Chapter 3: Hilbert, Part 3
The whole car roared with thunder, the engine swelling and firing loudly as Cheren eased the gas pedal down to the floor. Outside the windows that surrounded Cheren and Hilbert, outside the car, the whole world whipped by at lightning speed. The speedometer beneath the glass of the dash hovered around 70.
"Aspertia Hospital is this way... Aspertia Hospital is this way..." Cheren repeated to himself in the dark, under his breath. Where his hands gripped the wheel, his knuckles were turning white.
Beside him, Hilbert was staring ahead, blank. He remained totally silent, keeping his eyes on the road, only moving to keep his head straight when the car bounced or rattled. His senses were filled with the roaring of the car, Cheren's near-hysterical whispering, and the gentle country music that played from the stereo.
"She's up this way," a male nurse called, seeing Hilbert and Cheren arrive through the sliding glass doors. He waved them over with his clipboard, stepping around a moving gurney and several other assistants and nurses.
A set of doors stood in the center of the far wall, the end to the lobby. The male nurse quickly headed to one side of the door, opening one side of the door to the main hall while another nurse grabbed another side.
Cheren picked up the pace, jogging through the different distributions of people in the hospital and heading down into the hall, straight through the two nurses who held the swinging doors open.
Far behind, Hilbert was only speedwalking. His exhaustion was getting to him. Everything he looked at, even the most mundane of things he stared at in disbelief.
The room seemed to glow a heavenly white, the pure white walls and white linoleum reflecting the overhead fluorescent light. The green curtains had been pulled back around the overhead track, opening up the view of the hospital bed in the first area of the room. Darlene was there, resting back in her bed, lying flat on her back, completely unconscious. Overhead, the vitals monitor refreshed quickly, showing Darlene's consistent, sleeping heartbeat.
Hilbert stopped after taking a few steps into the room. He was hypnotized, transfixed on where his mom was. He took the first few steps closer.
Though Darlene was sound asleep, something seemed off about her. The hospital gown on her seemed ill-fitting, especially when she looked the exact same way she had when Hilbert had left her, mostly. As Hilbert approached, passing around her from left to right, he saw the serene, sleeping expression on her features was not present on her right side. The right side of her face seemed uncomfortable, her lip curled up sharply, some of her teeth exposed. Her cheek muscles were contorted, stretched thin and warped. Hilbert let out an audible gasp when he saw that her right eye was slightly open, the whites visible in the lower corner of her eye.
As Hilbert's gaze trailed down, he saw that on her left arm several IVs had been attached to her veins, just beneath it was a wristband tag, the arm resting beside her soundly. Looking down further, the wrist of her right arm was in a leather strap, fixed to the metal railing arm rest on the bed.
"Her arm was unresponsive. We didn't want her to suddenly harm it in her sleep," the doctor spoke up, breaking the silence.
Hilbert looked up suddenly, surprised. In the doorway, the doctor stood, and just behind him he could see Cheren.
As Cheren stepped around the doctor, catching a glimpse of Hilbert's mom, his footsteps slowed to a solitary halt. He laid eyes on where she was, taking a deep breath as he took in all that he saw.
Giving Cheren a passing glance, the doctor stepped towards him. "Give us a moment," he whispered in Cheren's ear.
The doctor sighed. Over his shoulder, the male nurse from earlier stepped in, lightly putting a hand on Cheren's shoulder. When Cheren found the male nurse's hand, looking back at him and then back to Hilbert's mom, he took a few steps back in compliance, stepping out of the room, being led down the hall. It left the doctor in the room's doorway with just Hilbert. Taking a deep breath, he reached around and shut the door behind him.
"Forgive me," said the doctor, taking the first few steps in, moving as slow and careful as his words. "My name is Dr. Hendricks. I specialize in cases... Well... Just like your mother's right here. Unique medical emergencies."
Hilbert continued to stare at his mom. His gaze frequently returned to the drooping eyelid and the pained expression frozen on her face while she slept.
"Your mother has suffered a serious heart attack. Don't worry, she is fine now and under careful observation," said Dr. Hendricks. "There was a... A rather large complication as part of her heart attack. Your mother is now completely paralyzed on her right side. She has lost control of any motor function on the right hemisphere of her body."
Everything around Hilbert seemed to slow down. As he stared down into the bed, hands by his side, staring where he did, his breathing became eratic.
Dr. Hendricks hesitated. He watched Hilbert, seeing him freeze in place, leaning forward to see if he could make eye contact with him.
"Son?" he asked.
Slowly, Hilbert's head rolled forward limply, his head facing the floor. He shuddered, his hat sliding forward and off of his head, clattering to the floor moments later. Bushy tufts of brown hair stuck up, falling forward and slowly unfurling from his head.
Hearing the first few footsteps of the doctor as he approached, Hilbert took a deep, sniffling breath and brought his head up. His eyes were burning bright red, all the blood in his face swelling around his eyes as they turned puffy, beady tears breaking off from the eyelid and dribbling down his cheek. Hilbert took his breaths in through his teeth. Down by his sides, his hands had turned to thick, balled fists.
Without a word, Hilbert headed out of the room, his legs moving in a hustle, taking him out of the infirmary room and out into the hall.
The door shut behind Hilbert with a dull thump, the doorknob latching. Dr. Hendricks stared, watching Hilbert through the window as he went down the hall.
In a random hall on the same floor, Hilbert had found one of the many plastic seats that lined the hall. Hunched over, hands on his knees, Hilbert stared at the scuffed, glassy tiles of linoleum flooring in the hall, the dim hospital lights glowing on the surface. His hair had fallen over his brow long ago, still in the sweaty slicks that he had kept inside his hat, nowhere to be found. Just beneath his chair, Hilbert had removed his sneakers, his socked toes pressed to the floor.
Down the hall, Hilbert could hear footsteps. He paid them no mind, instead staring down at the floor, head in his hands, letting the tears run down over his cheeks and sting. The footsteps never let up, instead coming closer and closer to him, a long, thin shadow drawing a warped image over the tile.
Something flew out in front of Hilbert's face, snapping him from his daydream. It was his hat, and a slender, feminine arm was holding it. Hilbert's eyes traced up the slender arm, past the unpainted nails, past the dozen colorful, braided bracelets and thick, rubbery concert bracelets, up to the mass of hair draped over the woman's shoulders. He met with a set of beautiful, deep blue eyes.
It was Hilda.
Hilbert's longing, distant sadness suddenly refocused, turning to near-and-dear concern. He blinked away the tears in his eyes, his brow furrowing and eyes narrowing, squinting to see past the hospital lights.
"You forgot your hat," said Hilda. Her face was hidden in shadows, obscured by heavenly, blinding lights. Hilbert thought he could see the familiar smirk.
Reaching, Hilbert took his hat back. He didn't put it on, holding it in his lap, still hunched over and staring up in disbelief.
Hilda's boots squealed. She walked around Hilbert, going for one of the few plastic seats beside him. In the empty hospital hall, she grabbed the chair by its handle and dragged it out into the hall, the rubber grips on the seat squealing and rattling the thin frame, clattering and echoing. She set the chair opposite Hilbert, sitting herself down in it and hunching over to match Hilbert's posture. Hilbert had been wrong, she wasn't smirking. A look of genuine worry was on her face, staring him down with a blinding intensity. Her features were tight, tired, worn but very healthy.
"Where did you...?" Hilbert choked midway through his sentence. His voice was a croak, worse than he had expected.
"Find your hat?" Hilda gave a flash of a smile. It quickly faded. "The doc was in the hallway. I thought I had seen that hat before and I figured you weren't far."
Breathing, blinking several times and rubbing his eyes, Hilbert shook his head.
"No... I mean... How did you get... Where did you... How...?"
"I'm a lucky guesser. Besides, I think you woke up most anyone within a mile of the road you and your friend tore up getting here," Hilda chuckled lightly. "Nobody goes that fast without something being wrong. I passed your friend when he was on his way out, and well... I saw the doc and I could imply the rest..."
Hilbert held his tongue, biting down hard. Another wave of tears forced his eyes shut as they burned.
"The words don't always come so easy for something like this. It's very easy to want to try and give advice, try and speak into a situation like this," said Hilda, "but the words don't always come. When they come, sometimes they don't make sense. Sometimes you just have to say them, letting the chips fall. Sometimes you don't exactly believe those words or know what to do with them. It can be very, very hard sometimes to say the right thing."
Sniffling, Hilbert let out a smile, a gasp of air. He caught himself between tears, wiping away one eye while a tear dribbled out of the other, running down his cheek and past his mouth. The collar of his lone, simple t-shirt wadded up beneath his thumb as he wiped it away.
"That's a weird thing..." said Hilbert. He couldn't muster the strength to look at Hilda. "Especially from someone who knows exactly where to be at the right time... Heh... Or exactly the right thing to say."
Hilda smiled gently. "Words never do as they are told. We only ever think we're saying what we're saying, and interpreting them is so much harder," she said.
"Yeah, but you knew exactly what to say the other day," said Hilbert, sniffling again. "Nobody believed me when I told them what you said. They all thought what you were saying was something I made it up... It was just too good to be true... Too perfect... Heh..."
Hilda lifted the brim of her hat out of habit, her lips crimping together to blow loose strands of hair out of her brow. She paused for several long moments, considering what Hilbert had said. "I've been accused of a lot of things, but never too perfect."
Hilbert had just enough strength to give Hilda one passing look. The gaze he met with wasn't fixed at him; it was something forlorn and distant, fixed to the wall ahead of her, her blue eyes seemingly iced over as she stared at the wall.
"They said it was too good to be true, and for a little bit I was believing them..." said Hilbert.
"What was? Why?" asked Hilda.
"You said I wasn't meant to be... I shouldn't be hanging out with Roxie or playing in a band. I should be training Pokemon and trying to make something in that area of your life. It's funny, 'cause everyone has been saying that lately. Like, everyone. Two more people said it to my face today, in some way or another... A lot of people had already said that by the time we ran into each other the other day... I don't understand why people think or say that. You think they would be happy for me if they cared at all."
"And you expect me to say something profound now? Now that I've revealed myself to have 'the gift'?" asked Hilda.
"Well, one could say you're batting a thousand right now."
Through the bleak sadness that had taken over her features, Hilda let out a dry chuckle, shaking her head lightly.
"That's not how this works," she said.
"Alright then," said Hilbert. "How does this work?"
"It works by you taking the next step. By pushing forward. After all, things don't just stop here. This is just one little part in the story, and there's so much more left. Things only get better when you push forward," said Hilda. She turned serious, sitting herself more forward to get a better view of Hilbert. She made sure he was paying attention, staring directly into him. "Do you know what the next step is, Hilbert?" she asked.
"I mean... Is that a metaphor or something...?"
"It's not. What do you think happens next?" asked Hilda.
"I... I go home...?"
"You go home. You don'r stay the night in the hospital, you don't stay the night with your friends or anything at all. You go home," said Hilda.
Hilbert nodded softly. The wellspring of tears had dried up long ago.
"You go home, and things are empty," said Hilda. "You go home, and there's nothing to do but wait and listen to the deafening, soul-crushing silence that awaits you. There's no mom at home now. She's at the hospital, and you don't know what's happening."
Hilbert sighed. "That's awfully inspiring."
"It's the truth. And you need to know it in order to go to the next step."
Hilbert raised his head, looking at Hilda. He squinted, his eyes burning, swollen with dried tears.
"And what's that?" he asked.
Hilda gave a cold, dead stare.
The door to the house was slightly ajar, light pouring out from the open side. The half shut blinds showed gentle warm light inside the living room, making for a familiar, homely scene.
Hilbert took the steps up to the home hesitantly, being careful to make his way inside quietly. Each step he took made him pause and hesitate a little longer, stopping in his tracks, his head raising from where he watched those steps to look up to the door, a look of uneasiness on his face. Looking down behind him, he saw where Cheren was in Pop Roxie's car moments earlier, the driveway now empty.
When he reached the door, he pressed his hand gently to it, the door swinging open with a familiar, dragged-out whine. The hinges squealed to a halt as the door fully opened, giving Hilbert full view of the room.
The lone light in the room was a lamp, the shade knocked slightly ajar, the metal, wire-thin arms tweaked and sprung in odd angles. The light that shone through the glowing canvas walls was skewed, the fireplace at the side of the living room overlit and the walls surrounding it deep and dark. All around the couches, on the floor and carpet, decorative pillows had been strewn about. A deep wine stain had set into the velvety side of a pillow on the carpet, next to two of the photo frames that had fallen to the floor in a pile of shattered glass.
"Aw man..." Hilbert scowled. He leaned himself against the doorway, taking his hat off and rubbing his eyes.
Hilbert heard something familiar. The sound of a glass setting down on a table. His eyes followed the drunken, strewn-about mess up to the loveseat opposite the couch. Through the dim, uneven light, he could see a shadowy figure, sprawled across.
"Hey big guy," said Roxie. "Rough night?"
Roxie lounged in the loveseat. Her back slouched against the right arm of the chair while a leg had kicked up lazily over the left arm, her other leg sprawled across the floor beside the chair. A small, cylindrical whiskey glass rested in her lap as she held the rim, half-nursed, frosted over.
Hilbert made his way from his slouched position in the doorway, walking himself around into the center of the living room. He found the couch opposite Roxie, easing himself down into the cushy seats. Down beneath his pantleg, the wet sensation of a wine stain set in the cushion reached him, making him shuffle and shift uncomfortably, scooting over to the other side of the couch. He blinked the sleep from his eyes, adjusting to the strange, warped version of his family living room.
The coffee table legs creaked, something outside Roxie's vision being set down. He looked down when he felt the edge nudge his pant leg, making him look down. The ice in a similar, equally frosty whiskey glass clinked, the napkin it rested on scooting gently. Hilbert eyed the glass, giving Roxie a charged, annoyed look.
Roxie narrowed her brow. "What?" she asked. "It's bitters. Great Sky..."
Reluctantly, Hilbert took the glass from the table. Pressing the glass to his lips, he hesitated for a moment, taking a small sip and pulling the glass away, giving him a moment to process the drink. The club soda fizzled on his tongue, the taste of ginger working his way into his sinuses. The alcoholic bite never came. Hilbert took the little napkin, scooting it to his edge of the coffee table, setting the drink on it.
Stiff, groaning, Roxie sat herself up in the chair. The feathery tufts of white hair on either side of her head batted against her cool face, the sleeve on her arm wiping away the tangled strands as she slowly, stiffly swung her legs over and planted her boots in the carpet. Her body hunched over as she found the edge of the seat. Her eyes stared ahead, cold and tired. The glass of bitters was clutched between her hands, just at the edge of her sweater's skirt.
"Are you okay?" asked Roxie.
"I'll be fine," said Hilbert, staring ahead.
Roxie shook her head silently. Running her hand over her head, she felt the loose hair on top of her head, smoothing it into the knot on top.
"Do you expect me to believe that?" asked Roxie. "You're 'fine'?"
Hilbert looked up to Roxie. "I said I'll be fine."
"Hilbert, I appreciate the whole 'being a man about it' thing, but really, if you need to let it out, let it out. It's not good to keep all that crap bottled up inside."
"Why? What's it matter?" Hilbert snapped. His words seethed with venom, his eyes lighting up and boiling.
Roxie sat back a bit, taking a sip of her drink, watching Hilbert from behind a veil of skepticism. When she finished her drink, she watched the drink as she set it on a coaster on the coffee table, leaving it be.
"Because then crap like that happens. Hilbert, you gotta be honest, otherwise this doesn't work," said Roxie.
"How about you be honest? What's 'this'? What's 'this' that's gotta work?" asked Hilbert.
Roxie went to reply, but she hesitated, her mouth hanging open. She stared down at her drink, avoiding Hilbert's watching, expecting gaze.
"Our... Mutual friendship," said Roxie.
"No, our mutual 'you help me with my band' situation," said Hilbert. "Come on, you'd want me to man up and get past this so that way we can practice tomorrow. That's heartless as hell."
"That's... That's absolutely slanderous..." Roxie said quietly, visibly hiding her rage. Her eyes flashed up to meet Hilbert's. "Don't you dare accuse me of something like that. Great Sky, of course I have a friggin' heart."
"Don't ever accuse me of not having a heart," Roxie seethed, cutting Hilbert off. "I know you're in a rough spot, I know you're freaked out that your mom got real sick, I know you're not in the best state of mind and everything's a little emotionally touchy, but—friggin'—Great Sky—I'm your friend, Hilbert. I'm trying to help."
Hilbert shut himself up. His lips folded into his mouth, his tongue trapped between his molars as he stared ahead at Roxie. His eyes burned, his ears glowing with embarrassment. The look of surprise on his face was perpetually frozen, meeting with Roxie's seething expression.
Roxie's eyes flashed down, meeting with her drink. Only an inch was left beneath the frosted glass. Her fingers had sank deep into her sweater, slowly unballing as she tried to relax. She reached across, hastily grabbing her drink and downing the rest of it in a single gulp.
"Here's the thing, Hilbert," said Roxie, keeping her words brisk and biting. "I run a tight ship in my band. I drink, I curse, I stay up all night and I'm not exactly the girl you want to take home to your mama, but when it comes to practice time I don't mess around. Why is that? Because I don't want to pass up the opportunities I have in life. It's not because I don't have a heart."
Hilbert was staring down at his feet, perpetually. Even without looking at Roxie, he could feel her eyes burning into him.
"You know what, Hilbert? I do have a heart. Despite all that, I still have a heart. There's a time to work and a time to play."
"What do you call this? Work or play?" Hilbert asked quietly.
Roxie froze up. Her eyes burned, her teeth flashing in a fit of sudden rage. She held herself back.
"It's—I—It's neither," Roxie hissed. "This is... This is where we hit the pause button, okay? This is where things stop... I..." she swallowed, taking a moment to breathe. She paused for a long moment, her eyes searching the floor for words as the lull dragged out. All at once, she flashed her eyes back up at Hilbert's waiting gaze, picking back up her thought. "I like you a lot Hilbert."
"But nothing. I don't... I don't care what you do, okay? Listen, it's okay if you decide something different. You... You don't have to worry about disappointing me. You're still my friend, no matter what happens. And... And if you want to go ahead and... And go be a Pokemon trainer, I say go for it. I... I just want you to be happy no matter what happens. Just... Don't rush the decision."
Hilbert looked up to Roxie. Now she was looking away. Something looked sad about her, like she couldn't own up to something. He couldn't spell it out, a confused look washing over his intent gaze. He chewed the corner of his lip as he thought, holding his hands out over his knees.
"I... I know changes... They're scary," said Roxie, earnestly. "They don't come so easy, but... But they get thrust on us. It just... Suddenly it happens, and we're there."
"Someone... She—" Hilbert cut himself off, sensing the mood in the room. "Somebody told me that the hardest part is coming home and trying to sleep in an empty home."
"Yeah, that's true," said Roxie. "It is the hardest part."
Shaking his head gently, Hilbert removed his hat. When he set it in his lap, it promptly rolled off and fell past his legs, falling down between the couch and the coffee table. He slumped back, staring into the dark corners of the room.
"Hilbert," Roxie said, her voice almost sounding weak. "Don't make any rash decisions. Just... I'll be okay with what whatever you choose."
Hilbert's brow furrowed.
"What would I be choosing?"
Roxie gave Hilbert a cold look.
Roxie didn't say anything. Instead, she continued to turn the glass in her hand, gazing into her lap as the amber liquid sloshed on the inside. She gave herself a moment of cold silence, letting Hilbert's question hang in the air. She could feel his eyes on him, watching her every move.
After a beat, she set her glass on the table. She got to her feet, planting her boots in the ground as she sat herself up and stood upright. Beside her, she shuffled the sleeves of her sweater, dropping and straightening them. She then picked her glass up again, passing around the living room, passing Hilbert where he stood on the couch.
Hilbert continued to stare ahead as Roxie headed for the door. His hands stayed folded in his lap, listening to her reach the slightly-ajar door, pulling it open with a quiet whine. The warm glow of streetlights came in behind him, obscured by Roxie's shadow.
"I'll see you tomorrow," said Roxie.
Though Roxie hesitated a minute longer, lifting her glass and draining it, she stepped out onto the steps and pulled the door to a close behind her.
Hilbert sat alone on the couch, alone in the empty home.
The morning sun burned overhead, glowing blindingly in the clear morning sky. An array of trees lined the clearing, the wide space reserved for an array of thin, gravelly paths and the small, old diner. Several flocks of Pidove fluttered from the trees, taking to the morning skies as an easy breeze came through.
Hilbert moved stiffly, his legs bending like boards as he sneakers scuffed on the gravel. He kept his hands in his pockets, his blue jacket sitting uncomfortably on his shoulders. A pair of sunglasses fit beneath the bill of his hat. Even beneath the black-tinted lenses, Hilbert found himself squinting at the sky whenever he looked up.
Looking down, blinking away the blinding rays of the sun, Hilbert lifted his hat just enough to reach beneath. He rubbed away an intense headache, groaning.
The thin, aluminum stairs to the diner rattled, Hilbert walking up them and ascending onto a thin platform that ran the length of the diner's front. He walked past planters, old rocking chairs and tin signs hung from the overhanging roof. The smell of sizzling breakfast foods wafted through the propped-open metal door, sounds of conversations echoing over the floor.
"So that's why I couldn't tell Roxie, under any circumstances," said Hilbert. "She's not taking me seriously. I think she was taking me seriously last night, but she doesn't believe me, at least when I talk about Hilda."
"I'll be honest," Cheren said, in-between bites. He hestiated, wiping his lips with his napkin, swallowing pensively. "I'm not exactly certain this 'Hilda' exists either. Every part of me says that there's no way this is true."
In the opposite side of the booth, Hilbert slouched back, his hand resting comfortably in the grip of his coffee cup on the table. He stared beneath a set of black sunglasses, looking weakly, his head throbbing silently. His plate of pancakes was empty, the plate lined with sticky, syrupy residue, the glazed fork hanging over the edge. Instead of staring at Cheren, who was avoiding looking at Hilbert, he looked down at Cheren's plate, watching him eat hastily. Sighing, he took a long sip of his coffee, groaning as he sat himself up and hunched over the table. He removed the sunglasses on his face, setting them down on the table, rubbing his forcefully shut eyes.
"That's... That's ridiculous..." Hilbert groaned, his headache rising to ten times what it was before.
"I know it's not exactly a fantastic thing to accuse you of, but rest assured it's nothing critical. Honestly, I'm not even accusing you."
Cheren's fork squealed along the plate, scraping up the last of his ketchup-y eggs against the edge of a knife. Taking another bite, he set the fork and knife down, grabbing his napkin and wadding it up, carefully stuffing it beneath the plate.
Hilbert looked on in annoyance, watching as Cheren ate carelessly.
"Cheren, that's the thing man," said Hilbert. "You are, actually, accusing me of something, and it's being absolutely friggin' delusional. There's only—"
"I just think this 'ghost girl' is a little too conveniently on your side," said Cheren, shrugging off the thought.
Scowling, Hilbert shook his head. As he looked about the table in annoyance, he grabbed for his sunglasses, unfolding the arms and fitting them snugly around his head. The vinyl seats squealed as he set himself back, slouching further into the seat as he reached for his wallet. He fished out a few, wadded out bills, finding a few jangling coins.
Rocking the bench, Hilbert scooted himself out, getting to his feet in the diner. He flipped through the coins in the palm of his hand, dumping them out onto the edge of the table and dropping the crinkled bills beside them.
"Well, let me know when acting friggin' rational is convenient for you," said Hilbert. "Great friggin' Sky."
As Hilbert made his way away from the table, turning and avoiding an oncoming waitress just in time, Cheren looked up in confusion, realizing too late that Hilbert was leaving. His head craned around to see where he was going, his head then whipping around to the window beside the table when he heard the ramp thump with Hilbert's footsteps, Hilbert passing mere inches from the glass as he headed down. Sitting himself uncomfortably, Cheren reached for his glass of water, sipping as he lost himself in thought.