Episode 27 — Chapter 31
Savannah took a chair next to the patient and stared at the melancholy man. Her heart went out to him. She wanted to help, but her plan seemed so utterly foolish and doomed to failure, now that she was in his presence. Wanting to change their collective mood, she asked instead, “What do you remember just before the accident?”
Mr. Cobb shook his head. “I don’t know. I have this vivid dream of walking outdoors and feeling that I was in a strange place. There were buildings I had never seen before. Lights and noise that seemed so foreign. And these crazy contraptions moving on the street at great speed. That’s the last thing I remember.”
“You were apparently hit by one of those contraptions, perhaps crossing the street.”
“I don’t remember that.”
“So, why were you here in Atlanta?”
“I’d been with a traveling theater for a couple of months. We’d just given a performance here the night before.” Mr. Cobb had a faraway look as he reflected on events that seemed so recent, but so impossibly out of reach.
“I read about that,” Savannah responded. “You played Billy Bolton in ‘The College Widow.’”
“Exactly.” The patient perked up a little.
“As much as I would have loved to see you on stage,” Savannah laughed, “I would give almost anything to just once have seen you play baseball. The newspaper accounts describe your deeds with such excitement and astonishment. Baseball has always been my favorite sport,” Savannah continued. “My oldest brother, Calvin, pitched in the big leagues for nearly twenty years.”
“So, people still play baseball?” Mr. Cobb asked in a wistful voice.
“They sure do!” Savannah responded enthusiastically. “But the game is much different than in your day.”
“The size of ball parks today would astound you. Here, let me show you some.” Savannah typed in some words and showed the patient Sun-Trust Park, the recently-built stadium in Atlanta. “There’s a major league team here now, the Atlanta Braves—has been for years.”
“Well, I’ll be damned.”The patient looked at the photograph of the mammoth stadium with an expression of disbelief. “Is that real?”
“Of course it is. It’s not far from here.” Savannah continued, discussing the livelier ball, the size of gloves, lighter uniforms, number of teams, number of umpires.
In spite of himself, Mr. Cobb became mesmerized by Savannah’s dialogue. Frequently, he interjected a remark of surprise or astonishment at her description of the modern game. She was so friendly, so open, so accepting.
“So, how are my Tigers doing?” the patient asked.
“Last few seasons, they’ve been one of the top teams in the American League,” she said, “although they haven’t been to the World Series in awhile.”
“Yeah. We missed out, too, the last couple years. Got off to a great start last season, but the Athletics overtook us when we faltered down the stretch.”
“But you had a fantastic year, Mr. Cobb. Batting .420. That’s eighty points higher than last year’s batting leader in today’s game. Goodness gracious. It’s been forever since anyone hit .400”
Mr. Cobb nodded. “Too bad we didn’t win the pennant. A few breaks here or there, maybe it would have been different.”
They kept talking for nearly an hour. By now, Savannah had decided to abandon her presumptuous plan. Surely, in the twenty-first century, the patient would be well cared for. What harm could they possibly cause him, anyway?
Their discussion was interrupted when a nurse entered the room with a dinner tray. The nurse appeared surprised that Mr. Cobb had a visitor, but her demeanor was far friendlier than Dr. Cantril’s. She moved the portable table in front of the patient and placed the tray on it. There was a white plate with grilled chicken, potatoes and carrots, a roll, a small dish with applesauce and another with chocolate pudding.
“Time for dinner, Mr. Cobb.” She then turned to Savannah. “Hi, I’m nurse Janet. Are you a friend of Mr. Cobb?”
“You could say that,” Savannah responded politely.
“Well, you’re the first visitor Mr. Cobb’s had. We’ve been trying to locate his family members, but haven’t been able to find any next of kin or anyone else who knows him. Do you know anyone from his family?”
“I’m afraid not. I just became acquainted with him here in the hospital.”
The nurse looked at Savannah and spoke in low tone, “Can I talk to you for a second, in private.”
Savannah accompanied the nurse out into the hallway.
“I should inform you, he’s not supposed to have visitors. I guess you can tell that something ain’t right…”
“What do you mean?” Savannah asked.
“Well, we’re not supposed to talk about it, but Mr. Cobb believes he’s a visitor here from the past—the early 1900’s. Been told he’ll be shipped out to the psych ward first thing tomorrow.”
“Really? That soon! He just barely got his cast off. Is that really what’s best for him?” Savannah’s intuition had been correct. The plan no longer seemed so foolhardy.
“I have nothing to do with it, but since you’re a friend, I thought you might want to know. Once he’s there, only family members will be allowed to visit.”
Savannah felt herself shudder. “Can I have a few minutes with him? I want to say good-bye.”
“Of course,” the nurse responded with a pleasant smile.
Savannah re-entered the room. She wasn’t sure where to start.
“Mr. Cobb, what are you going to do when you leave here?” she began.
“I’m going to search for my family.”
“Well, you’re going to need some help getting around. Do you have any money?”
Mr. Cobb shook his head. “None with me, but I’ve got plenty in the bank.”
“But, if you have truly traveled more than a century forward in time, I doubt you’ll be able to find any bank accounts in your name. You won’t get far without any money.”
“I reckon you’re right.”
“Maybe I can help. Today, most people use credit cards to pay for their expenses.” Savannah pulled out a debit card from her wallet and handed it to the patient.
Mr. Cobb held up the small plastic card in bewilderment. “This is money?”
“Well, it’s attached to my bank account. I can spend money with this card. There’s a metal chip that tells the merchant who I am and whether I’ve got enough money in my account. If I buy something, it instantly deducts that money from my bank account.”
The patient shook his head. “Doesn’t make any sense.”
“You know, it’s not too different from a check. You just hand it to a merchant and it’s as if you’ve given them a check, but you get the card back, so you can keep using it.”
The patient returned the card to Savannah, shaking his head.
“You can still use cash, of course. You’re going to need money for a place to stay. You’re going to need money to pay for food, clothes, transportation and lodging. You will need someone to help you adjust to the modern world.”
Mr. Cobb looked away. “I’ll manage.”
“Well, it would be my pleasure to help you,” Savannah offered in a soft and friendly voice.
“Much appreciated, ma’am, but I don’t need charity.” He continued looking out the window at the bizarre landscape.
“When you get your feet on the ground, you can repay me.”
Now was the time.
“Mr. Cobb, you need to get out of here, and as soon as possible.”
“I’m plannin’ on doin’ just that!”
“No, I mean today, tonight. The nurse told me, in the hallway, that they’re transferring you to the psych ward tomorrow.”
“Psych ward? What exactly is that?”
“People who are considered mentally unstable end up there,” Savannah pointed to her head.
The patient showed alarm, “You mean an insane asylum?”
The patient’s visage changed abruptly. His face registered fear. “I’ve seen how folks are treated in those places. I had a great uncle, bound to the bed, in the company of other poor souls, all babblin’ or screamin’. Mindless creatures. They shut down the place a few years later, when they discovered two patients had been mutilated by staff members. I’m not insane. They can’t force me to go there!”
“I’m afraid they can. Apparently they already have the commitment order from a local judge.”
“No way in hell I’m goin’ to let them do that.”
“You won’t have a choice.”
“Then, I gotta get out o’ here!”
“You do! You need to leave tonight.” Savannah walked over to the opposite corner of the room and picked up the shopping bag. “I bought you some clothes and a pair of shoes. You’ll need to sneak out at the end of visiting hours—at 9 o’clock sharp. That way there’ll be nothing suspicious about you leaving; you’ll just be another family member leaving after visiting a patient. The nursing staff is reduced during the night shift, so there should be less chance of you being noticed.”
Mr. Cobb didn’t seem to quite understand.
“If you try leaving in your hospital gown, they will immediately call security and bring you back and probably lock you in the room, maybe even strap you down. When you leave, you must be wearing normal, civilian clothes, so no one suspects you’re a patient.”
The patient nodded and peered into the bag.
“I estimated your shirt and pants size. Hopefully, I’m not too far off. I got you a sweater and sox and a pair of size 12 shoes, is that about right?”
“I wear 11.”
“O.K. Close enough. There’s also a pair of non-prescription glasses and a baseball cap. Put them on, so you will be less recognizable when you exit. Now, listen carefully. The nurse is expecting me to leave any moment—I was told you’re not supposed to have visitors. So, let’s place this bag under your bed to make it a little bit more discreet. At about a quarter to nine, take the bag with you into the bathroom and change into these clothes. At a couple minutes before nine, open the door to the hallway to make sure the coast is clear. As soon as it is, walk down to the end of the hallway. Then turn right and continue until you reach the elevator. Push the call button for the elevator. When you’re inside, push the “L” button for lobby—that’s the ground floor. You’ll see the reception area. Walk past it and you’ll come to some large glass doors. They will open automatically when you approach; go through the doors and you will be outside. I’ll be waiting for you in my car in the loading zone. I’m driving a white Nissan.”
“I don’t know what a Nissan is,” the patient interrupted.
“Oh, it’s just an ordinary car. When I see you, I will step out of the car and wave to you. We’ll go to my brother’s farm in South Carolina—just a couple of hours from here. Get you out of the state… far away from this hospital. Understood?”
There was some hesitation on Mr. Cobb’s part. Could he trust this woman? She seemed very sincere and well-intentioned, and the alternative was his worst nightmare.
“I understand. Much obliged.”
“Okay. I’ve got to leave now. I’ll be outside at 9:00 sharp. Don’t be late. Everything will be fine.” She touched the patient on the side of his left arm to convey her sincerity and reassurance, and then left the room.