A shooting stab of chest pain radiated down my arm, driving me to plop down hard on the drink-stained linoleum floor. Outside the Austin 6th Street bar, I flagged down a taxi to the ER. The blonde doctor insisted I be admitted and issued me a gown tied inadequately around my butt. She placed my clothes, wallet, and phone, inside the hospital room’s closet. The bed was comfortable, and I slept like in a coma.
Awoke, I pressed the call-button. Nobody showed. I opened the door to voice my complaint. Deserted. Leaving patients alone was unprofessional. Heat rose up my neck. Where was everyone? My anger became volcanic. I pulled the I.V. from my arm and opened the room closet. Empty. Someone stole everything, leaving me wearing a ludicrous frock and hospital-issued slippers. I headed down the elevator. The lobby was deserted. No receptionist, the desk phone dead. Strange. How do I get home? In this ridiculous outfit. Too far to walk. I had no money for a taxi. Beg? What choice did I have?
Late afternoon Austin heat radiated like a bonfire. I spotted a few people on the sidewalk, but when they caught a glimpse of me, they hurriedly crossed the street, probably reasoning that a guy wandering in a hospital gown had escaped from a mental ward. That still left me with the problem of getting home. I headed north, and in a few blocks saw a taxi-stand sign. A yellow cab waited, and a black guy with a stubbly beard sat in the driver’s seat reading the Austin American Statesman. He didn’t notice me approach his window.
“Excuse me, sir,”
He recoiled, and his eyes widened.
I spoke quickly. “I know how I look, but I just left the Austin Heart Hospital. Someone stole my clothes. I’m not insane, and I need to get home.”
The driver’s Adam’s apple bobbed, but he didn’t reply.
I continued. “If you drive me to my apartment, I’ll have money to pay you. Please.”
His eyes narrowed. “How far?”
I gave him my address. “Ten minutes. Tops.”
He sighed an acceptance. “Sit in the passenger seat.”
I guessed that the driver hadn’t quite accepted my sanity claim and didn’t want me sitting behind him. “Much obliged.” I scampered around the taxi to the passenger side, almost tripping on the asphalt in my hospital slippers.
As we drove, I started to explain my situation. The driver’s face revealed the indifference of having heard a million customer sad stories, so I stayed silent until we arrived at my apartment complex.
I said, “I’ll get some money and be right back.”
“Never mind. You’re my good deed for the day.”
He drove off before I could thank him.
My keys had been stolen with everything else. I went directly to the superintendent’s flat and rang. I put my face close to the door’s peephole, so he couldn’t see my hospital garb.
Through the door, he said, “Yes?”
“It’s Dave Williams. I lost my keys. Please let me into my apartment.”
Long hesitation before, “That’s not funny. Go away or I’ll call the police.”
“Hey, Mr. Saunders, I was in the hospital and someone stole everything I had.”
“In exactly one minute, I’m phoning the police.”
“The cops might be helpful. I can report the theft.” I stepped back from the door. “See, all I had to wear was the hospital gown. I’d like to get into my apartment. Obviously, I need a change of clothes.”
Another long hesitation. When the door opened, Mr. Saunders, with a gray buzz cut and paunch, had a baseball bat in his hand. He said, “The police are on the way. Stand back, or I’ll return you to the hospital.”
I asked, “Don’t you recognize me?”
“You resemble Dave Williams, but you’re not him. Are you related?”
“What are you talking about? Why don’t you think it’s me?”
“Dave Williams died three weeks ago.”
I blanched. “What the hell are you saying?”
“We put an ad in the paper, but no family turned up, so we cleaned out his flat. Furniture to Saint Vincent de Paul, clothes to Goodwill. We had the cops tow the Ford away.”
I swallowed. Three weeks? Could I have been unconscious that long? I had no sense of time. I asked, “What makes you think that I died?”
“The City of Austin buried Dave Williams. I made the arrangements. If you’re a family member hoping to make a claim, I didn’t receive a penny from getting rid of his stuff. I needed to make the apartment ready to rent again.”
We were interrupted by the arriving cop, beardless, about my age, thirty-five. No matter how much I protested, Mr. Saunders insisted that I was trespassing. At the cop’s suggestion, he opened my apartment to show that it had been stripped bare.
My voice echoed in the empty space. “I can’t explain what’s going on, but I’m Dave Williams. Clearly, I’m not dead, there’s been some insane misunderstanding.”
Mr. Saunders repeated his assertion to the cop. “He resembles Dave Williams.”
The cop removed his hat and scratched his head. “I can take you to a shelter, a place where they’ll give you clothes and feed you, but you can’t stay here.”
My head spun like a roulette wheel, then settled on the only possible theory. I said, “Someone stole my identity, then died.”
Mr. Saunders and the cop looked at each other.
The cop huffed and said, “You can file a report at the station on our way to the shelter.”
If you think identity theft is a problem, try to recover when everyone believes you’re dead. They won’t give you a replacement ID. You’re nobody. I’ve been forced to beg on the street, living homeless. You know the worst thing? The idea playing with my head that I did die, and I’ve been condemned to some sort of hell.
Joe Giordano was born in Brooklyn. He and his wife, Jane, now live in Texas.
Joe’s stories have appeared in more than one hundred magazines including The Saturday Evening Post and Shenandoah. His novels, Birds of Passage,An Italian Immigrant Coming of Age Story, (2015), and Appointment with ISIL, an Anthony Provati Thriller (2017) were published by Harvard Square Editions. Rogue Phoenix Press published his third novel, Drone Strike, in April 2019.
Joe was among one hundred Italian-American authors honored by Barnes & Noble Chairman Len Riggio to march in the 2017 Manhattan Columbus Day Parade. Read the first chapter of Joe’s novels and sign up for his blog at http://joe-giordano.com/