He noticed the mask that was over his mouth and nose didn’t seal perfectly. Upon pointing this out to the bedside nurses, he was told, “Just breathe normally.”
He inhaled deeply before realizing that that wasn’t a normal breath. Then he exhaled and tried to think of something besides breathing. He thought about Tara. He wondered if she was dead or alive. He tried to remember first meeting her. It was one of his favorite days.
“Can you believe those guys?” he remembered her saying on the day they met as she stormed into the room after a shift in the containment pod. Her head fully forward, her finger pointing back to the door, a look of disgust covered her face. “They’re acting like this is a joke. One of these days they’re going to get us all killed.”
“What is that little bit of hair called that falls on a woman’s face again?” he tried to remember, the sleeping gas beginning to work. “A tendril. That’s it.”
A tendril had unintentionally dropped from her pony tail as she took off her helmet and oxygen mask that day. He was a sucker for tendrils. When he noticed that she had some fire in her to boot, he became weak in the knees. He would never forget her first words to him.
“And what the fuck are you staring at asshole?”
She asked him that question, she later told him, because he failed to heed her nonverbal social cues that told everyone that while she was used to being ogled, she was not in the mood at the moment.
Jim laid there, waiting for sleep and thought about women. For him, a woman needed to be so much more than a pretty face or a fit body. Like any man, he knew his preferences for exterior qualities, but unlike any man, he could also list all the internal qualities a woman should aspire to have. At the top of his list was a backbone. Tara clearly had one. Number two was a passion for living. He needed a woman to love all the nuances of life as much as he did. He needed her to fight for life. The gas taking effect, he chuckled at his word choice. “Fight for life. Yeah, that’s my girl,” he mumbled. “You better be fighting now woman. You can’t fly yet,” he said, only noticing the slip-up as it entered his ears. “Of course you can’t fly. No one can fly,” he said, laughing at his own joke. Then with a forced seriousness, he said, “People can die though. But not you. You can’t die yet,” he ordered, the last “t” not quite being enunciated. Finally succumbing to the anesthetic, his body was ready for the amputations.