“I know. You know?” Sam slurred up at me from his bed of pain, nausea, Compazine and NSAIDs. Despite how long it’d been since we’d had any secrets and lies between us, my brain still made a fast search of anything I might not want him to know about just yet.
Fortunately, I came up empty.
“Yeah? You know what?”
We were in Syracuse. Sam was in bed and I was sitting near the open window, looking for our next hunt while trying not to die of the mid-afternoon heat in a room with such amazingly poor air conditioning, it came with an amazingly poor table fan. A run of the mill hunt in the ancient town of Canajoharie, NY had brought us face to face with an unhappy Revolutionary War ghost. Or – in Sam’s case – arm to musket stock. Now we were half a state away, trying to recover.
Sam’d started the day with food poisoning or bad stomach flu, complete with chills and nausea and muscle aches, and that left him totally not at the top of his game. Before I finally torched the not-so-lately-lamented Sybert Swartwout of Battle of Saratoga fame, he’d managed to hit Sam so hard across the arm, he gave him nerve shock or something. His arm and hand spasmed so bad, he could barely move his fingers and he couldn’t close his hand.
“I know why.” Sam said again, after awhile. The Compazine made him droopy. Loopy and droopy.
“Okay – you know why what?”
While we waited for the flames to burn out, to bury Sybert again, I got Sam set up with a sling, and a squish & freeze ice pack, the anti-inflammatories, a few more antacid tablets, and a seat in the car. We were already packed and ready to get on the road again, so when the job was done and the shovels were in the trunk, I started to tell Sam he should lie down in the back seat until we got to the next motel.
Before I could even slam the trunk though, Sam was out of the car, hurrying to me.
His voice had the quiet panic of trying-not-to-freak-out and I could see he had his left palm pressed against his right thumb. Hallucination then. He didn’t ever ask for my help with those, and just as I was wondering what was wrong – more wrong – this time, he held both hands out to me.
“I can’t – press – on the scar.”
With his right hand frozen, he couldn’t press hard enough on his scar to wipe out the current hallucination. And he was trying not to freak out on account of it.
“Okay, no problem, here.” I took his hand and pressed my thumb into the scar until he let his breath out all at once and I knew the crisis had passed.
“…know why y’rock …” Sam’s delayed continuation of this thought brought me back to the present. “…rock, paper, scissors …know why y’always pick rock.”
“Because…you…” He faded out again but I knew that if I waited long enough, he’d fade back in. It was like watching skaters waltz through frosted ice tunnels.
So, I waited.
Once the reality had hit me that Sam couldn’t ‘self medicate’ his hallucinations away, I decided against putting him in the back seat to sleep off his nausea and got him in the front seat where I’d be close enough whenever he needed my help again.
Turned out that was a lot sooner and a lot more often than I would’ve thought.
Canajoharie isn’t that big of a town, and we hadn’t even passed the actual “Washington Slept Here!” historic marker when Sam stiffened next to me.
And I took his hand and pressed on the scar half a minute or less until he relaxed and said ‘thanks’ and took his hand back and I waited until the next hallucination came.
“….because…” The skaters waltzed back into view in our hot Syracuse motel room. “…y’r not scissors. ‘n I’m not scissors. Know why we’re not scissors? Either of us? Dean?”
Sam had gotten use of his hand back, so he could take care of his own hallucinations, so he was on the bed where he was supposed to be falling asleep. Only Sam never slept when he could think about something or – even better – talk about something. With him drugged to the gills, I didn’t have much choice but to join in.
“Why aren’t we scissors?”
“It’s ‘cause scissors, in rock, paper, scissors, scissors destroy or get destroyed. That’s not us. We don’t destroy each other. ”
He looked at me and waited for me to answer.
“Damn right.” I told him.
He nodded, a little, and squeezed his eyes against the pain or nausea, before he kept on.
“So – y’r rock. ‘n I’m paper. Know why?”
I didn’t know but I had to wait again for him to be awake enough to enlighten me.
The drive from Canajoharie to Syracuse was a couple of hours and I hoped Sam would fall asleep and get a break from the food poisoning and his throbbing, spasming arm, but he stayed awake next to me, his right arm in the sling, his left arm deceptively still on the seat next to himself. I paid attention to him, waiting, wondering when the next hallucination would hit. He did a good job usually of handling them, or hiding them, more likely. But with his only way of tackling them currently compromised, I paid attention in case he needed me to jump in but couldn’t tell me.
Or wouldn’t tell me, I realized when just a little while later his breath got short and his swallows got repeated and his left hand crept over to his currently-useless right hand.
“Sam – you okay?”
“Yeah – I – no.”
So I took his hand and pressed his scar and chased his hallucination away again.
“Y’r rock ‘cause I’m paper.” Sam continued another couple of minutes later. “Y’know why, why y’r rock?”
I had a momentary thought of ‘because when a rock gets hammered enough, it shapes into a weapon’, but Sam had maintained coherence and consciousness long enough to jump into his next thought.
“Is ‘cause I’m paper. ‘n scissors attacks paper. ‘n rock beats the snot out of scissors onna ‘cause of it.”
I laughed. Damn right, Sammy.
He seemed to fall asleep, really asleep after that, and I left him to it.
Unlike our earlier morning trip up the New York State thruway, when Sam stayed obstinately awake, holding out as long as he could whenever he got another hallucination, not telling me he needed my help until I had to guess from how hard he was pressed into the back of the seat that another one was on him.
And I would grab his hand again.
“ Dammit, Sam.” I finally had enough. “You have to tell me as soon as you get one. Don’t wait until it’s so bad you can’t stand it.”
“I just – I didn’t want you to – I didn’t want -.”
He didn’t want to bother me. He didn’t want me to know how often the hallucinations were piling up on him. He didn’t want to need help. He didn’t want to bother me.
“Sammy, I swear to God, I will hold your hand from here to Cleveland if I have to.”
I said it like a threat, but when all the air left Sam and his shoulders came down and he actually relaxed against the seat back, I knew he recognized it for the promise it was.
“And – know why else?” Sammy’s ice skaters droopily waltzed back into view a few minutes later for one last flourish. “Know why else y’r rock ‘n I’m paper? Know what else a rock does?”
This ought to be interesting.
“What else does a rock do?”
“Rock’s a paperweight.”
“Know why? Why is a paperweight?”
I had visions of visions of weight and capture and resistance and things – people – being held against their will.
“ Is ‘cause -.” Sam held his scarred palm out toward me. “Is ‘cause rock makes sure paper stays where it belongs.”
And then he was well and truly gone, lost to the Compazine and painkillers. And I felt like I’d had a piece of my soul handed back to me.