He’d been driving for hours, on his way from his St. Cloud, Minnesota, Dairy Queen to his Mister Softee in Rapid City, South Dakota – his milk run, as he liked to call it. His right hand had fallen asleep and there was a sharp pain high up in the groin and thigh of his right side.

Mornings he’d been getting up with it. A numbness in his hand and hip, bad circulation, he thought, which left these damned cold zones, warm enough to touch when he felt them with the freely circulating blood in the fingers of his left hand or lifted his right hand to his face, but, untouched, like icy patches deep in his skin. Perhaps his sleeping habits had changed. Almost unconsciously now he found the right side of the bed. In the night, sleeping alone, even without a twin or triplet beside him, the double bed to himself, some love-altered principle of accommodation or tropism in his body taking him from an absent configuration of flesh to a perimeter of the bed, a yielding without its necessity or reason, a submission and giving way to – to what? (And even in his sleep, without naming them, he could tell them apart.) To ride out the night side-saddle on his own body. (No godfather Julius he, not set in his ways, unless this were some new mould into which he was pouring himself.) Pressing his head – heavy as Gertrude’s marrowless bones – like a nightmare tourniquet against the flesh of his arm, drawing a knee as high up a diver’s against his belly and chest, to wake in the morning cut off, the lines down and trailing live wires from the heavy storm of his own body. Usually, as the day wore on, the sensation wore off, but never completely, some sandy sensitivity laterally vestigial across the tips of his fingers, the sharp pain in the region of his thigh blunted, like a suction cup on the tip of a toy arrow. Bad circulation. Bad.

Unless. Unless – Unless from Wolfe’s mouth to God’s ears.

He checked into the Hotel Rushmore in Rapid City and asked the clerk for a twin-bedded room. And then, seeing the width of the single bed, requested a rollaway be brought, narrower still. This an experiment. In the narrow bed no place to go, his body occupying both perimeters at once, returned as it had been in the days before he’d shared beds, the pillow beneath his head almost the width of the bed itself, tethered by a perfect displacement, lying, it could be, on his own shadow. But in the morning the sensation still there, if anything worse, not to be shaken off. (Never to be shaken off.)

And a new discovery. At Mister Softee handling the tan cardboard carton of popsicles, as cold to the touch of his right hand as dry ice. He thought his blood had thickened and frozen. Something was wrong.

He got the name of a doctor from his Mister Softee manager, saw Dr Gibberd that afternoon, and was oddly moved when the doctor told him that he would like him to go into Rapid City General for observation.

A black woman took him in a wheelchair to his bed.

It was very strange. Having voluntarily admitted himself to the hospital, having driven there under his own steam – his 1971 Caddy was parked in the Visitors’ lot – and answered all the questions put to him by the woman at the Admissions Desk, showing them his Blue Cross and Blue Shield cards, his yellow Major Medical, he had become an instant invalid, something seductively agreeable to him as he sat back in the old wheelchair and allowed himself to be shoved up ramps and manoeuvred backward – his head and shoulders almost on a level with his knees – across the slight gap between the lobby carpet and the hard floor of an elevator and pushed through what he supposed was the basement, past the kitchens and laundry rooms, past the nurses’ cafeteria and the vending machines and the heating plant, lassitude and the valetudinarian on him like climate, though he had almost forgotten his symptoms.


Updike’s Nabokov
from Long Talking Bad Conditions Blues