Chapter Fifteen

Bart was a card. He never stopped kidding around, playing jokes on people.

One day he put salt in the sugar bowl in the nurses’ office.

Another time he put a whoopee cushion on the head nurse’s chair. We all heard the loud noise when she sat down. Our laughter rang out through the ward. The head nurse, Shirley, came out of the office with a priceless expression on her face, both angry and amused.

“You kids,” she said. “You kids are going to be the death of me.”

Then she laughed.

Then there was the time Bart got his hands on one of those fake rubber puddles of vomit and put it beside the bed. The nurse got very upset when she saw it and rushed to get another nurse. When they figured out the joke they laughed and hugged and kissed Bart.

“We can use a few laughs around here,” Rachel said.

Bart was as much a ladies’ man with the nurses as he was with the girls. He was always gliding up to one of them and starting an intimate conversation. He tried to hold their hands, but they would put him off with with a smile. “You’re a little young for me, Bart.”

This never deterred him. “That shouldn’t stop us,” he argued. “I can show you things you’ve never imagined.”

Within a very few days he had a girlfriend of his own, Judy Hagerdorn. She was about 11 and had precocious curves. Bart was seduced by that immediately. He was always in intent conversation with her, walking around the ward with his arm around her, which was hilarious, because she was a foot taller than he was. He wrote endless notes to her, which ended up scattered across her bed like confetti.

Judy was a pretty stupid girl. I think, when no one was looking, like late at night, Bart took some sexual liberties with her. He would come over to me the next day and say, “Judy and I got it on last night.”

He was very generous about her. “You can make her if you want,” he told me. “I’ll let her know in advance. She’s ready, willing and able. You can put your hand inside her pants and she won’t say anything.”

I thought of Casey. I did, after all, have some experience with the opposite sex. But I was too shy to do what Bart suggested. I just smiled when I went by Judy’s bed, and occasionally hung out with her awhile.

Bart’s final coup was when he ordered a Strip-o-Gram for the ward.

At five o’clock one evening a woman arrived, dressed in a raincoat, her hair tied back in a bun. She asked for Max Robinson. The nurse told her the ward was sterile, so she would have to put on a mask.

With the mask on the woman came to my bed, threw off the raincoat and undid her hair. She was wearing only spangled panties and a bra with tassels. She had a little CD player that made music. She was bumping and grinding and caressing me when the security guys came in and made her leave. Everybody was laughing, including the security guys.

“I think I see the fine Italian hand of Mr. Bart Levy here,” said Shirley.

But most of all, Bart was always trying to escape.

“This place can’t hold me,” he told me. “I’m getting out of here. I’m going to go to Key West to a place I know where they’ll never find me.”

I tried to ask him wordlessly why he wanted to escape.

“If I stay here, I’ll die,” he said. “This place is the jumping-off point for death. If you don’t escape, you’ll die.”

I sensed that underneath his bravado he was terrified of the leukemia and the possibility of death.

“You’re coming with me,” he said. “Just wait. When the right moment comes. You’ll love Key West. They have hurricanes there every year. My cousin lives there. She’ll take us in and hide us. She’s a good sport.”

I chose not to think of this plan as unrealistic. I needed a light at the end of the tunnel, a reason to hope. What Bart proposed might never happen, but it was better than death.