmologist is an old guy. It’s the departing one—with her shiny curls and fat cheeks and two babies at home—who was Doogie Howser. The old guy is only filling in, the tech told me as she prepared the eyechart setup. They’d grab one just out of school for much cheaper, she explained. More energy, she said.
I was surprised to see the substitute wasn’t very old at all. He looked like Thomas Hayden Church in Sideways. I wondered if he knew he wasn’t getting the gig. He turned the dials expertly. Briskly aimed the piercing light into the backs of my eyeballs to peek at my optic nerve. Pressure’s 17 in each, he sighed. He didn’t possess the vim and pep of my old ophthalmologist in her Laura Petrie capris and ballet flats. But 17 means we’ve forestalled the surgical option another year.
“Come back in four months,” Thomas Hayden Church said, then stopped himself from adding, “See you then.” His blue eyes were tired above his mask. I thought I saw the outline of contact lenses. I knew he wasn’t Thomas Hayden Church in Sideways. But I still saw him delivering the news that he wasn’t hired, and his wife bashing him with her motorcycle helmet like Sandra Oh in the movie. How I wanted to tell him to take a load off in the exam chair! We could close the door and pretend he was still helping me; he could get some rest.
In my mother’s kitchen, I squirt Lemon Joy over the breakfast and lunch dishes, then wait for the sink to fill. My husband said that he is ready to “begin his third act,” now that our son has graduated from college. “I have earned a fresh start,” he told me. He is excited to shed his life like an old patchwork coat and walk away to a bright-lit studio apartment with no closets and one brick wall as if on stage at an intimate club. Back when we met, he’d been a tankini of boyfriends: two different parts that went together. A sensitive guy who worked construction. On the job we were two lost souls, reading poetry together at lunch. Swimming in a fishbowl of our co-workers’ wisecracks.
That’s when it comes: A hideous skid and crunch from outside. Metallic and final. The condo faces a wide street just a few yards from a big intersection. Crashes are not unheard of. In this surreal time of quarantine, absolutely nothing outside of this house would surprise.
The condo stays quiet. I consider: I’d so much rather be in a crash than to witness one, with no way to help. When I had our son, I was pleased to bear the pain, with my husband there to serve as wowed onlooker.
The thin wail of sirens thickens and intensifies. The neighbors are emerging. My mother, I realize, wears headphones for her transcription. That is why she hasn’t come to investigate.
I run. Outside, the cries of birds are deafening. Everything outside is just so damn loud.
Then I see it: the accident. My father’s Gran Torino has rolled backwards into traffic. His side of the car is mashed. I rush to the passenger side and reach over the old dog, Ben. My father’s eyes are open but unfocused.
Music spills through the speakers. Wish You Were Here. His favorite. The sirens, earsplitting by now, abruptly cut off. The EMTS burst out in paper gowns, gloves, clear face shields and masks underneath. Doogie Howsers, all. My face is naked, I realize. The EMTs approach.
Under my body, the dog Ben whimpers. I avert my head and breathe until my throat opens up again.
“Take my strength,” I implore my father. My bare arms buzz, surging as though tapped with a naked wire. “Take it, Dad. Hurry.” Above the windshield, electric lines cross like the mast and lines of a sailboat against the blue sky. One of the Doogie Howsers is saying—I cannot gauge their expression behind the veil of their face shield, the mask—that I really, really need to get out of the way.
Patricia Q. Bidar hails from San Pedro, California, with deep family roots in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. She is an alum of the UC Davis Graduate Writing Program. Patricia’s stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and Pidgeonholes, among other places. When she is not writing fiction, Patricia reads, enjoys nature, and ghostwrites for nonprofit organizations. She lives with her DJ husband and unusual dog in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her website is www.patriciaqbidar.com. She tweets at @patriciabidar.