“Uh…uh…the red one,” I say.
“The red one?” my wife says. Her smile cracks into tiny shards and falls from her face. “Ralph, you haven’t paid any attention, have you? Did you actually fall asleep while we were talking?”
“No, of course not, Donna. Not completely. Maybe. I drifted off a little.” I try to pull up the recliner, but it sticks, and I sit there under Donna’s frown waving my arms and legs like a flipped turtle.
“You don’t listen to me,” Donna says. “Sometimes I think ooble dooble dabble ding.”
“Ooble dooble dabble ding,” Donna says.
“I don’t understand a word you’re saying. Are you –”
“Ooble. Doodle. Dabble. Ding,” my wife says, over-emphasizing each word.
It finally hits me that she’s not kidding around. My God, a stroke? I roll out of the chair sideways, climb to my feet, and lean in close to study Donna’s face. What’s that damn acronym? Her face
isn’t droopy. Her speech isn’t slurred, just non-sensical. “Do you feel any numbness? One side? An arm?”
“Ooble dooble dabble ding,” she whispers in my ear.
My wife’s vitals are fine. Dr. Madison let’s the stethoscope dangle from her neck, and shines a little light in Donna’s eyes, ears, and nose. Then she taps my wife’s knee with a tiny silver hammer.
“Everything seems normal,” the doctor says finally, turning toward me. “But I want your wife to have a brain scan. Right away.”
Donna taps Dr. Madison on the shoulder, then thumps her finger on her own chest.
“Sorry,” the doctor says. “I didn’t mean to ignore you.”
“Could it be some obscure language?” I say. “I’ve read about people who start speaking French or Spanish out of the blue.”
“I have no ooble dooble dabble ding,” Dr. Madison says.
When Donna hears this, she smiles and starts babbling non-stop. Dr. Madison nods enthusiastically and babbles back. I yell for the nurse.
After her scan and more tests to rule out anything contagious, they check Donna into the hospital for observation. I spend the evening in her room. Several times she starts to say something to me, but instead closes her eyes and shakes her head.
“I’ll be in early and have breakfast with you,” I say around nine. “Don’t want to miss an opportunity for some hospital food.” I give Donna a smile. She gives me a gesture. Obviously she’s in no mood for humor.
At home I turn on the late news and learn that ooble outbreaks are being reported around the country. After a few minutes, Jane the anchorwoman looks at the weatherman and says “Pete, how do things look for tomorrow’s ooble dooble dabble ding?”
Pete chuckles nervously. “A fine day on tap, Jane.”
“Ooble,” Anchorwoman Jane says. The screen goes dark for a moment, then is filled by fantastic deals on everything’s-gotta-go used cars.
Next morning I stop by a Starbucks for some non-hospital caffeine. I overhear the customer ahead of me ooble speak. Without missing a beat, the barista turns to make her coffee. Maybe hospital coffee won’t be so bad after all. As I leave, it seems people at about half the tables are chatting oobly.
I enter the med center and cautiously say good morning to the woman at the information desk. She says it back, and I breathe a sigh of relief.
When I get to Donna’s room, she’s having an animated conversation with a nurse. They quit talking as soon as I walk in. The nurse turns to me and says something. I tell her I don’t understand, and she leans in close and studies my face.
A short time later, a doctor who hasn’t been oobled comes in and says Donna is being released. Between the two of us, my wife and I are able to get her checked out bi-lingually in about three hours.
I decide to stay home from work to be with Donna. We watch a movie and my wife dabs her eyes off and on all through it. Must be a tearjerker, but you couldn’t prove it by me.
When I get to work the next day, I take a deep breath and say good morning to my colleagues. They all stare at me. Sally leans in close and studies my face. I turn and head for home.
Lost in thought at an intersection, I don’t notice when the light changes. The car behind me honks — Oooooooble Dooooooble. I drive slowly and extra carefully the rest of the way ’cause the last thing I need is to be pulled over by an ooble-talk cop. After I put the car in the garage, I walk around back to see if the bird feeders need to be refilled. There are a couple goldfinch in a nearby tree.
One chirps ooble. The second answers dooble, and I hurry inside.
I can’t speak, can barely breathe. A guy who looks just like me is sitting in my chair. Donna is holding up two blouses. The guy points to the blue one. My wife smiles, and the two ooble each other.
Then Donna heads for the bedroom, and the guy follows her. Judging by the look on his … my … his face, they’re going to have a little afternoon dabble ding. I rush outside gasping for air.
The trees are loud with birds ooble dooble chirping. I start screaming and clapping to scare them away, but they keep singing like I’m not even there.
David Henson lives in Peoria, Illinois with his wife and their dog. His work has appeared or is upcoming in two chapbooks, Literally Stories, 365 Tomorrows, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Eunoia Review, and Dime Show Review, among others. Visit him on the web at http://writings217.wordpress.com.