Year of the Dragonfly
Jack stared up, laying flat on his back on his rumpled bed of silk and satin and flannel.
The ceiling was painted a beautiful seafoam white, expensive paint that cost as much as it was actually worth.
He had taped it when he was fourteen with posters of Yellowstone, then Nirvana, then True Romance, then Cindy Crawford. His grand-aunt had ordered each to be pulled down, crumpled, burnt in the furnace, and the ceiling repainted every time she visited. But he simply tacked up a new poster after she left. After a while, he turned it into a game. Something new and obscure. He went through various art forms, counter culture heroes, music vinyl and CD covers, book covers, movie posters, various swimsuit models, never fighting her orders, never back talking as he planned for his next great inspiration to hit until one day his great-aunt simply gave up and let the current poster of Josephine Baker, naked outside of a few well-placed bananas.
"Jack, you simply must be ready by 4:45 today."
Why she spared that poster? It blew his mind. It was one of his more risque choices. His most esoteric ever. He had already picked out something blander next- a television show called The X-Files, but remained rolled in its tube; Josephine Baker unmolested.
"We have had the reservation set for your debut for over six months. The Wilkerson Family has already assured us that their daughter Prudence is delighted to have you as her chaperone. You simply cannot miss this engagement. A boy of seventeen has never attended in that capacity. Your cousin, Henry, has been ready for the past thirty minutes. It's his first time too. He-"
Jack listened as his great aunt went on, cajoling, ordering, admonishing him to be ready, comparing him to his older cousin of two years and three months. Henry the ever jealous, Henry the ever perfect epitome of upper class noblisse oblige. His grooming completed early, the perfect male specimen of their family.
Jack, though younger, was considered above Henry due to direct lineage to his grandfather and great-grandfather. Henry was placed in the offshoot line. The eldest son of the only son of the younger brother. Less prestigious. Less important.
As a child, he was amused by Henry's pandering and jealousy. Now that he was older and wiser, it simply bored him.
The clock read 4:20. He knew he needed less time than twenty-five minutes to get ready, but swung his legs over and stood up. The black tie suit rested on his chair, steam ironed then blown with cold air, it would stand up to any wrinkling. Dressing out of his flannel shirt and brown pants, dropping his Doc Martens heavily onto the Persian rug, he dressed the best he could, outright refusing help from his cousin's valet.
Shirt, vest, bowtie, jacket, pants, socks, and finally black Italian virgin shoes. He stared at himself in the mirror- all of five foot five and one thirty, looking short, pimply, his crinkly hair mussed, hanging over one eye. He combed his fingers through the strands, trying for sanity, to look somewhat respectable, tried a comb, then a brush. Then realized that his hair was frizzy, cockeyed after the ministrations. Grabbed a new comb, wetted it down, and smoothed it down in wet swirly peaks and sworls.
Despite instructions by members of both family and staff, he could never get the bow tie right. It drooped lazily clockwise, the sides uneven and disjointed. He re-tied it three times: looping, tying, creasing, until he gave up, knowing that someone else would do it later with a lecture and tongue clucks.
Feet pinching, he scuffed them off and put back on his acid-splashed Doc Martens with its splitting yellow laces and ankle flaps flopped down like old combat boots.
Justified, he opened the door, headed out, down to the atrium, and found his cousin slouching against the banister. His great-aunt a vision of refined air in her mint blue dress with white piping and violet beadwork. He sighed as he clomped down the stairs, not feeling anything.
"You march right back upstairs and put on your proper shoes. And your hair! It's a complete mess. What have you been doing for the past two hours? You have three minutes. Not a moment longer"
Sighing, he turned around and did as told. He slipped back off the boots, looked down forlornly at the puddle of British leather and lace, then picked up his phone and dialed the staff office.
"Maggie. Two hundred if you put my Doc Martens in the trunk of our limo.... No, I don't have time to listen to your communist manifesto... I'll listen later. I promise."
That done, he stalled for time, used the bathroom, rebrushed his teeth, combed his hair as Maggie barreled in demanding the $250 upfront- $50 for the chauffeur. Rushed down the servants' stairs, reappeared outside the window sprinting toward the limo, gave the driver his cut, and threw them into the trunk.
He smiled, slipping on the pinched shoes as he headed back down to his relatives. His aunt looking him up and down, searching for societal gaffs and styling errors. Sighed, "It'll have to do," escorted by Henry to the waiting limo.
Bundled into the back, Jack watched through the window, looking at their family's lands and buildings that created an illusion of country. Heading into the city, the highway entered the urban center as highrises and apartments huddled together. Henry and the aunt stared straight down, enmeshed in their own world.
As they reached the cotillion, waited for their entrance, took off their coats, met, introduced, conversed with other families, Jack found himself slipping away. It was simply one more party, one more impersonal get together for all of the families to converge, pontificate, create political alliances and divisions, a horde of young women in bright young dresses who chippered and smiled great, white smiles, unaware of their minimized place in the ballroom. He was swept off by one, then another, each gazing at him with dark, sparkly eyes, each interesting him in the wrong ways until he was swept into the arms of another.
Then the rumor started.
He was by the punchbowl, sipping on something spiked when he felt it.
The sad eyes covered by thinned grins. First one, then two and three of the others, watching him, myopic, bright, rheumy, dull, all staring at him.
Oppressive, he retreated into the shadow of a potted palm tree. The dresses flowed around the room, twirling, happy, glowing in the soft light and haze of alcohol. Jack watched, wishing for a diversion, anything.
His cousin, tall and selfish, led a girl of sixteen around the floor, looked at him, smirking? as he twirled perfectly to the waltz.
"You're drunk, Martin."
"Why are you here?"
"Why are any of us here?"
"No, your grandfather."
"My father said that you shouldn't be here. That you should be with him."
"jack- ou hadn't herd?" Martin leaned in close, a sloppy arm wrapping around Jack's shoulder.
"Your grandfather. He just had a stroke. H'es in hopsital."
Jack's stomach died. "Is he alive?"
Jack thought for a moment. "There's no way he'd be in a Jewish hospital," dribbled out of his mouth. He started running, grabbing a random coat, looking for his grandaunt, abandoning Martin to the shrub.
"I have to leave. It's grandfather." He gasped, for air, panting as she calmly put her glass of champagne onto the table, dismissing her friends with a wave. "For heaven's sakes, Jack. Your grandfather is strong. It was a small thing. A trifle. You have to stay for the remainder of the cotillion and socialize. You may see him tomorrow."
"I'm seeing him now."
"Jack Hodgins. You will sit down and enjoy yourself." She said, full of prim sternness.
Jack looked at her, sizing her, and saw her for what she was. A doddering old woman with no power over him. "I'm going."
Stripping himself of the jacket, tie, vest. Rolled up the sleeves, chucked the shoes off into the night as he ran for the limo. The driver nodded, retrieved over his boots from the trunk, and pulled out into oncoming traffic.
"How fast can you go?" Jack asked.
"Ninety miles in less than a minute, Sir. This rig was designed for embassy work."
Scenery bled away into the darkness. Traffic dense and heavy at ten at night, the driver pushed the limo to its limits, weaving around other limos, cars with glowing pizza signs, a morass of taxis.
Jack barely had his laces looped up and tied as they skidded to a stop in front of the ER entrance, blocking both the yellow and red parking zones.
Jack flew out, skipping along sticky tile into the nurse's desk. "I'm looking for my grandfather- Hodgins."
"You and everyone else, kid."
"I'm Jack Hodgins, his grandson."
A quick look from her, and he was pushed back out onto the street, a morass of television crews and writers building up along the sidewalk. One photographer recognized him, snapped his picture, immortalizing him at the age of seventeen, disheveled, looking all of twelve, at a moment of unmolested distress. Years later, some biographies would print the slightly blurred shot of Jack. He would see it later, sometimes on television requiems of the Hodgins family and his grandfather, startling him as the narrator claimed that it was, in fact, Jack.
Jack tried the entrance again, this time trying to be a Hodgins- haughty, demanding,, threatening, emboldened, empowered by political and monetary might. The act almost fell away before a doctor believed him, overruled the charge nurse, allowed him past the nursing staff barricade.
Up to the ICU ward, through the maze of sick people, and into a private suite, the doctor his personal guide, offering him wisdom, advice, scant information about his grandfather's condition.
Tubes and holes and needles puckering his withered skin, the elder Hodgins, a bear of a man just the day before, had sunk down into himself.
Jack couldn't watch it, couldn't see his only real relative in such a state.
"He's not in pain," the doctor added quietly.
Will he? Jack asked, pleading in his mind.
"If he survives the night, he has a good chance." The doctor answered, knowing the question unasked. "But we can't guarantee it. It'll take years of OT/PT to get him back to a level of full independence."
Jack nodded, an involuntary response.
He sat down on a plasticine chair, his arms hanging down atop his lap, heavy, unnoticed. Watching his grandfather breathe up, then down, faint signs of life, he knew no one else would show up, that his grandfather solely depended upon him, that he would become the caretaker in all things concerning the family.
It felt heavy on him, his shoulders sagging, his clothes tight and restrictive. He felt like an adult, old, like time had sped up to beyond his time.
An hour passed, then another. Time clicked by on his watch and the clock on the wall. The world outside no longer existed outside of the personal doctor who did everything for his grandfather from time to time.
It was quiet, comforting to watch this. His grandfather dying.
Jack wanted to fight, to beg for medicine and new, state of the art technology to repair his only true relative, to return him to his boisterously happy life full of fishing in the Atlantic, touring America, playing with wooden train-sets in his study with his grandson.
Jack relived these memories of fleeting happiness, not knowing what else to do.
Sometimes he would stand up, walk the room, look down the permanently shut windows, see the massive crowd of reporters and gawkers and tiny shrines of impermanent flowers and stuffed animals.
Finally, he would just watch the heart monitor blipping regularly, slowly, methodically until Jack fell asleep in his chair, his feet, still wearing the Doc Martens stuck out, his head and neck cranked against a nearby wall.
He was hot, then cold. The 2 A.M. hour passed with his biorhythms out of sync. His fingers and eyes tingled as he awoke to nurses, then doctors billowed into the room.
"It's best that you leave," a nurse stood him up, guiding him out of the room.
Jack got to the doorway, fully awoke, and grabbed the jamb. "I'm not leaving." He stated.
"Mr. Hodgins, it's best that we have the room to work on him."
Jack juddered. He'd never been called 'Mr. Hodgins' before. It threw him. "I won't leave. I am his last real relative. He needs me."
I need him.
"If you force me out, I'll march right down to the press and say that this is a lousy hospital and that no one should ever come again."
A silly threat, but Jack's first ever.
The head doctor, his hands all over the older man's chest, nodded his assent, allowing Jack to stay.
It was time. Jack realized. His grandfather would not make it through the night. That he would forever be alone without the older man to raise him and guide him and even just to listen.
They finally started shocking the older man. Forced a tube down his throat somewhere along the way. Time intermingling with nothingness as Jack could see that his grandfather was slipping out, away from the room, from the world.
"It's okay," the words whispered out of his mouth.
The medical team all looked at him as he came over, picked up the man's hand and placed it in his own. "He's ready."
The heart monitor beeped ten seconds more, then three.
His grandfather was no more.